Explore Costa Rica
|Resort:||Explore Costa Rica|
|Destination:||Caribbean and Central America|
For a tiny country, Costa Rica packs a huge wildlife punch. Containing 5% of the world’s biodiversity, its thick forests teem with life, from brightly coloured toucans to slow-moving sloths. With adventure and beautiful beaches to boot, this two-week trip won’t disappoint.
From April 2020 we have changed the itinerary – among other changes, we are now including whitewater rafting on the Pacuare River. Please click on the date you want, to choose the correct itinerary.
Tortuguero – Cruise the jungle waterways and explore the rainforest of this ‘mini Amazon’
Adventure – Whitewater raft, fly through the canopy on a zip wire or hike on volcanoes
Manuel Antonio – Share the stunning white-sand beaches with sun-bathing iguanas and capuchin monkeys
Day 1 Join trip in San Jose
Arrive in San Jose. The cosmopolitan Costa Rican capital lies in a fertile valley at an altitude of 1150 metres. Coffee and sugar cane are big industries here and coffee is even planted between new buildings and along the roadside on the outskirts of the city.
For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 7pm for the welcome meeting, and for those that wish there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in San Jose at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you’ll need to arrive into San Jose’s Juan Santamaria International Airport (airport code SJO) which is 18km, around thirty minutes from our hotel. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose head out to explore the city which is easy to navigate with a grid pattern of avenues and streets with a good choice of local eateries, which you may choose to sample this evening. The National museum (Museo Nacional De Costa Rica) is also well worth a visit.
Day 2 Visit the Doka Coffee Estate; tour of San Jose
We’re exploring the fertile mountains around San Jose today, driving north first of all to arrive at Doka Coffee Estate – the largest coffee plantation in Costa Rica. Here we’ll be given a guided tour around the coffee plantation, which will include coffee tasting and a visit to the roasting room.
After tasting some of Costa Rica’s finest export, we’ll continue onto the town of Sarchi, well known throughout Costa Rica for its beautiful and intricate arts and crafts. It’s famous for producing colourful and decorative oxcarts, which are a huge part of Costa Rican culture today, and even considered one of Costa Rica’s national symbols. We’ll have time to explore the artisan town, visit the largest and oldest oxcart factory, and see Sarchi’s church unusually painted pink and blue.
Following our visit to Sarchi, we’ll then visit the neighbour town of Grecia. A small farming town with beautiful mountain landscapes and rich scenery, Grecia is an important agricultural hub of the country, producing sugar cane, organic coffee and pineapples. The town is home to Cathedral de le Mercedes, a gothic style church made of metal pieces. This afternoon, an orientation tour of San Jose will help us to gain a feel for the city centre and main sights, including the National Museum.
Day 3 Drive to Turrialba via the Irazu volcano; visit Guayabo
The old colonial capital of Cartago is a quick stop for us today, as we drive east out of San Jose towards the Irazu Volcano. Situated at 3,432m altitude, the drive to Irazu climbs through fertile farmland, giving out fantastic views to the valley below, before slowly transforming into a barren windswept moonscape. There are two crater viewpoints at Irazu, and we aim to visit both of them. The main one is filled with brilliantly coloured water, deep within the steep-sided black walls, and we’ll have some time here before continuing to Turrialba.
The fertile land around Turrialba makes it an important agricultural region for coffee, sugar and Macadamia nuts, as well as dairy production, with its cheese being popular throughout the country. On arrival, we will visit the excavated Indian ceremonial centre at Guayabo. Dating from 1000 to 1400, this is one of the country’s most important archaeological sites. Here, uncovered paved streets and water channels help us to understand about village life in that era.
This evening we have an included meal at a typical ‘finca’, where a traditional dinner will be prepared among the family – Costa Rican food will almost always include gallo pinto, a Costa Rican rice and beans dish, as well as fried plantain. Delicious!
