Those on group flights will arrive in the evening and will be transferred from the airport to the hotel. Land Only clients are advised to meet at the hotel.
Heading northeast, we swap San Jose's busy streets for the tropical cloud forest of Braulio Carrillo, where the foliage consists of giant gunnera, busy lizzies and bright orchids. The Caribbean coast is not far away from here, and a scenic boat trip of approx. one hour and 15 minutes brings us to our lodge in Tortuguero. The area is only accessible by boat or light aircraft, so it remains a remarkably tranquil and unspoilt spot, devoid of all noise pollution. We arrive on the water via a network of canals, and spend the afternoon at the Sea Turtle Museum (a donation will be requested at the entrance). A substantial portion of the day will be spent on the move; a total of six hours, including an hour's break for breakfast.
In the early morning a boat trip takes us along the spectacular canals to admire the extraordinary flora and fauna of Tortuguero. Travelling by boat enables us to pass serenely along the waterways, hopefully with sightings of monkeys, caiman, iguanas, turtles, butterflies and many of the 309 bird species recorded here. We return for breakfast and then those that want to can repeat this activity. In the afternoon you can relax in your new surroundings and enjoy the hotel facilities. Tortuguero is probably most famous as a hatching ground for Atlantic green turtles, which, subject to permission, can be seen laying their eggs from late July to October. At our lodge we usually have the opportunity to enjoy a lecture this evening from an expert in conservation.
A boat takes us back to our bus and we drive northwest through banana plantations to our lodge near Arenal Volcano. The drive is spectacular, passing pineapple and sugar cane plantations. Following a massive eruption in 1968, Arenal was Costa Rica's most active volcano until recently when it entered a resting phase. Apart from the volcano, this region has much to offer, including thermal waters, waterfalls, dense vegetation and the Cano Negro Wildlife Reserve. Optional night excursions are available; visit the hot springs, or take a Sky Tram or cable car through the rainforest for great views of the volcano. Travelling time today is about five and a half hours by bus and one hour fifteen minutes by boat.
Our goal today is La Fortuna Waterfall. A steep 20-30 minute hike/climb through the luscious jungle, well within the capabilities of anyone with reasonable fitness, is worth the effort - a dip into one of the natural pools punctuating the foliage will soon cool you off. After lunch we have an optional short scenic hike to the lava fields of Arenal Volcano, a fantastic moon-like landscape. The volcano has a classic conical shape, grey on one side and green on the other, with several fumaroles that spit out steam from time to time.
This morning we transfer to the Tilaran Mountain Range. Enjoy breathtaking views of the Gulf of Nicoya and the islands below as we ascend the hills to Monteverde and Santa Elena. The road (which is bumpy and can be in poor condition following rains) climbs to this forest-cloaked region whose name literally means 'Green Mountain'. Today's drive is about three and half hours, on bumpy dirt roads.
Today we visit the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, world-famous for its biodiversity. The reserve is the perfect place to take an unforgettable walk in the clouds and is ideal for bird watching and hiking. Santa Elena is one of the first community-managed reserves in Costa Rica and is administered by the Santa Elena High School. It is dedicated to conservation and also to the improvement of local education standards. On clear days we may also enjoy views of Arenal Volcano from here. The afternoon is free for optional excursions.
We travel southeast along the coast, following the Pan-Am Highway and passing plantations of African oil palms and teak. The drive takes around five hours. We spend two nights at Manuel Antonio National Park which is a beautiful spot where the forest meets the sea and iguanas and white-faced monkeys can often be seen on the beach. We stay at a hotel located near to the main entrance of Manuel Antonio National Park and Espadilla beach.
This morning we have a guided tour of the Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio to see its combination of tropical beaches, jungle and dramatic rocky headlands. Inside the park we may see monkeys (White-faced, Squirrel and Howler), iguana, sloths and agouti. The beaches in the National Park are considered to be some of the most beautiful in the country and we have all afternoon to enjoy them.
We continue south, towards Golfito. The four hour drive takes us to a relatively wild and undiscovered region. Not seen by many outsiders the dense jungle here has hardly been explored or researched. We stay for the next two nights in the beautiful Esquinas Rainforest Lodge set in the heart of primary rainforest and bordered by the newly created Piedras Blancas National Park and Golfito Nature Reserve. The lodge is financed by the government of Austria as a project combining forest research, development aid and nature conservation. In the afternoon we explore our peaceful surroundings in search of the abundant bird and insect life that resides here.
We take a morning hike through the rainforest and with the help of a knowledgable local porter we are likely to see snakes, monkeys and maybe sloths. We will experience all the sights and sounds of the jungle. The going can be quite slippery after rain but the hike is a highlight of the trip and is well worth the effort. The afternoon is free for optional activities - delve deeper into the forest (a 10 mile network of trails depart directly from the lodge) or simply relax by the stream-fed pool.
We head back northwest, passing through San Isidro and then up and over the Cerro de la Muerte mountain range. The driving time is around four and a half hours to Savegre. We stay up in the cloud forest in Savegre, said to be the best place in the whole of Costa Rica to see the beautiful, colourful and notoriously shy quetzal. These endangered birds rely on the cloud forest for their habitat - the males in particular are striking with a green crest, red breast and tail feathers that can reach a metre in length. A good pair of binoculars are helpful for quetzal spotting as these birds camouflage themselves well amongst the wet leaves of the forest! After lunch we'll take a short walk from our lodge into the cloud forest.
Today is free to relax, or to try any of a number of exciting optional excursions. Bring your binoculars to spot some of the 170 bird species, trek through the tropical cloud forest or simply enjoy the view from the lodge. For those who are passionate about trekking, an optional tour to Los Quetzales National Park can be arranged to admire the tropical cloud forest and sub-Andean vegetation of the area. Birds that may be seen in this area include hummingbirds, colibri, tanagers and trogons, whilst tapirs, sloths and Squirrel monkeys may also be seen.
After a one hour walk, we spend the morning in the beautiful village of Copey where we step momentarily into the agricultural lives of those living in the highlands of the Central Mountain Range. We usually visit a local school in this area - the children are very welcoming and it is a great opportunity to interact with locals (please note that we always visit a local school on this trip during term time, but the location of the school we visit may vary according to school schedules, therefore please allow flexibility). Some lunchtime snacks will be prepared for us with a local family, which is sure to be a memorable touch of Costa Rican hospitality! A two and a half hour journey takes us back to San Jose, where there is time to explore the modern capital.
Our trip ends in San Jose after breakfast.