Bienvenidos! Welcome to Guatemala. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm today. 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 please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader. The meeting will be followed by an orientation walk around Antigua 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 leaf, or some pepian, a rich, meaty stew. As there's a great deal to do in Antigua, we recommend staying a few extra days 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 to learn about the history and nutritional value of chocolate. There's even the option of taking part in a chocolate-making workshop. You might prefer to relax and indulge in some people-watching in Central Park. If you want to learn more about Guatemala's famous coffee, you might like to take a tour of a plantation and do some coffee tasting. The best value food can be found next to the artesian market near the bus station, the food market is closed after 6 pm. If your tastes run to more active adventures, perhaps hire a mountain bike and ride through the lush surrounding countryside. Unfortunately, more than half the population of beautiful Guatemala 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 us 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 long travel day. You'll start early (make that very early) in the morning: at about 4 am to avoid rush hour traffic around Guatemala City. You'll travel by private minibus to Copan in Honduras. The 8 hour drive will take you through the wild countryside of eastern Guatemala. Copan is a charming town set into lush surroundings. On arrival, perhaps take a stroll through the cobbled streets and check out the central plaza. You might even like to make an optional visit to the nearby natural hot springs.
This morning is free for you to continue explore Copan and its surroundings. You may like to pay an optional visit to the Mayan ruins of Copan. These World Heritage-listed ruins are the southernmost of the great Mayan sites for which Central America is famous. Unique because of the 21 stelae (columns) that have been discovered here, they also feature temples, excavated vaults and huge faces carved into the walls. As you stroll past ancient monuments, statues and staircases, it's hard not to wonder at the mysterious disappearance of such a creative civilisation. Alternatively, 2 kilometres out of town you'll find the Macaw Mountain Bird Park & Nature Reserve. This reserve is dedicated to the conservation of the Central American macaw and well worth a visit. Alongside macaws you'll also find toucans, motmots, parrots, kingfishers and orioles. Most of these birds have been donated to the park by owners who can not longer care for them or have been confiscated from smugglers. At approximately 1 pm, wave goodbye to Copan and travel by private minibus cross the border into Suchitoto in El Salvador. The road trip should take approximately 7 hours. A beautiful colonial town with colourful houses and cobbled streets, Suchitoto is a world away from modern El Salvador.
This morning , head out on a guided orientation walk of Suchitoto. The rest of the is free to enjoy a range of optional activities around the area. The town of Suchitoto overlooks the Embalse Cerron Grande. Also known as Lago Suchitlan, this freshwater lake is a haven for migrating birds, particularly falcons and hawks. You might like to take a boat or kayaking tour of the lake. Alternatively, you could go for a hike in the nearby Cinquera rainforest, or explore the Mayan ruins of Cihuatan.
At about 10 am start heading south east by private minibus along the Pacific coast to coastal El Cuco (today's drive is approximately 5 hours long). There are some great dark-sand beaches close to town, including the beautiful Playa El Esteron and Playa Las Flores, one of the best surf spots in the country. 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 could take a trip to see the nearby Conchagua Volcano. Alternatively, you might prefer to take a boat out on the ocean, find some inner peace during a yoga class at the resort or simply relax in a hammock on the beach.
Today is a full day of travel across the Gulf of Fonseca to Nicaragua. Leave El Cuco at 5 am to La Union (approximately 1 hour) before a 3-4 hour boat trip through the Gulf of Fonseca to the Nicaraguan town of Potosi. The boat crossing through the Gulf of Fonseca can get choppy and the boat may take some water. If your pack is not waterproof, please wrap your valuables and electronics in a plastic bag. Once in Potosi, passports are checked before continuing by private minibus to Leon (approximately 4 hours). Upon arrival your leader will take you on a walking tour of Leon. Nicaragua has flourished in recent years. Home to immense natural beauty and friendly locals, it is often a traveller's favourite.
This morning make the most of Leon. Take off is at 2 pm for an easy 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. Your leader will take you on a walking tour of Granada visiting busy markets, Parque Central and "La Calzada" a lively pedestrian street which, though a tad touristy, it's busy bars and restaurants.
Today is free to explore Granada. You can take a guided tour of the city, bargain hard in the markets or wander the cobblestone streets, snapping photos of the colourful buildings. You might like to cruise the islets of Lake Nicaragua by boat. 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.
At 2 pm travel by local bus to Rivas (approximately 1.5 hours) and transfer to the port San Jorge to catch a 1-hour ferry across Lake Nicaragua to the island of Ometepe. Hourglass-shaped Ometepe Island is formed by two volcanoes rising out of Lake Nicaragua ('Ometepe' literally means 'two volcanoes' in the Nahuatl language). The island is home to fruit plantations, deep jungle and exotic wildlife such as monkeys and parrots. The world's only species of freshwater shark circle in the surrounding lake. 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 treks are no walk in the park. You might prefer to splash around in the natural springs, soak up the sun on the beach or check out the island's petroglyphs (ancient rock carvings).
Today is an early start (7 am). Take a 1.5 hour ferry to the mainland and a 1.5 hour transfer to Penas Blancas before crossing the border into Costa Rica. A USD 3 fee is required when exiting Nicaragua. Reaching the Costa Rican border requires a 1 km walk carrying your luggage. Proof of onward travel is normally required to enter 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. Once in Costa Rica, travel by private minibus for 5 hours to Monteverde. Once in town your leader will take you on an walking of Monteverde. 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.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. 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 Sky Walk tour along a series of suspension bridges. 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 several cooperatives worth visiting in the local communities.
Leave Monteverde at 2 pm and take the scenic route to La Fortuna. Travel by shared minibus for 1.5 hour to the shores of Lake Arenal, which you'll then cross by boat - a further 1.5 hour journey. 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 hotel. 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.
There are plenty of optional activities to take part in today. 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 active 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 five-hour bus to Costa Rica's capital, San Jose. 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. Your leader will take you on a walking tour around the city's main highlights. 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. There are number of highly recommended Urban Adventures to choose from in San Jose. Ask your leader for assistance on how to book them or call locally on 4000 5730 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Today your adventure comes to an end. There are no activities planned for the final day. 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).