Nature
Nature
  • This is an incredible region that boasts of 8% of all the world’s biodiversity, where there are more than 600 declared protected areas. 

    A place that, thanks to its great biodiversity of ecosystems, is home to 4.715 plants and 451 endemic vertebrates and also contains the second longest coral barrier reef in the world.

Costa Rica & Nicaragua: by river

The trip begins in the Tortuguero National Park, reached by taking an automobile or motor coach from San Jose to the town of  Hamburgo and taking a launch through the only network of natural canals through the tropical rain forest for a scenic ride of one hour and 45 minutes.

 

During the ride you will be thrilled by the exuberant natural scenery, replete with life: toucans, monkeys, crocodiles and a variety of birds will fascinate you.  And when you arrive, if you travel between July and October, at night you can marvel to the majestic sight of nesting sea turtles.

 

The following day, you will enjoy a guided tour through the dense rainforest where the guide will explain the use of the plants, especially the medicinal varieties and you can bring out the Tarzan in yourself swinging on the jungle vines. Later visit the town of Tortuguero to see how the locals live

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Continue the trail towards the Braulio Carrillo National Park, taking a launch to the small dock at Caño Blanco where you will find a motor coach to take you to the zone of Guapiles, where the Park is located.

You can see this park from on high in a cable car, and you will be overwhelmed by the splendorous natural beauty, its multitudinous birds and even the Indian Umbrella leaves.

 

From here you will head for Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí, floating down the river San Rafael on gigantic inner tubes and mounting on horseback to get to the Sueño Azul waterfalls. In the afternoon you can visit the butterfly farm to see the development of a wide variety of butterfly species.

 

Continue on to the Arenal National Park in the department of La Fortuna, one of the country’s most famous.

 

This park offers a wide selection of fun activities. You won’t want to miss the canopy zip-line, or enjoying a relaxing afternoon in the hot springs of Tabacón or watching the Arenal volcano at night to see the intense red of its lava as it flows down its slopes.

 

From Arenal, head for the border at Los Chiles through the Caño Negro wildlife refuge, which has become famous as an ecotourism destination, because at the beginning of the rainy season it becomes an idyllic bird breeding spot. Here you can easily see an abundance of land turtles, caiman, sloths and monkeys. You can also visit the Maleku indigenous reserve, a people who believe in the immortality of the human soul.

At los Chiles you can catch a launch to cross Río Frío, which will take you to San Carlos (Nicaragua) for the beginning of your Water Journey.

 

In San Carlos you will take a launch to begin the journey through the archipelago of Solentiname, an indescribably magical place.

 

Although it is formed by 36 islands, you will first want to go to isla Macarrón, the starting point for seeing the rest and discovering why this archipelago has this special magic.

 

As soon as you get out of the boat you will be welcomed by the population that will receive you as a family member and tell you all about their history and their very peculiar way of life. Little by little you well find out how recent history has affected their daily life, since Solentiname is the birthplace of “primitivist art”, oil paintings and wood carving in balsa woods, whose most distinctive traits are the simplicity of forms and their intense colour, introduced by the priest Ernesto Cardenal for forming a spiritual and artisan community when he arrived there in 1966.

 

You will hear many incredible anecdotes of their history as you travel from islet to islet, such as the island of Elvis Chavarría, where there is a natural museum and a museum of paintings and sculpture, before continuing on toward El Castillo.

 

In the village of El Castillo de la Inmaculada Concepción, you can explore the narrow streets, the interior of the fortress, which was constructed by the Spaniards in 1675 to protect and defend their main transportation route, and you can visit its interesting museum that will give you a better understanding of the importance of this place in earlier times.

 

After dark you can take the caiman tour, where you will see, up close, what these animals are like and how they behave.

 

The journey ends on the next day, as you follow the river down stream, crossing the huge Indio-Maíz Nature Reserve with some of the most exotic scenery that you will ever see, with its refuges for species like the Manatee, turtles, primates, jaguars and a multitude of avian species, reptiles, amphibians and fishes.

