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The entire trip was very well planned - all the drivers and guides were amazing. All airport transfers and pick up for tours went smoothly. I was very impressed with the level of service. When planning the trip all our requests were adhered to - Sharon
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HistoryThe Mayan civilisation spread across Belize and flourished until 900 AD. During the 17th and 18th centuries the Spanish and British disputed the region, and in 1854 Belize became the colony of British Honduras, but it was not until 1981 that Belize gained its independence. Guatemala did not recognize the new nation until 1992.Humans first settled Guatemala as far back as 12,000 BC. The Maya are probably the best known of the classical civilisations of Mesoamerica where they flourished in the tropical lowlands of Guatemala and surrounding regions. The Mayan civilisation reached its peak around the 6th century AD and they excelled at agriculture, pottery, hieroglyphics and mathematics. The Spanish arrived in 1519 and Guatemala was a Spanish colony for nearly three centuries. It won its independence in 1821. In the second half of the 20th century there were a variety of civilian and military governments and a guerrilla war that lasted for 36 years. A peace agreement was signed by the government in 1996, but by then over 200,000 people had been killed.GeographyBelize on the eastern coast of Central America is bordered by the Caribbean Sea, Mexico and Guatemala. The north of Belize is comprised of flat, swampy coastal plains, parts of which are heavily forested, and the south contains the Maya mountain range. The country has a tropical climate - very hot and humid, with a rainy season from May to November. Belize is prone to severe hurricanes from June to November. Natural resources include arable land potential, timber, fish and hydropower.Guatemala is bordered by Mexico, the Pacific Ocean, Belize, the Caribbean, Honduras and El Salvador. It is a mainly mountainous country with narrow coastal plains and rolling limestone plateau. Two mountain chains divide the country into three main regions – the mountainous highlands, the Pacific coast and the northern lowland area. These three regions vary in climate, elevation and landscape. The country is tropical, hot and humid in the lowlands but cooler in the highlands. The highest point of Guatemala is Volcan Tajumulco at 4,220m, the highest point in all of Central America. Guatemala’s natural resources include petroleum, nickel, rare woods, fish, chicle and hydropower.CultureIn Belize the Mestizo (mixed Amerindian-Spanish) make up nearly 50% of the population, 25% being Creole and 11% Maya. English is the official language but 46% of the population speaks Spanish, 33% Creole, 9% Mayan dialects and only 4% English. This is because the Mestizos are the largest ethnic group. Belize has a wide array of religions being practiced, but 40% of the population is Roman Catholic with 15% having no religion. Belizean cuisine is influenced by all the various ethnic groups and is similar in many ways to Mexican and Caribbean cuisine. Beans, rice and chicken feature heavily and in rural areas the dishes tend to be simpler than in the cities.Nearly 60% of Guatemala’s population is made up of Mestizo and European with the balance being nearly entirely Mayan cultures. Spanish is the official language of Guatemala spoken by 60% of the people, the indigenous population using 21 Mayan languages. Guatemala’s predominant religions are Roman Catholic and Protestant but there are also indigenous Mayan beliefs. The traditional foods of Guatemala are based on Mayan cuisine with corn, chillies and beans as the main ingredients. Guatemalan food tends to be less spicy than Mexican food, with the chillies being served separately. EconomyBelize’s economy is based primarily on the export of crude oil and petroleum, agriculture, agro-based industry and merchandising. Sugar is the main crop and the banana industry is the population’s largest employer. Tourism has become more important over recent years and is the main foreign exchange earner. Guatemala is the largest economy in Central America but even so more than half of the population is below the national poverty line, and 13% of the population lives in extreme poverty. The main agricultural exports include coffee, sugar, bananas and vegetables. Foreign investment is hampered by concerns over poor infrastructure, the lack of skilled workers and security issues.PoliticsBelize is a parliamentary democracy and a Commonwealth realm. Queen Elizabeth II is the chief of state and is represented by the Governor General. The monarchy is hereditary with the Governor General being appointed by the monarch. Guatemala is a constitutional democratic republic. The President of Guatemala is the head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system.
