About Guatemala, Honduras & Nicaragua Travel
Antigua: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Antigua in the central highlands is famous for well-preserved Spanish Baroque and colonial architecture as seen in its elegant historic homes, palaces, cathedrals and churches including San Francisco Church, the cathedral, central park and La Merced Church. The area is a mosaic of wild forests, streams, Indian villages and farms.
Chichicastenango: In the Guatemala highlands, this large indigenous town spreads out on the crests of mountaintops at an altitude of 1,965 meters/6,447 feet. It is known for its traditional K’iche’ Mayan culture. Here, one of the more famous markets takes place on Thursdays and Sundays. Vendors sell all manner of goods – handicrafts, food, pottery, medicinal plants, pigs, chickens, machetes and textiles. The city is also known for the manufacture of carved wooden masks used in traditional dances.
Copan: In western Honduras, Copan boasts impressive Mayan creations such as intricately carved stelae, striking carved inscriptions and an amazing hieroglyphic stairway. The city sits next to the Guatemalan border. The ancient kingdom flourished from the fifth century to the early ninth century, with earlier groups dating back to the second century. The Mayan civilization began a marked decline in the ninth century, so by the time the Spanish arrived, the city had been abandoned to the jungle.
Flores: Flores sits on an island in Lake Peten Itza, and is connected by a causeway to the mainland and its two sister towns of Santa Elena and San Benito. All three are often referred to as Flores. Close to Tikal, Flores is a charming city worth exploring with its colonial, red-roofed buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, historic church and open plaza. It is also close to Yaxhá National Park, the first multi-disciplinary project involving archaeologists, architects, restaurateurs, biologists and workers. It embraces more than 500 discovered buildings, including the only twin pyramid complex outside of Tikal.
Granada: Established in 1524, Granada is the oldest European-founded city in Nicaragua, the second oldest in Central America, and the third oldest in the Americas. It grew up on the shores of the great lake of Nicaragua. Named after the city of Granada in Spain, the city reveals its history in its colonial churches, narrow streets and large homes built around beautiful indoor patios. Sites include La Merced Church, the museum within Casa de los Tres Mundos, the colonial house of the Zamora family, who has lived here for generations, and the San Francisco Convent. The convent, and the church it is attached to, was first erected in 1525, but pirates burned down the convent 1665. Today the convent-cum-museum is noted for its ancient catacombs beneath the convent and church. Priests and other citizens of Granada have been buried there beginning in 1546. An estimated 75,000 people have been buried in the catacombs’ walls. UNESCO is considering listing the Granada as a Heritage of Mankind Site.
Iximche: This Mayan ruin sits in the Western highlands of Guatemala in Tecpan between Antigua and Lake Atitlan. It is not as well-known as the major archaeological sites of the Classic Period (250 to 900). It served as the capital of the Kaqchikel Maya from 1470 to 1524. Here, visitors can witness an authentic Mayan shaman ritual.
Jicaro Island: This private island is just a few minutes boat ride from the colonial town of Granada in Nicaragua. It boasts spectacular views of the Mombacho Volcano and other small islands in Lake Granada. Ages ago, when Mombacho Volcano erupted, 365 isletas were created, including Jicaro. Now it is an upscale nature resort developed in harmony with its surroundings and with the local community. It is a true ecolodge – from water and energy generation, to local, organic foods, to employing local staff. Activities include stellar bird watching, kayaking, yoga classes, zip lining, hiking a volcano and artisanal fishing, in the tradition of local fishermen.
La Flor Wildlife Refuge: The refuge is made up of one of the most beautiful beaches on the south Pacific coastline. The pure white sand is bordered by tropical forests on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. The reserve is small, just 800 hectares/1,977 acres, but here some 30,000 Olive Ridley turtles arrive each year to mate. The nesting season begins in July and lasts until January. The peak months are October and November. This is one of the most vital coastal sea turtle breeding sites in the Pacific Ocean. The reserve also encompasses tropical dry forests and mangroves that support monkeys, Garrobo Negro, coyotes, raccoons, iguana verde, skunks, legartijas, and a hosts of birds.
Lake Atitlan: The Guatemalan lake is volcanic in origin, filling an enormous caldera formed in an eruption some 84,000 years ago. It is the deepest lake in Central America with maximum depth about 340 meters/1,115 feet. The lake is shaped by surrounding escarpments, three volcanoes on its southern flank. The majority of inhabitants of the region are of Mayan ancestry. The Tz’utujil culture belongs to one of 21 Maya ethnic groups in Guatemala. The Tz’utujil people are noted for maintaining cultural practices in their distinctive embroidered dress and mud-and-thatch homes.
