Central America Highlights


Central America Highlights

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A feast for your senses awaits on a 24 day journey through Central America. Begin with the natural splendour of Playa del Carmen’s sand shore in Mexico and finish in the green valley of San Jose in Costa Rica. Ponder civilisations past at archaeological sites across Mexico and Guatemala, and crane your neck to search for sloths and monkeys in Manuel Antonio and relax in an infinity tub overlooking stunning lake Atitlan.

Trip Name
Central America Highlights
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  • Spot the nocturnal animals and insects that thrive in the verdant Monteverde Cloud Forest during an evening walk, and explore loftier flora and fauna via suspension bridges the next morning
  • Traipse splendid Tikal, where Maya temples peek through the top of jungle canopy and smaller structures lay hidden behind thick foliage
  • Climb Irazu, the highest active volcano in Costa Rica and survey it's impressive craters, then wander the lush plantation dotted valley below
  • Visit a modern Maya church outside of San Cristobal, where locals practice a blend of ancient spiritualism, Catholicism and animism


ITINERARY CHANGES: Our itineraries are updated regularly throughout the year based on customer feedback and to reflect the current situation in each destination. The information included in this Essential Trip Information may therefore differ from when you first booked your trip. It is important that you print and review a final copy prior to travel so that you have the latest updates. Due to weather, local conditions, transport schedules, public holidays or other factors, further changes may be necessary to your itinerary once in country. The order and timing of included activities in each location may also vary seasonally to ensure our travellers have the best experience. Your tour leader will keep you up to date with any changes once on tour. 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 for some of what might be available. 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 may be on a join-in basis. 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 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. Although it is possible that you may find the same activity cheaper with another operator on the ground, we cannot vouch for the safety or quality of that operator. Medium and high risk 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. Activities that contravene our Responsible Travel policies are also not listed. Please remember that the decision to partake in any activity not listed is at your own discretion and risk.

