Highlights of Costa Rica
|Highlights of Costa Rica
|Central America, Costa Rica
A perfect week’s getaway for travellers in search of Costa Rica’s natural beauty. From brightly coloured toucans to slow-moving sloths, the tropical forests of this tiny country teem with life. Volcanoes loom over wild rivers, and white-sand beaches nestle beneath a vivid green background, providing a wealth of rich and varied ecosystems for the wildlife lover.
Monteverde – Explore the forest trails of this cloud forest reserve, a biodiverse paradise for nature enthusiasts
Adventure – Whitewater raft, fly through the canopy on a zip wire or hike on volcanoes
Manuel Antonio – Share the stunning white-sand beaches of this national park 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 Poas Volcano; try out traditional oxcart painting
This morning, an hour’s drive will take us to the Poas Volcano National Park, where the smoke from one of Costa Rica’s most active volcanoes rises majestically from the tropical rainforest. At almost a mile in diameter, the main crater is one of the largest in the world. Due to recent volcanic activity, time at the crater viewpoint is restricted to 20 minutes. If activity increases again the authorities may choose to close the park, and in that case you’ll visit the Doka coffee estate, including a tasting session of Costa Rica’s finest export.
After our visit to Poas, we’ll continue on to the town of Sarchi, well known throughout Costa Rica for its beautiful and intricate arts and crafts. It is 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’re going to meet one of the town’s hard-working artisans and learn to paint a traditional oxcart with some of the patterns and designs familiar to the area.
Finally, we travel to Arenal (approximately 2.5 hours), where we will catch our first sight of the famous Arenal Volcano. This classic cone, which rises to 1633 metres, is covered by a tangled mass of vegetation on one side, while the other is starkly barren. Our accommodation for the next two nights is in La Fortuna. The town was renamed after a big eruption in 1968, 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 3 Volcano hike in Arenal; free afternoon with options including wildlife spotting
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 we will learn more about the science and history behind the volcano, and we walk up to a viewpoint for a closer look.
In the afternoon you re 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. For wildlife lovers there is the option to join a wildlife spotting tour, seeking the famous sloth, the poisonous blue jeans dart frog and the multi-coloured toucan.
Your Tour Leader will be able to provide information on all the options.
Day 4 Lunch with a family in Nuevo Arenal; drive to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
This morning we drive around Arenal Lake to Nuevo Arenal where we visit a local family who own a small ‘soda (typical restaurant). On the side of this, they train injured horses in the Costa Rican paso tradition (a sort of dressage step), and do equine therapy in the local community. We’ll have lunch here with them and can learn a bit more about their life in this rural area of the country.
Following this we will 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. Tonight we’ll venture into the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve for a night walk, seeking out the night creatures that roam the undergrowth.
Day 5 Nature walk in the cloud forest searching for wildlife; free afternoon
This morning, we will have a guided tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, walking the paths that wind their way through gigantic ferns, ducking underneath the lichen and moss that hangs from the giant trees. The jungle floor is often littered with blossoms that fall from the high canopy providing a carpet of colour amidst the endless green. 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.
The rest of the day has been left free to enjoy one or several of the many optional activities available in the area. One of the most popular activities in the area is to walk the hanging bridges that extend over the reserve, giving you the chance to take a bird’s eye view over the canopy. Couple this with the thrill of zooming throw the trees on a zip wire and it makes an exhilarating afternoon. For something less adrenaline-filled, choose to visit the local butterfly or orchid garden.
Your Tour Leader will be able to offer advice on the options available.
Day 6 Drive south to Manuel Antonio National Park
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 cross the Rio Tarcoles Bridge from which huge crocodiles are regularly seen. 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 two nights.
Day 7 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 racoon 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 8 Free day in Manuel Antonio National Park
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 white water rafting or snorkelling trips.
Day 9 Travel back to San Jose International Airport where the trip ends
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.