Centralamericawithfriendstravel’s Weblog

August 31, 2021

Central and South America Vacations JESS@FriendsTravel.com

Offering Sustainable Itineraries To Central South America

#Adventure Destinations offering travel recommendations independent clients focused on sustainable nature-focused escapes to remote, yet accessible locations in #CostaRica, #Belize, #Ecuador and #Peru. Most Central and South American countries have been open to U.S. tourists without quarantine for many months.

“With record-setting heat, severe drought, massive wildfires and catastrophic flooding happening in so many parts of the world, it is clear that sustainability is one of the biggest challenges facing us today—and the travel industry can be part of the solution”.

#FriendsTravelWestHollywoodCa90069 is offering tailor-made independent travel itineraries exclusively through travel advisors directly to consumers.

#FriendsTravelAdvisors can modify basic itineraries with other destinations, additional overnights, transfers, and activities to suit client preferences and interests.

#Sustainable vacations are focused on Belize, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru, although advisors can find sustainable accommodations throughout Central and South America in the tour operator’s portfolio.

In Belize, accommodation options for clients include a private island retreat, an all-inclusive resort with over-the-water bungalows and cabanas. Part of the price of each night’s stay here goes toward local charity. Cayo District Escape features an eco-resort with its own 400-acre nature reserve, organic farm, and natural history center, where 10 percent of accommodation revenue is offered to environmental and community projects.

Clients opting for the “Costa Rica Rafting Adventure” can go #whitewater rafting on Class I and II rapids on the Pacuare River. They will also be provided gourmet food and accommodations in a luxury eco-lodge. Other activities include a visit to an indigenous home, hiking to waterfalls, zip lining, birdwatching tours and “canyoning” (combining hiking, rock climbing and rappelling).

On the “Lost River” itinerary, clients can stay at an eco-resort in Bagaces, with two ecosystems—a tropical dry forest and a dwarf forest in a canyon filled with geothermal waters. Bungalows are connected by elevated pathways and food is locally sourced. Outdoor experiences include horseback riding, whitewater tubing, mountain biking, hiking and zip lining. Spa treatments and yoga classes are also available.

For our clients traveling to #Ecuador, the “Highlands Retreat” itinerary will take them to a five-star eco-lodge within its own rainforest reserve, teeming with flora and fauna. Visits to an archeological museum, hikes with university-trained naturalists, canopy tours in a cable car, and night walks are also included.

The “Yasuni National Park” itinerary includes accommodation in an Amazon rainforest luxury eco-lodge in the two-and-a-half-million-acre national park, a designated #UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The Kichwa Anangu community within the park has created sustainable systems to process wastewater to keep the wetlands clean; and energy is supplied by solar panels, silent generators and industrial batteries. Activities include bird-watching, hiking, canoeing, canopy tours, visiting the indigenous community and sharing lunch with them.

“Arequipa and Colca Canyon,” an itinerary in the southern part of Peru, combines sightseeing in the “white city” of Arequipa, with its historic Spanish colonial center, a designated #UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world, which is home to the endangered Andean condor. Accompanied throughout by a private driver, clients will see a volcano, pre-Inca ruins, and the Aguada Blanca National Reserve, where all four species of South American camelids can be seen—#vicunas, #alpacas, #llamas and wild #guanacos. Clients can stay overnight in Colca Canyon at a rural lodge designed to blend the surrounding natural setting with modern comforts, such as floors with radiant heat provided by geothermal energy.

Clients opting for the “Madre de Dios River Stay” will be offered accommodation in a #luxury #ecolodge next to the 680,000-acre Tambopata National Reserve. Nearly 600 bird species have been recorded there, 540 on the grounds of the lodge, designed to resemble the indigenous culture’s houses. This eco-lodge was the first Peruvian enterprise to be declared carbon neutral in 1989.

The best months for a vacation in Costa Rica and Belize are November through April, during the dry season. BUT! the “Green Season” is just as beautiful!
For Peru, it is advisable to avoid the rainy season of January and February.
Ecuador is on the equator and there is little variation in climate throughout the year, and rain lasts only a few hours a day.

#JessKalinowsky JESS@FriendsTravel.com

 Ask about YOUR $25.00 per person discount anywhere in the world! THINK savings for your family or group of friends!

November 11, 2020

#Nicaragua #CentralAmerica JESS@FriendsTravel.com

Filed under: Central America,Managua,Nicaragua Vacations,Tegucigalpa — centralamericawithfriendstravel @ 5:50 am

The #Nicaraguan Tourism Board invites you to visit the biggest country in #CentralAmerica and have the opportunity to explore the authentic and undiscovered Nicaragua.

#Nicaragua offers a #unique and #unforgettable #experience for all travelers looking for something different. People visiting this Central American country have many #places and #activities to enjoy on their trip like #culture, #nature, #colonial cities, #amazing #adventures, #beaches, #delicious #food and much more! But most importantly, you will get in touch with local Nicaraguans who are characterized by being hardworking, #hospitable and very #friendly people.

