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Signature Costa Rica: The natural highlights

14 days from £2,876pp

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Signature Costa Rica: The natural highlights:
Trip Dossier

Tiny Costa Rica is bursting with an extraordinary diversity of flora and fauna, and this private journey provides an in-depth exploration of its natural highlights.  It is one of the most peaceful and stable countries in the world and its people are among the friendliest in Latin America. The comprehensive network of national parks with their extensive trails is always very accessible.  In line with its respect for the great outdoors, Costa Rica has been at the vanguard of adventure tourism, with activities on offer from zip-lining to white-water rafting.
 
Begin at a rainforest lodge close to Corcovado National Park on the Pacific coast. Then, having surveyed panoramas over the densely packed canopy in the Monteverde cloud forest, with its rich birdlife and animal life in view, bathe in naturally heated thermal springs in the shadow of the picture-perfect Arenal Volcano. After this, a trip by land and over water takes you east where you emerge to explore the Caribbean jungle waterways and mangrove forests of the wildlife-rich Tortuguero reserve. Your trip ends with a couple of days’ relaxation on a white sand Caribbean beach.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in San José and transfer to your hotel.

Day 2

Fly to Puerto Jiménez on the Pacific coast, transfer to rainforest wildlife lodge.

Day 3

Guided nature walk.

Day 4

At leisure.

Day 5

Fly to San José, transfer to Monteverde.

Day 6

Half day excursion to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

Day 7

Transfer to Arenal volcano area.

Day 8

Excursion to the Ecotermales hot springs.

Day 9

Transfer to Caño Blanco port, boat to Tortuguero Jungle Reserve.

Day 10

Wildlife spotting excursion into Tortuguero National Park.

Day 11

Boat transfer to Caño Blanco, continue by road to Caribbean beach hotel.

Days 12-13

At leisure.

Day 14

Transfer to San José airport for international flight home.

Detailed itinerary

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 modern capital.

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Day 2

Fly to Puerto Jiménez on the Pacific coast, transfer to rainforest wildlife lodge.
 

Transfer back to the airport to fly to Palmar Sur and continue on a bumpy road to Puerto Jiménez and thence 22km to your jungle lodge, El Remanso. This is relaxed and peaceful place set above a delightful, wild beach and within its own tropical reserve near Corcovado National Park - one of the most bio-diverse on the planet, which protects about one third of the Osa Peninsula on Costa Rica's beautiful and wild Pacific coast.

The peninsula’s lowland rainforest, upland cloud forest and mangrove swamp are home to an astonishing diversity of flora and fauna. The area is particularly known for its large population of Scarlet macaws. The area is abundant with so much wildlife - expect to see Howler monkeys, toucans and macaws. Guided naturalist walks make the most of the flora and fauna, with other activities including waterfall rappelling (abseiling) and zip-lining through the forest canopy.  

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Red eyed tree frog

Day 3

Guided nature walk.
 

A guided walk from the lodge is included. There are self guided trails but the guides from the lodge will help you make the most of any wildlife walk but be prepared to wake up early. 

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Day 4

At leisure.
 

At leisure at the lodge; optional excursions and activities.

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Day 5

Fly to San José, transfer to Monteverde.
 
Fly to San Jose 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 - sloths, monkeys and tropical birds - keep your binoculars handy. 
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Quetzal through the lense of a telescope

Day 6

Half day excursion to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
 

Drive the short distance the entrance of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve accompanied by a naturalist guide. The reserve includes a protected area comprising 6 different life zones. So many habitats in such a small area, along with extensive trail improvements, allow visitors to enjoy a rich diversity of flora and fauna with relatively short distance and easy walking. 

The reserve was founded in 1972 and extends down both slopes of the Tilarán Mountains. It is home to more than 100 species of mammals, 400 of birds and 1,500 of plants. Walking along the well-marked trails, amidst dense, dripping foliage, you are likely to encounter the Resplendent quetzal (Jan – Jul. Occasionally a dozen or more individuals at once). Other species include the Three-wattled bellbird, the Emerald toucanet, and White-faced and Howler monkeys.

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Day 7

Transfer to Arenal volcano area.
 

