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Tropicbird: Highlights of Central America

19 days from £3317pp

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Tropicbird: Highlights of Central America:
Trip Dossier

This journey brings together some of the cultural, architectural and geographical highlights of Central America. Visit the historically rich Granada, León, Suchitoto and Antigua – a few of the most beautiful cities in the New World, each with its own colonial slant. Travel to the little explored country of El Salvador and onto the Guatemalan highlands where, encircled by a ring of giant volcanoes, is Lake Atitlán, with indigenous market villages clustered along its shore. Finish your trip deep in the jungle at the abandoned Mayan city of Tikal. It’s an awesome archaeological site, the temples of which penetrate the wooded canopy, and further explore this magical rainforest from a lodge in the heart of Belize. You can expect to get the most from these fascinating countries at a relaxed pace, and enjoy a high standard of accommodation on this comfortable and engrossing journey.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

UK clients depart arriving Managua, Nicaragua, the same day, Thursday.

Day 1

Transfer to Granada and overnight.

Day 2

City tour and excursion to Las Isletas.

Day 3

Excursion to the Masaya volcano and market.

Day 4

Drive to León. Walking tour.

Day 5

Optional excursions in and around the city.

Days 6-7

Travel back to Managua from León. Fly to San Salvador and continue by land to Suchitoto.

Days 8-9

By road to Antigua in Guatemala.

Day 10

Optional excursions in and around Antigua.

Day 11

Travel to Lake Atitlán stopping at the market at Chichicastenango.

Days 12-13

Explore the surrounding area and the lakeside towns and villages.

Days 14-15

Flight to Flores. Guided tour of the amazing ruins at Tikal.

Days 16-18

Travel across the border to your rainforest lodge in Belize.

Day 19

Depart for an international flight or extension.

UK clients arrive home the following day, Tuesday.

Detailed itinerary

UK clients depart arriving Managua, Nicaragua, the same day, Thursday.
 

Day 1

Transfer to Granada and overnight.
 

Those passengers arriving on an international flight will be met by the tour leader or local representative and taken to the group hotel in the nearby historic town of Granada (1 hour).

Day 2

City tour and excursion to Las Isletas.
 
This charming city was once the wealthiest in Latin America; a staging post for the shipment of looted gold. The architecture reflects this one-time prosperity; huge wooden doors open onto shady patios, once home to aristocrats. Efforts are now being made to restore the city's splendour, and newly promoted tourism has been a trigger for the establishment of many new bars and restaurants, as well as a pleasant pedestrian promenade.

A tour with a local guide introduces you to some of the city's finest colonial buildings and churches. There is also an included excursion to Las Isletas, a 365 island archipelago, formed 20,000 years ago when the Mombacho volcano erupted, hurling its top half into Lake Nicaragua in giant masses of rock, ash and lava. Today Las Isletas is a haven for birdlife, and the site of luxurious getaway homes for wealthy Nicaraguans. Choose a spot here before dusk and watch the sun set over the mainland.

Granada , Nicaragua

Day 3

Excursion to the Masaya volcano and market.
 

Today there is an excursion to the Masaya National Park. Spend the day exploring its volcanic crater lakes, the old hilltop fort of Coyotepe, and the active crater of Masaya, as well as the eponymous town. Here you can wander around the handicraft market, and maybe pick up one of the handmade hammocks for which the town is renowned.

Masya Volcano, Nicaragua

Day 4

Drive to León. Walking tour.
 
Today you journey to León (2-3 hours), past the capital city of Managua, skirting the lake of the same name. You then head northwards, past the foothills of the Momotombo Volcano, to León, another of Nicaragua's restored colonial cities. Here time is best spent wandering through the streets and around the shady plazas and ornate churches that make up the town centre.

Even during colonial times León had a strong liberal tradition (as opposed to the conservatism that characterised Granada), and it has remained the country's radical and intellectual centre, with a thriving university population. The Sandinista link is still visible today with a few large murals and revolutionary graffiti plastered over some of the town's white adobe walls.

Cathedral, Leon, Nicaragua

Day 5

Optional excursions in and around the city.
 