With 26 #volcanoes and countless #natural destinations, Nicaragua is the ideal country in which to #discover #rivers, #lakes, #natural #jungles and more from the #Caribbean to the #Pacific Coast. With a wide assortment of #landscapes and #habitats that allow many types of #vegetation and #animal #species to flourish, Nicaragua is proud of its tremendous #ecological #diversity offering more than 70 unique #ecosystems. In Nicaragua you will discover 7% of the world’s biodiversity and learn why it is considered “the lung of Central America.”
EMAIL: #JessKalinowsky JESS@FriendsTravel.com 24|7|365
VISIT: www.FriendsTravel.com

Republic of Nicaragua  is the largest country in the Central American isthmus, bordered by #Honduras to the northwest, the #Caribbean to the east, #CostaRica to the south, and the #PacificOcean to the southwest. #Managua is the country’s capital and largest city and is also the third-largest city in Central America, behind #Tegucigalpa and #GuatemalaCity. The multi-ethnic population of six million includes people of #indigenous, #European, #African, and #Asian #heritage. The main language is Spanish. Indigenous tribes on the Mosquito Coast speak their own languages and English.


May 20, 2020

#AmazingAdventures #ExcitingExpeditions #FriendsTravelWestHollywoodCa90069 #JessKalinowsky JESS@FriendsTravel.com

Filed under: Amazing Adventures,Central America,Eco Tourism,Exciting Expeditions — centralamericawithfriendstravel @ 11:12 pm
Trips by Region


Meet the King of the #Arctic roaming its wild tundra home on #HudsonBay in #ChurchillCanada


Look for wolves in #Yellowstone, gape at the #GrandCanyon, hike #Glacier’s alpine heights, and more!

#Alaska & #NorthernAdventures

Get close to #Alaska’s #grizzlies, watch #icebergs calve in #Greenland, witness the wonder of the #northernlights


Intimate #wildlife #adventures featuring uncrowded private reserves and remote #luxury #bush #camps


Meet amiable wildlife up close on expertly guided small-group explorations in the Enchanted Isles


View endangered #pandas, #tigers, #orangutans, #pygmy #elephants, #rhinos, #koalas & other #wildlife


From the #Amazon to the #Andes, from the #Pantanal to #Patagonia, explore this continent’s #amazing #biodiversity


#Ecotourism #adventures with #graywhales, #monarchbutterflies, #seaturtles, #scarletmacaws & more!


Explore the wild side of Europe as we leave big cities behind to explore less-discovered #naturalwonders


Commune with #penguins, #puffins and #polarbears in the most #remotewilderness areas on the planet


For avid photographers of all ability levels, with coaching from an expert naturalist–photographer guide


#Smallship #expeditionvoyages to the ends of the earth: explore #polarregions, #Amazon, #Alaska & beyond

November 30, 2015

‪#‎GuatemalaHolyWeek‬ ‪#‎Easter‬ Week #FriendsTravelWestHollywoodCa JESS@FriendsTravel.com

Filed under: Central America,Holy Week — centralamericawithfriendstravel @ 4:40 pm


‪#‎GuatemalaHolyWeek‬ ‪#‎Easter‬ Week 2016 –
Departure Tuesday March 22nd., 2016

Guatemala es famosa por sus vibrantes y elaboradas fiestas religiosas durante la Semana Santa. Resalta el Easter Week in Guatemala is a religios feast that attracts because of the vibrant and colorful special celebrations. Most of the splendor of this Season takes place in La Antigua Guatemala, that are joined with the most emblematic sites of the country, plenty of culture, traditions and nature wonders.

Day 1st. . March 22nd, (TUE) – Guatemala City Airport – Guatemala City
Meeting at the Airport and transfer to your hotel in Guatemala City. Overnight at Westin Camino Real Guatemala. 5*

Day 2nd. – March 23rd. (WED) Guatemala – Chichicastenango
Breakfast. Departure to the highlands of Guatemala the impressive market of Chichicastenango, famous in all latin America. In the afteron, there will be time to observe the special activities and processions of Easter Week. Special relevance deserves the cofradìas of the native people of the town wearing their traditional customes. Overnight at Hotel Santo Tomás. 4*

Day 3rd. – March 24th (THU) – Chichicastenango – Santiago Atitlán – La Antigua
Breakfast. Early departure to Lake Atitlán, considered by Aldoux Huxley the most beautiful Lake in the world, surrounded by volcanoes and 12 indigenous villages. We will visit by boat Santiago Atitlán, a Tzutuhil town of the place. Continuation to La Antigua Guatemala, that was declared by UNESCO “Cultural Heritage of Human Kind”. Overnight at Porta Hotel Antigua 4*

Day 4th. – March 25th (FRI) – La Antigua
Breakfasts. We will walk through the cobblestone strees of La Antigua proper of the XVII century. Visit the Palace of the Captains, the Churches of la Merced and San Francisco El Grande and some other important colonial sites. During the afternoon, we will enjoy of the many processions, Masses and special celebrations of the Season. Overnight at Porta Hotel Antigua 4*

Day 5th – March 26th (SAT) – La Antigua (Free day)
Breakfast. The day is free to enjoy the facilities of your hotel or take an optional excursion. The time is ideal for the Pacaya Volcano tour, one of the three active volcanoes of the country. Return the hotel. Overnight at Porta Antigua Antigua. 4*

Day 6th. March 27th (SUN) La Antigua -Tikal – Petén
Breakfast. We will fly to Flores, Petén, for visiting Tikal, the Jewel of the Classic Mayan Culture. We will take a picnic luncn at the site. P.m. free.
Overnight at Camino Real Tikal 5*

Day 7th. March 28th (MON) Petén – Guatemala
Breakfast. Morning is free to make optional activities (Yaxhá or Ixpanpajul). At proper time, in the afternoon, transfer to the airport to board flight back to Guatemala City and transfer to your hotel. Overnight at Westin Camino Real Guatemala 5*

Day 8th. March 29th. (TUE) Guatemala City – Airport
Breakfast. Transfer to the airport of Guatemala City. End of services.