Day 1 - Playa del Carmen
You'll soon be soaking up the powdery beaches and azure waters of Playa del Carmen. Arrive at Cancun's International Airport, and enjoy a complimentary transfer to your hotel in Playa del Carmen. Ensure you provide your flight details to your booking agent at least 14 days prior to travel so the transfer can be organised. Meet your group at 6 pm in the hotel. Please look for a note in the lobby or ask the reception where it will take place, and have your insurance details and next of kin information ready for collection. Afterwards, get acquainted with this walkers-haven during an orientation stroll. Then, choose whether you would like to dine together or go your own way. Perhaps take in the salty night air with a walk along the beach before returning to your hotel.
Day 2 - Playa del Carmen
The vestiges of the grand Maya city of Chichen Itza are around 3-hours away. A guide will walk you through these spectacular ruins, the ingenious design of which often manipulates light and sound. Make sure you stop and listen for strange echoes and watch for serpentine shadows. During the drive back, stop for an hour or so for an included buffet lunch and cool down in the fresh water rock pool of Cenote lk Kil. A cenote (pronounced say-NO-tay) is a natural sinkhole created where a limestone cave ceiling has collapsed creating a window to this spectacular subterranean world. In the evening, the bars and restaurants of Playa are yours for the taking.
Day 3 - San Cristobal de las Casas
The colonial town of San Cristobal de las Casas awaits you after a morning of travel. Beginning with a 10 am private transfer to Cancun Airport, board a 12.30 pm flight to Tuxtla Gutierrez, where you'll have another private vehicle waiting to escort you to your destination. Use the hour-long drive to take advantage of an informal Spanish lesson from your tour leader, then maybe try those new skills during a free afternoon in this city of colour and craft. At around 5.30 pm, your leader will walk you through the stunning, mural lined streets. Then, decide whether you would like to eat with the group or strike out on your own.
Day 4 - San Cristobal de las Casas
A short drive takes you to nearby Maya villages where local customs, habits and laws often prevail over the conventions of non-indigenous Mexico. This independent spirit is encapsulated in the church of San Juan Chamula where, if the timing is right, you can witness a ceremony that combines Maya customs and animism with a heavy dollop of Catholicism. Join some local women at home in Zinacantan, and watch as they create the textiles typical of the area. Choose between lunching or strolling further, then return to your hotel where you can decide what to do with the rest of your day. If you're interested in Mesoamerican art, why not visit the Jade Museum? This privately-owned museum is a labour of love, designed to educate about the historical and cultural importance of the green mineral.
Day 5 - Oaxaca
Rise with the sun and enjoy breakfast before driving towards Oaxaca (5-6 hours), with a brief stop in Tehuantepec for an included lunch. If you’d like, take a quick walk and observe the colourful dress of the local ladies, the style of which famously inspired artist and icon Frida Kahlo. After another 4 hours, arrive in Oaxaca in the evening and take a quick orientation walk before an optional dinner. If you’re craving local fare, why not sit down for a bowl of sweet and spicy mole negro, a Oaxacan staple made from ground chilies, garlic and chocolate.
Day 6 - Oaxaca
Oaxaca is a city that needs to be savoured, just like the spiced cacao the locals drink. Enjoy a full day tour with transport, entrance fees and other details taken care of, so you can relax and feast your eyes on the sights instead of digging into your wallet or staring at a map. Speaking of feasts, food is central to understanding Oaxaca, a biodiverse culinary paradise with many regional dishes that are difficult to replicate elsewhere. With that in mind, today you'll enjoy a special lunch prepared and served in an indigenous Zapotec household, where you’ll likely be stunned by the variety of dishes that can be prepared from the humble corn cob. The rest of the day is full to the brim with essential activities. Explore the Zapotec roots of modern Oaxaca in the ruins of Mitla, learning from a guide about this important religious site. Then, gaze upon the gnarled bark of the Tule Tree, the stoutest trunk in the world. The petrified falls of Hierve El Agua also await you. Despite their name (roughly boiling water) these cascading falls appear to be frozen in time and provide ample opportunity for stunning videos and photographs. Your Oaxacan culture immersion would not be complete without a tour of a mezcal distillery, and the proud folks at Don Agave Mezcal will be happy to show your how they make their traditional spirit. In the evening you can dine with the group in an optional dinner, then why not follow your nose and your ears to a local music cafe?
Day 7 - Oaxaca
The locals rise later than you might be used to, so feel free to sleep in and then enjoy a rich black coffee made with local beans. The city is full of quirky streets dedicated to different foods and crafts, like de los Dulces (candy street), for you to take in at your own pace. If you wish to learn more about the history of the regions indigenous people, why not walk the impressive Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban?
Day 8 - Mexico City
