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For a tiny country, Costa Rica packs a huge wildlife punch. Containing 5% of the world's biodiversity, its thick forests teem with life, from brightly coloured toucans to slow-moving sloths. With adventure and beautiful beaches to boot, this two-week trip won't disappoint.
Explore Tour Leader / Driver
8 nights comfortable hotel
6 nights comfortable lodge
Trip maximum 16 Explore Average 11
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Arrive in San Jose. The cosmopolitan Costa Rican 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 our 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.
Autentico Hotel (or similar)
This morning, an hour's drive will take us to the Poas Volcano National Park, where the smoke from one of Costa Rica's most active volcanos rises majestically from the tropical rainforest. At almost a mile in diameter, the main crater is one of the largest in the world. 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, and in that case you'll visit the Doka coffee estate, including a tasting session of Costa Rica's finest export.
After our visit to Poas we'll return to San Jose, calling first at a Toucan Rescue Ranch located just outside the city. Here we'll get our first insight into the wide spectrum of Costa Rican wildlife, learning about rescued species including parrot, macaw, sloth, spider monkey and toucan. The centre does not permit visitors to handle wildlife, and they concentrate on rescue and rehabilitation as a priority. After our visit we'll spend some time visiting San Jose, stopping by some of its main architectural highlights and ending at the large Central Market, frequented by both locals and tourists alike.
This evening you may like to take a taxi out to the gastronomic area around the Barrio Escalante, where craft beer pubs and quirky restaurants are a growing trend.
This morning we drive south out of San Jose, down to the wild cloud forest of Savegre, famously one of the best places in Costa Rica for sightings of the elusive Resplendent Quetzal. The peace of the region is an outstanding introduction to Costa Rica's natural beauty. Hikers will enjoy the forest trails and the journey through the alpine-like hills, while nature lovers visit for its biodiversity - the area around San Gerardo de Dota contains around 200 species of bird and countless plant types including various orchid species.
This afternoon we explore the trails around our lodge, perhaps crossing the path of the river that runs through the lodge, as we delve into the surrounding cloud forest.
Trogon Lodge (or similar)
We have an early start to get out into the trails surrounding our lodge this morning, in the search for the quetzal. The males of the species are vivid, with a red breast, green crest and the iconic long green tail that dangles from the branches. Despite the bright colours, they are very effective at camouflage and are surprisingly difficult to pick out among the greens of the trees. Binoculars are a useful addition to your kit here, as our Leader will be diligently attempting to find us one of these famous birds.
After returning to the lodge for breakfast, we have the rest of the day free to spend as we wish. There are enough walks and trails around the lodge to spend a day here easily. The forest is rich in flora and fauna, and the mountainous cloudforest landscapes are perfect for keen photographers to make the most of.
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 famous throughout the country. Our journey takes approximately three hours, and we'll arrive in the afternoon, taking some time to explore the small town of Turrialba before dinner. This evening, we will be visiting a typical 'finca' (farm), for a traditional meal - the local cheese will certainly be on the menu!
Guayabo Lodge (or similar)
One of Costa Rica's most scenic rivers, the Pacuare is a perfect place for both rafting aficionados and enthusiastic newcomers. Calm stretches between the class III-IV rapids allow time to appreciate the passage through rainforest-topped canyons and tumbling waterfalls. Macaws and blue morpho butterflies wheel past as we raft through the steep, green walls of the canyon.
The first section of the canyon is mainly II-III rapids, giving us chance to test the skills that our experienced rafting guides will teach us, gaining confidence as we go. We then move into the III-IV rapids. You don't need previous rafting experience, as our guides will give us all the knowledge necessary. This river is not difficult to raft, but provides a lot of rapids in a short stretch of water, giving us the perfect mix of adventure and fun. It can be rafted year-round, but is of course subject to weather and river conditions. If the water levels on the Pacuare are low, there is another section of the river called 'Finca de la Cruz' that we will raft instead - this is a four mile stretch of Class III rapids again interspersed with calm sections, creeks and waterfalls.
We'll have lunch on the river before finish in the trip in the early afternoon and returning to our hotel, giving us the evening free to relax.
