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Guatemala and Beyond

This is a guest post by gay travel bloggers Sion and Ben of The Globetrotter Guys. Sion and Ben are a married couple from the UK. In January 2018 they booked a one way flight to go long term travelling and never looked back. They recently went on a 9 day tour from Guatemala to Nicaragua, take a look at what they have to say below!

We’re experienced travellers. We backpacked through South East Asia in 2012 independently. We didn’t think we wanted to travel with other people…. Little did we know we would soon be on a Central America tour with a group of 14 other travellers – and LOVE it (and think you might too!)

Guatemala and Beyond

Back in January we sat down to plan our route through Central America. We would start in Mexico and intended to see every country possible through to Panama.
Getting from Mexico to Belize to Guatemala was easy and felt safe. But then we came across some reports about problems in Honduras…

Due to the recent elections, the political climate was all over the place. There were riots, and protests taking place in the streets. Some border crossings were closed, and there were reports of buses being pulled over and stormed.

Similarly, we had heard El Salvador can be a high-risk country if you go it alone. We did not feel confident to do this. We needed a way to see these countries safely and get us to Nicaragua….

How did we book our Central America tour?

We emailed a number of travel agencies asking for the best, and safest way, to complete our journey. Pretty much all of them came back suggesting we join a Central America tour. But out of dozens of options, we couldn’t find one that worked for us.

We then received a response from ST FLY suggesting ‘Guatemala and Beyond’. After reading the itinerary we knew this was the perfect Central America tour for us! From then on, everything was easy. We had lots of questions about safety which the consultant was quick to answer. The booking process was straightforward and in no time, we were confirmed and good to go!

What we found really helpful was regular check ins from the consultant after we had booked. This was to make sure we were ready and had all our documents and logistics sorted. It was a bit like having your travel PA!

Tours are not for you?

We didn’t think tours were for us. But they absolutely are!

We realised this very quickly, and here are our three main reasons why:

  1. You are guaranteed to meet like-minded people

    It was great to see the diversity of the group we were about to travel with. We were the only gay couple, but there was also another long-term couple from Canada. There were a few older solo travellers, 2 friends travelling together, a few younger solo female travellers and a young American guy on his Easter break from University. It was nice to see such a range of people all coming together to share their passion for travel! Straightaway, everyone had something in common!

  2. It’s easy. Almost seamless.

    Booking accommodation, figuring out travel logistics, booking trips, crossing borders, avoiding scams and keeping safe. These are just a few downsides to long term travel. And it can become quite exhausting!

    From the minute we checked in to our first hotel we didn’t have to think too much anymore. Just follow the tour leader’s instructions, turn up on time and have fun!

  3. You get to experience the local side of things.

    Our tour guide took us to locally owned independent restaurants for nearly every meal. There was clearly a focus on working with the locals to support the economy and instead of working with chains. This really added to the experience for us as we got a better feel for the countries we visited.

So what did we actually do? - Our Central America tour diary!

Here’s an overview of what we got up to during our time on our Central America tour. For a full up-to date day by day itinerary, visit here.

Day 1 – Arriving in Antigua, Guatemala

Time to go and meet the group at the first hotel in Antigua.

As with most tours, there was a welcome meeting and introductions with the rest of the group at 6pm. This was pretty nerve-wracking, meeting a whole new group of people that you are spending over a week with! But after standing in the courtyard altogether in a circle and introducing ourselves, the ice was broken and we were confident that we would soon have 12 new friends!

After settling in, our guide Pablo took us all to a local restaurant, for our first of many group dinners!

Early to bed for a 5am start!

Day 2 – Antigua to Copan, Honduras

Bit of an early start today, as we left Guatemala at 5am to travel to Honduras! Pretty much everyone slept for the first few hours of the journey, which was broken up nicely with restroom and coffee stops.

It was when we reached the border crossing into Honduras that we saw the first real benefit of a tour. Whilst we always manage at border crossings, it is always a bit of a struggle!

Knowing where to queue, how much to pay, language barriers – and most importantly of all, wondering is this border office legit!

Pablo made this the easiest border crossing EVER! We all stayed on the bus whilst he collected our passports, immigration forms and fees. He did it all for us – and we only got off for our photo with the “Welcome to Honduras” sign!

Guatemala and Beyond

A few hours later we arrived at our lovely hotel in the colonial town of Copan. Just before arriving we were fully briefed at what to expect from our time in Honduras – what the optional activities were, what to do in your free time (you can go off alone, you don’t have to stay with the group the whole time), and when we were leaving the following day. It was all so seamless and easy! We soon realised this happened for every new place visited.

Optional Activity – Hot Springs

After a group lunch at another local restaurant it was time for our first optional activity – the natural hot springs in Copan.

This was absolutely fantastic – a series of thermal pools all fed from a volcanic hot spring, varying in temperature the closer to the source. It was a case of BYO alcohol in too – which always helps with the group bonding! One of the pools went into a cave, so we went in with our Bluetooth speaker, a few drinks and danced with our new friends!

Guatemala and Beyond

Our entrance to the hot springs included a delicious meal, and afterwards it was a sing-along bus journey back to Copan, before a quick shower and change and time to hit Copan for a few drinks!

