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Guatemala to Costa Rica

Fresh from her adventures on our Highlights of Central America trip, Product Manager Carmel Hendry talks to us about how it feels to traverse 5 countries in just 16 days.

"Although I work in travel, I am typically a very disorganised traveller, so it was only on my flight out from London that I really started to think about what I’d let myself in for – travelling 2000km in 16 days, through 5 different countries with 5 different currencies. Was I really prepared for this?!

I didn’t let my lack of preparation worry me for too long, and from the moment that we met our fantastic tour leader, Miguel, I knew that he would take care of all the little logistical details, leaving us to concentrate on enjoying ourselves. From the moment that we touched down in Guatemala City and drove across to Antigua Guatemala, I knew that I was going to like Central America. The cobbled streets, intricate colonial churches and colourful buildings of Antigua were a common theme throughout many of the towns and cities that we visited on our journey, from tiny Copan and Suchitoto to the larger cities of Leon and Granada.

The great thing about this trip is that each country has its own distinct character. In Guatemala, we were fascinated by the Mayan history and the strong presence that it still has within the country. Witnessing a Mayan ceremony in Chichicastenango was one of my highlights of the trip – it is amazing how their Gods are still very much a big part of everyday life, and seeing this devotion in practice was something special.

Going from Guatemala, where the Mayan culture is still very much a way of life in many communities, to the ancient ruins of Copan, Honduras, really put the historical site into perspective for us. I found it much more interesting to visit having already seen how Mayan communities live nowadays, with all of the modern conveniences of the 21st Century. We were lucky to have the site pretty much to ourselves – something that would never happen in places like Chichen Itza (Mexico) or Machu Picchu (Peru) – which was amazing, and we found out loads of interesting facts about the wacky customs of the ancient Maya, from their ball games where the winner is chosen as a human sacrifice, to the emperor proving his godliness by piercing his penis with a live sting ray!

After entering El Salvador we put the Mayans behind us. The beautiful town of Suchitoto was another totally tourist-free place, and the bird-watching on the lake ticked a lot of boxes for the birders in the group. Luckily El Salvador’s national currency is the US dollar, so we were able to take a rest from the currency confusion for a few days!

For the last week of the tour we were in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Overall, I would say that Nicaragua was my favourite country throughout the tour. We met a real life guerrilla warrior in the Museo de la Revolucion in Leon, who told us some fascinating stories about the dictatorship and revolution in Nicaragua. We also climbed up one active volcano and had the mesmerising experience of seeing real lava bubbling away in another. I absolutely loved Leon and Granada, which were the perfect cities to while away a few hours with a hot chocolate or a mojito, and the kayaking trip around Las Isletas on Lake Nicaragua was great fun, if a bit hot and sweaty!

Moving away from Nicaragua was tough, but it meant that we would soon be checking out the wildlife in Costa Rica. We saw amazing creatures from sloths and caimans to poison dart frogs and huge spiders. I have been to Costa Rica before, but I love the rainforests and jungles, which always bring new experiences every time you go, and I always think that it’s incredible how the guides spot animals so hidden in the trees. We would not have seen half the wildlife that we saw without their knowledge and eyesight. I also had the opportunity to do the classic Costa Rican activity of zip lining, which was amazing! Even better were the toucans that we saw in the canopy as we waited for our turn on the wire, which was a welcome distraction from the heights!

At the end of the trip we finally had a bit of time to take everything in, and our adventures in the Mayan heartland of Guatemala seemed like an age ago when we were waiting in line at San Jose airport, getting ready to board the plane. Our amazing adventure through Central America was too short, but one day I will return…"