The following day there is time for an optional visit to the pristine Pacific coastline at Poneloya, a 18-km drive south of León. Enjoy the long stretch of beach, watch experts surf the big waves and have a drink at one of the ramshackle local bars. Or you can explore the local mangrove forest, which runs parallel to the Pacific Ocean, by boat to spot the local bird life and wildlife. There is a stop at a beach only accessible by boat where there are projects to monitor turtle habitat and hatching.

For those looking for something more historical, a trip to León Viejo can be arranged. This is the archaeological site of the first location of the city of León set among tropical trees in a sleepy area of the Department of León. The new location was chosen in the early 17th Century following earthquakes and impending dangers from more seismic activity and volcanic eruptions. A walk around the foundations of the old city ‘centre’ will give you an insight into the plans of the Spanish when they first settled in Central America.

Days 6-7

Travel back to Managua from León. Fly to San Salvador and continue by land to Suchitoto.
 

In the morning travel back to Managua from León. From here you will catch a flight to San Salvador the capital of El Salvador. El Salvador is Central America’s least visited country and another with a turbulent past, where throughout the 1980s a chaotic civil war was fought in the mountains and fields that dominate the landscape. It is once again finding its feet, and you’ll soon be whizzing through the country along its impressive road system to the untouched colonial gem of Suchitoto.

The atmospheric town of Suchitoto is located just 47kms north of the capital San Salvador, but it is a million miles away in all other senses. Virtually untouched by tourists the small town is easily navigated on foot, as you pass low level colonial buildings along cobblestoned streets, where local artisans ply their trade.

From the town centre, where a beautiful white washed church dominates the plaza, the town spreads down to the shores of Lago Suchitlán. Here, restaurants offer wonderful views of the lake and the nearby forest reserves. The surrounding area is a renowned bird migration zone, and you can spend a day walking along the trails of the forests that surround the town or take a leisurely boat trip out onto the lake. Alternatively just spend a day recharging your batteries and absorbing the sites of this relaxed haven.

Suchitoto

Days 8-9

By road to Antigua in Guatemala.
 

Country number three beckons today as you travel north-west into the Guatemalan highlands and the town of Antigua. En route there will normally (time depending) be the chance to stop at the archaeological site of Joya de Ceren. Considered the Pompeii of the America's, it is a 600ad Mayan town preserved under the ash from the eruption of a nearby volcano. Your destination Antigua is Guatemala's colonial jewel, with cobbled streets, overhanging tiled roofs and a beautiful, leafy central plaza. The town has 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. It seems that every doorway opens onto a leafy tiled courtyard, as you explore the city on a guided tour. A dramatic backdrop of smouldering volcanoes reminds you how the city was destroyed by an eruption in 1773.

Please note that any clients booked on the Kinkajou Journey will join the group on day 1 in Antigua.

Day 10

Optional excursions in and around Antigua.
 
Antigua is a welcoming place to relax and unwind, do some shopping and enjoy excellent food, or just to wander around the ruined convents and squares and enjoy the flowers in their beautifully tended gardens on this free day.

For those wishing to get a little further afield there is the opportunity for a full day excursion into Honduras to the ruins of Copán. Copán, along with Tikal, is probably the most impressive of the Mayan ruined complexes. Please note this is an extremely long day and not always possible, so please discuss with your tour leader if wishing to organise this side trip.

Antigua, Guatemala

Day 11

Travel to Lake Atitlán stopping at the market at Chichicastenango.
 
Travel by gradually-ascending road to Lake Atitlán. The landscapes west of Antigua are dominated by imposing volcanoes and small, busy villages.

En route we stop at the highland town of Chichicastenango, where the symbols and practices of overt Catholicism mingle with esoteric Mayan religious ceremonies, centred around the simple, whitewashed façade of the church. Here there is a vast market, and there is time to wander the labyrinthine streets that are lined with textiles, clothes and tapestries of striking colour and extraordinary intricacy, as well as extravagant hand-carved masks and good-quality leather goods. Local farmers also bring an array of fruit and vegetables from the surrounding villages, which they exchange and sell.

Days 12-13

Explore the surrounding area and the lakeside towns and villages.
 
