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Value Central America: Costa Rica, Guatemala and Belize

15 days from £3,229pp

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Value Central America: Costa Rica, Guatemala and Belize:
Trip Dossier

Visit 3 contrasting countries. Peaceful Costa Rica is famed for its national parks, coffee and eco-tourism.  Guatemala is steeped in indigenous and Spanish colonial tradition and religious mysticism. Belize, a truly Caribbean country, is English-speaking, utterly laid-back, and a popular destination for outdoor adventure enthusiasts.

Start off in Costa Rica, gaze down into a volcanic crater and explore the bird-filled cloud forest of the interior. Move on to Antigua, Guatemala’s colonial masterpiece, and continue to the serene setting of Lake Atitlán, encircled by volcanoes, handkerchief-sized fields and tiny indigenous villages.

On to Tikal, the vast Mayan ruined city where ancient temples and pyramids penetrate the rainforest canopy. Crossing the border into Belize, stay at a countryside lodge surrounded by tropical foliage rich in wildlife; enjoy the thrills and spills of outdoor activities, or just relax. Round off the holiday at the pearl white beaches of Caye Caulker in the Caribbean, maybe with a bit of snorkelling or scuba diving.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in San José and transfer to hotel.

Day 2

Guided excursion to Poas Volcano.

Day 3

Drive to Monteverde in the cloud forest.

Day 4

Guided excursion in the reserve.

Day 5

Transfer to airport, fly to Guatemala City and drive to Antigua.

Day 6

Walking tour of Antigua.

Day 7

Drive to Lake Atitlán via Chichicastenango market.

Day 8

Guided excursion by boat to Santiago de Atitlán.

Day 9

Fly to Flores in the jungle Petén region; guided tour of the Mayan ruins at Tikal.

Day 10

Drive into Belize to the San Ignacio area.

Day 11

At leisure at countryside resort. Optional outdoor activities and excursions.

Day 12

Drive via ATM caves then boat to Caye Caulker, Caribbean coral island.

Days 13-14

At leisure on Caye Caulker.

Day 15

By boat to Belize City, transfer to the airport for your international flight home.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in San José and transfer to hotel.
 

You will be met at the airport by our local representative who will take you to your hotel in the modern capital.

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Day 2

Guided excursion to Poas Volcano.
 
It is a 90min drive past strawberry farms, huge ferns and coffee plantations of Alajuela province to Poás Volcano, one of the deepest active volcanoes in the world. Having last erupted in September 1978, Poás emits a continuous flow of steam from vents adjacent to a lake deep within the main crater.

A second crater, with a crystal clear, rain-fed lake surrounded by lush highland jungle, is located 1km away, via a trail through dwarf cloud-forest. Among the 80 species of birds reported, several are unique to this unusual habitat.

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Poas

Day 3

Drive to Monteverde in the cloud forest.
 
Travel inland by road into highlands mantled by the woodland of Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in the rugged, rolling hills northwest of San José. You'll be driven for a couple of hours through the Central Valley along the paved Pan American Highway.

After 150km you take the turn off for Monteverde. The dirt road is bumpy with volcanic rocks, winding up through the hills to the cloud-forest at 1,400m. It's dusty in the dry season and muddy in the wet but you'll be entertained by wildlife you spot along the way  ̶  sloths, monkeys and tropical birds.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve protects more than 400 species of bird and 100 species of mammal. Walking along the well-marked trails, amidst dense, dripping foliage, you are likely to encounter the resplendent quetzal, with its vivid red belly and long green tail.30 species of hummingbird also reside in the park.

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3 toed sloth , Costa rica

Day 4

Guided excursion in the reserve.
 

You’ll have a guided tour in the Reserve. Explore this magical forest from the vantage point of a number of suspended bridges and walkways, which give a unique perspective across the canopy, and take a twilight hike along one of its many nature trails, an excellent time to spot the indigenous fauna. You may also opt to view it from a different, thrilling perspective as you speed along zip lines hung throughout the forest.

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Monteverde

Day 5

Transfer to airport, fly to Guatemala City and drive to Antigua.
 

Transfer to airport and fly to Guatemala City and transfer to Antigua, the former capital of Guatemala. The city is a colonial work of art, with cobbled streets, overhanging tiled roofs and a beautiful, leafy central plaza. There’s an abundance of huge ruined churches, convents and monasteries, testament to a time when Antigua was the country’s capital and its main religious centre.

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Antigua

Day 6

Walking tour of Antigua.
 
You’ll have a walking tour of the historic centre. It seems that every doorway opens onto a fragrant tiled courtyard. A dramatic backdrop of smouldering volcanoes and ruined churches and convents surrounded by parkland bear witness to the city’s destruction by a volcanic eruption in 1773.

