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Active Costa Rica and Nicaragua: Rivers and volcanoes

16 days from £3332pp

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Active Costa Rica and Nicaragua: Rivers and volcanoes:
Trip Dossier

The pleasant climate varied landscapes of volcanoes, lakes, fast-flowing rivers, and palm-fringed beaches combine to make Costa Rica and Nicaragua very attractive to outdoor adventure seekers. Costa Rica has long had a network of accessible national parks with extensive hiking trails, as well as offering adventure activities, from zip-lining to white-water rafting. Nicaragua is new to this kind of development but is gaining a reputation for responsible tourism with eco-lodges and plenty to do in the open air, including biking and horse-riding.
 
This holiday will suit those who want to try out a medley of different active adventures as a means of enjoying the sumptuous scenery. This holiday gives you the opportunity to ride the rapids, bike round an island, climb a volcano and hike along jungle trails. Following all this exertion you have a well deserved break on the sweeping sands of a Pacific bay.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in San José. Transfer to your hotel.

Day 2

Rainforest aerial tram zip-line adventure.

Day 3

White-water rafting on the Pacuare river.

Day 4

White-water rafting; drive to Arenal.

Day 5

Hike to Rio Celeste in Tenorio Volcano National Park

Day 6

Mountain-biking in Arenal volcano area.

Day 7

Drive to El Castillo in Nicaragua. Night-time caiman spotting.

Day 8

Trekking in Indio Maíz reserve; guided fortress tour.

Day 9

Transfer to Granada.

Day 10

At leisure in Granada area.

Day 11

Transfer to Ometepe Island; guided biking tour.

Day 12

Guided hike up Maderas volcano.

Day 13

At leisure on the island.

Day 14

By boat and road to lodge on Pacific coast.

Day 15

At leisure on the Pacific coast.

Day 16

Transfer to Managua airport for international flight home.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in San José. Transfer to your hotel.
 
You will be met at the airport by our local representative who will take you to your hotel in the centre of San José. Founded in 1737, the capital was built on the profits of exporting coffee, produced from the fertile soils of the surrounding Central Valley. These days little remains of the city’s colonial or indeed agricultural heritage. It does though have some fine museums and restaurants as well as a lively nightlife. 

Day 2

Rainforest aerial tram zip-line adventure.
 
It is approximately an hour's drive from San José to the Rainforest Canopy, next to Braulio Carrillo National Park. Jump on a series of 10 zip lines (between 80-140m long) with 6 platforms in between, which provide 360° views of the surrounding forest. The ride takes you 3 times whizzing across the magnificent Molinete River. Below, walking trails allow you to experience  the rainforest at ground level. Return to San José afterwards.
Ziplining in Central Valley, Costa Rica

Day 3

White-water rafting on the Pacuare river.
 

Depart San José early in the morning, heading towards the Caribbean and passing through Braulio Carrillo National Park. After an orientation and safety talk, you take to your raft for the 60-90min trip to Pacuare Lodge, riding rapids which are great run for beginners and experienced rafters alike (class II - III).

River Pacuare is celebrated world-wide for its natural beauty. You pass through a vertiginous river gorge flanked by steep, lushly vegetated walls. You see waterfalls cascading into the river from both sides while tropical birds fly right overhead. Enjoy views of virgin tropical rainforest. The white-water expedition is not overly challenging, but you’ll ride 52 rapids over 30km, giving you a real adrenaline high. There is plenty of calm water for you to sit back and enjoy the surrounding forest and its wildlife; herons, toucans, blue morpho butterfly and monkeys are all common sights. Have a breather to enjoy a picnic lunch on the river bank.

Later, arrive at Ríos Tropicales Lodge where the afternoon is spent at leisure.

White Water rafting Pacuare river , Costa Rica

Day 4

White-water rafting; drive to Arenal.
 

After breakfast and loading the rafts, prepare to paddle down the Pacuare Gorge past waterfalls, serene pools and pounding rapids. A snack stop by the riverside allows time to explore nearby waterfalls and natural waterslides. The afternoon is spent running some serious rapids: you are tossed and turned as if on a roller coaster but if you follow the captain’s orders you’ll love every minute.  Returning to Ríos Tropicales you can take a shower and pride yourself on your navigating achievement over a drink.

