Amazing Central America

Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama,

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16 people
29 days
Code: QVRPC
Activity and Adventure, Discovery, Tours
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Overview of Amazing Central America

Get ready for a fast-paced adventure through the best of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. From oceans teeming with marine life to tropical forests alive with jungle melodies, this pocket of Central America is something of a natural paradise. Whether you’re shopping in colonial Antigua, exploring the intricately carved structures at Copan or taking a night hike up an active volcano at La Fortuna, you’ll get a wonderful insight into the heart and soul of Central America during this incredible adventure.

Trip Summary for Amazing Central America

Start Location: Antigua,   End Location: Panama City

Countries Visited: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, 
Meals Included: Breakfast: 0   Lunches: 0   Dinners: 0
Highlights:

    • Discover Central America, a land of mysterious Mayan ruins, active volcanoes, idyllic beaches and emerald jungles. See the sights and engage in a wide range of optional activities across six different countries on this epic Latin adventure
    • Experience an El Salvador of the past in the colonial town of Suchitoto, before savouring the blissful present on the black-sand beaches along its Pacific Coast
    • Hike, cycle or zip-line through the steamy cloud forests of Monteverde in Costa Rica. Get up close to nature among the hundreds of mammal, bird and plant species that call this place home
    • Dial the relaxation up a notch in Bocas del Toro, Panama, spending several nights on Isla Bastimentos. There may be no roads or cars here, but there are plenty of mangroves, turtles and white sandy beaches
    • Waterfalls, wildflowers, hot springs and mountains – beautiful Boquete has it all. Tour a coffee plantation, ride a bike along a river or take a relaxing walk through the forest, keeping an eye out for tricksy monkeys and tropical birds
    • Get off the beaten track and ride the waves in surfy Santa Catalina. If you’d prefer to stay dry, there’s a beachside hammock with your name on it

 

Day 1 - Antigua
Bienvenidos! Welcome to Guatemala. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm today. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader.

The meeting will be followed by an orientation walk around Antigua with your leader. Antigua was once the seat of the Spanish colonial government and the most important city in Central America. In 1773, the city was destroyed by an earthquake, but many of the colonial buildings have been restored.

For dinner tonight, perhaps sample a tamale, a local dish served in corn leaf, or some pepian, a rich, meaty stew.

As there's a great deal to do in Antigua, we recommend staying a few extra days to make the most of this exciting city. If you need help booking extra accommodation, our reservations team will be happy to assist.

If you're a foodie, head to the CHOCOMUSEO to learn about the history and nutritional value of chocolate. You could even take part in a chocolate-making workshop. You might prefer to relax and indulge in some people-watching in Central Park. If you want to learn more about Guatemala's famous coffee, you might like to take a tour of a plantation and do some coffee tasting. The best value food can be found next to the artesian market near the bus station, the food market is closed after 6pm. If your tastes run to more active adventures, perhaps hire a mountain bike and ride through the lush surrounding countryside.

Unfortunately, more than half the population of this beautiful Guatemala you are about to discover lives under the poverty line, which may explain why Guatemala has also the lowest literacy rate in Central America. With this in mind, the Intrepid Foundation is proud supporter of CasaSito, an outstanding not for profit organization dedicated to assist youth to reach their academic, personal and professional potential.

If you have 2’ to spare (2’41’’ to be exact!) take a look at this short video about CasaSito – it’s inspiring: https://youtu.be/v62Ou9czWyE

If you want to help CasaSito and Guatemalan’s youth, you can donate through the Intrepid Foundation, which means that your donation will be match dollar for dollar by us too. No donation is too small. $5, $10, $50 it all goes a long way to help this fantastic organization. Simply visit our website: www.theintrepidfoundation.org/projects/casasito/

Day 2 - Copan
Today is long travel day. You'll start early (make that very early) in the morning: at about 4 am to avoid rush hour traffic around Guatemala City. You'll travel by private minibus to Copan in Honduras. The 8 hour drive will take you through the wild countryside of eastern Guatemala. Copan is a charming town set into lush surroundings. On arrival, perhaps take a stroll through the cobbled streets and check out the central plaza. You might even like to make an optional visit to the nearby natural hot springs.

