Explore Guatemala: A Summer Rafting Adventure

Wantok Adventures | World Rivers

Guatemala: Class III-IV Rapids


Richard Bangs and John Yost (and the spirit of George Wendt)

Trip Dates: July 15-25, 2017

Guatemala, land of the Maya, is blessed with cloud-ripping mountains, caverns deep with legends, hot-tempered volcanoes, dense rainforests and spectacular Spanish colonial treasures. 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..

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.

To learn why this trip is special and personal to me, click here.


To join the trip, contact: John Yost at wantokadventures@gmail.com 


Day 1, Guatemala City

On arrival in Guatemala City you’ll be met by a Wantok Adventures 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


Photo by: Jason Smith












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


Photo by: Jason Smith












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 Coyolate and Nahualate are rain-fed rivers flowing out to the Pacific Coast. If either or both are too low or too high we will not attempt the run, but instead will go to alternate rivers like the Ocosito or the Motagua, near Antigua, or perhaps 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


Semuc Champey. Photo by: Fernando Reyes Palencia on Flickr.












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


Cahabón River. Photo by: Mickaël T. on Flickr.












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


Photo by: Jason Smith













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


Photo by: Jason Smith




















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


View from Yaxha Ruins. Photo by: Christopher William Adach on Flickr.











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, decorated 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


Photo by: Jason Smith













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


To join the trip, contact: John Yost at wantokadventures@gmail.com


July 15-25, 2017


9-16 participants $3800 per person

6-8 participants $4500 per person

4-5 participants $5000 per person

Trip costs are per person and are based on double occupancy. Should you prefer single rooms and tent, the single supplement cost is $450. Should you be traveling alone but willing to share rooms and tent, we will try to match you up with a roommate. If we are unable to do this, the surcharge for involuntary singles is $300.

If you join the group when deposits have been received from 8 or fewer participants, you will be billed at the current tiered price. Should the final group size be bigger than it was when you booked, you will be credited with the difference in tier costs.

Airfare is not included. You will need international flights round-trip to Guatemala City. The flight in Guatemala from Flores to Guatemala City is not part of the land cost of the trip.

Currently the flights are $150 per person which will be added to your final invoice.

Our local operator will issue the domestic tickets.


  • Wantok leadership on the trip and planning assistance before it
  • 10 nights accommodations in hotels or inns
  • 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 flight Flores-Guatemala City
  • 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.

WORLD RIVERS PROGRAM                                                                            

For years travelers have been visiting the great ruins, monuments and cultural attractions of the world. Their more adventurous cousins have been going to the same countries to challenge the rapids of whitewater rivers.   Why not combine the two, we thought? So now we have. In 2017 we are offering four trips that combine the tourist highlights of a country with rafting on its best rivers, spending most nights in hotels along the way: Peru, Guatemala, Morocco, and Bosnia-Croatia-Montenegro.

This enticing collection of journeys will offer something for everyone who loves the thrills and beauty of a great river. Wantok’s encyclopedic knowledge of rivers and river outfitters in a hundred countries, compiled during a lifetime of travel and river exploration, has been applied to devise the very best itineraries with the top operators in these five areas. The trips vary from a gentle scenic immersion in the desert and mountain wildernesses of South Africa s to rollicking whitewater adventures on the Class IV waters of Peru, and offer choices of oar and paddle boats as well as inflatable kayaks.

Perhaps you’ll be lured by the caves (including some underground rafting) and Mayan temples of Guatemala.   The souks, royal palaces, millennial archaeology and Saharan villages of Morocco might catch your fancy, or the prospect of visits to Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca and a chance to watch the colorful Incan Festival of the Sun may prove irresistible. The shocking blue of the limestone-laden waters of the Balkans are tempting too. We’re sure that one of these tempting treats will compel you to be among the first to experience this new way of seeing the rivers of the world.

We’ve chosen rivers that span the seasons as well as the world. You can spend the spring holidays in the southern warmth of Morocco, the summer solstice at an Incan sun temple or at the top of a rimstone pool waterfall in Croatia, or the fall on the pristine waters of the Guatemalan mountains. As the World Rivers program grows, we expect to offer at least one destination every month of the year, taking advantage of the seasons around the world. All of the trips take you out of the US for less than two weeks, and most nights are spent in picturesque hotels and inns as we seek to avoid the blandness of the international hotel chains in favor of small, family-run properties with local flavor and a personal feel.

Sound appealing? All the details you’ll need to pick the right trip for yourself are available in on our website, www.wantokadventures.com. Take advantage of the opportunity to tour some of the most interesting countries in the world and get your whitewater fix too. But watch out: Once you try your first Wantok World Rivers trip, you may become addicted.


Wantok, a word from the Tok Pisin language of Papua New Guinea, literally means “someone who speaks my language”, which by implication means someone from the same village or nearby, and by extension a friend or a mate. We, a group of veteran international river runners, chose the name to celebrate the spirit of camaraderie that brought us together.

We are not a business in the traditional sense. We cooperate to create and market exciting river trips. Our goal is to bring you great whitewater at great values, maintaining the highest standards of professionalism and safety on the water while minimizing the tendency towards luxury of the large adventure companies. We think trip participants are fully capable of being a bit more self-reliant, that 3-4 star hotels with lots of local flavor are preferable to the big chains, that a great meal in a lively local restaurant is more enjoyable than the same meal in a fancy tourist place, and that a sense of adventure should be part of every trip.


Neither the guides who are part of Wantok nor the entity itself, which is a loose association and not a formally structured business, carries liability, evacuation or other insurance for the participants.We VERY STRONGLY recommend that you check what your current insurance will cover on a trip, and then purchase additional insurance for anything else you feel you need. We particularly advise buying trip cancellation, medical and evacuation insurance in case of last minute changes in plans or a need for emergency medical treatment or evacuation while on the trip.

An excellent option is www.MedJet.com. At a modest cost they will supply evacuation insurance from anywhere in the world to any hospital, promptly and without questions.

Two sources for trip insurance that we recommend are Travel Guard International and Travelex Insurance.

You will be required to sign a liability waiver acknowledging the insurance situation to participate in the trip.


A deposit of $800 per person will hold your seat on this trip. If you’re ready to join the trip, please mail your check for $500 per person to:

Wantok Adventures

1678 16th St, Ste B

Oakland CA 94607

If you prefer to pay your deposit by credit card, you can do so via Paypal, using our email address (wantokadventures@gmail.com) to identify us.

You will receive an email on receipt of your deposit with the detailed information on the trip, including a registration form, liability waiver, packing list, and travel details.


For questions and to join the trip,  contact: John Yost at wantokadventures@gmail.com 

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  1. […] So now, in his honor, and to celebrate his truly remarkable life, we are going forward with this special trip to Guatemala exactly one year after George’s passing, and overlapping his […]