President’s Pick: Adventure Guatemala & Panama

“The prefix “UN” connotes the opposite or the undoing of something. That is exactly what this journey is about. When I look at how travel in Central America is offered; frankly, I get bored! The same hotels, the same locations, the same activities consistently show up. What is missing is a sense of imagination and creativity. You should expect more – to see more, to feel more, to do more than the ordinary. This journey allows you to engage with the indigenous tribes of Panama, explore rural Guatemala by glamping in a remote luxury Airstream trailer, and discover the region’s rich ecosystems during hikes and rafting adventures. I promise you will not be bored.”

Country Information

Guatemala

Panama

President's Pick: Adventure Guatemala & Panama President’s Picks

(Countries Visited)

Guatemala

,

Panama


(Interest Type(s))

Sustainable Travel

,

Adventure Travel


(Tour Length)

19 Days


Tour Highlights

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  • PP FINAL web smSavor this outdoor enthusiast’s dream adventure, offering a variety of hiking opportunities; from an easy hike up an active volcano in Guatemala and to challenging seven-hour hike to the peak of  Cerro Marta in Panama
  • Enjoy unique glamping experiences that include an overnight stay in a private luxury Airstream with all the comforts of home – kitchenette, air conditioning, bathroom with hot water, cable TV, terrace, dining room and outdoor Jacuzzi
  • New copyExplore the ancient Mayan world at the remarkable archaeological sites of Quirigua, Yaxha and Tikal with a special helicopter trip to the ruins of El Mirador
  • Spend a day navigating the world-class rapids of the rivers in Panama’s Chiriquí province, and kayak on Gatun Lake
  • Discover Guatemala’s enchanting Antigua and Panama’s busy capital city with its famous canal as well as an organic honey farm and a coffee plantation
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Day 1: Arrive Antigua, Guatemala
Welcome to Guatemala! Upon arrival at Guatemala City’s La Aurora International Airport you will be met and privately transferred to your hotel in Antigua, about a 50-minute drive. A living museum and colonial masterpiece founded in 1542, the highland city of La Antigua, commonly known simply as Antigua, is known for its well-preserved Spanish baroque architecture as well as a number of spectacular ruins of colonial churches. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Antigua is among the best-preserved colonial cities in the Americas. It is a magical and captivating small town that makes you feel time might have stopped some 300 years ago. You will enjoy a walking tour of this traditional city with its stunning architecture, beautiful surroundings and cobblestone streets. Visit breath-taking colonial monuments and find out why this city was the bustling center of the region for the Spaniards. Lunch is included at a local venue. The city reached its peak in the middle of the eighteenth century, after the 1717 earthquake prompted an unprecedented building boom. Antigua is a great base for exploring the dramatic surrounding landscapes. Panza Verde Hotel (L)

Day 2: Antigua
This morning, you travel to Pacaya Volcano on the outskirts of Guatemala City. This is the most popular of Guatemala’s three active volcanoes. At 2,552m/8,373ft above the sea level, it has been active since 1965. You hike to the viewpoint overlooking the flowing lava fields, which takes between 1.5 and two hours on a very gentle, wide trail. From the viewpoint, you take in spectacular views of the volcanoes around Antigua and lovely Lake Atitlan. A picnic lunch is included at the summit. After hiking down, you transfer back to Antigua. Note: Horses are available if you wish to do the tour on horseback.

Your driver will transfer you to the town of San Miguel Escobar, where you experience a day in the life of a farmer. After a short hike up Agua Volcano to see the coffee fields, the farmer invites you into his house to learn about and use the machinery needed to process coffee. You have the opportunity to roast coffee in the traditional manner over a fire, and enjoy a flavorful cup of coffee with the farmer and his family.

Then settle in to your ‘room’ tonight – one of two delightfully welcoming Airstream trailers that come equipped with all the comforts of home – kitchenette, air conditioning, bathroom with hot water, cable TV, terrace, dining room and outdoor Jacuzzi. Santo Cielo Airstream (B,L) 

Day 3: Antigua / Antigua Camp
Enjoy a morning at leisure. At noon, you transfer to a private reserve via a well-maintained nature trail that will takes you through a narrow humid broadleaf-forested valley, climbing a series of steep stairways that are secured with handrails. Hummingbird feeders located along the bottom section of the trail attract species such as the violet and rufous sabrewing, which are endemic to the Pacific slopes of Guatemala. Other notable species include the emerald toucanet, bar-winged oriole and the colorful magnificent hummingbird.

