Cancun to San Jose

UNESCO World Heritage-listed Mayan city of Tikal
UNESCO World Heritage-listed Antigua Guatemala
Horse-drawn carriages in Granada
Burritos from a street vendor
The Quetzal of Guatemala - your currency and spirit guide
The indigenous Chachikel Mayans of Lake Atitlan
Meet the Bri Bri indigenous people
Monteverde Cloud Forest
Arenal - Costa Rica's most active volcano
Chichicastenango native market
Belize's waters
Flores on Lago Petén Itzá
Punta dancing
The palm-fringed island of Caye Caulker
The carvings of UNESCO World Heritage-listed Copan
Ometepe Island
  • This sensational trip spans seven colourful countries and packs in a lot of adventure along the way. Highlights in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica are all covered on this ‘once in a lifetime’ journey – talk about ‘bang for your buck’!

    Itinerary

    Day 1 - Cancun

    Our trip starts today with your arrival in the resort city of Cancun. No activities are planned, so you may arrive at any time. Please refer to your itinerary for the joining hotel name and address. There will be a pre-departure meeting at the joining hotel with our tour guide at 6:30pm this evening. Don’t forget to check the noticeboard in the foyer of the joining hotel for details of this meeting and for any messages from your leader. Please bring your passport and travel insurance documents to the briefing.

    Day 2 - Cancun

    Situated on the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, Cancun is renowned for its nearby beautiful Caribbean beaches and stunning Mayan ruins, not to mention some of the finest diving and snorkelling sites in the world. In the late 1960s, Cancun was merely a sliver of land 17 kilometres long. Visited only by local fisherman, it was separated from the coast by narrow channels. The Mexican government of the time saw the potential in its coastal character and undertook the task of developing it into the tropical island paradise that it is today. There are regular buses from our hotel in Cancun city to the beach - most famous being the beautiful beach at Playa del Carmen one hour away. We enjoy free time during our stay in Cancun to do as we please, which includes exploring or just relaxing.

    Day 3 - Tulum - Chetumal

    We have an early start this morning, taking the bus south along the Caribbean coast to Tulum. Here we visit the spectacular pre-Columbian walled city ruins that overlook the beach side town. Perched on a cliff top, the setting of these ruins is stunning with spectacular views over the tropical shores below. On entrance to the ruins we discover the Temple of the Frescoes, the wall of which are painted with a mural honouring the ‘Diving God’ who in Mayan culture is believe to have descended from heaven to receive the offerings of man. We explore these superb ruins with the help of our local site guide before continuing on spend the night in Chetumal.

    Day 4-5 - Caye Caulker

    Today we cross the border and continue on to Belize City, where we board a speedboat to the palm-fringed island of Caye Caulker. Situated just 33 kilometres north of Belize City, the island is just seven kilometres from north to south. These waters off the coast of Belize are home to the world's second largest barrier reef. Coconut palms provide us with shade, while mangroves cover much of the shore. Our time is our own here to enjoy this lovely sand island and the nearby reefs. Some of the most exciting diving and snorkelling in the world is at your fingertips, as well as exploring some amazing underwater caves. There is an abundance of colourful tropical fish and coral reefs just waiting to be explored, or you may want to simply relax on a deck chair on the beach. The choice is yours! Your tour guide is on hand to help and advise you of your options.

    Day 6-7 - Flores - Tikal - overnight bus

    This morning we return to Belize City by speedboat and continue south to Guatemala and the small picturesque town of Flores. This is the gateway to the ancient city of Tikal – the deserted Mayan ruins in the heart of the Guatemalan jungle. Arriving at Flores, we enter one of the most scenic towns in the Peten, the island in the middle of Lake Peten Itza, with its cobblestone streets and brightly coloured houses. From here we embark upon our visit to the largest excavated Mayan ruin site in the Americas. We penetrate the jungle of El Peten to visit the temples of the monumental ceremonial centre located in the midst of the immense Tikal National Park. As we approach, the lofty pyramids can be seen rising high above the jungle’s leafy canopy. Passing beneath the rich rainforest and dense jungle vegetation, we are immersed in some spectacular jungle sounds with riotous parrots, toucans, macaws, tree frogs and howler monkeys providing a cacophonous backdrop to our trek to the ruins. Settled around 700 BC by the Mayans, the surviving temples of the resplendent and powerful city are rich examples of the Late Classic period. We pass through the sacred causeways to the main plaza, the central area with its five main temples with some of them over 50 metres high. Beyond this, we have the option of wondering through the labyrinth of smaller uncovered structures and outlying complexes nestled within the dense jungle growth. If you have energy to spare, you can climb to the peak of Temple IV and take in the spectacular views or you can simply rest at the main plaza and marvel at the Mayan engineering of this amazing archaeological site. In the evening we board an overnight bus bound for Antigua.

