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.
After breakfast, we have a briefing on the day's ride and make some last minute adjustments to the bikes before we set off to 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. We'll stop to take a short boat trip on Lake Nicaragua. After our lunch in a renowned fish restaurant, we head west with stunning views of the large volcanic mass of Mombacho. After a break at the hotel, we transfer to the market town of Masaya, famous for its handicrafts, where we have some time to look at the local products in the artisans' market. We then drive to the Masaya Volcano National Park. The road goes almost to the lip of the crater and it's possible to see bubbling lava and parakeets which make their nests in the crater despite the constant emissions of sulphuric gas. We drive back to Granada in time for a dip in the hotel pool and there will be time in the evening for a stroll around the historic centre of the city.
Total cycling distance today is 22.5km (14 miles). Gradual descent down to the lakeshore, then virtually flat (but bumpy) out to the tip of the Asese Peninsula. The roads are 50% paved, 50% dirt/rock.
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. Each of the small towns is dedicated to different crafts and products, such as pottery, furniture and ornamental plants. Following lunch in San Marcos we transfer to Jinotepe on the Pan-Am Highway, then continue to San Jorge on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. The transfer to the ferry dock takes about an hour and a half.
From San Jorge it's a relaxing 1 hour boat trip 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.
Total cycling distance today is 40km (25 miles). The roads are all paved except for the final half mile to Charco Verde.
Today we depart the hotel around 10am, 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. We cycle to Moyogalpa and get the ferry back to the mainland. We then get in the saddle again for a ride to Rivas and then along La Chocolata Road to 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. 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.
San Juan del Sur is a perfect crescent-shaped bay with outstanding seafood, a festive atmosphere and good lodgings. This is a popular beach for Nicaraguan families on holiday, so you will get a chance to observe the locals at play: join them for a cold Toña beer or Macua, a delicious rum cocktail! Dinner tonight is at a great seafood spot on the beach. Our hotel is very close to the beaches of the Pacific coast.
Total cycling distance today is 48km (30 miles), along mostly level roads with some mild climbs. The road is 90% well-groomed dirt and 10% paved.
After an early breakfast we ride from San Juan del Sur to the La Virgen junction with the Pan Am Highway. The early start allows us to cycle when there is less heat and a lower possibility of rain. We climb over the ridge which separates the Pacific coast from Lake Nicaragua in the relative coolness of the early morning. A gentle descent takes us to the highway at La Virgen and from here we are transferred by bus to the border with Costa Rica. After clearing immigration (this can take a while at the Nicaraguan border post) we have a brief lunch stop and then another bike ride through the valley between Miravalles and Tenorio volcanoes, with beautiful views of the rainforest and more opportunities to spot wildlife.
Total cycling distance today is 60km (36 miles), with several climbs, especially towards the top of the ridge from San Juan del Sur. The road is fully paved although there are some rough spots on the descent to La Virgen.
This morning we get out of the saddle 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! We cycle back to Canas for lunch, then drive to the hilly region surrounding Lake Arenal for our afternoon biking stage. 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.
Total cycling distance today is 47km (29 miles). The ride back to Canas in the morning is quite level, but there are several fairly steep climbs in the afternoon. The roads are 50% paved and 50% dirt and gravel.
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 and pretty gardens.
Total cycling distance today is 63km (39 miles), mostly on rolling hills with some short climbs, followed by fast downhill to La Fortuna. The road is 95% paved and 5% dirt or gravel.
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. 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! If the weather is clear, we can head closer to the volcano for a better view.
Total cycling distance today is 48km (30 miles) along paved roads. The road is mostly level for the first half, followed by several challenging climbs.
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 Siquirres for lunch (approx. 2 hours). We continue by bus onto Limon (1 hour) where time permitting we start a beautiful 20-mile 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.
Total cycling distance today is 43.5km (27 miles) along paved roads, or 75km (47) miles if we are able to ride along the coast.
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.
Total cycling distance today is 53km (33 miles) along mostly flat roads, although there are some climbs as we head to Bri-Bri. The roads are paved although there are often potholes and washouts close to the border.
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.
After taking a private boat back to the mainland we drive for about two hours up into the mountains that separate Panama's two coastlines. 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. At the junction we stop for lunch and then board the minibus for the drive to the colonial town of Santiago. It is quite common to see indigenous women in traditional dress on this section of road, especially near the town of Tole.
Total cycling distance today is 40km (25 miles), mostly fast downhill with some short climbs towards the finish point. The roads are paved all the way
An early start today as we avoid the heat and traffic on our ride through the Panamanian countryside. We have a short drive to the start point at the small town of San Francisco. 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. 2 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.
Total cycling distance today is 54km (33.5 miles), with a level start but becoming increasingly hilly during the middle section. The last stage is level again and the road is fully paved.
Our final day of biking is truly memorable: we bike along the Panama Canal and will 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 through 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'll have our last meal in a great restaurant situated in the vibrant Calle Uruguay district.
Total cycling distance today is 16km (10 miles). This is mostly level along the canal, but with some climbing within the Soberana Park. The main road is fully paved.
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.