By Alejandro Gillot
I have traveled with David Reyes in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico. He is an excellent guide and leader…very knowledgeable about Mayan history and culture. He is an excellent interpreter of and guide to the contemporary society of these countries as well. And then there are the birds! He can spot, identify and beautifully photograph these big and little beauties that are found throughout Central America. He is dynamic, energetic, humorous, multilingual, and a people person bringing out the best in all of his travelers. I eagerly look forward to my next Wonders for Wanders trip! Sharon B, New York
One more full day in Antigua, Guatemala. I highly recommend travel to this country. If you want to travel in Guatemala safely and comfortably...I recommend having David Reyes plan your tour. Does not matter how many people are in your group. David guides one person...to a group of 16-18 people. I thought that our group of 14 was ideal. David has a degree in Tourism. He is highly knowledgable. His English is perfect. I met David, several years ago, when he was our Tour Director for a tour to Guatemala and Belize. Since that time, David has led trips for my groups to Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico.
This trip was 5 star! You cannot beat the organization and agenda skills of Kathy partnered with David’s “on the ground” knowledge, skill set and personal interest in every individual. We smoothly sailed into and out of Honduras and for those with special interests such as birding or hiking, David did not disappoint. It was all there!!!
Maynor Ovando and a driver took us to two places for birding, plus a spectacular breakfast at Cerro San Cristobal. After birding around the restaurant, we went to Finca de Pilar, where there is a path up into the mountain as well as hummingbird feeders. Maynor was very knowledgeable about the birds and the area, really knows (and loves) the birds, and his English was also quite good. Thanks, Maynor!
My first contact with an ancient culture was at the age of 12, when I first visited the ruins of Iximche in the Guatemalan highlands. I was so captivated by the experience that I didn’t hesitate to make a decision, later on, to study archaeology; I got my bachelors degree in archaeology at Universidad del Valle de Guatemala.
Stepping into an archaeological site is a unique experience that must be lived to understand the drive behind it. In my career I’ve had the opportunity, not only to visit a number of sites through out Guatemala, but also to perform field work and excavations at magnificent Mayan sites like Piedras Negras, Tikal, Uaxactun, El Zotz and El Peru – Waka’. I’ve also carried out field reconnaissance of Post Classic sites in Northwestern Petén and Izabal, Guatemala.
Based on these experiences plenty of stories can be told. One of the highlights was being part of the archaeological team that found Panel 15 at Piedras Negras, one of the most important sculptural findings in the last 65 years, in the Usumacinta region. Also, as a member of the Tikal Osteological Project, I had the chance to hold in my hands the lower jaw of Tikal’s ruler Siyaj K’ak (Smoking Frog), an astonishing experience as well.
Nowadays I’m undertaking a new task in leading tourist groups interested to experience our culture and the Mayan ways of life; a commitment that motivates and boosts the need to embrace and share the elements that a marvelous place like Guatemala has to offer.
Hiking and sightseeing on this trip will be at an easy level.
The goal of this tour is travel to different regions that make Guatemala a unique archeological center. To witness its archeology, its abundant flora and fauna and its rich culture, history and people.
This tour is based mainly on archeological history and culture, but in the different destinations you can observe other attractions, such as nature and great volcanic scene.
DAY 1 – ARRIVAL DAY
Arrival at La Aurora International Airport, the group is transferred to their Hotel in Guatemala City.
DAY 2 – CITY TOUR
- Mapa en Relieve (relief map).
- Popol Vuh museum (archeological artifacts)
- Ixchel museum (textiles)
- Lienzo de Quauhquechollan exhibition
- Kaminal Juyu archaeological site
- Archaeology and Ethnology museum (optional)
Today’s main objective aims on setting expectations for the archaeological tour by discussing the different time periods, thru exhibited museum artifacts. Mapa en Relieve (relief map) will allow a geographic/archaeological explanation of the tour.
