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Value Central America: Costa Rica, Guatemala and Belize

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.

Day 2

Guided excursion to Poas Volcano.
 
Poas
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.

Please note that this tour is unavailable until further notice due to high levels of volcanic activity.  Instead you will have a day at leisure in San Jose.

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Poas

Day 3

Drive to Monteverde in the cloud forest.
 
3 toed sloth , Costa rica
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.
 
Monteverde

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.
 
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.
 
Antigua buses
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.
 
Lake Atitlán
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.
 
Maximon
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.
 
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.
 
Macal river
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.

Day 12

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

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.
 
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Value Central America: Costa Rica, Guatemala and Belize

15 days from £3,261pp

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