Bienvenidos! Welcome to Guatemala. As the seat of the Spanish colonial government, Antigua was once the most important city in Central America. In 1773 Antigua was destroyed by an earthquake, but many of the colonial buildings have been carefully restored and the architecture from its glory days can still be seen. On arrival at the hotel, you will be presented with a Welcome Pack containing all the information you will need for this Bite-size Break. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 5pm on Day 1. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where this meeting will take place. After meeting your guide, take a short trip to a well known local restaurant for a hands-on cooking class with the chef. Learn about the interesting mixture of Spanish and Mayan influences on Guatemalan flavours while whipping up tasty courses from meats, vegetable, herbs and spices hand-picked from the market that day. Reward your efforts with a tasty dinner.
Guatemala’s fertile valleys provide the perfect conditions for growing coffee, and it produces some of the best in the world. Get to know this addictive little bean a bit better with an excursion to a coffee plantation. Accompanied by a member of the coffee farming cooperative, you’ll dig into the history of the plant with a hands-on crop to cup experience. If the season’s right, get your own hands dirty planting coffee seedlings or harvesting the beans. Next, see how these bright red berries are processed, dried, roasted and ground by hand. Finish off with a home-brewed cup and a snack prepared by the family. In the afternoon, check out the chaotic and colourful Central Market for a slice of local life. Your leader will guide you through the many fresh fruit and vegetable sellers until you reach the lively food stands in the ‘comedores’ section of the market. Here you will try some of the most popular regional Guatemalan dishes alongside the locals. The evening is free for your own exploration. Your leader will have plenty of suggestions for things to do and places to eat.
Your Bite-size Break comes to an end this morning and you can leave at any time.
1 San Jose
Hola and welcome to Costa Rica! A welcome pack will be waiting at the hotel including all the information you need for your tour. With over half the country's population living within its parameters, San Jose is a bustling capital city with lively markets, intriguing museums and a dynamic atmosphere. A good place to start exploring is the main plaza, a fantastic place to get comfy and do some people watching. Artisanal booths are common here and you never know when there'll be a spontaneous art fair. If there's time, perhaps have a look at the Gold Museum and see its amazing collection of indigenous gold art, or head to the outdoor markets at Plaza de la Cultura and Central Market, where you can buy anything from handicrafts to seafood.
2 San Jose
Rise early and meet your local leader at the Central Market for a food tour. There’s no better place to experience local cuisine than at San Jose’s bustling marketplace, housed in a 120-year old building that’s full to the brim with typical Costa Rican food and drink. Here you can sample local delicacies, learn about the herbs used in local medicines, and hear about the unique chorreado coffee brewing method while sipping on your second (or even third) coffee of the day. The Central Market is an experience that no visitor to San Jose should miss, and with a local guide by your side you’ll unearth all the secrets behind this local treasure.
3 San Jose
Get ready for another early start, this time meeting your local leader in a café across the road from the northeast corner of Espana Park. There’s a lot of ground to cover today so the group will be meeting at 7am sharp. Grab a cup of coffee then take a short stroll to Yellow House nearby. The distinctive building has been used at varying points in time as a presidential residence, meeting place for the Legislative Assembly and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Culture. Continue on to the National Liquor Factory and learn how San Jose’s national drink, guaro, is made from sugar cane juice. Next up, enjoy a quick 10-minute hike into the hills of San Jose and arrive at the Atlantic Railroad, where you’ll hop on a train headed to Cartago. This scenic 45-minute journey travels past the San Jose University campus, through coffee plantations and deeper into the mountains. At the end of the journey lies Cartago, a beautiful historic town where many of the locals still get around by bike – which is what you’ll be doing too! Saddle up and then cruise the streets, stopping to visit the key sites with your leader. Pull up at the Cartago Central Market for another round of delicious local food before catching a local bus back to San Jose. The rest of the afternoon is yours to explore. Perhaps gather together your fellow travellers and celebrate the end of this San Jose stopover with dinner in trendy Barrio Amon.
4 San Jose
This stopover comes to an end today and you are free to depart at any time after breakfast.
