There’s nothing quite like eating with a local family to really experience a place. At dinner you’ll be experiencing traditional Guatemalan hospitality while improving your Spanish with the locals.. There are many sides to Central America, and you’ll get a taste of a few: slumbering poolside by Playa del Carmen, gazing at the pyramids of Tikal or haggling in the markets of Chichicastenango.. Choose your own adventure in Cerro Verde National Park. Hike the face of a volcano or escape the heat with a dip in the aqua waters of a crater lake.. Don’t just fall in love with the food of Central America – learn to make papusas (stuffed flatbread) in El Salvador and nacatamales (steamed filled dough) in Nicaragua.
From cloud-shrouded volcanic peaks to sun-drenched beaches, lost temples to charming colonial towns, Central America is bursting with natural wonders and converging cultures. So, where do you begin? Well, this 32-day tour is a hell of a good start. Kick off in Mexico’s Playa del Carmen and snake through Belize, Antigua, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Relax on the beach in San Miguel, trek to the jungle ruins of Tikal, brush up on your Espanola over an icy cerveza and stay in villages dwarfed by volcanoes. Whether you’re haggling in the markets of Chichicastenango, chilling in a Caribbean town on the Rio Dulce or wandering cobblestone streets in Antigua, this tour gives you a taste of Central America’s myriad flavours.
Playa del Carmen
Kick things off in Playa del Carmen, which is a pretty cool place to begin a trip. In fact, you might want to chill on the coast for a few days beforehand – we’ll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). The first thing planned for today is a welcome meeting with your group leader and fellow travellers at 6 pm. Other than that, you're free to arrive at any time and spend the day however you want. Maybe have your own snorkelling or cycling expedition, or simply stroll along the sandy playa (beach). In the evening, head out with your group leader for an included dinner at a local taquisa (taco restaurant) for a selection of tacos – make sure you order one with freshly caught fish. To improve your lingo, your group leader will conduct an informal Spanish lesson between bites, so that you can understand your burritos from your banos.
Today, hop on a local bus along the Caribbean coast to Tulum (approximately 1.5 hours), where it's all about laidback life and the white sands of the Yucatan Peninsula. Once you're settled and got your bearings with a leader-led orientation walk around Tulum, there's the chance to visit one of the best-looking and located Maya sites around. Discover the impressive Temple of the Frescoes and see how this pre-Columbian walled ruin city clings to a cliff-top area overlooking the ocean. You can even go for a swim within the archaeological zone. In the evening, perhaps kick back and watch the waves roll in at a beachside bar with a margarita, of course.
With a free day to relax in Tulum, consider the optional activities on offer, and most importantly, relax into the laidback Mexican vibe. Two wheels are a good way to tackle the day, so rent a bike, cruise around the area and cover a lot of ground in a short time, as Tulum is relatively flat. The town is heaving with hip cafes and restaurants and many vegetarian and vegan options, as well as places to relax the mind and body with yoga and meditation. There's also the option of exploring Dos Ojos (two eyes): one of the most famous cenotes (freshwater rock pools) in the area – an underwater world full of stalagmites and stalactites.
New day, new country. Adios Mexico, hello Belize. Much of today will be taken up with travel, driving by local bus to the border, then on to Belize City (approximately 8 hours in total). Let the wind and sea spray wash the travel away with a 1-hour speedboat ride to the palm-fringed island of Caye Caulker. If your idea of paradise is white sand, blue waters and palm trees then you’re going to dig this place, and with a few days to explore, relax and get active, you’re set for an idyllic stay.
Your time in Caye Caulker is all about taking it easy. The pace of life is so incredibly slow it's almost backwards. If being underwater is your thing then head out to Hol Chan Marine Reserve, home to Shark Ray Alley and the world's second longest barrier reef. Snorkel among the colourful corals and see tropical fish, sharks and manta rays. You can also take day trips to other Cayes nearby - each island has its own particular character, but all of them have that unmistakable Caribbean pace and charm. Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America, which will make chatting with locals much easier.
