World Rivers: Guatemala

World Rivers: Guatemala

Guatemala, land of the Maya and rugged mountains, of rainforest, caverns, volcanoes, and Spanish colonial treasures, is blessed with rollicking whitewater too.  Wantok brings you the best it has to offer in this great addition to our World Rivers series.   Three exciting rivers, the amazing ruins of Tikal and the rainforest of Peten, the architecture and art of Guatemala City and Antigua, Lago Izabal and the Afro-Caribbean world of Rio Dulce, and the other-worldly pools and caves of the Semuc Champey area fill our time with a bewildering diversity of activities and attractions.

Guatemala is a fresh and vibrant destination for tourism, a great place to visit before it is drawn further into the modern world.

And it’s so close to home!  Please read on for all the details.


Day 1, Guatemala City

On arrival in Guatemala City you’ll be met by a Wantok representative and driven to Antigua Guatemala, a city in the central highlands famous for its well-preserved Spanish Baroque-influenced architecture as well as a number of spectacular ruins of colonial churches.  After checking into our hotel, we’ll have a pre-trip meeting in the hotel lobby at 6:30pm, and enjoy a delicious welcome dinner afterwards.

Antigua is a fascinating place, and you might want to arrive early to spend some time touring the cultural treasures, climbing a volcano, learning to make chocolate Mayan-style, experiencing a zip line high above the town, or just relaxing in the plaza.  Let us know and we will supply a list of activities available directly through Wantok and provide referrals to pursue other possibilities.

Hotel Mansion de la Luz or similar, D

Day 2, Coyolate River

In the morning we drive 2 ½ hours to breakfast at Restaurante La Cabana de Don Miguel. We’ll have our safety talk and prep time there then drive to our put-in for the Coyolate.  It’s a ten-mile Class III-IV run, starting on a moderately-sized stream requiring swift technical maneuvers.  Halfway through the day a confluence with the Rio Bravo creates a higher-volume river with exciting wave trains and hydraulics.  We enjoy a picnic lunch on the river before continuing downstream to take-out.

Our destination for the night is the nearby Hotel Santiaguito, Santa Lucía’s answer to a luxury hotel.  The hotel is modeled on a typical European-style hotel, with a charming décor. Inside the grounds is an attractive and enormous swimming pool which could prove very welcome.

Hotel Santiaguito, all meals


Day 3, Nahualate River

After breakfast we make the short drive to the Nahualate. The excitement begins as soon as we put in with Class III+ consecutive rapids and some class IV in the upper section of the river. We raft about eight miles in all and the river drops 80 feet per mile, so the action is continuous.  The river has some sweet turns and cuts, starting with a small flow. By the half-way point a confluence with a second river creates a section of bigger water.

We lunch at the same restaurant where we had breakfast before the Coyolate, then continue on to Antigua for a special cultural event.  We’ll have the opportunity to gather around a stove from the 1700’s to make our own tortillas, which we eat with toppings, washed down with some delicious Mayan-style homemade hot chocolate. Dinner is on your own at any of the many restaurants to choose from in Antigua.  If the day goes smoothly we’ll arrive back in Antigua in time to see some of this fascinating town in the daylight too.

NOTE:  The Nahualate has a small and highly rain-dependent drainage.  If it is too low or too high we will not attempt the run, but instead drive to Lake Atitlan for a day in the Indian villages on the shore of this volcano-ringed lakes that is one of the country’s major attractions.

Hotel Mansion de la Luz, B&L

Day 4, Coban

This is mainly a driving day, with 5+ hours of travel to accomplish.  We break up the drive at about the half-way point with a short and beautiful walk at the Biotopo Mario Dary (aka Biotopo del Quetzal) which offers a couple of very nice trails through the rainforest in quetzal country.  It is unlikely that we will see one of these elusive birds (the national symbol of Guatemala) but we’ll get a great feel for the emerald forest of the reserve.  We also stop at a nice restaurant along the way where the lunch is on your own.  When we arrive in Coban we check into a lovely restored mansion for the night.

Hotel Mansion del Santo Domingo de Guzman, B&D

Day 5, Semuc Champey

After breakfast, along the road from Coban to Semuc Champey, we’ll stop to stretch our legs, eat lunch and check in at the Hotel El Recreo, then hop on 4×4 trucks that will drive us to our first stop, the Kamba Caves.  Kamba is privately owned, and allows guided candle-lit tours of the caves.  The tours are truly exciting, using ropes and ladders to go up and down through various passages ending, in a beautiful waterfall.  Then on to the main attraction.

Semuc Champey is a natural monument in the department of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, near the Q’eqchi’ Maya town of Lanquín. It features a natural 300 meter (1000 feet) limestone bridge, under which passes the Cahabón River. Atop the bridge are a series of stepped, turquoise pools, a popular swimming attraction.  We relax and enjoy some quality time here.

We return to the hotel, clean up and head out again in the evening to watch the amazing spectacle of hordes of bats flying out of Lanquin caves.  What a day!

Hotel El Recreo, all meals

Day 6, Rafting the Cahabon River

The Cahabon is Guatemala’s most complete white-water river. In addition to the exhilarating rapids, the traverse downstream on its emerald waters is interspersed with more tranquil stretches that afford opportunities to view several species of birds and explore caves, waterfalls, and hot springs along its forested banks.

We put in at Saquija, just an hour above a major rapid, Tres Hermanas, consisting of three good-sized drops (plus an interesting lead-in).  There’s a nasty pour-over on the right side of the second drop to avoid.  Once past that we come to a nice tall curving wave-train with some easily-avoidable rocks at the bottom. Below here the river is quite calm until we reach the Tamax bridge.

