South and Central America/Mexico/Antarctica
Mexico and Central America
Travelling through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama, this 'once in a lifetime" adventure ticks off many of the major highlights in Central America!
The trip begins in Mexico City, an amazing, bustling city, where we visit the memorable ruins at Teotihuacan. We then travel through the Mexican towns of Puebla, Oaxaca, San Cristobal de Lasa Cases, Merida and Palenque with the chance to try the local tequila, and opportunity to visit breathtaking archaeological ruins. Our last stop in Mexico is Cancun, where we reach the beautiful blue waters and sandy beaches of the Caribbean Coast.
Just when we think we have seen the best beaches the Yucatan has to offer, we visit Caye Caulker in Belize, and spend a few days lazing in the sun or snorkelling with tropical sea life.
Next we discover the charms of Guatemala visiting some impressive volcanoes, charming colonial towns and colourful markets.
We thenfly south to Costa Rica, a nature lover's paradise with amazing rainforests and wildlife, and end our adventure in the Panamanian capital of Panama City.
Advertised price based on the : 25 August 2014
Multiple Departures available - Tour prices do vary.
Last tour date: 20 October 2014 in current 2013/2014 brochure
Call for availability and the latest promo deals (as bigger savings may apply)
The services of local tour guides plus the services of local site guides at some sites. All transport, accommodation, and sightseeing as indicated.
Gecko's Nuts & Bolts
•Budget/tourist class hotels
Day 1: Mexico City
Your trip starts today in Mexico City. No activities are planned during the day, so you may arrive at any time. Please refer to your itinerary for the joining hotel name and address. There is a pre-departure meeting with your tour guide at 6:30pm this evening. Please check the notice board in the foyer of our joining hotel for any further details of this meeting and for any messages from your local tour guide. Please bring your passport and travel insurance documents to the briefing.
Day 2: Teotihuacan - Mexico City
This morning we take a bus trip some 50 kilometres northeast of Mexico City to the 'must-see' archaeological ruins of Teotihuacan. This is the site of the massive ‘Piramides del Sol y de la Luna’ (Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon). It was also Mexico's largest ancient city and capital to the biggest pre-Hispanic Mexican Empire. Thought to have been built early in the 1st century AD, records of the city’s origins have been lost in time. It is still an important pilgrimage site for many Mexicans who once believed that all of the gods once came together here to sacrifice themselves; acts which set the sun and the moon into motion, thus creating the so-called ‘Fifth World’. We also have time to discover the site's remaining buildings with the help of our local site guide. We return to Mexico City in the afternoon.
Day 3: Mexico City
Mexico City is an exciting mix of cosmopolitan glamour and ancient and colonial history. Built over the foundations of the ancient Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, this seething metropolis of over 20 million people can be quite overwhelming. The streets are full of the hustle and bustle of people going about their daily business and Latin rhythms emanate from the street stalls and sidewalk shops. There is a saying that goes – ‘if it happens in Mexico, it happens in Mexico City!' Our tour guide takes us on a morning walking tour of its historic heart, starting at the main square known as the Zocalo. During Mexico’s colourful festivals, indigenous dancers circle the square and shamans perform spiritual cleansing rituals. It is one of the largest public squares in the world and marks the centre of the city. In the afternoon we have free time to discover the city's many impressive museums, galleries, plazas and public buildings. We recommend visiting the National Museum of Anthropology (closed Sundays) - certainly one of the finest in the world.
Day 4: Puebla
This morning we catch the bus for the two-hour ride to Puebla. There are few cities in Mexico that have preserved their Spanish colonial past like this place. It is surrounded by towering mountains and snow-capped volcanoes, whilst its historic centre is vibrant and lively with a relaxed atmosphere - a great place to view street performers and live bands. Puebla is also well-known for its hand-painted ceramics, known as ‘taverna’, and many of its buildings are covered in brilliant blue and white tiles with also brightly-coloured doors. We have a day at our leisure in this charming city to explore some of its 70 churches or thousand or so colonial buildings, catch up on some shopping or sample the local Puebla cuisine, which is delicious!
Day 5: Oaxaca
If you're interested in traditional Mexican handicrafts, Oaxaca is the place. Famous for its colourful and unique shopping opportunities, you could lose yourself for hours meandering through the small shops and craft markets, which are filled with intricately designed textiles, hand-painted pottery and carvings splashed with vivid colour. This city is also renowned for its relaxed, laid-back feel. So if the frenzy of finding a bargain becomes too much, chill out in one of the many cafés and soak up the atmosphere of this wonderful city. The local cuisine here also offers plenty of new taste sensations and you may wish to sample some of its many varieties of margarita!