Today is another free day to take up any other optional activities or to simply pull up a towel and relax along the beach with a book. If you’ve already been snorkelling, then maybe continue the marine exploration with a manatee tour. These huge, peaceful creatures are beautiful in their own way, and are quite curious to meet their visitors. Get more active with sea kayaks and stand-up paddle boards, or go the other way completely and just chill out. The island's also great for food, famed for its lobster and super tasty meals cooked on the side of the road. How about some grilled shrimp and a rum and coke made with the local fire water?
Leave the island paradise behind and return to Belize City by boat (approximately 1 hour), before taking a local bus to San Ignacio via Belize’s capital, Belmopan (approximately 3 hours). The local buses here are a little more basic than in Mexico but this is a great opportunity to mix with Belizeans and get a feel for local life. Get ready for stop and go on the journey, as there are very few official bus stops in Belize and the bus will keep stopping to pick up passengers. San Ignacio is a lively town surrounded by fast-flowing rivers, waterfalls and Maya ruins, making it the best base for exploring the region. After you arrive, the rest of the day is free, so perhaps choose to visit the Chaa Creek butterfly garden, and at night, try one of the barbeque street stalls for a char-grilled chicken leg.
There is a heap of optional activities to choose between in San Ignacio. The cave of Actun Tunichil Muknal is a living museum of Maya relics, and you can wade through its waters until you reach a whole bunch of 1400-year-old crystallised skeletons. You could take a day tour to the Mountain Pine Ridge area to visit waterfalls and swimming holes, or go down the Macal river in canoes or tubes. If you prefer a slower pace, take a trip out to Xunantunich, an impressive Maya ceremonial centre with panoramic views. Getting to the site is half the fun, as you'll need to take a hand-cranked boat down the river. Belizeans are super friendly, so in the evening, walk down Burns Avenue and join the locals for a chat in one of the many restaurants, or at a street side stall.
Tikal National Park
Time to go jungle – Guatemala-style. Leave San Ignacio, cross the border, and get dropped at Tikal National Park by private vehicle (approximately 4 hours). You'll set up camp on the grounds of a hotel near the national park entrance before exploring the super-huge and crazy-cool Maya ruins of Tikal – it’s a bit like the set of Mel Gibson's Apocalypto movie, minus all the violence. Pass through the lush jungle vegetation, and if you've got the energy, climb Temple IV to take in the epic canopy views. While here, there's also the option to check out more of the area with a guided tour, or to fly through the canopies like a toucan with a memorable zipline experience.
From the jungle to the lake this morning, as you’ll head to the lakeside town of Flores (approximately 1 hour). Here there's time to grab some lunch and have a quick explore around the town. Then it's back on the private vehicle to Rio Dulce (approximately 5 hours). On arrival in Rio Dulce, transfer to the hotel by boat. The easiest way to get back into town is also by boat, which can be organised through the hotel, or you can take a short walk through the jungle. Take some time to absorb the atmosphere of this laidback Caribbean town, which feels quite different from the inland communities. A highlight for many guests is the 'Casa Natural' - an open-air accommodation with screened-in rooms, shared bathrooms and a lounge looking out to the surrounding jungle.
There is a load of kick-ass activities to choose between today. Take a scenic boat trip down the river to Livingston, a laidback town on the Caribbean coast that offers a unique experience of local Garifuna culture. Go boating on the lake, relax in the thermal hot springs or explore the nearby San Felipe fort in Livingstone. You could hike through the dense forest of the surrounding Chocon-Machacas Natural reserve and go out to spot the protected manatees of the area. Remember, the best thing is that you’re in laidback Guatemala, and with the flexibility of today’s itinerary, you decide what’s on the agenda.
Travel by private vehicle to the city of Antigua (approximately 8 hours). You'll spend the night here, before heading to Lake Atitlan tomorrow. You won't spend too much time in Antigua, but you'll be coming back here in a few days’ time, so not to worry! Still, take some time for a stroll and tuck into some tasty tamales (a local dish served in a corn leaf) or a dish called Pepian: a spicy meaty stew of chicken, beef and pork in a dark sauce. You'll find the best value food in the square next to the La Merced Church.