Print

Day by Day Itinerary

Small Groups: Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!

Travel to Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Belize to delve into the legacies of the ancient Mayan civilization. More than 3,000 years ago this sophisticated culture emerged from the humid rain forests, flourished for centuries, and then vanished. In that time, the Mayans created a complex writing system, devised a calendar equivalent to our own, introduced the concept of zero in mathematics, predicted lunar and solar eclipses, and built the tallest structures in the western hemisphere—all while Paris was just a sleepy village. Today, their ghostly remnants are scattered across Central America in an ancient, 1,500-mile-long trade ring known as La Ruta Maya. From ruins to rituals to rural villages, we’ll trace the footsteps of the enigmatic Mayan culture as only OAT can—in our trademark small groups. Along the way, we'll meet modern-day descendants preserving their Mayan heritage with jade carvings, colorful weavings, and warm hospitality. Join us as we travel back in time to explore the Route of the Maya.

San Salvador Lamanai Expand All
    • Accommodations:

    Arrive today in San Salvador, Central America's second-largest city and the capital of El Salvador, where your OAT Trip Leader will meet you at the airport and assist with your transfer to our hotel. There, you'll meet your fellow travelers, including those who took our optional pre-trip extensions to El Salvador: Colonial Suchitoto & the Flower Route or Nicaragua's Colonial Cities & Volcanic Landscapes. This evening, dinner is on your own.

  • Discover San Salvador on a guided tour

    After breakfast, we’ll enjoy a panoramic city tour of San Salvador, passing the National Palace and the Catedral Metropolitana in the city center. Then, we set off to explore Joya de Cerén (Jewel of Cerén), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the first of five Mayan archaeological sites we’ll discover on this adventure.

    Located about 30 minutes from San Salvador, Joya de Cerén is aptly nicknamed the “Pompeii of the Americas, ” because—like Pompeii—it features remarkably intact dwellings that were preserved for centuries after being buried by volcanic ash. Dating from about AD 600, the ruins here were the homes of ordinary people—not, as at most other sites, the monumental temples of royalty—the adobe houses, communal baths, and public buildings of a typical Mayan farming village. This site was discovered in 1976 and is still being excavated. Evidence suggests that the inhabitants were able to evacuate as the eruption destroyed their village, but they left utensils and textiles behind that provide revealing glimpses of Mayan life more than a millennium ago.

    From Joya de Cerén, we head to the border of Honduras—stopping en route for lunch at a local restaurant on the shores of Lake Coatepeque—bound for the town of Copán. This evening, we’ll enjoy a Welcome Dinner at our hotel.

    Please note: If Day 2 falls on a Monday, we will enjoy a visit to Fernando Llort’s gallery in lieu of Joya de Cerén, which is closed Mondays. Fernando Llort, who is sometimes called “El Salvador’s National Artist,” is an artist of note whose work hangs in international collections, such as the White House Museum and the Vatican.

  • Eplore Copan ruins in Honduras

    In AD 250, the Maya—Mesoamerica's (and the western hemisphere's) most advanced culture—began constructing elaborate cities that flourished until about the year 900, an era now known as the Classic Period of Mayan civilization. After breakfast this morning, we set out to explore the crown jewel of their endeavors: Xukpi (to the Maya), now known as the ruins of Copán. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980, Copán is Honduras' most significant pre-Columbian site and the most elaborate of all Mayan cities, earning it the title “Athens of the Mayan World.”

    We spend a full morning here exploring its sprawling ball court, adorned with markers resembling macaw heads; and the Great Plaza, scattered with altars and lined with carved stone columns called stelae, which represent powerful Mayan rulers and date from AD 711-736. Among the ruins here that have helped to unveil Mayan history is Altar Q, a rectangular stone altar with carved portraits of all of Copán's rulers, from the founder, Yax Kuk Mo, to the last ruler, Yax Pac.

    The most impressive remnant is the Hieroglyphic Stairway—63 steps with 2,500 glyphs, or symbols, carved into the stone, transforming the pyramid’s steps into the Mayans' longest historical record. The ancient Mayan belief system gave extraordinary importance to precisely measuring and recording the dates of events, such as the reigns of rulers, and many of Copán's monuments, and those of other Mayan centers, are elaborate sacred calendars.

