Cookies

At Journey Latin America we use cookies to give you the best experience on our website. By continuing to browse, we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on our website.
Find out more


Signature Costa Rica with Panama City

14 days from £3013pp

Book Holiday Enquire online

Signature Costa Rica with Panama City:
Trip Dossier

Tiny Costa Rica has an extraordinary diversity of flora and fauna and its people are extremely welcoming.The comprehensive network of national parks with their extensive trails is always very accessible.  In line with its love and respect for the great outdoors, Costa Rica also has been at the vanguard of adventure tourism, with activities on offer from zip-lining to white-water rafting.

Visit 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; then walk the hanging bridges in the shadow of the picture-perfect Arenal Volcano. After this, fly down to Panama City.

Panama has a different rhythm, and is a real melting pot of cultures as a result of being at the crossroads of oceans. The Panama Canal, one of the world’s most crucial transport corridors, is a stunning piece of engineering.  You will pass through some of the locks on a launch and explore the historic capital, with its history of pirates and naval battles. Your trip ends with a couple of days’ relaxation on a white-sand beach on the San Blas islands off the Caribbean coast.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in San José and transfer to your hotel.

Day 2

Drive and boat to Tortuguero Jungle Reserve.

Day 3

Wildlife spotting excursion into 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

Excursion to the hanging bridges.

Day 8

Transfer to airport and fly to Panama City. Transfer to hotel.

Day 9

Partial Panama Canal transit.

Day 10

Guided tour of Panama City and Miraflores locks.

Day 11

Fly by light aircraft to San Blas islands.

Day 12

At leisure on the beach.

Day 13

Fly to Panama City

Day 14

Transfer to 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.

Day 2

Drive and boat to Tortuguero Jungle Reserve.
 

You will be driven past forested hills and banana plantations in 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 kingfisher 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.

Tortuguero Canal

Day 3

Wildlife spotting excursion into 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, or (Jun-Oct) actually laying and burying the eggs.

Day 4

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.

Day 5

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.

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 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.

Arenal Volcano

Day 7

Excursion to the hanging bridges.
 

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'.

Day 8

Transfer to airport and fly to Panama City. Transfer to hotel.
 
Return to San José airport and fly to Panama City.  This thriving cosmopolitan metropolis sits at the Pacific end of the Panama Canal. The city dates back to 1519 when it was a settlement 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.

Day 9

Partial Panama Canal transit.
 

France began work on the Panama Canal in 1881, but the project was stalled because of engineering problems and high mortality - owing to disease - among the workers. The USA intervened and completed the canal, with its series of locks, in 1913, enabling ships to avoid the lengthy, hazardous Cape Horn route around the southernmost tip of South America.

One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, the Panama Canal shortcut made it possible for ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in half the time previously required. And helped those nations in, and bordering, the Pacific Ocean to become integrated with the world economy.

You have the opportunity to travel through part of the canal negotiating the locks on an exciting guided excursion.

Start with a short drive to the Port of Balboa, passing under the 1654-metre-long Bridge of the Americas (clearance for ships 61m) with its views of Panama Bay and the skyline of Panama City. You will reach Miraflores Locks, the tallest in the locks system, at this point the boat is raised 17m above sea level. The next set of locks is at Pedro Miguel where you will be 26m above sea level before entering the Gaillard 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 - which is where you will disembark before returning by car to Panama City.

Panama Canal

Day 10

Guided tour of Panama City and Miraflores locks.
 

Guided tour of Panama City. The trip begins with a visit to the ruins of Old Panama (Antigua Panama), founded by the Spanish and pillaged by the pirate Henry Morgan in 1671. From here, continue on to Altos del Golf, an upmarket residential neighbourhood in today's skyscraper city, where the controversial Dictator General Manuel Antonio Noriega used to live. Next is the Casco Viejo (the 17th-19th century quarter - now a World Heritage site).

Afterwards you head to Balboa, which is in the heart of the Canal Zone (US-owned until 1999)

You’ll return to Miraflores Locks, through which you passed yesterday. Situated at the Locks is an excellent visitors' centre with an exhibition narrating the history of the construction, the wildlife, and the modern economic context of the canal. There's a broad viewing platform where you can watch the mighty 'Panamax' container ships pass through the locks. It's a bit of a squeeze – there’s only 60cm clearance at each side: an engineering Wonder of the World.

 

Day 11

Fly by light aircraft to San Blas islands.
 

Transfer to airport and fly by light aircraft to the San Blas Islands. Nowadays known as the Kuna Yala, this necklet of hundreds of islands, from tiny islets with a cluster of palms to larger, inhabited islands, lies off the Caribbean coast, stretching for 200km towards the border with Colombia. The Kuna indians maintain an autonomous traditional lifestyle here: Kuna Yala means ”land of the Kuna.” The beaches are pearly white, and the glass-clear water invites you to snorkel out to the coral reef. Accommodation is rustic and the pace of life extremely relaxed.

After a very early start you have a 50min flight by light aircraft to Playón Chico airstrip (there’s a luggage allowance of 11kg; leave the rest of your gear at the hotel in the capital). Continue by boat to your accommodation, Yandup Lodge.

Kuna indian weaving

Day 12

At leisure on the beach.
 

There's a range of 'activities' available from the lodge: lying in your hammock doing nothing; swimming to one of the nearby islands; rainforest walks; visiting nearby Kuna families by canoe and on foot - there are no roads in Kuna Yala - to learn about the construction methods of the houses and the creation of traditional fabrics. And there's time to lie on the beach with a book or a cold beer.

San island in San Blas

Day 13

Fly to Panama City
 

Return to Panama City.

Day 14

Transfer to airport for international flight home.
 

Essential information

Transport

4 flights (one international jet, 3 by light aircraft Cessna or similar), 3 road journeys, 2 boat transfers

Accommodation

Meals

Breakfast daily, full board days 2, 3, 10, 11,12.

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 Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
• Half day excursion in Tortuguero National Park.
• Guided excursion to the hanging bridges at Arenal.
• Guided city tour of Panama with Miraflores Locks.
• Partial Panama Canal transit.

Summary of nights

14 days, 13 nights: San José 1; Tortuguero 2; Monteverde 2; Arenal 2; Panama City 3, San Blas Islands 2, Panama City 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 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 and in Panama the US dollar, known locally as the balboa.

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 and Panama City: 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 Panama City, 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.

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.

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.

Clothing and special equipment

Bring plenty of light cotton clothing and good, comfortable walking shoes. A waterproof jacket and/or umbrella is 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.

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. 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.

Page Full Path: /sitecore/content/JLA/Home/destinations/costa-rica/holidays/signature-costa-rica-with-panama-city/trip-dossier

Page ID: {07662234-074D-40C4-AD69-A51E5D28FC3E}

Page Name: trip-dossier

Page Display Name: Trip Dossier

Page Template Name: T054-TripDossier

Page Template ID: {4B17EDBB-85D2-4A79-B178-A0CE05055C05}

Parent ID: {D9B8F96E-2262-4E04-9DBE-A36A1D335055}

Parent Name: signature-costa-rica-with-panama-city

Parent Display Name: Signature Costa Rica with Panama City

Parent Template Name: T013-Tour

Parent Template ID: {9701B79C-85FD-4A45-8072-3FFF55338F72}