Central America in Depth

Belize, Guatemala, Mexico,

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16 people
31 days
Code: GSRYC
Activity and Adventure, Tours
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Overview of Central America in Depth

This is a pretty epic trip. Mexico, Belize and Guatemala… ie Maya ruins, tacos, Mexican markets, mezcal, waterfalls, dancing in the streets, hammocks, beaches, islands, snorkeling, swimming holes, caves, butterflies, jungles, rivers, hot springs, volcanoes, tamales, homestays… this is just getting ridiculous. 

Mexico, Belize, Guatemala. You’re welcome.

Trip Summary for Central America in Depth

Start Location: Mexico City,   End Location: Antigua

Countries Visited: Belize, Guatemala, Mexico, 
Meals Included: Breakfast: 1   Lunches: 0   Dinners: 1
Highlights:

    • This overland adventure allows you to see some of the best of Central America in one trip, covering big parts of Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.
    • Eat your way through arty Oaxaca. Mole, mezcal and chocolate for dinner? Delicioso!
    • Escape the Mexican heat in San Cristobal de las Casas. This old-world town is surrounded by ancient tribal villages that still have their traditional customs and roots.
    • Chichen Itza is one the New Seven Wonders of the World and it’s not hard to see why – strolling around these ancient Mayan ruins feels pretty amazing.
    • Extended time in Caye Caulker and Antigua offers the perfect opportunity to enjoy laid-back island vibes as well as buzzing colonial city life.
    • There’s nothing quite like staying with a local family to really experience a place. You’ll be feasting at breakfast and dinner, and improving your Spanish with the locals in San Jorge La Laguna in no time.

 

Day 1 - Mexico City
Bienvenidos! Where better to start a Mexico exploration than in Mexico City. Modern meets ancient here in one of the world's largest urban centres. Forget about the crowds and the smog, D.F. (Distrito Federal) has got museums, galleries and great architecture for you, along with pumping nightlife and delicious street food.

Let’s kick things off with a Welcome Meeting today at 6pm. 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 have all these details for your leader. If you arrive into the city early, head to the Zocalo, the city's huge central square, to see Aztec ruins and colonial architecture, or relax in one of the many parks, plazas or gardens. After the meeting tonight, you’re definitely going to want to seek out some tacos for dinner.

Day 2 - Mexico City
Maybe grab some chilaquiles for breakfast this morning, then join your leader for an orientation walk around the city, followed by a free afternoon. There’s so much to do here in the city – if you like art, the Frida Kahlo Museum is a must-see, and for all museum lovers there's the Museum of Anthropology or the Palace of Fine Art. Another great thing to do is to hop on one of the colourfully painted boats that cruise through the canal district of Xochimilco. Alternatively, you can choose to take an optional day trip to the archaeological ruins of Teotihuacan, 50 kilometres out of the city. A local guide will lead you down ‘The Avenue of the Dead’, pointing out the historic Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon. Don’t forget to snack your way around the city too, munching on tostadas, tortas, and chicharrones all day long.

Day 3 - Puebla
This morning and most of the afternoon are free to continue exploring Mexico City. Some of the most vibrant (not to mention most delicious) places in the city are its streets markets – from food, to handicrafts, to magic potions, these markets are a riot of colours, smells, and sights. Later in the afternoon, take taxis to the bus station and catch a local bus to Puebla (approx 2.5 hours). Please make sure you bring bottled water and snacks for the journey. Local buses in Mexico aren’t the colourful school buses you’ll see in other areas of Central America; most of the buses we use in Mexico are comfortable coach-style vehicles, with a bathroom and seats for all passengers. Local buses tend to blast the air conditioning, so remember to pack a jacket in case you get cold. Puebla sits in the Puebla Valley surrounded by snow-topped mountains and volcanoes, and it's got a growing art and nightlife scene.

Day 4 - Puebla
Today is free to discover Puebla at your leisure. Although a rapidly growing city, Puebla's got an amazingly well preserved centre with loads of colonial buildings. There are over 70 different churches alone. Two top ones to check out are Santa Domingo Church and Rosary Chapel. You can head to the markets to brush up on your bargaining skills and pick up some hand-painted tiles or other handicrafts. If you're looking for something more active, go for a hike near one of the area's looming volcanoes, or head to Cholula for the archaeological sites and massive pyramid. The city is also obsessed with food, so after a day of sightseeing and shopping, why not try some mole Poblano, a dish native to Puebla and famous all over Mexico. You could even try making it yourself during an optional cooking class. For something a bit more dramatic, check out a Lucha Libre show, the famous Mexican sport where masked musclemen combine wrestling and theatre in a memorable performance.

