Central America: El Salvador, Nicaragua & Costa Rica
This tour is operated by Archaeological Tours
Monumental Maya ruins set in lush forests, colorful colonial towns in stark relief with volcanic skylines: it could only be Central America. Join us on a grand tour taking in El Salvador’s volcanically preserved villages, Nicaragua’s jewel-like islets and Costa Rica’s dense, colorful rainforests, with a biodiversity like nowhere else on Earth — and then some.
- Travel to the remarkable pre-Columbian site of San Andrés, a former Maya capital
- Take an evening tour of the Masaya Volcano National Park in Nicaragua
- Explore the pre-Columbian Maya archaeological site of Casa Blanca in Chalchuapa
- View the Stone Spheres of Costa Rica at the Finca 6 Archaeological Site in Palmar Sur
- Tour the colorful, colonial town of Granada in Nicaragua
- Discover Corcovado National Park, one of the world’s most biodiverse regions
Please note that the price of this tour does not include flights to and from the UK. Of course, we are very happy to arrange international flights from any UK airport, just give us a call and one of our expert customer care team will be able to assist you.
This morning we arrive in San Salvador, the leafy capital of Central America’s smallest country, El Salvador. Upon arrival, we check in to our central hotel and take the afternoon to relax at our leisure. This evening we enjoy a welcome lecture from our Guide Scholar at our hotel, before coming together for our first dinner as a group.
After another illuminating lecture from our Scholar we head out to explore the local sights. Founded in 1525, San Salvador was built on the pre-Columbian capital Cuzcatlan, home of the Pipil people, who fled with the arrival of the Spanish.
There is plenty here to see, and as part of our tour we visit some of the city’s major monuments, including the radical Iglesia el Rosario, a modernist church designed by Ruben Martinez in the 1960s, where light floods through multi-colored windows. Following lunch we depart San Salvador and drive into the highlands, to the volcanic crater at El Boquerón, or “Big Mouth”, which last erupted in 1917. We return to the capital in plenty of time for a delicious evening meal.
After breakfast we drive to the town of Chalchuapa, a World Heritage site which has been continuously occupied for at least three millennia. Within Chalchuapa’s wide and fertile valley we find some of the most important archaeological destinations in El Salvador, beginning with the ceremonial center of Casa Blanca, a Mayan site featuring several pre-Classical and Classical pyramids. We also visit the Mayan complex of Tazumal, a superb settlement with trade and cultural links stretching as far as central Mexico. It is here that some of the earliest metal artifacts of Mesoamerica have been discovered: three gold ornaments dating back to the 8th century.
We continue to Santa Ana, where we pause for lunch before exploring the city’s National Theater and fine Neo-Gothic Cathedral. We return to San Salvador this evening.
This morning we venture from the capital once again, driving to Cihuatán, a major pre-Columbian site founded in around 950 CE, which was later destroyed by fire. Though occupied for only 100 years or so, Cihuatán was an expansive city, and its remains include a large pyramid, ballcourts, and residences.
We continue to Joya de Cerén, the “Pompeii of the Americas”. This farming village was buried under volcanic ash in around the 7th century and is exceptionally well-preserved: here the remains of tools and domesticated animals – even crops – shed light on the minutiae of an ancient agricultural life.
This afternoon we tour San Andrés, a pre-Columbian site that dates back as far as 900 BCE, and which was also partly covered by a volcanic eruption. Climb the pyramids for wonderful views of the surrounding countryside, and discover the historic techniques involved in indigo production.
Following this we return to San Salvador for a final night in the capital.
We could not leave San Salvador without a visit to the Museo Nacional de Antropología, a small institution dating from the 1880s, where we find a host of national artifacts on display, including a selection of traditional arts and crafts. This afternoon we fly to Managua, the bustling capital of Nicaragua, where we take an evening to rest before the next phase of our tour.
We rest this evening before beginning the next phase of our tour.
On our first full day in Nicaragua we drive out to the ruins of León Viejo, a town founded by Spanish conquistador Francisco Hernández de Córdoba in 1524, and abandoned after 1610 thanks to local seismic activity. León is the only colonial town in America to retain its original 16th-century layout – and boasts UNESCO World Heritage status as a result.
We continue to Granada, a lake-side destination generally considered to be the first European city in all of mainland America. We spend an afternoon strolling Granada’s narrow cobblestone streets and viewing its fine colonial churches. Later, those of us who dare can embark on a Masaya Volcano tour within Nicaragua’s earliest and largest national park: an incredible chance to get up close to a true natural phenomenon.
This morning we travel to the Zapatera Archipelago National Park, where we enjoy a boat tour of Las Isletas, a calm, island-strewn lake with beautiful views of the dormant Mombacho Volcano, as well as some impressive palm-fringed houses. A wealth of local birdlife surrounds us: parrots, herons, hawks and vultures soar through the skies above.
