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 of San Jose, we swap the capital for the tropical cloud forest of Braulio Carrillo National Park, where the foliage consists of giant gunnera, busy lizzies and bright orchids. We pass through a large area of the park on our journey to the Sarapiqui region, another area blessed with abundant vegetation. This afternoon we have a 2.5 hour guided safari float on the Sarapiqui River. Using 6-person rafts, naturalist guides will accompany us, pointing out the diverse flora and fauna of this verdant section of rainforest. Not using a motor enables us to appreciate the full range of sounds from the forest; we recommend that you bring binoculars to have a greater chance of seeing monkeys, caimans, iguanas and sloths, all of which live in the area.
This morning we transfer to the area surrounding Arenal Volcano. 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 plenty to offer, including thermal waters, waterfalls, Lake Arenal and plenty of wildlife. The afternoon has been left free to relax or to join one of the many optional excursions available in this area (see below).
There is a 2 hour guided hike this morning through Arenal Volcano National Park. The park has a good system of trails and we'll enjoy a relatively simple hike through them. The rest of the day is free to explore the area, either at your own pace or on one of the many optional excursions available. You could take a boat tour through the Cano Negro Wildlife Reserve (please note this is a full day tour and you will need to miss the guided walk to do it), walk across the hanging bridges of Arenal, join a moutain bike ride around Lake Arenal, visit the Ecotermales hot springs or take the Sky Tram adventure (with an optional zip wire through the canopy).
From the northern lowlands we travel through the Tilaran mountains to reach the cloud forest. Enjoy breathtaking views of the Gulf of Nicoya and the islands below as we ascend the hills to Monteverde. The road (which is bumpy and can be in poor condition, especially 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. Monteverde town is our location for the next 2 nights. You'll notice a real difference in the climate of this area; gone is the humidity of the lowlands and in its place is a cool mist, a steady stream of clouds and a much cooler average temperate, given the altitude of 1,440m. The perfect crop to grow in such a climate is coffee and so this afternoon we join a tour to the Don Juan Coffee Plantation, where guides talk us through the harvesting process. Coffee has shaped the history and socio-economic development of Costa Rica and our guides will explain all of this before we have the chance to taste some for ourselves!
This morning we start the day early with a visit to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, famous for its biodiversity. The forest is bathed in mist, the moisture from which supports a fantastic array of plantlife, with ferns and moss growing on every available tree trunk. There's a good system of trails through primary forest that lead to a number of look out points across the mountains - an unforgettable walk in the clouds! Santa Elena is one of the first community-managed reserves in Costa Rica, dedicated to conservation and also the improvement of local education standards. The afternoon has been left free to participate in one of the many optional excursions in the area; visit a tree top platform and appreciate the forest from above the canopy on a Sky Trek tour, walk across a series of suspension bridges amongst the trees on a Sky Walk tour, visit a conservation project at Selvatura park, or spend time at the Frog Pond Museum where 26 different species of toads and frogs can be found.
Our scenery will change dramatically today as we leave the cloud forest and drive for 4 hours towards Rincon de la Vieja in the far north of Costa Rica. The tropical dry forest of this area is punctuated by waterfalls, hot springs and bubbling mud pools. The afternoon is yours to relax into your new surroundings or to join one of the many optional excursions available in this region (see below).
The Rincon de la Vieja National Park is regarded as one of Costa Rica's hidden gems. Covering some 14,804 hectares, the park is full of geological features and has the active Rincon de la Vieja Volcano (1895m) within its boundaries, as well as a series of other craters and volcanic peaks. We have a 2 hour hike through the park along a pre-defined trail, the highlight of which is likely to be our visit to Las Pailas, the bubbling mud pools that flank the volcanic crater. Steaming fumaroles and hot springs are also found in park, attesting to how active the volcano is! If we are lucky we may see Howler monkeys, sloths and any of the 257 species of birds present here. In the afternoon, there are several optional excursions to choose from. We recommend a 'rustic spa' experience at the hot springs, or a hike deeper into the park to visit a beautiful waterfall.
We drive for 3.5 hours towards the Nicoya Peninsula this morning. Our destination is Samara beach, one of the best kept secrets in Costa Rica! The broad, shady bay stretches for 4 km and is backed by coconut palms. The water is calm and safe for swimming thanks to a coral reef just out to sea on which the normally large, Pacific waves break before reaching the beach. There are plenty of facilities in Samara but there's a noticeable absense of all-inclusive style hotels. Relax on the beach this afternoon and enjoy the sunset and calm of the area.
Today has been left free for you to spend at your leisure. Spend time on the beach or join one of the optional excursions available in the area such as a boat tour to see dolphins or a river kayaking tour to explore the waterways.
We leave the Nicoya peninsula and return to San Jose. This 5 hour journey will end at the international airport where those on group flights will return to the UK. Land only clients can either return to San Jose with the group and leave the trip there, or make their own onward arrangements in Samara.