Geckos Adventures
Essential Central America
Playa del Carmen to Antigua
Duration: 17 days
Tour code: GSRA


  • This overland adventure allows you to see some of the best of Central America in one trip, covering big parts of Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.
  • Extended time in Caye Caulker and Antigua offers the perfect opportunity to enjoy laid-back island vibes as well as buzzing colonial city life.
  • There's nothing quite like staying with a local family to really experience a place. You'll be feasting at breakfast and dinner, and improving your Spanish with the locals in San Jorge La Laguna in no time.
  • There are loads of sides to Central America and you’ll get a taste of so many - slumbering on the sands of Playa del Carmen, gazing at the pyramids of Tikal or haggling in the markets of Chichicastenango.
  • Oh Mayan, visiting the villages surrounding Lake Atitlan in the Guatemalan Highlands is a humbling experience.

Mexico, Belize and Guatemala – three very tight amigos. Play like a player in Playa del Carmen and take it easy in Tulum. Delve into island life and underwater worlds alike in Belize. Check out the temples of Tikal, the markets of Chichicastenango and the lake vistas of Panajachel.

Some essential Spanish to get you by:
- It is hot, isn’t it? – Hace calor, verdad?
- A beer, please – Una cerveza, por favour
- I love you Miguel – Te quiero Miguel

2019 CHANGES: From 1 January 2019 this trip’s duration will shorten from 17 days to 16 days; dropping 1 night in Antigua. These changes come as a result of traveller feedback. Extra nights in Antigua can be booked using post-trip accommodation at the traveller’s discretion. 2019 departures are not guaranteed for this reason as yet.

What's included?


Breakfast, dinner


Local bus , Private vehicle , Boat


Hotel (12 nights), Multishare lodge (2 nights), Camping (with facilities) (1 night), Homestay (1 night)

Included activities

  • Tikal National Park - Entrance fee
  • Chichicastenango Market


Day 1
Playa del Carmen
Kick things off in Playa del Carmen, which is a pretty awesome place to begin a trip. In fact, it's so awesome that you might think the rest of the trip could be a disappointment. Luckily, our guys at Geckos HQ strive to make every single trip equally awesome from start to finish. Kind of like a burrito. The only thing planned for today is your welcome meeting at 6pm. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so have all these details for your leader. Other than that you're free to arrive at any time and spend the day however you want. Maybe join some optional activities like snorkeling among mangroves and cycling, or just stroll along the beaches.

Optional activities:

  • Dos Ojos Cenote - Fresh water rock pool (Entrance fee with snorkelling gear included) ($350)
  • Playa del Carmen - Cenote Ikil ($6)
  • Playa del Carmen - Bicycle rental (per day) ($250)
  • Playa del Carmen - Ferry to Cozumel (Round-trip) ($326)

Stay: Hotel (1 night)

Day 2
Today you'll hop on a local bus along the Caribbean coast to Tulum (approx 1.5 hours), where it's all about laid-back life and the broad, white beach. Once you're settled, there's the chance to visit one of the best-looking Maya sites around. The impressive pre-Columbian walled city ruins are all crumbly and clinging to a cliff-top over a lovely beach, with spectacular views over the tropical shores below. You can even go for a swim within its ancient walls. In the evening, kick back and watch the waves with a margarita.

Optional activities:

  • Tulum - Archaeological Site (Entrance fee) ($65)
  • Tulum - Akumal Bay snorkelling tour ($35)
  • Tulum - Snorkel rental (per day) ($15)
  • Tulum - Bicycle rental (per day) ($185)

Stay: Hotel (1 night)

Day 3
Today is free to relax, join some optional activities and generally do what you feel. Two wheels are a good way to start the day, so rent a bike, cruise around the area and cover a lot of ground in a short time. There's also the option of heading to Akumal Bay for a snorkeling tour of the reef.

Stay: Hotel (1 night)

Day 4
Caye Caulker
New day, new country. Adios Mexico, hello Belize. Much of today will be taken up with travel, driving by local bus to the border, then on to Belize City (approx 8 hours in total). Let the wind and spray wash the bus out of your face with a speedboat to Caye Caulker (approx 1 hour). If your idea of paradise is white sand, blue waters and palm trees then you’re going to dig Caye Caulker.

Stay: Hotel (1 night)

Days 5-6
Caye Caulker
Your time in Caye Caulker is all about talking it easy. The pace of life is so deliciously slow it's almost backwards. If being underwater is your thing then head out to Hol Chan Marine Reserve, home to Shark Ray Alley and the world's second longest barrier reef. Snorkel among the colorful corals and see tropical fish, sharks and manta rays. You can also take day trips to other Cayes nearby - each island has its own particular character, but all of them have that unmistakable Caribbean pace and charm. Belize is the only English speaking country in Central America, which will make chatting with locals much easier. If you went snorkeling yesterday then maybe continue the marine exploration with a manatee tour. These huge, peaceful creatures are beautiful in their own way, and are quite curious to meet their visitors. Get more active with sea kayaks and stand-up paddle boards, or go the other way completely and just chill out. The island's also great for foodies, famed for its lobster and simple but super tasty meals cooked on the side of the road. How about some grilled shrimp and a rum and coke made with the local fire water?