If you're not a confident swimmer, or the thought of rafting isn't for you, then don't worry. Instead of rafting we can organise a trip to CATIE and their huge botanical garden, or alternatively a visit to the community-led Aquiares coffee plantation where you'll learn about the coffee-making process as well as some of the culture and traditions of the area. The Tour Leader will ask your group on the first day or two of the tour to confirm whether you want to raft or not, so that they can make the reservations.
This morning, our drive to Costa Rica's Caribbean coast takes us through extensive banana plantations. From either Cano Blanco or Pavona, a boat will take us to our spectacular lodge in the Tortuguero National Park, where we will 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. They also support an abundance of birds, such as heron, stork and kingfisher as well as 60 species of mammal with howler and spider monkeys in the treetops.
Upon arrival at our lodge, we will take a short walking tour of the car-less village of Tortuguero. Our lodge is in an idyllic setting, perched on a small slither of land between the Caribbean Sea and the waterway.
La Baula Lodge (or similar)
Today we will be exploring some of this spectacular national park. To kick off our day, there is the option of a bird watching trip by boat at dawn, where we have the opportunity to spot some of Costa Rica's spectacular birdlife. Water birds such as herons, egrets and kingfishers are among the birds that may be spotted, although other species of birds such as toucans may be found in the area.
Later this morning we will go on a nature walk to understand more about the area's unique ecosystem. This afternoon, we will take to the waterways for further exploration. On our travels, we may come across the howler monkey, aptly named by the way it noisily protects its territory. Much shyer animals in this area include ocelots, tapir and the incredibly elusive 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 turtles come ashore to nest on Tortuguero's beaches. At this time of year, there is the option of an evening turtle walk in the company of experienced guides.
Leaving our lodge this morning, we travel by boat back to either Cano Blanco or Pavona, 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.
This evening we will have a night walk in the Selva Verde Rainforest, in search of nocturnal species such as snakes and tarantulas.
Selva Verde Lodge (or similar)
The lodge has many onsite trails in secondary rainforest, leading right into the Selva Verde Reserve. This morning we will take a short walk on some of the trails, through a tropical paradise of towering almendro trees and keel billed toucans.
Later on, we drive to Arenal, skirting around the great central volcanic massif, passing through fertile farmlands that are rich with tropical crops. Arenal is a classic conical volcano, famous for its nightly eruptions until finally going quiet in 2010. We will be exploring the national park on foot, taking a walk on the flanks of the volcano, which are covered by a tangled mass of vegetation on one side and starkly barren on the other. Our leader will point out interesting flora and fauna and provide more information about the science and history of the volcano, before taking us to a viewpoint for a closer view.
Our accommodation for the next two nights is in La Fortuna. The town was renamed after a huge 1968 eruption that decimated the small towns around the volcano's western flanks, when it was seen as being 'fortunate' that it was located on the eastern side of the volcano.
Hotel San Bosco Inn (or similar)
Today has been left free to explore the Arenal area as you choose. There are local treks to waterfalls and along lava trails whilst those keen to relax can enjoy spa treatments with volcanic mud. For wildlife lovers there is the option to join a wildlife spotting tour, seeking the famous sloth, the poisonous blue jeans dart frog and the multi-coloured toucan among other species. There are also hanging bridges and zip wire adventures in Arenal, which give you the opportunity to discover the rainforest at canopy height, either by flying through it or taking a walk across suspension bridges, with a birds-eye view.
Your Tour Leader will be able to provide information on all the options.
Leaving the volcano behind us this morning, we descend to the Pacific Coast, enjoying 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. Finally, we continue along the Pacific Coast to Manuel Antonio National Park, where we will spend the next three nights.
La Foresta Resort (or similar)
This morning, we explore the Manuel Antonio National Park, famed for its beautiful beaches and rich wildlife. During our time in the park, we are likely to see white-faced capuchin monkeys, coatimundi (part of the raccoon family) and the tiny squirrel monkeys. This is also one of the best places in Costa Rica to see sloths. The majority of a sloth's diet comes from buds and leaves. As leaves provide little energy, sloths move only when necessary and even then very slowly so they are easy to spot.