Rise early to make a 7.30 am fight to Mexico City. We should arrive before 9 am, giving you just enough time for a nap on the plane if you need it. Drop your bags and take an orientation walk around the salmon-coloured Hotel Geneve. Your luxurious lodgings have a curious history as a neutral zone during the Mexican revolution and meeting point for intellectuals and artists since opening in 1907. Later, check-in and begin exploring the city with your leader. Visit vast Zocalo Square, which has been a prominent hub since Aztec times, and listen to a cacophony of laughter, rapid fire Spanish and booming drums that characterise the busy square. The dome topped Palacio de Bellas Artes is the next attraction. Within the stark marble palace you will find walls painted by the likes of Diego Rivera.
Day 9 - Mexico City
Enjoy a free day to soak up the capital. For those who prefer to let their tastebuds lead the way, why not partake in a Mexico City Markets and Food Tour with Urban Adventures? You'll see the markets most travellers don't and savour traditional treats while learning how they are made. The Leon Trotsky and Frida Kahlo museums are two popular sights worth checking out. Trotsky, having come off second-best to Stalin in the Soviet era, was expelled and found refuge in Mexico City where he was eventually murdered, while Frida Kahlo is perhaps the most renowned Mexican artist in history. If you're seeking something more relaxed for your second last day, perhaps hop aboard a colourful boat and glide through the tree-lined canals of the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco. In the evening, head to Garibaldi square, where a mariachi band will be waiting to serenade you. Mariachi is equal parts longing and joy, and you'll get to listen to this delightful music in the centre of a popular and busy square. Enjoy a final dinner with your fellow travellers.
Day 10 - Antigua
Today you will catch your International flight from Mexico City to Guatemala City independently. Transfer straight to the small city of Antigua in the Guatemalan central highlands, approximately an hour away. The next part of your journey begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm where you’ll meet your next tour leader and fellow travellers. A designated UNESCO World Heritage site, Antigua was once the capital of Guatemala and despite a history of destructive earthquakes and the ever-present Pacaya Volcano, the incredible Spanish architecture stands strong. Afterwards, join in for the optional group dinner or head out on your own to find some Guatemalan gastronomical delights.
Day 11 - Panajachel
Leave Antigua at approximately 9 am for Panajachel. You’ll first be transferred in a private vehicle to the highlands’ Solola market (2.5 hours), where colourfully-dressed locals shop for vegetables, fruit, meat, clothing and knick-knacks. There’ll be an informal Spanish lesson on the journey for you to improve your purchasing prowess and your leader will take you on a tour of the market, just be sure to bring your camera and all your senses. From Solola, the vehicle will continue to Panajachel (30-45 minutes) and the Hotel Atitlan, a stunning hotel on the shores of Lake Atitlan. The afternoon is yours: stroll around the lake, take a dip in the pool or submerge yourself in the infinity hot tub and soak up the incredible views.
Day 12 - Lake Atitlan / Panajachel
Communities are scattered around Lake Atitlan and today you’ll take a boat across the water to visit Santiago, the largest of the them. Santiago remains very traditional with many villagers continuing to live a Tz’utujil lifestyle. Take a guided tour of the community and experience a naif painting workshop. 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 before heading back to Panajachel. The actual town of Panajachel is a short drive from the hotel, so this afternoon your leader will take you on a walking tour through town. Pana, as it’s known in Guatemala, is popular with tourists and you’ll have an opportunity to buy handicrafts from locals before returning to the hotel.
Day 13 - Guatemala City / Flores
With checkout at 10 am, the early morning is free to either relax or rent a kayak and take to Lake Atitlan. A private vehicle will transfer the group to Guatemala City (approximately 3.5 hours) for a late lunch at a restaurant and there’ll be some time to explore the city before heading to the airport around 5.30 pm to catch a 7 pm flight to Flores (1 hour), a small town in Guatemala’s northern Peten region. Flores, which was built on an island on Lake Peten Itza, is the gateway to several national parks and important Maya sites including Tikal, which the group will visit tomorrow.
Day 14 - Tikal National Park / Flores
Embrace an early start 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 and enjoy free time to stroll the cobblestone streets, shop for locally-made souvenirs or swim in Lake Peten Itza.
Day 15 - Antigua
An early 7.30 am flight back to Guatemala City is worth waking up for to maximise time in Antigua (1 hour transfer), Guatemala’s favourite traveller hangout. Your leader will take you on a quick orientation walk around town before check-in, followed by a city tour with a local guide. Tonight is yours to enjoy, so spend the evening in town if you’ve any energy left or opt for a quiet night at the hotel.
Day 16 - Antigua
There are no activities planned today and the world, or at least Antigua, is your oyster. Perhaps you’ll want to sample Guatemala’s two famous beans, coffee and cocoa, or maybe you’ll peruse the markets or watch the world go by at one of the many cafes and bars. If you fancy something more strenuous, a number of local companies run hiking trips to the active Pacaya Volcano, approximately 1.5 hours out of town. Don’t forget the marshmallows, and rest assured you’ll be back in time to have your final group meal and perhaps even hit the local dance spots for some farewell salsa dancing with your group.
