Essence of Central America

Essence of Central America

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Wander off the beaten track and discover a different side of Central America. Peregrine welcomes Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary and San Ignacio, Belize, to its already stunning array of destinations on this journey – Mexico’s Playa del Carmen, Guatemala’s gorgeous Antigua and volcano-ringed Lake Atitlan, and El Salvador’s Route of the Flowers and colourful Suchitoto. Swim in crystal clear seas and swimming holes, explore tiny villages bursting with Latin American verve, and venture into dense jungle where Maya temples have stood for centuries.

DISCONTINUED for 2019. This is mainly due to lack of traveller interest. There will be a new standalone Guatemala trip; Guatemala Highlights (PSGH). Please check back in a few months for more details on this itinerary.

Trip Name
Essence of Central America
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  • Blaze the trail in Belize and enjoy a superb array of nature-based activities. Cruise across a lagoon on a guided birdwatching excursion, and hike through the forest to a hidden Maya burial ground
  • The brightly painted houses of Flores are a reflection of the radiant colours that stretch across the town at sunset. Enjoy lakeside drinks while the sun sinks below the horizon
  • Journey into the jungles of Guatemala and uncover the magnificent remains of the lost Maya civilisation in Tikal
  • Overlooked by the majestic Volcan de Agua, Antigua is a cobblestoned maze of colourful buildings, leafy town squares and ornate churches. An ‘crop-to-cup’ tour of a local coffee farming co-op completes the experience
  • Step back in time in Suchitoto, learning the history of El Salvador from those who have lived through it. Learn cigar rolling from 98-year-old Nina Victoria, and hike through Cinquera Rain Forest Park to meet a former FMLN guerrilla fighter
  • Sit down to lunch in the delightful garden setting of El Jardin de Celeste. This restaurant on the famous ‘Flowers Route’ of El Salvador is arguably the country’s best
  • Immerse yourself in the unique cultures surrounding Lake Atitlan, attending artist workshops and visiting a local church and market
  • Your 2-night Feature stay at Hotel Atitlan in Panajachel has lake-facing balconies with a rustic Spanish colonial style as well as a manicured botanical garden and volcano views


Occasionally our itineraries are updated during the year to incorporate improvements stemming from past travellers' comments and our own research. The information given in this itinerary may be slightly different to that in the brochure. It's very important that you print and review a final copy of your Essential Trip Information a couple of days prior to travel, in case there have been changes that affect your plans. If you have any queries, please contact your travel agent or our staff. We are here to help you! Please note that while we operate successful trips in this region throughout the year, some changes may occur in our itineraries due to inclement weather and common seasonal changes to timetables and transport routes. This can happen with little notice so please be prepared for modifications to the route. The order and timing of included activities in each location may also vary from time to time. OPTIONAL ACTIVITIES: A selection of optional activities that have been popular with past travellers are listed in the day-to-day itinerary. This isn't an exhaustive list and should be used as a guide only. Prices are approximate, are for entrance only and don’t include transport to and from the sites or local guides unless indicated. All activities are subject to availability and it may not be possible to do all the activities listed in the time available at each destination, so some pre-planning for what you are most interested in is advised. When it's recommended that travellers pre-book these activities, look for a note in the Special Information section of the day-to-day itinerary. For most, they can either be organised independently on the day, or just let your leader know you are interested and they can assist. Where activities are considered medium or high risk, we work with operators whose safety and credentials we have sighted and assessed. This means that it is possible that you may find the same activity cheaper with another operator on the ground, however we cannot vouch for the safety or quality of that operator. Activities not listed above have not been assessed by us and as such our staff and leaders are unable to assist you with organising these activities. The decision to partake in any activity not listed is at your own discretion and risk.