Easter Week 2016 Reservations: JESS@FriendsTravel.com
‪#‎FriendsTravelWestHollywoodCa‬ ‪#‎JessKalinowsky‬
From $1700. per person plus applicable airfare

GuatemalaGuatemala header Guatemala rainbowFriends Travel Bus Card front 4april14friends travel logo EMAIL 668 × 445- 35KB

July 3, 2015

#Guatemala Adventure Journey #FriendsTravelWestHollywoodCa #JessKalinowsky

Filed under: Central America,Professional Honeymoon Planner — centralamericawithfriendstravel @ 6:14 pm

#FriendsTravelWestHollywoodCa #JessKalinowsky JESS@FriendsTravel.com

Guatemala Adventure Journey

Guatemala Volcanoes

Day 1 – Arrival Day, #Antigua #Guatemala– Antigua is among the world’s best preserved colonial cities in the Americas. It is a magic and captivating small town that makes you feel time might have stopped 300 years ago. From its colonial architecture to its beautiful surroundings; strolling through town on the cobblestone streets, you will experience the splendors of ancient times! A few things you can find in Antigua are art galleries and exhibits, films, coffee shops, amazing cuisine, cute little bars and much more.

A Maya Trails representative will meet you at the airport to transfer you to your hotel in Antigua. (-, -, -)

Day 2 –#Pacaya Volcano– Pacaya is the most visited volcano in the country. With its easy access from the city or Antigua this volcano is a must when visiting Guatemala. Active since 1965 and a height of 2,500m asl. The walk takes around 2.5 hrs from the bottom. Don’t forget to wear appropriate hiking shoes, sweater or jacket and be in good physical condition for moderate activity.

Pacaya 1After breakfast, your guide will meet you at the lobby of your hotel to transfer you to Pacaya Volcano. A 2.5 hours hike is required to reach the top. Enjoy a delicious boxlunch at the top surrounded by a magnificent view. After the picnic, you will start hiking down. (B, L, -)

Day 3- #Antigua Walking Tour, Coffee tour & Zip Lining-Colonial architecture, fine arts, terracotta, ceramics, wooden sculptures, a great variety of art galleries, shops and restaurants. Find out the secrets of Antigua on this walking tour; don’t forget to wear comfy shoes!

After breakfast, your guide will meet you at the lobby of your hotel to start your walking tour around Antigua. You will visit the Central Plaza, where you can find the main buildings (El Portal, Palacio de Capitanes, City Hall & The Cathedral). Lunch is held in a local venue. Afterwards, you will be transferred to a Coffee Hacienda where you will experience zip lining and coffee tour. Dinner is on your own. (B, L, -)

Day 4- #Chichicastenango Market & #Lake #Atitlan– #Chichicastenango is located 140 km from Guatemala City and is one of the most colorful markets in Latin America. People from all around #Chichicastenango meet every Thursday and Sunday to sell and buy their goods. You may find everything from vegetables, fruits, masks, colorful textiles, handbags to mystic Mayan ceremonies. Pascual Abaj in #Chichicastenango is a Mayan shrine dedicated to the God #Huyup Tak´ah. Around the pre-Columbian idol you will see candles, flowers and sacrificial offerings. Maya ceremonies take place very often so you may be witness of one.

After breakfast you will be transfer to #Chichicastenango. The tour last around three hours, where you will walk around the market and visit Santo Tomas church. In this 400 year old church, you will be witness a phenomenon called syncretism, where the Catholic and Mayan religions blend. After the tour, you will hike to Pascual Abaj. A moderate hike is required to get to this Mayan Shrine, where worshipers gathered regularly to perform ceremonies. Lunch is held in a local venue. After lunch you will be transferred to #Atitlan. Dinner is held in local venue in Atitlan. (B, L, D)

kayak atitlanDay 5 – #Kayak and #Hike around #Lake #Atitlan- Paddle on the shores of this altitude lake with spectacular 360 degree views which reveal the true beauty of this lake. You will be paddling around delightful peninsulas admiring the shore’s beautiful gardens. This kayak tour will take you to the base of Cerro de Oro, where you’ll see magnificent views toward the lake and its surroundings. There are a few lakes such as Lake Atitlán. Its unique characteristics make it a fantastic place to appreciate sunsets, culture and amazing views. Famous writer Aldus Huxley called Lake Atitlan “the most beautiful lake in the world” but “with additional embellishments” compared to Lake Como.

