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Tropicbird: Highlights of Central America

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This journey brings together some of the cultural, architectural and geographical highlights of Central America including Granada, León, Suchitoto and Antigua – among the most beautiful colonial cities in the New World.

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.

Holiday itinerary

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

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.

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What our experts say

Although tightly packed geographically, each Central American country is very different from its neighbour with regard to history, culture, cuisine, geography and even climate. This tour gives you a flavour of just that and is one for the history enthusiast as well as the wildlife enthusiast.

Alex Walker

Alexandra Walker

Travel Consultants

Places visited on this holiday

Tropicbird: Highlights of Central America

Back to list of places visited
Granada
The gorgeous colonial city of Granada is a paradox: now the country’s principal emblem of restoration and beautification, it has a history of piracy and pillage. The oldest city in Central America is nowadays quiet, peaceful and easily explored on foot, but increasingly seen by foreigners as an attractive place to buy a home, as is the case in Antigua, Guatemala or San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.  Squatting on the lakeshore and at the foot of Mombacho volcano it has a romantic setting almost unequalled on the continent.
When to go

Granada has a typical tropical climate with high temperatures all year round May-Nov is rainy season, but the countryside looks its best at this time. It can be windy Nov - Feb. Hurricanes possible Jun - Nov.

Language

Spanish.

Getting local currency

Córdoba. There are several banks with ATMs where you can use a UK credit or debit card. You may have to ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK and amounts may be limited.

Time difference

GMT -6 hours.

Combines with
A visit to Granada’s historical rival, colonial León (114 km); Ometepe Island, reached by road and ferry (50 km).
Getting there

An hour’s drive from Managua.

Key events

La Hípica, Granada, 2nd week Sep. Horse riding events preceded by bull running through the town’s streets.

Back to list of places visited
León Map
Like Granada, the core of Nicaragua’s second city and intellectual capital is brimful with red-tiled colonial-style buildings but, unlike its peaceful rival, effervesces with artistic and political energy.

Founded in Nicaragua’s plantation-covered northwest corner, León Viejo (now being excavated) was the capital of the country until destroyed by an earthquake in 1609. A city with a strong religious tradition, it hosts a dozen crumbly churches juxtaposed with murals depicting events from Nicaragua’s revolutionary story. There’s a university and its students enliven the nightlife scene.
When to go

León has a typical tropical climate with high temperatures (30°C upwards) all year round. May - Oct is rainy season, but the countryside looks its best at this time. Hurricanes possible Jun - Nov.

Language

Spanish.

Getting local currency

Córdoba. There are several banks with ATMs where you can use a UK credit or debit card. You may have to ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK, and withdrawal amounts may be limited.

Time difference

GMT -6 hours.

Combines with
A visit to León’s historical rival, colonial Granada (114 km); Matagalpa, a northern mountain town in coffee country close to the Selva Negra Nature cloud forest reserve. (115 km).
Getting there

From Managua (75 km) it’s a 1 hour drive to León, from Granada (114 km), 2 hours.

Key events

Semana Santa, Easter.  Religious ceremonies and processions with a street carpet of designs created in sawdust, not unlike Antigua’s (Guatemala) carpet of flowers.

Día de la Concepción, León, 7 Dec. Fiesta with dancing, music and fireworks.

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Suchitoto

The enchanting colonial town of Suchitoto (‘place of birds and flowers’) just a short drive north from the capital, is one of the country’s most popular attractions. It has emerged from its pivotal role in the civil war to blossom as a centre for arts and culture. Visitors flock to explore the cobbled lanes flanked by squat, red-roofed adobe houses, its exquisite chalk-white baroque church and viewpoints over the surrounding countryside. But it is not just a tourist destination; much of its appeal lies in the fact that it is still a working town, with boutique hotels sitting alongside thriving markets.

When to go

Suchitoto has a tropical climate all year round with temperatures hovering around 30°C. The dry season is Nov-Apr. The rainy season, May-Oct, is characterised by mostly evening and nocturnal showers. Weekends in the town are lively, with artistic performances taking place on many Saturdays. The February arts festival is a big attraction and well attended.

Language

Spanish

Getting local currency

US dollar. The former local currency( colon) was phased out in 2003. You can obtain US dollar cash or exchange travellers cheques locally in banks and money exchanges (casas de cambio) and may be able to obtain cash advances from a couple of ATMs in Suchitoto among other large towns and cities. You should authorise your bank first, and withdrawals may be limited.

Time difference

GMT -6 hrs

Combines with

A visit to the lovely colonial town of Antigua in Guatemala, similarly a centre for the arts (6-7hrs by road crossing the land border at La Hechadura); the Ruta del las Flores (112km by road to Juayúa, 1hr 45mins).

