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Explore and Relax in Costa Rica: Volcanoes to the beach

12 days from £3093pp

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Explore and Relax in Costa Rica: Volcanoes to the beach:
Trip Dossier

Tiny Costa Rica is bursting with an extraordinary diversity of flora and fauna and its people are among the friendliest in Latin America. The comprehensive network of national parks with their extensive trails is always very accessible. This short budget holiday uses modern, shared minibuses for transport between hotels. Combine outdoor adventures with beach wind-down time on the Pacific coast.

Begin your adventure visiting the Caribbean jungle waterways and mangrove forests of the wildlife-rich Tortuguero reserve. Move on to discover the densely packed canopy in the Monteverde cloud forest, with its rich bird and animal life in view; then walk the hanging bridges in the shadow of the picture-perfect Arenal Volcano. After this, travel to the Pacific coast and stay at a beach resort close to a coastal national park for a couple of days’ relaxation.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in San José and transfer to hotel.

Day 2

By road and boat to Tortuguero Jungle Reserve.

Day 3

Wildlife spotting in Tortuguero National Park.

Day 4

Fly to San José, transfer to Monteverde.

Day 5

Half day excursion to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

Day 6

Transfer to Arenal volcano area.

Day 7

Excursions to the hanging bridges and the hot springs at Ecotermales.

Day 8

Transfer to hotel on the Nicoya Peninsula, Pacific coast.

Day 9-11

At leisure on the beach.

Day 12

Transfer to airport for international flight home.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in San José and transfer to hotel.
 

You will be met at the airport by our local representative who will take you to your hotel in the modern capital.

Day 2

By road and boat to Tortuguero Jungle Reserve.
 

You will be driven past forested hills and banana plantations to the Caribbean lowlands to Caño Blanco dock. It is then an hour’s boat ride along the shore hugged by mangrove swamps before you arrive in the small, ramshackle village of Tortuguero, which gives you an insight into the way of life in this remote region.Tortuguero National Park was originally intended to conserve a major nesting beach of the Atlantic green sea turtle.

Now it is one of the last protected areas of tropical rainforest in Central America, with 11 different natural habitats. 3 species of monkeys (Spider, Howler, and White-faced), Three-toed sloths, and River otters are frequently seen along the natural inland waterways and canals. Caimans, iguanas, river turtles, basilisk lizards and poison-dart frogs inhabit the area, along with more than 320 species of birds including all 6 species of kingfishers found in the New World, 3 species of toucans, 8 species of parrot, and other neo-tropical species such as the Slate-tailed trogon, White-collared manakin, Purple-throated fruit crow, and White-fronted nun bird. Arrive at your coastal jungle lodge, 8km from the village, accessible only by boat.

Canal to Tortuguero

Day 3

Wildlife spotting in Tortuguero National Park.
 

The remaining time can be spent relaxing in your lodge or participating in some of the many activities available. Explore more of the jungle trails and waterways with a naturalist guide, or rent one of the kayaks and investigate the canals at your leisure; gliding silently through these waters you are likely to spot all kinds of wildlife on the banks. Visit the nearby turtle museum to gather some information about the nesting cycle of these ancient reptiles. In season, take a night-time walk along the moonlit beach, and search for turtles and their eggs.

Wildlife spotting from a Kayak , Costa Rica

Day 4

Fly to San José, transfer to Monteverde.
 

Fly back to San Jose on light aircraft and travel inland by road into highlands mantled by the woodland of Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, which lies in the rugged, rolling hills northwest of San José. You'll be driven for a couple of hours through the Central Valley along the Pan American Highway, a decent paved road.

After 150km you take the turn off for Monteverde, and here the adventure begins - for up to 90mins the dirt road is bumpy with volcanic rocks, winding up through the hills to the cloud forest at 1,400m. You can expect it to be dusty in the dry season and muddy in the wet. However you should be diverted by wildlife you spot along the way - sloth, monkeys and tropical birds - keep your binoculars handy.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is one of the most fascinating wildlife sanctuaries in the Americas; it protects more than 400 species of bird and 100 species of mammal. Walking along the well-marked trails, amidst dense, dripping foliage, you are likely to encounter the resplendent quetzal, with its vivid red belly and long green tail, as well as the endangered bellbird and the emerald toucanet. 30 species of hummingbird also reside in the park.

Day 5

Half day excursion to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
 

You’ll have a private guided tour in the reserve. Explore this magical forest from the vantage point of a number of suspended bridges and walkways, which give a unique perspective across the canopy and take a twilight hike along one of its many nature trails, an excellent time to spot the indigenous fauna. You may also opt to view it from a different, thrilling perspective as you speed along zip lines hung throughout the forest.

3 toed sloth , Costa rica

Day 6

Transfer to Arenal volcano area.
 