Day 3 - Suchitoto
This morning is free for you to continue explore Copan and its surrounding. You may like to pay an optional visit to the Mayan ruins of Copan. These World Heritage-listed ruins are the southernmost of the great Mayan sites for which Central America is famous. Unique because of the 21 stelae (columns) that have been discovered here, they also feature temples, excavated vaults and huge faces carved into the walls. As you stroll past ancient monuments, statues and staircases, it's hard not to wonder at the mysterious disappearance of such a creative civilisation. Alternatively, 2 kilometers out of town you'll find the Macaw Mountain Bird Park & Nature Reserve which is a reserve dedicated to the conservation of the Central American macaw well worth a visit. Alongside macaws you'll also find toucans, motmots, parrots, kingfishers and orioles. Most of these birds have been donated to the park by owners who can not longer care for them or have been confiscated from smugglers.

At approximately 1 pm you wave good-by to Copan and travel by private minibus cross the border into Suchitoto in El Salvador. The road trip should take approximately 7 hours. A beautiful colonial town with colourful houses and cobbled streets, Suchitoto is a world away from modern El Salvador.

Day 4 - Suchitoto
This morning your leader will take you on a walking tour of Suchitoto. The rest of the is free for you to enjoy a range of optional activities around the area. The town of Suchitoto overlooks the Embalse Cerron Grande. Also known as Lago Suchitlan, this freshwater lake is a haven for migrating birds, particularly falcons and hawks. You might like to take a boat or kayaking tour of the lake. Alternatively, you could go for a hike in the nearby Cinquera rainforest, or explore the Mayan ruins of Cihuatan.

Day 5 - El Cuco
At about 10 am start heading south east by private minibus along the Pacific coast to coastal El Cuco (today's drive is approximately 5 hours long). There are 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. In the evening, perhaps enjoy a seafood dinner along the water.

Day 6 - El Cuco
Today is free to explore the beautiful coastal scenery around El Cuco. If you feel like getting active, you could take a trip to see the nearby Conchagua Volcano. Alternatively, you might prefer to take a boat out on the ocean, find some inner peace during a yoga class at the resort or simply relax in a hammock on the beach.

Day 7 - Leon
Today is a full day of travel across the Gulf of Fonseca to Nicaragua. Leave El Cuco at 5 am to La Union (approximately 1 hour) before a 3-4 hour boat trip through the Gulf of Fonseca to the Nicaraguan town of Potosi. The boat crossing through the Gulf of Fonseca can get choppy and the boat may take some water. If your pack is not waterproof, please wrap your valuables and electronics in a plastic bag. Once in Potosi, passports are checked before continuing by private minibus to Leon (approximately 4 hours). Upon arrival your leader will take you on a walking tour of Leon.

Nicaragua has flourished in recent years. Home to immense natural beauty and friendly locals, it is often a traveller's favourite.

Day 8 - Granada
This morning make the most of Leon. Take off is at 2 pm for an easy 3 hour bus ride to Granada. Founded in 1524, Granada is the oldest city in the 'New World'. Featuring Moorish and Andalusian architecture and oozing colonial charm, the city is set on the banks of Lake Nicaragua and is surrounded by active volcanoes. Your leader will take you on a walking tour of Granada visiting busy markets, Parque Central and "La Calzada" a lively pedestrian street which, though a tad touristy, it's busy bars and restaurants.

Day 9 - Granada
Today is free to explore Granada. You can take a guided tour of the city, bargain hard in the markets or wander the cobblestone streets, snapping photos of the colourful buildings. You might like to cruise the islets of Lake Nicaragua by boat. Perhaps hire a kayak or a bicycle and find your own way around, or take a hike out in the surrounding countryside. Alternatively, you could take a day trip out to Mombacho or Masaya Volcano National Park to get close to some steaming giants.

