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Central American Adventure


Explore colourful worlds – both on land and underwater – on a vibrant adventure from the sunny beaches of Mexico through jungle and Caribbean coastline to the volcanic mountains of Costa Rica. This 33-day tour hits Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, snaking through all the best spots and introducing you to local haunts as well as traveller hotspots. Discover a diverse marine playground in Caye Caulker, walk through the steamy cloud forests in Monteverde and visit the famous Tikal pyramids, arguably the most stunning of Guatemala’s ruins. Learn ancient Maya secrets and pass through jaw-dropping scenery on this Central American adventure.

33 days, from

$3,540

per person

GROUP SIZE

16 people max

ACTIVITY LEVEL

 
2
Trip code: QVRXC
Style: Basix
Theme: Explorer

Details

Countries Visited:  Belize Costa Rica El Salvador Guatemala Honduras Mexico Nicaragua
Accommodation: Hotel (26 nights), Lodge (2 nights), Homestay (1 night), Multishare Hotel (1 night), Hotel with shared facilities (2 nights)
Transportation: Private vehicle , Local bus , Taxi , Private boat , Ferry
Included Meals:

  • 2 breakfasts
  • 2 dinners

Group size: Minimum 1, Max 16

  • Get to know contemporary Maya life during a homestay in San Jorge La Laguna, a lakeside village where you can share meals and conversation with a local family.

  • Caribbean Caye Caulker is a dreamy place to spend two days with no plans. Munch barbecue lobster? Snorkel in coral reef? Nap under a palm tree? It’s up to you.

  • Cruise up the Rio Dulce to your waterfront jungle lodge, then maybe grab a beer and relax while the sounds of nature fill the air.

  • Quaint Suchitoto is a contemporary arts hub with a colonial facade. Explore the flower-studded balconies, galleries housed in 19th-century buildings and a lake teeming with thousands of local birds.

  • Hike, cycle or zip-line through the steamy cloud forests of Monteverde – there’s so many ways to experience the lush canopies and unique Central American wildlife.

Itinerary

Show Full Itinerary

Day 1: Playa del Carmen

Hola, welcome to Mexico! Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm today. If you arrive early and are lucky enough to have extra time in this beachside playground, why not spend it snorkelling in freshwater rock pools (called cenotes), strolling along the white sands or reef diving on Cozumel. After the welcome meeting tonight, perhaps head out for a cocktail and tacos with your newfound travel buddies.

Day 2: Playa del Carmen

Wake up without an alarm, today is yours to explore this beachside paradise at your leisure. Known for its coral-clad reefs, Playa Del Carmen might prove to be the perfect spot to don your snorkel mask and flippers and explore beneath the surface. Keep your eyes peeled for rays, moray eels and turtles. If you’d rather leave the flippers behind and adventure on land, perhaps catch a local bus and travel south to Tulum, where white-sand beaches and Maya ruins await just a short 1.5-hour journey away. In the evening, you could grab a few of your fellow travellers and find a spot to watch the sunset with a margarita in hand – muy bien.

Day 3: Chetumal

Wake up and enjoy your final morning in Playa del Carmen. Perhaps take an early morning stroll to the beach and dip your toes in the sand or simply let the world pass you by with a coffee in hand at a local café. We’ll head to our next stop in Chetumal mid-morning. Arrive in Chetumal after lunch with the afternoon at your leisure. A quiet city, close to the border of Belize, this place makes for the perfect stop before tomorrow’s adventure toward Caye Caulker. You might like to round up your newfound travel buddies and head to a local restaurant for the evening.

Day 4: Caye Caulker

Bid adios to Mexico early this morning as we head south to Belize. Be prepared for a few hours of travel. First up, we’ll jump on a local bus to the border of Belize and Mexico, undertake border formalities, then board the same bus to Belize City. Once in Belize City, we swap the bus ride for a water taxi trip to the island of Caye Caulker. Expect to arrive on Caye Caulker in the afternoon and get acquainted with the island during a guided walk with your leader. Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America, which will make chatting with locals much easier. Be aware that there may be crocodiles in the split area that separates the north and south of the island so it’s best to take caution while swimming and exploring the beaches.

