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 for 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 a complimentary 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: Autentico Hotel (Comfortable)
This morning head out of San Jose, driving half an hour to the old colonial capital of Cartago where we make a brief stop before continuing to Irazu volcano. Situated at 3,432m altitude, the drive to Irazu climbs through fertile farmland, giving out fantastic views to the valley below, before slowly transforming into a barren windswept moonscape. There are two crater viewpoints at Irazu, and we aim to visit both of them. The main one is filled with brilliantly coloured water, deep within the steep-sided black walls. We'll have time to explore before continuing to Turrialba.
The fertile land around Turrialba makes it an important agricultural region for coffee, sugar and Macadamia nuts, as well as dairy production, with its cheese being popular throughout the country. On arrival, we will visit the excavated Indian ceremonial centre at Guayabo. Dating from 1000 to 1400, this is one of the country's most important archaeological sites. Here, uncovered paved streets and water channels help us to understand about village life in that era.
Our eco lodge for the next two nights is located on the slopes of Turrialba volcano with extensive gardens full of life. It's possible to head out on trails from the lodge in search of hummingbirds and numerous other birds that make Costa Rica their home. Stay: Guayabo Lodge (Comfortable) (B)
This morning is free for you to spend as you wish. You may choose to try whitewater rafting on the Pejibaye River and with grade II to III rapids (operates between May and November), this is a fun ride with plenty of birds to spot in the trees along the banks. Alternatively, you may choose to visit CATIE Research Centre (Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigscion y Ensenanza). Recognised throughout the world as an important agronomic station, its environmental development projects seek to enhance human wellbeing and protect natural resources. Its botanic garden is a special place to relax, surrounded by the calls of birds, the whisper of the giant Guanacaste Tree and the imposing Ceiba. Alternatively relax at our lodge and enjoy the gardens and trails.
This afternoon visit Finca La Florita in Santa Cruz, a farming town in the high lands of one the most important volcanic ranges of Costa Rica. During our visit we'll learn the process of producing cheese and sample the end product! Stay: Guayabo Lodge (Comfortable) (B)
Our drive to Cano Blanco takes us through extensive banana plantations. From Cano Blanco a boat will take us to our spectacular lodge in the Tortuguero National Park, where we spend the next two nights.
As we travel through a fascinating network of jungle waterways, it is easy to understand why this area is often described as a 'mini Amazon'. Its complex canal system and narrow lagoons link small isolated settlements and are rich in fish, including rainbow bass and grouper. Over 370 species of bird have been recorded here including heron, stork and kingfisher as well as 60 species of mammal with Howler and Spider Monkeys in the treetops.
Upon arrival at our comfortable lodge, we will take a short walking tour of the carless village of Tortugeuero. Our lodge is in an idyllic setting, perched on a small slither of land between the Caribbean Sea and the waterway and features an excellent swimming pool. Stay: Evergreen Lodge (Premium) (B/L/D)
To kick off our day, there is the option of a bird watching trip by boat at dawn. Amazingly, the country's different species outnumber those found in the whole of Europe with stork, parrot and hummingbird being among the many birds to be spotted. Later this morning, head out on a jungle trek to understand more about the area's unique ecosystem. It's amazing to think that 33% of the jungle's total biomass is made up of ants and termites.
This afternoon, we will take to the waterways for further exploration and on our travels, we may come across the howler monkey, aptly named by the way it noisily protects its territory and if you are lucky, you may also see the elusive ocelots cat and jaguar. Throughout the year, you may be lucky enough to see different species of turtle nesting close to our lodge. The best time to see this spectacle is between June and September, when over five-thousand green and leatherback turtles come ashore to nest on Tortuguero's beaches. At this time of year, there is the option of an evening turtle walk to take in this spectacle. Stay: Evergreen Lodge (Premium) (B/L/D)
Leaving our lodge this morning, we travel by boat back to Cano Blanco, before heading on to Puerto Viejo Sarapiqui.
After lunch, we plan to visit La Tirimbina for a chocolate tour. This two and a half hour tour will open the secrets and wonders of one of mankind's favourite foods: chocolate. Originally from Central America, this plant has an extraordinary history; it was one of the most important products for the Mayan and Aztec cultures. The discovery of America led to the introduction of chocolate in Europe, transforming it into the product we all know today.