Day 17 - San Jose
Today you will catch your International flight from Guatemala City to San Jose independently. The next part of your journey begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm where you’ll meet your next tour leader and fellow travellers. Continue the introductions with an optional group dinner after the meeting. Costa Rica’s compact capital has plenty to offer if you arrive earlier in the day. Perhaps spend a few hours visiting the city’s impressive museums and galleries, such as the Museo de Arte y Diseno Contemporaneo (Museum of Contemporary Art and Design), considered one of the most important cultural centres in Latin America. You may opt to stroll past sculptures commemorating important moments in Costa Rica’s history at the Parque Nacional, or perhaps go shopping for souvenirs and authentic local cuisine at the Mercado Central.
Day 18 - Irazu Volcano / San Jose
Today you’ll travel about an hour outside San Jose for a full day tour of Irazu Volcano and the Orosi Valley. Rising 2432 metres (11,260 feet) above sea level, Irazu is the highest active volcano in Costa Rica. The summit is gouged with several impressive craters. Mostly barren, aside from a fringe of battered bushes and trees, it has an otherworldly feel. Hope for good weather, as on a clear day you can see both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts from the top. Descend the mountain and head to the Orosi Valley for a completely different view where you’ll find lush verdant hills etched with coffee plantations, beautiful gardens, Spanish colonial buildings and the oldest functioning church in Costa Rica (Islesia Colonial de Orosi, built in 1743). En route, stop for lunch at the fabulous 1910 Restaurant where you can enjoy classic Costa Rican dishes, such as cheese tortillas and chorreadas (corn pancakes). Make sure to check out the restaurant’s collection of photographs documenting the 1910 earthquake that nearly demolished the town of Cartago, then continue to the Orosi Valley. Walk through the historic township and spend time strolling the impressive collection of orchids at Lankester Botanical Gardens, before returning to San Jose for a free evening.
Day 19 - Manuel Antonio
Depart early for the long white beaches and evergreen forests of Manuel Antonio. It’s a three to four hour bus drive from San Jose; spend this time brushing up on your Spanish via an informal lesson from your tour leader, taking in the passing scenery or simply catching some shut-eye. There’s an optional lunch you can partake in upon arrival. Otherwise, the afternoon is yours to enjoy. Perhaps relax on one of the many fine stretches of sand, or rent a surfboard and ride the waves. In the late afternoon, set off on a memorable sunset sail. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, whales and giant sea turtles!
Day 20 - Manuel Antonio
Spend the day exploring Manuel Antonio National Park. Made up of 12 small islands and countless lagoons and mangrove swamps, the park is brimming with exotic wildlife. Embark on a hike with a local guide in search of cheeky monkeys, indolent sloths, endangered white-faced capuchin monkeys and hundreds of species of birds. Afterwards, you have free time to explore the park as you please. Perhaps take advantage of its beautiful turquoise seas, perfect for swimming, kayaking, sailing and fishing. Or you may opt to continue your explorations on land, in search of the 109 mammal species that call the park home.
Day 21 - Monteverde
After breakfast, depart for the cloud forest town of Monteverde. Arrive in time for an optional lunch, then enjoy a free afternoon. This nature and wildlife lover’s paradise is ripe with possible activities. In the evening, embark on a hike through the rainforest in search of some of its nocturnal inhabitants. Some of the wildlife you might see include porcupines, toucans, owls, stick insects and even tarantulas.
Day 22 - Monteverde
Today explore the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. This extraordinarily diverse ecosystem is home to the largest variety of orchids in the world, big jungle cats and thousands of species of insects and birds. Embark of a guided hike on the forest floor, before coming face-to-face with the misty upper canopy while walking a series of suspension bridges hidden among the treetops. Keep an eye out for the resplendent quetzal, one of the world’s most elusive birds, during your walk. In the afternoon, learn about one of Costa Rica’s most famous exports with a visit to a family-owned coffee business. Gain insight into the coffee-making process and sample a freshly brewed cup. Also learn how sugar cane and cocoa beans are processed. The tour culminates with a chance to make your own candy.
Day 23 - San Jose
Travel back to San Jose for your final day. If you were unable to explore the city before the trip began, you may want to take part in a leader-led walking tour of the main attractions in the afternoon. There’s time for some last-minute souvenir shopping at the city’s vibrant markets. In the evening, head out for a final group dinner and sampling of the city’s nightlife.
Day 24 - San Jose
Your trip has come to an end. There are no planned activities today.

Trip Dates

StartEndPrice FromRoom Type
27-12-201919-01-2020AUD $ 8,307-


Hotel feature stay (7 nights),Comfortable Hotel (16 nights)


Private vehicle,Plane,Taxi,Shared Boat,Taxi