    And the Maya were far from the only residents of the rain forest of Honduras. During our visit—in addition to examining the ruins—keep an eye out for the fascinating birds that inhabit the surrounding jungle. We depart the ruins for lunch at a local restaurant, after which we’ll have time for a stroll through La Sepulturas, an ancient residential area within Copán.

    Afterwards, you may choose to join us for an optional horseback ride through rolling pastures and fields of wildflowers on our way to La Pintada, a quaint farming village of thatched-roof homes and garden patches. We’ll enjoy stunning views of the ruins of Copán as we ride, as well as the opportunity to spot more of Honduras’s colorful wildlife. At La Pintada, we'll mingle with descendants of the Maya and see how the women make traditional dolls out of corn husks before returning to Copán for a dinner of local Honduran specialties.

    Or take the time to explore the sleepy town of Copán Ruinas, with its cobblestone streets and quaint colonial charm, before dinner on your own.

  • View the rolling landscape while traveling from Honduras to Guatemala

    Following breakfast this morning, we travel to Guatemala. After we cross the border, we’ll stop in the small town of Estanzuela to visit its Museum of Paleontology, home to a collection of Mayan artifacts and murals, as well as fossils of the prehistoric creatures that once roamed Guatemala’s fertile lands.

    From there, we continue on to Guatemala City through a patchwork of farmland, stopping en route for lunch on our own. Upon arrival, we check into our hotel. Dinner is on your own.

  • Encounter friendly locals while touring Guatemala City

    This morning, we begin our explorations of Guatemala City with a panoramic drive through this diverse city, enjoying views of its stately Civic Center, the Neoclassical Metropolitan Cathedral, the ornate National Palace of Culture City, the blood-red Baroque façade of the Iglesia Yurrita, and the bustle of Reforma Avenue.

    After stopping at a local restaurant for lunch, we’ll stroll through the colorful market of Sololá. Here, where tourists rarely visit, our small group will mingle with the Maya people and observe how history is woven into the patterns of their clothing. We’ll also explore this small city’s central plaza and its cemetery, where colorfully decorated, above-ground tombs overlook Lake Atitlán.

    Around mid-afternoon, we arrive at our lodge in Panajachel, located by the northern shores of Lake Atitlán in the western highlands of Guatemala. We take a walking tour of the town, then enjoy time to refresh at our hotel before dinner at a local restaurant.

  • Today, we continue our travel in Guatemala with a cruise on breathtaking Lake Atitlán. Encircled by three towering volcanoes—San Pedro, Toliman, and Atitlán—which are reflected in its azure waters, it’s been called “the closest thing to Eden on Earth.” And with a depth of more than 1,000 feet, it’s also the deepest lake in Central America, formed by a powerful volcanic explosion more than 85,000 years ago. There is no road that rings Lake Atitlán, so we’ll travel to its lakeside villages by boat.

    Indigenous Mayan people settled on Atitlán’s shores around the beginning of the last millennium, making this the heart of the Mayan world. Their ancient traditions, beliefs, and crafts are preserved in the many Mayan textiles, with their distinctive geometric patterns, that are still created here using traditional methods. We’ll witness the fruits of their labors today during a visit to a textile market in the lakeside town of Santiago. While there, we’ll also learn about the traveling statue of Maximon—a famous Mayan deity—and visit an altar where local people still perform rituals to honor him.

    After our visit to Santiago, we cross the lake to the village of San Antonio Palopo, a small settlement lined with adobe homes—the residents of which still wear traditional Mayan clothes—where we have lunch at a restaurant overlooking the lake. Then, we get an even closer look at Mayan traditions during a hands-on weaving demonstration at a local shop before returning to our hotel.

    Back in Panajachel, you’ll enjoy an afternoon at leisure. Or, you might choose to join us for an optional Canopy & Hanging Bridges tour at the Atitlán Nature Reserve, a 247-acre reserve located on the lakeshore. On this excursion, we’ll hike into the region’s tropical forest, walking along hanging bridges suspended in the verdant canopy, while admiring the landscape’s volcanoes and waterfalls. Then, when we reach the top of the valley, we’ll enjoy a thrilling descent by zip-line (eight in total) that brings us back to solid ground.

    Dinner tonight is on your own.

    Please note: During the rainy season, the Canopy & Hanging Bridges optional tour will be available in the morning, and the other activities will move to later in the day.