It's a 136 km, 2-3 hr downhill drive by 4WD vehicle from Monteverde to Arenal. 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 so keep your binoculars handy. On reaching the lake and Rio Chiquito on the shores of Lake Arenal, you embark on a boat to take you across the lake (30-40 mins) followed by a short, good-quality road journey to your hotel. A private bus transfer 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, 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 has been inactive since 2010, so there is no guarantee of its activity). As evening falls, relax in the hot springs; the bubbling water is naturally heated by the volcano. 

 

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Arenal Volcano

Day 8

Excursion to the Ecotermales hot springs.
 
Excursion to Ecotermales hot springs. 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. 
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Ecotermales hot springs

Day 9

Transfer to Caño Blanco port, boat to Tortuguero Jungle Reserve.
 

You take a 5hr drive including a short bumpy ride through banana plantations 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 and leatherback. 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. These and many more species may be observed during your guided boat trip through the backwater mangrove channels of Tortuguero National Park.  

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Endangered leatherback turtle

Day 10

Wildlife spotting excursion into Tortuguero National Park.
 
You have a guided exploration by boat through the mangroves, your guide helping you to spot and identify the myriad of wildlife. 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.
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Day 11

Boat transfer to Caño Blanco, continue by road to Caribbean beach hotel.
 

Return by boat to Caño Blanco. From there it’s about an hour's drive along a bumpy road to the town of Siquirres followed by a 3hr journey along the main highway to Puerto Viejo. Your hotel is a small, attractive resort set across the road from the beach of Punta Cocles near Cahuita National Park on the Caribbean coast.

There are many marine and terrestrial ecosystems in Cahuita National Park. You can snorkel among with 35 different coral species (including fire coral, elkhorn and the smooth brain coral), 123 different species of tropical fish (including queen angel fish and blue parrot fish). Other species that may be spotted include sea urchins, sea cucumber, lobsters, sponges, Hawksbill turtle and Green turtle. Common species on dry land include Howler and White-faced monkeys, Two-and Three-toed sloths, iguanas, spiders, Morpho butterflies and many birds. 

The agitated waves, which break on a sheet of white palm-defined sand at Punta Cocles, have made it popular with the surfing community. It’s a lovely beach to while away the hours.

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Days 12-13

At leisure.
 

At leisure on the beach: excursions, water sports and other outdoor activities can be organised from the lodge: visit a sloth sanctuary, or explore the area astride a bike.

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Costa Rica Caribbean Coast

Day 14

Transfer to San José airport for international flight home.

Essential information

Vaccination

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.

Visa

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.  Anyone with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the relevant consulate.

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.

Transport

2 flights by light aircraft; 4 road journeys (longest 5 hrs) and two hour long boat journeys. 

Accommodation

This trip combines small, friendly mid-range hotels with well-equipped rooms with private bathroom and comfortable but not luxurious wildlife and beach lodges.

Meals

Breakfast daily, full board days 2, 3, 4, 9, 10.

Guides

English speaking guides with good wildlife knowledge.

Included excursions

• Guided excursion in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
• Guided excursion to the Ecotermales hot springs.
• Guided excursion in Tortuguero National Park.
• Guided nature walk on Osa Peninsula.

Summary of nights

14 days, 13 nights: San José 1; Puerto Jiménez 3; Monteverde 2; Arenal 2; Tortuguero 2; Puerto Viejo 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 to Latin America.
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket
• Optional excursions.

Currency

The unit of currency in Costa Rica is the colón.

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 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.

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

A $26 departure tax has to be paid locally at San Jose international airport. Journey Latin America can arrange for this to be prepaid with no additional charge.     

Journey grade

Generally this holiday is suitable for all able, reasonably fit visitors, including families with children.

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

This journey uses a combination of tourist bus services and private transport. 

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 October. 

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 lower at this time.

Clothing and special equipment

Bring plenty of light cotton clothing and good, comfortable walking shoes.  A waterproof jacket is also necessary. 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 repellent are essential and you should bring swimwear. A daypack is useful for carrying sunblock, guidebook, water and any extra layers. If you have your own binoculars we strongly recommend taking 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.

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