Day 5 - Oaxaca
Get cosy with the locals as you travel by local bus to Oaxaca (approximately 5 hours). You'll have two full free days here. Your leader will provide ideas for activities and help you to make the most of your time. A beautiful old colonial town, Oaxaca is full of graceful arcades and colourful markets. Descendants of the Zapotec and Mixtec Indians selling colourful woven blankets and shawls populate the markets – a great place to shop for textiles and margarita flavours. Here you’ll also find some tasty regional food specialties – snack on everything from cactus fruit, to spicy baked chilli and lime grasshoppers and the heavenly Oaxacan cheese. Oaxaca is also known for its arts scene, including folk art, fine art and dance. Get lost in the narrow, cobbled streets or simply sit in the square sipping a mezcal as the world goes by. Your hotel is within walking distance of Oaxaca's nightlife hot spots.

Day 6-7 - Oaxaca

Day 8-9 - San Cristobal de las Casas

Day 10 - Palenque
Today travel along a windy road by private minivan to Palenque (approx 6 hours). Once you've arrived, the afternoon is free for you to relax or explore. Situated in hot jungle, Palenque is the jumping off point to the nearby Mayan ruins of the same name. You'll have tomorrow to check them out.

Notes: The local Zapatista movement in the region around Palenque has been quite active in recent months, occasionally holding protests or blocking roads. Our local operations team is constantly monitoring this situation to ensure the safety of our passengers and leaders. In some cases, we might need to use an alternative route from San Cristobal to Palenque to avoid this activity – more so to bypass long traffic delays than any real danger.

Day 11 - Palenque/Overnight Bus
Today you have the chance to visit the ruins of Palenque. Sitting on a hilltop surrounded by thick trees, the ruins date back to 600 AD and are some of the most impressive Mayan relics in Mexico. As you walk among the temples, listen out for the eerie calls of howler monkeys and screeching parrots echoing from the jungle. There are many ruins that are still un-excavated and remain concealed in the forest. You can opt to take a guided tour of the ruins or through the surrounding jungle to a hidden waterfall. The area gives you a great idea of what the Spanish invaders must have seen when they first arrived. This feels like real Tomb Raider stuff. This evening, transfer to the bus station and board an overnight bus to Merida (approx 8-9 hours in total).

Day 12-13 - Merida

Day 14 - Chichen Itza/Playa del Carmen
Chichen Itza is your first stop today (approx 2 hours). This is possibly the most famous Mayan site in Mexico. Recently named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza has both Toltec and Mayan ruins lying alongside each other. The famous El Castillo (Temple of Kukulkan) pyramid dominates the site. Not far from the temple is the ‘ball court’, where many disputes are were settled by way of a ball game that employed only the elbows, hips and wrists. Stone carvings depicting violence suggest it was not some casual sport. Nearby, excavations of the Well of Sacrifice offered up treasures of jade, copper and gold as well as many human and animal bones. Following a guided tour of the site, continue to the Caribbean coast and the resort town of Playa del Carmen by private minibus (approx 3 hours). Blessed with azure waters, powdery beaches and a European feel, Playa del Carmen is a resort city close to Cancun but with less of a party atmosphere. Here you can spend your time snorkelling among the mangroves, diving in underground caverns, tanning, or strolling along white sands. It's possible to take a ferry from here across to Cozumel, an island famous for its reef diving. In the evenings, feast on seafood, kick back, and watch the waves with a margarita or two.

Day 15 - Playa del Carmen
Today is a free day in Playa del Carmen. Maybe join some optional activities like snorkeling among mangroves and cycling, or just stroll along the beaches.

Day 16 - Tulum
Today you'll hop on a local bus along the Caribbean coast to Tulum (approx 1.5 hours), where it's all about laid-back life and the broad, white beach.