1 Belize City
Hello! Welcome to Belize. Your adventure begins with a Welcome Meeting at 6pm on Day 1. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel 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. Located where the Belize River meets the Caribbean Sea, this bustling former capital is full of history and culture. Belize City isn't the nicest place we visit in Central America but it is the best option available for the starting point of this tour. Like any big city in this region, Belize City has some issues with street crime and we advise visitors to take every precaution when you're outside the hotel. Don't take any valuables when you go out and keep your camera safe. At night, always try to go out in a group and stay on the main streets. The area around our hotel is the safest in the city - it's often called the tourist village. You can walk to the nearby lighthouse and enjoy the beautiful sea views. If you have some extra time and want to explore the city further we recommend you take a taxi, even when travelling relatively short distances. You can organise for a taxi to pick you up at the hotel and wait for you at each stop. This might be a little more expensive but it's safer and you can make the most of your time in the city. There are some interesting places to visit. Belize City is divided by the world's only remaining manual swing bridge. On the north side is the coastal and maritime museum, housed in the beautiful restored former fire station. Also in the north is the Image Factory, displaying contemporary Belizean artists, and the National Handicraft Centre. The oldest Anglican church in Central America, St John Cathedral, was built in 1812 with bricks brought as ballast in European sailing ships. Opposite is Government House, a preserved colonial mansion. Belize is the only English speaking country in Central America, which will make chatting with locals much easier. The Belizeans are known for their relaxed and easy going way of live. You will be amazed how many different cultures coexist harmoniously here.
2 San Ignacio
Catch a local bus to San Ignacio (approx. 3 hrs) where your leader will take you on a visit to the Cahal Pech ruins.These ruins were once a major Maya ceremonial centre, standing tall on a hill overlooking San Ignacio.
3 San Ignacio
You have a free day to take on any of the many optional activities available. One of the optional activities here is a day trip to Xunantunich, an impressive Mayan ceremonial centre located with panoramic views over the countryside. The east side of one of the temples has a unique stucco frieze and the central plaza has three carved stelae. Getting to the site is half the fun as you'll need to take a hand-cranked ferry to cross the river. The cave of Actun Tunichil Muknal is a living museum of Mayan relics. Wade through water until you reach the Mayan ceremonial site. Here you will find ceramic pots and crystallised skeletons, preserved by the natural processes of the cave for over 1,400 years. Other options to fill in your time in San Ignacio include a day trip to the Mountain Pine Ridge area to visit waterfalls and warm swimming holes, as well as a huge cave system, the butterfly garden, canoeing or river tubing.
Today we travel to Tikal National Park (approx. 4 hrs). Towering above the jungle of the Tikal National Park, the five granite temples of Tikal are an awesome sight and one of the most magnificent Maya ruins. Hidden in the jungle growth is a maze of smaller structures just waiting to be explored. The energetic can climb to the top of the ruins for spectacular views over the canopy. You may even spot toucans, macaws and other colourful birds. Tonight we camp by this majestic Mayan site. We will set up tents for ourselves with sleeping mattresses. The weather will be warm so sleeping bags will not be required although you may like to bring a sleeping bag liner or sheet. There are basic shared bathrooms and showers.
5 Caye Caulker
If you haven't had enough of Tikal you have the option to visit the site again this morning (entrance fee not included). We then travel by local bus to Belize City (approx. 6 hrs depending on border crossing conditions) where we board a water taxi to Caye Caulker. The Belize Cayes are a group of islands a short boat ride away from the coast. There are a number of these islands to choose from, but we base ourselves on Caye Caulker as this is one of the more popular islands with travellers. From here it is possible to arrange day trips to other cayes, to the best reefs for snorkelling, or simply to take a local boat out to the reef of Caulker itself. Each island has its own particular character, but all of them have the unmistakeable Caribbean pace and charm.
6-7 Caye Caulker
Relax on the beach or head out to Hol Chan Marine Reserve, home to the magnificent Blue Hole and the world's second longest barrier reef. Snorkel among the colorful corals and see tropical fish, sharks and manta rays. If you're interested in sampling local cuisine, Caye Caulker is famous for its lobster. Not the cheapest meal you'll ever buy, but so good. Always make sure that you respect the season: the lobsters can only be caught between June 15th and February 15th. Some of the best meals on the island are cooked on the road side. How about some grilled shrimp and a lovely rum and coke made with the local fire water?
8 Caye Caulker
On the last day we take a water taxi ride to Belize City (approx. 45 mins). You can depart any time after 12pm (midday) as there are no other planned activities for the day. Please ask your tour leader If you need any assistance arranging extra transport to the airport. If you would like to stay longer, we can book your post-tour accommodation at our hotel in either Caye Caulker or Belize City if required.