    Day 8-9 - Antigua Guatemala

    Antigua is among the oldest and most beautiful towns in the Americas. The former capital of Guatemala, modern Antigua is a superb colonial town set deep in a valley encircled by three mighty volcanoes. There is plenty to see in this World Heritage-listed town. Much of La Antigua Guatemala (Old Guatemala) was built in the 17th and 18th centuries and several splendid ruins have been preserved. Many of the partially restored churches date back to the 1500s and the stunning colonial church, La Merced, is said to house the largest fountain in Central America. Our local tour guide will show us the highlights and guide us to the summit of one of the nearby volcanoes, where we can absorb the vistas of the surrounding verdant hills, where a patchwork of grass, maize and pines envelops the town. If your energy levels are high, there are also some fun optional activities: take a scenic horse ride in the lush valley interior, bike ride to one of the neighbouring volcanoes or white-water raft on one of the highland rivers. Alternatively you can simply explore at your leisure the city’s cobblestone streets that lead into the main plaza, the Parque Central, which is lined with local villagers selling handicrafts.

    Day 10-12 - Panajachel - Chichicastenango - Antigua Guatemala

    We travel into the Guatemalan Highlands and the picturesque town of Panajachel. Here on the shores of Lake Atitlan, which is a caldera (collapsed volcanic cone) ringed by another three magnificent volcanoes, we discover some of the prettiest countryside in Central America. An excursion by boat around the lake to one of the outlying villages is included. The looming volcanoes provide a panoramic backdrop to the lakeside villages and every-day village life. Before returning to Antigua, we visit the colourful highland town of Chichicastenango, which is home to one of Latin America’s most vivid and bustling markets. The town of 'Chichi' is beautiful, with its hilly and mountainous topography and its famous market bursting with colour and fascination. Villagers throughout the region congregate at the town’s main square for this sprawling, busy, early morning market. Chichicastenango is Guatemala’s largest indigenous market and central America’s best known, where we can shop for the highlands’ many authentic offerings. After our visit here, we return to Antigua.

    Day 13-14 - Copan

    Crossing the border into Honduras, we head for the small town of Copán Ruinas, a city famous for its magnificent and remote Mayan ruins. A designated UNESCO World Heritage site, the Copan archaeological area consists of 120 hectares and includes a small natural reserve. It houses fascinating and unique Mayan monuments, including superb elaborate relief carvings. The famous hieroglyphic stairway, a lofty flight of 63 steps, bears several thousand glyphs and relief, being the longest known Mayan inscription, while elaborate carved relief of Copan’s 16 rulers, including Copan’s creator, Yax Pac, circle the outer walls of the West Plaza. Intricate carvings, pyramids and plazas set in a dense jungle environment make this a spectacular site. We walk through the grassy plazas rich in hieroglyphics and carved stele that pre-date many European civilizations. Copan Ruinas is a charming city of cobblestone streets and a cheerful and lively atmosphere, and it is also a great place for some optional activities that we can take advantage of during our stay, including rafting, caving, horse riding and bike riding.

    Day 15-16 - Suchitoto

    After breakfast we depart by private bus to Santa Ana, El Salvador's second city, where our tour guide takes us on a stroll through the town centre, one of the best preserved historic centers of El Salvador. In the afternoon we stop in Zapotitán Valley and visit Joya de Ceren, sometimes called the ‘Pompeii of Latin America’. In 590 AD this settlement, located at the base of an erupting Loma Caldera Volcano, was buried under 14 layers (4 to 6 meters) of ash. The site was rediscovered in 1976 and accorded UNESCO World Heritage status, as it is thanks to this unique finding that details about the daily lives of these indigenous communities are now known. After visiting these historic ruins we continue our journey to the charming colonial town of Suchitoto, where it seems like time has stopped, as features of the past are mixed with the culture of a very vibrant city. Our hotel has a swimming pool, overlooks Lake Suchitlán and is ideal for enjoying walks and visiting the many attractive venues of Suchitoto, its adobe houses, art galleries and handicraft shops. During our stay here we ought to try a taste of the famous ‘pupusa’ (a traditional Salvadoran corn tortilla) that is sold in stalls on the town square opposite Santa Lucía Church. On our walking tour, we get to walk over the town’s original pavements and unexpectedly witness beautiful views that casually appear from between the colonial buildings. During our free day we have the chance to join an optional tour (at additional cost) that takes in the historic attractions of San Salvador and visits Lake Coatepeque, where we enjoy lunch amidst amazing panoramic views. Lunch is included on this optional tour. We also visit 'Complejo de los Volcanes', where we view the famous 2000-metre-high Cerro Verde Volcano and Izalco, the youngest volcano of the country.

