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Essential Costa Rica

From Caribbean to Pacific | View photos »

Enjoy a Costa Rica wildlife holiday where you float down rivers with monkeys swinging in the trees overhead and watch hummingbirds flitting between the flowers of the cloud forest. Hike a volcano and swim in the warm waters of the Pacific as you explore Costa Rica high and low, from east to west.

15 day trip described, guide price £1,890pp i

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Costa Rica is a fantastic country - so much wildlife and so many places to visit. We will be back! - Nicole C

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Sample itinerary

Fly to Central America

On arrival in San José you are met and taken to your comfortable hotel. The hotel is well positioned in the city and is a comfortable place to recover from your journey. Please note international flights are quoted separately.

Into Tortuguero wetlands by road and river

You are collected early this morning for the drive and boat ride to the wetlands of Tortuguero. As you near the Caribbean you’ll notice the scenery becoming more green and lush. Arrive in time to settle into your room and enjoy lunch at the lodge. You may also like to take a dip in the lovely pool to cool off after the journey.

Explore the wildlife rich wetlands of Tortuguero

After breakfast you set off in your boat for a journey through the narrow river channels of the flooded forest. En route your naturalist guide will help you spot monkeys, sloth, river turtle, toucans, caiman and iguana. You may even be lucky enough to see the local family of river otters cavorting downstream.

Drive into the rainforest

Return by river and road to Guapiles where you collect your 4x4 vehicle. You will have the opportunity to go through your intended route with the rep before setting off independently to the rainforests of Sarapiqui, one of the foremost areas for biological and conservation research in the country.

Look for wildlife in the Sarapiqui jungle

Your time here is at leisure, though there's plenty to keep you busy. A walk in the reserve with one of the naturalist guides will help you uncover a raft of flora and fauna, and better understand the complexity of this rich ecosystem, while for a more energetic day, there's rafting, horse riding and canyoning available.

Drive to the cloud forest of Bajos del Toro

From Sarapiqui it's not far south to the Bajos del Toro cloud forest region. This should take around one and a half hours, going at a leisurely pace. Roads in Costa Rica are a mixture of good tarmac, old tarmac with potholes and compacted dirt roads.

Explore the bird-rich cloudforest

Today is free to explore the fascinating flora and fauna of the cloudforest. Your lodge has a system of seven well-maintained forest trails of varying length and strenuousness. The owners are on hand to suggest routes that would be most suitable for you. The cloudforest canopy is extremely rich with humming birds, colourful butterflies, exotic frogs and orchids.

Drive to Arenal Volcano

After breakfast set off driving to Arenal. Stay in a remote lodge in the forests to the south of the volcano with the most spectacular views. Where you stay is somewhat higher, making it pleasantly cool at night but also making it the most incredible spot for birds. Take an afternoon stroll through the forest to spot some of the nearly 400 species that have been sighted here.

Walk to the dormant Cerro Chato volcano

Your hotel offers a very comprehensive and reasonable range of excursions in the area, including a complementary morning guided bird tour. Later you might like to walk to Cerro Chato. It is worth remembering since 2011 there has been no sign of activity so you are coming here not to see volcanic eruptions but because the scenery is spectacular and this area is superb for active exploration.

Explore more of Arenal

You have a further day to explore the area around Arenal; as you have the hire car you are free to structure the day as you wish. More active excursions are also 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.

Drive to a peaceful stretch of the Pacific

Drive down to the beach near Ostional, one of the least developed stretches of the Pacific coast, taking a detour to Rincon de la Vieja if you like. For the next four nights you stay in a lovely small hotel set high on a hill above a wonderfully undeveloped stretch of the coast. You can hear the waves crashing on Ostional beach below.

Explore the wildlife of the area

Near your hotel is arguably the nicest beach in the region with coral sand lining a protected bay which is perfect for swimming. If you bring snorkelling gear with you then you can enjoy time swimming out and around the rocks of the headland – most of the coral is dead now but there are still lots of fish to be seen. For fun you might like to try Stand Up Paddlboarding!

