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Signature Costa Rica: Wildlife and volcanoes

8 days from £1,386pp

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Signature Costa Rica: Wildlife and volcanoes:
Trip Dossier

Costa Rica, famous for its huge variety of wildlife, exotic vegetation, coffee and genial population, is small enough to get around easily in a short time. This holiday can slot easily into half-term, and is a great choice for families.We have devised a private holiday of just 8 days in which you get to savour this diversity in comfort, staying at high quality accommodation but keeping the costs down by using some shared transport.

The comprehensive network of national parks with their extensive trails is always very accessible, and Costa Rica has been at the vanguard of adventure tourism, with activities on offer from zip-lining to white-water rafting.

Begin by exploring the Caribbean jungle waterways and mangrove forests of the wildlife-rich Tortuguero reserve. Enjoy a spectacular light-aircraft flight back to San José and continue by road to the Monteverde cloud forest, where the vivid birdlife can be easy to view. Descend from the mountains to the tropical, fertile landscapes around the dominant Arenal volcano, and visit picturesque La Fortuna waterfalls.

After this, it’s a road journey back to San José for your flight home, or if you have time, add a few days to enjoy the Manuel Antonio Pacific beach.  Famed for its surf beaches and the monkey-filled national park nearby: there’s lots you can do here, or just relax in the shade of a palm tree.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Transfer to your hotel in Santa Ana, a garden suburb close to the capital.

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. Guided excursion to the Cloud Forest Reserve

Day 5

Transfer to Arenal volcano area

Day 6

Excursion to La Fortuna waterfalls

Day 7

Transfer by shuttle bus to San José

Day 8

Transfer to the airport for international flight home; or continue to the Pacific beach at Manuel Antonio.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Transfer to your hotel in Santa Ana, a garden suburb close to the capital.
 

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

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Central San José

Day 2

By road and 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. 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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Baby caiman are easy to spot at Tortuguero

Day 3

Wildlife spotting in 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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Tortuguero National Park

Day 4

Fly to San José, transfer to Monteverde. Guided excursion to the Cloud Forest Reserve
 
Fly to San José 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.

In the afternoon there will be a walk in the reserve accompanied by a naturalist guide. The reserve 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. 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.

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Jungle

Day 5

Transfer to Arenal volcano area
 

It's a 136 km, 2-3 hr downhill afternoon 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).

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Arenal Volcano

Day 6

Excursion to La Fortuna waterfalls
 

Today you have an excursion by road through typical Costa Rican countryside, passing cattle and agricultural farms, to the start of a 500m steep trail. Continue on foot through the rainforest - you may spot toucans and monkeys on the way - to the 70m high La Fortuna waterfall.

There are natural pools at its base where you can spend an hour relaxing before heading back to the vehicle and to Arenal. There are around 500 steps involved in the walk to the falls so we recommend good footwear - and don't forget your swimsuit and waterproof camera.

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Swim in a Waterfall Plunge Pool

Day 7

Transfer by shuttle bus to San José
 

Travel by shared minibus back to San José, a journey of about four hours. Overnight in the city.

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Day 8

Transfer to the airport for international flight home; or continue to the Pacific beach at Manuel Antonio.
 

Transfer to the airport for your homeward flight, or if you have more time, add a few days to relax on Manuel Antonio Pacific beach.

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Manuel Antonio National Park Costa Rica

Essential information

Clothing and special equipement

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 repellant are essential and you should bring swimwear. A daypack is useful for carrying sunblock, guidebook, water and any extra layers.

Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts.

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.

Transport

1 flight by light aircraft; 4 road journeys (longest 3.5hrs), 2 boat journeys.

Accommodation

This trip combines good upper mid-range hotels with well-equipped rooms and the best available high quality wildlife and beach accommodation.

Meals

Breakfast daily, full board days 2, 3.

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

• Guided excursion in Tortuguero National Park.
• Guided excursion in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
• Guided excursion to La Fortuna waterfalls, Arenal area.

Summary of nights

8 days, 7 nights: San José 1; Tortuguero 2; Monteverde 1; Arenal area 2; San José 1.

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.
• 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.
• 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 at the beginning of your trip; travellers’ cheques are not recommended as they are increasingly falling out of use. Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused.

Tipping

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; travellers’ cheques are not recommended as they are increasingly falling out of use. Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused.

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.

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.

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.  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.

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