After breakfast your guide will meet you at the lobby for kayak tour. You will be kayaking around 1hr along the lake. Once in Cerro de Oro you will hike passing through the local village. A one-hour climb is required to get to the top, where you will enjoy spectacular views over the area and a delicious snack. After a short walk down, you will be transfer to a local restaurant. After lunch, your guide will transfer you back to your hotel. (B, L, -)

Day 6 – #Iximche Tour & Flight to #Petén (Tikal Area)- Iximche, a Pre Columbian Mayan site in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, it is not the major archaeological site, but was founded by the Kaqchikel Maya in 1470 after a prolonged conflict with the Kiche. It was the capital of the Late Pre-classic Kaqchikel kingdom from 1470 until its abandonment in 1524 with the Spaniards arrival. The area of Petén is the largest department of Guatemala; it occupies about a third of the country but only contains over three percent of its population. This area produces wood, chewing gum, oil, pepper and other agricultural products. Its main income comes from the worldwide known cradle of the Mayan civilization.

After breakfast you will be transfer to the archeological site of Iximche. The tour lasts around 2.5 hours. Afterwards, you will be transfer to La Aurora International airport in Guatemala City for your flight to Flores. In Petén, a Maya Trails representative will meet you at the airport to transfer you to your hotel. . (D, -, -)

TikalDay 7 – #Tikal & Canopy Tour- City and ceremonial center of the ancient Maya civilization, Tikal became an important ceremonial center with the construction of major pyramids and temples. Its best years were the Late Classic Period (600-900AD). Tikal National Park contains some of the most fascinating archaeological remains of the ancient #MayaCivilization. Excavated by Pennsylvania University between 1956 and 1969, Tikal is the largest excavated site in the American continent. It is Guatemala´s most famous cultural and natural preserve.

After breakfast you will be transfer to Tikal archeological site. The tour lasts approximately 4 hours which covers the most important monuments such as Complex Q, Temple IV, Lost World, Central Plaza, surrounded temples (I and II) as well as North and South Acropolis. Lunch is held in a restaurant in the middle of the jungle.
Feel like tarzan and enjoy the view while zip lining. Afterwards, you will be transferred to the airport for your local flight. A Maya Trails representative will meet you at the airport to transfer you to your hotel in Guatemala City. Dinner will be held at Kacao restaurant. (B, L, D)

Day 8 – Departure Day- Enjoy a delicious breakfast at your hotel and afterwards, a Maya Trail´s representative will transfer you to la Aurora International Airport for your departing flight. (B, -, -) END OF SERVICES

Friends Travel Bus Card front 4april14

June 6, 2015

Eco Tour of Costa Rica with #FriendsTravelWestHollywoodCa JESS@FriendsTravel.com

Filed under: Central America,Costa Rica,Eco Tourism — centralamericawithfriendstravel @ 2:54 am

Eco Tour of Costa Rica with #FriendsTravelWestHollywoodCa JESS@FriendsTravel.com


February 20 – 28, 2016

February 18 – 26, 2017

Other dates can be arranged for you on a personal basis, or your own group.

An Eco-Tour of Costa Rica

Day 1 • Departure 

Our tour begins as we depart for San José, Costa Rica. Upon arrival, we are greeted by our guide and taken to our hotel for some rest and relaxation. Tonight, we have our welcome dinner and start to get to know each other and our hosts.

Day 2 • Tortuguero 

We start out very early this morning, as we head to Tortuguero, a Caribbean town in Northeastern Costa Rica accessible only by boat or small planes. Before heading to our lodge, we visit the town of Tortuguero, a town settled around canals where you won’t find any cars. After getting settled in, we will take an easy hike through a private reserve to identify some of the local flora and fauna. B,L,D 

Day 3 • Tortuguero 

Today, we take a boat out onto the canals to look for wildlife, including crocodiles, monkeys, toucans, among other species. The afternoon is free to enjoy the grounds of our hotel. An optional excursion tonight would be a night hike to the beach to look for turtles landing on the beach. (This tour is not guaranteed to be available and depends on local officials granting permission.) B,L,D 

Day 4 • Pacific Coast 

This morning is another early departure, as we cross the country to the Pacific Coast. This trip is a bit long but well worth it, and we make all the stops we need on the way. This afternoon, we enjoy free time and our first sunset over the Pacific Ocean. B,D 

Day 5 • Pacific Coast 

Today we head to the Marino Ballena National Park. On the way, we visit the town of Bahía Ballena and meet with a local representative, who explains a little about the challenges and benefits of ecotourism in towns like this. Then we board a boat into the sea for whale-watching. Anyone that wants is also welcome to enjoy an optional surf lesson or yoga session. B,D 

Day 6 • Osa Peninsula 

Now we are going to head farther south along the coast as we seek the Osa Peninsula and all its natural treasures. On the peninsula, we pay a visit to a local organic cocoa farm and learn how this sustainable farm could be a great model for future agriculture in Costa Rica. This evening we hit the trails for a night tour in the rain forest. B,D 

Day 7 • Osa Peninsula 

We enjoy adventures on the Osa Peninsula today. For those who need an easier tour, there is bird watching in the early morning and a tour of the private reserve. For those who would like a medium difficulty tour, there will be a hike to a nearby Guaymi indigenous community, where, after crossing a couple of rivers and hiking through the forest, we are able to learn about this important indigenous culture. In the afternoon, we strap ourselves to zip-lines for a canopy tour! B,D 