It's a 136 km, 2-3 hr downhill drive by 4WD vehicle from Monteverde to Arenal volcano and your countryside hotel. There is no direct route and the road condition on the first segment of the journey is rough and bumpy but you can look out for wildlife. The road trip is followed by a boat trip across Lake Arenal, which provides a magnificent first glimpse of this imposing volcano, reflected in the lake’s sparkling waters (2.5hrs).

As the sun begins to set, you can hike across a barren landscape dotted with rocks and shrubs, from which you may see the flows of molten lava being discharged from Arenal’s fiery cone (although the volcano can be dormant for months so there is no guarantee of its activity and there hasn’t been any for some years). As evening falls, relax in the hot springs; the bubbling water is naturally heated by the volcano.
Arenal Volcano

Day 7

Excursions to the hanging bridges and the hot springs at Ecotermales.
 

Guided excursion to the hanging bridges located in the vicinity of the volcano. The 3km long trail takes you through primary forest. Along with the region’s diverse wildlife and plants you can expect good views of the volcano and reservoir which feeds the country's largest hydroelectric plant.

The trail is linked by 6 hanging bridges and 8 fixed bridges, some measuring up to 22m in length and constructed from galvanized steel and aluminium in order to 'blend with the natural environment.'

In the afternoon there’s an excursion to the hot springs at Ecotermales. These waters provide a more off-the-beaten-track experience than their better known and more overcrowded cousins. Set well back from the road that runs between the lake and the town of La Fortuna the farm has only recently been opened to the general public. The springs, five free-flowing pools, set in a natural river gorge vary in temperature from 38ºC to 43ºC depending on the pool.

Hanging bridges , Arenal , Costa Rica

Day 8

Transfer to hotel on the Nicoya Peninsula, Pacific coast.
 

Travel by road (5hrs) to the Nicoya Peninsula on the Pacific coast. Equally denuded of forest as the adjoining mainland, it is culturally and physically cut off from the rest of the country: inland, dotted with small, modest towns far removed from the beach resorts on the bay-pocked coastline. You’ll be staying one of these, within reach of yawning beaches attacked by crashing Pacific rollers.

Many activities can be arranged form the resort if you don’t want to spend all your time sunning yourself beside the pool or watching tangerine sunsets over the ocean with a cold beer in your hand. Golf and hiking, horse-riding, snorkelling and mountain biking expeditions are all available.

Day 9-11

At leisure on the beach.
 
Surfer, Pacific Coast Mexico

Day 12

Transfer to airport for international flight home.
 

Essential information

Transport

1 flight by light aircraft , 4 road journeys, 2 boat transfers.

Accommodation

This trip combines friendly mid-range hotels with well-equipped rooms with private bathroom and comfortable but not luxurious wildlife and beach lodges. Throughout Costa Rica accommodation is of a high standard.

Meals

Breakfast daily, full board days 2, 3,  lunch or dinner on day 7.

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 clients on their return.

Included excursions

• Half day guided canal tour in Tortuguero National Park.
• Guided excursions to the hanging bridges at Arenal.
• The hot springs at Ecotermales.

Summary of nights

12 days, 11 nights: San José 1; Tortuguero 2; San José 1; Monteverde 2; Arenal 2; Pacific Coast 3.

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

Currency

The unit of currency in Costa Rica is the colón.

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 itinerary, 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 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 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

Tipping

Tips are expected and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income.

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 found on 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 visitors, including families with children.

Transport is by regular fixed-route and fixed-time shared minibus, which will nevertheless collect you from and deliver you to your hotels.

Bear in mind it is a relatively active trip. On the whole trails are good, and paths are linear, so you can turn back if you feel that you do not want to carry on.

Climate

The trip covers climates ranging from tropical lowland to more temperate zones in the highlands. Those travelling between May and October journeys should encounter high temperatures (around 35°C) and high humidity in the lowlands. The ‘official’ rainy (green) season is May to November.

December to April visitors will still encounter high temperatures in lowland areas, but cool evenings around Arenal and San José with temperatures falling to around 5°C. Rainfall and humidity will be much lower at this time.

For your beach wind-down on the Pacific coast good weather is a priority, so most visits are in the dry season December to April when there is plenty of sun. It’s hot all year round (often over 30°C). The busy times for visitors are the dry season months, especially weekends and Easter week. The green (i.e. rainy) season is much quieter.

Clothing and special equipment

Bring plenty of light cotton clothing and good, comfortable walking shoes. A waterproof jacket and/or umbrella are also advisable. We suggest that you plan to ‘layer’ your clothing; it is easier and more efficient to put on a couple of light layers than one thick jumper, and sensible to have long sleeves for areas where mosquitos may be lurking. Sandals are a good informal option for evenings. Protection against the sun (sunblock, sun hat) and mosquito repellant are essential and you should bring swimwear. A daypack is useful for carrying sunblock, guidebook, water and any extra layers. Although guides carry binoculars we recommend you take your own if you have them.  

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

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:

ESTA - if flying to, or via, the USA, you will need to fill in your 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.

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