Private Journeys

Signature Costa Rica and Panama: The Caribbean route

14 days from £2,680pp

Costa Rica / Panama

Itinerary

map marker Map

Day 1

Arrive in San José and transfer to your hotel.

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

Bustling San José is one of the region's most cosmopolitan cities, built on the profits from the exportation of coffee produced in the surrounding fertile Central Valley. These days, little remains of its colonial or indeed agricultural heritage - it is a modern, US-influenced city, with pavement bars showing baseball and American football games. But there's a Latin vibe too, though, and the city has some fine museums and restaurants as well as a lively nightlife.

Day 2

Transfer to Arenal volcano area.

Take a shared transfer on the 4 hour drive to Arenal.

Imposing Arenal Volcano last erupted in 1998, but nowadays lava flow and volcanic eruptions are infrequent and there has not been any significant activity since 2010. Sometimes you may see steam and gases emitted from cracks or the lava's surface. High temperatures mean that geysers and hot springs can be very hot: the water is harnessed by local people to heat pools and fountains.

The region is still considered to be one of the highlights of a visit to Costa Rica and there are excellent excursions to be enjoyed in the succulent countryside. including kayaking, biking and horse riding.>

The Arenal Volcano Lodge faces the volcano and is surrounded by exotic flora and fauna. It is likely that you'll spot perky racoon-like coatis rummaging amongst the roots in the forested areas within the grounds.

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Day 3

Excursion to Ecotermales hot springs.

These hot springs provide a quieter off-the-beaten-track experience than their better known and more overcrowded cousins. The springs, with five free-flowing pools are set in a natural river gorge and vary in temperature from 38ºC to 43ºC. There’s a restaurant and small bar and dressing rooms with private lockers so you can have a delicious dip!

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Day 4

Transfer to Sarapiqui via Tirimbina and the hanging bridges.

Your drive takes you through the Tirimbina nature reserve and to the hanging bridges, viewed from a trail through primary forest. Along with the region’s diverse wildlife and plants you can expect good views of the. The trail is linked by 6 hanging bridges and 8 fixed bridges constructed from galvanized steel and aluminium in order to 'blend with the natural environment.'

Sarapiqui is a popular base from which to discover the wonderful forested national parks in the area, dispersed between banana and pineapple plantations. The Rio Sarapiquí runs just east of the main street and is popular for rafting on its rapids and bird-watching. Numerous other activities in the area include mountain-biking, boat trips and canopying.

The small, family-run eco-lodge La Quinta de Sarapiquí is a shady small-holding with tropical gardens bulging with flowers and fruit. This exuberant foliage creates an enticing habitat for many species of bird and so the inn is popular with bird-watching enthusiasts and as well as guests looking to unwind in bucolic surroundings. As part of its conservation programme there are frog and butterfly projects you can visit as you explore the property's walking trails which also pass the organic kitchen gardens.

Day 5

Transfer to Guapiles and Tortuguero

Drive towards the Atlantic lowlands, through a forested backdrop and banana plantations to  board a boat for the two hour trip to Tortuguero along a canal shaded by pristine rainforest where you'll be able to spot birds, monkeys and occasionally crocodiles en route.

This extraordinary marine and coastal wetland national park is a spidery network of waterways meandering through the flat plains fringing the Caribbean sea. The canals are home to a vast number of wildlife species, including bird, caiman and other reptiles while the closely packed trees of the humid forests and strangled mangroves host a variety of monkey, jaguar, frogs, lizards and sloths. The park is famous for the endangered turtles that nest on its beaches, including leatherbacks, green and loggerhead species. 

There are trails, but most visits are made by boat and, in spite of the density of the vegetation, you are more or less guaranteed to see a good variety of this prolific wildlife.   Spend the afternoon exploring the local village; flanked by rivers and waterways on one side and Caribbean beach on the other, this remote village serves as a sleepy hub for visitors to the area, human and otherwise...

Turtle beach lodge is a secluded property on the Caribbean sea, beside lush jungle and a meandering private canal, situated close to the rustic village of Tortuguero. To add to the adventure, it is only accessible by boat. The abundant display of wildlife is the main reason for its popularity - with endangered sea turtles, including hawksbill, loggerheads and leatherbacks a variety of monkeys, crocodiles and insects  hidden amongst the array of trees, colourful flowers and medicinal plants. 

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Day 6

Explore Tortuguero National Park.

Head out on foot from the lodge, with your guide, and learn about the jungle flora and fauna that live in this lush tropical rainforest.

The waters of the lodge's private canal - the Canal of Palms - like all those in the National Park are black, due to tannins from trees in the area, and flow slowly.  This is a perfect opportunity to spend a couple of hours gently paddling the canals in your boat to spot wildlife and take in the beautiful scenery.  The early start means you will see the wildlife at its most active.

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Day 7

Transfer by road and water to Bocas del Toro.

Depart Tortuguero for Guapiles in the morning. Drive on to Sixaola on the border with Panama and continue Bocas del Toro, an archipelago lying off the northwest coast of Panama. The undeveloped islets of white sand beaches fringed by palms and reeds, with rocky outcrops and reefs ideal for snorkelling and diving, provide a marvellously laid-back hang-out for a few days. The islands shelter profuse wildlife - especially tropical birds, frogs and butterflies, and you can see splendiferous sunsets.

