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Costa Rica to Nicaragua Reverse

Wildlife paradise | View photos »

Crowds are the last thing you want when you are looking for wildlife. That’s why this journey up through wildlife-blessed Costa Rica and Nicaragua takes you to places most have never heard of. Whether it’s caiman cooling off under your lodge or quetzal fizzing through the cloudforest, every day reveals something new.

16 day trip described, guide price £3,100pp i Fully customisable to you

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Sample itinerary

Fly to Costa Rica

On arrival in San Jose you are met and taken to your hotel, where you stay overnight. This evening is free to relax after your long flight. Please note international flights are quoted separately.

Drive up to the cloudforest

This morning your 4x4 hire car will be brought to you to set off driving to San Gerardo de Dota. Roads in Costa Rica are a mixture of good tarmac, old tarmac with potholes and dirt roads - signage is poor, so you will need our maps and directions. Climb up to Cerro de la Muerte, the highest pass at 3,491m, before you enter the heart of the cool and misty cloudforest region.

Wander through the 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.

Drive to the south Pacific coast

Set off driving south then west towards the sea, to Dominical on the Pacific. 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 a good base from which to explore the nearby Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica’s last wilderness.

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.

Relax by the Pacific

Today you have the chance to take a boat a little way off shore to Caño Island. It’s no longer possible to land on the island itself, but it’s most famous for its excellent snorkelling off the beach.The biggest draw is perhaps the boat journey itself however, with pods of dolphin often accompanying you en route.

Head north to Arenal

Today is the longest drive of your trip, around 5 hours up to Arenal in the north of the country. You might like to set off early and make a day of it, perhaps with a visit to Manuel Antonio, around an hour or so to the north. If you arrive before the crowds descend, you'll be treated to one of Costa Rica's prettiest parks, full of monkeys and birdlife.

Explore the Arenal Volcano area

Wake up early for the best chance to see the top of the volcano before clouds obscure the top. 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. The National Park is nearby with some good trails to explore in the shadow of the volcano.

Wildlife walks or hot springs

Another day to explore Arenal. Your hotel offers a very comprehensive and reasonable range of excursions in the area. The Cerro Chato hike is worth considering, or for more species spotting,float down the wildlife rich Penas Blancas River. You might like to soak in one of the many hot springs which you find around the base of the volcano.

Cross the border into Nicaragua

Depart for the border this morning, via the newly-built bridge near Los Chiles into Nicaragua, a journey which itself offers a good deal of wildlife spotting opportunity, particularly of the avian variety. Join a launch on arrival in San Carlos to head onto Lake Nicaragua, bound for the Solentiname Archipelago, a peaceful and remote group of islands.

Los Guatuzos Wildlife Reserve

Ride into the Guatuzos Wildlife Reserve, a beautiful area is home to the three types of monkey, caimans, turtles and many birds. The narrow river makes it very easy to get really near to the fauna. The afternoon is at leisure in the archipelago - do make time to relax and get into the tranquil pace of life here on the islands, and soak up their welcoming atmosphere.

Down the Rio San Juan

Return to San Carlos, where you change boats to head down the San Juan River. Your lodge lies on a very peaceful stretch of river. The lodge is very simple, although electricity and hot water are provided by solar power. Cocooned in your mosquito net at night, you will really feel immersed in the jungle. Around the lodge, you find howler monkeys, and there are a group of caiman who can often be found in the waters nearby.

The Indio Maiz Biosphere Reserve

Ride downstream to the Bartola River, the gateway to the Indio Maiz Reserve, where you will sign in at the army checkpoint. Hike one of the trails into the forest, treading softly so as not to disturb the wildlife, looking out for birds, amphibians, and maybe mammals. Return to your lodge this afternoon, stopping en route to look round El Castillo fort which looms over the river, built to keep out Sir Francis Drake.

You have a final full day to enjoy your natural surroundings on the Rio San Juan. The lodge can help you arrange additional wildlife experiences, including an evening boat trip to spot caiman at their most active (and unnerving). If you’re feeling more active, kayaking is also available. It’s worth walking the lodge’s own trail through the grounds, for a closer look at the monkeys and birds that are often present.