Once you're settled, there's the chance to visit one of the best-looking Maya sites around. The impressive pre-Columbian walled city ruins are all crumbly and clinging to a cliff-top over a lovely beach, with spectacular views over the tropical shores below. You can even go for a swim within its ancient walls.
In the evening, kick back and watch the waves with a margarita.

Day 17 - Tulum
Today is free to relax, join some optional activities and generally do what you feel. Two wheels are a good way to start the day, so rent a bike, cruise around the area and cover a lot of ground in a short time. There's also the option of heading to Akumal Bay for a snorkeling tour of the reef.

Day 18 - Caye Caulker
New day, new country. Adios Mexico, hello Belize. Much of today will be taken up with travel, driving by local bus to the border, then on to Belize City (approx 8 hours in total). Let the wind and spray wash the bus out of your face with a speedboat to Caye Caulker (approx 1 hour).

If your idea of paradise is white sand, blue waters and palm trees then you’re going to dig Caye Caulker.

Day 19-20 - Caye Caulker

Day 21 - San Ignacio
Today you'll leave the island behind and return to Belize City by boat (approx 1 hour), before taking a local bus to San Ignacio (approx 3 hours). The local buses in Belize are a little more basic than in Mexico but this is a great opportunity to mix with Belizeans and get a feel for local life. Get ready for stop and go on the journey, as there are very few official bus stops in Belize and the bus will keep stopping to pick up passengers.

San Ignacio is a lively town surrounded by fast-flowing rivers, waterfalls and Maya ruins, making it the best base for exploring the region. After you arrive, the rest of the day is free.

All guests at our hotel in San Ignacio are required to pay an additional charge of USD20 per night if they choose to use the air conditioner in their room. Electricity in Belize is incredibly expensive so most hotels charge an extra rate to use the air conditioning - and USD20 per night is pretty standard. We could include this extra charge in the trip price but then all of our travellers would have to pay whether they want to use it or not. We believe giving our travellers the option is a fairer way to manage this situation.

Day 22 - San Ignacio
There are a heap of optional activities to take part in today around San Ignacio. The cave of Actun Tunichil Muknal is a living museum of Maya relics, and you can wade through its waters until you reach a whole bunch of 1,400-year-old crystallised skeletons. Or take a day trip to the Mountain Pine Ridge area to visit waterfalls and warm swimming holes, or you can also check out the butterfly garden and go down the river in canoes or tubes.

If you prefer a slower pace, take a trip out to Xunantunich, an impressive Maya ceremonial centre with panoramic views. Getting to the site is half the fun, as you'll need to take a hand-cranked boat down the river.

When you're feeling hungry, head to one of the little barbeque stalls that open on the streets. Get yourself one of the huge portions and join the locals for a chat while they sit next to the street and enjoy a juicy chicken leg.

Day 23 - Tikal National Park
Today you go jungle. Guatemala-style. Leave San Ignacio, cross the border, and get dropped at Tikal National Park by private minibus (approx 4 hours). You'll set up camp (all equipment provided) by the park entrance before exploring the super-huge and crazy-cool Maya ruins of Tikal - it's a bit like the set of Mel Gibson's Apocalypto movie, minus all the violence.

If you've got the energy then climb Temple IV for epic canopy views and a great selfie opportunity. While here, there's also the option to check out more of the area with a guided tour, or to fly through the canopies like a toucan with a zipline experience.

Tonight, enjoy camping under the stars (with basic shared bathrooms and showers), surrounded by the jungle and the ruins of the Maya civilisation.

Day 24 - Rio Dulce
From the jungle to the lake this morning, as you drive (approx 1 hour) to the lakeside town of Flores. Here there's time to grab some lunch and have a quick explore around the town. Then it's back on the private minibus to Rio Dulce (approx 5 hours).
 
On arrival in Rio Dulce, transfer to the hotel by boat. The easiest way to get back into town is also by boat, which can be organised through the hotel, or take a short walk through the jungle. Take some time to absorb the atmosphere of this laidback Caribbean town, which feels quite different from the inland communities. 

Your hotel is located a short distance from town in a spot right on the river. This is a great place to simply relax on the deck overlooking the water, with reasonably priced meals served in the hotel restaurant. A highlight for many guests is the 'Casa Natural' - an open-air accommodation with screened-in rooms, shared bathrooms and a lounge looking out to the surrounding jungle.

