The stunning national parks of Costa Rica are endowed with some of the greatest diversity of flora and fauna in the world. Journey to Tortuguero National Park and learn about local turtle conservation projects. Discover untouched forests at Monteverde, considered by many to be one of the world’s most outstanding tropical cloudforest and wildlife sanctuaries. Get behind the scenes and discover real Cuban life. Explore avant-garden sculpture with a local artist in Ciego de Avila, visit the tobacco fields for a snapshot of rural life in Vinales and take a private tour of a ballet theatre in Santiago de Cuba
The national parks of Costa Rica are blessed with some of the greatest diversity of flora and fauna in the world. Depart for Tortuguero, where you can learn about indigenous turtle catching and conservation efforts. Explore the base of the mighty Arenal Volcano from your unique perch high in the trees. Relax on some of Costa Rica’s finest beaches. Experience Cuba’s finest on a 13-day journey across the colourful Caribbean island. Combining leisure, culture, coast and country, discover the depth of Cuba’s most fascinating traditions. Witness daily life in Vinales’ verdant tobacco fields, peel back the curtain on Santiago de Cuba’s ballet culture, wander the French-infused waterfront of Cienfuegos or dance to Cuban rhythms in Trinidad Finish it off with a cruise through Havana’s grand old streets in a classic American convertible.
THIS COMBINATION TRIP WILL BE DISCONTINUED IN 2019. The ‘Cuba Highlights’ (PSTV) sub trip that is a part of this combination trip will continue to run in 2019 and is unchanged. There will be a new standalone Costa Rica trip ‘Costa Rica Highlights’ (PSCH) replacing the other sub trip; Please check back in a few months for more details on this itinerary.
Breakfast Included: 26 Lunches Included: 7 Dinner Included: 5
On arrival at San Jose airport you will be met and transferred to your hotel located in the heart of the city. A complimentary transfer is included with your trip. Please ensure you provide your flight details to your booking agent at least 14 days prior to travel so the transfer can be organised.
In the evening you will meet your tour leader and the other members of the group for a pre-tour briefing. This is normally held at 6pm but please check the notice board at reception to confirm the time and place. Please bring your passport, next of kin and travel insurance documents along with you. Following the briefing there is generally an optional group dinner at a nearby restaurant.
If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability).
Costa Rica’s capital sits in the centre of a lush, wide valley which has a comfortable subtropical climate. The streets of the town are laid out along a grid iron pattern, with avenidas running east to west and callés running north to south. Many of the most interesting buildings are in the region of Avenida Central – the Teatro Nacional is an elaborate confection of marble staircases, statues, frescoes and mirrors. Artisan booths are common here and you never know when there'll be a spontaneous art fair.
If arriving early, have a look at the Gold Museum, which has an amazing collection of indigenous gold art. If these cultural gems get you in the mood for a bit of shopping, head to the outdoor market in Plaza de la Cultura or the Central Market where you can buy anything from handicrafts to seafood.
Leave San Jose and descend to the Caribbean lowlands (approximately 4 hours). The final section of our journey to the port at La Pavona is on an unsealed road. There you'll take a boat to Tortuguero National Park (approximately 1.5 hours).
This area has long been associated with the catching of turtles (tortuguero means turtle-catcher). The original indigenous inhabitants used turtles as a sustainable resource, but the arrival of Europeans led to major exploitation.
Tortuguero National Park is home to 13 of Costa Rica’s 16 endangered mammals. Among them are manatees, ocelots and jaguars, as well as over 300 bird species. First and foremost, however, it is the nesting ground of the green turtle, which comes ashore between July and October to lay its eggs on the sandy beaches. Lesser numbers of the critically endangered hawksbill turtle, plus loggerheads, and giant leatherback turtles also nest within the park at different times of year.
This afternoon you'll meet Sibella and her son Cloied, descendant of the first Afro-Caribbean people who arrived in the area. Learn from them all about life in this corner of the world, from the secrets of Caribbean dishes to how life was before tourism came to this remote area. Your guide will particularly elaborate on the use of coconut and its many uses from paper to delicious candy.
After the presentation, head to the Sea Turtle Conservancy Museum to learn about the sea turtle conservation efforts in Tortuguero.
Today a local guide will take you through the park within the lodge to explain about the local flora and show you butterfly and frog gardens.
In the afternoon embark on a 2-hour boat tour through the canals of Tortuguero National Park, keeping eyes peeled for aquatic birds, monkeys, caimans, iguanas and bats.
Set the alarm clock early because today you'll be visiting Sarapiqui, located in the heart of Costa Rica's banana growing region. To get there you'll transfer back to the port by boat (approximately 1.5 hours) and then continue to Sarapiqui by private minibus (approximately 3 hours).
