Jungle Kingdoms of the Ancient Maya (land tour)

Detailed Itinerary

Saturday, January 18, 2014 - HOME | Villahermosa, Mexico
Depart home for Villahermosa where, if traveling on the suggested group flight, you will be met upon arrival at the airport and transferred to our hotel. For those arriving independently, a taxi can be hired for the short drive into town. Overnight at the Hyatt Villahermosa for two nights.
Sunday, January 19 - Villahermosa | Comalcalco | Villahermosa
This morning we set out for Comalcalco, the westernmost known Maya site, and the only Maya city built with bricks of baked clay instead of stone. The site comprises the North Square, Great Acropolis, and Acropolis of the East, and it thrived as an agricultural center specializing in cacao. After lunch we return to our hotel for an afternoon at leisure in Villahermosa. (B,L,D)
Monday, January 20 - Villahermosa | La Venta Park | Palenque
After breakfast we visit La Venta Park to see a magnificent outdoor collection of stone sculpture that originally came from the Olmec site of La Venta. The Olmec were one of the earliest cultures developed in Mesoamerica, preceding the Maya by centuries. Their monumental stone carvings and strange mythological beings puzzle archaeologists to this day. After lunch we drive to Palenque, one of the great western capitals of classic Maya civilization that some have called “the Paris of the Maya.” A late afternoon visit to this picturesque site will be our introduction to classic Maya culture and prepare us for tomorrow’s full day at Palenque. Overnight at Chan Kah Resort Village for two nights. (B,L,D)
Tuesday, January 21 - Palenque
We start early and begin exploring Palenque’s many exquisite examples of 7th and 8th century Maya architecture, including the Temple of the Inscriptions, Palace, Temples of the Cross Group, recently uncovered Temples XIX and XXI, and much more. We finish the morning walking a beautiful downhill jungle trail, across waterfalls and hidden ruins, to get a true sense of the rainforest and all its beauty. Our bus awaits us at the bottom of the trail to take us to an outdoor, palm thatch restaurant for lunch. This afternoon, we visit the Palenque site museum, with many world famous pieces of Maya ceramics and stone carving. (B,L,D)
Wednesday, January 22 - Palenque | Bonampak | Frontera Corozal
This morning we have some time at leisure, perhaps to take a stroll around the resort grounds, do some birding, or relax on our bungalows’ individual verandas, departing around mid-morning to travel to Bonampak. Lunch today will be in a rustic jungle restaurant. The discovery of the painted murals at Bonampak in the 1950s changed the way the world saw the Maya. Although the murals are faded and difficult to view, they remain a sight to see. The site is run by Lacandon Maya, and we may get a chance to interact with them on the way in and out of this remote site. Continue on to Frontera Corozal, a Chol Maya community on the banks of the Usumacinta River, the famous “river of ruins.” Along its banks, classic Maya civilization built some of its grandest cities. We are now traveling deep into the heart of Maya country, and we will stay at a remote, rustic jungle lodge. Overnight at the Escudo Jaguar Lodge for two nights. (B,L,D)
Thursday, January 23 - Frontera Corozal | Yaxchilan | Frontera Corozal
After breakfast, travel by motor launch down the Usumacinta River to the great classic Maya site of Yaxchilan, whose temples and palaces border a large plaza upon a terrace above the river. We will spend all day at this fantastic site, enjoying a picnic lunch under the forest canopy. Beautiful monolithic stelae (standing stone monuments) and lintels spanning the temple doorways display intricate reliefs. Howler and spider monkeys and many tropical birds may accompany us as we explore the steep jungle trails, climbing to the higher elevations overlooking the ancient Maya landscape. We return by boat to our lodge late this afternoon. (B,L,D)
Friday, January 24 - Frontera Corozal | Tikal, Guatemala
Leaving our lodge this morning, we go upriver and cross over to Guatemala. Our new bus meets us on the riverbank and takes us into the heart of Guatemala, to the grand site of Tikal. As with most Maya sites, Classic Period constructions cover those from earlier times, and ancient structures are scattered for miles in every direction from its center. Overnight at the Jungle Lodge for three nights. (B,L,D)
Saturday, January 25 - Tikal
Spend a full day at Tikal, which contains thousands of ancient structures, the majority of which remain unexcavated. This vast site has spectacular pyramids, numerous plazas, a ball court, causeways, dozens of stelae, and much more. Howler and spider monkeys and many tropical birds may accompany us again as we stroll through this lush jungle site. It is estimated that more than 50,000 people lived at Tikal in its heyday, and the story of the city and its rise and fall mirrors the larger story of Maya civilization itself. Following the glories of the Classic Period, the site was largely abandoned by A.D. 900. (B,L,D)
Sunday, January 26 - Tikal
There will be an optional pre-dawn hike for breathtaking views at sunrise from Tikal’s Temple IV—the site’s tallest pyramid at 230 feet. After breakfast, we will visit the Tikal site museum, which houses magnificent pieces of art and ceramics. The remainder of the day is free for you to re-visit the site or simply relax and recharge. (B,L,D)
Monday, January 27 - Tikal | Rio Dulce
Depart Tikal mid-morning for the Rio Dulce, where we enjoy lunch and explore the area by boat, including a Spanish fortress, the 17th century Castle of San Felipe de Lara, located where the river meets Lake Izabal. Late this afternoon, we check in to our waterside hotel. Overnight at the Hotel Catamaran. (B,L,D)
Tuesday, January 28 - Rio Dulce | Quirigua | Copan, Honduras
After breakfast and a short boat ride back to our bus, we continue to Quirigua, home to the tallest Maya stelae—one weighs 65 tons and is 35 feet above ground and eight feet underground. Sculpture here is like no other place, with mythical frogs and other beasts carved in the round from huge boulders. Here we also find a rare example of the beginning date in the Maya calendar, a date that marks the origin of the calendar Great Cycle that ended in 2012. After leaving Quirigua, we have lunch in the Motagua Valley, the primary jade source for all of Mesoamerica, and continue on to cross the border into Honduras for Copan. Overnight at the Hotel Marina Copan for three nights. (B,L,D)
Wednesday, January 29 - Copan
This morning, a short drive brings us to the archaeological site of Copan. If Palenque was the “Paris of the Maya,” then Copan was the “Athens of the Maya.” The magnificent acropolis, plazas, courtyards, and standing sculptures are the hallmarks of this easternmost Maya capital. After a picnic lunch at the site we visit the site museum, which has a full-scale replica of the tomb of the founder of the Copan dynasty and many fabulous pieces of Maya sculpture. (B,L,D)
Thursday, January 30 - Copan
Start the day with a tour of the Sepulturas Group, located a few kilometers from the site of Copan, which was a residential area for non-Maya (perhaps foreign merchants) around A.D. 800. Drive into town for lunch in a local restaurant. Visit a museum located in front of the main plaza, whose exhibits focus on the history of the Maya culture and the city of Copan itself, as well as on Maya stone sculpture and pottery. The remainder of the afternoon is free for last-minute shopping or for packing. Gather for an early farewell dinner. We have now traveled from the western capital of Palenque, through the heartland at Tikal, and on to the eastern capital of Copan, giving us a sense of the enormity of ancient Maya civilization in its heyday. (B,L,D)
Friday, January 31 - Copan | San Pedro Sula | HOME
Transfer to the airport in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, for flights home. (B)

If you have any additional questions, please email us at aia@studytours.org (and include your full name) or call us toll-free at (800) 748-6262 (toll: 603-756-2884).