Day 25 - Rio Dulce
There are a load of kick-ass activities on offer today. Take a scenic boat trip down the river to Livingston, a laid-back town on the Caribbean coast that offers a unique experience of local Garifuna culture. Go boating on the lake, relax in the thermal hot springs or explore the nearby San Felipe fort.

Day 26 - Antigua
Travel by private minibus to the city of Antigua (approx 8 hours). You'll spend the night here, before heading to Lake Atitlan tomorrow. You won't spend too much time in Antigua today but you'll be coming back here at the end of the trip, so don't stress.

Still, take some time for a stroll and try tasty tamales - a local dish served in a corn leaf - or Pepian, three meats (chicken, beef and pork) in a dark sauce. You'll find the best value food in the square next to the La Merced Church.

Day 27 - Chichicastenango / San Jorge La Laguna
Today you'll get a seriously authentic and up-close Guatemalan experience. Start the day by travelling by private minibus to the famous market in Chichicastenango (approx 2.5 hours). This is the most colourful market in the country, where on Thursdays and Sundays locals come from the surrounding villages to sell their wares, and the streets are lined with stalls where you can stock up on cool trinkets.

After visiting Chichi head towards San Jorge La Laguna, a small Maya village overlooking Lake Atitlan (approx 1.5 hours). Here you'll meet your host family, and it'll be time to bust out your best Spanish to break the ice with these friendly but shy locals. The group may be split in twos or threes, depending on the group size. The mother of the family will cook you basic but filling dinner and breakfast, and soon enough you'll want them to adopt you.

Day 28 - Panajachel
Say bye to your host family this morning and push on to neighbouring Panajachel, a cool little town on Lake Atitlan with distant volcanoes looming in the background.

Pana has got a thriving market, loads of good places to eat and many water-based activities to enjoy. There are a whole host of optional activities here. Go swimming, volcano hiking, kayaking or mountain biking. You can visit a local community cooperative, take a boat out to some of the nearby villages, watch women weaving at Santa Catarina Palopo or explore the colourful markets of Santiago Atitlan.

Day 29 - Antigua
Hit the road back to Antigua by private minibus today (approx 3 hours). With three nearby volcanoes dominating the horizon, you won't have been to many places quite like Antigua. The World Heritage-listed city is a cobblestoned maze of colonial buildings, leafy town squares and ornate churches. There are hushed museums and lively indigenous markets to explore, or countryside to be cycled with amazing views of mountain peaks and deep valleys.

Day 30 - Antigua
Enjoy a free day exploring the city. The number one stop for chocoholics should be the ChocoMuseo, where there's info all about its history and, more excitingly, a chocolate-making workshop. For those more interested in the other famous Central American bean, you can go on a coffee tour, visit the plantations, do some coffee tasting and even buy some to take home.

If you're into salsa dancing or if you'd like to learn some moves, Antigua is the place to be. Many dancing schools offer hourly lessons so you'll be able to perfect your skills. This is also a city that knows how to party, so bring your best dance moves, shout a round of mojitos and get down with the locals on your final night.

Unfortunately, more than half the population of this beautiful Guatemala you have come to know so well 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://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3KBiGdEcV4w

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 Geckos 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 31 - Antigua
Your adventure comes to an end this morning. There are no activities planned for the final day.

Accommodation, Food (as stated), Transport, Selected Activities
Meals Included: Breakfast: 1 Lunches: 0 Dinners: 1
Highlights:

This overland adventure allows you to see some of the best of Central America in one trip, covering big parts of Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.
Eat your way through arty Oaxaca. Mole, mezcal and chocolate for dinner? Delicioso!
Escape the Mexican heat in San Cristobal de las Casas. This old-world town is surrounded by ancient tribal villages that still have their traditional customs and roots.
Chichen Itza is one the New Seven Wonders of the World and it's not hard to see why – strolling around these ancient Mayan ruins feels pretty amazing.
Extended time in Caye Caulker and Antigua offers the perfect opportunity to enjoy laid-back island vibes as well as buzzing colonial city life.
There's nothing quite like staying with a local family to really experience a place. You'll be feasting at breakfast and dinner, and improving your Spanish with the locals in San Jorge La Laguna in no time.

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