Day 1 - Playa del Carmen
Kick things off in Playa del Carmen, which is a pretty awesome place to begin a trip. In fact, it's so awesome that you might think the rest of the trip could be a disappointment. Luckily, our guys at Geckos HQ strive to make every single trip equally awesome from start to finish. Kind of like a burrito.
The only thing planned for today is your welcome meeting 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.
Other than that you're free to arrive at any time and spend the day however you want. Maybe join some optional activities like snorkeling among mangroves and cycling, or just stroll along the beaches.
Day 2 - 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 3 - 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 4 - 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 5-6 - Caye Caulker
Day 7 - 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 8 - 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 9 - 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 10 - 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 11 - 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 12 - 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 13 - 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 14 - 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 15 - 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 16 - 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 17 - Suchitoto
Today is an early start as we Travel to Suchitoto - El Salvador. Transfer by private vehicle to the border town of Las Chinamas (approximately 3hrs). Once clearing immigrations, continue on to Suchitoto (another 3hrs travel or thereabouts). Suchitoto is a beautiful colonial town with colourful houses and cobbled streets - a world away from modern El Salvador.
Not much happens in this delightful lakeside town – which is precisely its charm. This really is a place suited to just pulling up a stool at a pupusa stand and watching life meander by.
Day 18 - Suchitoto
Today is free to enjoy a range of optional activities around the area. The town of Suchitoto overlooks the Embalse Cerron Grande, which is surrounded with mountains and dotted with various islands. Also known as Lago Suchitlan, this freshwater lake is a haven for migrating birds, particularly falcons and hawks. Maybe hop in a boat or go for paddle-power with a kayaking tour of the lake. Alternatively, you could go for a hike in the nearby Cinquera rainforest, or explore the impressive Maya ruins of Cihuatan.
Day 19 - El Tunco
Continuing south by private minibus today, pass through the capital of San Salvador on your way to the laid-back surf village of El Tunco (approx 3 hours). This tiny town has become well known for its radical surf, unique black-sand beaches and good nightlife, and is a great place to relax. If you have time, sip on a smoothie along one of the main streets or visit the beach caves at low tide. In the evening, perhaps head to a local restaurant to fill your belly with some delicious pupusas – traditional Salvadorian corn pockets stuffed with cheese, pork and refried beans. Join the locals down from San Salvador at the bar, or just lie back in a hammock and watch the sunset over the black sand beach.
Day 20 - El Cuco
Head east by private minibus along the Pacific coast to coastal El Cuco today (approx 3 hours). You'll be spending the next two nights in a beautiful and extensive eco-hotel, dedicated to promoting a greener lifestyle, in harmony with the local sea turtle, bird, lizard and marine populations. There is a beautiful dark-sand beach right out the front and some of the best surf spots in the country are nearby. In the evening, perhaps enjoy a seafood dinner along the water.
Day 21 - El Cuco
Today is free to explore the beautiful coastal scenery around El Cuco. If you feel like getting active, you can kayak among mangroves or give surfing a go. You could even take a trip to see the nearby Conchagua Volcano – from the top there are spectacular views of the Salvadorian coastline. Alternatively, you might prefer to find some inner peace during a yoga class at the hotel, or simply relax in a hammock on the beach.
Day 22 - Leon
Next up: Nica! (As Nicaragua is locally known as) After an early transfer to La Union you'll take a boat through the Gulf of Fonseca to the Nicaraguan town of Potosi. Once you've had your passport checked, the group will continue by private vehicle to Leon. Make sure you're stocked up with a good book, music, snacks and bottled water for the 11 to 12 hour long journey.
Nicaragua has flourished in recent years. Home to immense natural beauty and friendly locals, it's often a traveller favourite.
Day 23 - Granada
Today you take a short 2-3 hour local 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.