Antigua is a welcoming place to relax and unwind, do some shopping in tempting boutiques and art galleries, and enjoy the excellent food in a large range of restaurants and pavement cafés. Wander around the courtyards and enjoy the floral displays in beautifully tended gardens.

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Antigua buses

Day 7

Drive to Lake Atitlán via Chichicastenango market.
 
Travel by a gradually-ascending road to Lake Atitlán. The landscapes in the highlands west of Antigua are dominated by watchful volcanoes and compact, busy farming villages. The lake is one of the most captivating in the world and its beauty has been eulogised by poets and travellers.

On a sunny day, the closely forested volcanic cones are reflected in cobalt waters. Traditional villages and indigenous agricultural settlements skirt its fertile shores, each with its own character and identity, its own dialect and often a unique costume still worn by the proud inhabitants.

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Lake Atitlán

Day 8

Guided excursion by boat to Santiago de Atitlán.
 
Take a motor launch across the lake to Santiago de Atitlán. Cruising over the calm and silent morning waters, you’ll have wonderful views of the various shoreline hamlets and pocket-sized fields alongside some grand houses, and beyond to the gently sloping bottle-green volcanoes that encircle the water.

You are greeted as you alight at Santiago by enthusiastic children, and the town is an excellent place to buy brilliantly coloured textiles.

The children may also offer to guide you to the current resting place of the smoking, drinking, be-hatted and roguish local idol, Maximón, who is moved to a different house each year, and looked after by a diligent entourage. He’s certainly not politically correct but he will help you with your problems in exchange for a suitable financial donation.

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Maximon

Day 9

Fly to Flores in the jungle Petén region; guided tour of the Mayan ruins at Tikal.
 
Fly from Guatemala City to Flores in the sticky jungles of northern Guatemala; continue to your lodge. There will be a guided tour of the archaeological site at Tikal. Steep, stepped and vertiginous temples penetrate the forest canopy; the timeless rainforest canopy views over the site from one of these temple-tops are unforgettable.

Spend the day wandering through the palace complexes. Tikal was one of the largest and most important Mayan city states, reaching its peak in around AD800 prior to its mysterious demise.

The pyramids and temples seem frozen in time, but you’re brought back to the present by the roar of curious howler monkeys and lithe spider monkeys as they swing through the trees; and by flashes of colour as toucans and parrots take flight.

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Tikal

Day 10

Drive into Belize to the San Ignacio area.
 
Drive east through the jungle to cross the border into Belize (3hrs). The peaceful town of San Ignacio, on Belize’s Western Highway, is set in the rich and fertile Macal river valley.

Continue to your resort hotel, the Midas, on the edge of the town which is  surrounded by palms, banana plants and many other tropical plants. This exuberant vegetation is home to iguanas, squirrels and hummingbirds, all of which you can spot on the property. There’s also a large pool in the garden.

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Macal river

Day 11

At leisure at countryside resort. Optional outdoor activities and excursions.
 
If you want to explore further afield the friendly staff will help you organise a trip: exploring the river, visiting nearby Mountain Pine Ridge with its cool forests and waterfalls or the Mayan archaeological sites at Xunantunich and Caracol.
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Day 12

Drive via ATM caves then boat to Caye Caulker, Caribbean coral island.
 
Drive to the port in Belize City via a stop to check out the ATM Caves near San Ignacio. It’s a “hole in the wall” but anything but a cash dispenser!  The cave system is a Mayan archaeological site, and contains ceramics, stoneware and, in the main chamber, human bones. This chamber was also discovered to be full of Mayan pottery.

Bones and skulls were revealed scattered amongst the pottery, some - very much intact - including an unbelievably well-preserved complete human skeleton.

If this isn't spooky enough, on your closely guided visit – in which you have to swim, climb rocks and  spend hours in the dark - you'll see where the Mayans have manipulated cave formations to create the faces of men and animals, project shadows or serve as makeshift altars. Bats flit around and tropical fish inhabit the waters.

Drive to the port in Belize City. The boat trip by water taxi to Caye Caulker takes about 45 minutes, through turquoise waters and a maze of mangrove islands.

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ATM caves

Days 13-14

At leisure on Caye Caulker.
 

The 'no shirt, no shoes, no problem' signs that crop up in the numerous bars epitomises the easy-going vibe of this charming small coral island. It is a wonderful place to unwind or take advantage of its excellent snorkelling and diving. It’s been a long-time favourite with backpackers, but now a broader range of visitor is discovering the island’s unique barefoot atmosphere.