Fly to Managua

Return to San Carlos by boat this morning, from where you catch the short flight over Lake Nicaragua to Managua. Transfer to your hotel for an overnight stay. Spend tonight in a comfortable hotel in the city centre where you can enjoy good food or fun nightlife.

Head for home

Transfer to the airport today and check-in for your chosen international flight home.

Note: This is just an itinerary idea and we'll therefore tailor everything to you.

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Map of the area

"Happy and lovely people"

"Happy and lovely people"

Well informed, happy and lovely people…Lots of R&R con much gusto, beach and sea were great… We had an excellent trip on a river on the Nica/Tico border - the Rio Frio in the Cano Negro. Here we probably had the best wildlife guides and saw the most animals. Simon B

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About this trip


Crowds are the last thing you want when you are looking for wildlife. That’s why this journey up through wildlife blessed Nicaragua takes you to places others have never heard of. Whether it’s caiman cooling off under your lodge or quetzal fizzing through the cloudforest, every day reveals something new.

How adventurous?

1 2 3 4 5
1 2 3 4 5
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

This is really a holiday with a wildlife focus so adventure activities are not high on the agenda. That is particularly the case in Nicaragua where really all of your time is spent in remote wildlife reserves. In Costa Rica though, you are staying in certain places where you can be very much more active, should you choose.

Over the first section of the trip, San Gerardo and Dominical, there are fewer options for activities but in Manuel Antonio and Arenal there will be almost endless options to go hiking, horse riding, mountain biking, white water rafting and canopy climbing.

The accommodation on this trip from Costa Rica to Nicaragua is generally of a good, comfortable standard 3* on average. The simplest accommodation is on the Rio San Juan where you stay in traditional cabins built on stilts on the river bank. They aren’t terribly sturdy feeling but they are comfortable. Elsewhere your hotels are more robust but still are locally owned with great locations and welcoming service.

The weather in Costa Rica, and Nicaragua, 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 involved. 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, you are going to be in the tropics. This means that it is warm and humid year round.

The 'green' season tends to mean that you can get rains on the Pacific coasts, mostly in the evening. 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.

Level of culture

Costa Rica, in contrast to its northerly neighbour, has proved to be very adept at attracting visitors. 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.

Where you stay in places well visited by tourists, like Arenal, we very carefully choose the hotel we use to be far away from others. In fact, it’s the only hotel to the south of the volcano. It also happens to be surrounded by forests which have the most incredible variety of birdlife meaning it suits this holiday perfectly.

Generally, Nicaragua offers probably the most genuine and easy cultural interactions of all of our destinations. Visitor numbers are so low that there is often a genuine interest in your presence in the country. Add to this that fact that we are careful to work with so many local people and you have a recipe for abundant and rich insights into the country.

Though the Rio San Juan is mostly about the wildlife reserve, the Solentiname archipelago is a fascinating artists colony where it is very easy to fall into conversation with the locals.


There is a detailed itinerary for this trip, as 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 when you want to travel, how long you want to go for, etc.

The standard trip includes all accommodation with breakfast, transfers and guided activities in Nicaragua as set out in our detailed itinerary. In Costa Rica you have a 4x4 rental vehicle as well as maps and driving directions in order to explore more independently. 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. Normally guests fly into San José (airport code: SJO) and out of Managua (airport code: MGA) though this trip can easily be reversed.


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

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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 Subscribe to The Pothole » Howler monkey sitting in a tree above the Las Isletas islands in Lake Nicaragua Flowers of the Else Kientzler Botanical Gardens near San José Looking out from El Silencio Lodge in the Bajos del Toro cloud forest area Morning sun streaming through the cloud forest The late afternoon light over the Pacific coast of Costa Rica Caiman by the shore of Corcovado National Park The lovely coastline of the Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica The sandy beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park Walking across the hanging bridges through the forest canopy near Arenal volcano Looking out from the Observatory Lodge, Arenal Friendly boat captain in Solentiname An alligator warming itself in Solentiname Dugout canoes inside the Indio Maiz Natural Reserve in Nicaragua Expert naturalist guides take you into the Indio Maiz Reserve Caiman swimming past in the Rio San Juan El Castillo on the Rio San Juan, built to deter Sir Francis Drake from piracy Howler monkey above the Rio San Juan in Nicaragua