 

Costa Rica & El Salvador: From the intensity of their green jungles to their majestic volcanoe

Your first destination will be the Osa peninsula, where you will find the Corcovado National Park. To get there you will catch a flight from San Jose to Puerto Jiménez.

 

Start with a hike through Corcovado National Park, one of the most bio-diverse parks in the country. As you venture through some of its 40.000 hectares you will be enchanted by the incredible wealth of flora and fauna at your fingertips. The park is home to around 130 mammal species, 116 reptilians and some 400 avian species. This is a dream come true for those seeking real contact with exuberant nature, where you can possibly, although very rarely, see jaguars, giant anteaters, tapirs, spiders, monkeys and many more.

 

This spectacular habitat invites you to enjoy a number of exciting activities, link zip-lining above the jungle canopy, sport fishing, dolphin and whale watching or diving and snorkelling on the island of Caño, where you will also see its famous spherical stones.

 

Your next stop is the Manuel Antonio National Park. The first impression is the beauty of the vegetation that cascades down the cliffs to the beach. The combination offers a world of options.

 

This will be a day for combining adventure with nature. Tour the park on a quadricycle to see the flora and fauna, then get your adrenaline rush rafting down the white waters of río Savegre.

 

Stay in Manuel Antonio for an extra day to visit the mangroves of Isla Damas, where you will see caimans, sloths, crocodiles, boa constrictors and white-faced monkeys… 

 

The journey continues to the Monteverde National Park, but you should stop by the Carara National Park on the way to see the transitional mixture of Amazonian and Meso-American vegetation.
 

Monteverde National Park is the last stop before continuing on to El Salvador. This park is renowned as a perfect habitat for Quetzal, the magnificent emerald green plumed bird of the ancient Meso-American kings, from the Aztecs to the Olmecs, Mayas and all of the cultures of ancient times; they are among the more than 400 avian species, 490 types of butterfly, 2,500 plant species and over 100 mammalians that you are likely to see, as you partake of the various activities offered here. The best view is provided on horseback along the well defined trails, where you will appreciate the natural beauty from hanging bridges, visit insect farms, butterfly and reptile farms and even visit a Quaker community to enjoy their excellent cheeses and milk products.

 

Return to San José for your flight to El Salvador and its impressive volcanoes.

 

Begin your El Salvador adventure by heading for one of its most important nature conservation areas: the National Volcano Park, which is located within the Apaneca-Ilamatepec Biosphere Reserve, declared World Patrimony by UNESCO.

 

This park is the site of numerous volcanoes, three of which are very important pieces in the history of the country: the Cerro Verde, the Santa Ana and the Izalco volcanoes, comprise an impressive scenario that demonstrates the magnitude and beauty of nature.

 

Your journey continues with a visit to Lake Coatepeque, which, for many, is considered to be one of the world’s ten most beautiful lakes. You can choose from a variety of water activities like diving, kayaking, motor- or sail-boating.

 

Before returning to San Salvador to conclude this leg of the trail, take advantage of the close by “route of the flowers”(Nahuizalco, Salcoatitán, Juayúa, Apaneca and Ataco) and visit these enchanting villages, where you can see towns that were inhabited during the colonial period and that conserve these traits to this day, mixed with the ancient indigenous nuclei, where bright colours are present in each of their narrow streets.

 

Belize & Guatemala: natural contrasts

This stage of your Central American adventure begins with a motor coach ride from Belize City to the  Río Bravo Conservation Area located in the district of Orange Walk, in the northeast of Belize.

 

This area, covering more than 200 thousand hectares of savannah and tropical rainforest, palm groves and swampland, protects some 240 arboreal species, 70 animal, 400 avian and 12 species of endangered animals, including the Jaguar, the black howler monkey the yellow crested parrot and the tapir (national animal of Belize).