    Day 17 - La Union - Potosi - León

    After an early breakfast we depart for a spectacular day of travelling to Nicaragua. We first travel by bus to La Union, the principal port on the Gulf of Fonseca. After clearing immigration we depart by boat to Nicaragua and pass by several islands on our way to the port of Potosi. In fact, the whole volcanic archipelago of the Gulf can be admired, as well as the coasts of Honduras and Nicaragua. En route we visit Isla Meanguera, an island of volcanic origin with friendly people and an idyllic almost private beach. Arriving at Potosí, we get to observe the daily lives of fishermen and the vast beaches of the volcanic peninsula before continuing to our final destination – the town of León (full name: Santiago de los Caballeros de León), where we get to visit the largest cathedral in Central America and, from the rooftops, enjoy a magnificent view over a chain of volcanoes called ´Los Maribios'. Historic murals from the revolutionary era and a number of colourful colonial churches are all well worth visiting.

    Day 18 - León - Granada

    We have a morning free in León, but you can join a very special optional excursion (at extra cost) that involves climbing to the cone of the Cerro Negro Volcano. This active volcano is one of the smallest in Nicaragua (650m) and is completely covered with black sand and stones. On top of this volcano you enjoy a grand view over the ´Los Maribios´ chain of volcanoes and into Cerro Negro’s active crater. On descent through the fine volcanic sand, you can also practice the extreme sport of ´ash-boarding´ - sliding down the volcanic slope with a specially adapted snowboard! Around noon we leave for Granada and stop enroute at the handicraft market of Masaya, where we find a variety of colorful arts and crafts, and at the 'White Towns' - San Juan de Oriente and La Catarina, where we enjoy a drink with a majestic view. Granada oozes colonial charm. Nicaragua’s oldest Spanish town and the oldest on mainland Latin America, this beautiful and authentically historic place has preserved its colonial character. Granada is ideal to walk around in as its many attractions are concentrated around the central plaza. Impressive Lake Nicaragua is only a short stroll from the city centre. Spanish-style houses landmark the streets, with white adobe walls and large wooden doors; the main plaza, Parque Colon, is gently shaded by mango and malinche trees, and the streets are lined with magnificent neoclassical homes and palaces, whilst Spanish colonial buildings, churches and convents are dotted throughout Granada.

    Day 19 - Granada

    After breakfast a local site guide meets us at the hotel for a city tour. A traditional horse-drawn carriage takes us through the beautiful streets of Granada and on to the San Francisco Church and Monastery and the La Pólvora Fortress. The tower of La Merced Church has a magnificent view over the city. We also visit the Xalteva Church and the old city walls before, after lunch, continuing for a boat excursion on Lake Nicaragua, the world's largest freshwater lake. Here we discover the impressive flora and fauna of Las Isletas, an archipelago of 360 islands of volcanic origin situated at the foot of Mombacho Volcano. Our guided tour also includes a visit to a historic fort.

    Day 20-21 - Ometepe Island

    A bus takes us to the port of San Jorge where we cross Lake Nicaragua, the world’s largest freshwater lake, by ferry (1 hour) to the island of Ometepe. Its name meaning 'between two hills', this extraordinary island was created by two volcanoes - Concepcion (1610 meters) and Maderas (1394 meters). The still-active Concepcion emerges from the lake in an almost perfect cone shape. It is famous for its ancient stone statues and petroglyphs made by the Chorotega people that depict humans, animals, birds and geometric shapes, many of which appear on Maderas Volcano. Upon arrival on the island, a local driver transfers us by minibus to Charco Verde - one of the most beautiful beaches on Ometepe. Our hotel is located on the beach and has a panoramic view over Lake Nicaragua. With its unspoiled forests and impressive natural beauty, Ometepe is home to many bird species, including the gorgeous white-throated magpie jay (urraca), and offers excellent bird-watching opportunities. Its untouched wilderness is also home to an abundance of other wildlife, including white-faced monkeys. We enjoy a full free day on the island, but you can discover its highlights on an optional island tour. First stop is the friendly town of Altagracia, which hosts a rich collection of pre-Columbian arts. Next you visit the nature reserve 'Ojo de Agua´, a natural well and river spring, before enjoying lunch amidst nature on the beach of Santo Domingo. After lunch you can take a walk to the lagoon of Charco Verde and learn about the legend of ´Chico Largo´. For the more adventurous, optional climbs to the summit of Maderas Volcano or the active Concepcion Volcano you need to be in excellent physical condition.