On the banks of the Puerto Viejo River and next to the Braulio Carrillo National Park, Sarapiqui is surrounded by virgin forests, banana and pineapple plantations. Sarapiqui is also known as one of the richest areas in Costa Rica for bird watching. The diversity of lowland bird life is impressive. A biological research station and several nearby forest lodges have made this undisturbed habitat accessible to scientists and travellers.
Once you've arrived, enjoy a relaxing swim in the pool while listening to the sounds of the rainforest. The entire afternoon is free to enjoy.
Perhaps opt to visit La Sevla Bioalogical Station, a field station of the Organization for Tropical Studies, today one of the most important sites in the world for research on tropical rain forest. Over 240 scientific papers are published yearly from research conducted at the site.
Alternatively you could go for a walk along the 9km trails available at Tirimbina for a chance to see different habitats from old cacao plantations, secondary forest, wetlands and river banks to intriguing primary forest.
Prices listed below are entrance only, you will need to add the cost of transport which will depende on how many of you want to participate in these activities.
Begin your second day in Sarapiqui searching for some of the rainforest's 215 colourful bird species on a guided birdwatching tour.
In the afternoon, learn about one of humankind's tastiest obsessions during a chocolate tour in La Tirimbina Biological Reserve (2.5 hours). The production of cacao plays an important role in preserving this ecological site and supporting the local community.
Drive to La Fortuna by private vehicle (approximately 3 hours). Huddled in the shadow of the looming Arenal Volcano, the small town of La Fortuna is an ideal location from which to explore the surrounding region.
The volcano's almost perfect cone, which soars 1,633 metres above sea level, has a crater 140 metres deep formed over an ancient caldera.
In the evening you will visit hot springs in the area. Surrounded by lush foliage and naturally heated by the Arenal volcano, the springs are the perfect way to relax.
Get a different perspective of the Arenal ecosystem on a walk around its hanging bridge system. Hidden among the trees, you'll be in a unique position to observe the wildlife below.
With a free afternoon to enjoy, perhaps visit the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge.
Today take the scenic route to Monteverde (approximately 4 hours in total).
Travel by shared minibus to Lake Arenal, which you'll then cross by boat. On a clear day you'll get fantastic views of the surrounding area. On the other side of the lake, re-board the minibus and continue to your destination.
Monteverde was founded as an agricultural community in 1951 by a group of North American Quakers who cleared virgin forest to create pastures ideal for dairy farming. These environmentally aware settlers were way ahead of the game in being conscious of the danger that unrestricted settling and farming could cause to habitats. Consequently, they established a small privately-owned wildlife sanctuary which has since grown to become the internationally-renowned Monteverde Cloudforest Biological Preserve. These forests are similar to rainforests, but instead of relying on rain for essential moisture, receive water comes from semi-permanent cloud that covers the region. Lush and full of wildlife, this is truly a nature lover's paradise. More than 2,000 species of plants, 320 bird species and 100 different types of mammals call Montverde home.
This morning you'll have the opportunity to join your leader on a guided walking tour through the Monteverde National Park. Be sure to keep an eye out for the resplendent quetzal, one of the world's most elusive birds.
The afternoon is free for you to enjoy at leisure. Sit back with your favorite book or take on some of the optional activities in the area. Perhaps walk through the canopy on suspension bridges or watch butterflies at play in the specially created butterfly garden. The local guides are very knowledgeable about the area and passionate about conservation. There are also several cooperatives worth visiting in the local communities.
In the morning, visit the Ramirez family and their small coffee farm, which produces the coffee brand locally known as Cafe San Luis. Learn from this charismatic family the traditional coffee-making process still employed today.
After an afternoon set aside for relaxation, embark on a evening hike in search of some of the rainforest's nocturnal inhabitants. Some of the wildlife you might see includes porcupines, toucans, owls, agoutis, coatimundis, snakes, stick insects, tarantulas and katydids. Animal sightings can of course never be guaranteed, but this time of day offers a good chance to both spot diurnal animals returning from the day's hunting and nocturnal animals setting out to start it.
Manuel Antonio National Park
From Monteverde it is a four to five hour drive to Manuel Antonio National Park.
Situated on the Pacific Coast, the area of mangrove swamps and beaches now known as the Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio was first documented by Spanish Explorer Ponce de Leon in 1519 during his (unsuccessful) search for the Fountain of Youth.
Here, long, white beaches extending around the Punta Catedral headland are backed by evergreen forests that grow up right up to the high tide mark. The park, which is made up of 12 small islands and countless lagoons and mangrove swamps, is home to 109 kinds of mammal and 184 species of bird, also boasts turquoise seas perfect for swimming, kayaking, sailing or fishing in.
The afternoon is at your leisure. Perhaps relax at the beach and get ready for tomorrow's exploration of the National Park.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Led by a local guide whose family helped establish the park, head out on a hike through Manuel Antonio in search of the resident wildlife. Monkeys, armadillos, sloths and hundreds of birds are some of the species you might be lucky enough to spot.