- Nature and wildlife - The opportunity to see sloths, monkeys and brightly coloured frogs, together with some of Costa Rica's spectacular birdlife
- Volcanoes - Admire the classic cone-shape of Arenal and the vastness of Poas
- Tortuguero - Cruise the jungle waterways and explore the rainforest in search of abundant wildlife in this 'mini Amazon'
- Monteverde - Search for the beautiful quetzal in this remarkable cloudforest reserve
- Manuel Antonio - Share the stunning white-sand beaches with sun-bathing iguanas and Capuchin monkeys
Discover Costa Rica's vivid natural beauty in comfort. Staying in a series of premium hotels, spot wildlife from a boat on Tortuguero's wild waterways, hike in unspoilt tropical rainforest, look down into emerald crater lakes and take a break on one of Costa Rica's many golden sandy beaches.
Tortuguero - Cruise the jungle waterways and explore the rainforest in search of abundant wildlife in this 'mini Amazon'
Manuel Antonio - Share the stunning white-sand beaches with sun-bathing iguanas and capuchin monkeys
Monteverde - Search for the beautiful quetzal in this remarkable cloud forest reserve
There are two itineraries running in 2020 - one which stays in the town of Manuel Antonio, and another from April which stays on the Costa Ballena, slightly further south on the Pacific Coast. Please read the separate itineraries for further information.
Day 1 Start 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 to 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 Irazu volcano; try cheese at a local dairy farm
We drive east out of San Jose this morning, towards the Irazu Volcano. Climbing out of the city we are quickly transported through fertile farmland. Situated at 3,432m altitude, the drive to the volcano gives 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 be visiting Finca La Florita, a local dairy farm. Here, we'll learn how the region's famous cheese is produced by this small farm, and how the local farmers work together to help distribute their product. As well as sampling the cheese of course! This evening, we will have the option to visit another typical 'finca' (farm), for a traditional meal cooked by the family.
Day 3 Free day; optional white water rafting
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, with blue morpho butterflies and macaws wheeling past. Alternatively, you may choose to visit CATIE (Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Ensenanza) Research Centre. Recognised throughout the world as an important agricultural research station, its environmental development projects seek to enhance human wellbeing and protect natural resources. Its botanical garden is a special place to relax, surrounded by the calls of birds, the whisper of the giant Guanacaste Tree and the imposing Ceiba.
Day 4 Journey 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 as well as 60 species of mammal with Howler and Spider Monkeys in the treetops. Upon arrival at our comfortable lodge, we will take a short walking tour of the carless village of Tortuguero. Our lodge is in an idyllic setting, perched on a small slither of land between the Caribbean Sea and the waterway.
Day 5 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. The best time to see this spectacle is between June and September when over five-thousand green turtles come ashore to nest on Tortuguero's beaches. At this time of year, there is the option of an evening turtle walk in the company of experienced guides.
Day 6 Drive to Sarapiqui; Visit La Tirimbina for a chocolate tour
Leaving our lodge this morning, we travel by boat back to Cano Blanco, before heading on to Puerto Viejo Sarapiqui. After lunch, we plan to visit La Tirimbina for a chocolate tour. This two and a half hour tour will open the secrets and wonders of one of mankind's favourite foods: chocolate. Originally from Central America, this plant has an extraordinary history; it was one of the most important products for the Mayan and Aztec cultures. The discovery of America led to the introduction of chocolate in Europe, transforming it into the product we all know today. We start by taking a short hike over a suspension bridge and through a forest to a former cacao-growing plot, learning about the cacao tree along the way. Upon arrival at the plot, the artisanal process by which cacao fruit is transformed into chocolate will be demonstrated. There is ample opportunity to taste different kinds of chocolate, prepared on the spot in the traditional way. This evening we will have a night walk in the on-site nature trails of our hotel, in search of nocturnal species such as snakes and frogs.