Leaving the lodge mid-morning, you’ll head back up to the main road by 4WD vehicle.  From here you'll continue to San José in a mini-bus, stopping for lunch on the way and continue to Arenal.

A modest 1,674m high, Arenal volcano was until recently very active but now lava flow and volcanic eruptions are infrequent (nothing since 2010).  The region is considered to be one of the highlights of a visit to Central America and there is a plethora of excursions and thrilling activities to be enjoyed in the surrounding countryside.

 

White water rafting

Day 5

Hike to Rio Celeste in Tenorio Volcano National Park
 

You will leave La Fortuna early and drive for 90mins to the Tenorio Volcano National Park, to begin the 7 km hike (approximately 4 hours) through tropical rain forest, eventually arriving at Los Teñíderos of Rio Celeste, the place where two streams of water come together and create the vivid light blue colour which gives the river its name.

As you return along the park trails, you may opt for a quick dip in natural hot springs. Further along the hike, you will see the Rio Celeste waterfall. The final reward for the journey is a typical Costa Rican lunch served at the end of your experience in the rainforest. The adventure takes around 7-8 hours, and is of medium intensity. 


Hiking through trees to crater lake in Costa Rica

Day 6

Mountain-biking in Arenal volcano area.
 

Having zipped, rafted and hiked, today’s the day to get on your bike! You have the opportunity to observe the unhurried rural life of this remote part of Costa Rica. Cycle gently along the trails within a working sugar cane plantation and cattle farm, observing the workers busy feeding the pigs or herding the dairy cows. Depending on the time of year or day, you may be able to visit a local primary school, and visit one of the teachers in his home.

Cycling in Costa Rica

Day 7

Drive to El Castillo in Nicaragua. Night-time caiman spotting.
 

Drive to the frontier with Nicaragua at Los Chiles, passing through pineapple and sugar cane plantations. You cross the border and here you are met by our representatives; the rest of the journey to Nicaragua is by boat. Head down the river to San Carlos and then continue for 90mins to El Castillo. The little town is dominated by a huge fortress built by the Spanish to protect the affluent city of Granada from attacks by pirates. Your hotel is in town.

After dark, go searching for caimans under the moonlight, accompanied only by a specialist guide. As you glide through the darkness, a journey orchestrated by the nocturnal sounds of the rainforest, the guide will be using a spotlight to reflect the beady red eye of watchful caimans as they rest in the tropical vegetation along the water's edge. Once spotted, the caiman may be approached so that you can appreciate its delicate markings and maybe even get a glimpse of its razor-sharp teeth. The baby caimans are particularly endearing, and could fit into the palm of your hand.

 

El Castillo town on rio San Carlos

Day 8

Trekking in Indio Maíz reserve; guided fortress tour.
 

A marvellous jungle experience awaits you today. Just 3km downstream from El Castillo you come to the Indio Maíz Biosphere Reserve. This area of rainforest is bursting with wildlife, including huge scarlet macaws and big cats. , On your guided tour of the small part of the reserve open to visitors you might spy a tapir, a manatee, a Harpy eagle and American crocodiles: jaguar and puma lurk here but are rarely spotted.

The trail is 2km long and you’ll take over 2hrs to follow it, pausing to observe the profusion of exotic birds while enjoying the company of watchful lizards and lithe spider monkeys swinging from branch to branch. You’ll also be taken on a guided tour of the fortress.

Day 9

Transfer to Granada.
 

By road to Granada on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. Founded in 1524, Granada is the oldest city in the New World and lies at the foot of  Mombacho volcano. At its height it became very prosperous on the back of the gold trade. The city was regularly plundered by pirates and completely razed by American mercenary William Walker at the beginning of the 19th century.  However, Granada has since been wonderfully restored and its colourful colonial houses and cobbled streets that run down to the shores of Lake Nicaragua are a delight.

