Backroads of Central America Map
Day 1 San José
Arrive at any time. Check into our hotel and enjoy the city. Please try to arrive before 6pm for an important group meeting where you can meet the Chief Experience Officer (CEO) and the other group members.
As it is located in the central highlands, San José enjoys a moderate climate. The heat and humidity of the coast and lowland areas may affect you with a general sense of lethargy and/or loss of appetite. This is no cause for alarm, it is simply a reaction to the heat. Be sure to drink plenty of water (cold bottled water is available everywhere) and do not attempt too much in any given day. We prefer fan-cooled rather than air conditioned rooms to avoid having to acclimatize to the heat and humidity every time you go outside.
Like most cities, San José has its good and bad sides. It is the centre of government, theatre, and art, as well as of air pollution and congestion. It has beautiful parks and museums, and a few beggers on the streets. It is big and often noisy, but even from its crowded downtown streets, you’ll often enjoy a view of the surrounding lush mountains.
Probably the hardest thing you will do in San José, other than get safely across busy streets, is keep the street numbering systems straight. Street and avenue numbers are posted on buildings at the corners of some intersections. Keep looking as you walk, and you will eventually find one.
Day 2-3 La Fortuna/Arenal
Set on the northern plains of Costa Rica, Arenal Volcano sits on the southeast shore of artificial Lake Arenal (77 square kilometres, or 48 square miles). Separating the mountain ranges of Guanacaste and Tilarán, the lake was created by a hydroelectric dam. Winds sweeping off the Caribbean Sea reach speeds of 48 to 72 km/hr (30 to 45 mph), across Lake Arenal you can find one of the best locations in the world to go windsurfing. The volcano, once quite active, has been in a dormant state since the beginning of 2011 but still is a dramatic backdrop to the town of La Fortuna.
If you have pre-booked the Costa Rica Adrenaline Theme Pack, your rafting and canyoneering adventures will be on Day 3.
La Fortuna, the town near the foot of the volcano is an excellent base for adventure. Take an unforgettable night hike around the base of the volcano, accompanied by a soundtrack of monkeys and the rumblings of the volcano in the distance. Hike the area’s nature trails, swim in chilly La Fortuna waterfall or join a canopy tour and catch a bird’s eye view of the forest greenery. Other optional activities include full-day Class III & IV white water rafting on the Toro or Arenal Rivers, mountain biking, caving, horseback riding, or a tour of the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge. Like much of Costa Rica, the area is a birders’ paradise, with over 600 species as permanent residents. . After a long day of exploring, the Baldi Hot Springs might just be the answer to your tired muscles. Soak in one of the natural thermal baths and hope for the clouds to part long enough for a glimpse of Arenal´s slopes shaped by multiple eruptions.
Estimated Travel Time: 5 hours
Approximate Distance: 150 km
Day 4-5 Monteverde
Costa Rica is a natural gem because of its breathtaking flora and fauna. Travelling into the cool cloud and rainforests of Monteverde, we have a glimpse of how lush ecosystems truly are works of art. Take time to bird watch, ride a horse, mountain bike, or ride a zip line over the rainforest canopy.
Spend two days exploring Monteverde and the Forest Reserve, truly a nature lover's paradise. Local guides are extremely knowledgeable about the area and passionate about conservation of this precious ecosystem. The unique community has several local co-operatives worth visiting including artist collectives and a cheese factory. If you're there at the right time of year, you may be lucky enough to see the Resplendent Quetzal, one of the most beautiful and elusive birds in the world. Optional activities include walking across a series of suspension bridges through the jungle canopy, a butterfly garden and a thrilling canopy zip line.
If you have pre-booked the Costa Rica Adrenaline Theme Pack, your ziplining experience will be on either Day 4 or 5.
Monteverde or "Green Mountain", is exactly what you find at the end of the long, rutted dirt road through the mountains. The surrounding pastures were once covered with dense forest, but today only a small piece of it remains. That piece of forest has been preserved as the Reserva Biologica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. Cloud forest is much like a rainforest, but much of the moisture comes not from falling rain but from the condensation left by the nearly constant cloud cover that blankets the tops of mountains in many parts of the tropics. Monteverde Reserve covers 1600 hectares of forest and is home to a great variety of wildlife. More than 2,000 species of plants, 320 bird species and 100 different species of mammals inhabit this small area. The Santa Elena Reserve, another park contiguous with Monteverde, is less well known and visited but also worth seeing. All proceeds from this park profit the local community.
