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Guatemala, the land of eternal spring, is a country of contrasts and ultimate beauty. Steeped in history with magnificent relics of a Mayan past in its rainforests, and cities architecturally branded by Spanish colonialism, Guatemala provides an affordable alternative to more popular choices.

Rutahsa Adventures (tel. 931/520-7047; www.rutahsa.com), purveyors of in depth Latin American excursions, are experts on Guatemala. For almost twenty years, Dr Ric Finch has conducted exceptional tours that are renowned for attention to cultural detail and getting off the well-beaten tourist track. For the first time, Rutahsa's annual expedition will coincide with the infamous Day of the Dead celebrations in Santiago Sacatepéquez on All Saints Day (November 1, 2005).

The tour commences on October 30 from Guatemala City and highlights include visits to three different classical Mayan archaeological sites (the little-visited ruins of Aguateca, the Mayan metropolis of Tikal and a hop across the border into Honduras to marvel at the ruins of Copán), an overnight stay at a picturesque hacienda in the mountains, a boat trip, a stay in a lodge on an artificial island created by the Maya over a thousand years ago, colonial Antigua, picturesque Panajachel on Lake Atitlán, the markets of Chichicastenango, climbing the Pacaya Volcano, the town of Río Dulce on the shore of Lake Izabal, and of course the Day of the Dead celebrations in Santiago Sacatepéquez. Weather-wise, November is considered one of the best months of the year to travel in Guatemala.

Although often associated exclusively with Mexico, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is one of the most colorful and fascinating celebrations in Guatemala. The village of Santiago Sacatepéquez boasts a magical procession of locals through the narrow streets on route to the local cemetery. Once there, they decorate graves and participate in a unique Guatemalan tradition, flying giant kites to communicate with the deceased. The kites have messages tied to their tails telling their ancestors about their lives and asking God for special favors. Far from being a somber experience, this is a day of joy and celebration -- more like a party to remember loved ones The celebration culminates in ceremonial communal lunch featuring the traditional dish fiambre -- a marinated meat and vegetable salad, and a rather potent local drink made of sugar cane called quetzalteca.

The 17-day adventure is priced at a value for money $1,660 per person (land-only, based on double occupancy) with a minimum of 10 travelers required, a maximum of 16 will be allowed. The price includes a $25 per person donation to Programa de Ayuda para los Vecinos del Altiplano (PAVA), a remarkable aid program serving the Highland Maya communities. Rutahsa's previous six trips to Guatemala sold out quickly, so if you are interested, it would be advised to book early and not miss out on a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience Guatemala with the people who know it best.

Although Rutahsa will take care of your every need once in Guatemala, including airport transfers, accommodation, transportation, sightseeing per itinerary and entrance fees to sites, airfare from the US is not included in the price. They do recommend contacting Patricia Guamuchi (a Guatemalan native) of Solar Tours (tel. 800/388-7652 ext. 558; www.solartours.com) for a great rate on airfares if you mention that you are taking a Rutahsa Adventure.

Alternatively, try www.kayak.com for the best published fares to Guatemala, including round-trip from New York to Guatemala City from $500 on US Airways, from $501 on Taca International and from $520 on Continental. From Miami, the price is even lower starting from $397 on Copa Panama Airlines.

To make an enquiry about Rutahsa's Guatemala 2005 Excursion, e-mail Dr. Ric Finch at rfinch@tntech.edu. For further details including a detailed itinerary visit www.rutahsa.com/guate-05.html.

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