Dedicate your day to sea turtles

Turtles prefer darker nights between July and December but at almost any time of year you can see turtles coming to lay their eggs on the beaches of the area. In the height of the season, you can even see latecomers still up on the beach laying their eggs in the early morning. There are almost always turtles out here so it is pretty much guaranteed that you will be able to swim with them.

Explore the coast further afield

You might like to head north to Avellanas beach which is famous for its surfing and its fantastic beach front eating. Going south to the more developed area around Nosara, you can find horse riding, zip lining and plenty of surfing to keep you busy. There are some beautiful places to eat as you look out over the crashing waves of the Pacific.

Travel home

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

Raft through jungle-clad gorges, watch hummingbirds flitting between the flowers of the cloud forest and swim in the warm waters of the Pacific as you explore Costa Rica high and low, from east to west.

How adventurous?

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

Best time to go i

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

Level of activity

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.

On this holiday, we give you a decent amount of time in each place. Time to head out and to explore somewhere from all different angles. In Tortuguero your time is structured with wildlife based excursions into the wetlands, usually by boat. There are optional activities such as a fairly mild zip-line through the tree tops and there is plenty of time to enjoy time at the pool. Sarapiqui has something for everyone, from quiet strolls in the forest looking for wildlife big and small, to more adrenaline-fuelled pastimes such as canyoning. In Bajos del Toro you have time to walk into the cloud forest reserves to look at the unique flora and fauna.

Moving around to Arenal there are so many options that your time is not structured here but choices range from half-day hikes to hot springs, mountain biking to canopy walkways. Finishing on the Pacific coast, there is no need to structure your time - there is beach, there is surf, there is snorkelling, boat trips to sea at sunset and there are nights spent watching sea turtles laying their eggs in the sand.

Level of comfort

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 Tortuguero, Arenal or on the Pacific coast. It would be easy to travel these roads and stay in faceless places but that is an anathema to us. Looking at the Pacific coast, there are many, many places to stay near the beach so how do we choose ours? Quite simply by finding a place which combines location, service, quality and personality. Where we have found it is high on the hill above the coast of Ostional. A beautiful small hotel which gets you close to ordinary villages but still means you can be down on the golden sands within a few minutes' drive. It is also a hotel which represents great value.

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.

Other than those particular periods, you should expect to feel warm, feel hot and humid in Tortuguero - possibly getting heavily rained on. In Bajos del Toro you will feel cool and damp. In Sarapiqui and Arenal warm and damp. On the Pacific coast you should feel hot and dry. A little bit of everything for you!

Level of culture

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 ordinary lives.

Practicalities

There is a detailed itinerary for this Costa Rica 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.

The holiday price assumes two people travelling in high season (January-April), sharing a room. In the form set out above, the holiday includes transfers and a 4x4 rental car with GPS, very comfortable hotel accommodation, breakfasts throughout and other meals as mentioned in the summary section above, activities and excursions specifically mentioned above. Naturally, on each and every one of our holidays, we include Pura Aventura’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.

Departs

Departs any day to suit you, from December through August.

Next steps...

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

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Book Send me exclusive content » The waterways of Tortuguero on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast Scarlet macaws in flight above Manuel Antonio The extraordinary features of a sloth White faced capuchin monkey Travelling into Tortuguero by boat Three-toed sloth making its way very slowly through the canopy The damp canopy of the bird rich cloud forest of Costa Rica Humming bird feeding Looking out from the Observatory Lodge, Arenal Views of the active cone of Arenal Volcano Walking across the hanging bridges through the forest canopy near Arenal volcano Ostional beach, Nicoya Peninsula San Juanillo beach cave, Nicoya Peninsula Sea Turtle swimming off Ostional beach, Nicoya Peninsula Lola's beach shack on Avellanas beach, Nicoya Peninsula Road signs above Ostional, Nicoya Peninsula