DAY 3 – SOUTH COAST archaeological sites
Departure from Guatemala City early in the morning, towards the south coast. Option of visiting one the following museums plus the archaeological site of Takalik Abaj
- Museo La Democracia (optional)
- Museo El Baul
- Museo cultura Cotzumalguapa
- Museo del Ron (optional)
- Takalik Abaj archaeological site
Day 3 objective focuses on understanding the origins of prehispanic cultures in Guatemala
DAY 4 – TAKALIK ABAJ
Uncover the magic of a late classic Ceremonial Center with a real expert. The site flourished in the Pre-classic and Classic periods, from the 9th century BC through to at least the 10th century AD, and was an important center of commerce, trading with Kaminaljuyu.
After lunch head to Panajachel via Quetzaltenango, approx. arrival time 5pm
Spend the night in Pana.
DAY 5 – LAKE ATITLAN
Atitlan is such a magical body of water full of mysticism and history, Post-classic ceremonial centers are found all around the lake an even underwater. Therefore we visit the Museo Lacustre in Panajachel – set expectations about the archaeological history around the lake, including Samebaj and Chuitinamit.
Boat trip to Santiago Atitlan – visit the Post classic site of Chuitinamit. Head back to Santiago to have lunch.
After lunch we’ll visit Maximon shrine and the Catholic church.
DAY 6 – Highlands’s archaeological sites (Postclassic)
One of the largest and most well-known markets in all of Latin America can be found in the small indigenous Mayan town of Chichicastenango, located in the western highlands of Guatemala. The town’s main attraction is its enormous market! The market is held every Thursday and Sunday and this is when locals travel from villages throughout the countryside and meet at this market to sell their beautiful handicrafts, colorful textiles, fresh produce, traditional clothing and more at this bustling and vibrant local market.
Leave Panajachel early in the morning and head to Chichicastenango to visit the market and the cemetery.
After visiting Chichi the group will head to Iximché, following the Post Classic chronology. After the visit we’ll head to Antigua Guatemala to spend the night.
DAY 7 – Antigua Guatemala (Colonial period)
Antigua Guatemala City is located 30 miles from La Aurora International Airport, at an elevation of 5000 feet above sea level. This city is a UNESCO Cultural Heritage since 1979 due to the well state of conservation structures from 1700’s. Some of the more emblematic places are: Palace of the Captains General, Saint Joseph’s Cathedral, Santa Catalina Arch, La Merced Church, Capuchin’s Convent and Saint Francis the Great, Church.
DAY 8 – UAXACTUN (Classic period)
After breakfast, you will be guided through one of the most amazing Maya destinations; Uaxactun is the perfect spot to enjoy a fantastic adventure tour that combines a mixture of nature and archaeology.
Discover the Mayan forest that inhabits abundant tropical flora and fauna, breathtaking temples quiet witnesses of the beginning and splendor and also the fall of one of the most important cultures in our planet, all of this is included within our visit to the Maya World.
Leave Antigua at 4:00am heading to Guatemala City to take the flight to Flores, Petén.
Have breakfast at Isla de Flores
Leave Isla de Flores around 9:00am, heading to Tikal National Park
Visit the site of Uaxactun during the rest of the day. Spend the night at Tikal
DAY 9 – TIKAL
After breakfast, we depart for Tikal National Park, where you will be guided by a truly expert along the paths of the City of the Voices, Tikal, which is one of the most beautiful Mayan sites. Tikal is easely considered the heart of the Mayan world that inhabit the abundant wildlife, the Mayan forest and millennial temples silent witnesses of the birth and splendor as well as of the collapse of one of the most important civilizations on the planet
Full day at Tikal including museums
Lunch at the site
Sunset at Mundo Perdido
Spend the night at Tikal
DAY 10 – YAXHA / TOPOXTE
After breakfast, you explore Yaxha Archaeological site, and its exuberant forest, where howling monkeys flood the atmosphere with their howls to impress the females or to move away an intruding male in their pack. We will go up some temples that are the photographers’ accomplices, as they offer wonderful views.