Day 4 Free day; CATIE Agricultural Research Station optional visit
Today is left free for you to spend as you wish. You may choose to try white-water rafting on the Pacuare River. Regarded as one of the country’s most exciting and scenic rivers, calm stretches between the Class III-IV rapids allow time to appreciate your passage through rainforest-topped canyons. Alternatively, you may choose to visit CATIE (Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Ensenanza) Research Centre. Recognised throughout the world as an important agronomic station, its environmental development projects seek to enhance human wellbeing and protect natural resources. Its botanic garden is a special place to relax, surrounded by the calls of birds, the whisper of the giant Guanacaste Tree and the imposing Ceiba. This evening, your Tour Leader may be able to organise an optional visit to a typical ‘finca’, where you can enjoy dinner prepared in a traditional family way.
Day 5 Travel by bus and boat to Tortuguero National Park
This morning, our drive to Cano Blanco takes us through extensive banana plantations. From Cano Blanco, a boat will take us to our spectacular lodge in the Tortuguero National Park, where we will spend the next two nights. As we travel through a fascinating network of jungle waterways, it is easy to understand why this area is often described as a ‘mini Amazon’. Its complex canal system and narrow lagoons link small isolated settlements and are rich in fish, including rainbow bass and grouper. They also support an abundance of birds, such as heron, stork and kingfisher. We will also take a short walking tour of the carless village of Tortuguero.
Our lodge is in an idyllic setting, perched on a small sliver of land between the Caribbean Sea and the waterway.
Day 6 Full day to explore the park searching for wildlife
Today we have the opportunity to explore some of this spectacular national park. To kick off our day, there is the option of a bird watching trip by boat at dawn, where we have the opportunity to spot some of Costa Rica’s spectacular birdlife. This morning, water birds such as herons, egrets and kingfishers are among the birds that may be spotted, although other species of birds such as toucans may be found in the area.
Later this morning we will go on a nature walk to understand more about the area’s unique ecosystem. This afternoon, we will take to the waterways for further exploration. On our travels, we may come across the howler monkey, aptly named by the way it noisily protects its territory. Much shyer animals in this area include ocelots, tapir and the incredibly elusive jaguar.
Throughout the year, you may be lucky enough to see different species of turtle nesting close to our lodge. Hawksbills nest from October to March, with leatherbacks taking over from April to November. The best time to see this spectacle is between June and September when over five-thousand green and leatherback turtles come ashore to nest on Tortuguero’s beaches. At this time of year, there is the option of an evening turtle walk to take in this spectacle.
Day 7 Journey by boat to Cano Blanco, drive to Arenal
Leaving our lodge this morning, we travel by boat back to Cano Blanco. This afternoon, our drive skirts around the great central volcanic massif, passing through fertile farmlands, rich with tropical crops. Soon we catch sight of the famous Arenal Volcano. This classic cone, which rises to 1670 metres, is covered by a tangled mass of vegetation on one side, while the other is starkly barren. Having remained dormant for hundreds of years, it erupted unexpectedly in 1968, destroying the small towns of Tabacon and Pueblo Nuevo on its west side. After this, it was known for its regular explosions, which became a huge spectacle at night. However, since 2010, the volcano has gone quiet once more.
Our accommodation for the next two nights is in La Fortuna. The town was renamed after the 1968 eruption, when it was seen as being ‘fortunate’ that its location, on the volcano’s eastern side, saved it from decimation. This evening, we can make the most of the local geothermal activity by enjoying an optional bathe in nearby hot springs.
Day 8 Free Day to explore the area
Today has been left free to explore the area as you choose. There are local treks to waterfalls and along lava trails. Whilst those keen to relax can enjoy spa treatments with volcanic mud. Your Tour Leader will be able to provide information on all the options.
Day 9 Travel to the Monteverde Cloudforest Reserve
This morning we will explore the Arenal Volcano National Park, home to one of the most majestic volcanoes in Costa Rica. We will take a walk on the flanks of the volcano where your leader will point out interesting flora and fauna and provide more information about the science and history of the volcano. We will walk to a viewpoint for a closer view of the volcano. We will then travel around Arenal Lake up into the cloud forest region of Monteverde – one of the most well-known places in Costa Rica to see wildlife. The last part of our journey is on bumpy roads, but we are rewarded with a three-night stay here to enjoy all that this area has to offer.