Day 8 • Return to San José 

This morning we return to San José through some of the highest points in Costa Rica, where we enjoy the views and experience of the cloud forest. On our way back, we visit a local coffee farm in the Zona de los Santos region for an explanation on how coffee is produced. Tonight, in our hotel, we have one final dinner to send us off. B,D 


Day 9 • Return/Extension at the Beach 

Sadly, many of us make our journey back to the US or Canada this morning. Airport transfers are available throughout the morning. For those of us who have decided to extend our tour to spend some time at the beach, our transportation picks us up at the hotel and takes us to our all-inclusive resort on one of the world-famous Guanacaste beaches.

Days 9—11 • Extension at the Beach 

Early this afternoon, we arrive at the all-inclusive resort for a couple of days of nothing but sun, sand, water, and relaxation. B,L,D 

Day 12 • Return to US 

This morning, we say adiós to Costa Rica with great memories and new friends. Our driver will be escorting us to the Liberia airport in northern Costa Rica for departures to the US.

Abbreviations for Meals 

B=Breakfast L=Lunch D=Dinner

Tour Prices: 

CRC16: February 20 – 28, 2016 • $2,169

CRC17: February 18 – 26, 2017 • $2,239

Prices are per person, land only, double occupancy 

with a minimum of 15 participants

Single supplement: $400 (2016 & 2017) 

Beach Extension: $780 (2016) • Single (+$250) 

Beach Extension: $800 (2017) • Single (+$250) 

Your Tour Includes: 

Land Transportation via private deluxe air-conditioned motor coach

Accommodations (double occupancy) in moderate first-class hotels

Meals per the itinerary

Admission to all activities indicated in the itinerary except those listed as optional

 Services of professional tour manager 

 Local step-on guides for city tours and major attractions

Luggage handling of one piece per person

All taxes and tips for provided services on land tour, except as noted below.

Your Tour Does Not Include: 

Roundtrip Airfare and related taxes, fees and fuel charges

 Meals other than indicated above

Beverages, except with breakfast

 End of tour gratuity for coach driver and tour guide

 Items of a personal nature such as passport fees. (Passport must be valid for 6 months beyond return date.) 

Optional insurance for health, baggage and cancellation. (This insurance is available and recommended.)  Ask JESS Kalinowsky for more info. 

Payment Schedule: 

A deposit of $500 per person is due with reservation. Final payment is due 100 days prior to departure date. Invoice will be sent out prior to final payment. Passengers may add after this date subject to air and land availability. Generally airlines do not increase the price of a ticket after it has been contracted. However, prior to the issuance of a ticket, airlines may (and regularly do) impose fuel, tax, or security surcharges. In the event a surcharge is imposed after Ed-Ventures has received a final payment, Ed-Ventures will send an additional invoice for the surcharge amount. Early registration is encouraged.


Currency exchange rates fluctuate constantly. In the event of a significant drop in the value of the dollar, we reserve the right to add a currency surcharge to the price of the tour.

Refund/Cancellation Policy: 

All cancellations must be in writing. The date of postmark will determine the amount of refund due. Refunds are based on the number of days prior to departure date. From the time of deposit to 99 days before departure a $100 administrative fee plus any airfare penalties will be assessed. From 99-14 days, a $300 cancellation penalty plus lost airfare deposits and any unrecoverable deposits to ground suppliers will be assessed. Airline tickets once purchased are nonrefundable. Anyone canceling less than 14 days prior to departure will receive no refund.

Purchase of health, baggage, and trip cancellation: 

RESERVATIONS: JESS@FriendsTravel.com #JessKalinowsky #FriendsTravelWestHollywoodCa


May 9, 2015

#Guatemala #Tikal, #Yahxa and the #Petén region JESS Kalinowsky JESS@FriendsTravel.com

Filed under: Central America,Guatemala — centralamericawithfriendstravel @ 1:38 am
Tags: ,

#Guatemala #Tikal, #Yahxa and the #Petén region

JESS Kalinowsky JESS@FriendsTravel.com

Tikal, Yahxa and the Petén region

Tikal from Air


For any visitor to Guatemala, exploring the untamed jungles of the northern Petén region is a must. Home to many of the lost Mayan cities, including Tikal, one of the largest and grandest, the Petén also offers a host of adventure and cultural activities, though many travelers don’t venture far beyond Tikal. After a night in Guatemala City, our group departed on the 6:30am Avianca flight to Flores, the gateway to the Petén. Avianca offers two flights per day, leaving GUA at 6:20am or 5:30pm and returning from FRS at 7:55am or 7:10pm. Guatemala City’s airport is conveniently located in the heart of the city and when it’s clear, offers tremendous views of the dramatic volcanic peaks of Agua, Fuego and Acatenango. It’s a short 45 minute flight and the landscape changes dramatically from rugged mountain peaks and highland forest to farmland and lush jungle.