Day 1 - Playa del Carmen
Arrive in Cancun and transfer to your hotel in Playa del Carmen. The day is free until a welcome meeting at around 6 pm. Check with the hotel reception for details. With azure waters, powdery beaches and a European feel, Playa del Carmen is a delightful resort city close to Cancun. If you arrive early, spend your time snorkelling crystal clear waters, diving in underground caverns or strolling along white sands. In the evening, kick back and watch the waves with a margarita. For adventures further afield take a ferry across the turquoise seas to Cozumel, an island famous for its reef diving.
Day 2 - Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary
Make the journey from Playa del Carmen across the border to Belize (approximately 4 hours). Settle into your accommodation – the small, family-run Crooked Tree Lodge. It is located approximately 2 hours' drive past the border. Nestled among coconut palms and bullet trees in the heart of Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary (and on the edge of Crooked Tree Lagoon), this lodge is ideally located for wildlife viewing. Spot squirrels, iguanas or perhaps even crocodiles.
Day 3 - San Ignacio
Wake early and embark on a birdwatching excursion, travelling by boat on the lagoon. Some 250 resident or migratory neotropical birds inhabit this reserve, among them the Jabiru stork (the largest flying bird in the Western Hemisphere). Afterwards, drive to the San Ignacio area (approximately 2.5 hours). Here the afternoon is yours to spend as you please. Relax and unwind at the excellent Pooks Hill Lodge, situated on 300 acres of lush Belizean forest in the foothills of the Maya Mountains.
Day 4 - San Ignacio
Enjoy a day of free time. Perhaps go birdwatching, swimming, hiking or walking. A highly recommended option is a day trip to the ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal) Cave. This begins with a hike (approximately 45 minutes) up the Roaring River Valley and through the rainforest of the Tapir Mountain Preserve. After reaching the cave entrance, you are taken on a tour of the ‘Xibalba,’ the fascinating Maya underworld. This includes a ‘Cathedral’ chamber which used to be a Maya ceremonial and burial ground.
Day 5 - Flores
Bid farewell to Belize and head to the Guatemalan border (approximately 1 hour). Once you have crossed into Guatemala, continue to Flores (approximately 2 hours). After settling in, visit Yaxha, an archaeological site situated on the shores of Yaxha Lagoon in the Maya Biosphere Reserve. Surrounded by dense jungle, Yaxha is home to more than 500 buildings, including the impressive Twin Pyramids. Perhaps climb temple 216 for beautiful views across the lagoons, forest and other temples. Afterwards, sit back at a picture-perfect spot by the lake and, over a glass of wine, farewell that same sun the Mayas worshiped hundreds of years ago.
Day 6 - Tikal / Flores
Embrace an early start (about 7 am) for a leader-led tour of Tikal. Home to some of the world's most magnificent Maya ruins, Tikal's five major temples rise above the jungle canopy while an array of smaller structures remain hidden in the undergrowth. Explore the highlights of the area, including Temple I, which is perhaps the iconic image of Guatemala. This area is a repository of Maya wisdom, containing insights into traditional medicine, astrology, agronomy and architecture. The jungles thrum with life, with toucans and macaws swooping between trees and monkeys crashing through the canopy. Those interested can climb to the top of the ruins for unsurpassed vistas over the forest. Return to Flores early in the afternoon (approximately 2 pm) and enjoy free time to stroll the cobblestone streets, shop for locally-made souvenirs or swim in Lake Peten Itza.
Day 7 - Flores / Guatemala city / Suchitoto
Take an early morning transfer to Flores Airport for an 8 am flight to Guatemala City (approximately 1 hour). From here, make the journey Suchitoto via the El Salvadorean border (approximately 6 hours). It's a long travel day, but the destination is well worth it. With its festive atmosphere, stately colonial-era architecture, shaded plazas and lack of traffic, Suchitoto is a dream to explore on foot. The town overlooks the Embalse Cerron Grande (also known as Lago Suchitlan) which is a haven for migrating birds – particularly falcons and hawks.
Day 8 - Suchitoto