The nature trail rises 1300 ft / 400 m from the valley floor, and its 2 mi / 3.2 km distance takes on average 2 hours to complete. However, the hike is optional and guests can also arrive to camp by shuttle via a forest access road.

At end of the hike, you will find the camp located in a clearing that offers panoramic views of the valley below and three volcanoes, including active Fuego Volcano whose frequent eruptions put on a quite a show. Following a welcome drink and appetizers, you’ll settle into comfortable chairs to enjoy the sunset. Entering your spacious canvas tents, you will find their luggage placed next to their queen-sized beds, goose-down comforters and fresh flowers. Antigua Glam Camp (B,D)

Day 4: Antigua
Savor a delicious breakfast of fresh-squeezed orange juice, seasonal fruits and artisanal breads and jam before embarking on an optional nature hike above the camp. The walk takes you from pine, oak and cypress into lush cloud forest. Birds are abundant. You might even be lucky enough to see the colorful yet elusive mountain or collared trogon. Upon return to camp, a short 30-minute drive takes you back down the mountain, arriving in Antigua by mid-day. Panza Verde Hotel (B)

Day 5: Antigua / Rio Dulce
After breakfast at camp, you hike to the highest point of the trek, at 2,755 m/9,040 ft. During the 5.5-mile hike, you enjoy opportunities to talk to local farmers tending their terraced fields and learn about traditional agricultural practices. After the approximately four-hour trek and lunch, you are driven, about four hours, to Rio Dulce. 

En route, stop to explore Quirigua, an UNESCO Archaeological Park and Ruins, inhabited since the 2nd century CE. This once great city is a testimony to the Mayan civilization. Quirigua had become the capital of an autonomous and prosperous state during the reign of Cauac Sky (723–84). For reasons that are not clear, it entered a period of decline. Today the ruins of Quirigua contain some outstanding 8th-century monuments and an impressive series of carved stelae and sculpted calendars that constitute an essential source for the study of Mayan civilization. Your local guide will meet you at the site and he will show you the layout and main temples. Continue on to your hotel. Hotel Nana Juana – Suite (B)

Day 6: Rio Dulce
This morning, you begin a fantastic experience on the Rio Dulce River. This navigable river begins in Lake Izabal and ends at the Atlantic Ocean. Rio Dulce is an ideal destination to navigate due to the magical journey through time in that this was part of the original route of commerce used by the ancient Mayans.

While navigating the river, you cross through "EL Golfete", a wide section of the river in which the Chocon Machaca Park, a protected habitat that is home to some 130 bird, 31 mammal, 31 reptile and amphibian and 82 fish species. Also in the area is an island alive with bird life that is has a natural floating garden thick with indigenous vegetation, including giant lily pads.

Along the way, stop at Ak'Tenamit, a local cooperative that helps villagers gain access to education and medical services through sustainable methods. An American, who owned a successful business in South Florida, visited Guatemala in 1990, and saw Mayans who lived on a dollar a day, children without schools, mothers without vital medicine for their babies. Two years later, with the help of local leaders, he founded Ak’Tenamit. Today, the local Q’eqchi people entirely run Ak’Tenamit.

Between "El Golfete" and Livingston, an impressive canyon features dense walls of jungle and limestone. The tour ends at Livingston, the only town in Guatemala that is the home of the traditional Garifuna community that included former slaves, who settled in the area in the 1800s. Hotel Nana Juana – Suite (B,L)

Day 7: Rio Dulce / Peten
After breakfast, you travel by road about four hours to Peten. You begin your exploration of the ancient Mayan world at Yaxha, an archaeological site and ancient ceremonial center of Mayan civilization northeast of Peten. Your guide will show you the layout and main temples. This site is a mixture of archeology, beautiful jungles landscapes and ecological tourism. This Mesoamerican archaeological site was the third largest city in the region and experienced its maximum power during the Early Classic period (c. CE 250–600).

The city was located on a ridge overlooking Lake Yaxha. The name of the city derives from the Mayan for "blue-green water"; it is a notable survival of a Classic period place-name into the modern day. The Yaxha kingdom is estimated to have covered an area of 237 sq km/92 sq mi, and to have, at its peak, a population of 42,000 in the Late Classic period.

