Costa Rica Uncovered

Wildlife, landscapes and coast | View photos »

Wander through peaceful bird-filled cloudforest of San Gerardo, cross the bay to see the rich rainforest of the Osa Peninsula, watch the cowboys herd their cattle in Rincon de la Vieja, the most traditional part of the country. This wildlife rich self-drive journey takes you north and south, on and off the beaten path.

Customisable trip from 15-18 days » i

Prices from £1,600 - £1,880 per person

Map of the area

"Fantastic time"

"Fantastic time"

We did have a fantastic time, and we loved the route you found for us, and the choice of hotels! Kim J

Read more »

Sample itinerary

Travel to Central America

Fly to Costa Rica today. Invariably this will be a daytime flight arriving late in the day. On arrival in San Jose you are met and taken to your hotel. This evening is free to relax after your long flight. Please note international flights are quoted separately.

Pick up your 4x4 and drive to the cloudforest

This morning your 4x4 hire car will be brought to you at the hotel. A member of our local team will take you through your intended driving route, offer advice and answer any questions you may have. You then set off driving independently to the cloudforest at San Gerardo de Dota where you spend the next two nights. The drive is a beautiful 2 hours or less.

Walk through the peaceful cloudforest

Today is yours to explore independently. Compared to the crowded trails at Monteverde, San Gerardo is a peaceful haven, with quiet forest paths meandering beside clear mountain streams. It is also the most reliable area in Costa Rica to catch a glimpse of the Resplendent Quetzal – quite a treat even for the non-birder. The lodge offers a number of tours, but most of the trails in the area can be self-guided and taken at your own pace.

Drive down to the Pacific coast

After breakfast set off driving to Dominical on the Pacific coast. This should take around two to three hours. The contrast between habitats en route is quite remarkable. The road descends from the cool mists of cloudforest down to the hot and humid tropical jungle, then through banana plantations to the coast. Your lodge overlooking the sea is good base from which to explore the dramatic coastline and the nearby Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica’s last wilderness.

Cross the bay to Corcovado National Park

Visit the Corcovado National Park with your guide today for fantastic wildlife viewing opportunities. The park remains largely untouched and harbours an incredible biodiversity, including 140 species of mammals, 367 birds and 177 amphibians and reptiles. You can expect to see several species of monkey, sloth and a host of birdlife during your guided walk. More elusive creatures such as jaguar, ocelot, and tapir also make the forest their home.

Take a boat to Cano Island

Today you have the chance to take a boat a little way off shore to Caño Island. The island itself, once an Indian burial ground, offers some pretty walks and good snorkelling off the beach. The biggest draw is perhaps the boat journey itself however, with pods of dolphin often accompanying you en route. Please note this excursion sometimes covers part of the same ground as the Corcovado trip yesterday.

Drive along the coast to Manuel Antonio

As you only have a short way to go today you can afford a leisurely start. Perhaps take the jungle trail down to Playa Tortuga this morning. The area is home to one of the last strands of coastal rainforest in Central America. The whole area still maintains a very ‘untouched’ feel, with empty beaches fringed by lush forest. When you are ready drive north along the coastal to Manuel Antonio.

Visit Manuel Antonio with an expert guide

This morning you are met at the hotel by your guide for a half day tour of the national park. Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most scenically beautiful places in Costa Rica, with lush tropical jungle bordering pristine white sand beaches. The path through the forest is well marked. Your guide will know the best places en route to spot monkeys, toucans and sloths.

Drive cross country to Arenal Volcano

After breakfast at the lodge prepare to set off on your journey north towards the Arenal Volcano. This should take around three hours, going at a leisurely pace. As you approach the village of La Fortuna you will see the towering form of Arenal volcano rising from the surrounding grassy fields. Stay for three nights in this area on the quiet southern side of the volcano for excellent views of the crater.

Explore Arenal from the forest canopy

Wake up early for the best chance to see the top of the volcano before clouds obscure the top. You are in an absolutely stunning setting, and even if the volcano is hidden from sight there are hot springs to soak in where you can reap its benefits! Active excursions are on offer, one of the best being the Hanging Bridges – a series of interconnecting pathways and suspended bridges through the forest canopy with stunning views onto the valley below.

Explore Arenal on foot or by boat

Your hotel offers a very comprehensive and reasonable range of excursions in the area. The Cerro Chato hike is worth considering as would be the canoe trip either on the beautiful Lake Arenal (actually a reservoir) or on the wildlife rich Penas Blancas River. You can also hike through the forest to the Fortuna waterfall for some lovely river swimming.