Below the bridge is the Middle Gorge with nice jungle scenery and continuous Class III-IV rapids. There are a few more challenging rapids after passing the bridge at a place called Oxec.  We may take out here if the water is a little low and slow, but if the water is high as expected during the periods these trips operate we will continue on to a takeout point at Chulac above the Class VI (not possible to run) Chulac Falls.

Whichever take out we use, our transport will be there to drive us 1 1/2 hours or so to our hotel at El Estor to complete our fantastic day of rafting on Guatemala’s finest river.  We stay at a simple lodge with great food, beautifully situated overlooking Lake Izabal.  There we may see iguanas, crocs and monkeys right from the lounge area.  Order your own dinner from the short but delicious menu at the hotel restaurant.

Hotel Ecologico Cabanas del Lago, B&L

Day 7, Cahabon River

We drive back up the river for an hour or so to Takinko and start rafting again.  The Lower Gorge is a boatload of fun with several titillating Class III-IV rapids such as Corkscrew and Saca Caca.  After this short but thrilling ride, we float another hour on calmer water.  There are stops along the way to explore caves (don’t forget your flashlight) and the warm springs jacuzzi at ”El Pequeño Paraíso,” a small side stream.

The last rapid follows, after which we are treated to a serene stretch of river with mountainous jungle-clad banks. The take-out is at Cahaboncito, about 45 minutes from our hotel in El Estor.

Hotel Ecologico Cabanas del Lago, all meals

Day 8, Livingstone

It’s a short drive from El Estor to Finca El Paraiso, a working ranch with an incredibly beautiful spot in the jungle where a wide hot waterfall drops almost 40 feet into a pool.  Here we linger to enjoy a jungle-style sauna, plunging in and out of hot and cold pools.  We drive on to the pleasant Caribbean town of Rio Dulce for lunch, then board a motorized launch for a 1 1/2 hour trip to the coast through rainforest and sheer walled gorges.  Spectacular!

From the boat we head to Livingstone, an Afro-Caribbean town of no particular distinction made special by the culture of its African-descended population.  We tour the area, shop for the unique handicrafts, then enjoy a Garifuna (name of the local people) cultural/dance presentation.

Hotel in Livingstone, all meals

Day 9, Yaxha

We head back up the river and disembark at Castillo San Felipe, a small and well-preserved fort overlooking the entry to the lake.  It was built in 1652 to keep pirates from looting the villages and commercial caravans of Izabal.  As piracy waned it became a prison, was eventually abandoned then reborn in 1956 as a park.  It’s a great example of the Spanish attempts to control commerce throughout the Caribbean.

Our bus is waiting as we exit the park, and we board for the long ride (about 4 1/2 hours) to Yaxha.

On arrival we check into our rustic hotel.  Later, we visit the nearby Mayan archeological site of Yaxha. Yaxhá is one of those barely visited sites that travelers have been whispering about for years. It was once a small and important city southeast of Tikal, but it now gets about a thousand times fewer visitors. The site is only partially excavated and restored as part of an ongoing German-Guatemalan partnership.  Yaxhá’s buildings were constructed with a lighter-colored limestone than found at other sites, giving it a unique aesthetic, especially contrasted against the dark greenery. The ruins are spread over nine plazas containing 500 mapped structures including temples, ball courts, and palaces.

We’ll spend the late afternoon and evening by Yaxha lake, enjoy a good pasta dinner fixed by our Italian hostess, then complete this eye-opening day by taking a night boat trip to see some of the crocs in the lake.

Hotel El Sombrero, all meals

Day 10, Tikal

Sunrise at Yaxha Lake is a beautiful sight.  Something even more beautiful awaits at nearby Tikal. Tikal is the largest known Mayan ruin in the world and one of the best preserved. The largest pyramid of all Mayan civilization (212 feet) and surrounding temples still extend above the Guatemalan jungle in Tikal National Park. In 1979, UNESCO designated the park a World Heritage Site.

We spend the morning on our guided tour of the main ruins, with the unearthly cries of the howler monkeys echoing among the ancient rocks and the massive temples, decora8-16 participants $4500 per person

6-7 $5000 pp

4-5ted causeways and beautiful plazas that demand our attention.  Many consider it the most magnificent of the Mayan cities.

We spend the afternoon visiting the modest but informative and interesting ceramic and rock sculpture museums at the site before driving 1 ½ hours to Flores, on an island in Lake Peten, for the night.  Near the hotel are several very nice restaurants to choose among for dinner on your own.

Hotel Peten or similar, B & L

Day 11, Depart

We take a morning flight to Guatemala City where we arrive in plenty of time (estimated arrival 9 am) to connect to international flights home.

Breakfast only


September – October 



  • Wantok leadership on the trip and planning assistance before it
  • accommodations in hotels or inns in cities and villages and one night camping
  • all arrangements in the field, including camp meals, cook staffs, group gear and rafting equipment
  • meals as noted in the itinerary
  • drinking water throughout the tour
  • airport transfers on group arrival and departure days
  • sightseeing and activities as noted in the itinerary
  • ground transportation
  • entrance fees



  • international airfare
  • domestic flights within Guatemala as listed above
  • insurance (see Insurance section below)
  • optional tipping off-river and to leader, guides and river staff
  • airport transfers if arriving earlier or later than trip dates
  • excess baggage charges
  • airport taxes
  • any meals noted as “on your own”
  • personal items like drinks, laundry, souvenirs, etc.