We start by taking a short hike over a suspension bridge and through a forest to a former cacao-growing plot, learning about the cacao tree along the way. Upon arrival at the plot, the artisanal process by which cacao fruit is transformed into chocolate will be demonstrated. There is ample opportunity to taste different kinds of chocolate, prepared on the spot in the traditional way. Stay: Selva Verde Lodge (Comfortable) (B/L)
This morning's drive skirts around the great central volcanic massif, passing through fertile farmlands that are rich with tropical crops. Soon we catch sight of the famous Arenal Volcano. This classic cone rising to 1,670 metres is covered by a tangled mass of vegetation on one side, while the other is starkly barren. Having remained dormant for hundreds of years, it erupted unexpectedly in 1968 destroying the small town of Tabacon on its west side. After this, it was known for its regular explosions which became a huge spectacle. However, since 2010, the volcano has gone quiet once more…but you never know when it will erupt again.
This afternoon, we drive to the Mirador del Silencio Reserve, where we can enjoy a short nature trail observing endemic flora and fauna at the foot of the volcano. Brimming with giant trees, weird and wonderful plant species and a spectacular view of Arenal, it's no wonder that the reserve has featured in several films. Many species of fauna can also be seen here, including different types of snakes, howler monkeys and many species of birdlife. Our accommodation for the next two nights is a comfortable lodge near La Fortuna set in beautiful gardens. La Fortuna was renamed after the 1968 eruption, when it was seen as being 'fortunate' that it was located on the eastern side of the volcano. Stay: Hotel Magic Mountain (Premium) (B)
Today has been left free to explore the area as you choose. There are local treks to waterfalls where you can take a dip, as well as along lava trails. For the thrill seekers, optional whitewater rafting is available (operates between May and November) and we recommend making the most of the local geothermal activity by enjoying an optional bathe in the nearby hot springs. Alternatively relax by the hotel pool and enjoy the peaceful setting. Stay: Hotel Magic Mountain (Premium) (B)
Today we travel around Arenal Lake up into the cloud forest region of Monteverde - one of the most well-known places in Costa Rica to see wildlife. 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. However, 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. Lunch today is an interactive affair, allowing the kids to cook up a Costa Rican treat for the adults in the group. Once we are all fed and watered, we can look forward to an afternoon of optional activities. There is a butterfly farm and ecological farm to explore, as well as an orchid garden and frog pools. Your Tour Leader will be able to provide more information on the choices available. This evening, there is the opportunity to go on a guided night walk in search of nocturnal species, such as pacas and tarantulas. Stay: Hotel Heliconia (Comfortable) (B/L)
The famous, but now very rare, resplendent quetzal can be 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 people, it is considered to be one of the most beautiful birds in the world. This morning we have a guided tour of Santa Elena Reserve, where 90% of the species found in Monteverde can also be seen. Quieter and less touristy than its famous neighbour, our visit here gives us a good chance of spotting wildlife.
During our walk through this reserve, we will occasionally stop to watch the recordings of different trap cameras set up by the Santa Elena Conservation Project. These cameras are used to measure the number of times each animal visits an area and to study their behaviour once there. Monteverde is regarded as offering some of the best canopy experiences in the world and you may choose to 'fly' through the dramatic scenery on a zip-wire, or take a more sedate walk through the canopy on treetop walkways. Alternatively, you may choose to explore one of the other private forest reserves in the area. Stay: Hotel Heliconia (Comfortable) (B)
Leaving the cloud forest behind us this morning, we descend to the Pacific Coast with staggering views over the Gulf and Peninsula of Nicoya. Heading south, we pause at Carara Biological Reserve, famed for the scarlet macaws and abundant birdlife which populate this transitional forest.
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: Hotel Cristal Ballena (Premium) (B)
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: Hotel Cristal Ballena (Premium) (B/L)
Enjoy a full day to explore the area and relax on the fine beaches of the Pacific Ocean. Our hotel offers an immense swimming pool, expansive 12 hectare landscaped grounds with rainforest hiking paths and a spa. The hotel also offers a complementary shuttle bus to the nearby 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 us 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: Hotel Cristal Ballena (Premium) (B)
Departing Playa Dominical 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 Playa Dominical if you want a few extra days to enjoy the beach. (B)