The remainder of the day can be spent relaxing on the white sandy beaches, enjoying a swim in the warm azure waters. The sunsets from this coast are spectacular and have to be seen to be believed.
Today is free to relax in Manuel Antonio. You could choose to revisit the park, or relax on the beaches around the town of Manuel Antonio. There are also lots of other activities on offer if beach time isn't for you, including rafting or snorkelling trips.
Departing Manuel Antonio this morning we drive 160km, approximately four hours, 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. If you are booking your own flights, the earliest your flight can depart is 1pm.
For those on later flights a private transfer can be arranged at additional cost later in the day if desired. It's also possible to extend your stay in Manuel Antonio if you would like some additional time at the beach.
Seasonal weather patterns can be unpredictable. Up-to-date information on the weather worldwide can be found by following the BBC weather link on this page. Costa Rica has a tropical climate with high temperature humidity and rainfall. The average temperature is 21°C in the highlands and variable in the lowlands. The rainy season is from May to October and the summer from December to April, but it does still tend to rain, usually in short bursts. Bear in mind that Costa Rica has 12 microclimates and weather can vary significantly in one day.
2 Pin Flat
Christian, Roman Catholic
There are a wealth of exciting activities in Costa Rica, and it's not possible or even necessary to do all of the activities below in every location. This will give you a guideline and allow you to choose how you spend your time in each place. Estimated costs are for guidance only, are on a per person basis unless shown otherwise, and may depend on the number of participants. Prices quoted are correct as of the date these trip notes were originally issued but may change at any time due to currency fluctuations. Turrialba - Catie US$ 10 inc. lunch US$ 55 Tortuguero - Turtle watching (in season June - September) US$ 42; Bird/wildlife watching tour US$ 27, Spa US$ 37-62 Arenal - Hot springs US$ 42 (US$ 72 with dinner) plus transport; Waterfall walk US$ 18; Sloth tour US$60 with transport US$68; Half day safari float US$60; Hanging bridges US $62; Canopy Tour (Sky Tram & zip wire) US $111; Hanging bridges + canopy tour (Sky Tram, zip wire & bridges) US $147 Manuel Antonio - Isla Damas Boat trip US$72; Catamaran and Sunset tour US$85; White Water rafting Grade III US$103; Jungle Night Walk US$103; Surf lessons US$71; Horseback riding US$70 (lunch inc.); Whale Watching US$140 (from July 15th to October 15th) Please note all optionals in Costa Rica can be paid for by card.
Lightweight clothing is essential in midsummer though a warmer jumper is advisable for cooler evenings in the highlands (San Gerardo de Dota can be very cool at night). A good waterproof is essential, and you could consider waterproof trousers. The jungle lowlands are hot and muggy, and it can rain at any time of year. Long trousers and long-sleeved shirts are recommended on jungle walks. For your rafting excursion, take water shoes with a securely closed heel (not flip flops). Open toes are OK, but they should be securely fastened.
Lightweight trail/walking boots for jungle walks, comfortable shoes/trainers and sandals. In the rainy season waterproof boots are recommended.
One main piece of luggage and a daysac. Remember, you are expected to carry your own baggage - don't overload yourself.
We recommend a sunhat, sunscreen, a small umbrella, a torch, insect repellent, a travel adaptor and a water bottle. Binoculars are essential for bird and animal spotting, and, for those interested, we also recommend bringing snorkelling equipment for your time at Manuel Antonio National Park.