Day 5: Caye Caulker

Good morning and welcome to heaven! Today is free for you to explore the island and surrounds or simply relax. Whatever you choose to do, it’s pretty much impossible to keep the smile off your face when the scenery is this magic. If you feel like snorkelling, ask your leader about organising a trip to the colourful coral reef nearby, or perhaps head further afield to Hol Chan Marine Reserve, home to the world’s second-longest coral reef. Manatee spotting is one option nature lovers should consider, as the chance to encounter these gentle giants is a special one. Of course, you could always take a stroll and find a swaying palm tree with your name on it – they make the perfect place to nap, read a book and soak up the island vibes.

Day 6: Caye Caulker

What’s better than one day in paradise? Two, of course! Wake up when you like, because you’ve got another free day. Like any good seaside Eden, Caye Caulker is home to super fresh seafood, which you can dig into with your feet planted in the sand at one of the many ‘floor free’ outdoor restaurants. The island's famous lobsters are available between 15 June and 15 February, and you can expect to pay far less than at home (though more than your average island meal). You could even grab some grilled shrimp and a rum and coke made with firewater from a roadside stall to really get into the island spirit.

Day 7: San Ignacio

From the islands to the highlands, today you’ll bid farewell to Caye Caulker and catch a ferry to Belize City and then take a local bus to San Ignacio. Local buses in Belize are a little more basic and crowded than you may have experienced elsewhere in Central America. Get ready for a stop-and-go experience on the journey. There are very few official bus stops in Belize, so the bus will stop as required by roadside passengers. On arrival, your leader will take you on a walking tour of San Ignacio and its twin sister Santa Elena, which will give you a sense of how vibrant the local Garifuna and Maya communities are. Perhaps tonight head out in search of a classic Maya dish like cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork marinated in citrus).

Day 8: San Ignacio

You have a full day at your leisure to discover San Ignacio. This beautiful town is surrounded by fast flowing rivers, waterfalls and Maya ruins, making it the ideal base. One optional activity that will appeal to history buffs is a day trip to Xunantunich, an impressive Maya ceremonial site positioned on a hill that overlooks the countryside. Getting to the site is half the fun, as you'll need to take a hand-cranked ferry to cross the river. Also nearby is the cave of Actun Tunichil Muknal, a living museum of Maya relics. Wade through cool waters to find ceramic pots and crystallised skeletons preserved by the calcium-rich environment of the cave for over 1400 years. Easily spooked? Maybe you'd prefer a cave with fewer (as far as we know) skeletons, like the one in Mountain Pine Ridge. In the late afternoon, the barbecue stalls of Santa Elena start to set up for the dinner rush. It's only a 15-minute walk, so consider wandering over to enjoy a juicy chicken leg and a chat with the locals.

Day 9: Tikal National Park

Rise and shine for an 8 am taxi ride to the Belize-Guatemala border. Once you've crossed over, board a bus to Tikal National Park. In Tikal there will be time to buy lunch before visiting the impressive archaeological site. Towering above the jungle, the five granite temples of Tikal are an imposing sight and one of the most magnificent Maya ruins. Hidden in the evergreen forest are a maze of smaller structures waiting to be explored. The energetic can climb to the top of the ruins for spectacular views over the canopy and the chance to spot toucans, macaws and other colourful birds. Choose to explore on your own or pay a little more for a guided tour (or maybe see the site from above on an optional zip-line ride).

Day 10: Rio Dulce

If you can't get enough of Tikal, you have the option to visit the site again in the (very) early morning at your own cost before departing at 8 am to Flores. It's just a short away, and on arrival your leader will take you on a walking tour of the island of Flores. Continue by private minivan to Rio Dulce. On arrival in Rio Dulce, transfer to the hotel by boat. The easiest way to get back into town is also on the water, a journey which can be organised through the hotel. Alternatively, a 40-minute jungle walk will get you there. The hotel is a great place to relax and look over the water, with reasonably priced meals and drinks served in the hotel restaurant. Now that you are back in a Spanish-speaking nation, why not join an informal Spanish lesson put on by your leader? Muy bien!

Day 11: Rio Dulce

With plenty of free time today, consider taking advantage of some of the optional activities available. Maybe take a scenic boat trip down the river to the coastal enclave of Livingston for a taste of Creole-Caribbean culture. This laidback town on the Caribbean coast feels very different from the rest of Guatemala thanks to its Garifuna population. Or perhaps go boating on the lake, take a tour to spot local manatees or explore nearby San Felipe Fort.