Lake Nicaragua: This is the largest lake in Central America, the 19th largest lake in the world by area, and the 9th largest in the Americas. It is slightly smaller than Lake Titicaca, and sits at an elevation of 32.7 meters/107 ft above sea level. It reaches a depth of 26 meters/85 feet and has an area of 8,264 km2/3,191 sq mi. The lake was used by Caribbean pirates who assaulted Granada on three occasions. Before construction began on the Panama Canal, a stagecoach line owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Accessory Transit Company connected the lake with the Pacific Ocean across the low hills of the narrow isthmus. Lake Nicaragua, despite being a freshwater lake, has sawfish, tarpon and bull sharks, a species also known for entering freshwater elsewhere around the world. Numerous other species of fish live in the lake, including at least 16 species of endemic cichlids. There is ongoing concerns about the ecological condition of this scenic lake.
Leon: This is the second largest city in Nicaragua. León is located along the Chiquito River, some 90 kilometers/56 miles northwest of Managua For a long time León was the political and intellectual center of the nation and is home to its National Autonomous University of Nicaragua. Founded in 1813, the university is the second oldest in Central America. León is also an important industrial, agricultural and commercial center for Nicaragua, producing sugar cane, cattle, peanut, plantain and sorghum. The first city named León in Nicaragua was founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba about 32 kilometers/20 miles east of its present site, but a series of earthquakes in 1610 left the city in ruins and forced its evacuation. The ruins, now known as “León Viejo,” were excavated in 1960 and in 2000, the site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Leon Cathedral is a significantly important and historic landmark in Nicaragua and was itself awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The site’s nomination is Nicaragua’s third cultural landmark, following the ruins of León Viejo and El Güegüense, Nicaragua’s signature folkloric masterpiece combining music, dance and theater proclaimed by UNESCO to be a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.” The city is also home to the birthplace of Ruben Dario, considered the father of modern Spanish literature, and the Ortiz Gurdian Art Gallery, known as one of the best private art galleries in Latin America.
Livingston: Livingston sits at the mouth of the Rio Dulce at the Gulf of Honduras. On Guatemala’s Caribbean Coast, it is noted for its unusual mix of Garífuna, Afro-Caribbean, Maya and Ladino people and culture. The town was Guatemala’s main port until the construction of nearby Puerto Barrios.
Managua: Founded in 1819, Managua is the capital and largest city in Nicaragua. Located on the southwestern shore of Lake Xolotlán or Lake Managua, the city became the national capital in 1852. Prior to that, the capital alternated between León and Granada. The city is the second most populous city in Central America, after Guatemala City. Originally a rural fishing village, efforts to make it the capital city began in 1824, after the Central American nations formally attained their independence from Spain. Managua’s location between the rival cities of León and Granada made it a logical and ideal compromise. Modern Managua sits on a fault line, making it susceptible to severe earthquakes. It is Nicaragua’s chief trading center for coffee, cotton and other crops as well as its beer, matches, textiles and shoes. It serves as an important industrial, commercial, political and cultural center. The Ancient Footprints of Acahualinca, are fossilized human footprints from the Late Holocene era that were left behind in volcanic ash and mud, which solidified about 2,000 years ago. The “Museo Sitio Huellas de Acahualinca” is west of Managua in the town of Acahualinca. The little museum was founded in 1953. In addition to footprints, the museum features a small collection of pottery and other items of archaeological interest from several sites in Nicaragua.
Masaya Volcano & Area: This is Nicaragua’s first and largest National Park, one of 78 protected areas in Nicaragua. The complex volcano is composed of a set of nested calderas and craters, the largest of which is Las Sierras shield volcano and caldera. The park was established in 1979, and encompasses cloud forest and a beautiful volcanic lake, Masaya Lagoon. It also features an environmental interpretation center, with a model of the park, paintings by Nicaraguan artists showing the geological history of the volcano and information about the tectonic plates that formed it. The park’s wildlife includes coyotes, skunks, raccoons, opossums, deer, iguanas, and monkeys. A short distance away is the Masaya Arts and Crafts Market, considered by many to be the greatest craft hub in Central America. Best known for the 19th century artisan market, common crafts include hammocks, leather, fabric and wood items as well as local ceramics.
Matagalpa: Matagalpa is Nicaragua’s sixth largest city and one of its most commercially active outside of Managua. Matagalpa is the second most important city in Nicaragua and is known as the “Pearl of the North” and “Land of Eternal Spring.” Matagalpa was originally an indigenous village. The Matagalpa
Indians had their own language, which has been extinct since 1875, and created ceramics in a style known as “Ceramica Negra” and “Naranja Segovia.” They also created stone statues representing their chieftain and warriors. The Spanish feared their bravery and skill with bows. Indeed, Spain tried to subdue them for 300 years, and they were never fully successful. Matagalpa is located on the continental divide between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Gold was discovered around Matagalpa by 1840, attracting many Spanish, German, American and British immigrants, including Ludwig Elster and his wife Katharina Braun. They were the first to plant coffee trees in the area and successfully so. The beans quickly went to market in Germany. Coffee agriculture attracted more than 120 European immigrants, many of whom married Matagalpan women. Many of their descendants still live in the area. Today, coffee producers such the Selva Negra Sustainable Farm are recognized for pioneering innovative and sustainable farming methods.