 

Hike the natural trails of the jungle with a guide to experience an authentic contact with the dense rainforest, while observing some of the over 150 species of birds, monkeys and many others.

 

Take advantage of the proximity to the Xunantunich Archaeological Park, which will give you a better understanding and especially a feel for the daily life of the ancient Maya, their political organization, what they thought about, etc.. The impressive structure of El Castillo will reveal their history, written in stone and portrayed through their friezes. But first, visit Spanish Lookout, where you will find a Mennonite community, over which the passage of time and technological evolution has had no effect whatsoever.

 

Your next visit is the “Monkey Bay” wildlife sanctuary, a biological corridor with over 250 avian species, tapirs, pumas, jaguars and crocodiles and especially, gangs of black howler monkeys. The “Jaguar Jungle Camp” offers the “tubing cave” option, which gives you a chance to visit ancient caves, as you float on huge inner tubes under a ceiling of gigantic stalactites.

 

The adventure continues as you head south to the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, where nature will embrace you with the magic of its river, its “Thousand-Foot or Hidden Valley Falls” and its natural pools.

 

By no means should you leave Belize without enjoying its beaches. A visit to Placencia with its breath taking white sand beaches, its brilliant deep blue waters and hundreds of exciting activities, will provide you with unforgettable experiences as you enjoy the treasures of the Belizan coast. Spend the day snorkelling, diving or fishing and the evening to the flavour and rhythm of the Caribbean with its local cuisine and live music. 

 

If your trip is scheduled between March and June you will be able to live the incredible adventure of seeing and, indeed swimming alongside the immense and friendly whale shark, a once in–a-lifetime experience for underwater enthusiasts.

Continue southward to Punta Gorda and the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve, before catching a boat for Puerto Barrios (Guatemala).

 

This reserve is  64 km. east of Punta Gorda, ideal for snorkelling and enjoying the precious Hunting Caye beach, which is also a nesting ground for the Carey Turtle.

 

In Punta Gorda, catch the launch for Puerto Barrios, to begin the leg of your journey through Guatemala.  

 

Begin by travelling to Livingston, where you will have the sensation of being on another Caribbean Island in Guatemala proper, since this is the town with the largest garífuna population on this Afro-Caribbean country. The joyfulness of the multicoloured houses, the rastafarians and their dances is absolutely contagious.  

 

From the Bay of Amatique, in Livingston, travel down “Río Dulce”, a river replete with jungle vegetation that will give you yet another chance to see a wide diversity of fauna, with crocodiles, alligators, water birds, manatees and even sweet-water sharks. Before reaching lake  Izabal, you will see the Castillo de San Felipe, a defensive fortress, built  in the XVII Century.

 

Your next destination is Atitlán Lake, known for its beauty by being guarded by three volcanoes (Santiago, San Lucas Tolimán and San Pedro). Its villages, full of colour and tradition attract travellers from around the world.

 

Panajachel will be the gateway for visiting the villages of Lago Atitlán. This is a cosmopolitan, bohemian village, where many hippies, who came during the 60s still live, with their bars, their live music and marketplaces. 

 

In the morning catch a boat to take you to the villages of Santiago and San Juan la Laguna, walk their streets, learn the curious history of the May deity Maximón and, with luck, witness an indigenous wedding in one of their churches!

 

Before you go to Guatemala City to complete this leg of your journey, make a detour to la Antigua Guatemala, a precious colonial city, embraced by three impressive volcanoes (that of Water, that of Fire and Acatenango) that you will discover the true meaning of syncretism, since you will experience authentic Maya with their time-honoured rituals and traditions immersed in a completely colonial-style scenario.

You will not want to miss visiting the Casa Santo Domingo Hotel, which is a museum in itself, the handicraft shops and of course, climb to the lookout point to gaze at the  panoramic view of the city and the surrounding volcanoes.