  • See Antigua's colonial architecture

    This morning, we begin the overland journey to Antigua, enjoying another look at the lush Guatemalan countryside. We’ll stop en route for lunch on our own, and arrive in Antigua in the early afternoon. Founded in 1543, “La Antigua” served as the seat of Spain’s colonial government—whose influence extended beyond Guatemala to Chiapas (in southern Mexico), Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, and parts of Costa Rica—until the Spanish Crown ordered its relocation to the site of what is now Guatemala City in 1776.

    Upon our arrival in Antigua, we visit a local jade factory, where we discover the enduring significance of jade in Mayan culture. This precious stone—excavated at many of the ruins we visit—has long been coveted by Mayan nobility as a symbol of fertility, luck, and power. Then we continue on to a local macadamia farm to learn how these nuts are grown and harvested—and to see how they’re used in food, cosmetics, and a variety of organic products. We check in to our hotel late this afternoon, and have some free time to make our own discoveries before we enjoy dinner together at a local restaurant.

  • We’ll travel to a rural farming village in the countryside around Antigua this morning to experience A Day in the Life of Santa Catarina Barahona. We’ll begin with a visit to a local market, then connect with young Guatemalans during a visit to a local school (when in session) supported in part by Grand Circle Foundation. The schoolchildren are always eager to meet visitors, and will give us a lively presentation on their culture, after which we’ll have some time to interact with them one-on-one before we meet their teachers and other members of their community.

    Our cultural exchange continues at a private home, where we join a local family for a Home-Hosted Lunch. We’ll enjoy a taste of regional specialties, such a sopas (soups), corn tortillas, and pepian—a local favorite consisting of chicken and vegetables in a spicy sauce—as we get a glimpse into the lives of our gracious hosts.

    We return to Antigua this afternoon, where you'll have time for independent exploration and dinner on your own.

  • This morning, we head to Antigua’s Central Park to embark upon a walking tour of the city, one of the Americas’ oldest and loveliest—full of Spanish colonial and Baroque architecture, narrow cobblestone streets, and graceful stucco homes—and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our tour takes in several of Antigua’s museums, as well as the restored convent of Santo Domingo.

    Then spend the afternoon in Antigua, exploring this charming colonial city on your own. From the stunning volcanoes to the smallest architectural detail, Antigua is a revelation. Wander the winding streets at your own pace, linger in a small café, or shop for handmade crafts. The day is yours to savor the beauty of this lovely Guatemalan community, and enjoy lunch and dinner on your own.

    Or, you can join our optional Life in Guatemala's Mayan Villages tour to deepen your understanding of Guatemalan culture and history. We visit the towns of Santa Maria de Jesus and San Juan del Obispo in the countryside outside Antigua, where we'll meet Guatemalan families and delve into local history. The tour includes dinner and a traditional folkloric dance performance.

  • Explore Antigua's markets during a tour of Central America

    Enjoy time at leisure in Antigua this morning to make your own discoveries in this charming city. After lunch at a local restaurant, we depart for the Guatemala City airport for our late afternoon flight to Flores. On arrival, we journey overland to our hotel, where we have time to settle in before enjoying dinner on our own.

  • Explore Tikal ruins

    Today, we explore the Mayan city of Tikal, a magnificent 1,800-year-old complex and UNESCO World Heritage Site. At its peak, Tikal was home to an estimated 100,000 Maya, and it was one of the most important urban centers of its time. Immersed in the Petén Jungle in 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 Tikal site comprises roughly six square miles and contains about 3,000 structures—including temples, pyramids, tombs, palaces, ball courts, and terraces—the tallest of which rise above the leafy canopy and vie for your attention with the assortment of animals and exotic birds. Within the park, it’s possible to spot a great variety of wildlife.

    As we tour today, we’ll visit Tikal’s Great Plaza and see the 144-foot-high Temple of the Grand Jaguar, the tomb and memorial of Mayan ruler Moon Double Comb, who was buried with many treasures, including 180 pieces of elaborately carved jade. We’ll also see the Plaza of the Seven Temples, dating from the Late Classic period and including an unusual triple ball court. And we’ll enter El Mundo Perdido, the "Lost World," where 38 structures surround a central pyramid in yet another “neighborhood” within the vast expanse of Tikal. While Tikal’s history remains relatively unknown, its ruins stand as a testament to Mayan engineering and culture.