Day 3 – Copan to Suchitoto, El Salvador

As you can imagine, the morning of day 3 we were both a little worse for wear. Pablo once again proved his worth as a tour guide by telling us about a hotel that allows guests to use their pool for $5. So, after a quick explore of the town, we nursed the hangovers poolside. Best morning ever.

Fully recovered, it was goodbye to Honduras and hello El Salvador. Yet again, the border crossing was all taken care of for us and that evening we arrived in the picturesque town of Suchitoto.

That night, Pablo took us to Glorias house/restaurant. Gloria is famous in Suchitoto for her pupusas (stuffed doughy tortillas). This was a particularly special meal as we got to get behind the hot plate and make our own food! We would never have come here had we been travelling alone.

Guatemala and Beyond

To top the night off, we were taken to a local bar called Charlies and had moonshine! (Except for Sion, he thought better of it!)

Day 4 – Free day in Suchitoto

For breakfast we took a recommendation from Pablo, Casa de la Abuela. It was well worth it and decorated beautifully (see below).

Guatemala and Beyond

We then spent the rest of the morning exploring. We walked to the lake through a local village and saw lots of pigs, goats, chickens and dogs!

El Salvador is hot. Come midday we were done and decided to join the rest of the group at a different hotel where you could pay to use the pool. It was incredible!

Lastly, we came across a hotel owned by a gay couple, who invited us over for drinks and allowed us to interview them before we joined everyone else for dinner. Read about their experience of being gay in El Salvador here.

Day 5 – Suchitoto to El Cuco, El Salvador

The optional trips are great and are seriously worth doing!! We chose to get up at 6am and take a kayak birdwatching tour of the nearby lake as the sun rose. We would definitely recommend picking this activity!

Guatemala and Beyond

By 10am we were back on the bus to El Cuco – time for some beach time!

El Salvador has a bad rep but people need to start talking about its beaches. El Cuco was beautiful. The beach was flat, clean and wide and the surf was up to test out our surfing abilities.

We spent that evening chilling, drinking, playing some games and enjoying a bonfire built specially for our tour group!

Day 6 – El Cuco free day

You had two options here in El Cuco.

Ben chose to relax, enjoy the sun, have a few cocktails and watch the world go by from his hammock on the beach.

Sion chose to get up at 7am and do some aerial silks, go for a swim, do some yoga and some surfing.

Guatemala and Beyond

That evening we all went on a sunset boat cruise with some beers before returning for good food, more drinks and crabbing……

We met a local family on the beach who collect crabs every night for themselves and for their restaurant. They taught us how to spot and catch crabs correctly and after a few cut fingers, lots of laughs and a few screams we quickly helped them fill up their bucket!

Day 7 – El Cuco to Leon, Nicaragua.

Over the hills and far away. This was a long travel day including a bus, a boat and another bus. Up at 6am to the ferry port, 2 hours in a small boat across the Gulf of Fonseca, sail past numerous volcanic islands before arriving at the Nicaraguan border.

Once again this was all taken care of, and so back on the bus before arriving in Leon mid-afternoon. Leon is another beautiful, colonial town, and we got to see it with an orientation walk upon arrival.

We had a great meal at a local restaurant with a huge mural on the wall, that turned out to be a painting of all the local Nicaraguan myths and legends combined. Pablo talked us through them all whilst we ate, it was so interesting!

Day 8 – Volcanoes in Leon, Leon – Granada, Nicaragua

Yet another amazing optional activity that is really popular in Leon – volcano boarding! This was something very new to both of us, but something that we absolutely had to try!!

We left Leon early morning and travelled to the nearby Cerro Negro volcano. After a 45-minute hike, we reached the summit. It was time to don our big red suits and helmets, mount our boards, and slide down the side of the volcano! There are no words to describe the exhilaration at how fast you go!

Guatemala and Beyond

En route to Granada, we had to option of stopping at yet another volcanic site, this time a crater lake. It was nice to get off the bus and be able to have a swim in the warm water, and enjoy some beers overlooking the lake and the surrounding volcanoes.

And then just before we hit the city of Granada, time for our third volcano of the day – this time to see lava! We were taken to a viewpoint of a still active volcano, from where you can actually see a river of molten lava. This was a completely mind-blowing and rare experience!!

And to top off the best week with the best people, a night out in Granada following our final group dinner!

Our tour was nothing like we expected. We thought we would be following a guide with a flag from A to B. We expected being told where we can go, where we can’t go. We thought it would be restrictive, rushed, with no time for ourselves. We couldn’t have been more wrong!

We had the best experience on our Central America tour. We discovered places we wouldn’t have had we been on our own. We met some of the friendliest local people and tasted some incredible local food. We got to relax for a whole week and have someone else take care of all of our travel plans for us. And, best of all, we met some fantastic new people that we have become lifelong friends with.

Before you decide you are a totally independent traveller, next time you are making your travel plans, at least consider a tour.

Take a look here at ST FLYs range of worldwide adventure tours, we can guarantee they will have something to suit! Check out their Instagram page for some inspiration!

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