The accommodation in Costa Rica is largely very small, locally-run and wonderfully located. We opt for a mix of jungle lodges and small family-run hotels, avoiding large chains as much as possible. Due to the size of the accommodation, and its popularity, we may use a number of different hotels in various locations. Some of the alternative properties are as follows: Tortuguero - Tortuguero Beachfront, Evergreen Lodge, Pachira Lodge, Aninga Lodge, Laguna Lodge, Turtle Beach. San Gerardo de Dota - Trogon Lodge, Savegre Lodge, Suria, Suenos del Bosque or Mirador de Quetzales. All of these lodges provide a stay in the cloud forest, surrounded by nature. At 2,200 metres of altitude, it can be extremely cold here at night, so bring warm layers! Arenal - San Bosco Inn, Arenal Country Inn or Arenal Montechiari. These La Fortuna-based inns have views to the Arenal Volcano and easy access to all of the activities in the surrounding areas Manuel Antonio - La Foresta, Karahe, Hotel Manuel Antonio. The small town of Manuel Antonio has slowly started spreading up hill towards the neighbouring town of Quepos. On this tour we may use accommodation that is in either Manuel Antonio or in Quepos, just 10 minutes away. Hotels are typically wooden lodges, set in tropical gardens, bringing the nature in to you. We may also use other hotels in these and other locations on the tour, in order to secure availability. If you'd like more information about your specific departure date, don't hesitate to ask.
Can you drink the water?
The water quality is poor and therefore it is recommended to avoid drinking tap water during your trip.
We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK citizens, check the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice.
Please refer to our COVID-19 entry requirements page for any country-specific conditions of entry. Whilst we strive to update this on a regular basis we recommend you also check the FCDO website for the latest advice on entry requirements in this fast-evolving situation. Information can change at any time.
Please note that some countries require proof of parental consent when travelling overseas with under 18s. Please check requirements with the relevant embassy or consular office well in advance of travel if this applies to your party.
Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. However, please note that if you voluntarily make any changes to your booking including changing your trip or departure date, any additional costs or charges incurred will not be covered. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions
Costa Rica: Citizens from the UK, US, Canada and most EU countries do not require a visa for a stay up to 90 days. Citizen of Australia, New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland do not require a visa for stays up to 30 days. Other nationalities should consult their local embassy or consular office. USA: If your flights pass through the USA, even if only in transit, you will require either a visa or an ESTA (an e-visa). Please read on for more information. Citizens of the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and passport holders from several EU countries can apply for an ESTA under certain conditions. This applies if you enter the country by sea or by air, and this must be done online via https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov, no later than 72 hours prior to travel. Travellers who have not registered before their trip are likely be refused boarding. You must have a biometric passport to apply for an ESTA. UK passports which are biometric feature a small gold symbol (camera) at the bottom of the front cover. If you have visited Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen since 2011 or are dual nationals of these countries, you cannot travel with an ESTA and instead you will need to apply for a visa from the nearest US Embassy or Consulate. If you are unable to provide a valid visa before boarding flights to the US, or entering via another method, you may not be permitted to travel. You should also be aware that if you have travelled to or have been in Cuba since the 12th of January 2021, you will not be eligible for an ESTA visa waiver and will need to apply for a US visa. You should consult the US State Department website to determine which you will need. Your ESTA application will ask for Point of Contact information. Please note that if you're only transiting through the USA then this is not required. If you're visiting or staying in the USA on an Explore trip, then our USA contact information will be listed on your final documentation which you will receive approximately 3-4 weeks before departure. Entry requirements for the USA can change regularly, therefore, please ensure you have the most up to date information before you travel by checking the US embassy website. Visa applications - http://london.usembassy.gov/niv/apply.html Canada: An electronic travel authorisation (ETA) is required by British citizens transiting via Canada. For more information see the official Canadian government website: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/eta.asp Other nationalities should consult their local embassy or consular office
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.
Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.
For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.
You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.
On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.
An ability to swim is essential for your safe enjoyment of the water based activities on this trip. If you wish to participate in these activities then we insist that you are able to swim.
Nothing compulsory, but we recommend protection against typhoid, infectious hepatitis and polio. Please consult your travel clinic for the latest advice on Malaria, Dengue and Zika Virus. Please take preventative measures to avoid mosquito bites - these include mosquito repellent as well as long trousers and long sleeve shirts to cover up when necessary. Please note many countries in Central America, South America and the Caribbean require a yellow fever vaccination certificates if travelling from infected areas. A detailed list of these countries can be found on the NaTHNaC website - http://travelhealthpro.org.uk/countries. Also on the NaTHNaC site there is a list of Countries (and specific areas within a country) which are at risk of infection and a vaccination is therefore recommended. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.