Epic Mexico to Costa Rica
|Resort:||Epic Mexico to Costa Rica|
From cloud-shrouded volcanic peaks to sun-drenched beaches, lost temples to charming colonial towns, Central America is bursting with natural wonders and converging cultures. So, where do you begin? Well, this 32-day tour is a hell of a good start. Kick off in Mexicos Playa del Carmen and snake through Belize, Antigua, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Relax on the beach in San Miguel, trek to the jungle ruins of Tikal, brush up on your Espanola over an icy cerveza and stay in villages dwarfed by volcanoes. Whether youre haggling in the markets of Chichicastenango, chilling in a Caribbean town on the Rio Dulce or wandering cobblestone streets in Antigua, this tour gives you a taste of Central Americas myriad flavours.
Day 1 Playa del Carmen
Kick things off in Playa del Carmen, which is a pretty cool place to begin a trip. In fact, you might want to chill on the coast for a few days beforehand well be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). The first thing planned for today is a welcome meeting with your group leader and fellow travellers at 6 pm. Other than that, you’re free to arrive at any time and spend the day however you want. Maybe have your own snorkelling or cycling expedition, or simply stroll along the sandy playa (beach). In the evening, head out with your group leader for an included dinner at a local taquisa (taco restaurant) for a selection of tacos make sure you order one with freshly caught fish. To improve your lingo, your group leader will conduct an informal Spanish lesson between bites, so that you can understand your burritos from your banos.
Day 2 Tulum
Today, hop on a local bus along the Caribbean coast to Tulum (approximately 1.5 hours), where it’s all about laidback life and the white sands of the Yucatan Peninsula. Once you’re settled and got your bearings with a leader-led orientation walk around Tulum, there’s the chance to visit one of the best-looking and located Maya sites around. Discover the impressive Temple of the Frescoes and see how this pre-Columbian walled ruin city clings to a cliff-top area overlooking the ocean. You can even go for a swim within the archaeological zone. In the evening, perhaps kick back and watch the waves roll in at a beachside bar with a margarita, of course.
Day 3 Tulum
With a free day to relax in Tulum, consider the optional activities on offer, and most importantly, relax into the laidback Mexican vibe. Two wheels are a good way to tackle the day, so rent a bike, cruise around the area and cover a lot of ground in a short time, as Tulum is relatively flat. The town is heaving with hip cafes and restaurants and many vegetarian and vegan options, as well as places to relax the mind and body with yoga and meditation. There’s also the option of exploring Dos Ojos (two eyes): one of the most famous cenotes (freshwater rock pools) in the area an underwater world full of stalagmites and stalactites.
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 (approximately 8 hours in total). Let the wind and sea spray wash the travel away with a 1-hour speedboat ride to the palm-fringed island of Caye Caulker. If your idea of paradise is white sand, blue waters and palm trees then youre going to dig this place, and with a few days to explore, relax and get active, youre set for an idyllic stay.
Day 5 Caye Caulker
Your time in Caye Caulker is all about taking it easy. The pace of life is so incredibly slow it’s almost backwards. If being underwater is your thing then head out to Hol Chan Marine Reserve, home to Shark Ray Alley and the world’s second longest barrier reef. Snorkel among the colourful corals and see tropical fish, sharks and manta rays. You can also take day trips to other Cayes nearby – each island has its own particular character, but all of them have that unmistakable Caribbean pace and charm. Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America, which will make chatting with locals much easier.
Day 6 Caye Caulker
Today is another free day to take up any other optional activities or to simply pull up a towel and relax along the beach with a book. If youve already been snorkelling, then maybe continue the marine exploration with a manatee tour. These huge, peaceful creatures are beautiful in their own way, and are quite curious to meet their visitors. Get more active with sea kayaks and stand-up paddle boards, or go the other way completely and just chill out. The island’s also great for food, famed for its lobster and super tasty meals cooked on the side of the road. How about some grilled shrimp and a rum and coke made with the local fire water?
