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hopefulist Apr 4th, 2009 01:29 PM

Guatemala/Belize Itinerary for your feedback (thanks in advance)
Hi, all -
Here's what we have planned for this summer, 5-6 weeks in all - opinions welcome!!

The players:
Stacey: mom/wife/group leader/trip planner
Carlos: 24-year-old son
Mike: husband/dad
Mariah and Greg: 26-year-old daughter and her husband
Eric (Mike's brother) and Kathy and their 3 boys, aged 12, 15, and 17 (henceforth known as BIL's family)

Mid July Carlos and I will head to Guatemala along with 13 other (mostly educators plus a few of their teenagers) for a Spanish study trip. We'll arrive a few days ahead of the group to have time to visit an orphanage and deliver play and school items; this is a big deal for us because Carlos was born in Guatemala and joined our family through adoption when he was 4; it will be his 1st orphanage visit as a nonorphan and his 1st return to the highlands since he left. We'll stay at Casa Cristina in Antigua.

I looked into hiring all the ground transport plus the Tikal flights through one agent since there are 15 of us - turns out it's much cheaper than patching together shuttles and buses; I think we'll go with Adrenalina Tours.

:: A week in Antigua for Spanish study (Academia Antigüeña), homestays, and activities/adventures: volcano hike, traditional cooking, weaving, and dance lessons, local ruins and villages
:: Week-end visit to Chichicastenango for the artisan and produce markets and church activities (Hotel Girón)
:: A week in San Pedro La Laguna, Atitlán for Spanish study (Cooperativa School), homestays, civil rights speakers and films, salsa lessons, and volunteering in local schools and programs for folks with disabilities
:: Return to Antigua for 1 night (Posada La Merced)
:: Late morning flight to Flores, 1 night in the park at Tikal (Tikal Inn), explore ruins late afternoon/evening, early morning to early afternoon
:: Shuttle to Flores for 1 night (Hotel Mesa de Los Mayas)
:: Group flies back to GUA and home (a few will extend their trips in other directions); Carlos and I head to BELIZE, probably on a Linea Dorada bus to Belize City, but maybe local buses with a stop in San Ignacio for lunch

:: Carlos and I meet BIL's family and Mike (separate flights 10 minutes apart) at BZE (airport near Belize City)
:: Shuttle to the Community Baboon Sanctuary for 2 nights (Nature Resort), hike,village visits, black howler monkeys, maybe a night canoe trip to spot gators
:: Day in between head to Orange Walk and do the boat trip up the New River to the Lamanai Ruins
:: Head to San Ignacio for 2 nights via the Belize Zoo, maybe lunch at The Trek Stop to see the butterfly enclosure again, visit with the owners, and hike to Xunantunich (Aguada Hotel)
:: Day in between do the ATM Cave trip with Pacz Tours
:: Head to Hopkins for 1 night (Hopkins Inn). We've decided to shuttle there so we can pick up Mariah and Greg at the Dangriga airport on the way - group of 10 now! I have some friends who were Peace Corps volunteers in Hopkins and we enjoy spending time with their friends. BIL's family will be taking a load of books down for them and we'll have a gathering at the school to celebrate; evening drumming
:: Group splits: BIL's family heads to South Water Caye for 4 nights followed by Caves Branch for 3 nights. Mike, Carlos, Mariah, Greg, and I head to Glover's Atoll Resort for 6 nights for diving, snorkeling, flyfishing, hammocks, and all the coconuts we can eat
:: 1 more night in Hopkins (Hopkins Inn)
:: Mariah and Greg will head to San Ignacio to meet up with a man who held a drawing for a free trip to Belize that Greg won; they'll stay at Cahal Pech Village Resort and visit the Cahal Pech, Xunantunich, and Caracol ruins, Rio Frio Cave, Big Rock Waterfalls, and Lamanai, then end up on Caye Caulker for 4 nights. We'll stop at Caves Branch for BIL's family enroute to Belize City, and ferry to Caye Caulker where we'll get to see Mariah and Greg again before we head home (Sailwinds for BIL's family, Auxillou Beach Suites for the rest of us); on Caulker more diving (Frenchie's), flyfishing, and a sailboat snorkeling trip (Raggamuffins)
:: Haven't decided yet if we'll ferry or fly to Belize City for our flight home

