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Discover the beautiful variety of Costa Rica’s Pacific regions, from cloud forest to wide open beaches where turtles lay their eggs. For lovers of wildlife and peaceful, dramatic scenery, this is our way of introducing you to the beautiful Pacific side of Costa Rica. This off the beaten track self-drive adventure introduces you to a series of beautiful small lodges hidden in some of Costa Rica’s least visited corners.
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On arrival in San José airport you are met and taken to your very comfortable small hotel on a hillside above the town of Alajuela, a sort of satellite of the capital. In fact, the airport is in Alajuela so it makes sense to stay here, it’s certainly easier to navigate from here than from downtown San José when you set off in the morning.
Your 4x4 is delivered to you today before you set off south, winding your way up into the beautiful cloudforests surrounding Cerro Chirripo, Costa Rica's highest mountain. Although navigating by map isn’t hard, we include GPS in your rental as it makes life much easier. You could stop en route at peaceful San Gerardo de Dota for a short hike to the rather lovely Savegre waterfall. Settle into your very friendly lodge, set in beautiful gardens looking over the valley.
Spend the day with your guide, walking some of the numerous trails to unlock the beautiful landscape around you. Walk past cascading waterfalls, and through both primary old growth forest and the extensive reforestation areas that have been part of the reserve's success.
You have another full day to set your own pace. For more hiking, Cloudbridge has plenty to offer, with several hours' trails on the northern side of the river for instance. Alternatively, head up into the Herradura Valley to hike past coffee plantations and lemon trees, towards a mirador with fantastic views across to Cerro Chirripo. The valley is also rich in birdlife, with a notable number of endemic species, so it's well worth seeing what you can spot.
Drive to Sierpe to take a boat to the small village of Drake Bay to spend the next few nights enjoying the Osa Peninsula. A charming laidback village on the beach of a protected bay, Drake also offers access to some of Costa Rica's greatest concentrations of wildlife. Tonight, discover some of the nocturnal species in the company of our local guide.
Early this morning you board a boat to head a little way off shore to Caño Island. The island itself, once an Indian burial ground, offers some of the best snorkelling to be found in Costa Rica. The biggest draw is perhaps the boat journey itself however, with pods of dolphin often accompanying you en route.
Travel to the Sirena ranger station of Corcovado National Park, said to be the best wildlife viewing in all of Central America. You have a day and a half here to explore the forest and its inhabitants in the company of your own private guide, so will be treated to a truly wonderful wildlife experience. The accommodation is more basic, but the facilities and food are decent enough, and the pay-off well worth any minor discomfort.
The morning is yours to discover more of the park and its abundant wildlife, before you head back to Drake Bay this afternoon and the comfort of your delightful lodge. As well as hundreds of species of birds - the more colourful being scarlet macaw, trogon and toucan - you are highly likely to see some, if not all four, species of monkey found in Costa Rica, as well as sloths, anteaters, armadillo, coati and tapir.
Today you might like to spend some time on the beach or wander along the coast. From Drake Bay a path leads along the coast all the way to the northern entrance to Corcovado but we suggest that you enjoy a relatively short stretch of the trail. You can step out onto the sand and have a dip in the sea as you please. After a picnic lunch on the beach, take the boat back to Drake Bay, where you can stroll up to the village for a drink as the sun goes down.
Snaking along the south Pacific coast, you will have gorgeous views all along the way over the ocean as you drive to the little-known Carara National Park. Set in 264 acres, your peaceful ecolodge is tucked away in the hills and is made entirely from materials grown or recycled from the immediate surrounds.
Today is yours to explore, anything from bird watching to visiting the lodge's organic plantation to see the different native species being grown. We include a tour of the cacao plantation, from which they produce their own (extremely tasty) chocolate. You are within easy reach of both the Tarcoles mangroves and the National Park of Carara's dense, hilly forests. As an area of transition from the northern tropical dry forest to the southern rainforests, the park is full of wildlife, especially birds.
Drive across to the beach near Ostional, one of the least developed stretches of the Pacific coast. Along the way it's a very small detour to the Palo Verde National Park, precious Guanacaste wetlands which host a wide variety of resident and migratory bird species. Here at the coast, you stay in a lovely small hotel, high on a hill above the coast. You are within striking distance of the fishing village and calm swimming beach of San Juanillo, the livelier surf beach at Nosara, and the turtle nesting beach of Ostional.
Spend today relaxing on the beach, or perhaps try out a more strenuous activity, such as surfing or paddle boarding. There's no shortage of things to keep you busy here, though the laidback nature of the area might put paid to too many plans! Aside from the obvious surfing, other water-based activities include the now somewhat ubiquitous SUP, kayaking and snorkelling. This is also a lovely spot to ride a horse along the beach as the sun sets...