Day 7 Walk in Sarapiqui's rainforest; drive to Arenal
This morning we will take a nature walk on the rainforest trails around our lodge. Sarapiqui's rainforest area is rich in nature, and includes more than 54% of all birds found in Costa Rica. We will be on the lookout for endemic species, including the Spotted Antbird and the Rufous Motmot. Later on, we drive to Arenal, skirting around the great central volcanic massif, passing through fertile farmlands that are rich with tropical crops. Arenal is a classic conical volcano, famous for its nightly eruptions until finally going quiet in 2010. We will be exploring the National Park on foot, taking a walk on the flanks of the volcano, which are covered by a tangled mass of vegetation on one side and starkly barren on the other. Our leader will point out interesting flora and fauna and provide more information about the science and history of the volcano, before taking us to a viewpoint for a closer view. Our accommodation for the next three nights is in La Fortuna. The town was renamed after a huge 1968 eruption that decimated the small towns around the volcano's western flanks, when it was seen as being 'fortunate' that it was located on the eastern side of the volcano.
Day 8 Search for wildlife in Arenal; afternoon cooking lesson
The Arenal area is well known for its diverse wildlife, and some of the most sought-after species for their colourful and unique features are the multi-coloured toucan, the poisonous blue jeans dart frog and, of course, the lazy sloth. This morning we'll have our eyes open for these three beautiful animals on foot and by bus around La Fortuna's many spotting areas. This wildlife tour takes us into some private areas and farmland that are not visited by other tourists, where we have maximum chance for a sloth sighting. Birds, iguanas and various types of monkey are among the other animals that we might encounter. This afternoon we will visit an organic farm near La Fortuna, where sugar cane is milled. We'll have the opportunity to see this process and taste the sugar cane juice before it's made into sugar blocks. As the afternoon ends, we'll take a tour of the property and gather for ourselves the fruits, vegetables and roots that are growing on the property, before learning how to prepare a traditional Costa Rican meal with the owners of the farm. One of the most common Costa Rican dishes is the casado (meaning 'married man' in Spanish!), a meal that uses rice, black beans, plantains, tortilla and meat or fish - a range of locally sourced produce. Delicious!
Day 9 Free day to explore Arenal
Today has been left free to explore the Arenal 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. White water rafting is also possible in this area, as well as a more relaxed 'float' trip down the river, spotting wildlife in the forest. Your Tour Leader will be able to provide information on all the options.
Day 10 Drive to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve; evening night walk
Today we will 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 two-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 cloud forest reserves. The drive takes approximately 5 hours from Arenal, and on arrival we are at our leisure. You may wish to visit the butterfly farm or orchid gardens in the area. 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 Nature walk in the cloud forest searching for wildlife; optional zip wire
The famous, but now very rare, resplendent quetzal is fairly commonly seen in Monteverde, 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 walk in the Monteverde cloud forest, walking the paths that wind their way through gigantic ferns and trees covered with draping 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. You may choose to stay longer in the Monteverde cloud forest and explore the trails further. Alternatively, Monteverde is regarded as offering some of the best canopy (zip line) experiences in the world. You may choose to 'fly' through the dramatic scenery on a zipwire, or take a more sedate walk through the canopy on treetop walkways. There are also orchid and butterfly gardens in the area.
Day 12 Drive south to the Pacific Coast
Leaving the cloud forest behind us this morning, we descend to the Pacific Coast, enjoying staggering views over the Gulf and Peninsula of Nicoya. Heading south, we 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 the Costa Ballena, where we will spend the next two nights. Our hotel here is set in grounds of tropical forest, and magnificent views over the Pacific Ocean.
Day 13 Explore Manuel Antonio National Park's forest and beaches
This morning, we take the 45 minute drive to 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 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 morning; return to San Jose by bus
You're free to take a walk around the grounds of our hotel this morning, exploring the forest trail, taking a walk to the beach or relaxing in the pool. This afternoon we leave the Pacific Ocean at about midday. Our journey back to Costa Rica's capital will take about four hours.
Day 15 Trip ends in San Jose
The trip ends this morning at our hotel in San Jose. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to depart from Juan Santamaria International Airport (airport code: SJO), approximately a 30 minute drive from our hotel.
- 3 Lodge
- 11 Hotel
From hold-your-breath experiences, to small and unscripted moments of joy; our small group adventures create stories to tell for a lifetime…