Antigua to San Jose - Overland Trip
2 ½ weeks: to (IMT-GSAS)
IntroThis adventure through Central America sweeps down from the Guatemalan Highlands through Honduras and Nicaragua and ends in the Costa Rican capital of San Jose. Packed in along the way are lush rainforests, ancient Mayan ruins, stunning Caribbean islands, giant volcanos and a host of charming colonial towns, all waiting to be explored.
IncludedThe services of Regional Tour Leaders and there will be the services of local guides at some sites. All transport, accommodation, sightseeing as indicated.
ItinerariesDay 1-2 - Antigua Guatemala
Our trip starts today with your arrival in Antigua. 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 your leader at 6.30pm this evening. Don't forget to check the notice board 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 to the briefing.
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 leader 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.
We travel into the Guatemalan Highlands to 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 Chichi’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. On Thursday evening, we return to Antigua.Day 6-7 - Copan Ruins
Crossing the border into Honduras, we head for the small town of Copan to explore the remote, and most southerly of the Mayan ruins. A designated UNESCO World Heritage site, the Copan archaeological area houses fascinating and unique Mayan monuments, including the superb elaborate relief carvings of the Maya of Copan. The famous hieroglyphic stairway, a lofty flight of 63 steps, bears several thousand glyphs and relief, 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 stelae that pre-date many European civilisations. Copan is also a great place for some optional activities that we can take advantage of during our stay, including rafting, caving, horseback and bike riding.Day 8-11 - Roatan Island - Tegucigalpa
Just a day’s drive and boat ride away, the friendly Bay Islands just off the north coast of Honduras is a Caribbean paradise, where you can find deserted, palm-fringed beaches with sparkling white sand. Roatan Island is encircled by over 100 kilometres of protected living reef, teeming with thousands of fantastically coloured tropical fish, corals, and other marine life, making it ideal for snorkelling and diving. This island paradise is also home to stunning beaches where we can take a dip in the crystal-clear turquoise waters or simply laze around on the beach, feeling the gentle breeze and soaking up the idyllic surrounds. In the evening we can enjoy the laid-back Caribbean nightlife, meet the locals or experience live music and dancing at the popular local hangouts. Leaving Roatan by ferry, we cross back to the mainland and head by bus into the highlands and through the lush rain forest and scenic mountainside to Tegucigalpa, the busy capital of Honduras. Affectionately called 'Tegus' (Silver Hill) by the locals, the city is nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains. We overnight in the capital before joining a bus to Managua and on to Granada.Day 12-14 - Granada
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 and the beautiful lake, only a short stroll from the city centre. Spanish-style houses line the streets, with white adobe walls and large wooden doors; the main plaza, Parque Colo, 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. After a walking tour of the city with our guide, there’s time for optional activities such as hiking and boating or leisurely exploring the city’s stretch of eateries, shaded by mango trees along the stretch of Lake Nicaragua. For the adventurous, there is the option of a day trip to Managua, the capital of this memorable and illuminating country. Located just north of Granada, Managua is a large city that stretches across the southern shore of Lake Nicaragua, the world's largest freshwater lake. Here we can explore the remains of impressive colonial buildings, monuments, museums and also the large outdoor markets.Day 15-16 - Ometepe Island
We cross Lake Nicaragua by ferry to the island of Ometepe ('between two hills'), the world’s largest freshwater island. This extraordinary island was created by two volcanoes, Concepcion (1610 metres) and Madera (1340 metres). 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 Volcan Madera. With its unspoiled forests and impressive natural beauty, Ometepe harbours scores of bird species including the gorgeous blue-tailed magpie (urraca), offering excellent bird-watching opportunities. Its untouched splendour is also home to abundant wildlife including white-faced monkeys. The island is great for walking, exploring and swimming, as many inviting isolated beaches ring the impressive volcanoes that dominate its landscape. During our stay we can hike up the volcanoes and take in the stunning views, go horse riding or enjoy the isolated beaches.Day 17-19 - San Jose
We get an early start for the Costa Rican border and 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 and 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 artefacts and a lively central market all combine to make this city a fascinating and memorable cultural experience. Our journey down through Central America comes to an end after breakfast on Day 19.