Arrive in Guatemala City and continue on to Antigua, one hour’s drive through the spectacular mountains. As your fellow travellers are arriving at various times, there are no planned activities during the day. 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.
You will have time in Antigua to explore this charming colonial town rimmed by volcanos. Take a salsa lesson, climb an active volcano, visit the many museums and churches or simply enjoy the colourful Mayan culture from a shady spot in the central plaza. 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. In 1979 UNESCO declared Antigua a World Heritage site, and Antigua today is a peaceful colonial city that is a pleasure to explore. 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, and the place to be in the late afternoons/evenings. 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, colonial buildings and soak up the atmosphere in this delightful city, one of the best-restored Spanish colonial cities in the world. Antigua has various 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 more traditional back-strap loom. Jade, in 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 also offers good buys in ceramics and antiques as well. For the museum and gallery buffs, one of the best in the Central America is found in the Hotel Casa Santo Domingo. It houses colonial religious, contemporary Latin American and pre-Colombian art pieces. These form only part of the galleries and museums of the 5-star Hotel Santo Domingo, formerly a Dominican monastery. Antigua is a popular centre for Spanish study, and here you will find dozens of schools and a collection of students from around the globe. Because of the international population, there is no shortage of restaurants, bars and activities available in Antigua. You’d have to try very hard to get bored! There are also plenty of fun day trips available from Antigua, one of the most popular being a climb of still-smoking Pacaya Volcano. During our stay we will enjoy an included visit to a Mayan village where you'll try your hand at making tortillas and basic handicrafts before enjoying a traditional meal.
The Copán ruins in Honduras are fascinating, beautiful and unique among Mayan cities. 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. Though smaller and less grand than Tikal, in Guatemala, Copán contains some of the most important Mayan ruins found to date, and many unusual artistic features. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980. The village of Copán is a pleasant place to spend a relaxing evening with a small central square frequently filled with people. Estimated Travel Time: 8 hours Approximate Distance: 200 km
After another full day of travel through the hills of Honduras, we arrive at the coast and ferry across to paradise. A SCUBA diving haven amidst what is part of the second largest barrier reef in the world, Roatán is a Caribbean-style island made famous for its marine treasures. Crystal blue waters invite swimming, diving, snorkeling, or simply relax on the white, sand beaches of the Bay Islands. You will also get a break from practicing Spanish because as a former British colony, many locals here speak English. Roatán is surrounded by over 100km (62 miles) of living, protected reef that is home to thousands of species of fantastically coloured fish and marine life. The beaches of the western end are some of the most beautiful in the world, with clear turquoise water, powdery white sand and swaying coconut palms. While many people spend their days immersed in the warm, blue Caribbean waters and enjoying excellent fresh seafood, you may also opt to venture into the hilly interior by bicycle or scooter. The botanical gardens offer relaxed walking amidst exotic plants and racing “Jesus Lizards”, a species of lizard that runs on its hind legs, even over water! In nearby Sandy Bay the Institute for Marine Sciences and the Roatán museum are definitely worth a visit. Estimated Travel Time: 9 hours Approximate Distance: 400 km
Off to politically progressive León. From Roatan we will board our internal flight to Tegucigalpa, in order to continue our adventure from Tegucigalpa to León city. You will have an included orientation walking tour of León, which was the nation’s capital from the colonial period until 1857 and is still the centre of much of the country’s cultural and intellectual activity. Nicaragua’s first University was founded here in 1912, for example. León is still the home to multiple universities, and when in session, you will see many students around town. Many well preserved Spanish colonial buildings and churches line the streets along with the cathedral, which is the largest in Central America. Construction began in 1747 and continued for one hundred years. The famous Nicaraguan poet Ruben Dario is buried here, and the house where he grew up is now a museum on calle Central, three blocks west of the plaza. Considered one of Latin America’s greatest poets, he influenced Spanish literature in his time. There is always something interesting to do in León, whether it be a city tour, volcano boarding down Nicaragua’s youngest volcano Cerro Negro, or a trip to the nearby beaches of Poneloya and Las Peñitas. If you’d prefer to just wander through the streets you’ll find several politically-charged murals depicting Nicaragua’s turbulent history and several good museums in the area, including one dedicated to the heroes and martyrs of the Sandinista movement. Estimated Travel Time: 10 hours Approximate Distance: 590 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 tour leader will give you an initial orientation walking tour of the city and then you 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. As we leave for Granada on day 10, we stop en route and take the opportunity to visit one of Nicaragua’s famous active volcano in Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya. The Masaya volcano was first discovered by the Spanish back in 1524. Since its discovery, Masaya has erupted at least 19 times and from 1965 to 1979 it has contained an active lava lake. Masaya is a caldera that contains approximately 13 vents. Most activity at these vents consisted of effusion of basaltic lava. Pyroclastic eruptions have constructed an additional three cones: Masaya, Nindiri, and Santiago. In 1979, Masaya became Nicaragua's first National Park (Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya). In addition to visiting this impressive crater you can find some other spectacular sightings at the park. You can hike up to another dormant crater which also provides a fantastic view of the Santiago crater and the area. There is also a trail that leads to a cave inhabited by bats. Other trails bring you to panoramic viewpoints. Hiking through the reserve will also allow you to observe the spectacular landscape created by past eruptions. The nearby markets of Masaya also house vendors selling great Nicaraguan handicrafts such as hammocks, pottery, and paintings. Estimated Travel Time: 3 hours Approximate Distance: 130 km