Mombacho Volcano overlooking Granada in Nicaragua

Day 10

At leisure in Granada area.
 

Day at leisure to explore the city with its colonial churches, narrow streets and colonial mansions and convents. The historic core is so compact that you can experience much of it on foot with many of the sites within the vicinity of the main square. You might opt for an optional day trip where, in addition to a guided tour of the city, you head off for a boat ride around some of the islets formed by eruptions of the looming bulk of the waterside Mombacho volcano.

The vast lake, more like an inland sea, with surf-tipped waves and reflecting fiery sunsets, is the largest body of freshwater in the Americas after the Great Lakes. Climb by vehicle to the summit of the cone-shaped Masaya volcano. Walk a few steps towards the sizzling, steamy Santiago crater, active since 1946, and explore the surrounding area, dotted with other volcanic formations. Finally. head to the nearby Masaya arts and crafts market which specialises in ceramics, leatherwork, wooden furniture and hammocks before heading back to Granada.

Cathedral in Granada, Nicaragua

Day 11

Transfer to Ometepe Island; guided biking tour.
 

You’ll be driven to San Jorge port, also sitting on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. The road takes an inland route through farmed fields and countryside, and half the distance covered is on the fast Pan-American Highway. From there embark on a ferry to Ometepe Island dominated by its twin volcanoes. Ometepe is a serene and as yet totally undeveloped island. Even in comparison with the rest of Nicaragua, the infrastructure is basic with only rough roads and simple accommodation.

Much of the island is still covered in primary rainforest and home to many different species of monkeys and parrots. It is also famous for its pre-Columbian stone statues and petroglyphs, carved by the Chorotega indians centuries ago.

Upon arrival you’ll be whisked off on a guided cycle tour, visiting a couple of museums en route. The island’s roads are virtually empty so pootling along on a bike is a delight.

Cycling Ometepe   costa Rica

Day 12

Guided hike up Maderas volcano.
 

The two volcanoes, looming dominantly over the island, are just begging to be climbed. You’ll set off on an invigorating mountain trek which takes most hikers (you have to be fit) 4hrs to summit and 2-3 to get back down. Theforest-cloaked Maderas volcano - the smaller of the two - reaches 1,394m above sea level.

The climb is relatively steep and muddy all the way, especially near the peak, but you are rewarded by the sight of more species of the plants and animals which inhabit the tropical forest than anywhere else on Ometepe, These include a plethora of butterflies (including blue morphos), white-faced and howler monkeys and dozens of species of bird.  At the top you may be able to enjoy views over the emerald-hued volcanic crater lake, although it is usually shrouded in mist.  

Day 13

At leisure on the island.
 

At leisure on Ometepe with your guide. You might visit one of many coffee cooperatives on the island. Horse-riding and fishing are also options here. Owing to heavy rainfall in recent years there are few beaches on the island, however, there are many spots to sit back and enjoy the views across the lake and possibly take a dip in its warm waters.

Ometepe coastline, Nicaragua

Day 14

By boat and road to lodge on Pacific coast.
 

Return to San Jorge and continue by road to San Juan del Sur on the Pacific coast. San Juan del Sur was until recently a peaceful fishing village but has now been discovered by developers and has a lively tourist scene, while still retaining some of its former rustic characteristics.

North and south of the buzzing town you find a clutch of crescent shaped bays harbouring soft golden sand, slapped by surf-tipped rollers and backed by rugged hills and cliffs smothered in emerald rainforest.

Boat to Ometepe  Island Nicaragua

Day 15

At leisure on the Pacific coast.
 

Here you have time to hang out on the beach or in the town bars and restaurants, musing over all the excitement of the previous 2 weeks.

San Juan del Sur , Nicaragua

Day 16

Transfer to Managua airport for international flight home.
 

Essential information

Transport

7 road journeys, longest up to 6hrs. 2 boat journeys

Accommodation

This trip uses modest medium class accommodation in convenient and often delightful locations.

Meals

Breakfast daily, lunch days 5, 6, full board days 3, 7 and 8

Guides

We carefully select our local partners, some of whom we have worked with for over 25 years. Their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by the latter on their return.