1 San Jose
Hola! Welcome to Costa Rica. 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. Home to over half the country's population, San Jose is a bustling city with lively markets, intriguing museums and a dynamic atmosphere. As this trip spends very little time here, we recommend arriving a day or two earlier to see the sights. A good place to start 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. You might even like to take a full or half-day tour out to Poas Volcano National Park.
2 Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Today take a five-hour local bus to Puerto Viejo. A small town on the beautiful Caribbean coast, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca has two sides to it. While the main street has a party vibe, featuring dancehall and reggaeton bars and modern restaurants, further out you'll find great surf beaches, rainforest fruit farms and family homes. The area is home to a mix of Rastafarian, European and indigenous populations. You'll be spending the next two nights here.
3 Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Take your time to explore Cahuita National Park, which is easily accessible from Puerto Viejo. Wander through the park on the lookout for sloths, monkeys, raccoons, snakes and a great variety of birds. While entrance to the park is free, you will be asked for a donation. You can also visit a jaguar rescue centre or wander through the Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve, which is home to birds of prey and medicinal herb gardens. Back in town, why not hire a bike for the day or hit the waves for a surf lesson?
4 Bocas del Toro/Isla Colon
Today take a one-hour local bus to the border, then walk across an old railway bridge into Panama. Continue by taxi or collective minivan to Almirante, where you'll take a short boat ride to Isla Colon in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. Rapidly becoming a Caribbean favourite, Bocas del Toro has it all - palm-shaded beaches with crystal-clear water, spectacular snorkelling and lots of wildlife. Culturally, Bocas is a melting pot of West Indians, Latinos and expats, resulting in diverse music, nightlife and food scenes. For the next two nights, stay on Isla Colon, the main town in Bocas del Toro and a great spot from where to start your exploration of the archipelago, with most bars, restaurants and local operators located on 1st, 2nd and 3rd street - meters from your hotel.
5 Bocas del Toro
There are several beaches within reach from town - between 8 and 14km from your hotel. However, be aware, apart from Starfish, Sandfly and Big Creek beaches, the rest can have very strong riptides. When the sun goes down, head into town and check out the local bar and restaurant scene. Where better to live la vida loca than in the Caribbean?
Today travel by boat and local bus to Boquete. The total journey should take eight to nine hours. Boquete is a picturesque town located in the highlands of Panama. The town is surrounded by mountains, crystal-clear creeks and rivers, forest reserves, wildflowers and fauna such as howler monkeys and the resplendent quetzal. Your hotel is located a short drive away from Boquete. Feel free to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery around the property, which has its own bar and restaurant. There is a free shuttle into town a few times a day and most optional activities can be organised directly from the hotel.
Today and tomorrow are free for you to explore Boquete. The area surrounding Boquete is famous for its coffee. While here you might like to visit a coffee plantation or kick back in town with a couple of the local brew. Why not take a guided bike tour or check out the mini canyons or hidden waterfalls outside of town? In the afternoon, perhaps soak your muscles in the local hot springs.
9 Santa Catalina
Today catch a local eight-hour bus to Santa Catalina, on the Pacific coast of Panama. This small fishing village is still a very remote, undeveloped destination and offers some of the best surfing in Central America. As there is limited accommodation available close to the beach in Santa Catalina, sometimes we have to use large multi-share rooms with up to six beds (not bunks).
10 Santa Catalina
Aside from surfing, the main pastime in Santa Catalina is relaxing, preferably in a hammock. Today you have the the day to do whatever you like. If you feel like doing something active, perhaps take a trip out to Coiba National Marine Park, where you can snorkel with turtles, angel rays and schools of colourful fish. Alternatively, you could join a half-day fishing trip or rent a surfboard in town and ride the waves. If you don't know how to surf, fear not, as lessons are readily available.
11 Panama City
Today, leave the beach and travel by local bus to Panama City for approximately six hours.
12 Panama City
Today is free for you to discover Panama City. Explore the historic Casco Viejo, or old town, which features an unusual combination of restored buildings, low-income housing, churches and ruins. You may also like to visit the engineering marvel of the Panama Canal or take a stroll through the rainforest in the Metropolitan Nature Park. Panama City is also famous for its shopping centres, the biggest being Albrook Mall. For more traditional souvenirs, head to the National Artisan's Market.