Day 7 San Ignacio
Leave the island paradise behind and return to Belize City by boat (approximately 1 hour), before taking a local bus to San Ignacio via Belizes capital, Belmopan (approximately 3 hours). The local buses here 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, so perhaps choose to visit the Chaa Creek butterfly garden, and at night, try one of the barbeque street stalls for a char-grilled chicken leg.
Day 8 San Ignacio
There is a heap of optional activities to choose between in 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 1400-year-old crystallised skeletons. You could take a day tour to the Mountain Pine Ridge area to visit waterfalls and swimming holes, or go down the Macal 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. Belizeans are super friendly, so in the evening, walk down Burns Avenue and join the locals for a chat in one of the many restaurants, or at a street side stall.
Day 9 Tikal National Park
Time to go jungle Guatemala-style. Leave San Ignacio, cross the border, and get dropped at Tikal National Park by private vehicle (approximately 4 hours). You’ll set up camp on the grounds of a hotel near the national park entrance before exploring the super-huge and crazy-cool Maya ruins of Tikal its a bit like the set of Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto movie, minus all the violence. Pass through the lush jungle vegetation, and if you’ve got the energy, climb Temple IV to take in the epic canopy views. 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 memorable zipline experience.
Day 10 Rio Dulce
From the jungle to the lake this morning, as youll head to the lakeside town of Flores (approximately 1 hour). Here there’s time to grab some lunch and have a quick explore around the town. Then it’s back on the private vehicle to Rio Dulce (approximately 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 you can 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. 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 is a load of kick-ass activities to choose between today. Take a scenic boat trip down the river to Livingston, a laidback 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 in Livingstone. You could hike through the dense forest of the surrounding Chocon-Machacas Natural reserve and go out to spot the protected manatees of the area. Remember, the best thing is that youre in laidback Guatemala, and with the flexibility of todays itinerary, you decide whats on the agenda.
Day 12 Antigua
Travel by private vehicle to the city of Antigua (approximately 8 hours). You’ll spend the night here, before heading to Lake Atitlan tomorrow. You won’t spend too much time in Antigua, but you’ll be coming back here in a few days time, so not to worry! Still, take some time for a stroll and tuck into some tasty tamales (a local dish served in a corn leaf) or a dish called Pepian: a spicy meaty stew of 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 / Lake Atitlan
Today you’ll get a seriously special Guatemalan experience. Start the day by travelling by private vehicle to the famous market in Chichicastenango (approximately 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 (approximately 1.5 hours). Here you’ll meet a Guatemalan family, and it’ll be time to bust out your best Spanish to break the ice with these super 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 early in the evening and provide you with an insight into Guatemalan family and culture. Bid the family adios before spending the night multishare glamping on the shores of Lake Atitlan.
Day 14 Lake Atitlan
Lake Atitlan is all yours to explore today when you wake up on the banks of its shimmering blue waters. There will be time to enjoy the other sections of the lake, so hire a kayak, or book in for a volcano hike or a mountain bike tour for a different scenic experience. After a day of exploring, you deserve a relaxing family-style dinner, which is all included on your return. By now, you may have realised that the Spanish name of your glamping experience, Free Cerveza, means free beer. Enjoy 2 hours of unlimited cervezas with your set menu, including soup, a main dish and dessert. You definitely wont go hungry (or thirsty, for that matter). To sweat off the days activities (and food), be sure to enjoy the free sauna.
Day 15 Antigua
After an included breakfast, hit the road back to Antigua (approximately 3 hours). With three nearby volcanoes dominating the horizon, you won’t have been to many places quite like Antigua. Experience a leader-led walking tour to orientate yourself around the World Heritage-listed city full of cobblestones, 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. If you’re into salsa dancing, or if you’d just like to learn some moves, Antigua is the place to be. Many dancing schools offer hourly lessons, so you’ll be able to move your hips. 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.
