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Value Costa Rica: The essential highlights

12 days from £1241pp

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Value Costa Rica: The essential highlights:
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. Transfer to your hotel.

Day 2

By road and boat to Tortuguero Jungle Reserve.

Day 3

Wildlife spotting in Tortuguero National Park.

Day 4

By river and road to San José, overnight.

Day 5

Transfer by shuttle bus to Monteverde.

Day 6

Self-guided exploration to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

Day 7

Transfer by shuttle bus to Arenal volcano area.

Day 8

Excursions to the hanging bridges.

Day 9

Transfer by shuttle bus to hotel on the Pacific coast.

Days 10-11

At leisure on the beach.

Day 12

Shuttle bus to San José airport for international flight home.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in San José. 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

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 waters of the lodge's private canal - the Canal of Palms - like all those in the national park are black, owing to tannins from trees in the area, and flow slowly.  Spend a couple of hours gently meandering the canals in a guided boat, spotting birds, mammals and reptiles in beautiful scenery.  The early start means you will see the wildlife at its most active. The remaining time can be spent relaxing in your lodge or participating in some of the activities available.

Guided tours, visiting the local town and gardens, jungle walks, and visits to the nearby turtle museum to learn about the nesting cycle of the reptiles can be arranged. In season, take a night-time walk along the moonlit beach, and search for turtles and their eggs. Or take a boat out on the channels at your leisure; gliding silently through these waters you are likely to spot all kinds of wildlife on the banks.

Baby caiman are easy to spot at Tortuguero

Day 4

By river and road to San José, overnight.

Day 5

Transfer by shuttle bus to Monteverde.

Travel by shared minibus 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 drive for a couple of hours through the Central Valley along the Pan American Highway, a decent paved road. Take the turn off to Monteverde, and here the adventure begins - for 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.

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. 30 species of hummingbird also reside in the park.

Monteverde trail

Day 6

Self-guided exploration to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

Make your own way to the reserve and enjoy the freedom and flexibility of a self-guided hike in the cloud-forest. There are a variety of tracks, trails and loops to choose from which venture away from the well-trodden routes, offering a better chance of spotting a whole host of wildlife. At an altitude of 1,440m above sea level there are also some spectacular views out over the tree canopy. Paths are clear to follow and suitable for all levels of fitness - you can set your own pace.

Day 7

Transfer by shuttle bus to Arenal volcano area.
Take a shared shuttle minibus to a countryside hotel close to la Fortuna, in the shadow of Arenal volcano. 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 walk 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).

Day 8

Excursions 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'.

Hanging Bridges Arenal

Day 9

Transfer by shuttle bus to hotel on the Pacific coast.

Travel by shared minibus to the Pacific coast, pocked with bays, and thickly forested.  Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the smallest but best regarded nature parks in Costa Rica. Its setting is lovely - wild, tropical beaches and rocky outcrops backed by lush forest. It has a network of trails where you may see a variety of reptiles, as well as monkeys, sloths, armadillos, racoons and over 350 species of birds.

Close by, Manuel Antonio beach is also one of the most popular in the country, with a number of high quality hotels, condominiums and resorts.  30 years ago, when we first went there, its fudgy sands were visited only by monkeys and backpackers. Now you'll find tourists from all over the world, especially the USA, but it is still a gorgeous place graced with exquisite natural beauty.

Days 10-11

At leisure on the beach.
At leisure at the beach. Explore the national park, maybe visit the little port of Quepos, but beware of strong ocean currents. The hotel has a swimming pool with panoramic views.
Manuel Antonio national park beach

Day 12

Shuttle bus to San José airport for international flight home.

Essential information


5 road journeys, 2 boat transfers.


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.


Breakfast daily, full board days 2, 3.


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.

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 to Latin America.
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket
• Optional excursions.


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.

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.


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.


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.

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. 


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 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.


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.


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 digital e-passports with an embedded chip. 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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