Enjoy a guided city tour which involves a mix of walking a transport (approximately 3 hours). Learn some of the city's history along the way. During the civil war, Suchitoto became virtually a ghost town, the battles at nearby Guazapa compelling most of its inhabitants to flee for safety. Grim times that they were, this abandonment actually helped to preserve the city's colonial architecture that you'll be admiring today. You also make a visit to Los Tercios waterfalls and rock formation, attend a cigar rolling demonstration with the 98-year-old Nina Victoria, and enjoy lunch at a local pupusa's restaurant. Enjoy some free time in afternoon.
Day 9 - Suchitoto
In the morning, hike through the nearby Cinquera Rain Forest Park with a local guide (approximately 2 hours). The trail you hike is somewhat steep but takes you to a former guerilla camp. The park was created by the former FMLN guerillas and their families to protect the forest from loggers. When the hike is over, you can cool off by taking a dip in a nearby swimming hole. Meet with one of the original guerilla fighters to learn his story and ask questions about the civil war in El Salvador. Afterwards, enjoy some free time. You might like to spend the afternoon boating, kayaking or attending a local indigo dying workshop.
Day 10 - Antigua via Ruta de las Flores
Drive to the renowned 'Ruta de las Flores' (Flowers Route) (approximately 2.5 hours). This is one of the country's premier attractions, full of verdant coffee plantations, tiny towns bursting with colour, and of course the wildflowers from which the area takes its name. For lunch, stop in at what may well be El Salvador's best restaurant, El Jardin de Celeste. After a leisurely repast in this idyllic garden setting, head off to the border and cross back into Guatemala (approximately 4 hours). Arrive in Antigua in the early evening.
Day 11 - Antigua
As you'll come to appreciate, Guatemala’s volcanic soils and altitudinous valleys offer just the right conditions for coffee cultivation, and today you'll visit a coffee farm to see just how its's done. From a bean plant nursery to the plantation itself to a cupping lab where you will be offered a freshly brewed sample, this is a rare chance to sip coffee straight from the source.  How you spend the rest of your time in Antigua is up to you. Due to its historical relics, pleasant ambience and friendly locals, the town is a popular one among travellers. There are a number of interesting markets to peruse, plus no shortage of restaurants and cafes to check out – be sure to sample the country's other important bean: chocolate! If you’re feeling adventurous, perhaps finish off this journey to the tune of some salsa at one of the local dance spots.
Day 12 - Lake Atitlan
Encircled by emerald mountains and misty volcanoes, Lake Atitlan has often been ranked one of the world's most beautiful lakes. Here your accommodation boasts incredible views across Atitlan's reflective waters and surrounding peaks. Spend the day cruising around by boat and stopping in at local villages – San Juan La Laguna included – and visit local artist workshops. Meet local artists Antonio and Angelina Coche and learn from them about your Maya 'Nahual', a local equivalent of the zodiac that assigns animal spirits based on birth date. You might even want to try painting your own symbol. Along the way you will see that life in many of the villages around the lake has changed very little over the past few centuries. In some you'll see locals still getting around in traditional garb that incorporate designs passed down through generations, and the atmosphere is peaceful and unpretentious.
Day 13 - Lake Atitlan
Visit Santiago Atitlan, a peaceful town located on the southern shores of the lake between the volcanoes Toliman and San Pedro. This is the largest town on the lake; more importantly it's the home of the Maya god, Maximon. As a town with a strong indigenous identity, Santiago Atitlan hosts a Holy Week each year which sees Maximon's effigy moved from one house to another. While in Santiago Atitlan you’ll visit a local church to learn about the local customs and history of this traditional town, also stopping in at a local market to watch the day's business being carried out. Arrive back at your hotel at approximately 3 pm.
Day 14 - Antigua
Enjoy free time in the morning, then travel back to Antigua (approximately 3 hours). The afternoon is free to spend as you wish. Perhaps enjoy a final (optional) dinner with your fellow travellers.
Day 15 - Antigua
Your comes to an end today after breakfast.

Trip Dates

StartEndPrice FromRoom Type


Hotel Feature stay (2 nights),Comfortable Hotel (12 nights)


Private vehicle,Boat,Plane