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Those on the group flight land at Managua and will be transferred to Granada (approx. 1 hour). Those on land only arrangements should make their own way to the start hotel this afternoon. Following a short briefing in the evening, it's time to get some rest before our day's cycling tomorrow.
Ride along shore of Lake Nicaragua; visit Masaya Volcano N.P.
After breakfast, we have an overall tour briefing as well as indications for the initial cycling stage. Any last-minute adjustments to the bikes are made before we set off towards the shore of Lake Nicaragua. As we reach the lakeshore, we enter into the Asese Peninsula recreation area, a beautiful protected area, where the traffic is kept to a minimum and several species of exotic birds can be spotted. Our lunch stop offers stunning views of the large volcanic mass of Mombacho. Upon arrival back at our hotel, we’ll have time for a swim or stroll along La Calzada, Granada’s main pedestrian street. Late afternoon we will head for the Masaya Volcano National Park for a night visit to observe molten lava bubbling away in the depths of the huge crater. It may also be possible to spot the “Chocoyos”, a sub-species of parakeet which nests in the crater walls, having evolved to become resistant to the constant emissions of sulphuric gas. Due to safety concerns, the visit to the crater is limited to 15 minutes (and occasionally the park is closed altogether), we then return to Granada for dinner.
Cycle through Pueblos Blancos; to Ometepe Island.
After breakfast and a 30 minute drive, we stop to enjoy the beautiful view of Lake Nicaragua, Granada and the Mombacho Volcano from the popular mirador at Catarina, situated just above pretty Laguna Apoyo. We then cycle through the rolling countryside which surrounds the famous 'Pueblos Blancos' (White Towns). These are seen as the birthplace of Nicaraguan culture, as well as General Sandino, the hero of the modern revolution. We continue to the larger town of Masatepe, which is a popular destination for Nicaraguan families looking for nicely crafted furniture, pottery and ornamental plants, the specialty of the locals. We will take a quick ride into the centre of town to see the central plaza and church, the typical lay-out of a Latin American town. Our final 'Pueblo Blanco' is San Marcos, where we have lunch. Then back onto the bikes for a fast downhill ride to meet the Pan Am Highway at Jinotepe. The transfer from here to the ferry dock at San Jorge takes about an hour and a half. From here it's a 1 hour boat crossing to Ometepe Island - the views of its twin volcanoes (Concepcion and Maderas) are spectacular. If we arrive early enough, we will have the option to ride the 8 miles to the hotel, but this is dependent on the notoriously erratic ferry schedules and we may need to complete the journey by minibus (approx. 20 mins). If we do ride this section then it is almost all flat, with just one short climb near the end. We spend the night close to the wildlife-filled Charco Verde Lagoon. There are great sunsets from our hotel on Ometepe Island.
To San Juan del Sur.
Today we depart the hotel around 10.30am, which gives us some free time beforehand to hike the trails around the lagoon to spot more wildlife or relax on the beach and admire the view. For keen cyclists who want to get some extra miles in, an early morning ride to the Ojo de Agua fresh water spring can be taken, great for a cool dip in crystal-clear water. Approx. 12 miles round trip, with a good climb over the isthmus which divides Concepcion volcano from Maderas volcano on Ometepe; take $3 for the entry fee. We cycle to Moyogalpa and get the ferry back to the mainland. We then get in the saddle again for a ride to Rivas, the largest city in southern Nicaragua and then along La Chocolata Road towards San Juan del Sur, a Pacific beach town. The road takes us through dry forest where we may see Howler monkeys and large iguanas, we also pass through several small villages which experience no tourism other than our biking groups. If you plan to bring any gifts for local people, the children and teachers in the small rural schools along the way really appreciate pencils, pens and crayons. After finishing the mild climb which then drops us onto the Pacific side of Nicaragua, we ride just a bit further west to the two beautiful beach ‘Playa Marsella’, in time for a late afternoon swim. Our hotel for this evening is close to the main San Juan del Sur beach, a great place to watch the sunset or simply enjoy the hotel pool.
Ride from Pacific to Lake Nicaragua; transfer to Costa Rica.
Starting early to avoid the heat, we cycle over the continental divide and down to La Virgen before transferring approx 20 minutes to the border. After clearing immigration at the Costa Rican border (which can take a while at the Nicaragua border post) we'll have a brief lunch stop near La Cruz and then continue south along the Pan Am highway to just outside Cañas, another good sized town. Our arrival will be late in the afternoon due to ongoing highway constructions.
Wildlife trip on Tenorio River; Bijagua valley ride; ride to Lake Arenal.
This morning we get out of the saddle early in the morning for a 2 hour float down the Tenorio River, a haven for birds and wildlife. As our raft takes us gently along the river, we can expect to see several species of monkey, iguanas, coatis and a wide range of birds. There are also crocodiles along the lower stretch of the river and our experienced guides will not only handle the oars but will also point out as many species as possible. This is likely to be a big wildlife highlight of the trip! Afterwards, we transfer up to near Bijagua, then cycle back down to the Pan Am Hwy before lunch. Right after our meal we head up to the hilly region surrounding Lake Arenal where our afternoon biking stage will begin. This is quite a challenging section and although the distance is short there are several climbs and it can also be rather windy. The rewards are the spectacular views of the lake and the surrounding hills.
Cycle to La Fortuna.
After breakfast we set off on our bikes towards La Fortuna. This is one of the most spectacular cycling stages, starting in lush agricultural land which gradually gives way to thick rainforest as we approach the dam which forms Lake Arenal. Watch out for monkeys, toucans and the amazingly colourful neon-blue Morpho butterflies as we cycle. If it's clear the dam is a great place to take a break for a wonderful view of Arenal Volcano. We spend the night in a hotel in the centre of La Fortuna which has observation decks for views of the volcano, as well as pools, jacuzzis and pretty gardens. The town of La Fortuna itself is a major tourism destination within Costa Rica, so those looking for souvenirs will be well satisfied.