Day 6: Monte Alban - Oaxaca - overnight bus
A short drive from Oaxaca are the ancient Zapotec ruins at Monte Alban. The Zapotec civilisation began construction of this city some time around 200 BC and it reached its peak in terms of population and power between the years 300 AD and 700 AD. These magnificent ruins are perched on a flattened hilltop, 400 metres above the valley floor, affording superb 360-degree views over Oaxaca Valley and various surrounding villages. With the help of our local site guide, we have plenty of time to explore remains of the plazas, tombs, palaces and temples that comprise this fascinating site. In the evening we board the overnight bus to San Cristobal de Las Casas, in the state of Chiapas.
Day 7-8: San Cristóbal de las Casas
Nestled in a valley of pines, surrounded by mountains, San Cristóbal is blessed with both beauty and charm. Chiapas is a stunningly scenic region of Mexico which is rich in both indigenous life and culture. San Cristóbal’s meandering streets, colonial architecture and Indian soul all combine to make this a popular and enchanting destination for curious travellers. During our stay we have time to visit some of its beautiful churches, pick up a bargain or two at the weekly market and continue our search for the best taco in Mexico! We also visit a nearby highland village, where the indigenous inhabitants have their own distinctive and colourful traditional costumes. San Cristóbal de las Casas is sure to be a place to remember.
Day 9-10: Palenque
We transfer to Palenque, stopping en route at the beautiful blue waterfalls of Agua Azul and Misol Ha. Buried deep in dense rainforest, the magnificent ruins of Palenque were unknown to the modern world until the late 18th century when Mayan hunters told a Spanish priest about the great stone palaces that lay in the jungle. The priest's report and those of other early Spanish explorers helped to unearth one of the most amazing Mayan sites in Mexico. Only a small area of these exquisite ruins have to this day been excavated and the site continues to captivate archaeologists and visitors alike by continually revealing more and more of its mystical past with the discovery of more sculptures and remnants of buildings. We have the assistance of a local site guide who helps us to unveil the secrets of these ruins as well as describe the noble and mysterious history of the Mayan people.
Day 11-12: Mérida
We travel for a full day by bus to Mérida, the capital of the state of Yucatan. Known as the 'White City' due to the large amount of limestone and white paint used, Mérida was a centre for Mayan culture long since before the conquistadors arrived. These days Mérida has a wonderful old world flavour which co-exists with cosmopolitan modernity in everything from architecture to fashion. It is a bustling, colonial city and in our time spent here, we are free to make our own discoveries. Our tour guide will be able to recommend a number of sightseeing options including the highly impressive Anthropological Museum. This palatial white mansion houses fascinating exhibits from all over the peninsula, along with depictions of Mayan rituals such as teeth sharpening jewel implantation and the practice of forehead-flattening for beautification purposes.
Day 13: Chichen Itza - Cancun
We depart in the morning for the Caribbean Coast, en route visiting arguably the most famous Mayan site in Mexico. Chichen Itza derives its name from the deep, naturally occurring well, located near the centre of the site. During the heyday of this city, this well was used for human sacrifice! It is the astounding and unique architecture - a result of the invasion by the Toltec people - that makes this site so incredible. The imposing Temple of Kukulkan dominates the site and affords fantastic views over the ruins. It is believed that this pyramid was built by the Mayans for astronomical and astrological purposes. It has a total of 365 steps, one for each day of the year, and at the equinox a shadow in the shape of a serpent is cast down the pyramid. This is effect a clock with the shadow moving with the rising and setting of the sun. Please note that we do not recommend anyone who has any apprehension about heights to climb the pyramid. After exploring this wonderful sight, we continue on our way to Cancun.
Day 14-15: Cancun
Situated on the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, Cancun is renowned for its nearby beautiful Caribbean beaches and stunning Mayan ruins, not to mention some of the finest diving and snorkelling sites in the world. In the late 1960s, Cancun was merely a sliver of land 17 kilometres long. Visited only by local fisherman, it was separated from the coast by narrow channels. The Mexican government of the time saw the potential in its coastal character and undertook the task of developing it into the tropical island paradise that it is today. There are regular buses from our hotel in Cancun city to the beach - most famous being the beautiful beach at Playa del Carmen one hour away. We enjoy free time during our stay in Cancun to do as we please, which includes exploring or just relaxing.
Day 16: Tulum - Chetumal
We have an early start this morning, taking the bus south along the Caribbean coast to Tulum. Here we visit the spectacular pre-Columbian walled city ruins that overlook the beach side town. Perched on a cliff top, the setting of these ruins is stunning with spectacular views over the tropical shores below. On entrance to the ruins we discover the Temple of the Frescoes, the wall of which are painted with a mural honouring the ‘Diving God’ who in Mayan culture is believe to have descended from heaven to receive the offerings of man. We explore these superb ruins with the help of our local site guide before continuing on spend the night in Chetumal.
