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Please note that this tour has been extended by one more day in 2014. Please click here to see the new itinerary and dates.
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.
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 to see the top glowing an eerie red, 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
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
From the town of San Jorge, we cross Lake Nicaragua by ferry to arrive at Ometepe Island, and the Planeterra-supported homestay. The group will be split up amongst different local families who will host you in their homes for two nights in a small community on the island. Breakfast and dinner will be provided in the home.
The Planeterra Project - the community homestay program Puesta del Sol in the village of La Paloma on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua, is now receiving at least two groups per week from G Adventures increasing income for the community. Planeterra is strengthening the organization with training on how to run their small businesses and is investing in solutions to reduce environmental impacts. We are also working on developing other small businesses in the area to be linked to the home stay, creating a sustainable supply chain - and more positive local economic benefits.
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
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
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. Sit back and enjoy! Be sure to have your camera on hand for the breathtaking sunsets over the ocean. Accommodation may be multi-share.
Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours
Approximate Distance: 150 km
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
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
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.
After a long travel day on Day 16, 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.
Concepción de Ataco to Copán:
Estimated Travel Time: 8 hours
Approximate Distance: 400 km
Copán to Antigua:
Estimated Travel Time: 8 hours
Approximate Distance: 200 km
A visit to Guatemala would not be complete without the chance to visit to the famous market of Chichicastenango. Unless you can resist the wonderful handmade items for sale, you should sharpen your communication and bargaining skills. The Chichicastenango market is the best known, but there are a number of other markets around where you may wish to purchase any number of handicraft items. Renowned for its colourful handicrafts and intricate weavings, “Chichi” is also an important trading place for the local residents, and provides close views of daily life of modern Maya. There are also a number of community cooperatives that you may wish to visit. The proceeds from the sales return directly to the community and are a significant contribution to the local economy. Along with your souvenirs you’ll take home memories to last a lifetime.
We then travel through the hills and fertile fields to the shores of Lake Atitlán. Lake Atitlán is one of the most beautiful spots in Guatemala. Twelve native villages, blue-grey mountains and three volcanoes line the shores of this lake resulting in a wonderful combination of unusual natural beauty and traditional culture.
Panajachel is a relatively modern town with paved streets in its centre and a great deal of old world flavour and charm. The best way to see Panajachel is on foot, but pay attention to where you’re going as there aren’t any street signs. Visit the old churches and explore the back streets to see the more traditional side of Panajachel. You’ll have the opportunity to visit the villages on the lake by boat, departing in the mornings and returning in late afternoon. Get ready for spectacular views of the surrounding volcanoes, and everyday life in a highland village. The people of this area have received tourists for some time, and are friendly and ready to smile at strangers as readily as they will at a life long friend.
On Day 20 we will overnight at a Planeterra-supported homestay, this once in a lifetime experience will really help you to gain a better understanding of the day-to-day life of the locals in this region.
The Planeterra project - The Mayan Homestay Project is located in the village of San Juan. The project currently hosts G Adventures groups twice per week and another company’s group once per month. Planeterra's initiative here is to help more families get involved in the Posadas Mayas program and current families to have more space by remodeling and constructing new rooms. The project also includes investing in solutions that reduce environmental impacts associated with tourism (i.e. waste and water management) and developing other small businesses to be linked to the Posadas Mayas.
Estimated Travel Time: 5 hours
Approximate Distance: 100 km
We return to Antigua to spend more time exploring the city, shop for souvenirs and checking out optional activities in the area. 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. Explore the colonial buildings in this delightful town and don’t forget to try some famous Guatemalan coffee.
Antigua offers three specialties that make shopping here very worthwhile. Textiles sold here 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 jewelry, is sold in several factories and shops in town and silver jewelry 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. Optional activities include a hike up the Pacaya Volcano, visiting Macadamia nut and coffee plantations, and salsa lessons.
Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours
Approximate Distance: 80 km
We take the road past areas of dense jungle and arrive at Río Dulce, a small town on Lake Izabal and a port stop for boaters around the globe, on their way to/from Livingston and the Caribbean coast. There are plenty of opportunities for R & R. Aside from boating on Lake Izabal, there are optional tours in the area to view protected manatees, or you may opt to horseback ride through a rubber plantation, explore San Felipe fort, take the morning monkey kayak tour, relax in the thermal springs or hike through the jungle-strewn trails in the Chocón-Machacas Natural Reserve area.
Our final stop in Guatemala is Flores, a picturesque town surrounded by Lake Petén Itzá. It was to the Lake Petén Itzá region that the descendants of the Maya of Chichén Itzá immigrated, moving here from Mexico several centuries after the collapse of the great Maya cities in the Yucatán. These descendants founded the city of Tayasal, on an island in Lake Petén Itzá, and lived there for about four hundred years, isolated and forgotten by the rest of the country, including the Spanish conquistadors. It was not until 1697 that this small city was finally conquered by a military expedition led by Martin de Ursúa, who stumbled upon the city by accident.
