The Complete Guide to the Maya Route in Central America

Chichen Itza

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

La Ruta Maya, or the Maya Route, is one of the most popular itineraries followed by travelers in Central America. The route offers the chance to explore several countries, unspoiled ancient Maya sites, and some of the most picturesque scenery in the world. It's best to start in Mexico before you continue along the majority of the route that takes you through Central America. Guatemala boasts the best shopping as well, and that way you don't have to lug your purchases around the entire trip.

La Ruta Maya: Cancun and Chichen Itza

Fly into Cancun, the resort supercenter on the Caribbean coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. If you arrive early enough, bus into Valladolid, the perfect place to spend the night for an early-morning viewing of the most-visited ancient Maya site, Chichen Itza.

La Ruta Maya: Tulum, Coba, and the Caribbean

Next, the journey to Tulum via Coba, a ruin deep in the butterfly-strewn tropical forest. Tulum itself is the most picturesque of all Maya sites, set atop a tree-tangled cliff overlooking brilliant Caribbean waters and white sands. Spend some time at the area's beautiful beaches - you'll be inland for the rest of your journey. From Tulum, bus to the Mexico / Belize border crossing at Chetumal.

La Ruta Maya: Into Belize

Belize's tiny tropics are home to two main Maya sites, Lamanai and Altun Ha. Bus from Chetumal to Orange Walk, and book a room at the Lamanai Riverside Retreat. The Lamanai ruins are only accessible through a jungle river cruise, an adventure in its own right and a birdwatcher's dream. The boat will pick you up right at the hotel.

La Ruta Maya: Altun Ha and Tempting Detours

Next, bus into Belize City and book a tour to Altun Ha, Belize's largest Maya site. If you have the time, visit the Belizean Cayes, Caye Caulker, and Ambergris Caye - extremely worthwhile detours.

La Ruta Maya: Northern Guatemala and Tikal

From Belize City, venture east to Guatemala through adventure sports mecca San Ignacio, in Belize's Cayo District. From the border, it's a quick journey to Flores and Santa Elena, jumping-off points for the unparalleled Maya ruins of Tikal. At least two days are necessary to do this magnificent site justice. The dense jungle setting, echoing with the calls of howler monkeys, is worth the trek all by itself.

From Tikal, fly or take a night bus to Guatemala City.

Southern Guatemala and the Highlands

Depending on how much time you have left, you may decide to visit the busy colonial city of Antigua, the vibrant Maya market at Chichicastenango, or Lake Atitlan, often lauded as the most beautiful lake in the world and bordered by real Maya villages.

La Ruta Maya: The Journey's End

A side trip to the Maya ruin of Copan in nearby Honduras is also easily arranged. Wherever you travel, you'll end up back in Guatemala City for your flight home.

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