Phew!! It's been an adventure planning this trip - can hardly stand the wait! HAPPY TRAILS! :D

Momliz Apr 4th, 2009 02:48 PM

Wow! how can you keep track of it all! sounds like a fun trip - looking forward to your trip report, looks like you're going to a few off-the-beaten-track places.

hopefulist Apr 4th, 2009 03:13 PM

I usually like to stay at least 3 nights/spot but I think this plan works well. We're returning to a few of the places we loved last time (the zoo, Hopkins, San Ignacio area, Glover's) and heading to some we missed (the Baboon Sanctuary, ATM Cave, Caye Caulker).

Last summer my group study trip was in Copán Ruinas, Honduras for 2 weeks - 1 spot with homestays and activities in the surrounding mountains. Mike flew down and we split 3 weeks between the islands of Guanaja and Utila. MUCH LESS PLANNING!

A few months ago I was feeling really overwhelmed by all the details and put together a spread sheet with all the contact information, deposits paid, form of final payment needed, etc. - what a relief! There are more than 30 different entities (dive shops, Spanish schools, hotels, shuttle services, tour operators) on the list. Next year I'm going to try to keep it simpler again. :-)

Vttraveler Apr 11th, 2009 04:15 AM

It sounds like a wonderful itinerary. The people traveling with you are very lucky to have someone with so much experience to organize the trip.

I was interested to see you will be staying at Casa Cristina and Posada la Merced in Antigua. We stayed in that neighborhood (at Posada Los Bucaros) and really liked staying in that part of the city.

The only thing I would suggest (and you have probably thought about this) is trying to put together good materials to orient the group to Tikal before visiting the archeological site. Our family is very interested in Mayan history and had a lot of background and several guidebooks. The information right at Tikal (museum, park maps, etc) didn't give a great overview IMO. There is very little about Mayan history to put Tikal in context. We are still reading and watching videos 6 weeks after our visit in late February trip. (A friend from work just gave me a beautiful book on Mayan art)

cgenster Apr 11th, 2009 04:37 AM

Vttraveler--I am jumping in as I am one of the lucky ones going on the trip with hopefulist. She has assigned background reading for us to complete before the trip about the Mayans.

I have been interested in the Mayan culture since my first visit to Tulum and can't wait to go to Guatemala and further my understanding of this unique culture.

hopefulist Apr 11th, 2009 07:54 AM

Vttraveler - you're right that more background means more learning on the ground, really important. I feel privileged that this will be my 3rd visit to Tikal. With a Maya son and trips to Guatemala dating back into the 80's (though we didn't return for 14 years while we were raising our family and couldn't afford to go) we've accrued quite a collection of videos and books.

Also, a question: did you read the Tikal background information in the Rough Guide or Moon Handbook before you visited? I've been really impressed with how much history and orientation is packed into the pages.

Thanks for responding. I'll post a thorough trip report when we get back.

PS to cgenster: Thanks for your nice vote of confidence, Carla! I've been finalizing ground transport and internal flights this past week and have discovered some interesting stops for picnics and traditional meals along our travel routes. It looks like a really fun, interesting, diverse group of people. Looking forward to meeting you!!

Vttraveler Apr 11th, 2009 09:17 AM

hopefulist and cygenster--We did use the Rough Guide and I agree that it has a very useful background section on the Mayans and also on later periods of Guatemalan history. It was great to have it with us because my husband and younger son tend to wait until they are actually on vacation to do their reading.
It sounds as though your group will be well prepared for the Tikal ruins and for the rest of the trip.

hopefulist Apr 11th, 2009 10:29 AM

Yes - as long as we're all openminded - you never know what twists and quirks will brighten a trip once you're on the ground. :D

hopefulist Apr 11th, 2009 05:24 PM

I also wanted to comment that the neighborhood we both like in Antigua is also where the Spanish school we'll attend and the host families live. I'm really looking forward to going back.

I enjoyed your trip report and hope you get to return to study Spanish - keep us posted!

hopefulist Apr 11th, 2009 05:25 PM

PS to vttraveler:

You don't happen to want to go in July/August this year, do you? I had a couple cancel this week so have 2 more spots in my group.

