Those on group flights will arrive in the evening and will be transferred from the airport to the hotel.
Starting early, we head northeast out of San Jose and ascend into the tropical cloud forest of Braulio Carrillo. Soon we are surrounded by the amazing bio-diversity of this area; giant gunnera, busy lizzies and orchids flourish here. We descend towards the warm Caribbean coast and join our motor launch for a scenic one hour and fifteen minute boat trip to our lodge in Tortuguero. After lunch we visit the Sea Turtle Museum (at the entrance you will be asked for a donation) and Tortuguero village, which lies in the north-eastern corner of the park, on a thin strip of land between the sea and the main canal. Our lodge tonight is surrounded by a network of water canals. This area can only be reached by boat or light aircraft so the way of life of this beautiful spot remains remarkably unspoilt, without car or noise pollution! The total travelling time today is around six hours (including approximately one hour spent having breakfast in Guapiles).
In the morning a boat trip takes us along the spectacular canals to admire the extraordinary flora and fauna of Tortuguero. Travelling by boat gives us the opportunity to see monkeys, caiman, iguanas, turtles, butterflies and many of the 309 bird species recorded here. This can be repeated in the afternoon, or there is the opportunity to use kayaks to explore the waterways on your own. Alternatively you can relax 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.
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 explosion 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.
We take a morning trip to La Fortuna Waterfall. This is a steep 20-30 minute climb through jungle, well within the capabilities of anyone with reasonable fitness. There are some lovely pools to swim in en route and plenty of interesting plant and insect life here. 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.
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 Hotel Playa Espadilla, located just 150 metres from the main entrance to the National Park and 75 metres from Playa Espadilla. If you feel like relaxing, a cocktail at the poolside bar is highly recommended!
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 fascinating 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 local guide should 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. Today we also visit a local village and school. 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, but the location of the school we visit may vary according to school schedules, therefore please allow flexibility). The afternoon is free for optional activities - explore more of 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. The driving time is around four and a half hours. We stay up in the cloud forest in Savegre Lodge, said to be the best place in the whole of Costa Rica to see the beautiful and notoriously shy quetzal. There are many other interesting wildilfe species to look out for and these are very different to what we may have already encountered in the rainforest.
Today has been left free for you to choose from a variety of optional excursions. Birdwatching is one of the main attractions and with the help of our professional guide we could spot some of the 170 colourful different species of birds which populate this area. For those who are passionate about trekking, an amazing tour from Cerro Frio to San Gerardo de Dota can be arranged for us to admire the tropical cloud forest, the sub-Andean vegetation and the wildlife that populates the area.
After a one hour walk, we spend the morning in the beautiful village of Copey in the highlands of the Central Mountain Range, where we can experience the life of the local people who work mainly in agriculture and dairy farms. We have lunch with a local family and enjoy the genuine Costa Rican hospitality that is so prevalent. After lunch we drive for two and a half hours and return to San Jose where there is time to explore the bustling, modern capital. The Teatro Nacional is probably its most impressive building and is considered to be the centre of Costa Rican culture (visit is optional).
Our trip ends in San Jose after breakfast.