    We’ll enjoy lunch at the site, and our Trip Leader will help unravel some of the mysteries surrounding Tikal as we continue our discoveries this afternoon, then return to the hotel. Dinner tonight is on your own.

  • See the Yaxha ruins outside Peten

    After breakfast today, we travel to Yaxha. Yaxha is an active site in various stages of discovery, and here we may observe as archaeologists carefully free centuries of Mayan history from the verdant grip of the jungle.

    Yaxha was a bustling Mayan trade and ceremonial hub located about 20 miles from Tikal, one of the greatest centers of Mayan culture. It is now within the largest protected area in Guatemala, the “Maya Biosphere,” which includes Tikal National Park and a series of smaller national parks and protected areas. More than 1,500 years ago, Mayan priest-kings built scores of pyramids just tall enough to poke above the jungle here and reach the cooling breezes of the lake. They also carved stone monuments, constructed handball courts, and laid out the streets of their city in a grid pattern.

    We enjoy a lunch at a local restaurant near the archaeological site, then continue our overland journey, crossing the border between Guatemala and Belize. On arrival in Belize City, we check into our hotel, where we'll enjoy dinner tonight.

  • This morning, we explore the ruins of Lamanai (a Maya word meaning “submerged crocodile”), named for the abundance of crocodiles that make the adjacent New River Lagoon their home. Nestled amid thick jungle vegetation alive with exotic birds and howler monkeys, Lamanai is accessible only by boat, and boasts the second-largest pre-Classic structure in the Maya world—its magnificent High Temple. The site also features the 13-foot Mask Temple, a stone temple mask of a Maya king.

    The Maya lived at Lamanai for more than 3,000 years, and the ruins here are some of the oldest in Belize, dating to 700 BC. Excavation of the site began in the 1970s, and thus far less than five percent of the structures here have been unearthed. Excavation of the ruins continues to this day. As we cruise up the New River toward Lamanai this morning, you’ll probably agree that getting there is half the fun, as we take in sights of tropical trees gracefully overhanging the water, delicate orchids, colorful birds winging through virgin forest, and freshwater crocodiles lazing on the riverbanks. Then, spend the morning exploring this fascinating site, including its on-site museum, which hosts an extensive collection of artifacts used both for worship and daily life.

    After our exploration of Lamanai, we’ll discover Belize City on an included tour, taking in the bustle of this colonial city on the Caribbean shore. We check into our hotel late this afternoon, and tonight we toast the completion of La Ruta Maya over a Farewell Dinner there.

    • Meals included:

    After breakfast at our hotel, transfer to the Belize City airport for your flight home. Travelers taking our post-trip extension to Belize's Barrier Reef & Ambergris Caye will board a ferry and transfer to Ambergris Caye.

Extensions

Traveler Reviews

There's no better way to learn what a trip is like than from the firsthand experiences of your fellow travelers, and our Traveler Reviews are the real deal—unbiased and unedited—giving you an honest appraisal of the experiences that await you on this trip.

Have you been on this trip? Share Your Thoughts, Sign In

Please note: If you have taken this trip, please log into your My Account & return to this page. You will be prompted to post your review. Reviews are limited to 10,000 characters. Due to our moderation process, please allow up to 72 hours for your review to appear.

Striving for Excellence

Read about our goals >

Our #1 commitment is delivering the best travel experience at the best value, so we take feedback from our travelers seriously as we strive to improve what we do. And one of the best ways for us to measure how travelers have rated our trips—including their experiences and the value we offer—is from our post-trip surveys, sent in by travelers.

Ratings based on percentage of travelers who rated these features "Excellent".

Overall Trip Excellence
82%
Trip Leader Excellence
97%
loading reviews

Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.  Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

Pacing

  • 7 locations in 14 days with two 1-night stays and some early mornings
  • Some long transfers, including three 5-hour drives with regular stops, and 1 internal flight

Physical requirements

  • Not appropriate for travelers using wheelchairs, walkers, or other mobility aids
  • You must be able to walk 3 miles unassisted and participate in 6-9 hours of physical activities each day

Altitude

  • 1 day at altitudes above 8,000 feet

Climate

  • Daytime temperatures range from 50-85°F
  • The low plains of northern Guatemala are hotter, with tropical temperatures and regular rainfall, most of which occur May-October

Terrain

  • Travel on some rugged paths and trails, city streets, unpaved roads, and uneven ruins

