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Central American Journey


From tropical cloud forests alive with jungle melodies and native wildlife to vast freshwater lakes and active volcanoes, this pocket of Central America is a pure, unrefined paradise. You’ll relax under palms on a dark-sand beach on the Pacific Coast of El Salvador, spot colourful birds and see how indigo dying works in Suchitoto, stand in the shadow of mighty Arenal Volcano and spot sloths among the canopy of Monteverde. On this 17-day Central American journey, take in all the must-visit spots like Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica – this adventure is perfect for those who like to experience a destination 'la forma natural' (the natural way).

17 days, from

$1,542

per person

GROUP SIZE

16 people max

ACTIVITY LEVEL

 
2
Trip code: QVRJ
Style: Basix
Theme: Explorer

Details

Countries Visited:  Costa Rica El Salvador Guatemala Honduras Nicaragua
Accommodation: Hotel (14 nights), Lodge (2 nights)
Transportation: Private vehicle , Public bus , Taxi , Shared boat
Included Meals:

  • 1 breakfasts
  • 1 dinners

Group size: Minimum 1, Max 16

  • The stars of this trip are the dramatic and varied landscapes of lush Central America. If you’re thinking active volcanoes, idyllic beaches and emerald jungles – this trip has got you covered.

  • Wind your way through the otherworldly ruins of Copan in Honduras, famous for it numerous elaborate stelae.

  • Nicaragua is often neglected by travellers in favour of its neighbours but their loss is your gain as you’ll have incredible Ometepe Island, which was formed by massive volcanoes, pretty much all to yourself.

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

  • Try out your Nicaragua sign language skills when you order breakfast at an atmospheric cafe housed in a historic building that is managed and staffed by members of the local deaf community.

Itinerary

Show Full Itinerary

Day 1: Antigua

Welcome to Antigua, Guatemala. With crumbling churches, vibrant markets and bohemian cafes set against the backdrop of monumental volcanoes, Antigua is the perfect place to begin your Central American adventure. Speaking of adventure, yours officially kicks off with a welcome meeting at 6 pm today at the hotel. If you decide to arrive in the city a little early (smart move!), there's plenty to do. Maybe satisfy your cravings and learn the art of old-world chocolate production at the ChocoMuseo, or sit by the fountain and people watch in Central Park. After the welcome meeting, the night is yours, so perhaps head out with some of your fellow travellers for a tamale: a classic staple of Mesoamerica that sees dough, meat and sauces steamed and served in a corn husk.

Day 2: 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 3: 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 4: 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 5: 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 6: 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 7: 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 8: 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 9: 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 10: 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 11: 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 12: 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 13: 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 14: 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 15: 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 16: 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 17: 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).