The village of Flores is located on an island in Lake Petén Itzá connected by a short causeway. It is the hub for day tours of Tikal, located around an hour’s drive away. But the city itself is a wonderful place in its own right and worth a visit or to stay the night. Formerly the Mayan site of Tayasal home of the Itrza’ people, today Flores is a charming colonial town full of pastel colored buildings with red roofs, narrow cobblestone streets, a historic church and a Spanish plaza. There are a plethora of restaurants and shops perfect for the wandering traveler to stumble upon while exploring. It is safe and a relatively quiet place. For the overnight visitor, Flores has a number of small B&Bs (hospedajes), youth hostels and small hotels. Most of these are better suited to the budget traveler or backpacker. Hotel Isla de Flores is a good mid-range option for those who want to stay on the island.

Most travelers to the Petén stay at one of a handful of small ecolodges or larger resorts located on or near Lake Petén Itzá. Our first stop was at one of our favorites and undoubtedly the most authentic property in the region – Ni’tun Lodge and Private Reserve. Ni’tun is located across the lake from Flores, accessible by a 20-30 minute boat ride or 45 minutes by road. We chose to arrive by boat, which is definitely the way to go unless the weather is stormy and the lake rough. Upon arrival, we were enthusiastically and warmly welcomed by owner Lorena Castillo. Ni’tun is a labor of love by Lore and her wonderful team. The Ni’tun Reserve, once just five hectares, now encompasses 35 hectares of protected native forest and is home to many different species of animals and birds. Howler and spider monkeys, long banished from the lake front forest due to development and slash and burn agriculture, have recently been spotted in the reserve.

nitun web


Ni’tun is the most ecologically minded and welcoming lodge in the Peten. The lodge has a secret getaway feel to it. When arriving by boat, you’d never know that a lodge was tucked among the thick forest lining the lakefront. But sure enough, Ni’tun’s four spacious casitas are nestled throughout the lush native forest on a gentle slope above the lake. They are well spaced and provide the ultimate in privacy. Both the main lodge and the guest houses were built by hand in the native Colojché style, the walls made with sticks and rocks plastered together by stucco and the roof thatched with palm leaves. The décor of the rooms is simple, consisting of handcrafted lamps, original paintings and beautiful indigenous bedspreads and carpets. Each room has a private bath with hot and cold water showers and views through the native forest to the lake shimmering below. There’s no AC but it’s not really necessary with the stone walls, thatch and the tree cover.

Nitun main lodge


The two story main lodge is the definition of a peaceful gathering place. Open to the surrounding forest, the first story has a large dining area and kitchen. The second story is relaxation heaven, with large couches and hammocks perfect for whiling away an afternoon with a book and a beer. The lake is relatively warm and is great for swimming. Kayaks are also available for those looking to explore further along the lakefront.

The kitchen is the heart of the lodge and Lore is a tremendous chef. All dishes are freshly prepared with local ingredients using her own creative and delicious recipes. Our group enjoyed a traditional chapin (Guatemalan) breakfast of farm fresh scrambled eggs, refried black beans, plantains, tamales, fresh fruit and handmade corn tortillas, accompanied by rich and smooth coffee from Lore’s father’s award-winning coffee plantation. Ni’tun is a true labor of love, from the construction of the casitas to the preparation of every meal. And while the location means a longer trip to Tikal and Yaxha (1.5 hours vs less than an hour for most other options in the area), it’s well worth it. This is the best option in the Peten for those experiential and adventure travelers’ seeking a peaceful retreat, where the pace slows and it’s all about relaxation.

Villas Maya room


From Ni’tun, we returned to Flores and then onward to Villa Maya, a larger ecolodge located just 15 minutes from Flores also in its own private reserve along the shores of Petenchel and Monifata lagoons. Villa Maya is part of the larger Guatemalan hotel chain Villas de Guatemala, with properties in Antigua, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala City and Livingstone on the Caribbean coast. Villa Maya’s 56 rooms have two categories – standard and superior – and is the best value in the Petén for a mid-level hotel. The simple white plaster and thatch bungalows are configured with two double beds or one queen; all have private bathrooms with hot water showers, A/C and balcony with views of the surrounding lagoons. There is a great pool overlooking the lagoon making Villa Maya a very good option for families – ask for one of the interconnected rooms.

spider monkey yaxha


We continued our explorations, heading deeper into the rainforest of the Petén to the ruins of Yaxha. Reaching its peak in the late Classic period, (c. AD 600-700) Yaxha sees far fewer visitors than its larger cousin/rival Tikal. It is located on a ridge overlooking a lagoon of the same name (another little visited Mayan site, Topoxte, it located on an island in the lagoon, and can be accessed by a 15-20 minute boat ride. This is highly recommended for the adventurous and or archaeology nut). Yaxha is derived from the Mayan word for “blue-green water.”Access is a bit more challenging than Tikal, though only moderately so. It takes around an hour and a half to drive from Flores; the final 30 minutes are along a dirt road, which is well maintained though it can be rough ride in the rainy season. Yaxha is also well known to fans of the reality show Survivor, as one season of the show was filmed here in 2005.

Our guide for afternoon was Melvin, one of Maya Trails’ best in the Petén. He impressed all of us with his depth of knowledge about the Maya as well as his skills as a naturalist. And he’s simply a fun and engaging guy with an affable personality.

