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Heart of Central America


Take a wild ride through the heart of Central America – a place of diverse culture, bustling streets laden with delicious food and friendly locals, and a deep history of Maya civilisation and modern religion. Take a 15-day trip starting on Lake Nicaragua, surrounded by active volcanoes. Visit the first and largest national park in the country at Masaya Volcano, and then explore the city of Leon at your own pace. Hit the black coastal sands of El Tunco in Honduras, then enjoy a spot of bird watching in El Salvador. Learn to make some local favourites in a cooking class and then explore the Copan ruins – an impressive UNESCO World Heritage site. Hit the colourful markets of the Guatemalan Highlands and ride on a traditional chicken bus – the source of pride for many locals in Quetzaltenango. Learn about the history and pull of the deity San Simon and find all the hidden gems in Antigua before enjoying a scenic boat ride on Lake Atitlan.

15 days, from

$2,574

per person

GROUP SIZE

16 people max

ACTIVITY LEVEL

 
2
Trip code: QBSKC
Style: Original
Theme: Explorer

Details

Countries Visited:  El Salvador Guatemala Honduras Nicaragua
Accommodation: Hotel (14 nights)
Transportation: Private vehicle , Local bus , Taxi
Included Meals:

  • 7 breakfasts
  • 2 lunches
  • 2 dinners

Group size: Minimum 1, Max 16

  • Take a guided tour of the Copan ruins and archaeological site – a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most important sites of the Mayan civilisation.  

  • Visit an Indigenous artists’ village in Nicaragua to meet with a local artist who makes traditional masks – an important part of the history of the country's revolution. 

  • See the lava flow and crater at Masaya Volcano National Park – the first and largest national park in Nicaragua and a fascinating place to explore. 

  • Visit Chichicastenango market – known as Chichi for short – and pick up your very own huipils (a traditional Mayan garment worn by women and girls) or some handmade jade jewellery. 

  • Take a scenic boat ride on Lake Atitlan to Santiago Atitlan, with 95% of the population of Mayan descent, and meet the shamanic keepers of Maximon and share a bottle of local spirits with them as they tell you stories of local life.

Itinerary

Show Full Itinerary

Day 1: Granada

Hola! Welcome to Nicaragua. Your adventure begins in the oldest city in the 'New World'. Featuring Moorish and Andalusian architecture and oozing colonial charm, Granada is set on Lake Nicaragua’s banks and surrounded by active volcanoes. Your trip starts with a welcome meeting at 6 pm at your hotel today. If you arrive early, why not stroll around the largest lake in Central America? Lake Nicaragua is the only freshwater lake that has oceanic animal life. Tonight, enjoy an optional group dinner with your fellow travellers.

Day 2: Leon

This morning, you’ll hop on a private minibus and start your journey towards Leon. Along the way, visit the Masaya Volcano National Park, famous for the lava flow in the Santiago Crater and the largest national park in Nicaragua. View the famed lava flow and, if you like, take a short walk on one of the trails. This crater is thought to be over 9000 years old! After, continue your journey, stopping at the Monimbo artist village. Meet with a local artisan who makes the traditional masks used during the revolution. Get to know the artist and learn about the significance of the masks, how they are created and the Indigenous perspective of the revolution. Then head to the local market that is at the center of daily life in Monimbo where you'll enjoy an included lunch of local specialties. When you arrive in Leon, your leader will take you on a walking tour of this charming city. Though it's the second largest in the country, Leon is relatively free of tourists, making strolling the mural-lined streets an absolute pleasure.

Day 3: Leon

Make the most of Leon in the morning by exploring the city at your leisure. The street food behind the Lady of Grace Cathedral is some of the best in town, so why not grab a 'Nica taco'? Made with maize, rolled and then deep fried, these beauties are usually served with shredded cabbage and smothered in cream. Maybe take a kayaking tour at Juan Venado Island Nature Reserve – float along the waterway between the mangrove forest and the island’s coast and watch out for wildlife that live here in abundance. Otherwise, a thrilling volcano sandboarding adventure could be just the thing for the adventure seekers out there.

Day 4: Pacific Coast, El Salvador

Prepare for a long driving day today as you cross into Honduras, then to El Salvador to get to your overnight stop. Along the way, your leader will engage you in an absorbing discussion about life and challenges for modern Central Americans.

Day 5: Suchitoto

You have a free morning in El Tunco. Maybe take an optional surf lesson or spend time on the beach. This afternoon, you’ll head to Suchitoto. If you have ever been to El Salvador, you have most likely tried the national dish – pupusas – a thick cake or flatbread made with cornmeal or rice flour. Now you can learn how they’re made with an evening workshop with your group. The ingredients can be found worldwide, so if you want to make your own pupusas when you get home, you’ll enjoy this hands-on experience!

Day 6: Suchitoto

Begin the day with a guided orientation walk of Suchitoto – widely considered the cultural capital of El Salvador. Stroll past gorgeous colonial facades and get your bearings. Birders will want to crane their necks as Suchitoto lies on a bird migration path, providing the perfect opportunity to spot your fine feathered friends. The rest of the day is yours to explore the optional activities. Suchitoto overlooks the Embalse Cerron Grande, also known as Lago Suchitlan. This man-made freshwater reservoir is a haven for the migrating birds, particularly falcons and hawks. Maybe grab a historically minded group (of 3 or more) for a guided walk through Cinquera Forest, where guerrilla fighters used the forest as cover during the civil war.