HistoryIt is believed that Costa Rica was first occupied between 7,000 and 10,000 years BC. Christopher Columbus reached Costa Rica in 1502 and the conquistador Gil Gonzalez Davila landed in 1522 but the permanent settlement of Cartago was not established until 1563. The Spanish were defeated in 1821 and Central America was declared independent. Costa Rica joined the short-lived First Mexican Empire and after its collapse in 1823 it became a province of the new Federal Republic of Central America. The Costa Rican capital was moved from Cartago to San Jose in 1824, and Costa Rica proclaimed its sovereignty and independence in 1838. Since then, Costa Rica has remained one of the most stable, prosperous and progressive nations in Latin America.Several indigenous tribes inhabited Panama prior to permanent settlement by the Spanish in 1517. Christopher Columbus had established a short-lived settlement in the Darien in 1502. The torturous trek from the Atlantic to the Pacific in 1513 by Balboa showed that the isthmus was the path between the seas, and resulted in Panama becoming the crossroads of the Spanish empire in the New World. In 1821, Panama broke away from Spain and joined the Republic of Gran Colombia. This union was dissolved in 1831 but Panama and Nueva Granada remained joined and became the Republic of Colombia. In 1903, Panama split from Colombia with the support of the United States and finally gained its independence. GeographyCosta Rica is a small country in Central America bordered by Nicaragua, Panama, the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. It also comprises several islands including Cocos and Calero Islands. The climate is tropical and subtropical with a dry season and a rainy season. The Central Valley region has the highest population density. The Northern Plains is a mountainous region, home to volcanoes, hot springs and volcanic lakes. The Central Pacific region is the coastal zone that encompasses Manuel Antonio National Park. South Pacific Costa Rica is one of the most bio-diverse environments in the world. Guanacaste in the north is the “dry” region of Costa Rica. There are 14 known volcanoes in Costa Rica, 6 having been active in the last 75 years. Panama borders Colombia, Costa Rica and both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Being close to the equator, Panama generally has fairly consistent temperatures year round. There is a prolonged rainy season from May to November and a short dry season from December to April. The interior of Panama is comprised of upland plains and steep mountains, whereas the coastal areas are plains and rolling hills. The country is divided into regions, namely Central Panama, Caribbean West, Pacific West and Eastern Panama. CultureOver 80% of Costa Rica’s population is white or mestizo with mulattoes (mix of white and black) making up over 6%. Costa Rica also hosts many refugees, in particular from Nicaragua and Colombia. Costa Rican Spanish is the official and first language of Costa Rica although some native languages are still spoken in indigenous reservations. Along the Caribbean coast a Creole-English language (Jamaican patois) may be heard. The country’s predominant and official state religion is Roman Catholic. Costa Rican cuisine is a blend of various cuisines including Spanish, Native American, African and Caribbean. Tamale is a traditional dish made from corn and representative of the indigenous population. The culture, customs, and language of Panama are predominantly Caribbean and Spanish. 70% of the population is mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white), 14% is black/mulatto, 10% white and 6% Amerindian with 7 indigenous tribes. Spanish is the official language but many people speak English as well as Spanish and some speak native languages such as Guaymi and Kuna. Panama’s predominant religion is Roman Catholic. Cuisine is varied and in the larger cities you can find many styles of restaurant serving various international foods. In more rural areas the cuisine is Panamanian featuring seafood and beef and taking on the influences of Afro-Caribbean, French and Spanish. Most dishes are served with coconut rice and native vegetables.EconomyOver the years Costa Rica has enjoyed a fairly stable economic growth. The main agricultural exports include bananas, coffee, sugar and beef and tourism continues to bring in foreign exchange with the country being a key destination for ecotourism. Panama has the 2nd largest and the fastest growing economy in Central America. Revenue from the Panama Canal represents a significant portion of the country’s GDP. The canal was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914, but was transferred to Panama at the end of 1999. It is of major economic importance as revenue from tolls pumps millions of dollars to the national economy and provides huge employment opportunities. PoliticsCosta Rica is a democratic republic, divided into 7 provinces that are further divided into 81 cantons. The cantons are each directed by a mayor, the mayors being chosen democratically by each canton every 4 years. Panama is a constitutional democracy. The President of Panama is the head of state and head of government, with the cabinet being appointed by the president. The US invaded Panama in 1989 to depose dictator Manuel Noriega and bring an end to the 21-year military dictatorship.