At its peak, Yaxha was believed to have covered 92 sq mi with a population of 35-40K. It was rediscovered in 1904 by Teoberto Maler, a German-Italian explorer but archaeological work didn’t begin until 1980. Today, only 8% of the site has been excavated, which along with the lack of visitors, gives it an exciting lost-in-time feeling. The excavated temples and palaces are magnificent like at any Maya site. But for me, the highlight at Yaxha is ambling through the vibrant and lush jungle which connects the restored parts of the site. Howler and spider monkeys abound along with a myriad of fascinating native trees and plants, all of which seem to have a medicinal or culinary use for the Maya. Large mounds of vegetation hide other unexcavated structures along with their ancient history and secrets.

yaxha sunset


Another unique feature of Yaxha is the opportunity to watch the sunset from the top of a Maya temple. We like to think of this as the Guatemalan version of the sundowner and it’s just as impressive as any African setting. The view from the top of Temple 216, the highest at Yaxha, looks out over the endless jungle and the shimmering Yaxha lagoon. Access is via a long staircase attached to the side of the temple, winding its way through the canopy. There are a lot of stairs but it’s absolutely worth the effort thanks to the experience that awaits. The panoramic view atop the temple is complimented by the calls of myriad birds and the shrieks of the howler monkeys reverberating throughout the jungle below. It’s a stunning setting and a fitting finale to the magic of Yaxha. Like any good sundowner, we enjoyed a snack of olives, cheese and crackers (alcoholic beverages are generally frowned upon given the 100+ foot elevation and lack of railings, though a bottle of wine can usually be arranged as desired).

Departing Yaxha, we drove to Camino Real Tikal, our hotel for the evening. Part of the Camino Real chain, this is the largest hotel in the Petén with 72 rooms. Camino Real offers 24 Club level rooms which have larger and more luxurious beds, flat screen TVs and wifi access. There are 48 standard rooms which feel very dated and a bit worn. All rooms have AC and balconies with views of the lake. There is a pool and jacuzzi. They offer a daily two hour nature walk beginning at 7am through the Cerro Cahuí Natural Reserve surrounding the hotel. There are kayaks available for rental and sunset boat cruises on Friday and Saturday evenings. Guests can also experience a traditional Mayan temascale (sauna). Kids and families will appreciate the extensive grassy areas along the lake and the free bike rentals, great for riding into the small village of El Remate, located just down the road. In my opinion, the best feature of Camino Real is its location just 30-40 minutes from the Tikal National Park. This is a good choice for those guests looking for a traditional international-style hotel, as a convenient overnight before or after visiting Tikal or for families with older children who are looking for active adventures. For the price point, Villa Maya is a better value or, for an upmarket option just down the road from Camino Real, consider La Lancha, one of the Francis Ford Coppola properties (along with Turtle Inn and Blancaneaux Lodge in neighboring Belize).

Exploring Tikal with an archaeological rock star

Temple I and II Tikal


Tikal is the largest excavated Maya ruin site on the American continent. The National Park was established in 1956 and encompasses 222 square miles of primary tropical rainforest, teeming with diverse flora and fauna and harboring the remains of the one of the most powerful kingdoms in the Mayan world. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. The ruins of the once great city-state were re-discovered in 1848 by a chicle prospector for the Wrigley chewing gum company. Major excavation of the site didn’t begin in earnest until the University of Pennsylvania’s Tikal Project from 1956 – 1970, which mapped much of the site and excavated and restored many of the structures. But even with this major effort, along with subsequent archaeological projects, only about 15% of the structures have been uncovered. The rest remains buried in the surrounding jungle.

The 6+ square miles of excavated ruins at Tikal can be an overwhelming place, especially on a first visit. A good guide is critical to get the most out of the experience and to make the visit more manageable. And wow, did Maya Trails arrange for quite the qualified guide! We had the great pleasure of exploring Tikal with one of the foremost Mayan archaeologists in the world today – Francisco Estrada-Belli. Born and raised in Italy by his Italian mother and Guatemalan father, Francisco first visited Tikal at the age of seven. He decided then that he would one day become an archaeologist. A National Geographic Explorer, he is best known for his 2001 discovery of the lost Mayan city of Cival, one of the earlier pre-classic Mayan sites, dating to 800 BC. Last August, in another high-profile find, his team unearthed an enormous stucco frieze (26 ft L x 8ft W) at the Mayan site of Homul. This frieze is one of the largest and best-preserved ever found in the Maya world.

Francisco Estrada Belli Tikal


This was the archaeological rock star who would lead us around Tikal. But while clearly his credentials were impeccable, how would he relate to our group of travel agents and tour operators? Francisco couldn’t have been farther from the socially awkward or pompous stereotype of a scientist or academic. He was genuine, pleasant and engaging. Our group was captivated. In addition to being a great guy, he was also incredibly good at distilling high level concepts down to a level that the average non-archaeologist could understand.