13 Panama City
Your adventure ends today in Panama City. There are no activities planned for the final day so you are able to depart the accommodation at any time. 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.
1 San Jose
Hola! Welcome to Costa Rica! Your adventure begins with a Welcome Meeting at 6pm on Day 1. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel 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. With over half the country's population living within its parameters, San Jose is a bustling city with lively markets, intriguing museums and a dynamic atmosphere. A good place to start exploring is the main plaza, a fantastic place to get comfy and do some people watching. Artisan booths are common here and you never know when there'll be a spontaneous art fair. Have a look at the Gold Museum which has an amazing collection of indigenous gold art. If these cultural gems get you in the mood for a bit of shopping head to the out door market in Plaza de la Cultura or the Central Market where you can buy anything from handicrafts to seafood.
2 Santa Rosa de Pocosol
Travel by private minibus to Santa Rosa de Pocosol (approx 3 hours) where we spend the night in a homestay. Just down the road is the Juanilama agricultural community where we have the option to get to know the local villagers, help with farm chores or take a cooking lesson. Several villagers have built comfortable rooms for guests next to their homes. All rooms have shared facilities. In order to make the most of this homestay experience, it may take a bit of effort from your side to break the ice first. Learn as many Spanish words as you can and get ready for some serious hand language signals.
3 La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano
Continue by private minibus to La Fortuna (approx 2 hours). La Fortuna is a small town situated just a few minutes away from Costa Rica's most famous volcano - the majestic Arenal. Besides the panoramic views the town offers a range of other activities such as the 70-metre-high La Fortuna waterfall, stunning lush forest, rare plants, animal watching and water sports on the lake. The volcano’s inner workings also mean that the area has a number of thermal springs where hot, lava-heated water gushes to the surface. These springs have been turned into a number of thermal pools and waterfalls, often surrounded by foliage, an ideal chance to relax.
Today take the scenic route to Monteverde (approximately 4 hours in total). Travel by shared minibus to Lake Arenal, which we'll 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 our destination. Monteverde was founded as an agricultural community in 1951 by a group of North American Quakers; they cleared virgin forest to create verdant pastures ideal for dairy farming. These environmentally aware settlers were conscious of the danger that unrestricted settling and farming could cause to this precious habitat. Consequently they established a small privately-owned wildlife sanctuary, which has since grown to become the internationally-renowned Monteverde Cloudforest Biological Preserve. These forests are similar to rainforests, but instead of relying on rain for essential moisture, adequate water comes from the semi-permanent cloud that covers the region. It is lush and full of wildlife. This is truly a nature lover's paradise. More than 2,000 species of plants, 320 bird species and 100 different types of mammals call Montverde home.
Your leader will take you on a walking tour through the Monteverde National Park. Alternatively, walk through the canopy on suspension bridges or watch butterflies at play in the specially created butterfly garden. The local guides are very knowledgeable about the area and passionate about conservation and in the local communities there are several cooperatives worth visiting. More than 2,000 species of plants, 320 bird species and 100 different types of mammals call Montverde home. Be sure to keep an eye out for the resplendent quetzal, one of the most elusive birds in the world.
Travel to Quepos by private minibus (approx 5 hours). Located close to the beautiful Pacific beaches and exotic wildlife of Manuel Antonio National Park, Quepos is a laid-back town with a vibrant nightlife.
7 Quepos/Manuel Antonio NP
Spend your time here enjoying all that Manuel Antonio NP has to offer. Head out for a hike along its many trails, keeping one eye on the great views and the other looking for the abundant wildlife. Monkeys, armadillos, sloths and hundreds of birds are among the species you maybe be able to spot. The park also boasts turquoise seas and white-sand beaches, perfect for swimming, kayaking, sailing and fishing. It would be easy to spend your whole time here in, or by, the water.
8 San Jose
Take a local bus back to San Jose (approx 4 hours). The buses in this region of the country are a little more basic but this is a great opportunity to mix with Costa Ricans and get a feel for local life. Arrive back in time for you to pick up some last minute souvenirs at the city's colourful and vibrant markets. Then we can head out for an optional dinner and a final night on the town sampling the huge variety of nightlife. The perfect way to end our adventure.
9 San Jose
There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time.