Day 12: Antigua

Leave the 'Sweet River' behind and travel by private minibus to the city of Antigua. The road between Rio Dulce and Guatemala City is one of the busiest in the country. Traffic is slow, there are frequent road works and many, many (seriously) slow trucks. Be armed with patience, music and a good book and the journey will be easier to handle. Spend the night in Antigua before heading to Lake Atitlan tomorrow. Though there's not much time in Antigua today, you owe it to yourself to reward your patience with a tamale – meat and dough steamed in a corn leaf. You could also give the pepian a try, which consists of a rich dark sauce served with vegetables and meat (usually chicken). You may also want to take this time to purchase a few snacks for your time at the homestay on Lake Atitlan as the meals there can be very basic.

Day 13: San Jorge La Laguna

Today. We're up early and ready for an 8 am departure. Travel by private transport on winding roads to Chichicastenango. Home to perhaps the most colourful market in the country, on Thursdays and Sundays locals come from the surrounding villages to sell their wares and the streets are lined with stalls offering multi-coloured textiles and fresh produce. Once we arrive, we’ll visit a local Mayan Shaman and then have time to do a little shopping at the market. Afterwards, head to San Jorge La Laguna, a small Maya village overlooking Lake Atitlan. Locals in San Jorge La Laguna are both very friendly and very shy. In order to make the most of this experience, it may take a bit of effort from your side to break the ice first. Draw on your newly learnt Spanish and get ready for some serious hand signals. Enjoy dinner with your host family.

Day 14: Panajachel

Say goodbye to your host family this morning and move on to the neighbouring town of Panajachel. Located on Lake Atitlan with distant volcanoes looming in the background, Panajachel has a thriving market, good eateries and many water-based activities to enjoy. Once you arrive in 'Pana' your leader will take you on a brief walking tour of town so you can get your bearings. The rest of the time is free for you to explore. Why not go for a swim, hike to San Pedro volcano or kayak on the lake, there aren't many places in the world that serve up active adventure in such a beautiful locale. The surrounding area is also dotted with villages which can be reached on foot or by boat. Watch women weaving at Santa Catarina Palopo or explore the colourful markets of Santiago Atitlan.

Day 15: Antigua

Hit the road again around 9 am and make the journey back to Antigua by private vehicle. In 1773, the city was destroyed by an earthquake, but many of the colonial buildings have been carefully restored and the architecture from its glory days can still be seen. Once you arrive, your leader will take you on a walking tour of Antigua including Cerro de la Cruz lookout. The rest of your time in Antigua is free for you to explore at your own pace. If you fancy a spin on the dance floor and want to learn some moves, Antigua is the place to be. Many dancing schools offer hourly lessons, so you'll be able to perfect your moves. As always, ask your leader for details.

Day 16: Antigua

Enjoy a free day exploring this photogenic city. Perhaps check out the ChocoMuseo located on 4th Street West, two blocks away from central park. Learn all about chocolate, which was first documented by the Guatemalan Maya, as well as it's historical importance. Or maybe grab a coffee from one of the myriad shops in central park and sit back, relax and enjoy Antigua's chilled-out vibes.

Day 17: Antigua

Enjoy a free day to explore the city, with nothing scheduled until a meeting to welcome any new travellers joining you on your adventure. Maybe grab some roasted beans from a street vendor and munch them while you stroll around. If you’ve got a historical bent, perhaps check out the 18th-century ruins of the Monastery of Santa Clara.

Day 18: Copan

Rise and shine for a day of travel, leaving at around 4 am to beat the rush-hour traffic around Antigua. During the drive, your group leader will run an informal Spanish lesson, providing you with some useful phrases to break the ice with the locals. Head into Honduras through the wild countryside of eastern Guatemala, arriving in the charming town of Copan in the early afternoon. While most people use Copan as a base to explore the nearby ruins, there are plenty of other points of interest, both along the cobblestone streets and set into the lush surrounds. Maybe get started in the Central Plaza and follow your nose to a cafe, or perhaps head to the nearby natural hot springs. This optional tour gives you hours of soak time in mud, steaming natural baths and refreshing pools in the lush jungle, with an included dinner.