Day 17-18: Caye Caulker
Today we cross the border and continue on to Belize City, where we board a speedboat to the palm-fringed island of Caye Caulker. Situated just 33 kilometres north of Belize City, the island is just seven kilometres from north to south. These waters off the coast of Belize are home to the world's second largest barrier reef. Coconut palms provide us with shade, while mangroves cover much of the shore. Our time is our own here to enjoy this lovely sand island and the nearby reefs. Some of the most exciting diving and snorkelling in the world is at your fingertips, as well as exploring some amazing underwater caves. There is an abundance of colourful tropical fish and coral reefs just waiting to be explored, or you may want to simply relax on a deck chair on the beach. The choice is yours! Your tour guide is on hand to help and advise you of your options.
Day 19-20: Flores - Tikal - overnight bus
This morning we return to Belize City by speedboat and continue south to Guatemala and the small picturesque town of Flores. This is the gateway to the ancient city of Tikal – the deserted Mayan ruins in the heart of the Guatemalan jungle. Arriving at Flores, we enter one of the most scenic towns in the Peten, the island in the middle of Lake Peten Itza, with its cobblestone streets and brightly coloured houses. From here we embark upon our visit to the largest excavated Mayan ruin site in the Americas. We penetrate the jungle of El Peten to visit the temples of the monumental ceremonial centre located in the midst of the immense Tikal National Park. As we approach, the lofty pyramids can be seen rising high above the jungle’s leafy canopy. Passing beneath the rich rainforest and dense jungle vegetation, we are immersed in some spectacular jungle sounds with riotous parrots, toucans, macaws, tree frogs and howler monkeys providing a cacophonous backdrop to our trek to the ruins. Settled around 700 BC by the Mayans, the surviving temples of the resplendent and powerful city are rich examples of the Late Classic period. We pass through the sacred causeways to the main plaza, the central area with its five main temples with some of them over 50 metres high. Beyond this, we have the option of wondering through the labyrinth of smaller uncovered structures and outlying complexes nestled within the dense jungle growth. If you have energy to spare, you can climb to the peak of Temple IV and take in the spectacular views or you can simply rest at the main plaza and marvel at the Mayan engineering of this amazing archaeological site. In the evening we board an overnight bus bound for Antigua.
Day 21-22: Antigua Guatemala
Antigua is among the oldest and most beautiful towns in the Americas. The former capital of Guatemala, modern Antigua is a superb colonial town set deep in a valley encircled by three mighty volcanoes. There is plenty to see in this World Heritage-listed town. Much of La Antigua Guatemala (Old Guatemala) was built in the 17th and 18th centuries and several splendid ruins have been preserved. Many of the partially restored churches date back to the 1500s and the stunning colonial church, La Merced, is said to house the largest fountain in Central America. Our local tour guide will show us the highlights and guide us to the summit of one of the nearby volcanoes, where we can absorb the vistas of the surrounding verdant hills, where a patchwork of grass, maize and pines envelops the town. If your energy levels are high, there are also some fun optional activities: take a scenic horse ride in the lush valley interior, bike ride to one of the neighbouring volcanoes or white-water raft on one of the highland rivers. Alternatively you can simply explore at your leisure the city’s cobblestone streets that lead into the main plaza, the Parque Central, which is lined with local villagers selling handicrafts.
Day 23-24: Fly Antigua to San Jose
Today we fly south to the Costa Rican capital of San Jose, the centre of Costa Rica’s theatre and art world. The beautiful National Theatre is a 'must-see'. San Jose's most impressive public building, it is the centre of Costa Rican culture, with its superb interiors of marble staircases, gilded ceilings and local hardwood parquetry floors. The city boasts some excellent museums, but probably the most famous is the Jade Museum which houses the world's largest collection of American jade. Pre-Columbian gold, Costa Rican art and collections of live snakes and native reptiles are among some of the other museum offerings. The friendliness of the people, the breathtaking flora and fauna, the fascinating ancient artefacts and a lively central market all combine to make this city a fascinating and memorable cultural experience.
Day 25-26: Monteverde
We climb up the mountains to the village of Monteverde (Green Mountain') in the northwest of Costa Rica. Here we set foot upon the outstanding Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. This preserved dense forest is just to the east of the community of Monteverde, a small village founded by North American Quakers in the 1950s. Experiencing the mystical and fragile environment here is a highlight of Costa Rica, with the constant cloud cover enveloping the top of the mountains and providing a misty magical tropical atmosphere in a place that is home to more than 2500 recorded species of plants, 400 birds and 100 species of mammals alone! As well as incredible bird-watching opportunities, we also have the option of taking the giant 'Sky Walk'. Traversing the rope ladders and fixed rope bridges on a series of suspension bridges in the jungle canopy over 40 metres above ground, we can view a veritable spectrum of birdlife, marvel at other breathtaking fauna and flora and maybe glimpse the elusive and brilliantly coloured quetzal. Travelling from the cool highland cloud forest to the dense rainforest, we get to appreciate the rich ecological diversity of Costa Rica.