Vttraveler Apr 12th, 2009 04:01 AM

hopefulist--I would love to go back this summer and would especially love to join your group, but unfortunately we can't afford the time or money for another trip this year.

Our week in February over school vacation was the last chance for us to take a trip abroad with the whole family. The closest we'll come to Central America in the near future is a visit to the University of Pennsylvania museum of Archeology and Anthropology next weekend during Penn "preview days" for our younger son. They have just opened an exhibit of Mayan pottery from Chama in the Alta Verapaz highlands which looks very interesting.

hopefulist Apr 12th, 2009 04:18 AM

Worth a shot - I like the idea of meeting Fodor friends on the road. :)

landineen Apr 12th, 2009 10:10 PM

Hopefulist, did not like San Pedro! It was hippyland! "Learn spanish on the high!" and a few more hits. As for the rest of our visit, we loved Guatemala!

hopefulist Apr 13th, 2009 04:16 AM

Hi, landineen - I'd love to read a travelogue if you could share with us about your trip. I remember your planning post.

The area around the dock in San Pedro La Laguna is where the "hippies" hang out (though I don't think of that as such a derogatory term, maybe "druggies" is better in that situation). It certainly gives a bad impression of the area. Short term visitors usually see that and maybe the market at the top.

Staying there a week I lived and studied in the traditional part of town with very friendly, traditional Maya townsfolk. It was easy to avoid the dock area and the nearby restaurants where the "druggies" hung out since I was living with a host family, eating and helping cook traditional meals with them. The town itself is unusual and fascinating to explore. Instead of being built on a tradition colonial grid it's comprised of narrow, intertwining walkways. The homestays I visited (in addition to my own) were up and down through tiny alleys and the courtyards of others'; some of them ran like streams in the rain, then drained quickly. It was like finding the right den in a rabbit warren. My fellow students were an interesting, diverse bunch, aged 17-60's - no druggies in sight. The school's activities were unusually powerful - a lecture on the Maya vision of the universe, a powerful video on human rights violations by mining conglomerates, etc. The school is devoted to community service and hooked me up with a great opportunity for volunteering in a program for individuals with disabilities, unusual in CA.

In other words, most folks who stay awhile and take a closer look see a different San Pedro than the negative element that hangs out around the dock - can't wait to head back there this summer.

landineen Apr 13th, 2009 06:56 AM

Hope, when I got off the boat from Santiago to San Pedro, the dock back to Pana was on the other side of town. We walked through the maze of foot path and noticed the many spanish schools and establishments that catered to the gringos.

I totally agree with you that ANY place has its' charm including SP. I personally found that the dreadlocks hippies fascinated me. I forgot I was in Guate. I was so perplexed as to why SP seemed to attract this crowd, (young and old) as I really didn't see this anywhere else.

hopefulist Apr 13th, 2009 07:39 AM

Because I stuck to the more traditional, upper part of town, I hardly saw that element. I don't know where they shopped but they didn't seem to frequent the market or stores. They're like a glob of goo stuck in that lower section of town. I talked to my host family about that "element" and they just rolled their eyes. They said that, as stores, hostels, and restaurants catering to the druggy-types sprung up along the water and the paths between the docks, they stopped using the establishments the locals use and became easier to ignore. My fondness for SPLL has made me realize that my negative impressions from brief visits to several of the other lake towns over the years are more a product of the brevity of my visit than of what the town really offers to longer term visitors.

Panajachel has been called "Gringotenango" for decades and attracted a huge "hippie" element starting in the 60's. I think Lonely Planet guide mentions that vibe and rasta types from all over take the hint and converge there.

Vttraveler May 2nd, 2009 04:46 AM

hopefulist and cgenster (and others fascinated by the Maya)-- Nova is airing a special on Cracking the Maya code which looks very interesting. The website has some useful background information, too.

hopefulist May 2nd, 2009 05:33 AM

Very cool - thanks for sharing!!

kathleen May 2nd, 2009 02:51 PM

Your trip sounds fantastic. I hope all of you have a wonderful time. Can't wait to read the trip report.

hopefulist May 2nd, 2009 04:45 PM

Thanks, kathleen. It still seems so far away but now that it's May I can say "month after next"!

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