The village of Monteverde was founded in the 1950s by Quakers from the United States. Looking to leave behind the constant fear of war and objecting to being forced to support continued militarism through their taxes, the Quakers chose Costa Rica because of its commitment to a non-militaristic economic path - Costa Rica’s army was dissolved in the 1940s. Since its founding, Monteverde has grown slowly as others who shared the original Quaker founders’ ideals moved to the area. Although the Quakers came here to farm the land, they recognized the need to preserve the rare cloud forest that covers the mountain slopes above their fields. The community is very different from those on the coast, and offers several souvenir shops and the Quaker cheese factory, which is definitely worth a visit. Make sure to try their ice cream!
Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours
Approximate Distance: 50 km
Day 6-7 Ometepe (1B,2D)
From the town of San Jorge, we cross Lake Nicaragua by ferry to arrive at Ometepe Island. The group will be split up amongst different families who will host them in their homes in a small community during their stay on the island. Breakfast and dinner will be provided in the home.
Also known as La Mar Dulce (the Sweet Sea) and Lake Cocibolca, Lake Nicaragua is the largest lake in Central America and the tenth largest freshwater lake in the world. Forty-five rivers flow into the lake and it is home to the world’s only species of freshwater shark. The setting is dramatic, with two towering volcanoes dominating the island's landscape; Volcán Concepción at 1610 m (5281 feet), and Volcán Maderas, at 1340m (4395 feet). The wildlife on this island is abundant and includes several species of monkeys and green parrots. Howler monkeys are especially interesting; their scary roar (you’ll think it’s a jaguar) can be heard for several miles.
Exploring the island, you´ll see plantain plantations and small villages, giving you a chance to see how rural Nicaraguans live. If you enjoy a challenge, hiking Concepcion Volcano might be the right optional activity for you! If not, check out the pre-Colombian petroglyphs, try out the Tarzan swing at a nearby jungle swimming hole or enjoy the beach.
Estimated Travel Time: 10 hours
Approximate Distance: 240 km
Day 8-9 Granada (1B)
Nicaragua has flourished in the past few years and boasts both incredibly friendly people as well as impressive natural beauty. Granada’s colonial charm is complimented by the surrounding active volcanoes and lakes, making day trips a fun and easy option. Hike, cruise, or just explore the city’s markets and museums. Walking is probably the easiest way to see all the sights of Granada, your Chief Experience Officer will give you an initial orientation walk in the city, after which you will have plenty of time to explore in more depth.
Granada is Nicaragua’s third largest and oldest city and retains its traditional Spanish colonial character. It´s sometimes called ¨The Great Sultana¨ because of it´s beautiful colonial architecture. In the warm evenings you can usually find friendly neighbors visiting and chatting with each other from rocking chairs in the open front room of their homes. You´ll walk along cobblestone streets and see brightly painted buildings. Frequently live local music is played in the square, and good nightlife is easy to find. Granada is located on the shores of Lake Nicaragua and has a long park ideal for strolling. For a relaxing afternoon, you can spend a couple of hours in a boat touring some of the 350+ ¨Isletas¨ or little islands by found nearby Granada in Lake Nicaragua. Other optional activities include visiting the nearby extinct volcano Mombacho, now shrouded in vegetation, or Masaya Volcano National Park, which is home to an active volcano. The nearby markets of Masaya house vendors selling great Nicaraguan handicrafts such as hammocks, pottery, and paintings.
Estimated Travel Time: 5 hours
Approximate Distance: 70 km
Day 10-11 Poneloya
Travel by private van for a couple of days of R&R on a remote beach. Surfing, swimming and relaxing on the sand awaits. Opt to hike Cerro Negro or check out the city of León. Our accommodation is right on the beach and has an attached bar and restaurant. There's not much on our stretch of beach, but that's part of the beauty of Nicaragua's northern Pacific coast.
Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours
Approximate Distance: 150 km
Day 12 Suchitoto
After a long day of travel via bus, boat and van, arrive to the colonial town of Suchitoto. Don't forget to eat the delicious pupusas, a local Salvadorian speciality.
Nestled in the mountains of the north of the country, Suchitoto is perched on the edge of an impressive artificial lake called Suchitlan Lake, also known as Embalse Cerron Grande.
Hike a short distance along the road to the waterfall "Los Tercios", famed for its unique composition of hexagonal blocks of stone along a vertical wall. You can also opt to head to Cinquera, a nearby town that was destroyed during the civil war that is now rebuilding. Learn a bit about the tragic history of this small town before setting off into the nature preserve that is near the town to hike to a lookout overlooking miles of forest from above. The preserve is also home to waterfalls and what is left of an old guerrilla encampment that still has an old log table where emergency surgeries were performed.
Or, if you like, you can just enjoy the laid back atmosphere of this colonial town. During the entire month of February, Suchitoto hosts an International Art Festival.
Estimated Travel Time: 9 hours
Approximate Distance: 450 km
Day 13-14 Concepción de Ataco
Explore the "Ruta de las Flores" area with its quaint Salvadorian towns and many artisans. This small town is the home to some talented artisans who have painted bright murals throughout town. Day hikes, a coffee tour and shopping are some of many options for your time here. Hike El Impossible National Park, swim in the pools of Atzumpa, check out some of the other nearby quaint towns or just explore tiny Ataco. This is a coffee producing region of El Salvador, so be sure to sample some delicious coffee in a local café.
Estimated Travel Time: 2 hours
Approximate Distance: 120 km
Day 15-16 Copán
Travel into Honduras and opt to visit the Mayan ruins of Copán. The Mayan ruins of Copán are fascinating, beautiful and unique among Mayan cities. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980, Copán contains some of the most important Mayan ruins found to date, and many unusual artistic features. Visitors walk through grassy plazas filled with intricately carved and decorated monuments, statues and staircases. Huge carved faces stare at you from ancient walls and bring the place to life, causing renewed wonder at the mysterious disappearance of such a creative civilization.
The colonial highland town of Copán Ruinas is a charming and relaxing place. This town has a lot more to offer than just the ruins. Opt to explore the nearby hills on horseback and check out some lesser known Mayan sites along the way or check out a local private macaw reserve that is also home to a large variety of other birds on the property. If neither of those appeal, you can journey to some local hot springs for a relaxing soak.
Concepción de Ataco to Copán:
Estimated Travel Time: 8 hours
Approximate Distance: 400 km
Day 17 Antigua
After a long travel day arrive to Antigua, where you'll enjoy an orientation walk with your CEO. Once the third largest city in all of Spanish America, Antigua served as Guatemala's capital city for more than 200 years until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1773. Modern Antigua is a peaceful, partially restored colonial city that is a pleasure to explore. Enjoy the beautiful architecture of this UNESCO-designated, World Heritage Site. Take a mountain bike ride out into the countryside or explore the fascinating markets, shops and museums within the city. Walk through quiet cobblestone streets past rebuilt stucco homes with heavy, beautifully carved wooden entrances.
The point of reference for finding one's way around Antigua is the Central Park, which is directly in the centre of town and the place to be in the late afternoon/ early evening. You can pick up a map from the tourist office located on the ground floor of the Palace of the Captains General on the south side of the Central Park. Explore the museums, the colonial buildings and other sites in this delightful town.
If you have extra time at the end of your trip, Antigua offers three specialties that make shopping here very worthwhile. Textiles sold here and in the nearby towns are of the highest quality, beautifully designed and woven on foot looms or the rarer back strap loom. Jade, in the form of carved statues and jewellery, is sold in several factories and shops in town and silver jewellery is sold in the better shops and also in a silver factory in nearby San Felipe de Jesus. The city offers good buys in ceramics and antiques as well.
This tour arrives to Antigua in the early evening. If you are interested in exploring the city and its nearby attractions, it is recommended you book additional post-trip accommodation nights.
Estimated Travel Time: 8 hours
Approximate Distance: 200 km
Day 18 Antigua
Depart at any time.