Ostional is one of the most crucial nesting areas for the Olive Ridley turtle. After breakfast you could board a boat to take you offshore for the chance to snorkel with the turtles. Tonight you might like to meet up with a guide who can take you out in the dark to show you more turtles as they emerge onto the shore to lay.
Being Costa Rica, you're never far away from a zipline, and other active ways to explore include riding bikes through the village or horses along the beach - fantastic when the sun is going down. The vivid sunsets you tend to get on this side of the country also lend themselves rather well to a relaxed pre-dinner drink while swinging in a hammock...
Drive into the Central Valley, where you stay in the heart of the coffee lands. If you didn't go on the way to the coast, it's a short detour up to the Palo Verde National Park, a little-visited wetlands which is full of birdlife. As you rise up into the Central Valley, you'll pass by the rather lovely village of Sarchi, home of the famous painted oxcarts, and a beautiful botanical garden. Your hotel is themed around coffee and sits in a wildlife corridor, yet at night you can see the twinkling lights from half of Costa Rica’s population.
You are invited into a local home this morning, where your host shares cookery techniques for staples such as chayote hash, tortillas and plantain. After lunch, meet up with a microproducer to sample coffee brewed the traditional way. This is your chance to see ordinary life and better understand the ‘Tico’ way of life; as such, it's a lovely note on which to end your trip. Head to the airport this evening to hand in your car keys and head home.
The holiday was absolutely fantastic - everything we hoped it would be and more besides. We loved all of the lodges and hotels you sent us to. Melissa C
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Wander quiet trails through a cloudforest prolific in birdlife and stand-up-paddleboard along the coast looking for marine fauna. Find utter relaxation on the beach of a sleepy surfer town before hopping in a speedboat to a tropical island, with dolphins joining you to play in the wake. Snorkel with turtles and walk through one of the most biologically diverse areas of forest on the planet, with monkeys swinging through the trees overhead.
Many, many trips to Costa Rica travel east to west, from Caribbean to Pacific. But for those in the know, an incredibly diverse experience can be had entirely on the Pacific side. It's here you find the best of the pristine forests and wildlife, and the endless choice of exhilarating adventures, which make Costa Rica such an enticing prospect. Add in some of the country's loveliest and best hidden lodges, and you have a recipe for an unforgettable journey.
Costa Rica has landscapes which are incredibly varied given how small it is. This variety feeds through to the activities, everything from hiking in Tenorio Volcano National Park 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. 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 different angles. In each of your destinations there are fun, varied activities from snorkelling with sea turtles to zip lining, to strolling to the hot springs for a gentle swim!
Over the course of this trip you stay in a series of very comfortable lodges and small hotels. For details of your accommodation, please see the summary section. In Costa Rica particularly, we choose our accommodation very carefully as we want you to be comfortable, and get a sense of the country hosting you. This suggested itinerary is based around what are essentially small 3-4* hotels.
The one exception is your night in the ranger station at Sirena. This involves bunk beds in open-sided dorms, 'school canteen' type dining, and shared washing facilities. However, these facilities are well-kept, and the lack of privacy and relative comfort are more than made up for in our opinion for the privilege in sleeping in this pristine environment. Please call us for more information on the practicalities of this night if you have any concerns.
The weather in Costa Rica, particularly on the Pacific side, 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, meaning it is warm and humid year round. The 'green' season tends to mean you 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 a Pacific-based 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.
Costa Rica is a country of farmers, a friendly place which, combined with its huge biodiversity and variety of ecosystems, makes it a very natural magnet for tourism. This means it's easy to visit Costa Rica and leave with great memories of the landscapes and fun stuff it delivers so well but with little true sense of place. That is why we are so passionate about helping you stay in the right places and travel with as much good information as possible to help you to stop and meet people, see something of daily life.
On this holiday you visit some of the parts of the country least affected by tourism and therefore easiest to see traditional lifestyles going on around you. While much of the Nicoya Peninsula's beaches have been very developed, there are surprisingly large stretches which are much quieter; it's here that we like you to stay.
In Carara you'll get a great insight into the development of micro business in conjunction with local communities, something that simply isn't possible in the busier regions. The areas around Chirripo and Drake Bay are also relatively little visited, meaning you can see how ordinary people live in these remote corners of the country.
The holiday price is a guideline per person, based on two people travelling, sharing accommodation with meals as specified in the summary section above. It includes transfers and rental of a 4x4 (Hyundai Tucson or similar) for one driver with basic insurance (see below) and a navigation system. It also includes guided excursions and activities as described, local information, maps & driving directions.
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.
International flights are quoted separately. Best routing is to fly into and out of San José (airport code: SJO).
Price assuming two people travelling in high season (Dec-Apr). International flights are quoted separately. Departs any day to suit you, December through September.
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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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