Day 10 - Ometepe Island
At 2 pm travel by local bus to Rivas (approximately 1.5 hours) and transfer to the port San Jorge to catch a 1-hour ferry across Lake Nicaragua to the island of Ometepe. Hourglass-shaped Ometepe Island is formed by two volcanoes rising out of Lake Nicaragua ('Ometepe' literally means 'two volcanoes' in the Nahuatl language). The island is home to fruit plantations, deep jungle and exotic wildlife such as monkeys and parrots. The world's only species of freshwater shark circle in the surrounding lake. A great experience is to sit on the shore and watch fishermen return from a long day on the water with their catch.

Day 11 - Ometepe Island
Today you have a free day to discover the island. Perhaps take a hike up to the summit of either the Concepcion or Maderas Volcanoes. Be warned - at 1,700 and 1,340 metres above sea level respectively, these treks are no walk in the park. You might prefer to splash around in the natural springs, soak up the sun on the beach or check out the island's petroglyphs (ancient rock carvings).

Day 12 - Monteverde
Today is an early start (7 am). Take a 1.5 hour ferry to the mainland and a 1.5 hour transfer to Penas Blancas before crossing the border into Costa Rica. A USD 3 fee is required when exiting Nicaragua. Reaching the Costa Rican border requires a 1 km walk carrying your luggage. Proof of onward travel is normally required to enter Costa Rica, so if you're flying out of San Jose, bring a printed copy of your flight details in case the border officials ask to see them. Once in Costa Rica, travel by private minibus for 5 hours to Monteverde. Once in town your leader will take you on an walking of Monteverde.

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 Cloudforest Biological Preserve. Cloud forests are similar to rainforests, but instead draw their water from a semi-permanent cloud covering the region.This is truly a nature lover's paradise. More than 2,000 plant species, 320 bird species and 100 mammal species call Montverde home. Be sure to keep an eye out for the resplendent quetzal, one of the most elusive birds in the world.

Day 13 - Monteverde
Today you have a full free day to discover the reserve. Perhaps take a hike through the cloud forest, check out the area by mountain bike or fly over the 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. The guides are very knowledgeable and happy to engage in conversation. To see some guaranteed wildlife up close, visit the butterfly and insect gardens or the serpentarium. There are several cooperatives worth visiting in the local communities.

Day 14 - La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano National Park
Leave Monteverde at 2 pm and take the scenic route to La Fortuna. Travel by shared minibus for 1.5 hour to the shores of Lake Arenal, which you'll then cross by boat - a further 1.5 hour journey. On a clear day you'll see fantastic views of the surrounding area. On the other side of the lake, re-board the minibus and continue on to your hotel. La Fortuna is a small town situated just a few minutes from Costa Rica's most famous volcano - the majestic Arenal. While you're here, make sure you take some photos of the volcano reflected spectacularly in the lake.

Day 15 - La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano National Park
There are plenty of optional activities to take part in today. Perhaps take a guided nature hike through the lush forest surrounding Arenal Volcano, keeping an eye out for rare plants and animals. You can also see the forest from a series of hanging bridges. Check out the 70-metre high La Fortuna waterfall, or get active with some water sports on the lake, such as stand-up paddle boarding. 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. Alternatively, 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
Take a local fieve-hour bus to Costa Rica's capital, San Jose. Situated in the fertile Central Valley and home to over half the country's population, San Jose is filled with lively markets, intriguing museums and a dynamic atmosphere. Your leader will take you on a walking tour around the city's main highlights. A good place to start your exploration is the main plaza. Artisan booths are common here, so you never know when an art fair will pop up. The Gold Museum has an amazing collection of indigenous 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.

There are number of highly recommended Urban Adventures to choose from in San Jose. Ask your leader for assistance on how to book them or call locally on 4000 5730 or email [email protected]

Day 17 - San Jose
Enjoy a free day exploring the city. A good place to start your exploration is the main plaza. Artisan booths are common here, so you never know when an art fair will pop up. The Gold Museum has an amazing collection of indigenous 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.

As this is a combination trip, your group leader and the composition of your group may change at this location. There will be a group meeting to discuss the next stage of your itinerary and you're welcome to attend, as this is a great chance to meet your new fellow travellers.

Day 18 - Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Today take a five-hour local bus to Puerto Viejo. A small town on the beautiful Caribbean coast, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca has two sides to it. While the main street has a party vibe, featuring dancehall and reggaeton bars and modern restaurants, further out you'll find great surf beaches, rainforest fruit farms and family homes. The area is home to a mix of Rastafarian, European and indigenous populations. You'll be spending the next two nights here.