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Days 8,9

At leisure at Bocas del Toro.

Your hotel, Bocas Inn, is a relaxed and informal place is on the waterfront. It is constructed from wood, like many of the seafront buildings in Bocas del Toro, and sits above the water. Daily tours including guided snorkelling; bird-watching trips and mangrove jungle walks.  

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Day 10

Transfer to Boquete via Oreba Chocolate Farm.

From Bocas del Toro, you’ll visit by water taxi the Oreba cacao plantation where al Ngobe Bugle guide will show you around, climbing past indigenous houses upwards to the plantation.  You will not only learn about each step from planting, growing, harvesting, fermenting, drying and producing the actual chocolate, but the guide is also an expert regarding the local plants and their medicinal uses.

Oreba Chocolate is considered among the finest 100% pure unsweetened chocolate in the world. After the tour, you'll be driven to Boquete on a scenic mountain road which crosses the Continental Divide from the Caribbean to the Chiriqui Highlands.

Boquete is a small provincial town within the verdant Chiriquí Highlands. It enjoys a pleasant mountain climate and the surrounding area is very beautiful. The town itself has a few quaint old buildings and some good restaurants.

Your mountain lodge, Boquete Tree Trek Mountain Resort, is set on a hillside surrounded by lush forest with great views of Boquete Valley and Baru National Park. Amongst the activities on offer in the local area the lodge has one of the best ziplines in Panama. There are some superb ornithological opportunities offering good possibilities of seeing the resplendent quetzal and the gardens are abundantly rich with tropical flora making it an ideal spot to just take a walk or relax.

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Day 11

Coffee finca excursion.

Boquete is to coffee what Bordeaux is to wine. Over several years, Panama's coffee has been rated the best coffee in the world. Visit Finca La Maligrosa, a family-run operation which was started using a roasting machine cobbled together spare parts from an old Mitsubishi car, but now its produce is award-winning. The coffee is destined for Europe and the USA but you'll have a chance to try some.

Day 12

Transfer to Panama City.

 Transfer From Boquete to David airport and fly to Panama City. 

Panama City is a thriving cosmopolitan metropolis at the Pacific end of the Panama Canal. The capital dates back to 1519 when it was a base for transporting Peruvian gold back to Imperial Spain. Its subsequent wealth made it a frequent target for pirate raids. These days, soaring skyscrapers, sparkling banks and smart modern offices overshadow forts, Spanish convents and sumptuous French-style mansions, reminders of its colonial heyday.

Your hotel, Hampton by Hilton, sits right in the centre close to the financial district but also with shops, restaurants, bars and nightlife just a short walk or taxi ride away.

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Day 13

Panama Canal partial transit.

You’ll be driven to the Port of Balbao, passing under the Bridge of the Americas with its views of Panama Bay and the skyline of Panama City. You'll reach Miraflores Locks where the boat is raised 17m above sea level. At the next set of locks you will be 26m above sea level before entering the Guillard Cut where the Chagres river flows into the Canal. The crossing provides a unique insight into one of the world's greatest engineering feats - including the creation of the largest man-made lake in the world - Gatún - where you will disembark before returning to Balboa by bus and driven on back to your hotel.  

If you’d like a bit more beach time, extend your trip with the Kuna-indian San Blas islands off the Caribbean coast.  

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Day 14

Transfer to the airport for your international flight.

Inspired by this trip

Our exciting range of articles on Latin America explore everything from iconic destinations and lesser-known cultural gems to delicious traditional recipes. You’ll also find exclusive travel tips, first-hand client reviews and the chance to get your personal questions answered by our travel experts.

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Real Latin America Experts

  • Hannah Waterhouse
    Hannah Waterhouse - Travel Consultant

    Hannah had an early introduction to Latin America when her family moved to Ecuador and she returned to study in Buenos Aires for a year before backpacking across the continent.

  • Hannah Donaldson
    Hannah Donaldson - Travel Consultant

    Having spent part of her childhood in Colombia and worked in Brazil and Costa Rica, Hannah's ties to Latin America run deep. Hannah is an invaluable part of our Group Tours team.

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    Mary Anne Nelson - Travel Consultant

    Born in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, Mary’s insider knowledge and dry sense of humour make her a highly valued member of the Tailor-made team.

  • Sophie Barber
    Sophie Barber - Travel Consultant

    Sophie lived in Chile before joining us and has travelled extensively across Latin America, from Mexico to the furthest tip of Patagonia.

  • Ben Line
    Ben Line - Travel Consultant

    Ben fell in love with Latin America on a six month backpacking trip from Colombia to Mexico in 1995. Since then he has explored most of South America, including living in Peru for a year. He is now Manager of the Tailor-made Department.

  • Lina Fuller
    Lina Fuller - Travel Consultant

    Lina's passion for the continent where she was born really took off when she moved to Córdoba to study, spending the holidays travelling between Argentina and her native Colombia.

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