Day 19: Suchitoto

This morning, join your leader and explore the World Heritage-listed ruins of Copan, the remnants of the southernmost of the great Maya sites for which Central America is famous. It's unique because of the numerous elaborate stelae – carved columns – still intact on site, and there are also temples, excavated vaults and walls inscribed with ancient faces. You’ll wave goodbye to Copan early in the afternoon and head across the border to El Salvador by private vehicle. Depending on traffic and conditions, you’ll reach the colonial town of Suchitoto in the evening. Then get your chef’s hat on with a pupusa making cooking class in a private home. Pupusa, thick cornmeal flatbreads, are a classic Salvadorian recipe from the Pipil culture and are stuffed with some delicious ingredients, like cheese or chicharron (fried pork).

Day 20: Suchitoto

Begin the day with a leader led orientation walk of Suchitoto – widely considered the cultural capital of El Salvador – and admire the elaborate building facades as you get your bearings. Birders will want to crane their necks towards the sky as Suchitoto lies on a bird migration path. The rest of the day is all yours to relax or join the optional activities on offer. Suchitoto overlooks the Embalse Cerron Grande. Also known as Lago Suchitlan, this freshwater lake is a haven for migrating birds, particularly falcons and hawks. Maybe hustle a crew of four or more together and take a boat trip to Bird Island, or perhaps grab a historically-minded quartet for a guided walk through Cinquera Forest, where guerrilla fighters used the forest as cover during the civil war.

Day 21: El Cuco

Today you’ll drive to coastal El Cuco where you’ll find some great dark-sand beaches close to town, including the beautiful Playa El Esteron and Playa Las Flores – one of the best surf spots in the country. Maybe head to a beach for a swim or relax under the palms with a beer while you wait for sunset. As night falls, you could enjoy a seafood dinner along the water – the local crab are some of the tastiest in the country.

Day 22: El Cuco

Today you're free as a bird to explore the beautiful coast around El Cuco at your own pace. Surf culture is big on the pacific coast of El Salvador so you might like to make like the locals and hit the waves with a surf lesson. Alternately, simply sit back and relax in a hammock on the beach and soak up the sunshine with a drink in hand. Life’s good.

Day 23: Leon

Rise early for a full day of travel by private vehicle where you’ll cross the border at El Amatillo then drive to Honduras where you’ll stop for lunch. After there, there’s another border crossing at Guasaule before you reach Leon. Upon arrival, join your leader on an orientation walk in this charming city. Though it's the second largest in the country, Leon is relatively free of tourists, making strolling the mural-lined streets a real pleasure. Tonight you may like to head out to dinner with your group.

Day 24: Granada

You’ll have time to make the most of Leon in the morning, perhaps with a visit to the street food area behind the Lady of Grace Cathedral. Try a 'Nica taco' made with maize, rolled and then deep fried, and served with shredded cabbage and smothered in cream. Otherwise a thrilling volcano sand boarding adventure could be on the cards! In the afternoon, you’ll drive to the oldest city in the 'New World', Granada. Featuring Moorish and Andalusian architecture and oozing colonial charm, Granada is set on the banks of Lake Nicaragua and is surrounded by active volcanoes. You’ll be travelling by taxi from the hotel to the bus station, boarding a local bus bound for Managua that will depart when it's full, and then taking the next public bus to Granada followed by a taxi ride to the hotel. Upon arrival, your leader will take you through the leafy Parque Central and 'La Calzada' – a lively pedestrian street with plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from.

Day 25: Granada

Today is all yours, so explore the city at your own pace. You may want to take a more comprehensive self-guided tour of the city, bargain hard in the markets or wander the cobblestone streets snapping photos of the colourful buildings. Hundreds of evergreen islets dot the waters of vast Lake Nicaragua, and you can spend a few hours exploring them by boat. Or perhaps hire a kayak and find your own way around, stopping to wave at fisherman who live in wooden huts on the islets or the monkeys who live in the trees the huts are built from. Just remember not to take a dip, as freshwater sharks live in the water! Alternatively, you could take a day trip out to Mombacho or Masaya Volcano National Park.

Day 26: Ometepe Island

This morning we’ll enjoy a breakfast together at Cafe de las Sonrisas, a café run entirely by deaf people. The café's owner is aiming to bridge the gap and inspire other business owners to employ local people living with disabilities. Then maybe hit the Convento y Museo San Francisco and view the collection of indigenous stone statues before you catch a local bus to Rivas and transfer to the port of San Jorge to catch the ferry across the Lake Nicaragua to Ometepe Island. Hourglass-shaped Ometepe is formed by two volcanoes rising out of Lake Nicaragua, one active and one extinct. The island is home to fruit plantations, deep jungle and exotic wildlife such as howler monkeys, caiman and parrots. Spend the evening on the island, and maybe head out for a beer at one of the waterfront bars with your group.