Optional activities:

  • Caye Caulker - Guided snorkelling trip (full day) ($75)
  • Caye Caulker - Snorkelling trip (half day) ($35)
  • Caye Caulker - Sunset sail ($38)
  • Caye Caulker - Manatee tour ($85)
  • Caye Caulker - Sea kayaking (half day) ($25)
  • Caye Caulker - Stand up paddle board rental (per hour) ($25)
  • Caye Caulker - Bicycle rental (per day) ($15)

Stay: Hotel (2 nights)

Day 7
San Ignacio
Today you'll leave the island behind and return to Belize City by boat (approx 1 hour), before taking a local bus to San Ignacio (approx 3 hours). The local buses in Belize are a little more basic than in Mexico but this is a great opportunity to mix with Belizeans and get a feel for local life. Get ready for stop and go on the journey, as there are very few official bus stops in Belize and the bus will keep stopping to pick up passengers. San Ignacio is a lively town surrounded by fast-flowing rivers, waterfalls and Maya ruins, making it the best base for exploring the region. After you arrive, the rest of the day is free. All guests at our hotel in San Ignacio are required to pay an additional charge of USD20 per night if they choose to use the air conditioner in their room. Electricity in Belize is incredibly expensive so most hotels charge an extra rate to use the air conditioning - and USD20 per night is pretty standard. We could include this extra charge in the trip price but then all of our travellers would have to pay whether they want to use it or not. We believe giving our travellers the option is a fairer way to manage this situation.

Stay: Hotel (1 night)

Day 8
San Ignacio
There are a heap of optional activities to take part in today around San Ignacio. The cave of Actun Tunichil Muknal is a living museum of Maya relics, and you can wade through its waters until you reach a whole bunch of 1,400-year-old crystallised skeletons. Or take a day trip to the Mountain Pine Ridge area to visit waterfalls and warm swimming holes, or you can also check out the butterfly garden and go down the river in canoes or tubes. If you prefer a slower pace, take a trip out to Xunantunich, an impressive Maya ceremonial centre with panoramic views. Getting to the site is half the fun, as you'll need to take a hand-cranked boat down the river. When you're feeling hungry, head to one of the little barbeque stalls that open on the streets. Get yourself one of the huge portions and join the locals for a chat while they sit next to the street and enjoy a juicy chicken leg.

Optional activities:

  • San Ignacio - Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM Cave - inc. transport, guide and lunch) ($95)
  • San Ignacio - Xunantunich Ruins (Entrance) ($10)
  • San Ignacio - Cave tubing ($95)
  • San Ignacio - Mountain Pine Ridge day trip (inc. transport and guide) ($85)
  • San Ignacio - Butterfly Farm ($40)
  • San Ignacio - Cahal Pech Ruins (Entrance fee & Transport) ($10)
  • San Ignacio - Caracol Ruins (inc. transport and guide) ($95)
  • San Ignacio - Barton Creek canoe trip ($80)
  • San Ignacio - Iguana Conservation Project (Entrance) ($9)
  • San Ignacio - Bicycle rental (per hour) ($4)

Stay: Hotel (1 night)

Day 9
Tikal National Park
Today you go jungle. Guatemala-style. Leave San Ignacio, cross the border, and get dropped at Tikal National Park by private minibus (approx 4 hours). You'll set up camp (all equipment provided) by the park entrance before exploring the super-huge and crazy-cool Maya ruins of Tikal - it's a bit like the set of Mel Gibson's Apocalypto movie, minus all the violence. If you've got the energy then climb Temple IV for epic canopy views and a great selfie opportunity. While here, there's also the option to check out more of the area with a guided tour, or to fly through the canopies like a toucan with a zipline experience. Tonight, enjoy camping under the stars (with basic shared bathrooms and showers), surrounded by the jungle and the ruins of the Maya civilisation.

Included activities: Tikal National Park - Entrance fee

Optional activities:

  • Tikal National Park - entrance and guided walk ($45)
  • Tikal - Zipline ($45)

Stay: Camping (with facilities) (1 night)

Day 10
Rio Dulce
From the jungle to the lake this morning, as you drive (approx 1 hour) to the lakeside town of Flores. Here there's time to grab some lunch and have a quick explore around the town. Then it's back on the private minibus to Rio Dulce (approx 5 hours).   On arrival in Rio Dulce, transfer to the hotel by boat. The easiest way to get back into town is also by boat, which can be organised through the hotel, or take a short walk through the jungle. Take some time to absorb the atmosphere of this laidback Caribbean town, which feels quite different from the inland communities.  Your hotel is located a short distance from town in a spot right on the river. This is a great place to simply relax on the deck overlooking the water, with reasonably priced meals served in the hotel restaurant. A highlight for many guests is the 'Casa Natural' - an open-air accommodation with screened-in rooms, shared bathrooms and a lounge looking out to the surrounding jungle.