Day 7: Copan

This morning drive to Copan in a private transfer. With breathtaking scenery, it's another excellent opportunity to grab a window seat. Arrive 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 surroundings. Maybe get started in the Central Plaza and follow your nose to a café. Alternatively, head to the Macaw Mountain Bird Park – a bird rescue, rehabilitation and release centre, this nature reserve is on ten acres of forested land, surrounded by streams and very close to the ruins. Tonight, rejoin your group for a traditional Honduran dinner of Baleadas – these Honduran tacos are made with flour tortillas and stuffed with various ingredients, depending on the season, like refried beans, cheese, avocado and cream. 

Day 8: Copan

Head out early on a guided visit to the Copan archaeological site. These magnificent Mayan ruins were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. Discovered in 1570 by Diego García de Palacio, this continues to be one of the most important sites of the Mayan civilisation. Take your time and enjoy exploring the most important cultural destination in Honduras. The rest of your day is free, so you can visit the bird park if you didn't get to yesterday. Tonight, why not visit the nearby natural hot springs. This optional tour gives you hours of soak time in the mud, steaming natural baths and refreshing pools in the lush jungle, with an included dinner.

Day 9: Antigua

This morning, hop in a private transfer and cross into Guatemala, arriving in Antigua in the afternoon. Check into your hotel and relax, before meeting up with your group for a farewell dinner of shucos – a popular Guatemalan street food like a hot dog, but with toasted bread and guacamole.

Day 10: 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. Why not get a taste of local tradition with a chocolate-making workshop in the ChocoMuseo, or strut your stuff with a salsa dance lesson?

Day 11: San Andres Itazapa / Quetzaltenango

This morning after breakfast, travel to San Andres Itazapa in Chimaltenango. The Guatemalan Highlands are the best place to see the result of Mayan culture and Catholic religion coming together. Witness the unique culture firsthand with a shamanic ceremony at the Temple of San Simon. San Simon, the chain-smoking saint also known as Maximon, is a somewhat morally ambiguous deity. As few Mayan gods survived Spanish colonialism, scholars now think that San Simon is a symbol of numerous lost deities. After leaving your rum or tobacco offering (which can be purchased at the on-site liquor store), you’ll stop for a group lunch, before heading to Las Fuentes Georginas – volcanically heated hot springs in Xela. Surrounded by ferns, these luxurious hot springs are also the entrance to the forest reserve, with trails to the Zunil volcano. When you start to prune, you’ll carry on Quetzaltenango, where you spend the night.

Day 12: Quetzaltenango

This morning after breakfast, you’ll hop on a chicken bus – a truly local experience, chicken buses are a source of national and personal pride. This popular transport option unique to Guatemala has little to do with actual chickens – they are old American school busses passed down to new owners who decked them out in bright colours and decorations. Each bus is unique to the independent driver, many of whom have made this their sole business. The chicken bus will take you to a local market – Almolonga – famed for its giant vegetables, which some believe were blessed by God. Whether you believe the vegetables are a gift from above or due to the high amounts of fertiliser used by locals, this colourful market is a great place to rub shoulders with the locals and maybe pick up a giant carrot.

Day 13: Chichicastenango Market / Panajachel

As Guatemala is home to many markets, today’s adventure is a great contrast to yesterday’s Almolonga. After breakfast, you’ll head to Chichicastenango market (nicknamed Chichi), home to textiles, wooden handicrafts and jade jewellery. This is one of the largest outdoor markets in Latin America and Guatemala’s most historic. Surrounded by mountains, you’ll explore the market with an expert local leader who knows all the best spots and walk among thousands of locals and tourists who hit these stalls weekly. Maybe grab some souvenirs or a huipils for yourself – a traditional garment worn by the Indigenous girls and women of the area. You can also pick up some handmade jewellery, pottery, incense, tablecloths, a ceremonial mask used in traditional Mayan dances or some leather goods. Tonight, spend the night in Panajachel on the shores of Lake Atitlan, where you’ll have a free evening for dinner.

Day 14: Santiago Atitlan / Antigua

This morning after breakfast, head for hop on a boat (called a lancha) on Lake Atitlan – surrounded by volcanoes, rolling hills and Mayan villages, this is definitely one of the most beautiful lakes in the world (as said by Aldous Huxley). Take the scenic ride to Santiago Atitlan, taking in the sweeping views from the water. Although this is the largest town on the lake, it sees far fewer tourists, making it the perfect spot to find authentic Guatemalan people, culture and activities. Here, you’ll visit the current shrine of Maximon (San Simon), where the local shamans keep watch. Your group will bring a gift of local spirits to share with the shamans, and while you drink, you’ll discuss the holy shrine, the perplexing deity and local life on the lake. Tonight, take a minibus back to Antigua.

Day 15: Antigua

Your trip comes to an end today. If you’d like to stay in Antigua for longer, there are many volcano hikes on offer, just speak to your trip leader before you leave. If you need to book extra accommodation, just speak to your booking agent.