Day 24 - Granada
Today is free to explore Granada. You can take a guided tour of the city, bargain hard in the markets, or wander the streets, snapping photos of the colourful buildings. 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 25 - Ometepe Island
Island life rolls on with a trip to rural Ometepe. From Granada, travel by local bus to Rivas, where you'll transfer to San Jorge ferry port by taxi (approx 2.5 hours in total). Catch a one-hour ferry across Lake Nicaragua (the largest in Central America and the tenth largest freshwater lake in the world) to the island of Ometepe and head to your hotel. Hourglass-shaped Ometepe Island is formed by two volcanoes rising out of Lake Nicaragua (‘Ometepe’ literally means ‘two volcanoes’ in the Nahuatl language). The deep jungle is home to exotic wildlife such as monkeys and parrots. A great experience is to sit on the shore and watch fishermen return from a long day on the water with their catch.
Day 26 - 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 are serious volcanoes and the treks are no walk in the park. You might prefer to splash around in the natural springs, soak up the sun on the shore or check out the island's petroglyphs (ancient rock carvings). If you like watermelon, coffee, banana and citrus fruits then Ometepe is the place for you – plantations abound and you’ll have loads of delicious fresh food to feast on.
Day 27 - Monteverde
Today continue your journey south, first by one-hour ferry to the mainland and then by one-hour taxi to Penas Blancas. After crossing the border into Costa Rica, travel by private minibus to Monteverde (approx 5 hours). Proof of onward travel is a requirement for entry into 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. 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. Constant mist in the forest makes it feel a bit like a nightclub, but with less bass and more fresh air. 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 28 - Monteverde
Today you have a full free day to discover the reserve and experience the mystical and fragile environment here. Monteverde is not for the faint-hearted, so bring your sense of adventure and a solid pair of shoes, and have a little fun with the giddy heights. 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 tour along a series of suspension bridges 40 metres up above the jungle. 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 also several cooperatives worth visiting in the local communities.
Day 29 - La Fortuna - Arenal
Today take the scenic route to La Fortuna (approximately 4-5 hours in total). Travel by shared minibus to Lake Arenal, which you'll then cross by boat. 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 destination. 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. Get a good rest tonight as tomorrow you’ve got a free day to take advantage of all the active activities on offer.
Day 30 - La Fortuna
There are plenty of optional activities to take part in today so when you get home this isn’t the place to say you sat around. 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 wet 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 31 - San Jose
Take a local bus to Costa Rica's capital, San Jose (approx 5 hours). Or should we say San Jos-YAY. People watching is good, but you know what's even better. People talking. As in, conversing with people. So get chatting with the locals on the bus today. 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. 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. Then it's maybe time for a final farewell dinner (or margarita) with your new travel buds and say muchas gracias to your Central American journey.
Day 32 - San Jose
Today your Central American adventure comes to an end, there are no activities planned. As there's a lot to see and do in and around San Jose, we recommend staying on for a few days to make the most of the city. If you'd like to extend your visit and need further accommodation, our reservations team would be happy to assist (subject to availability). There are some great day tours you can take outside of the city, such as to Poas Volcano National Park or Irazu Volcano.
Accommodation, Food (as stated), Transport, Selected Activities
Meals Included: Breakfast: 1 Lunches: 0 Dinners: 1
Oh Mayan, Central America, what a land. A palace of mysterious ruins, active volcanoes, idyllic beaches and emerald jungles. Get a taste of seven different countries on an epic Latin adventure that takes in the sights and offers a whole heap of optional activities too.
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.
There are loads of sides to Central America and you’ll get a taste of so many - slumbering on the sands of Playa del Carmen, gazing at the pyramids of Tikal or haggling in the markets of Chichicastenango.
Travel to El Salvador and back in time in the colonial town of Suchitoto. Then summon your best beach bum/inner surfie with the beautiful black-sand beaches and surf of El Cuco and El Tunco.
Central America likes to keep you on your toes – hike, cycle or zip-line through the steamy cloud forests of Monteverde in Costa Rica. Get up close to nature in one of the world’s most incredible landscapes.
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