Arrive in San Jose. The Costa Rican cosmopolitan 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 or 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 an 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 the 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. Stay: Buena Vista Hotel (Comfortable)
Located in the central valley at an altitude of 1150 metres, head north, out of San Jose to Poas National Park, where the smoke from one of Costa Rica's most active volcanos periodically rises from the tropical rainforest. Poas has erupted 40 times since 1828, most recently in April 2017. At almost kilometre in diameter and 314 metres deep the main crater is one of the largest in the world. We head out on a well graded footpath to the viewing point offering views directly into the crater.
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 in which case we will visit a nearby coffee estate instead. Our next stop is the provincial town of Sarchi, well known throughout Costa Rica for its intricate arts and crafts. The town is best known for producing decorative oxcarts, one of Costa Rica's national symbols.
We meet Don William, a local artist, who will teach us how to paint a traditional oxcart with some of the patterns and designs familiar to the area. Continuing to Arenal (approximately 2.5 hours), 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 on the outskirts of La Fortuna. Each family is accommodated in individual bungalows positioned in a large tropical garden. Open up the wooden shutters each morning onto an extensive outdoor deck area overlooking the jungle and listen to the sounds of the tropical birds all around you. The lodge also features a freeform outdoor pool. This evening, we can make the most of the local geothermal activity by enjoying an optional bathe in nearby hot springs. Stay: Tilajari Hotel Resort (Comfortable) (B)
After breakfast drive from our lodge to the Balsa River. On arrival at our rafting base meet our river guides, get kitted out with equipment and have a full safety briefing, before heading out onto the river. No previous experience is necessary and full instruction will be given. There is a minimum age of 8. Children under 8 will not be able to take part in this mornings activity and will need to be accompanied by an adult, catching up with the group at San Carlos Bridge.
Our professional guides aid us in navigating two hours of exhilarating grade two and three rapids. In between each rapid the action quietens down and there is ample time to sit back and take in the scenery with dense rainforests on both banks of the river. Spot wildlife including sloth, monkey and may species of tropical bird such as toucan.
Our rafting trip ends at the San Carlos Bridge, where we can time to enjoy a dip in river and a drink before heading back to our lodge. The afternoon is free to relax by the pool. Stay: Tilajari Hotel Resort (Comfortable) (B)
Today after a leisurely start, we travel around Arenal Lake into the cloud forest region of Monteverde - one of the most well-known places in Costa Rica to see wildlife.
Lunch today is an interactive affair. Stopping on the shore of Lake Arenal we visit El Establo, a family run restaurant and ranch. After a short tour of the ranch, tuck in to a typical Costa Rican dish called "Casado" comprising of rice, beans, beef or chicken or fish and plantain.
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.
Perched on the Continental Divide between the Pacific and the Caribbean, it is thought that there has been indigenous habitation in Monteverde since 3000 BC. The turning point in its recent history came in 1950, when a group of pacifist Quakers from Alabama moved here to avoid subscription in the Korean War. They sought a lifestyle in a country in which they could embrace their peaceful beliefs and continue to cultivate their dairy farms. These families went on to establish the community of Monteverde and some of its famed cloud forest reserves.
After checking into our hotel Monteverde head out on a guided night walk in search of nocturnal species. Stay: Fonda Vela Hotel (Comfortable) (B/L)
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 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. You may choose to visit the local butterfly or orchid garden. Alternatively, you may choose to enjoy a trek in one of the other reserves or use the hotels indoor swimming pool, two Jacuzzis or pool table. Your Tour Leader will be able to offer advice on the options available. Stay: Fonda Vela Hotel (Comfortable) (B)
Leaving the cloudforest behind us, descend to the Pacific Coast, enjoying staggering views over the Gulf and Peninsula of Nicoya.
Heading south, cross the Rio Tarcoles Bridge from which huge crocodiles are regularly seen. We stop at the Guacalillo estuary and board a boat, setting off for a 2½ hour scenic river adventure through dense mangrove forests.
The mangrove is a great habitat for many endemic birds like the cuckoo, Mangrove Hummingbirds, Vireo, Panama Flycatcher and many herons and egrets. This particular mangrove forest is one of the most important in the mid-Pacific Coast for the conservation of the Scarlet Macaw. Though this endangered bird species spends most of the day in the forest, they rest in the mangroves.
Look out for some 250 species of birds, crocodiles, mammals and insects. Osprey, gull, cormorant, pelican and frigate birds are some of the most common species in the backwater delta. Spot the large colonies of crocodiles! Some of these reptiles are easily 10-feet long.
After lunch, included on this day, we continue along the Pacific Coast to the coastal resort of Dominical, where we will spend the next three nights. Dominical is ideally located between Manuel Antonio and the Osa Peninsula and offers an expansive beach well known for its excellent surfing conditions. Stay: Villas Rio Mar (Comfortable) (B/L)
This morning travel into the heart of the Osa Peninsular, famed for its beautiful beaches and rich wildlife.
Travelling a short distance to Punta Uvita we board a boat for a thrilling ninety minute crossing to San Pedrillo Ranger Station in Corcovado National Park. Between July and October it's possible to spot whales in the bays that hug the Pacific coastline. Turtles and dolphins as well as a host of marine birds have also been spotted from the boat. On arrival we'll meet our expert local guide who will accompany us on the network of trails and tracks that weave in and out of pristine protected primary forest and beaches that dot the coastline.
The park has an abundance of bird species as well as 140 species of mammals. During the day the park we are likely to see white-faced capuchin monkey, coatimundi (part of the racoon family) and the tiny squirrel and howler monkey. It's also possible to spot sloths, coatis, raccoons, and on occasion's tapirs.
Our first walk takes three hours followed by a well-deserved break and picnic lunch at the park ranger station. In the afternoon we will have a shorter thirty minute stroll before heading back to our boat and a ninety minute crossing back to Punta Uvita and onwards to our hotel. We'll aim to be back at the hotel by 5.30pm in time for a sundowner drink at the hotel or on the beach. Stay: Villas Rio Mar (Comfortable) (B/L)
Enjoy a full day to explore the area and relax on the fine beaches of the Pacific Ocean. Our hotel is located 15 minutes walk from the beach at Dominical. The beach itself is well known for its surf and hosts several restaurants serving both local and international dishes and many laid back bars, the village is much less busy that neighbouring Manuel Antonio. The sunsets from the coast, which are best viewed from the beach are spectacular and have to be seen to be believed.
There are also lots of other activities on offer if beach time isn't for you, including rafting or snorkelling trips or take to the sea and explore the inlets on a kayak. Your local leader can give you a run down on the options available, details of which can be found in the budgeting section. Stay: Villas Rio Mar (Comfortable) (B)
Departing Dominical beach this morning we drive 190km 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. The earliest your flight can depart is 1pm.
For those on early morning flights a private transfer can be arranged at additional cost. It's also possible to extend your stay in Dominical should you wish to enjoy a few more days on the coast. (B)