Perched on the Continental Divide between the Pacific and the Caribbean, it is thought that there has been indigenous habitation in Monteverde since 3000 BC. However, the turning point in its recent history came in 1950, when a group of pacifist Quakers from Alabama moved here to avoid subscription in the Korean War. They sought a lifestyle in a country in which they could embrace their peaceful beliefs and continue to cultivate their dairy farms. These families went on to establish the community of Monteverde and some of its famed cloudforest reserves.
Day 10 Nature walk in the cloudforest searching for wildlife
We have the next two days to explore all that this area has to offer. The famous, but now very rare, resplendent quetzal is fairly commonly seen in this area, one of the last remaining places in Central America where its habitat has been preserved. Sacred to the ancient Maya and Aztec peoples, it is considered one of the most beautiful birds in the world and the best time to see it is during its breeding months of March and April.
This morning, we will have a guided tour of the Monteverde Cloudforest, walking the paths that wind their way through gigantic ferns and giant ferns and giant trees dripping with lichen and moss. The jungle floor is often littered with blossoms that fall from the high canopy providing a carpet of colour amidst the endless green.
The rest of our day is free to spend as you wish. Monteverde is regarded as offering some of the best canopy experiences in the world. This afternoon, you may choose to ‘fly’ through the dramatic scenery on a zipwire, or take a more sedate walk through the canopy on treetop walkways.
This evening, we will have the adventure of a guided night walk in the cloud forest, in search of nocturnal species such as pacas and tarantulas.
Day 11 Free day; options include walks in the reserve
Today has been left free to enjoy one or several of the many optional activities available in the area. You may choose to visit the local butterfly, or orchid garden. Alternatively, you may choose to enjoy a trek in one of the other reserves. Your Tour Leader will be able to offer advice on the options available.
Day 12 Drive south to Manuel Antonio National Park
Leaving the cloudforest behind us this morning, we descend to the Pacific Coast, enjoying staggering views over the Gulf and Peninsula of Nicoya. Heading south, we then pause at Carara Biological Reserve, famed for the scarlet macaws and abundant birdlife which populate this transitional forest. Finally, we continue along the Pacific Coast to Manuel Antonio National Park, where we will spend the next three nights.
Day 13 Explore Manuel Antonio’s wildlife and beaches
This morning, we explore the Manuel Antonio National Park, famed for its beautiful beaches and rich wildlife. During our time in the park, we are likely to see white-faced capuchin monkeys, coatimundi (part of the raccoon family) and the tiny squirrel monkeys. This is also one of the best places in Costa Rica to see sloths. The majority of a sloth’s diet comes from buds and leaves. As leaves provide little energy, sloths move only when necessary and even then very slowly so they are easy to spot.
The remainder of the day can be spent relaxing on the white sandy beaches, enjoying a swim in the warm azure waters. The sunsets from this coast are spectacular and have to be seen to be believed.
Day 14 Free day in Manuel Antonio
Today is free to relax in Manuel Antonio. You could choose to revisit the park, or relax on the beaches around the town of Manuel Antonio. There are also lots of other activities on offer if beach time isn’t for you, including rafting or snorkelling trips.
Day 15 Travel back to San Jose International Airport
Departing Manuel Antonio this morning we drive 160km, approximately four hours, back to San Jose’s Juan Santamaria International Airport (airport code SJO), where we will arrive at about 11am and this is where our trip ends. If you are booking your own flights, the earliest your flight can depart is 1pm.
For those on later flights a private transfer can be arranged at additional cost later in the day if desired, or alternatively it is a short taxi ride into San Jose city if you wish to leave the airport and explore further. It’s also possible to extend your stay in Manuel Antonio if you would like some additional time at the beach.