Ride up from tropical lowlands with views of Arenal volcano; visit thermal springs.
Today's ride follows a circular route through the region surrounding La Fortuna taking in a great variety of terrain and ecosystems. Starting with a fast descent to the town of El Tanque, we pass through agricultural land devoted to bananas and sugar cane before heading into a rugged hilly zone leading back towards rainforest near the small town of La Tigre. We stop for lunch at Chachagua. Toucans are especially common here and there are some incredible views of the jungle and Arenal Volcano. As we approach La Fortuna again, there is one final steep climb before we reach our hotel. This evening we include a visit to the Eco-Termales Hot Springs to soothe any aching muscles - the best hot springs in the area!
Morning jungle ride; afternoon cycle along Caribbean coast to Cahuita.
Another early start today as we head east into the rolling terrain of the San Carlos plains, riding though rich agricultural zones, sugar cane and pineapple plantations and rural villages. We are generally descending on this leg, although there are some short climbs later in the morning when the heat becomes more noticeable. Watch out for toucans as we make water crossings. Our initial destination today is Aguas Zarcas, from where we transfer to Rio Frio for lunch (approx. 2 hours). We continue by bus onto Limon (1 hour) where we start a beautiful 45km (28miles) cycle ride along the Caribbean coast road. Our destination is Cahuita, a typical Caribbean town, complete with a lively reggae music culture and spicy cuisine.
Ride to Panama border; boat to Bocas del Toro islands.
Today we begin biking south at the base of the towering Talamanca Mountains. We follow the main coast road at first, before turning off to the indigenous community of Bri-Bri, home to members of the Guaymi tribe. We may see some of the traditionally dressed women in flowing embroidered dresses as we pass through this area. The ride continues through vast banana plantations to the border crossing on the banks of the Sixaola River. After a quick lunch we leave Costa Rica and walk across the derelict bridge which takes us to Guabito, the Panamanian port of entry on the Sixaola - the crossing can be a little challenging as the bridge is not in great condition, so caution is required. After the border formalities, we board the bus through the frontier town of Changuinola and then through steep rainforest hills which are inhabited by indigenous people. We hit the coast and board a private boat transfer to cross into the Caribbean to the wonderful Bocas del Toro Islands, our home for the next two nights.
A free day today to explore the beautiful Bocas del Toro Islands, which are rapidly becoming a popular destination in the Caribbean. Today you will get a chance to see why: spectacular palm-shaded white sand beaches, crystal clear water, wonderful snorkelling and diving, lots of wildlife, kayaking and even great surfing are all available! It's also possible to take boat trips to the other islands, or go on dolphin watching tours. All of these optional activities can be arranged through the hotel or nearby tour agencies whom we have long-established relationships with. For those who want to ride today, biking is available on the island and the 20-mile round trip to Bocas del Drago on the island's western tip is recommended. Bikes can be hired locally, as our bikes will stay on the mainland at Almirante.
Jungle ride; descent to Pan-Am Highway; transfer to Pacific coast (or Santiago).
After taking a private boat back to the mainland we drive to Punta Robalo for a morning biking stage through beautiful jungle scenery. After lunch we transfer 1.5 hours through the mountains that separate Panama's two coastlines after which we begin our second biking stage. The change in temperature, humidity and eco-systems is significant as we gain altitude. At the top of the pass we find beautiful Lago Fortuna, set in a rainforest-clad tropical valley. We then have a fast downhill ride with great mountain views and several river crossings to Gualaca and the Pan-Am Highway beyond. Upon meting the Pan Am Hwy junction we board the minibus for the drive down to Las Lajas, a lovely, isolated Pacific beach, which stretches for miles. Here we can enjoy a great tropical sunset, here while relaxing under the shade of a palm thatch palapa.
Tropical lowland forest cycle ride; to Panama City.
An early start today as we avoid the heat and traffic on our ride through the Panamanian countryside. We have a short drive to Guabala, a customs/passport control point on the Pan Am highway. Once our documents have been checked, we will offload the bikes for a fairly challenging ride through a quite remote and hilly section of the western portion of Veraguas province. Some of the morning's ride takes us along remote back roads past large sugar plantations and through dry tropical forest. We finish biking close to the town of Jaguito, where we have lunch then board the bus for the drive to Panama City (approx. 3 hours). We cross the famous canal where we're very likely to see huge ships as they make the journey between the Caribbean and the Pacific. Our hotel is located in the suburb of Albrook, where many opulent residences are testament to the days when US military officers and Canal Authority officials lived in the city.
Ride a stretch of the Panama Canal.
Our final day of biking is truly memorable: we cycle along a stretch of the Panama Canal and see all of its highlights (please note that access is currently suspended at the Caribbean coast and so we cannot presently cycle the entire length, but we are monitoring this situation). We start from our hotel, close to the Pacific end of the Panama Canal and transfer with the bus (15 minutes) to the Miraflores Locks to view the process of raising and lowering the traffic. Entrance to the Visitor Centre is included. Departing Miraflores, we bike from the entrance into Soberana National Park which spans nearly the entire width of the country along the east side of the canal. We have a great lunch stop with views of the passing ship traffic from the peace of Gamboa Rainforest Resort. After lunch we return to our hotel, leaving us some free time, perhaps to explore Casco Vieja, the historic old town of Panama City. This evening we will be taken to the lovely Las Clementinas, one of the best restaurants in all of Panama have to have our last meal.
End Panama City.
Our trip ends after breakfast this morning, and those on group flights will be transferred to the international airport for the return journey to the UK.