There are next to no cars and people mainly get around on foot, by bike or golf buggy.

There’s no large scale tourism here. Optional activities you can book locally include diving, snorkelling, fishing, stand-up paddling, wind-surfing and birdwatching.  Relax and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere swinging in a hammock, or sitting on one of the wooden piers watching the lilac and tangerine sunset with a beer. Lobster fishing has long been an important activity here and the fresh lobster you can order in the many little restaurants is delicious and cheap!

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Shark ray alley

Day 15

By boat to Belize City, transfer to the airport for your international flight home.

Essential information

Transport

2 flights by light aircraft; 5 road journeys, 2 boat transfers.

Accommodation

This tour uses small or medium-sized properties with plenty of local colour and special features, some considered by many to be first class, others very comfortable but not necessarily offering all the facilities of a top-of-the-range property.

Meals

Breakfast daily, lunch day 9.

Guides

We carefully select our local partners, some of whom we have worked with for over 25 years. Their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by clients on their return.

Included excursions

• Guided excursion to Poas Volcano.
• Guided tour of Monteverde cloud forest reserve.
• Walking tour of Antigua.
• Chichicastenango market.
• Boat excursion to Santiago de Atitlán.
• Guided tour of Tikal ruins.

Summary of nights

15 days, 14 nights: San José 2; Monteverde 2;  Antigua 2; Lake Atitlán 2; Tikal 1; Belize interior 2;  Caye Caulker 3.

Included in the journey price

• Services of our team of experts in our London office.
• Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides.
• All land and air transport within :Latin America.
• Accommodation as specified.
• Meals as specified.
• Excursions as specified, including entrance fees.

Not included in the journey price

• Tips and gratuities
• Meals other than specified
• International flights to Latin America.
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket
• Optional excursions

Currency

The unit of currency in Costa Rica is the colón, in Guatemala it’s the quetzal. In Belize it’s the Belize dollar.

Daily spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$40 per day should cover the cost of meals not included in the holiday itinerary, drinks and the odd souvenir. Eat at the best restaurants and you will pay considerably more.

How to take it

Cash machines are available in all major cities and towns, and so taking a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip, and in most shops and restaurants you can also pay by card. However, since cards can get lost, damaged, withheld or blocked, you should not rely exclusively on a card to access funds.

We recommend that additionally you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can exchange into local currency, and possibly some travellers’ cheques, though these are gradually falling out of use (American Express are the most widely accepted). Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can take sterling, but the exchange rate is not always competitive or even available, restricting the number of places where you can change money.

The Belize exchange rate is fixed at $2 Belize dollars to 1 $US. Both currencies (Belize and US dollars) are widely accepted in cash. Rates for the colón and the quetzal are variable.

Tipping

Tips are expected and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income.  

Most service industry workers will expect a tip of some kind and so it is useful to have spare change for hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common to leave 10 - 12% in restaurants.

Tipping guidelines can be found in our Briefing Dossier.

Insurance

Travel insurance is essential.

Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance page.

Airport taxes

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

Journey grade

There are no long days of travel on this trip. This holiday is suitable for all, including families. In other cases, and if you have a disability or other special requirements, please call us. In the summer the weather can be extremely hot and humid, you might bear this in mind if travelling with small children or elderly persons.

Climate

Travellers on May to October journeys should encounter high temperatures (around 35°C) and high humidity in the lowlands. There are likely to be some short bursts of heavy rainfall during these months. December to April visitors will still encounter high temperatures in the lowlands, but cool evenings in the Guatemalan highlands, with temperatures falling to around 5°C. Rainfall and humidity will be lower at this time.

Clothing and special equipment

Bring plenty of light cotton clothing and good, comfortable walking shoes. Some warm items and good waterproof jackets are also necessary. We suggest that you plan to ‘layer’ your clothing; it is easier and more efficient to put on a couple of light layers than one thick jumper, and sensible to have long sleeves for areas where mosquitos may be a problem. Sandals are a good informal option for evenings. Protection against the sun (sunblock, sun hat) and mosquito repellant are essential and you should bring swimwear. A daypack is useful for carrying sun block, guidebook, water and any extra layers.

Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts. Good equipment is very important and hard to come by in Central America.

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following: typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. You should consult your GP for specific requirements, including advice on yellow fever and malaria tablets (unlikely for this holiday). For specific requirements you must consult your GP.

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website.

Visas

Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins.  Anyone with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the relevant consulate.

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:ESTA - if flying to, or via, the USA, you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online. This costs $14 per person, and must be done by you personally.

Passports must also be machine-readable (MRP). Avoid locking suitcases if transiting the USA, as their customs 



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