Day 16 Antigua
There will be a meeting at 6 pm to welcome any new travellers joining you on the next stage of your adventure. Aside fomr that, enjoy a free day to explore 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.
Day 17 Cerro Verde
Rise and Shine! Today is an early start as you journey across the Guatemalan border to your next destination, Cerro Verde, El Salvador (approximately 5 hours). From rolling hills to rolling Rs, watch the world go by from the comfort of your private vehicle as you travel through lush volcanic landscape and endless mountain terrain all while learning the local lingo from your leader in an informal Spanish lesson. Arrive in Cerro Verde and enjoy the rest of the day at leisure.
Day 18 Cerro Verde
Today is a free day for you to get outdoors! Opt to hike up to the edge of Santa Anas Volcano crater for some more spectacular views of Lake Coatepeque, Juayua and Izalco Volcano. Alternatively, instead of admiring its view from the volcano crater, why not take a dip in Lake Coatepeque! There are many ways to keep busy in one of El Salvador’s most beautiful national parks.
Day 19 San Miguel
Continuing south by private vehicle today, pass through the capital of San Salvador on your way to San Miguel (approximately 3-4 hours). Resting in the shadows of Chaparrastique, an active volcano that sets the backdrop to this vibrant town, San Miguel has rebuilt itself into one of the largest and most populated cities in the country since facing a severe earthquake in 1917. El Salvador is also home to Papusas, a type of flatbread made from cornmeal and often stuffed with delicious fillings like cheese, chicharrn (fried pork) or refried beans. Today in San Miguel, visit a local street vendor and watch a papusa making demonstration, then try some of course!
Day 20 Leon
Say a quick hola and adios to Honduras as you cross through two borders to reach the land of lakes and volcanoes, Nicaragua (or Nica as its known as locally). The 6-hour drive (plus stops) will be well worth the ride as youre welcomed into the charming, artsy and sophisticated city of Leon. Why not refuel after your journey with some traditional Nicaraguan dishes, Gallo Pinto, with its hearty combination of rice and beans, is considered a national symbol alternatively, perhaps try out some of your new Spanish skills and order a Quesillo, a cheesy treat made of corn tortillas, pickled onion and sour cream. Once the capital of Nicaragua, Leon has long been the heart and soul of the countrys political movements, which is demonstrated through the citys colourful street murals an artistic reflection of fallen heroes and revolutionary icons. Home to one of the oldest universities in Central America, Leon is considered a college town and is known for its youthful, fun atmosphere and energetic nightlife. This evening, why not head out with the group for some bachata or salsa dancing!
Day 21 Granada
This morning is free to explore Leon, perhaps check out the Baslica de la Asuncin Central Americas largest cathedral or stop by the Museo Histrico de la Revolucin for an insight the revolutionaries who fought hard for the freedom of their country. Alternatively, you might like to go volcano sandboarding! (This is the only place in the world that you can do it). Afterwards, if youre feeling peckish, why not fill up on the traditional breakfast of scrambled eggs and gallo pinto before jumping on a local bus this afternoon to Granada. First, take a taxi from the hotel to the bus station, next board a local bus bound for Managua that will depart when it’s full and takes around 2-3 hours depending on the amount of stops it needs to make and the complexity of onloading and offloading the passengers luggage. There will be about a 30-45-minute transit in Managua before taking the next public bus to Granada with a duration of approximately 1.5 hrs, and finally taking a 20-minute taxi ride to the hotel.Founded in 1524, Granada is the oldest city in Nicaragua and home to iconic Moorish and Andalusian landmarks that have survived repeated pirate invasions. Draped in colourful colonial architecture and oozing aesthetic charm, this enchanting city is set on the banks of Lake Nicaragua and is surrounded by active volcanoes.