Yaxha had a long history of occupation with the first settlement. It was founded sometime in the Middle Preclassic period (1000–350 BCE). It developed an enormous city during the Early Classic (CE 250–600). At this time, as is common with other sites in this region, it shows strong influences from the distant metropolis of Teotihuacan in present-day Mexico. Teoberto Maler, who visited them in 1904, was the first outsider to report the existence of the ruined city, which includes more than 500 structures with a number of major archaeological groups linked by causeways. Approximately 40 Maya stelae have been discovered at the site, about half of which feature sculpture. Enjoy a stunning sunset on top of a pyramid with the raucous sound of howler monkeys calling and moving through the jungle around you – a most memorable experience. Las Lagunas Lodge -Waterfront Room (B)

Day 8: Peten – El Mirador
You are in for a special start to your day. After breakfast, your guide will meet you at the lobby and you are taken to the heliport to enjoy an hour ride by helicopter to a remarkable Pre-Classic Mayan city – El Mirador. As you approach, you realize that archeologists are still excavating much of the site.

El Mirador flourished as a trade center from about 300 BCE to 150 CE, with a peak population of perhaps between 100,000 and 250,000 people. Its main attractions are two large pyramid complexes, El Tigre and La Danta, faxing each other. La Danta is technically lower than El Tigre, nevertheless it is located on a hillside, making it the tallest structure in the Mayan World. The ruins of this ancient city are more overwhelming than most Mayan sites. The Tiger Pyramid is 18 stories high and it base covers the area of three football fields. The first mention of the site was in 1885, when engineer Claudio Urrutia, who surveyed the area, sited a “ruinas grandes’. El Mirador was officially reported in 1926. Archeologists noted that a large amount of construction predates other Mayan sites including Tikal. Explore the site with your guide, pausing to enjoy a box lunch. After lunch, your helicopter returns you to town, and you are taken back to your hotel. Las Lagunas Lodge - Waterfront Room (B,L)

Day: Peten – Tikal National Park / Guatemala City
After breakfast, your tour guide will meet you at the lobby of your hotel and take you to magnificent Tikal National Park. City and ceremonial center of the ancient Mayan civilization, Tikal became an important ceremonial center with the construction of major pyramids and temples. Its prime years were the Late Classic Period (600-900 CE). This UNESCO World Heritage Site contains some of the most fascinating archaeological remains of the Mayan civilization. Your guide offer insights into the world of the Mayans and the layout of the temples, and discuss architecture, history, and some theories as to why the Mayans disappeared. You may also spot some of the local wildlife including monkeys, parrots, macaws and toucans. Enjoy lunch at a restaurant in the middle of the jungle. After lunch, you will be transferred to Mundo Maya Airport for the flight to Guatemala City, where you are met and transferred to your hotel. Hotel Intercontinental Guatemala Superior Room (B,L)

Day 10: Guatemala City / Panama City, Panama
This morning, you return to Guatemala City airport for the flight to Panama City, Panama. You are welcomed at the gate and helped through a special fast-track immigration line. Relax in the comfortable VIP lounge while staff retrieves and loads your luggage into your vehicle. Once everything is ready, you are privately transferred to your city hotel. American Trade Hotel – Cuarto (B) 

Day 11: Panama City
On this full-day discovery of Panama City, your guide will reveal some of the highlights of this tropical metropolis. Begin with a visit to Panamá Viejo, Old City, founded in 1519 but suffered nearly total destruction in 1671 at the hands of pirates lead by Henry Morgan in 1671. Continue to the picturesque Casco Viejo, commonly called the Walled City. Casco Viejo, also called San Felipe, is the historic district of Panama City that was completed and settled in 1673, after the destruction of the original old city. Together with Old Panama, the Casco Viejo is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The neighborhood’s character comes alive with a walk through its narrow cobblestoned streets. You will have the opportunity to appreciate this area’s beautiful colonial and neoclassical architecture, plazas and monuments, while learning more about the history and culture of the city.

Enjoy a stop at a local shop specializing in creating chocolate made of 100% Panamanian Cacao. The Latin name for cocoa “Theobroma” means, “food of the gods.” Learn about the history of cocoa in Panama, how it is grown and processed, followed by a tasty chocolate tasting. You will become a connoisseur of fine chocolate.