Getting there

The town is a 1.5hr drive from San Salvador via the Panamerican Highway.

Key events
Festival Permanente de Arte y Cultura, Suchitoto, Feb annually. An important festival with many events attracting international performers: opera, concerts, theatre and film are all represented.  
Semana Santa, Easter.  Among other religious celebrations, a victorious figure of Christ parades through town on an ass on Palm Sunday. There are also street mosaics blanketing a selection of roads.
Día de la Cruz, Suchitoto, 3 May. Processions with fruit and flowers and sweets offered to Santa Cruz. 
Fiesta del Aniversario el 15 de Julio, Suchitoto, 15 Jul. Colourful folklore presentations throughout the town. 
Fiestas Patronales Virgen de Santa Lucia, Suchitoto, 12-13 Dec. Many cultural activities including masked performances and processions in honour of the town’s patron saint.

Back to list of places visited
Antigua and the highlands
Antigua

Antigua was once one of Spanish America’s greatest cities, its prosperity and importance interrupted by earthquakes. Nowadays it is a peaceful, multi-national place retaining the best aspects of its Guatemalan heritage. Lovely to look at, it hosts lanes and shady plazas where flowering plants spill over crumbly walls, and pastel-painted colonial façades are punctuated with heavy wooden doors.

Boutiques, galleries, arty cafés and restaurants thrive here. The city is encircled by three volcanic peaks, along the fertile skirts of which flourish orchards and kitchen gardens. Beyond in the western highlands are traditional villages with flourishing markets. Chichicastenango, 1,965m, is the best known but others such as Zunil are also a riot of colour.

When to go
The best weather conditions in the upland areas are during the dry season Dec - May. It can be cold in the highlands in winter. Culture lovers may opt to spend Easter in Antigua. The busiest time for tourists is Dec - Mar. 
Language

Spanish.

Getting local currency

Notes can be withdrawn using a UK credit or debit card from ATMs in Antigua and Chichicastenango. You may have ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK and each transaction is limited to about £100.

Time difference

GMT -6 hours.

Combines with

Lake Atitlán, 52 km from Antigua by road; Flores, for a visit to Tikal ruins, 1hr by air from Guatemala City (1 hour by road from Antigua).

Getting there

There are flights to Guatemala City via US and European hubs, the journey from London to Guatemala City takes around taking around 13 hours. It’s an hour’s drive from the airport to Antigua.

Key events
Semana Santa, Easter. Celebrations throughout the country; especially impressive in Antigua – justifiably considered the best in Latin America.
Santo Tomás, Chichicastenango, 13 -22 Dec. Processions, traditional dancing, marimba music.

Back to list of places visited
Lake Atitlan and villages
Lake Atitlán and villages
In turn cobalt glassy-clear and silver misty, mirror-calm and wispy-waved, Atitlán is one of the most captivating lakes in the world. Many visitors linger here, and the shores are dotted with international communities as well as traditional Mayan villages. The lake is fringed by tiny fields where smallholders cultivate kitchen garden crops on fertile soils, beyond which are fuming green volcanoes which cast ever-changing shadows over the water. Lakeside settlements, most easily reached by boat across the water, are enlivened with textile markets, each with its own costume and character: Sololá and Santiago de Atitlán are among the largest and most interesting.
Key Events

• Semana Santa, celebrations throughout the country. Maximón is paraded through Santiago Atitlán, usually on the Wednesday of Holy Week. 

• Village fiestas: There are fiestas throughout the year in most Guatemalan villages, including on the community’s saint day. Santiago’s main fiesta is 23-27 Jul, Sololá’s 11-17 Aug.
When to go

The best weather conditions in the upland areas are during the dry season Dec-May. It can be cold and in the highlands in winter; but the fields bursting with crops make the landscape look its best when the sun does shine. The busiest time for tourists is Dec-Mar.

Language

Spanish.

Getting local currency

Quetzal. Acquire local currency in a larger town before you head into this region. You may have ask your bank to authorise ATM withdrawals before you leave the UK and each transaction is limited to about £100.

Time difference

GMT -6 hours.

Combines with

Flores (for visit to Tikal ruins), 4.5 hours by road from Lanquín.

Getting there

It’s a 2hr drive to Panajachel from Antigua (52km)

Back to list of places visited
Tikal

The Petén of northern Gualtemala is a vast lowland blanketed in dense tropical rainforest. Nowadays it’s sparsely inhabited but this was not the case in the past: the Mayan city of Tikal, which began its development before 250AD, grew to be a vast cultural, religious and commercial centre. Following its collapse (c. 900AD) its jungle remoteness kept it isolated until roads and airstrips brought it within reach in the late 20th century. With its surviving temple pyramids piercing the canopy, vast plazas, its wealth of carvings and inscriptions and its location in the midst of a wild-life rich national park it is now one of the continent’s most impressive cultural monuments.

