Bienvenidos! Welcome to Guatemala. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm. Chat with reception or look for a note for details. If you can't get a flight that will arrive in time, maybe arrive a day early. 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. Insurance details and next of kin information will be collected at this meeting, so please have these details on hand. After the meeting, take an orientation walk around the city 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 husk, or some pepian, a rich, meaty stew. The best value food can be found in the square next to the La Merced Church. Then surely it’s time for a mojito to celebrate the start of the trip. Notes: There’s loads to do in Antigua, so why not come a few days early 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 and learn all about the world’s favourite sweet. You could even take part in a chocolate-making workshop. Relax and indulge in some people-watching in Central Park, or learn more about Guatemala's most famous export on a coffee plantation tour with tastings. If you’re more about getting active, 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://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/
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.