Sunrise at Tikal (optional)
Leave Tikal at 8:00 am, heading to Yaxha and Topoxte
Return to Isla de Flores approx. 5:00 pm
Dinner at Isla de Flores
8:00pm flight to GUA City
Post Trip – A Day In The Life Of An Archaeologist
Piedras Negras is the largest Mayan city in the Usumacinta region. The archaeological site lies along the Usumacinta river, which is the biggest one in Mesoamerica; it has a basin of 106,000km² shared with Guatemala and Mexico. The river basin drains one of the largest contiguous areas of the rainforest in the region and is extremely rich in natural and cultural resources; 42% of Guatemala is drained by the Usumacinta river.
The archaeological site of Piedras Negras was built approximately around 400 BC, reaching its peak during the late Classic period (600-900 AD), when it played an important political role between the political entities of the Usumacinta region, including the primary center of Yaxchilan.
An eye-catching characteristic is the monumental architecture, with more than 12 pyramidal structures, vaulted palaces located in large plazas, where stelas and altars used to be part of the limestone sculpture landscape. One of the most important architectural features is found in structure K-5, which includes a decorative mask, an impressive trademark of this ancient city. The mask is part of the consolidation project that started in 2003, triggered by the fact that the site appeared on the global list of the 100 more threatened sites around the world (httpss://www.wmf.org/project/piedras-negras).
Piedras Negras acropolis represents one of the most impressive constructions of the Mayan world, it rises approximately 130 ft. above the plaza and 295 ft. above the Usumacinta river. The site has ball courts, sweat baths, temple pyramids and residential areas in the periphery; features that display an amazing adaptation to the landscape.
Its architecture and monuments are considered major works of art; fine art expression based on the unique stylistic patterns of the region. An astonishing breakthrough, made by Russian linguist Tatiana Proskouriakoff in 1960, enabled the decipherment of births and deaths of Piedras Negras rulers, using hieroglyphs inscriptions from the site. Piedras Negras archaeological project, during the 1998 field season, had the honor of burying the ashes of Proskouriakoff in Structure J-23, on the Acropolis. Another distinctive characteristic evolves around its funerary pattern, a local tradition, strongly linked to an ideology based on mortuary rituals.
At a personal level I highly recommend this trip due to its remote location and the exciting challenge that the access evokes, between river rapids and the density of the Guatemalan jungle. The visitor easily adopts the privileged sensation of a unique experience, being one of the few visitors that has the opportunity to visit the site and enjoy a truly archaeological quest.
(Day 1) DAY 11 – PIEDRAS NEGRAS
Leave Isla de Flores at 5:00am heading to Bethel port at the Usumacinta river, aprox arrival time 8 am. Leaving from Bethel, an 8-hour boat ride will take the group to the Maya city of Piedras Negras.
Approx. arrival time at the site – 5pm
Camping at the site
(Day 2) DAY 12 – PIEDRAS NEGRAS
Visit the site during the morning
After lunch – boat trip to Busil Ha waterfall, along the Usumacinta river
Camping at the site
(Day 3) 13 – YAXCHILAN
Leave Piedras Negras at 7:00am
Visit to Yaxchilan (2hrs max) – main objective will be the discussion on the Classic Maya sites on the Usumacinta river; their role during this period and their control (Piedras Negras vs Yaxchilan) over the region.
After Yaxchilan’s visit the group will head to Frontera Corozal. After doing border paperwork the group will check into the Centro Ecoturistico Escudo Jaguar to spend the night.
(Day 4) DAY 14 – BONAMPAK / PALENQUE
Leave Frontera Corozal at 8:00am heading to Bonampak archaeological site, approx. arrival time 9:30am – Short visit to the site.
After visiting Bonampak we head to Palenque (approx. driving time 3hrs)
Visit the site during the afternoon
Spend the night in Palenque
(Day 5) DAY 15 – Flight from Palenque to Mexico City