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Real Affordable Costa Rica 2014

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Trip Extensions

Pre-trip: Guatemala: Antigua & Tikal

Before your Costa Rica travel, discover a land of mystery and majesty, home to 1,700-year-old Mayan Temples and the deepest lake in Central America. From the bustle of Guatemala City to the Mayan mystery of Tikal, Guatemala is a great complement to your Real Affordable Costa Rica adventure.

It's Included:
Roundtrip flight to Tikal and flight from Guatemala City to San José
Accommodations for 1 night in Guatemala City, 2 nights in Antigua, and 2 nights in Tikal
8 meals—5 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 2 dinners
5 small group activities
Services of an expert OAT Trip Leader who speaks English and the native language
All transfers
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    Today you fly from the U.S. to Guatemala, the northernmost country in Central America. An OAT representative meets you at the airport in Guatemala City and will help you transfer to our hotel.

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    After breakfast, we’ll depart for Antigua. Founded in 1542, this charming city was the hub of Spanish power more than 200 years ago. As we begin exploring the city, you’ll notice the Spanish influence in all that surrounds you. Though an enormous earthquake in 1773 destroyed almost all of the architecture, many colonial structures still remain. On a walking tour, you’ll behold a mixture of vine-covered facades, tiled rooftops, and intricate detailing—all reminiscent of the Spanish style.

    Enjoy lunch on your own, then take a short walk over to the Casa Santo Domingo, a cultural complex housing two of Antigua’s best museums—one featuring Spanish colonial art and another of Classic Maya art. The complex is set within the ruins of the Spanish colonial monastery of Santo Domingo.

    We then arrive at our hotel where we have time to relax and freshen up before our Welcome Dinner this evening at a local restaurant.

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    Today you may join an optional full-day tour that includes a boat tour of Lake Atitlán, the deepest lake in the western hemisphere with a depth of more than 1,000 feet. Surrounded by towering volcanoes, Lake Atitlán’s natural beauty provides a stunning backdrop for our discoveries. We’ll also get a sense of local life around the lake when we explore some highland villages. Lake Atitlán is located in the heart of the Mayan world—the Western Highlands of Central America. More than 85,000 years ago a gigantic volcanic explosion formed this lake. The results of this tumultuous period are quite breathtaking. The lake is located over 5,000 feet above sea level, with three imposing volcanoes gracing its southern edge: San Pedro, Toliman, and Atitlán. Because of this stunning location and arresting scenery, Lake Atitlán has been called “the closest thing to Eden on Earth.” It’s no wonder that visitors use such superlatives. Our explorations include visits to several of the small villages along the shoreline, as well as a boat tour that provides exceptional vistas of water, sky, and volcanoes.

    Those who choose not to enjoy the optional excursion can spend the day at leisure in Antigua. Feast your eyes on the restored, as well as crumbling, monuments of its past. They all have a certain Old World charm. The city is primarily a study in Colonial-late Baroque style architecture, since most of its earlier buildings were destroyed in earthquakes. By keeping everything closer to the ground and reinforcing the structures with piles of brick and mortar, 18th-century builders tried to ensure that the tremors of an earthquake would not wreak the havoc they had done in the past. As a pleasant, visual distraction, these thick, fortified walls were covered with intricate reliefs and saintly shrines.

    During your day you may wish to enjoy a good cup of coffee—and this is the place to do it, as Antigua produces some of the best in Guatemala. Perhaps you’ll spend a portion of the day writing in your journal under the shade of a tree in the central park. Maybe you’ll make your way to the Colonial Museum, which houses a large collection of colonial artwork, ranging from religious paintings and statues to recreations of colonial trade work such as pottery making and blacksmithing. Or, you can search for carved jade and silver jewelry trinkets at some of the local stores. Whatever you decide to do, today is your day to mingle with the locals and get a true sense of Antigua’s daily life.

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    This morning we return to Guatemala City and enjoy a city tour. Founded in early 1776, the colonial settlers believed they had picked a strategic location within the surrounding mountains that would prevent the shock of earthquakes. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Several massive earthquakes in recent history, most notably in 1917 and 1918, destroyed any remnants of the lovely Colonial architecture that once graced the city. During our tour, we’ll take in the colorful, frenetic markets and lively character that adorn its streets today, including a stop at the ornate Yurrita Church and a visit to the beautiful National Palace. The Palace was built in the 1930s and 1940s and now houses the executive branch of the country’s government. Many of Guatemala’s best artists of the time helped decorate the building, and it is now considered a museum because of their contributions.

    After lunch on our own, we’ll depart for our flight to the charming, peaceful town of Flores, arriving at our hotel early this evening. Founded in 1700, Flores is the island capital of the northeastern region of El Petén and it remained the last outpost of the Maya, long after Tikal and other cities were abandoned to the elements.

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    After breakfast, we transfer northeast to Tikal, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and perhaps the most remarkable of all the classic Mayan cities. It is here that a magnificent civilization reigned from about AD 300 to 900. Nestled within Tikal National Park, the grounds are expansive and inspiring, and it’s difficult to determine which is more impressive—the accomplishments of man or those of nature. The towering structures rise above the leafy canopy and fight for your attention with the assortment of animals and exotic birds. Within the park, it’s possible to spot howler monkeys gliding through the treetops, raucous macaws and colorful toucans perching on branches, and wild turkeys wandering the forest floor. We'll enjoy an included lunch while we are at Tikal.

    The Tikal site comprises about six square miles with about 3,000 structures, including temples, pyramids, tombs, palaces, ball courts, and terraces. The Maya had a complex cultural caste system that relied heavily on deity worship. Often perceived as a violent sect, they sacrificed to their gods both in their temples and on the playing fields of their ball courts. Oftentimes the entire losing team was sacrificed in the name of sport.

    At its peak some 1,500 years ago, Tikal was home to an estimated 100,000 Maya, and it was one of the most important urban centers of its time. Its size is intimidating, and its setting is lush and teeming with wildlife. Standing back and just observing the immensity of it all can be quite breathtaking.

    There are many mysteries to ponder today, and after our day at ancient Tikal, we enjoy dinner and perhaps a lively discussion of the famous, and infamous, Mayan civilization.

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    After breakfast at our hotel, you’ll transfer to the airport for your flight to San José via Guatemala City, where you’ll have the afternoon to explore the city before the other members of our group arrive for our Real Affordable Costa Rica adventure.