Afterwards, transfer by private car to the Miraflores Locks of the most famous canal in the world, the Panama Canal. A Panama Canal guide will introduce you to some of the most important and unique details of this marvel of engineering. You will learn about the history and construction of the first set of locks at the Visitor’s Center and Museum, and will have the opportunity to watch massive vessels transit through the locks. This VIP experience will also allow you to access restricted areas that are close to the public for a unique opportunity to get a much closer view of the locks and the operations. Make sure you bring comfortable snickers or shoes (no sandals). American Trade Hotel - Cuarto (B)

Day 12: Panama City & Panama Canal
Begin with a morning visit to Gatun Lake for an amazing ecological boat ride and kayaking on the lake. Gatun Lake is surrounded by untouched exotic rainforest and is wet within a diverse tropical ecological zone. The United States government made Barro Colorado Island, the largest island on the lake, a protected nature reserve in 1923. It is one of the most important sites of scientific study on tropical forests in the world. A ride on the lake will offer a glimpse of the area’s many species of birds, monkeys, iguanas and sloths, among others creatures here. Your boat will stop at Monkey Island, where you will be able to enjoy kayaking on the lake. This activity will be geared to your interest and ability. Your private guide will be nearby. You will also have the opportunity to navigate and kayak close to massive ships as they wait to cross the Canal.

Afterwards, enjoy lunch and then continue to Soberania National Park, a biodiverse swatch of rainforest only 25 km/16 mi outside of Panama City. Spanning 55,000 acres, the park is known for its abundance of birds, with more than 525 species identified here. Soberania is also part of an ecotourism and environmental education project whose main objective is to conserve the area’s birds through environmental sustainability projects. Here you can walk trails into the rainforest scenery in search of local wildlife. Howler monkeys, sloths, anteaters, coatis and white-faced capuchin monkeys all make the park home. Also climb Soberania’s 40-meter/131-foot observation tower to try to spot the famous blue cotinga and toucans. There is another viewing platform by the lake. American Trade Hotel - Cuarto (B,L)

Day 13: Panama City / El Cope
Today take a three-hour scenic drive to the small town of EL Cope in the province of Cocle, where you will spend the next two nights in a unique private retreat. Beginning in 2010, the house took three years to construct. Building in this remote area is complicated. The bio-climatically designed house stays relatively cool, even during the day and does not need air conditioning. There are ceiling fans in the bedrooms if needed. All the wood and steel in the house is re-used and comes from the US military bases in Panama. The house sits about in the center of the 7-hectare property. From the kitchen terrace, you can see much of the property extending down to the rivers. The owners have promoted natural reforestation and have planted 500 native hardwoods and a selection of fruit trees. The property borders two rivers and it offers a few trails – from 10 minutes to 40 minutes – to allow you to explore the property. One of the favorites is the short path down to the riverbanks. While a one-kilometer stretch of the river is public, its limited access means you will have it to yourselves as few others visit this spot. From there, you can find pools and small waterfalls. The river tends be about one meter/three or so feet some deeper pools. El Cope – Private Villa (B,L,D)

Day 14: El Cope
Today is yours to use as you wish. You can choose to visit the El Cope village up the road or relax and find a cozy spot to read a book. You can explore the beautiful Las Yayas Waterfalls close by, which is managed by the local community. Go to the National Park Omar Torrrijos some 30 minutes away. The park is mainly cloud forest and is known for its birds. Other wildlife including monkeys, tapirs and the rare elusive jaguar. There is a visitor center and several trails, including a two-hour loop hike through the cloud forest, where a view point offers a look at both oceans – Atlantic and Pacific, on clear days.

For the more adventurous, there is a well-known and challenging seven-hour hike into the national park, up to the peak of Cerro Marta, where you can still see the remains of an aircraft, which crashed into the mountain killing the President of Panama, Omar Torrijos, for whom the park is named. The four-hour trek to the top is strenuous ascending, followed by another three hours down. It is mainly on footpaths through cattle and farm land with the last stretch in the cloud forest of the park. The peak is worth reaching as the plane is intact and impressive and the area is rich with unusual plants and much bird life. On the way down, a little detour takes you to a beautiful waterfall, el trigillo, where you can swim. This hike is for those in good physical condition. There are also less strenuous and shorter hikes both inside and outside the park as well as birdwatching hikes for your enjoyment. The staff can help you determine which treks are best suited to your interests.

Note: It is highly recommended to use a guide for all hikes. Also a 4 wheel drive vehicle is needed to get you to the start of most of trails. The park’s guide, a native who knows the parks and entire region very well, does not speak English, however, the a guide from the house will always be available to translate. El Cope – Private Villa (B,L,D)

Day 15: El Cope / Boquete
This morning, you set out on a scenic four-hour private transfer through the countryside, passing sugar cane fields and small towns – all off the beaten path. Upon arrival in Boquete, you check in to your private treehouse for an outstanding adventure in Panama’s highlands – a childhood fantasy come to life. Built some 5.5meters/18 feet above the ground in the spreading branches of magnificent cloud forest trees, this hideaway gives you clear views of the cloud forest of the Boquete highlands. Lucero’s new treehouses are pure luxury, from a huge walk-in rain shower to sumptuous high thread count sheets, to the 360-degree views from the wraparound deck. You have a kitchenette with mini-fridge, toaster oven and coffeemaker available as well as a 40-inch LED Smart TV and Wi-Fi.