Transportation

  • Travel by 18-passenger air-conditioned minibus (no toilet on board), and 18-passenger boat
  • 1-5 hour drives, 1-2 hour boat ride, and 1 hour internal flight

Accommodations & Facilities

  • Hotel rooms are smaller than U.S. and offer simple amenities
  • Water temperature and pressure may vary
  • Bed sizes may vary
  • All accommodations feature private baths

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary:

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens do not need a visa for this trip.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then you may need a visa. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your adventure, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Trip Leaders and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • Clarion Hotel Copán Ruinas

    Copán, Honduras

    Set on a hilltop overlooking the Copán Valley, the 78-room Clarion Hotel Copán Ruinas is located just minutes from the town and Copán ruins. The hotel features wireless Internet access, an outdoor pool, and an on-site bar and restaurant. Each guest room includes air-conditioning, cable TV, telephone, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Best Western Hotel Stofella

    Guatemala City, Guatemala

    Located close to the fashionable shops and businesses in Guatemala City's Zona Viva (“Lively Zone”) district, the Best Western Hotel Stofella provides convenient access to many of the city’s attractions. Hotel amenities include a Jacuzzi, on-site bar, and laundry services. Each of its 60 air-conditioned rooms features a private bath with hair dryer, cable TV, a telephone, and Internet access.

  • Porta Hotel del Lago

    Panajachel, Guatemala

    Located on sparkling Lake Atitlán, Porta Hotel del Lago features a colorful garden setting with volcano and lake views. Enjoy your stay in one of 54 rooms, each equipped with cable TV, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath; and gather with fellow travelers at the restaurant, pool, and Jacuzzi—or even in the hotel's art gallery.

    Please Note: Select departures feature similar accommodations.

  • Candelaria Antigua Hotel

    Antigua, Guatemala

    The Candelaria Antigua is located in a quiet neighborhood near the forested edge of the city, but just a few blocks from Antigua's central park, the Real Plaza. The hotel is decorated with handcrafted Spanish Colonial woodwork, ironwork, and sculptured stone. Each of the 16 rooms has a telephone, cable/satellite TV, and a private bath, and hotel facilities include an on-site restaurant.

  • La Casona del Lago

    Guatemela, Guatemala

    La Casona del Lago is a Caribbean-style hotel located directly on the shores of Lake Petén Itzá, facing the island of Flores. The hotel features an outdoor pool, Jacuzzi, wireless Internet access, safes, and on-site restaurant and bar with magnificent lakeside views. Each of its 32 air-conditioned rooms includes a private bath, hair dryer, telephone, and TV.

  • Belize Biltmore Plaza Hotel

    Belize City, Belize

    We enjoy a comfortable stay at the Belize Biltmore Plaza, located near the airport in Belize City. Each of the hotel’s 75 Caribbean-style rooms features a private bath, coffee- and tea-making facilities, safe, refrigerator, and cable TV.

Extensions

  • Hotel Los Almendros

    Suchitoto, El Salvador

    Situated in the center of Suchitoto, near the main square and Santa Lucia Church, the Hotel Los Almendros is housed in a lovingly restored colonial hacienda. The hotel features an on-site restaurant, serving local and international cuisine, as well as a tropical garden, and a patio offering scenic views of Suchitoto. The hotel's 11 rooms include modern amenities such as air-conditioning, wireless Internet, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Casa del Consulado Hotel

    Granada, Nicaragua

    The Casa del Consulado is located in Granada’s historic section and has a hacienda-like design incorporating enclosed courtyards and a fountain. Each of the 9 air-conditioned rooms features cable TV, wireless Internet access, and a private bath. Hotel facilities include a small swimming pool and a spa.

  • Sunbreeze Hotel

    San Pedro, Belize

    The Sunbreeze Hotel is housed in a Spanish-style building overlooking the Caribbean Sea on Ambergris Caye. Hotel amenities include a freshwater pool, and each of its 46 rooms features air-conditioning, a cable TV, iron and ironing board, and private bath with hair dryer.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two adventures to maximize your value. Here are more ways to create the OAT adventure that’s right for you:

  • Extend your adventure and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip extensions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your adventure
  • Choose to “break away” before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of OAT adventures to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium economy class
  • Extend your Land Tour-only Travel Protection Plan coverage and protect the air arrangements you make on your own—including your frequent traveler miles

The air options listed above will involve an additional fee of $100 per person for confirmed requests (as well as incremental airfare costs based on your specific choice).