 

 

 

 

 

Panamá & Honduras: a nature tour of the Caribbean and the Canal

This stage of your journey begins with two days of eco-tourism in the vicinity of San Pedro Sula.

 

The Jeannette Kawas National Park provides you the opportunity to spend your morning enjoying the white sands and turquoise waters of the Caribbean and your afternoon observing the wild life of the tropical rainforest, natural habitat to more than 200 species of trees, 135 species of tropical birds, 68 species of reptile, 12 species of amphibians and 35 species of mammals, including the Manatee.

So you can enjoy the dense vegetation and its fauna as well as relaxing on its beautiful beaches or snorkelling on the world’s second longest coral barrier reef. Take a variety of excursions where you can visit the Laguna de los Micos (Monkey Lagoon) on a boat ride through the mangroves to see sea birds, turtles, iguanas, monkeys, alligators etc. You can also visit the garífuna village of Miami and witness their lifestyle, the original garífuna architecture and savour their cuisine to the rhythm of their music and dances.

Visit the botanical collection started in 1926, at the  La Lancetilla Botanical Gardens, where there are 630 plant species, a wide variety of native birds and a large collection of tropical fruits.  On the way, make a stop at Triunfo de la Cruz to purchase some of the typical garífuna handicrafts, such as miniature drums and artisan jewellery. For dinner, visit the village and enjoy a delicious mariscada (seafood platter).

The next stop will be Cayos Cochinos, which will require going to La Ceiba to catch a ferry to these paradisiacal keys. Stop on the way and visit Punta de Izopo National Park, where you can take a boat ride through the mangroves to see different birds and animals that are protected in the park. These include pelicans, kingfishers, manatees, turtles, toucan, iguanas, lizards and the occasional illusive jaguar, among other species.

 Arriving at Cayos Cochinos, you will be stunned at seeing a true paradise. Translucent waters, fine white sand, the coral reef and the 13 keys that make up this biological reserve, where you can enjoy diving, snorkelling, kayaking, hiking or visiting the garífuna on Chachahuate Key.

After grabbing some rest and fun among the coconut groves, return to La Ceiba to conclude this part of your journey through Honduras, visiting the Pico Bonito National Park and the Cangrejal river, for an adrenaline rush, rafting or kayaking on one of the prettiest rivers in the country.

 

Pico Bonito is an overdose of natural exuberance that you must see to believe, where trails will take you to see the animals in their habitat. As you wend your way past incredible rapids, and waterfalls, with luck you will catch a glimpse of the country’s only endemic bird, the emerald hummingbird.

 

In San Pedro Sula take a flight to Panamá and start by visiting the famous Panama Canal and the old city, where the capital used to be located.

 

Follow the Panama Canal to Gamboa, by taking a ship from the Amador pier through the Miraflores locks, where the operation begins by manoeuvring through the pass through the  beautiful scenery toward the Pedro Miguel locks that take you to Gamboa.

 

Gamboa offers you the spectacular sight of nature as you board the cable car to a lookout point from which you can appreciate the River Chagres and the indigenous community of  Emberá, which you will visit later.  The Isle of Monkeys will get you up close to a large number of animals like white-face monkeys, howler monkeys, sloths, crocodiles and a myriad of bird species.

 

Follow the trail to the following stop: the Community of Emberá Drua, where you will be received with music and dance, while the patriarch tells you the story of his people and their day to day way of life, which has continued from ancestral times.

 

Return to Panama City to finish by visiting the  valley of Antón, a few hours from the city, where you can combine adventure with nature. A thirty minute hike takes you to the  “Chorro El Macho” waterfall, with its cascade of 30 metres, at the entrance to a canopy tour, an eco-tourism experience allowing you to enjoy the jungle view from on high. Afterwards, visit the  El Níspero botanical gardens with some 55 species of birds and golden frogs to be seen along with several other animals.

 

 

 

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