    Day 22-23 - Samara Beach and the Gulf of Nicoya

    Rising early to cross the Costa Rican Border we venture south to the tropical paradise of Samara beach, on the Pacific coast. Here we have time to relax on the white sandy beach under the coconut palms, or entertain ourselves with some swimming, bike riding, forest walks or even fishing if you please.

    Day 24-25 - San Jose

    This morning we travel by bus and ferry to the cosmopolitan capital of San Jose, the centre of Costa Rica’s theatre and art world. The beautiful National Theatre is a 'must-see'. San Jose's most impressive public building, it is the centre of Costa Rican culture, with its superb interiors of marble staircases, gilded ceilings and local hardwood parquetry floors. The city boasts some excellent museums, but probably the most famous is the Jade Museum which houses the world's largest collection of American jade. Pre-Columbian gold, Costa Rican art and collections of live snakes and native reptiles are among some of the other museum offerings. The friendliness of the people, the breathtaking flora and fauna, the fascinating ancient artifacts and a lively central market all combine to make this city a fascinating and memorable cultural experience.

    Day 26-27 - Monteverde

    We climb up the mountains to the village of Monteverde (Green Mountain') in the northwest of Costa Rica. Here we set foot upon the outstanding Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. This preserved dense forest is just to the east of the community of Monteverde, a small village founded by North American Quakers in the 1950s. Experiencing the mystical and fragile environment here is a highlight of Costa Rica, with the constant cloud cover enveloping the top of the mountains and providing a misty magical tropical atmosphere in a place that is home to more than 2500 recorded species of plants, 400 birds and 100 species of mammals alone! As well as incredible bird-watching opportunities, we also have the option of taking the giant 'Sky Walk'. Traversing the rope ladders and fixed rope bridges on a series of suspension bridges in the jungle canopy over 40 meters above ground, we can view a veritable spectrum of birdlife, marvel at other breathtaking fauna and flora and maybe glimpse the elusive and brilliantly colored quetzal. Travelling from the cool highland cloud forest to the dense rainforest, we get to appreciate the rich ecological diversity of Costa Rica.

    Day 28-29 - La Fortuna - Arenal

    Our next stop is the town of La Fortuna, whose main attraction is the nearby spectacular Arenal Volcano (1633m). This active volcano with its almost perfect conical shape is a spectacular sight, especially at night as red-hot molten lava can often be seen flowing from the crater. During our two-day stay we enjoy a hike around the volcano and absorb the stunning scenery that surrounds its base. There are also some great options for white-water rafting and horse riding. An optional night trek to the volcano is also recommended as there is often a display of molten lava and luminous rocks flying through the sky. We also get to enjoy a dip at the beautiful local waterfalls of La Catarata de Fortuna.

    Day 30-32 - Puerto Viejo - Cahuita

    We spend three nights in the beautiful beach town of Puerto Viejo, which is located on the Caribbean Sea and offers a wide range of activities including hiking, mountain biking , kayaking , diving, and snorkelling. Alternatively you may just prefer to soak up some of the local culture, discover the local reggae or sample the indigenous handicrafts on offer. We take a day trip to Cahuita which has a relaxed ambience while its authentic Creole culture remains evident in the country’s food and music. We also visit Cahuita National Park, where wildlife abounds. There are good opportunities for sightings of coatis, sloths, armadillos, iguanas, howler and capuchin monkeys, as well as several other species. Cahuita National Park is also renowned for its attractive unspoiled beaches, with long stretches of pristine white sand, coral reef and coastal rainforest, making it a haven for both swimming and snorkeling.

    Day 33 - Puerto Viejo - San Jose

    On our final day we return by bus back to San Jose, where our journey comes to an end at the bus station. It is possible to book additional accommodation in San Jose, if you intend on staying on after the tour. If you are departing San Jose today, please do not book to depart until after 19:00 hrs.
  • What's Included

    • An experienced local tour guide plus there will be the services of local site guides at some sites. All transport, accommodation, sightseeing as indicated.

    Not Included

    • International flights, arrival and departure transfers, departure and airport taxes, visas, meals, entrance fees, all optional tours or activities during free time, transfers outside of the tour program, travel insurance, tips and items of a personal nature.

    Safety Information

    Active Volcanoes
    This tour passes through volcanic areas.  In the instance, a volcano becomes potentially dangerous and authorities declare nearby towns unsafe for travel, the itinerary will be re-routed. Where possible, Gecko’s will provide advance notice of such changes. At short notice, when this is not possible, your tour leader will provide up to date information on behalf of Gecko’s.

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33 days
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Nuts+Bolts

#GSCS
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Boat, Deluxe bus, Local bus, Minibus, On foot, Taxi
1 night Overnight bus, 32 nights Budget/tourist class hotels
Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico
San Jose

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