Day 27-28: La Fortuna - Arenal
Our next stop is the town of La Fortuna, whose main attraction is the nearby spectacular Arenal Volcano (1633m). This active volcano with its almost perfect conical shape is a spectacular sight, especially at night as red-hot molten lava can often be seen flowing from the crater. During our two-day stay we enjoy a hike around the volcano and absorb the stunning scenery that surrounds its base. There are also some great options for white-water rafting and horse riding. An optional night trek to the volcano is also recommended as there is often a display of molten lava and luminous rocks flying through the sky. We also get to enjoy a dip at the beautiful local waterfalls of La Catarata de Fortuna.
Day 29-31: Puerto Viejo - Cahuita
We spend three nights in the beautiful beach town of Puerto Viejo, which is located on the Caribbean Sea and offers a wide range of activities including hiking, mountain biking , kayaking , diving, and snorkelling. Alternatively you may just prefer to soak up some of the local culture, discover the local reggae or sample the indigenous handicrafts on offer. We take a day trip to Cahuita which has a relaxed ambience while its authentic Creole culture remains evident in the country’s food and music. We also visit Cahuita National Park, where wildlife abounds. There are good opportunities for sightings of coatis, sloths, armadillos, iguanas, howler and capuchin monkeys, as well as several other species. Cahuita National Park is also renowned for its attractive unspoiled beaches, with long stretches of pristine white sand, coral reef and coastal rainforest, making it a haven for both swimming and snorkelling.
Day 32-34: Bocas del Toro
At approximately 8am, we are picked up by our private bus and driven to the border with Panama at Sixaola. We cross on foot over an old train bridge, which serves as the actual border. Once we are on the other side of the bridge and have finished all the immigration formalities, we continue on our way to the small harbour town of Almirante. Here we board a public boat to the island of Colon, which is the main island on the Bocas del Toro archipelago. On arrival we take a short walk to our hotel in the middle of this little Caribbean village. During our time here we are free to explore the island or sit in one of the bars above the water and enjoy a fresh tropical fruit juice while listening to salsa, and calypso music. There much else to do. You wander across to Red Frog Beach, rent a bike and cycle to Bluff Beach or go dolphin-spotting.
Day 35-36: Boquete
We leave Bocas del Toro behind to continue our journey on the mainland. We cross the continental divide on a public bus and have the chance to mingle with some friendly Panamanians people on our bus ride. It takes five hours to reach David, the second biggest city of Panama. We then jump on a yellow school bus that takes us to Boquete, a small village town built on the slopes of the Baru Volcano. There are many optional activities that we can partake in during our time here. The Paradise Gardens Wildlife Rescue Center is well worth a visit and gets you up close to many of the native animals of Central America. The area is home to an abundance of birds, but probably none are as striking and colorful as the quetzal. The adventurous amongst us may wish to climb to the rim of Baru Volcano and follow that up with a visit to the Caldera Hot Springs for a soothing massage. A coffee tour will teach everything you need to know about this popular drink and you will get to know what kind of coffee drinker you are yourself … you might be surprised!
Day 37: Panama City
Today is a big day of travelling as we first return to David before catching the public bus to Panama City. We travel on the Pan-American Highway - the road which goes from Alaska in the north to the most southern point of Argentina. Do not forget to have a jumper (sweater) with you on the bus, as the Panamanian bus driver love their air-con! At the end of our journey we cross the Bridge of the Americas (finished in 1662) before arriving in Panama City.
Day 38-39: Panama City
After breakfast we visit the Panama Canal at the Miraflores Locks. With a little bit of luck we may see a big container ship passing through. We watch a short film about the history of the canal and also about the construction of a new section. We also visit an interesting museum before continuing to the old quarter of the city known as San Felipe (Casco Viejo), which was designated UNESCO World heritage status in 2003. We visit San Jose Church with its golden altar, walk around the French Quarter, see the Kuna Indians sell their ‘molas’ (part of their traditional costume) near the National Theatre and visit Plaza Bolivar and the Presidential Palace. In the evening you may wish to hope on a ‘chiva’ (or ‘party bus’) or make your way down to Calle Uruguay where there are numerous bars and discotheques in which to party the night away. Our epic adventure ends in Panama City on the morning of Day 51.