The lake is one of the most captivating in the world, with conical, volcanic cones reflected in its impossibly blue waters, and traditional towns and villages skirting its periphery. It's the perfect place to spend a few days. You are based in the peaceful village of Santa Catarina de Polopó, a few kilometres from the lively tourist centre of Panajachel. Take a motor launch across the lake to Santiago de Atitlán. Cruising over the still morning waters there are wonderful views of the various shoreline settlements and cultivated fields, some grand houses, and beyond to the gently sloping 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.

Each of the villages around the lake has its own traditional dress and speaks its own Mayan dialect. There is plenty of time here to relax, and enjoy the peace and quiet, and the magical views, or you can take to the lake by canoe, hire a bicycle or visit one of the local butterfly or animal parks.

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Days 14-15

Flight to Flores. Guided tour of the amazing ruins at Tikal.
 
Travel to Guatemala City, for an hour-long morning flight that takes you to Flores, located in the humid jungles in the north of the country, your base for visiting the impressive Mayan ruins at Tikal.

An hour from Flores lies Tikal where tall, elegant temples penetrate the forest canopy; the views over the site from one of these temple-tops are timeless and unforgettable. Spend time wandering through the palace complexes with an informed local guide. Tikal was one of the largest and most important Mayan city states, reaching its peak in around AD800, before its mysterious demise. The pyramids and temples seem frozen in time, but you're brought back to the present by the curious roar of howler monkeys as they swing through the low branches of the trees, and flashes of colour as toucans and parrots take flight. You are based in the comfort of a secluded lodge on Lake Petén.

Later in the afternoon you may investigate the extensive grounds of a nature reserve adjacent to the hotel, including the jungle-clad areas on the shore of Lake Petén, where crocodiles have been spotted lurking in the shallows, and you might come across the elegant wild deer grazing in the shade. Don't forget to look up, because the trees are home to a range of colourful, boisterous birdlife, include a number of varieties of toucan, or just relax in the beautiful gardens and by the pool of the hotel.

Tikal

Days 16-18

Travel across the border to your rainforest lodge in Belize.
 
This morning you depart for the little known Mayan ceremonial site of Yaxha, situated on the shores of a lagoon before enjoying a beautiful drive across the border and into Belize, through the town of San Ignacio and into the low-lying Cayo district.

You spend three nights at Chaa Creek, one of the first lodges of its kind in Belize. This tranquil jungle hideaway, set in 135 hectares of rainforest, was opened by an Anglo-American couple in 1981. The focus here is on the area's natural attributes and activities available include a stroll along some of the many orchid-lined trails, a calming canoe ride through the mustard-coloured waters of the Macal River, watching wild- and bird-life emerge from its shoreline habitat, or if you're feeling more active you can explore the area on horseback or by bike.

However, you may simply want to relax and enjoy the splendid tropical gardens, or be pampered in the spa. It's a little piece of paradise here, and the atmosphere is welcoming and informal.

Blue morpho butterfly at Chaa Creek

Day 19

Depart for an international flight or extension.
 

Travel by road (3 hrs) to Belize City, and continue to your international flight or extension.

UK clients arrive home the following day, Tuesday.
 

Essential information

Transport

2 flights (both 1hr), 7 scenic road journeys.

Accommodation

We use good quality medium-class hotels and lodges. Examples of the hotels we use on the Tropicbird Journey are

• Granada: Hotel El Dario 2016/Hotel Colonial 2017
• León: Hotel El Convento
• Suchitoto: Los Almendros de San Lorenzo
• Antigua: Meson de Maria or Posada don Rodrigo
• Lake Atitlán: Villa Santa Catarina
• Lake Petén: Villa Maya
• Belize: Chaa Creek Lodge

These hotels are subject to change and are dependent on availability. Address and contact details will be sent out with your final documents.

Meals

Breakfast daily, lunch day 15 and dinner days 16-18.

Included excursions

• Granada: Las Isletas, Lake Nicaragua
• Granada: Masaya market and volcano
• Granada: city tour
• León: walking tour
• Antigua: walking tour
• Atitlán: boat excursion to villages on Lake Atitlán
• Tikal: tour of Tikal and Yaxha ruins
• Chaa Creek: selected excursions at Chaa Creek

Summary of nights

19 days, 18 nights: Granada 3; León 2; Suchitoto 2; Antigua 3; Lake Atitlán 3; Tikal 2; Chaa Creek 3.