We cross Lake Nicaragua by ferry to arrive at Ometepe Island. 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 Madera, 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. As you journey to the hotel, you´ll pass plantain plantations and several small villages, giving you a chance to see how rural Nicaraguans live. If you enjoy a challenge, hiking Madera 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. During our time in Ometepe we will visit a local family and enjoy a typical meal in their home. Meals often include homemade cheese and plantains which have been grown on the island. Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours Approximate Distance: 90 km
Our journey takes us to low-key San Juan del Sur for some serious relaxation by the sea. Set on a stunning horseshoe shaped cove, this fishing village is the perfect place to combine two of Nicaragua’s best features – its beautiful beaches and its award-winning Flor de Caña rum! Here you can do as little or as much as you want to do. Take surf lessons, try out your luck fishing, go zip-lining on the hills above San Juan del Sur, or just lounge on the beach! A short boat or taxi ride away, the deserted beaches of Playa Maderas and Majagual to the north and Playa Remanso to the south are calling out to be explored. In the evenings you can take advantage of the relaxed seaside nightlife with the friendly locals. Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours Approximate Distance: 50km
We make our way up to the misty mountain air of the Monteverde Cloud Forest. We explore the town and a guided visit to nearby Forest Reserve, truly a bird lover’s paradise. Founded by Quakers in the 1950s the mountain dairy community of Monteverde has become an ecotourism haven due to the presence of the Cloud Forest Reserve and the numerous other adventure options in the area. If you're there at the right time of year, you may be lucky enough to see the resplendent Quetzal. This unique community also has several local co-operatives worth visiting including artist collectives and a cheese factory. Other optional activities include horse riding en route from La Fortuna to Monteverde, sky walks (suspension bridges amid foliage), butterfly garden, and a canopy zip-line tour. If you have pre-booked the Costa Rica Adrenaline Theme Pack, your ziplining experience will be on Day 17. Monteverde or "Green Mountain", when translated into English, is exactly what you will find at the end of the long, rutted dirt road we travel to get to this area. The surrounding pastures were once covered with dense forest, but only a small piece of it now remains. That piece of forest has been preserved as the Reserva Biologica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. A 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 birds species, and 100 different species of mammals inhabit this small area. The village of Monteverde was founded in the 1950s by Quakers from the United States. They wished to leave behind the constant fear of war and the obligation to support continued militarism through U.S. taxes and chose Costa Rica because it was committed to a non-militaristic economic path. Since its founding, Monteverde has grown slowly as other people, 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. The Santa Elena Reserve, is another park in this area that is less well known and visited, but also worth seeing. All proceeds from this park profit the local community. Estimated Travel Time: 8 hours Approximate Distance: 210 km
The small village of La Fortuna is located at the foot of the active Arenal Volcano. La Fortuna is an excellent base for adventure. Take an unforgettable 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 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. Finally, after a long day of exploring, take a relaxing soak in the lush cascading hot springs. Soak in one of the natural thermal baths and rivers under the shade of the surrounding canopy. If you have pre-booked the Costa Rica Adrenaline Theme Pack, your rafting and canyoneering adventures will be on Day 19. 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), making Arenal one of the best windsurfing destinations in the world. The volcano is quite active and occasional eruptions make it a natural wonder to be respected. Arenal can be especially impressive at night, when the glowing molten lava is blasted into the clear, ink-black sky. Even on a cloudless day, its reflection on Lake Arenal is truly enchanting. Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours Approximate Distance: 60 km
Travel south through the Costa Rican countryside to the capital city of San José. 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 beggars 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. The best and least expensive places to buy souvenirs in San José are the markets. The two main ones are the ones in Plaza de la Cultura, which is an outdoor open market, and the Central Market, where handicrafts are sold along with boots, fish, flour, herbal remedies, shirts and everything else you can imagine. Always watch your belongings and be ready for crowds. If you plan on spending a few days in San José after your tour, there are a number of activities within the city and area that you can participate in, many of them outdoors. 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. Estimated Travel Time: 5 hours Approximate Distance: 150 km
Depart San José at any time.