Stay: Multishare lodge (1 night)

Day 11
Rio Dulce
There are a load of kick-ass activities on offer today. Take a scenic boat trip down the river to Livingston, a laid-back town on the Caribbean coast that offers a unique experience of local Garifuna culture. Go boating on the lake, relax in the thermal hot springs or explore the nearby San Felipe fort.

Optional activities:

  • Rio Dulce - Boat trip to Livingston (Price dependent on boat available & passengers) ($30)
  • Rio Dulce - Natural hot springs (including transportation) ($25)
  • Rio Dulce - San Felipe Fort ($4)
  • Rio Dulce - Quirigua Ruins ($41)

Stay: Multishare lodge (1 night)

Day 12
Travel by private minibus to the city of Antigua (approx 8 hours). You'll spend the night here, before heading to Lake Atitlan tomorrow. You won't spend too much time in Antigua today but you'll be coming back here at the end of the trip, so don't stress. Still, take some time for a stroll and try tasty tamales - a local dish served in a corn leaf - or Pepian, three meats (chicken, beef and pork) in a dark sauce. You'll find the best value food in the square next to the La Merced Church.

Stay: Hotel (1 night)

Day 13
Chichicastenango / San Jorge La Laguna
Today you'll get a seriously authentic and up-close Guatemalan experience. Start the day by travelling by private minibus to the famous market in Chichicastenango (approx 2.5 hours). This is the most colourful market in the country, where on Thursdays and Sundays locals come from the surrounding villages to sell their wares, and the streets are lined with stalls where you can stock up on cool trinkets. After visiting Chichi head towards San Jorge La Laguna, a small Maya village overlooking Lake Atitlan (approx 1.5 hours). Here you'll meet your host family, and it'll be time to bust out your best Spanish to break the ice with these friendly but shy locals. The group may be split in twos or threes, depending on the group size. The mother of the family will cook you basic but filling dinner and breakfast, and soon enough you'll want them to adopt you.

Included activities: Chichicastenango Market

Stay: Homestay (1 night)

Meals: dinner

Day 14
Say bye to your host family this morning and push on to neighbouring Panajachel, a cool little town on Lake Atitlan with distant volcanoes looming in the background. Pana has got a thriving market, loads of good places to eat and many water-based activities to enjoy. There are a whole host of optional activities here. Go swimming, volcano hiking, kayaking or mountain biking. You can visit a local community cooperative, take a boat out to some of the nearby villages, watch women weaving at Santa Catarina Palopo or explore the colourful markets of Santiago Atitlan.

Optional activities:

  • Panajachel - San Pedro Volcano hike ($75)
  • Panajachel - Guided lake and villages tour ($36)
  • Panajachel - Mountain bike tour ($75)
  • Panajachel - Kayak rental (per hour) ($8)
  • Panajachel - Bicycle rental (per day) ($10)
  • Panajachel - Zipline ($52)
  • Panajachel - Water taxi to Santiago, San Pedro or San Juan ($8)

Stay: Hotel (1 night)

Meals: breakfast

Day 15
Hit the road back to Antigua by private minibus today (approx 3 hours). With three nearby volcanoes dominating the horizon, you won't have been to many places quite like Antigua. The World Heritage-listed city is a cobblestoned maze of colonial buildings, leafy town squares and ornate churches. There are hushed museums and lively indigenous markets to explore, or countryside to be cycled with amazing views of mountain peaks and deep valleys.

Optional activities:

  • Antigua - Chocolate-making workshop ($25)
  • Antigua - Bike tour ($40)
  • Antigua - Santiago Zamora village tour ($10)
  • Antigua - Coffee/Macadamia nut plantation tour ($45)
  • Antigua - Salsa lesson (per hour) ($7)

Stay: Hotel (1 night)

Day 16
Enjoy a free day exploring the city. The number one stop for chocoholics should be the ChocoMuseo, where there's info all about its history and, more excitingly, a chocolate-making workshop. For those more interested in the other famous Central American bean, you can go on a coffee tour, visit the plantations, do some coffee tasting and even buy some to take home. If you're into salsa dancing or if you'd like to learn some moves, Antigua is the place to be. Many dancing schools offer hourly lessons so you'll be able to perfect your skills. This is also a city that knows how to party, so bring your best dance moves, shout a round of mojitos and get down with the locals on your final night. Unfortunately, more than half the population of this beautiful Guatemala you have come to know so well lives under the poverty line, which may explain why Guatemala has also the lowest literacy rate in Central America. With this in mind, the Intrepid Foundation is proud supporter of CasaSito, an outstanding not for profit organization dedicated to assist youth to reach their academic, personal and professional potential. If you have 2’ to spare (2’41’’ to be exact!) take a look at this short video about CasaSito – it’s inspiring: If you want to help CasaSito and Guatemalan’s youth, you can donate through the Intrepid Foundation, which means that your donation will be match dollar for dollar by Geckos too. No donation is too small. $5, $10, $50 it all goes a long way to help this fantastic organization. Simply visit our website:

Stay: Hotel (1 night)

Day 17
Your adventure comes to an end this morning. There are no activities planned for the final day.

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