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Costa Rican Treasures 2014

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Trip Extensions

Pre-trip: Guatemala: Antigua & Lake Atitlan

Travel from the cobblestone lanes of colonial Antigua to the contemporary streets of Guatemala City, from the commercial bustle of the capital city to rural villages where weavers still practice the craft of their Maya ancestors. And along the way, discover Guatemala’s stunning natural beauty during a cruise on the serenely beautiful Lake Atitlan.

It's Included:
Air transportation from Guatemala City to San Jose
Accommodations for 2 nights in Antigua at El Marques de Antigua or similar, 2 nights near Lake Atitlan at the Hotel Dos Mundos or similar, and 1 night in Guatemala City at the Hotel Biltmore Express or similar
7 meals: 5 breakfasts and 2 lunches
4 included tours: Antigua, Iximche and Solola, Lake Atitlan cruise, Guatemala City
Exclusive services of an English-speaking local guide
All transfers
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    Fly from the U.S. today to Guatemala City, where you’ll be met at the airport by a Grand Circle representative and transferred to Antigua. Here, you can settle into your hotel and relax for the remainder of the day.

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    Set against a stunning backdrop of three dramatic volcanoes, Antigua was founded as the capital of Central America in 1543. It remained the region’s political, cultural, and economic hub for more than two centuries, until an earthquake in 1773 forced the relocation of the capital to Guatemala City. Antigua was also an important religious center during the Spanish colonial era, attracting more than 30 monastic orders.

    After breakfast this morning, set off on an included walking tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, starting at Antigua’s Central Park. Discover the city’s beautiful architecture, including red-roofed houses and cobblestone streets reminiscent of colonial days when Antigua was one of the most significant cities in the Americas. This morning’s tour will take you to Santo Domingo, a restored convent that today functions as a hotel and cultural center. From there, you’ll explore some of Antigua’s most intriguing museums, including the Pre-Columbian Art Museum, which exhibits indigenous artifacts; the Colonial Art Museum, which features matador lithographs by Goya; and the Glass Museum, which displays modern blown-glass sculpture as well as traditional Mayan art. Other highlights included the Museum of Popular Arts and the Guatemalan Apothecary Museum.

    After an included lunch at a local restaurant, the afternoon is yours to discover one of the world’s most beautifully preserved colonial cities. As you stroll the street grid that made this one of the best-planned urban areas in the New World, admire the arcaded courtyards, flower-filled window boxes, and soaring cathedrals that are typical of the Spanish colonial era. Perhaps you’ll browse the apparel and handcrafted textiles at Nim Po't Centro de Textiles Tradicionales. Or rub elbows with the locals as you relax at the town square. Or return to Central Park to enjoy the scenery and watch the residents of Antigua go about their day.

    Tonight, enjoy dinner in Antigua on your own.

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    This morning, depart Antigua for the nearby Mayan archaeological site of Iximche. The capital of the Kaqchikel Maya kingdom from 1470 until 1524 when it was abandoned, Iximche was built atop a high ridge surrounded by deep ravines, a setting which affords commanding views of the Guatemalan highlands. The first recorded description of the ruins was written in 1695, and the site was excavated in the mid-20th century, but local Guatemalans had known of it for centuries, notably using some stones from the ancient Mayan structures to construct buildings in the nearby town of Tecpan.

    Today, Iximche offers a window back in time to Guatemala’s distant past, and your guide will help you imagine what life was like for the ancient Maya here 500 years ago as you walk amidst the more than 160 structures that make up the site. You’ll stroll through the remains of the great palace and across its plazas, which include the ruins of numerous temples, dwellings, and ball courts.

    After lunch on your own in the town of Tecpan, continue on to Solola, a provincial capital that offers breathtaking views of lovely Lake Atitlan. While there, you’ll visit Solola’s market—one of the most popular in the region—where you can meet some of the residents of this fascinating city, one of the few places in Guatemala where male and female residents still wear their traditional Mayan dress.

    From Solola, drive to your hotel in nearby Panajachel, where you’ll take an orientation walk around its neighborhood, then enjoy the rest of the afternoon at leisure as you enjoy spectacular views of Lake Atitlan. Your local guide will provide suggestions on where to dine on your own this evening.

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    Described by Aldous Huxley as “the most beautiful lake in the world,” Lake Atitlan actually derives its name from the Maya word meaning “the place where the rainbow gets its colors.” Formed from a volcanic caldera, this deep blue lake is framed by three pine-clad volcanic peaks—Toliman, Atitlán, and San Pedro—that are a haven for plants and wildlife. Surrounding the lake are several Mayan villages, where a traditional lifestyle endures.

    You’ll discover the natural and cultural wonders for yourself today as you enjoy a boat ride over the lake’s crystalline waters to the village of Santiago Atitlan, capital of the Tzutujil Maya nation. Enjoy time to mingle with the locals, explore this rural town, and visit the house dedicated to Maximon, a Tzutujil Maya god.

    Then embark your boat for another scenic lake cruise to the community of San Antonio de Polopo—another of Lake Atitlan’s coastal villages. Here, you’ll also delve into the indigenous art of weaving. Under the Spanish, different colors were assigned to different towns as a means of control. This distinction prevails in some towns to this day, as the Maya turned a restriction into beautiful artwork, with delicate embroidery and decorative flourishes. During a visit to the home of local weavers, you’ll have the opportunity to examine these handcrafted textiles and witness how they are created using traditional techniques. Then, depart for the scenic town of Panajachel where you'll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant.

    Afterwards, you’ll return to our hotel to enjoy the balance of the day at leisure and dinner on your own.

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    This morning, ride to Guatemala City, the nation’s capital, and enjoy an included tour of this city of ancient heritage—now a modern, thriving center for the country’s commercial and political activities. During your included tour, you’ll view the National Palace, the Cathedral, the Civic Center, and the city’s residential neighborhoods.

    Choose from any of the many restaurants around your hotel for lunch on your own. The rest of the day is yours to pursue your own interests. Perhaps you’ll pass by the National Theater to view its modernist architecture; shop for hand-loomed clothing and blankets, leather goods, and other local arts and crafts; or browse the exhibits at the National Museum of History and Anthropology, the Museum of Modern Art, or the lxchel Museum of Indian Costumes. During dinner on your own, savor the unique blend of Caribbean, African, and European influences that typifies local fare.

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    • Meals included:

    After breakfast, you’ll transfer to the airport for your flight to San Jose, Costa Rica, where you’ll be met at the airport and transferred to your hotel. You have the balance of the day to spend as you please, seeing some sights of the city or simply relaxing at an open-air café, before meeting up with the rest of the group to begin your Costa Rican Treasures Land Tour.