Included in the journey price

• services of Journey Latin America tour leader
• all land and air transport
• international flights (if booking all inclusive price)
• accommodation as specified
• meals as specified
• excursions as specified

Not included in the journey price

• tips and insurance
• meals other than specified
• optional excursions
• arrival tax in Managua

Where a local company organises an optional excursion it does so as a principal and not as an agent of Journey Latin America.

Optional excursions

There are a few days where optional excursions available during this tour, which are booked locally through your tour leader once you are in Latin America. Not all excursions available will suit everybody, whilst others only operate within certain seasons, with minimum numbers or may not be included due to time constraints. A budget of around $150USD should cover participation in a wide range of the following options, but prices can fluctuate depending on the size of the party and so can not be provided accurately until travel commences. The list below is only a guideline, so please enquire with your tour leader for any further areas of interest:

• León: visit the excavated ruins of León viejo
• Suchitoto: tour the sites and artitistic quarters of Suchitoto, walk in the local Cinquera nature reserve or take boat rides on Lake Suchitlán
• Antigua : climb the Pacaya Volcano, visit local surrounding villages to pick up some handicrafts or walk up Cerro de la Cruz
• Honduras: ruins of Copán
• Lake Atitlán: further boat trips out onto the water or walks in the countryside
• Chaa Creek : additional options available can be organised through the Lodge, such as guided nature walks, a visit to some nearby botanical gardens, horseriding or spa treatments

Travelling alone

There is no extra cost for single travellers who are willing to share a room. You will be accommodated with another same-sex member of the group who is also travelling solo. For single travellers who wish to have their own room there are a limited number of single supplement places available, which carry a surcharge.

Currency

The unit of currency in Nicaragua is the córdoba, the US dollar in El Salvador, in Guatemala the quetzal and the Belizean dollar in Belize.US dollars are widely accepted in all countries as well, but should not be relied upon. A budget of around $35US per day should cover the cost of meals, drinks and the odd souvenir.

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 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. These bills should be in good condition as soiled or torn bills may be refused. Travellers cheques are increasingly less favoured by travellers who find them awkward to change as well as offering a poor rate of exchange. If you do decide to carry some with you they should be US dollar cheques only (American Express are by far the most accepted brand).

Tipping

Tips are normally welcomed and expected. Local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. We recommend approximately $3USD (or local equivalent) per person per day for each of guides and drivers, depending on the size of the group.

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.

If you would like to show your appreciation to your Journey Latin America tour leader, who you may feel has exceeded your expectations, a discretionary gratuity would be gratefully received. As a guideline we recommend an amount of between $4 and $6USD per person, per day. You are obviously free to tip more or less as you see fit, depending on your perception of service quality.

Insurance

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

Airport taxes

International departure tax is included on the ticket but a small airport security tax (approx. $3USD) is payable locally either in local currency or US dollars. There is a $10USD charge on arrival in Managua for a tourist card.

Journey grade

This journey is at a gentle pace and there is plenty of time to relax in each location. All walks and excursions are optional, so discuss with your tour leader if you have any doubts about their suitability. There are some early mornings, and in the lowlands temperature and humidity are high, and the sun is strong.

Climate

Travellers on May to October departures should encounter high temperatures (around 35°C) and humidity in the lowlands. There is a high chance of short bursts of heavy rainfall during these months. December to April departures will still encounter high temperatures in the lowlands, but cooler 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 for all departures. 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 thrive. 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 around essential items, 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. Please take precautions against mosquito bites as cases of dengue fever have recently been reported in several areas of Guatemala.

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

Cases of Zika virus have been reported in parts of Latin America. If you’re pregnant, or planning to be, you should follow the advice of the  National Travel Health Network and Centre

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. Those with another nationality should check with the relevant consulate.

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:

ESTA - if flying to the US, or via the US you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online at  which costs $14 per person which must be done by you personally. Passports must also be machine-readable (MRP). Avoid locking suitcases if transiting the USA, as their customs authorities retain the right to break into them.


APIS - Many countries now oblige airlines to provide additional information about passengers prior to the departure of flights. This Advance Passenger Information (APIS) must be supplied to us promptly in order to issue tickets and avoid fare increases. We will provide the airlines with the relevant details if we are booking your international flights. If the information is not provided you may be denied boarding.

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