The city of Tayasal was transformed into the city of Flores, officially founded by the Spanish in 1700. It remained an isolated area, relying on the subsistence farming of corn and beans, and the gathering of chicle (used in the manufacture of gum), from nearby trees. Despite the recent growth in Petén, Flores remains the same small island town, with narrow, cobble-stoned streets, small, brightly painted houses and friendly people. The island is now attached to the mainland by a causeway, but many of the local inhabitants still get around by cayuco, or dugout canoe. Flores remains one of the most scenic and charming towns in the Petén. It is particularly attractive to visitors because of Lake Petén Itzá, a large lake (12 km long and 3 km wide) offering all sorts of possibilities for fun, including swimming, boating, fishing and bird watching, as well as a small zoo and a nature preserve.
Antigua to Rio Dulce
Estimated Travel Time: 8 hours
Approximate Distance: 290 km
Rio Dulce to Flores
Estimated Travel Time: 7 hours
Approximate Distance: 210 km
Head north to the ancient city of Tikal before venturing into Belize. The spiritual centre of Tikal boasts the Mayan’s highest pyramids, and abundant flora and fauna in the surrounding jungle.
The sheer scale of the ruins at Tikal may at first seem daunting. Even if you make it only to the main plaza, or spend an hour relaxing in deep contemplation, you certainly won’t be disappointed. The central area, with its five main temples, forms by far the most impressive section. If you start to explore beyond this you can wander endlessly into the maze of smaller structures and outlying complexes hidden in the jungle growth. If your energy levels are high enough to make it to the top of Temple lV, your senses will be stimulated. Spectacular views of the surrounding jungle canopy will greet you from the top of the highest structure within the complex. Occasionally, you may spot toucans, macaws and other bright birds from this artificial perch within the greenery. Otherwise, you may simply marvel at the engineering and organizational skills needed to construct this city within the jungle. A local bilingual guide will explain the natural and artificial wonders of this site during our foray into Tikal.
From the town of San Ignacio, opportunities abound for exploring Belize’s little known inland scenic beauty. With your free time here, you may choose to explore the area by foot, canoe or horse, take a caving trip, or visit the Mountain Pine Ridge Area and swim in its inviting pools and rivers.
As a peaceful, democratic and English speaking country, Belize is an anomaly. It seems in many ways not to belong in Central America at all. To an extent, it is more a Caribbean nation than a Latin one, looking out from the coast rather than inland for its trade and alliances. On the other hand, it has plenty of distinctively Central American features. It offers a unique blend of cultures that includes, in a tiny population, people of Maya, Mestizo, African, European, Asian and Arab descent. Aside from the rich and lyrical local Creole, Spanish is also spoken throughout the country. For many years Belize has been a relatively unknown destination, and only recently have tourists begun to discover its wonders, including the western hemisphere’s longest barrier reef (second only to Australia’s).
Well worth a visit, the Cave of the Stone Scepter, Actun Tunichil Muknal involves a 45-minute jungle hike to the opening of the cave, wading across a river three times before the adventure begins! Inside the cave, you’ll find a Mayan cermonial site. There you will be amazed by the natural museum of Mayan relics left just as it was by the Maya 1400 years ago. Ceramic pots, skulls, and calcified skeletons will enthrall even the most experienced speleologist. Spelunking in the Crystal Cave is another popular day trip with our travellers.
Days trips can also be arranged to Xunantunich,an impressive Maya ceremonial centre located on a natural limestone ridge providing a grand view of the entire Cayo District and Guatemalan countryside. The tallest pyramid on the site, El Castillo, has been partially excavated and explored, and the east side of the structure displays a unique stucco frieze. The plaza of the ceremonial centre houses three carved stellae. You can get a group together and hire a taxi to take you to the site. Getting there includes crossing a narrow river by a hand-cranked ferry which shuttles you across! There is a small fee to enter the grounds and a guide can give you the lowdown on the site.
Estimated Travel Time: 2 hours
Approximate Distance: 130 km
Caye Caulker is a relaxed and easy going island with friendly and welcoming local residents. The main street is a sandy pathway through the centre of town surrounded by restaurants, seafood stands and bars. It’s the ideal place to relax and explore the reef then watch the sunset. Snorkel and dive boats leave daily for full or half day outings to the reef, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, the Blue Hole and for manatee spotting tours. The Belize Reef is the world’s second longest (after Australia’s) and offers some truly amazing sights including coral canyons, an astonishing range of tropical fish, manta rays, sharks and barracudas.
Estimated Travel Time: 3 hours
Approximate Distance: 110 km
Mexico is the third largest country in Latin America and the most populous Spanish speaking country in world. Its geography ranges from swamp to desert, from topical lowland jungle to high alpine vegetation and from thin arid soils to others so rich that they grow three crops a year.
Leaving Belize and its Caribbean, reggae-tinged vibe, we head north for our final night of the trip in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, the de facto centre of the Mayan Riviera. This once sleepy village is quickly becoming a destination among sun worshippers worldwide. Spend your time here snorkelling or diving in underground caverns, or simply sipping on cool margaritas and catching some rays on the beautiful white sand beach. Playa del Carmen is also known in the area for its vibrant nightlife. The island of Cozumel, with excellent snorkelling and diving is only a 45 minute ferry ride away and the seaside Mayan ruins of Tulúm are a short drive down the coast. Both are well worth the trip.
Estimated Travel Time: 12 hours
Approximate Distance: 480 km
Depart at any time.