In the afternoon we return to Granada where we visit the Ethnographic Museum, viewing the many fine archaeological and anthropological artifacts that have so far been discovered in the region.
We take a whole day to tour Isla de Ometepe today, an island formed of two volcanoes – and the largest in Lake Nicaragua. Ometepe is famous in the archaeological world for its stone idols and petroglyphs: thousands of carvings depicting turtles, humans and other anthropomorphic figures, as well as more abstract designs. While here we tour the most important sites, the oldest of which date back to 1000 BCE, and keep our eyes peeled for the island’s resident white-headed capuchin monkeys. We return to the mainland this evening.
Our ninth day begins with a flight to colonial San José, the historic capital of Costa Rica. Upon arrival we enjoy an introduction to the art and archaeology of the country via the dazzling Jade and Gold Museums. The former contains the largest collection of pre-Columbian jade anywhere in the world, including carved pendants, vases and even jade-embedded teeth! The Gold Museum, meanwhile, houses some 1,600 glittering artifacts from 500 – 1500 AD, including Costa Rica’s first minted coin and the remarkable replica of a pre-Columbian tomb.
Tonight we rest and dine in the capital.
Driving out of San José, we make our way to the archaeological site of Guayabo de Turrialba. Still relatively unexplored, this magnificent city once covered over 218 hectares, before being abandoned in mysterious circumstances in around 1400 CE, before the arrival of the Spanish settlers.
Dramatically set in a series of jungle clearings, Guayabo still features the remains of aqueducts, roads, tombs, stone carvings and many dwelling places – some with man-made ponds. We attempt to unlock the secrets of the site before returning to San José this evening.
As the day begins, we waste no time in touring the National Museum of Costa Rica. Located in a forbidding fortress, which was built in the early 20th century and used during the country’s civil war, today the museum displays all manner of artifacts, including “metates” – grinding stones used for ceremonial purposes – as well as a room full of gold.
Following this we fly south to San Isidro del General and transfer to our award-winning hotel in the unspoiled Valle del General. The rest of the day is free for us to enjoy the hotel’s many facilities at our leisure: hike or bike within its 900 luscious acres of land, or simply unwind in the sumptuous spa. A delightfully indulgent afternoon.
We start the day with a drive to Finca 6. Though somewhat unromantically named, this unique site is an unmissable stop for any archaeology enthusiast. Here we find an enigmatic assortment of over 300 stone spheres, ranging from just a few inches to over six feet in diameter. A newly opened site museum attempts to shed some light on these strange monuments, which are thought to have been created by native pre-Columbian tribes.
This afternoon we travel by boat through the breathtaking jungle backdrop of Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula – one of only a few remaining lowland tropical forests still in existence. We spend the first of our two nights in a sustainable jungle lodge within the park itself, where we fall asleep to the sound of lapping waves and exotic calling birds.
Today we take a full day to experience the incredible biodiversity of Corcovado National Park, home to jaguars, pumas, sloths, tapirs, howler monkeys and over 500 indigenous tree species.
Our terrific tour includes time at Caño Island Biological Reserve, a breeding ground for humpback whales, where manta rays, bull sharks and dolphins can also be spotted. We end the day back at our jungle lodge, reveling in the vibrant hum of the dense vegetation around us.
The final day of our tour begins with a morning flight back to San José. We enjoy free time here this afternoon: shop for souvenirs in some of the local markets, wander the picturesque streets of Barrio Amón, with its colorful mansions and restaurants, or dip in to some of the city’s more unusual attractions, such as the marvelous Museum of Insects, where the brave can taste meal worms, beetles and crickets. This evening we reconvene as a group for a fabulous farewell dinner and drinks.
We transfer to the airport for departures home or onward travel.
- Field Notes
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
- Meals - Most meals included
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Tour Manager
- Expert Guide Lecturer
1 x night at Grano de Oro, San José
2 x nights at Casa Corcovado Jungle Lodge
1 x night at Hacienda Altagracia, Péréz Zeledon
2 x nights at Grano de Oro, San José
3 x nights at Hotel Plaza Colon, Granada
1 x Westin Camino Real Hotel, Managua
4 x nights at the Sheraton Presidente, San Salvador
Joining the Tour
There are a few options for joining the tour and we’ll be happy to help or book your international flights for you*
- You can choose to join group flights departing from London (connecting flights & transfers available).
- You can choose to book your flight directly to your final destination. You can either meet the group flight at the airport arrivals hall or the hotel (transfers available).
- You can book your flights on your own, all we ask that you forward your flight details to us as soon as possible after booking.
Connecting flights, additional travel arrangements, and accommodation before or after the tour available on request, for further information just call our office. (*Additional cost applies.)
Passport & Visa Information
For full information about Passport validity and Visa requirements as well as Health and Vaccination information please click here.