Arrive to El Salvador's capital, the second largest city in Central America (after Guatemala City) with plenty of time to explore. 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. This city has played a major role in defining and shaping the rest of the country. To understand the country, it is essential to understand the political, cultural and social headquarters of San Salvador. You'll find a broad cross section of areas in the city; from rich to poor, from modern to dilapidated. There are many top-notch museums found scattered around town. The David J. Guzman National Museum of Anthropology has a number of Mayan and Pibil artifacts and is touted as one of the best museums in the country. The Military Museum shows an interesting and somewhat troubling slant to the country's military history. Many weapons and uniforms from the civil war are on display alongside the original copies of the 1993 peace accords. There is also a smattering of small art museums that have rotating exhibits including the Modern Art Museum and the Popular Art Museum. There are a number of cathedrals and churches around town including the Iglesia El Rosario, which is said to look like a dilapidated airport hanger from the outside. Inside, however, you'll find one of the most interested churches in El Salvador. There are industrial-style figures made with scrap metal on the walls, and you'll find a portion of the upper walls constructed with a rainbow of stained-glass panels. San Salvador has been burdened with a dangerous reputation for years. While it is true that certain parts of town should be avoided and taxis should be used at night, there are many gems to be found, including bohemian cafes and urban-hipster bars that, together with museums and other sights combine to make this city the cosmopolitan centre that it is.
Set off from El Salvador's capital to take a minor detour en route to colonial Suchitoto to visit the Joya de Ceren and tour an indigo factory. The Joya de Cerén is an archaelogical site where a pre-Columbian Maya farming village is preserved under layers of volcanic ash. The site is relatively small but offers some good incite to anthropologists regarding life during the time of the eruption of Loma Caldera Volcano around AD 590. You'll also learn about indigo production, a very traditional process that goes back many years in El Salvador. See an indigo extraction unit, which seemingly magically transforms a green leaf into a blue dye used for fabrics. Learn by hands on work about a variety of techniques to make different designs with the dye. 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. Opt for a short boat tour around the lake, stopping off at the Island of the Hermit if you wish. 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: 5 hours Approximate Distance: 200 km
Set off on a full day of travel, first stopping off at the artisan community of La Palma to stretch your legs and perhaps visit one of several local artisan shops where they create the brightly painted wooden pieces that you find throughout El Salvador. Cross over the border to Honduras and journey towards Copan, first jumping over to Guatemala for part of the journey before returning into Honduras. The colonial highland town of Copán Ruinas is a charming and relaxing place, with an almost-perfect climate. Besides the Mayan ruins this town is famous for, there are many other things to explore. Opt to go horseback riding through the nearby beautiful hills to see some lesser known ruins or travel to natural hot springs. If you'd prefer, stay in town and explore the cobblestone lanes of this small town. While here enjoy a tour of the nearby Mayan ruins of Copán, which 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. Enjoy a Estimated Travel Time: 8 hours Approximate Distance: 400 km
Cross into Guatemala 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, you may opt to horseback ride through a rubber plantation, explore San Felipe fort, take the morning monkey kayak tour, relax at the hot waterfall or hike through the jungle-strewn trails in the Chocón-Machacas Natural Reserve area. Estimated Travel Time: 3 hours Approximate Distance: 160 km
In the morning, board a motorboat and journey towards the coast on a beautiful ride past cliffs, hot springs and a few small communities. Journey in the afternoon overland to Flores in the Peten region of Guatemala. This charming town, with its pastel-coloured buildings, enjoys a scenic setting on Lake Petén Itzá. There will be time to stroll through the streets, buy local handicrafts or take a swim in the lake. We also have a day to visit the famous ruins of Tikal and the curious wildlife of the National Park. 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 from nearby trees, used in the manufacture of gum. Despite the recent growth in Petén, Flores remains the same small island town, with narrow, cobblestoned 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 dug-out 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, a small zoo and a nature preserve. 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 IV, your senses won’t be disappointed! 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. Estimated Travel Time (including excursions): 7 hours Approximate Distance: 300 km
Head to the small Flores airport early in the morning before boarding a flight to Guatemala City. From there, transfer by private van to the beautiful Lake Atitlán. Your home at the lake will be in the tranquil town of Jaibalito. This tiny village sits on the north shores of breathtaking Lake Atitlán, surrounded by volcanoes. There are no paved roads leading into Jaibalito, but the paths weaving across the slopes offer rewarding views of the lake. Lake Atitlán was formed when a magma basin emptied a few hundred thousand years ago in a huge volcanic blast. Later, the San Pedro, Santiago and San Antonio volcanoes sprouted up and there is still volcanic activity that occurs within the lake heating it to bearable swimming temperatures. We have a full day here to explore the lake and the surrounding area. Visit the villages on the lake by boat, departing in the mornings and returning in the 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. Stop off in San Juan la Laguna for an included lunch in a local Mayan home, and participate in a Mayan tree planting ceremony as well. This ceremony offers you insights into Mayan culture and beliefs and allows for a bit of interaction with the local Mayan community. You can test your communication and bargaining skills in the local markets, of which there are many. There is 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. The area is also ideal for outdoor pursuits like swimming, fishing, wind surfing, hiking, bird watching, kayaking, horseback riding, and for the really adventurous, parapenting! Estimated Travel Time: 6 hours Approximate Distance: 440 km
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. Antigua today is a peaceful, partially restored colonial city that is a pleasure to explore. Enjoy a guided Antigua cultural walking tour, including entrance fee to the museums at Paseo de los Museos. Walk through quiet cobblestone streets past rebuilt stucco homes with heavy, beautifully carved wooden entrances. It is a short 45 km from Guatemala City on a lovely winding road. The natural scenery is some of the most beautiful anywhere with high mountain peaks surrounding deep valleys, every inch of land covered with lush growth. 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 or 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. Antigua offers three 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 rarer 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 offers good buys in ceramics and antiques as well. Estimated Travel Time: 3 hours Approximate Distance: 80 km
Depart at any time.