Day 19 - Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Take your time to explore Cahuita National Park, which is easily accessible from Puerto Viejo. Wander through the park on the lookout for sloths, monkeys, raccoons, snakes and a great variety of birds. While entrance to the park is free, you will be asked for a donation. You can also visit a jaguar rescue centre or wander through the Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve, which is home to birds of prey and medicinal herb gardens. Back in town, why not hire a bike for the day or hit the waves for a surf lesson?

Day 20 - Bocas del Toro/Isla Colon
Today take a one-hour local bus to the border, then walk across an old railway bridge into Panama. Continue by taxi or collective minivan to Almirante, where you'll take a short boat ride to Isla Colon in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. Rapidly becoming a Caribbean favourite, Bocas del Toro has it all - palm-shaded beaches with crystal-clear water, spectacular snorkelling and lots of wildlife. Culturally, Bocas is a melting pot of West Indians, Latinos and expats, resulting in diverse music, nightlife and food scenes.

For the next two nights, stay on Isla Colon, the main town in Bocas del Toro and a great spot from where to start your exploration of the archipelago, with most bars, restaurants and local operators located on 1st, 2nd and 3rd street - meters from your hotel.

Day 21 - Bocas del Toro
There are several beaches within reach from town - between 8 and 14km from your hotel. However, be aware, apart from Starfish, Sandfly and Big Creek beaches, the rest can have very strong riptides.

When the sun goes down, head into town and check out the local bar and restaurant scene. Where better to live la vida loca than in the Caribbean?

Day 22 - Boquete
Today travel by boat and local bus to Boquete. The total journey should take eight to nine hours. Boquete is a picturesque town located in the highlands of Panama. The town is surrounded by mountains, crystal-clear creeks and rivers, forest reserves, wildflowers and fauna such as howler monkeys and the resplendent quetzal.

Your hotel is located a short drive away from Boquete. Feel free to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery around the property, which has its own bar and restaurant. There is a free shuttle into town a few times a day and most optional activities can be organised directly from the hotel.

Day 23-24 - Boquete
Today and tomorrow are free for you to explore Boquete. The area surrounding Boquete is famous for its coffee. While here you might like to visit a coffee plantation or kick back in town with a couple of the local brew. Why not take a guided bike tour or check out the mini canyons or hidden waterfalls outside of town? In the afternoon, perhaps soak your muscles in the local hot springs.

Day 25 - Santa Catalina
Today catch a local eight-hour bus to Santa Catalina, on the Pacific coast of Panama. This small fishing village is still a very remote, undeveloped destination and offers some of the best surfing in Central America.

As there is limited accommodation available close to the beach in Santa Catalina, sometimes we have to use large multi-share rooms with up to six beds (not bunks).

Day 26 - Santa Catalina
Aside from surfing, the main pastime in Santa Catalina is relaxing, preferably in a hammock. Today you have the the day to do whatever you like. If you feel like doing something active, perhaps take a trip out to Coiba National Marine Park, where you can snorkel with turtles, angel rays and schools of colourful fish. Alternatively, you could join a half-day fishing trip or rent a surfboard in town and ride the waves. If you don't know how to surf, fear not, as lessons are readily available.

Day 27 - Panama City
Today, leave the beach and travel by local bus to Panama City for approximately six hours.

Day 28 - Panama City
Today is free for you to discover Panama City. Explore the historic Casco Viejo, or old town, which features an unusual combination of restored buildings, low-income housing, churches and ruins. You may also like to visit the engineering marvel of the Panama Canal or take a stroll through the rainforest in the Metropolitan Nature Park. Panama City is also famous for its shopping centres, the biggest being Albrook Mall. For more traditional souvenirs, head to the National Artisan's Market.

Day 29 - Panama City
Your adventure ends today in Panama City. There are no activities planned for the final day so you are able to depart the accommodation at any time.

We recommend staying a few extra days to make the most of this exciting city. If you need help booking extra accommodation, our reservations team will be happy to assist.

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