HistoryCuba was originally inhabited by various American Indian tribes. Christopher Columbus landed on the island in 1492 and Cuba remained a colony of Spain until the Spanish-American War of 1898 despite a short lived British occupation of Havana in 1762. From 1898 Cuba was under the administration of the United States until it gained nominal independence in 1902 becoming the Republic of Cuba. The US still retained the right to intervene in Cuban affairs including finances and foreign relations. Over the years there were disputed elections, uprisings and revolts. Cuba came under the dictatorship of Batista in 1952 until he was ousted in 1959 by the July 26 Movement of which Ernesto "Che" Guevara was a part. A government was then established under the leadership of Fidel Castro and his legalization of the Communist Party and the many resulting executions led to the relationship between Cuba and the United States deteriorating. Sanctions were imposed in 1962.GeographyCuba is an archipelago of islands located between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. Cuba is the principal island in the archipelago and largest Caribbean island. It lies between the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas, to the west of Haiti, east of Mexico and northwest of Jamaica. Most of Cuba is flat with rolling plains, but there are rugged hills and mountains in the southeast of the country. The climate is mainly tropical, most of the island lying south of the Tropic of Cancer. November to April tends to be drier with the rainy season running from May to October. Cuba’s natural resources include cobalt, nickel, iron ore, chromium, copper, salt, timber, silica, petroleum and arable land.CultureCuban culture is a melting pot of African, American, European, Caribbean and indigenous Taino influences. Over 64% of the population is white, nearly 27% mestizo and around 9% black. Spanish is the official language although the Spanish spoken in Cuba is known as Cuban Spanish, a form of Caribbean Spanish. Haitian Creole is the second largest language in Cuba and Lucumi, a dialect of the West African language can also be heard. Cuba’s predominant religion is Roman Catholic. Caribbean folk religions such as santería are also practiced. Cuban cuisine is a fusion of Spanish and Caribbean cuisines. Rice, black beans and plantains are staple foods of the Cuban diet. Pork and chicken may also be included but on the whole the food is fairly bland. EconomyPrior to Fidel Castro’s revolution of 1959, Cuba was one of the most successful countries of Latin America supplying 35% of the world’s export market in sugar. The Cuban revolution and the removal of Russian subsidies resulted in a collapse of the Cuban economy. In recent years there have been limited economic reforms and the dual currency system has been ended. Venezuela continues to provide Cuba with oil on preferential terms, paid for in part with the services of Cuban personnel in Venezuela, including 30,000 medical professionals. International relations are now in the process of being restored between Cuba and the United States. Cuba’s natural resources include sugar, tobacco, fish, citrus fruits, and coffee.PoliticsThe Republic of Cuba is one of the world’s last remaining communist states and the Cuban Communist Party is the only legal political party. Cuba is famous for its political instability and rebellions. After Fidel Castro seized power in 1959, Cuban insurgents fought a 6-year rebellion against the Castro government. Relations with the United States deteriorated with the legalization of communism. In 1960 Cuba signed a commercial trade agreement with the Soviet Union and in 1962 Cuba was suspended from the Organisation of American States and sanctions against Cuba imposed. Following the Soviet collapse of 1991 and subsequent withdrawal of Soviet subsidies, Castro’s government refused to accept aid from the US until 1993. Cuba now receives support from China and is close allies with Venezuela and Bolivia. The embargo between Cuba and the US has not yet been lifted but it is being relaxed to allow limited import, export and commerce between the two.