Or, when you make your reservation, you can choose our standard air routing, for which approximate travel times are shown below.

Standard Air Routing

w/out standard air $2295
w/ standard air $2645

Private Departures

Explore Central America in an Exclusive Group

Reserve a Private Departure of Route of the Maya for your exclusive group of as few as 8 travelers, and enjoy a truly special adventure for just you and your family or friends—for an additional $600 per person.

For more details—or to reserve your Private Departure—call your Group Sales Account Representative toll-free at 1-800-353-6262 and select Option #3.

Please note: Some restrictions apply. See our Private Departures page for details.

Partner since: 2010
Total donated: $45,030

Making a difference in Guatemala

Simply by traveling with OAT, you support the work of the nonprofit Grand Circle Foundation. Alan and Harriet Lewis created the Foundation with the mission of changing people's lives through travel — which includes both the travelers who journey with OAT, and the local people who welcome us so warmly into their homelands.

Learn more about our work in Guatemala, and what you'll experience during your itinerary:

A Day in the Life of Santa Catarina Barahona

Your visit to Oficial Parvulos School is just one aspect of your Day in the Life experience, which is featured on most OAT itineraries. Each Day in the Life is specifically tailored to showcase daily life in your destination—in this case, the village of Santa Catarina Barahona. You’ll get to know the local people through conversation and hands-on activities, gaining an authentic glimpse of what life is really like here—and not just the typical tourist’s version.

Read More

A Day in the Life of Santa Catarina Barahona

Your visit to Oficial Parvulos School is just one aspect of your Day in the Life experience, which is featured on most OAT itineraries. Each Day in the Life is specifically tailored to showcase daily life in your destination—in this case, the village of Santa Catarina Barahona. You’ll get to know the local people through conversation and hands-on activities, gaining an authentic glimpse of what life is really like here—and not just the typical tourist’s version.

"Our home hosted lunch was fun. It was nice watching the kids, then trying to talk to the parents. Our group included the grandmother as well as the parents. They were sweet. I was able to practice my rudimentary Spanish there too!"

Diane Cummings
Carmichael, CA

Meet the People of Santa Catarina Barahona

The village of Santa Catarina Barahona, located in the Guatemalan countryside near Antigua, is home to a school supported by Grand Circle Foundation's World Classroom initiative, so we've developed close partnerships with village leaders—who are eager to welcome you into their daily lives. Your Day in the Life begins with a visit to a local market, where you’ll get a sense of the region’s abundant produce. Here, you'll also have the opportunity to purchase crafts directly from the villagers who created them—which benefits the village economy and lends a special meaning to the gifts and souvenirs you bring home.

Then, you'll visit the local primary school, where you’ll interact with both the students and the faculty. You’ll also see firsthand the improvements made possible by Foundation support—and the support of travelers like you. You'll continue your cultural exchange at the home of a village family, where you'll enjoy a typical lunch of local dishes—which you may have the chance to help prepare—and a glimpse into the daily lives of your hosts.

By the end of your Day in the Life, we hope you’ll come away with a richer sense of what life is like in rural Guatemala—and an appreciation for the warm and welcoming spirit of the people who call this area home.

Grand Circle Foundation

Supporting a World Classroom: Guatemala

By funding improvements at local schools, the Foundation’s World Classroom initiative is focused on supporting society’s most precious resources: its children. In Guatemala, you’ll visit a school funded by Grand Circle Foundation: the Oficial Parvulos School. Our projects here have included building restrooms and an office, providing painting supplies, and more.

Read More

Supporting a World Classroom: Guatemala

By funding improvements at local schools, the Foundation’s World Classroom initiative is focused on supporting society’s most precious resources: its children. In Guatemala, you’ll visit a school funded by Grand Circle Foundation: the Oficial Parvulos School. Our projects here have included building restrooms and an office, providing painting supplies, and more.

"As a retired teacher, this was a highlight. The students and teacher worked very hard to make our visit enjoyable and meaningful. We especially liked joining one student's family for a meal. It doubled the experience for us and gave us a better perspective of the community as a whole."