You can lounge in the shade and enjoy the spectacular views of the Caldera Basin and Volcan Baru. A stunning infinity pool surrounded by private cabanas is a great spot to relax in the sun, soak in the hot tub or read a book. Set in lush gardens, flowers tumble around the pergolas and scent the fresh mountain air. An outdoor poolside dining deck compliments elegant indoor spaces. The clubhouse has a breezy restaurant perfect to meet for a drink or savor an intimate dinner. Enjoy a round of gold on the lush greens of the custom-designed, world-class, par-72 course created by renowned designer J. Michael Poellot, or opt for tennis on one of the four clay tennis courts. Lucero’s Tree House (B,L,D)

Day 16: Boquete
Today, you visit the highlights of the Chiriquí Highlands surrounding Boquete. Begin with a hike along the ecological paths of Baru National Park to learn about the different bird species that inhabit this unique ecosystem. These trails lead through coffee plantations and tropical forest. Here, you may have the chance to see the fabled quetzal bird thanks to the conservation efforts and to the “aguacatillo” tree, which provides bird with its favorite fruit. Most of these trails go deep into La Amistad International Park, where more than 500 species of bird species have been recorded, including the collared trogon, orange bellied trogon, bellbirds, dark pewee and silvery throated tanager.

Afterwards, visit one of the area’s top working coffee plantations, where you will see the entire process from bean to cup, and can roast a cup of Geisha Coffee. This coffee tour is kept small and semi-private for an in-depth and hands-on experience. As you walk the fields, you learn about the growing and processing of coffee plants. Then, visit the roasting house where you will sample a variety of roasts.

After lunch, visit Cangilones in the district of Gualaca. Here, the rock formations form a mini canyon that allows jumping from up to four meters/12 feet into the Esti River. Many people enjoy swimming in the aquamarine waters, climbing the canyon walls, and sunbathing here. It is one of the best natural swimming bath in the province of Chiriquí, and is visited by both Panamanians and foreigners. The canyon is thousands of years old, and was pushed up from the ocean during the formation of the Isthmus of Panama. You may see ancient sea fossils in the rocks. Lucero’s Tree House (B,L,D)

Day 17: Boquete
Hanging bridges connect cliffs and waterfalls with other breathtaking landscapes that otherwise would not be possible to reach in the cloud forest. Surround yourself by 500-year-old trees and abundant wildlife as your guide helps you discover the life, flow and natural history of the forest. The hanging bridges are between 1,600 and 1,800 meters/5,249 and 5,900 feet above sea level, making this a very special microclimate not commonly found in lower cloud forests.

After you explore the treetops, come to ground to discover an organic honey farm. Humans have used honey for millennia around the world. Today it is primarily used as a sweetener and for flavor, but historically it has also been used for medicinal purposes and even religious rituals. Visit a private honey farm in the highlands. Learn about the secret lives of bees and how each type of bee plays a vital role in the environment. Explore the complex process behind producing one of the most delicious ingredients in the world. Walk through the property’s beautiful gardens, filled with a variety of local plants and flowers before sampling freshly made organic honey. Lucero’s Tree House (B,L,D)

Day 18: Boquete
Spend an adrenaline-filled day navigating the world-class rapids of the rivers in Panama’s Chiriquí province! Depending on water levels, prior experience and interest, your experienced, bilingual guide will choose the appropriate river and route. Even beginners can enjoy classic Class II and III rapid runs on the Río Chiriquí! More seasoned paddlers can enjoy the thrill of more challenging rapids. Depending on season and level of experience, possible rivers include: Río Chiriquí Viejo, Río Fonesca, Río Gariche and Río Chiriquí.

After a safety briefing and demonstration, you will begin your rafting adventure through beautiful jungle scenery, accompanied by your guide. You should be prepared for moderate paddling for three to four hours. A riverside buffet lunch is included, as well as celebratory drinks at the end of the excursion. Note: Minimum age 7 years. Lucero’s Tree House (B,L,D)

Day 19: Boquete / Panama City / Depart
You will take a private transfer to Enrique Malek David Airport for a 1 hour flight to the domestic airport. Upon arrival, our representatives will welcome you and transfer you to the Tocumen International Airport to board your onward flight. (B)

Land price, per person, double occupancy: Price starts from US$600 per person per day.

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