HistoryHonduras was inhabited by the Maya civilisation before being conquered by Spain in the 1524 with the help of armed forces from Mexico. Christopher Columbus had visited the Bay of Islands on the coast of Honduras in 1502 on his fourth and final voyage to the New World. The Spanish ruled for around 300 years, silver mining being the key factor in their conquest and settlement of the region. Honduras finally gained independence in 1821, becoming part of the First Mexican Empire, then the United Provinces of Central America, before becoming an independent republic in 1838.Western Nicaragua was originally inhabited by indigenous people related to the civilisations of the Aztec and Maya. The Spanish Empire conquered Nicaragua in the early 16th Century, the first Spanish settlements being founded in 1524 in Granada and then Leon. Like Honduras, Nicaragua gained independence in 1821, joined the First Mexican Empire and then the United Provinces of Central America before gaining full independence in 1838.GeographyHonduras is bordered by Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Honduras. It is the second largest country in Central America. The Caribbean coastline is long and includes the mainly uninhabited Mosquito Coast. The Honduran Highlands cover the centre of the country and Pacific Honduras to the south is the small region bordering the Pacific coast. Honduras is hot and humid year round, ranging from tropical in the lowlands to temperate in the mountains. Its natural resources include timber, gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, iron ore, coal, fish and hydropower.Nicaragua, the largest country in Central America, borders Honduras and Costa Rica, with coastlines on the Caribbean Sea and North Pacific Ocean. It is known as the “land of lakes and volcanoes”. It is split into three distinct geographical areas - the Pacific lowlands, the wet, cooler central highlands and the Caribbean lowlands. The two largest freshwater lakes in Central America are found in Nicaragua - Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua. Nicaragua’s natural resources include gold, silver, copper, tungsten, lead, zinc, timber and fish. CultureHonduran culture is a blend of mainly Spanish and indigenous culture. 90% of the population are mestizo (mixed Amerindian and European). There are several minority ethnic groups including the Lencas, Tawahkas, Miskitos and the Garífunas who were descended from African slaves from the Caribbean Islands. The Bay Islands are home to many Afro-Caribbean people and the culture of the islands is very different to the rest of Honduras. Spanish is the official language of Honduras although English is the native tongue of the Bay Islands. In Utila a hybrid of Spanish and English has developed. Native languages such as Miskito and Garifuna are spoken in various parts of the country. Honduras’s predominant religion is Roman Catholic although the Bay Islands are predominantly Protestant. The cuisine of Honduras also takes its influences from the various cultures of the country. A typical lunch consists of rice, beef, fried beans and fried plantain and may be served with chismol, a fresh, mild salsa made from tomatoes, green peppers, onions, cilantro and lime juice. The multi-ethnic population of Nicaragua has given rise to a mixture of cultural traditions. The majority of Nicaraguans are mestizo with many being descendants of the African slaves who were brought to Nicaragua in the 17th century to work on the banana plantations. Spanish is the first language of Nicaragua, but Indigenous tribes on the east coast speak native languages such as Miskito, Sumo and Rama as well as English Creole. Religion is a significant part of Nicaragua’s culture. Although the country has no official religion the majority of people are Roman Catholic. The cuisine of Nicaragua is a blend of criollo food and dishes of pre-Columbian origin. Corn is a main staple along with beans, cassava and rice. Gallo pinto is Nicaragua’s national dish and is made from white rice and red beans cooked together and then fried. EconomyHonduras is the second poorest country in Central America. Historically it was dependent on the export of coffee and bananas but has diversified and now also exports other fruit, woven goods, cigars, palm oil and gold. Honduras relies heavily on export trade with the US and signed a free trade agreement with the US in 2005. Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America with about half of the population living below the poverty line. It is primarily an agricultural country with agricultural accounting for 60% of total exports. Nearly two thirds of the coffee crop comes from the northern part of the central highlands. Most of the bananas and sugar cane is grown in the northwest of Nicaragua. Mining is also becoming an important industry. PoliticsHonduras is a democratic constitutional republic. Since independence there have been hundreds of small internal rebellions and civil wars in Honduras and in the early 1900’s severe political unrest resulted in occupation by US Marines. In 1963 a military coup resulted in more than 20 years of military rule. A freely elected civilian government finally came to power in 1982. During the 1980’s Honduras was a haven for the anti-Communist contras fighting against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. Nicaragua is a representative democratic republic. Since its independence, Nicaragua has undergone political unrest, dictatorship and economic crisis. The Contra War of the 1980’s cost the lives of tens of thousands of Nicaraguans. Both the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and the Contras (counter revolutionary groups) received large amounts of aid from the Cold War super-powers - the Soviet Union and the US. The Contra War ended in 1989. Since 1990 the government has undertaken a number of reforms to restructure the country’s economy and liberalise the nation’s political system.