Drive north to Rincon de la Vieja National Park

Take the long road north this morning to Rincon de la Vieja, Costa Rica’s cattle ranching territory. The sun-bleached landscape of the tropical dry forest is yet another contrast to those you have already visited. One of the few regions that still feels typically ‘Costa Rican’, Rincon de la Vieja is a real hidden gem. You will very likely have to pause along the dusty road leading to your lodge as you wait for a solitary cow to amble across to the next field.

Walk through the National Park

The towering dome of Rincon de la Vieja volcano dominates the surrounding landscape. As you make your way through the park its presence can be felt in the bubbling mud pots, fumaroles and sulphurous vents that line the route. Despite the wizened trees and dry leaves underfoot this is still a surprisingly green region for much of the year, due to the clear babbling streams winding through the landscape.

Drive down to the quiet Pacific coast

This morning set off driving southwest to the Pacific coastline of the Nicoya Peninsula. As you leave the main road at Nicoya you may find the number of potholes increasing, but the traffic will be lighter. Arrive in the sleepy beach town of Nosara, where the sweeping sands are fringed by tropical forest. Continue up the hills above Ostional beach and your lovely hotel on a bluff overlooking the coastline of Nosara and Samara stretching away in front of you.

Head to the beach or out to sea

Free day to relax or explore. You could take a walk along the forest pathways near Playa Nosara, which lies on a delta where the Rio Nosara and Rio Montana meet. The sand here is black and backed by mangrove forest, home to 100+ bird species and several of monkey. You might want to hire a boat for a sunset cruise out into the Pacific.

Explore the coast on foot or by surf board

Another free day to relax. Along with Playa Nosara, there are several other lovely beaches in the area. The prettiest and smallest of these is Playa Pelada, which is popular with surfers. It also has a bat cave if you want to do some exploring. The white sands of nearby Playa Guiones are edged by low dunes and tropical forest.

Observe the turtles in the wildlife reserve

Between July and November the nearby Ostional Wildlife Refuge sees the arrival of the Olive Ridley turtle, which nest on the beach here. The refuge itself covers over 350ha of land and a marine zone of 8,000ha and is one of the most important nesting sites for olive ridleys in the world.

Travel home again

Ideally you will fly into San José but leave from Liberia. This being the case, drive the short distance to the airport in plenty of time to drop-off your hire car and check-in for your flight home. If you are flying home from San José you may need a night in the city prior to your departure. Please remember: international flights are quoted separately.

About this trip

Summary

Wander through peaceful bird-filled cloudforest of San Gerardo, cross the bay to see the rich rainforest of the Osa Peninsula, watch the cowboys herd their cattle in Rincon de la Vieja, the most traditional part of the country. This wildlife rich self-drive journey takes you north and south, on and off the beaten path.

+ Read more- Read less

How adventurous?

Culture
1 2 3 4 5
Activity
1 2 3 4 5
Comfort
1 2 3 4 5

Physical adventure

This holiday is primarily conceived of as a journey for lovers of wildlife and landscapes. It is about being in the great outdoors, exploring new landscapes and ecosystems and seeing the incredible range of birds, plants and animals which surround you. It has the added dimension of taking you off the beaten track to smaller towns and villages where opportunities to mix with the locals and settle into the country are much greater than is the case in Costa Rica's more 'obvious' destinations.

The level of activity on this trip is relatively low, though you will be outdoors in heat, cold, rain and damp. Most days you would expect to be walking at least some of the time - be that walking through the jungle to look for wildlife or crossing canopy walkways for views of volcanic landscapes. You should therefore be at least somewhat physically active to get the most out of your time here.

Having said that, this is a tailor made holiday. As such, the level of exertion is determined by you and you alone. What we provide for you is local information based on our first hand experiences to help you create the best possible trip. Sometimes it makes sense for us to include structured activities at the planning stage, other times you are better off waiting until you get to Costa Rica. It is part of our job to advise you which option is best for you in which parts of the country.

Costa Rica has landscapes which are incredibly varied given how small it is. This variety feeds through to the activities, everything from hiking to sports fishing, rafting to canopy walkways is on offer here. Being so small, it isn't a country where you can head off hiking for day after day - it's diced up much finer than that. In half a day you can hike to the crater lake of Cerro Chato in the shadow of the mighty booming of Arenal Volcano or you can ride bikes downhill to the turtle sanctuaries of the Pacific sands. When it comes to adventure, Costa Rica is about variety, a bit of this, a bit of that.