When to go

Mar - Apr are the hottest but also the driest months, while in Dec - Feb it can be chilly at the beginning and end of the day. Most rain falls between May - Oct when there are plenty of mosquitoes and other insects.

Language

Spanish.

Getting local currency
Quetzal. Dollars can be exchanged in banks, hotels and travel agencies in Flores, and there are a couple of ATMs where notes may be withdrawn using a UK credit or debit card. (Best not to rely on these and use this method in a larger town before travelling to the Petén). You may have ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK and each transaction is limited to about £100.  
Time difference

GMT -6 hours.  

Combines with

Belize: Belize City is a 4-5 hours drive east from Flores (220 km) crossing the land border into western Belize.

Getting there

There are daily flights from Guatemala City (1 hour) to Flores. From here it’s a 1 hour 15mins drive to Tikal.

Back to list of places visited
Maya mountains and jungle
Chan Chich Lodge Belize
The unspoilt interior of Belize harbours some of Central America’s loveliest landscapes and a host of little-visited Mayan sites. In the north, wildlife sanctuaries rub shoulders with sugar cane fields, and recently uncovered Mayan cities poke their head above the canopy of dense jungle. The river banks from the Mennonite village of Shipyard are decorated with tangled bromeliads hanging from tropical trees. Nearby are the Mayan ruins of Lamanai with almost 700 structures.

West towards Guatemala, in the Cayo District, the Macal River offers a water-borne way to explore the forest scenery; and the jagged peaks and gorges of ancient Mountain Pine Ridge are just begging to be explored.
When's the best time to go Belize's Mayan mountains?
The best weather conditions are during the dry season Dec-May. It can be cool in the highlands in winter, while the jungle areas are hot and humid all year round. There’s a low risk of tropical storms or hurricanes Jun-Nov. The busiest time for tourists is Dec-Mar. 
What's the official language of Belize Mayan mountains?

English.

How do I get local currency in Belize Mayan mountains?
Belizean dollar. Notes can be obtained from money exchanges and  from banks which will supply advances on a debit or credit card. There are few, if any, ATMs outside Belize City where you can use a UK credit or debit card. 
What's the time difference between Belize Mayan mountains and UK?

GMT -6 hrs.

What places combine well with Belize Mayan mountains?
A beach stay on one of Belize’s coral cayes, accessible from Belize City by air or boat; a visit to neighbouring Guatemala, with its Latin and Mayan cultural heritage, there’s a road link to the Mayan ruins at Tikal in the jungle Petén; southern Mexico, crossing the land border at Chetumal. 
How do I get to Belize Mayan mountains?

The north: fly from Belize City to Gallon Jug (30mins) followed by a short drive to Chan Chich. By road and river via Orange Walk from Belize City to Lamanai (2hrs). For the Macal River, travel from Belize to San Ignacio, 115km.

Speak to an expert Travel Consultant or send us your enquiry today.

Tailor-made holiday

Our specialists have been expertly crafting award-winning tailor-made holidays to Latin America for over 37 years.
We would be delighted to create a truly personalised trip which perfectly matches your wishes and requirements.

97% of our clients rated their experience with us as Excellent or Good.

Speak to an expert Travel Consultant or send us your enquiry today. Tropicbird: Highlights of Central America

  • Ambergris Caye 4 days from £573pp

    Fly to the coral island of Ambergris Caye and spend a few days based at the first-class plantation-style Victoria House. The hotel has its own narrow beach and a small swimming pool. Diving, snorkelling and fishing can be arranged locally.

    Day 1: Fly from Belize City to Ambergris Caye by light aircraft.  This is the most northerly and largest caye in Belize, 46km long, just a breath-taking 15min flight low over transparent turquoise waters. The island offers a splendid vantage point from which to enjoy the barrier reef. Excellent diving and snorkelling can be experienced less than 1km from the shore.

    Days 2,3: Enjoy the facilities of this first class resort, including finedining, diving, snorkelling, fishing, or just relaxing on its private beach. If you can drag yourselves off the property, head into the relaxed main town of San Pedro, which has many lively bars, and restaurants serving fresh lobster.

    Day 4: Return by air to Belize City to continue your holiday or to connect with your international flight.
    UK clients arrive home the following day.

    (This property does not offer twin accommodation. Please enquire with us for other hotels which offer twin rooms).

    /Breakfast daily.

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Please note

The April 2019 departure coincides with the amazing Semana Santa parades in Antigua.

The Guatemala and Belize section of this trip exist as a tour in their own right, beginning in Antigua. For information on this tour (Kinkajou) please click here.

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