Day 22 Granada
Today is free to explore Granada, one of Central Americas least spoiled colonial towns. Perhaps youd like to take a guided tour of the city, bargain hard in the markets, or wander the cobblestone streets, snapping photos of the colourful buildings. If youre an adventure enthusiast, opt to hire a kayak and paddle around the islets of lake Nicaragua, rent a bicycle and ride to Laguna De Apoyo (a 200 year old lake set into a lush forest crater), or hike through the lush flora and fauna along the Mombacho volcano crater trail. For a cultural insight into the heritage of the Nicaraguan people, the city of Masaya aka City of the Flowers offers a mixture of folkloric entertainment, from marimba music to street theatre. If youre looking to purchase some traditional handicrafts, then youll also find Mercado de las Artesanas a craft market offering handmade souvenirs reflective of the Masaya area. After a day of exploration, why not enjoy an evening along Calle la Calzada grab a drink at one of the many outdoor bars and watch the wandering performers, from mariachis to break dancers, bring the street to life.
Day 23 Ometepe Island
This morning, enjoy an included breakfast at Caf de las Sonrisas (Smiles Caf), a coffee shop and eatery thats run entirely by those within the deaf community from the waiting staff to the chefs. The caf is a project of the To Antonio Social Center and offers people with hearing disabilities a solution to the difficult work situation in Nicaragua. To help you with your order, letters, words and phrases along with the corresponding illustrations (in Nicaraguan sign language) cover the walls of the caf. This fun and educational style of communication means that you can learn while you eat! After breakfast, travel by local bus to Rivas where you’ll transfer to San Jorge ferry port by taxi (approximately 2.5 hours). Catch a 1-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 was formed by two volcanoes rising out of Lake Nicaragua (Ometepe literally means two volcanoes in the Nahuatl language) and 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 24 Ometepe Island
Take advantage of a free day to discover the island. Perhaps take a hike up to the summit of either the Concepcion or Maderas volcanoes, but be warned, at 1700 and 1394 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, youll have loads of delicious fresh food to feast on. In the evening, head to Los Ramos, an indigenous community situated right in the middle of the islands volcanos, for a cooking class. Learn traditional techniques used to make Nicaraguan dishes like nacatamales (a dough-based snack often filled with meat and steamed in banana leaves) before sitting down to a meal together.
Day 25 San Juan del Sur
Today youll take the two-hour journey (by ferry and public bus) to San Juan del Sur, a laidback surf town on Nicaraguas south-west coast. Though the beach that lines the towns horseshoe bay itself isnt particularly great for swimming, you dont need to travel far to find beautiful golden beaches with year-round waves. Go on an orientation walk with your leader and then enjoy free time to acquaint yourself with this fun little town. Tonight, youll be sleeping in style under the cover of a tepee! Connect with nature in these cosy dens and fall asleep to the sound of the ocean.
Day 26 San Juan del Sur
Enjoy a free day exploring San Juan del Surs colourful coastal scenery. If youre feeling active, San Juan del Sur has plenty to offer. You might like to rent a surfboard and spend the day riding the waves at nearby beaches like Playa Maderas or Playa Marsella, alternatively, head south to La Flor beach reserve, where its possible to see olive ridley, hawksbill, leatherback and green sea turtles nesting between July and November. A huge statue of Christ (the largest in Central America) sits atop a cliff above the bay why not hike to the top for spectacular views of the town and Pacific. In the evening, the city boasts a variety of greats bars and restaurants where you can share a meal with the group.
Day 27 Monteverde
Say Adios to Nicaragua and continue your journey south to Costa Rica. Take a 1-hour bus to the border and then travel by private vehicle to Monteverde (approximately 5 hours). 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 Cloud Forest 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 2000 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, 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
Continue your journey through Costa Rica and take the scenic route to La Fortuna (approximately 4-5 hours). 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 youve 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 isnt 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, or opt to 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 volcanos 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 (approximately 5 hours). 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 or 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 or Irazu Volcano.