Over the course of this trip you stay in a series of very comfortable lodges and small hotels. In Costa Rica particularly, we choose our accommodation very carefully and most specifically when you spend time in the better known highlights such as Arenal or on the Pacific coast. It would be easy to travel to certain parts of the country and stay in pleasant but characterless places but that is an anathema to us, we want you to be both comfortable and get a sense of the country hosting you, you simply don't get that in international chain hotels. And why choose those when there are so many great small hotels in Costa Rica? There is a better way. Our standard suggested trip is based around 3 & 4* small hotels but we can upgrade those to almost any level you want without losing that important sense of place.

The weather in Costa Rica is defined by the dry season (December - April), and the 'green' season (May - November). However, this is not particularly helpful given the sheer range of micro-climates in the country. It's pretty much always wet and cool in the cloudforest for instance, and it's pretty much always hot and dry in the far north of the country. Broadly speaking, Costa Rica has a tropical climate. This means that it is warm and humid year round. The 'green' season tends to mean that you can get rains on the western side of the country but usually these are showers which happen in the evening and provide welcome relief from the heat of the day. In truth, the only time of year that constant heavy rain will impact your holiday is likely to be late September through to early December. Our advice is to avoid October and November completely and give them a bit of a wide berth by also tending away from late September or early December. In early May you have the transition from dry to wet season and this can bring heavy rains and storms on the Pacific side so somewhere in May there is usually a week of dramatic weather.

+ Read more- Read less

Cultural adventure

Costa Rica is a country which does not have a long history of human population, just about 10,000 years. The settlers in Costa Rica had to work their own fields which meant that the colonial powers basically left it alone to grow into its own unique and peaceful personality. This is a country of farmers, a friendly place which, when combined with its extraordinary biodiversity and variety of ecosystems, has made it a very natural magnet for tourism.

This means that it is easy to visit Costa Rica and leave with great memories of the landscapes and all the fun stuff it delivers so well but with little true sense of place. That is why we are so passionate about making sure that you stay in the right places, that you travel the right roads and you travel with as much good information as possible from us to equip you to stop and meet people along the way, see something of ordinarily lives.

On this holiday you visit Rincon de la Vieja which is probably the part of the country least affected by tourism and therefore easiest to see traditional lifestyles going on around you. The area around Dominical and San Gerardo are also relatively little visited so give you lots of time seeing day to day lives going on around you. Manuel Antonio and Arenal are much more obviously popular destinations but with care and attention to our holiday guides, you can still feel like a cultural adventurer.

+ Read more- Read less

Best time to go i

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

Practicalities

There is a detailed itinerary for this trip, in the form set out above. Please get in touch and we can email that to you.

However, as a tailor made trip, in order to send the most appropriate proposal to you, we really need to discuss things with you first to find out your interests, when you want to travel, how long you want to go for, etc.

In the form set out above, the holiday price includes 4x4 rental car, accommodation, breakfasts plus some other meals, selected activities, local information, maps and support on the ground. Naturally, on each and every one of our holidays, we include Pura’s expertise, local contacts, support and advice throughout, along with the reassurance of our financial protection and safety auditing.

Flights are quoted separately for this holiday. Best flight routings are to fly into San José (airport code: SJO) and out of Liberia (airport code: LIR) which is close to the end point of the journey. It is possible to fly in and out of San José though you may need to overnight in the city before flying home.

+ Read more- Read less

Prices from

£1,600 - £1,880 pp

Customisable trip length

15-18 days

Next steps...

Contact us today to start planning your own personal adventure

01273 676712

or request a callback »

The described itinerary is just a taster of what this trip could involve. We would work with you to tailor your personal trip.

rated 92% excellent

Read our reviews »

Alternative trips you may be interested in...

Costa-rica-tortuguero-aerial-view-of-waterways
Essential Costa Rica
From Caribbean to Pacific
Raft through jungle-clad gorges, watch hummingbirds flitting between the flowers of the cloud for...
Read more »
Nicaragua-rio-san-juan-indio-maiz-natural-reserve-dugout-canoes
Nicaragua Uncovered
Remote islands & wildlife
Island life, al Nicaraguense. These are our favourite bits of Nicaragua which most people never s...
Read more »
Costa-rica-three-toed-sloth-mouldy-in-tree
Costa Rica to Nicaragua
Wildlife paradise
Crowds are the last thing you want when you are looking for wildlife. That’s why this journey up ...
Read more »