Day 27: Ometepe Island

Today is yours to spend however you wish on Ometepe. You can hike both Concepcion or Maderas Volcano, however, at 1700 and 1340 metres above sea level, the treks are no walk in the park. If you are going to tackle them, ask your leader for a recommendation for a local guide. You should also be aware that even for the very fit, both volcanoes will likely take all day (8–10 hours) to summit and then descend. Instead, you might prefer to splash around in the clear waters of the natural springs, soak up the sun on the beach or check out the ancient petroglyphs (rock carvings) scattered about the island. The island’s restaurants can be mixed when it comes to quality so ask your leader which places to avoid and which are the best to eat at. Stick to local fare and you'll have more luck – perhaps try indio viejo: a stew of corn, beef, onion, tomatoes and capsicum.

Day 28: Monteverde

Today is another early start for a full day of travel which begins with a 7am ferry to the mainland and a transfer by road to Penas Blancas before crossing the border into Costa Rica. Once in Costa Rica, you’ll travel in a private vehicle to Monteverde where you can begin exploring straight away on a walking tour with your leader. Monteverde was founded as an agricultural community in 1951 by a group of North American Quakers. These environmentally-aware settlers also established a small wildlife sanctuary, which has since grown into the internationally-renowned Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve. Cloud forests are like rainforests, but instead draw their water from a semi-permanent cloud covering the region. This is truly a nature lover's paradise. More than 2000 plant species, 320 bird species and 100 mammal species call Monteverde home. Be sure to keep an eye out for the resplendent quetzal, one of the world’s most elusive birds.

Day 29: Monteverde

Enjoy a free day to discover this lush reserve at your own pace. Perhaps take a hike through the cloud forest, check out the area by mountain bike or fly over the thick canopy on a zip line tour. Another way to see the forest from above is to take a Sky Walk tour along a series of suspension bridges. You can explore the park on your own or arrange for a local guide to accompany you. Guided tours are particularly helpful for those interested in learning more about the local flora and fauna, as well as the different roles wildlife play in Mesoamerican mythology. For guaranteed sightings of exotic insects and snakes, head to the Butterfly Garden or the Serpentarium.

Day 30: La Fortuna

Spend a final morning in the thickets of the Monteverde jungle, perhaps taking one last walk to search for wildlife, then depart in the early afternoon for La Fortuna. You’ll drive to the shores of Lake Arenal where you’ll take a ferry across the lake to the little town of La Fortuna. On a clear day you'll have fantastic views of the surrounding area. Watching the massive Arenal Volcano loom larger and larger as you approach is a spectacular sight. Once you reach La Fortuna take another vehicle to the hotel, then freshen up and head out on a leader-led orientation walk. La Fortuna is a favourite among travel writers for a reason – words like picturesque and breathtaking spring to mind when trying to describe this town in the shadow of the volcano.

Day 31: La Fortuna

Why not start today with a smoothie and plan how you want to explore? Perhaps take a guided nature hike through the lush forest surrounding Arenal Volcano, keeping an eye out for rare plants and animals, or see the forest from a series of hanging bridges which offer a great vantage point for spotting wildlife like sloths and rainbow-coloured birds. The volcano’s inner workings also mean that the area is home to several thermal hot springs, an ideal way to relax in the middle of nature. Or instead, check out the 70-metre-high La Fortuna waterfall set in the middle of the rainforest or hit the lake on a stand-up paddleboard. Otherwise, a boat safari down the Celeste River offers the opportunity to see lizards, crocodiles and tropical birds in their natural habitat.

Day 32: San Jose

Watch the volcano fade into the distance on a local bus ride to Costa Rica's capital, San Jose. On arrival, head out on an orientation walk with your leader to see the main highlights. Once you’ve got your bearings, you may like to visit the Gold Museum, which has an amazing collection of pre-Spanish gold art. If you're in the mood for a bit of shopping, head to the outdoor market in the Plaza de la Cultura or the city's Central Market, where you can buy anything from handicrafts to seafood.

Day 33: San Jose

There are no activities planned for today so you are free to depart after check out. There's a lot to see and do in and around San Jose, so if you'd like to extend your visit and need further accommodation, we would be happy to assist (subject to availability).