Rivas: Located on an isthmus between the Pacific Ocean and Lake Nicaragua, Rivas has a unique location with two coasts right across from one another. The indigenous tribes settled in the area around 606 AD, with the first Europeans, the Spanish, arriving in 1522. The Catholic Church was built in 1607 while the city of Rivas wasn’t officially recognized until 1835. Its colonial roots can be seen in the old churches scattered throughout the town and the cemetery. The Museum of Anthropology and History has pre-Columbian artifacts and historical paintings as well as historical documents that outline Nicaragua’s turbulent past. The city has a large market and a variety of shops. It is known for its beaches and fishing. Other activities include a zip line canopy tour of the rainforest treetops, bird watching and hiking on nearby Ometepe Island, and surfing off the island of San Juan del Sur, a fishing village.
Roatan Island: Near the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the largest barrier reef in the Caribbean Sea, Roatan is an important cruise ship and scuba diving destination in Honduras. The pre-Colombian indigenous peoples of the Bay Islands are believed to have been related to Paya, Maya, Lenca or Jicaque, which were the mainland cultures.
Tikal: The country’s most priceless gem, Tikal ranks among the great ancient cities of the world. This epic site’s towering pyramids loom out of the thick jungle canopy like stoic sentinels of ancient mysteries. It was once an affluent city complex with more than 100,000 inhabitants, and the seat of power for the Jaguar clan lords. The site was discovered by outsiders in 1848. Tikal is mesmerizing in its elegance and scale. This UNESCO Heritage of Humanity Site includes a staggering 3,000 or so structures: palaces, temples, plazas, ceremonial platforms, ball courts, terraces, avenues and steam baths. The Maya began Tikal about 600 BC, and for the next 1,500 years it served as an important religious, scientific and political center. Tikal National Park is also home to howler monkeys, boisterous parrots, white-lipped peccary, brocket deer, coati mundi, toucans, scarlet macaws, ocelots and the rare jaguar.
Uaxactun: Uaxactun is one of the longest-occupied Mayan sites. It is also a community where traditional “Chicleros” (gum Collectors) have lived for over 100 years. Many residents now make their living from gathering forest products including chicle, allspice and xate palm leaves, used in floral arrangements. Travelers explore the Mayan site and encounter this traditional community to learn about their lives. Guests overnight at a tented campsite in the middle of the jungle.
Suggested Guatemala, Honduras & Nicaragua Tour Itinerary
Day 1: Guatemala City, Guatemala/Antigua
Antigua is a colonial masterpiece known for its architecture.
Day 2: Antigua/Lake Atitlan
Lake Atitlan is renowned as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.
Day 3: Lake Atitlan & Santiago
The region is home to Mayan descendants who maintain the traditions the ancient Tz’utujil culture.
Day 4: Chichicastenango/Antigua
The hill town of Chichicastenango is known for its traditional K’iche’ Maya culture and its indigenous market.
Day 5: Antigua/Copan, Honduras
Copan has been called the Paris of ancient Mayan cities.
Day 6: Copan
The famous Mayan site is recognized for the intricately carved stelae and an amazing hieroglyphic stairway.
Day 7: Copan/Livingston
Livingston is noted for its mix of cultures including the Garifuna.
Day 8: Livingston/Flores
Flores is a charming city with colonial buildings, cobblestone streets and is the gateway to Tikal.
Day 9: Flores
Yaxhá National Park includes the only twin pyramid Mayan complex outside of Tikal.
Day 10: Tikal/Granada, Nicaragua
The ancient Mayan temple city of Tikal is one of the premier archaeological complexes in the world.
Day 11: Granada
City is noted for its colonial heritage set amid dramatic volcanic landscapes.
Day 12: Granada / Depart
Custom Travel Options
Rivas (3 days)
Savor a stay at a truly luxurious resort - Mukul Beach, Golf & Spa on the Emerald Coast of Nicaragua.
Roatan Island (4 days)
This Caribbean island offers ocean kayaking, snorkeling, deep sea fishing, fly fishing and swimming with dolphins.
Uaxactun Deluxe Camping In (2 days)
Uaxactun is famous for the discovery of the oldest complete Maya astronomical complex ever found.
Land price, per person, double occupancy: Approx. $300 - $450 per day.