Included excursions

• San José: rainforest aerial tram zip-line
• Pacuare : river rafting
• Arenal : Cerro Chato hike and La Fortuna Falls
• Arenal: mountain biking
• Rio San Juan: jungle expeditions
• Ometepe Island: biking tour
• Ometepe Island: hiking expedition to Maderas volcano

Summary of nights

16 days, 15 nights: San José 2; Pacuare 1; Arenal 3; Rio San Juan 2; Granada 2; Ometepe 3; Nicaragua Pacific coast  2 .

Included in the journey price

• Services of our team of experts in our London office.
• Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides.
• All land and air transport within Latin America.
• Accommodation as specified.
• Meals as specified.
• Excursions as specified, including entrance fees.

Not included in the journey price

• Tips and gratuities.
• International flights from the UK.
• Meals other than specified.
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket.
• Optional excursions

Currency

The unit of currency in Costa Rica is the colón. In Nicaragua it is the córdoba.

Daily spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$40 per day should cover the cost of meals not included in the holiday price, drinks and the odd souvenir. Eat at the best restaurants and you will pay considerably more.

How to take it

Cash machines are available in San José and Managua airport, and in Granada: taking a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip and in many shops and restaurants you can also pay by card. However, since cards can get lost, damaged, withheld or blocked, you should not rely exclusively on a card to access funds.

We recommend that additionally you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can exchange into local currency in San José and Granada at the beginning of your trip, and possibly some travellers’ cheques, though these are increasingly falling out of use. (American Express cheques are the most widely accepted). Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can exchange sterling but the rate may be unfavourable and there are fewer outlets providing this service. US dollars are accepted as payment in many places.

Tipping

Tips are expected and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. We recommend approximately $10 per person for a half day and $20 for a full day for guides and half that for drivers.

Most service industry workers will expect a tip of some kind and so it is useful to have spare change for hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common to leave 10 - 12% in restaurants.

Tipping guidelines can be found in our Briefing Dossier.

Insurance

Travel insurance is essential. Details of our recommended policy can be foundon our Travel Insurance page.

Airport taxes

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

Journey grade

Generally this holiday is suitable for all able, reasonably fit people who are used to an active lifestyle. If you have a disability please contact us. 

Climate

This itinerary takes you to tropical climes where the sun is strong and temperatures high – often over 30°C. Those travelling between May and October journeys should encounter higher temperatures (around 35°C) and high humidity. It is a bit cooler at higher altitudes. The ‘official’ rainy season is May to October. 

Clothing and special equipment

Bring plenty of light cotton clothing and good, comfortable walking shoes or boots.  A waterproof jacket is also necessary. We suggest that you plan to ‘layer’ your clothing; it is more efficient and flexible to put on a couple of light layers than one thick jumper, and sensible to have long sleeves for areas where mosquitos may be . Sports sandals are a good informal option for evenings. Protection against the sun (sunblock, sun hat) and mosquito repellent are essential and you should bring swimwear. A daypack is useful for carrying around sunblock, guidebook, water and any extra layers. A breathable cycling top with pockets will be useful when rafting as well as biking. A  sports strap for sunglasses and small dry back are also recommended.

Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts. Good equipment is very important and hard to come by in Central America.

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following; typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. For specific requirements you must consult your GP.

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website.

Visas

Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins.   Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins. 

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:

ESTA - if flying to the US, or via the US, you will need to fill in an application to ESTA online.
This costs $14 per person, and must be done by you personally.
Passports must also be machine-readable (MRP). Avoid locking suitcases if transiting the USA, as their customs authorities retain the right to break into them.

APIS - Many countries now oblige airlines to provide additional information about passengers prior to the flight departure. This Advance Passenger Information (APIS) must be supplied to us promptly in order to issue tickets and avoid fare increases. We will provide the airlines with the relevant details if we are booking your international flights. If the information is not provided you may be denied boarding.

Clients with a different nationality should refer to our Briefing Dossier and check with the Costa Rican and Nicaraguan Consulates.

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