I’ve made four visits to Tikal and the awe and wonder at the achievements of the Maya never cease. From entry gate, we headed for the Great Plaza, which is about a 20-30 minute walk, often at a slight incline. The path leads past a huge a ceiba tree. Gazing skyward, the massive canopy and extensive root system of this sacred tree serve an example of the connection between the living and the dead in Maya mythology. Approaching the Great Plaza, the backside of Temple I is the first structure visible. Rising to a height of 144ft, the Temple of The Great Jaguar an impressive sight and a good indication of the sheer size of the monuments the Maya built.

The Great Plaza is where most Tikal tours start. It’s also where the modern Maya people still practice ancient rituals during sacred days throughout the year. Walking into the plaza around Temple I you are faced with the equally impressive Temple II directly across the plaza. Temple II can be climbed via a wooden staircase on its backside. From the altar just below the temple peak, one can peer down the impossibly steep and tall stone stairs on the front of the temple and imagine how imposing a Mayan king must have appeared, towering over his subjects far below.

Tikal MT FAM


From the grandeur of the Great Plaza to the lost-in-time character of the ancient Mundo Perdido (the oldest structures in Tikal), Francisco led us on an archaeological treasure hunt through the labyrinth of Tikal’s many limestone structures, bringing to light the multi-layered history of this fascinating place. As for many visitors, one of the day’s true highlights was the outstanding view from Temple IV, the tallest in Tikal at 212 ft and one of the tallest in the entire Mundo Maya (El Mirador, in the remote northern Petén, has the claim of the tallest temple at 273ft). We scrambled up the long staircase to the top of the structure which offers a breathtaking view of the surrounding jungle with the summits of Temple I and II peaking through the vast forest canopy. George Lucas found this view so impressive and otherworldly that he filmed a scene from Star Wars from this very viewpoint. This was also the place where a seven year old Francisco Estrada-Belli decided that he wanted to be an archaeologist when he grew up. And that same childlike fascination and wonder was still present as we admired the very same view, now decades later.

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July 1, 2014

#NicaraguaVacations #FriendsTravelWestHollywoodCa JESS Kalinowsky JESS@FriendsTravel.com

Nicaragua Sunset

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This summer dads, grads, and active adventurers of all types will find the vacation of a lifetime in Nicaragua. Whether fishing, hiking, biking or surfing is the activity of choice, Nicaragua offers endless opportunities for adventure. Ride a sand board down an active volcano, hike below howler monkeys and rare birds or catch the perfect wave – Nicaragua’s got nature, culture, excitement and more waiting, Just For You!

Check out these adventurous travel packages to Nicaragua:

Nicaragua Multisport: Explore Nicaragua by bike, kayak, horseback, surfboard and more with this 8-day tour. Start off in the colonial city of Granada then head to Lake Nicaragua and its 365 islets for kayaking. Zipline through the cloudforest, discover Ometepe Island, then relax (or go for more adventures!) on the beaches of San Juan del Sur.

Nicaragua Sport Fishing: Experience the thrill of reeling in large game fish off the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua! This package includes lodging, meals, transfers and tours, plus full days of fishing with professional fishing gear and crew. Marlin, sailfish, wahoo, yellow fin and more can be found as you fish in-shore and off-shore in this incredible setting.

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The seven senses are hearing, sight, smell, touch, taste, equilibrium and intuitive insight. We will touch everyone of them!

Nicaragua sand boarding

June 29, 2014

#HondurasVacations FriendsTravel JESS Kalinowsky JESS@FriendsTravel.com

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Mesoamerican Barrier Reef
The tail end of the second-largest barrier reef system in the world is found just off the coast of Honduras. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System stretches along the Caribbean Ocean from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula past Belize and Guatemala, ending at Honduras’ Bay Islands.

The Great Mayan Reef, as the reef system is also known, comprises 700 miles of colorful corals and is home to more than 500 species of fish, as well as marine turtles and sharks.

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With more than 430 miles of Caribbean shoreline, Honduras has its fair share of idyllic, baby-blue-hued water and white-sand beaches. And that’s only on the mainland’s north shore!

Find sunny serenity at Tela Bay, where alongside beachside resorts, visitors can find botanical gardens, national parks, and even a wildlife refuge. A particularly upbeat atmosphere exists at Puerto Cortes’ beach, especially during July when locals celebrate carnival season.

On the country’s Caribbean isles, the most popular beaches are at West Bay at Roatan, Water Cay at Utila, West End at Guanaja, and Cayos Cochinos.

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One of the best examples of the region’s incredible variety of plants and animals is the Lancetilla Botanical Garden in Tela. Park officials claim Lancetilla is the largest tropical botanical garden in all of Latin America and second biggest in the world. Its nearly 4,200 acres include 80 years’ worth of tropical plant specimens and many birds that have made the garden their home.

JESS Kalinowsky JESS@FriendsTravel.com 24|7|365

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Travel Arrangements | Tours | Cruises | Hotels | Resorts | Spas | Villas | Private Jet Charters | Discounted Airfares Worldwide | Vacation Packages | River Cruises | Family Vacations | Medical Tourism | Eco Tourism | Adventure Travel | Group Travel | Individual Travel | Destination Weddings | Honeymoons

The seven senses are hearing, sight, smell, touch, taste, equilibrium and intuitive insight. We will touch everyone of them!

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April 23, 2014

Filed under: Central America — centralamericawithfriendstravel @ 9:15 pm


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