Janet Hirsch
Bartlett, IL

Oficial Parvulos School

Partner since: 2010 • Total donated: $41,560

Located in the community of Santa Catarina Barahona, this school of 113 students had no outside support until Grand Circle Foundation evaluated its needs and established a partnership. The school principal, Sandra Natareno, is extremely grateful, and tells us that the teachers and members of the community are all committed to working with the Foundation and creating a safer, more enriching environment for the children. "I dream of the opportunity to see all of the Foundation's projects finished," she says.

So far, we have built new lavatories, as well as a principal’s office, and erected a perimeter wall to distinguish the elementary school from the high school. We donated paint and painting supplies to improve the school’s interior, and purchased kitchen appliances to help the school meet student needs.

School in session:

Mid-January through November

Gifts to bring if you're visiting:

  • Colored posterboard
  • Crayons
  • Tempera paint
  • Play dough
  • Glue
  • Coloring Books
  • Board games
Grand Circle Foundation

Alan and Harriet Lewis founded Grand Circle Foundation in 1992 as a means of giving back to the world we travel. Because they donate an annually determined amount of revenue from our trips, we consider each one of our travelers as a partner in the Foundation’s work around the world. To date, the Foundation has pledged or donated more than $97 million in support of 300 different organizations—including 60 villages and nearly 100 schools that lie in the paths of our journeys.

Read More

From Ancient Empire to Contemporary Culture

The Maya then and now


Although the Mayan Empire ended, the Maya continued to thrive in agricultural villages throughout the mountains of Central America ...

When Hammurabi ruled Babylonia and the ancient Egyptians were under Hyksos influence in the 13th Dynasty, another great empire was forming in the Americas. The ancient Maya began as farmers but went on to develop some of the most advanced forms of architecture, mathematics, language, and religion known to the Americas at the time. Even after the end of their 2,700-year reign of power in the region, the Maya continue to wield their influence on contemporary Central American culture, particularly in Guatemala, where modern Maya people comprise approximately 40% of the population.

Using glyphs to understand the past

It is through ancient Maya monuments, art, and architecture that scholars learned about the system of Maya writing, which many suspect is ancient Mesoamerica’s first writing system and the only ancient language in this region to be comprehensively translated. One of the landmark examples of Maya writing is the Hieroglyphic Stairway, consisting of 1,800 ascending glyphs in Copán, an ancient Maya city in western Honduras. While ancient Maya scribes created glyphs both in stones and in paper texts, the Spanish conquistadors burned most of the paper texts in the 16th century while converting the Maya to Christianity, and discouraged the use of Maya script. After the last of the Maya scribes died out, the text remained untranslated until Western explorers in the 1880s renewed interest in the glyphs.

The glyphs themselves were not fully translated until the 1980s—and a world of dynastic succession and a society beset with violent conquest and gruesome religious sacrifice came to life. The texts and stone carvings also illustrate vivid mythologies, the most seminal of which involves mortal twin brothers fighting gods in the underworld, eventually going on to feed the Maya and then transforming into the sun and moon.

Uncovering the world of everyday Maya

While ancient cities like Copán and Tikal harken to a golden age of architecture, art, and ideology in Maya civilization, our understanding of ancient Maya life greatly improved with the 1976 discovery of the village of Cerén, located in western El Salvador. Called “the Pompeii of the New World” because it was enveloped in volcanic ash in AD 590, the site serves as a time capsule for daily life in a small village of that era. Though it appears the residents had time to escape the eruption, they left behind an impeccably preserved village. Excavations revealed that cassava was widely grown. Some archaeologists have posited that this hardy, nutritious tuber—which remains a staple to this day—may have enabled the Maya Empire to accommodate up to two million subjects at its peak.

Although the Maya Empire ended, the Maya continued to thrive in agricultural villages throughout the mountains of Central America—and their cultural heritage still lives on today. Throughout Spanish conquest, they maintained the spoken language of their ancestors, of which there are dozens of dialects spoken in Guatemala alone. Maximón, the ancient Maya god of the underworld, was reincarnated as San Simón after hundreds of years of forced conversion of the Maya people to Roman Catholicism. In addition to a name change, Maximón also got a bespoke makeover and is usually seen in 18th-century European clothes. Many handcrafts produced in the region today reflect the art of their ancient ancestors, such as jade carvings and intricate textiles. The historic and contemporary legacy of the Maya serves as a window to their civilization at its peak, a haunting reminder of the impermanence of great empires, and a reminder of how the roots of the past give shape to a vibrant modern existence.