Swap the concrete jungle for real jungle on this trip into the rainforests, waterways, hot springs and palm-lined beaches of Costa Rica.. Long-nosed tapirs, white-faced capuchin monkeys, elegant ocelots and three-toed sloths – Costa Rica is home to exotic animals, and this trip puts you in the perfect position to spot them all.. Go deeper than the average tourist with a homestay in a quiet agricultural community; the perfect opportunity to experience local life and practice your Spanish.. Refresh after jungle hikes spotting endemic wildlife in the rejuvenating hot springs of volcanic La Fortuna.
Discover incredible, lush Costa Rica, and understand why this part of the world is called the ‘rich coast’. This 15-day adventure, beginning and ending in lively San Jose, will provide you a comprehensive journey through the jungles, farmlands, beaches and cities of this pure Central American location. Stay with a local family in Santa Rosa de Pocosol and get your hands dirty on a sustainable farm. Soak in springs that get their heat from an active volcano in La Fortuna. Spot three-toed sloths in the thickets of the Manuel Antonio National Park, then relax beneath swaying palms on the nearby beaches. This adventure takes you into the heart of a country whose people are all about a ‘pura vida’.
Hola! Welcome to Costa Rica. With over a third of the country's population living within its parameters, San Jose is packed with both people and culture. Begin with a welcome meeting at 6 pm at your hotel; a good chance for you to meet your group leader and fellow travellers. If you arrive earlier in the day, why not visit the National Museum? This canary-yellow building houses everything from exhibits on pre-Colombian history to a garden filled with native butterflies, giving you am overview of the country before your adventure begins. Early bird history buffs might be interested in the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum or the Jade Museum, both of which display a wealth of indigenous artefacts.
Tortuguero National Park
Leave the hotel at 8 am. Without a planned lunch stop today, it is highly recommended to buy snacks prior or grab something at the bus station. At 9 am descend to the Caribbean lowlands by local bus on a 4-hour scenic (and a bit bumpy) journey that ends at the port of La Pavona. This rustic port is your entry point to Tortuguero National Park. Hop aboard a small boat and journey for around 1.5 hours into the depths of the Costa Rican wilderness. Arrive in the middle of this biodiverse area, where freshwater lagoons rest under the canopy of rainforest bordering the ocean which many animals call home, including jaguars and turtles. In the evening enjoy an informal Spanish lesson and relax with the sounds of nature at the jungle lodge.
Tortuguero National Park
Today you're free to explore the park at your own pace. If you're woken by the chattering of the forests’ some 300 bird species, why not haul yourself out of bed for a sunrise canoe trip? It’s a magical way to see the maze-like canals of the park, and you can keep an eye on otters and manatees in the morning light. Tortuguero National Park, established in 1970, is now 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. During the day, you might want to return to the park’s walking trails or simply relax in your lodge. Many species are particularly active at night, so if you wish, you can head out in the evening on a turtle watching tour, with part of the cost supporting a program aimed to patrol the beach for poachers. Be ready for all seasons – waterproof clothing and shoes are recommended.
Santa Rosa de Pocosol Homestay
Bid farewell to the evergreen rainforest this morning and make the 3-hour journey to Santa Rosa de Pocosol by private vehicle. Tonight is a memorable homestay experience, but as the family you'll be staying with doesn’t speak much English, it might useful to brush up on some Spanish phrases on the drive. The community is centred around agriculture, and on arrival you will be led around the farm to see all the local and organic produce grown here. This is where your informal cooking lesson begins! Pick some of the fresh food that is grown, and head back to your homestay for a small cooking lesson. You'll prepare a couple of dishes, making up part of your dinner! Alternatively in the afternoon you might want to take a soap making workshop or a guided hike to a nearby waterfall. This evening, you will be staying in guest rooms attached to family homes.
After breakfast, a truly magical river awaits. Drive for 2 hours to Tenorio Volcano National Park, where you’ll visit the Rio Celeste: a river fed by two different water sources, and when they collide, the water takes on a distinctive light blue colour. Take a leader-led hike around Rio Celeste, and spend the afternoon exploring the sky-blue falls and streams – it must be seen to be believed! The surrounding forest is full of wildlife, so keep your eyes peeled for tapirs, monkeys, anteaters and more hiding in the jungle canopy.
Today is as clear as the Costa Rica air, and with plenty of optional activities available, how about a guided tubing excursion at Rio Celeste? The light-blue waters of the river are generally off-limits to travellers, however you’ll have the opportunity to float along the water in an inflatable donut and spend the day lazing along the river. If you’re a thrill seeker, there’s the option embark on a 7-hour guided rafting tour at nearby Rio Tenorio. You’ll tackle 20 rapids and there’s plenty of natural beauty to admire along the banks during the lulls. Those who prefer a nature tour with less adrenaline might like to take 3-hour safari cruise along the Rio Tenorio, with a guide who will help you spot howler monkeys, crocodiles, river otters and an abundance of tropical birds.
Beneath the watchful eye of the immense Arenal Volcano lies La Fortuna, a sleepy town with an abundance of hot springs and natural pools to enjoy. Departing at 8 am, you’ll arrive by private vehicle after a 2-hour drive and have the rest of the day to do as you please. Perhaps grab some fresh fruit in town, hop in a taxi to the entrance and then hike to La Fortuna waterfall for a swim beneath the cascading waters that spill out of the towering jungle. In the evening, why not grab a classic local dinner with your travel buddies? Chifrijo (fried pork, salsa, beans and tortilla chips) is a great dish to share, though it’s so good you might want to keep it all to yourself.
Enjoy a free day to explore La Fortuna as you wish. The region offers a range of sights such as stunning lush forest, rare plants, animal watching and water-based sports on the lake. The volcano’s inner workings also mean that the area has plenty of thermal springs where hot, lava-heated water gushes to the surface. These springs, often surrounded by foliage, make the ideal place to relax. Active types could try stand-up paddle boarding on Lake Arenal with the incredible backdrop of the volcano and rolling green hills. Animal lovers will have a good chance of spotting sloths, monkeys, crocodiles and basilisk lizards skipping across the water on a boat tour of Cano Negro Reserve. Have a chat to your leader about the options available.
Lake Arenal / Monteverde
A morning of travel by bus and boat leads to incredible Monteverde. Depart at 8 am and arrive at a port on Lake Arenal in the afternoon. Cross the lake by boat (45 minutes) and then hop on a bus again to continue on to Monteverde (2 hours). There are options in town for lunch on arrival. Settled by North American Quakers in 1951, the area was initially used as an environmentally conscious agricultural community and is now a biological preserve. The forest has near-constant cloud cover, providing consistent rainfall, which also gives the area an enchanted feel. Spend the afternoon in the cloud forest, looking out for hummingbirds, quetzals and even lazy sloths among the mist later in the day. You may even choose to return after dusk to seek the animals and insects that are largely hidden in the day.
Make the most of your time in lush Monteverde and organise a local guide to take you on a nature walk. There also several local communities that operate cooperatives worth visiting. You may wish to get a different perspective on the forest by walking through the canopy on suspension bridges, or perhaps watch butterflies at play in the Butterfly Garden. More than 2000 species of plants, 320 bird species and 100 different types of mammals call Monteverde home, and no matter what you choose to do, be sure to keep an eye out for the resplendent quetzal, one of the most elusive birds in the world.
Wedged between the beautiful Pacific coast and the national park, Manuel Antonio is a laidback town. After a 4-hour journey in a private vehicle, feel the soft crunch of foliage underfoot while you hike the trails of the national park. Keep one eye on the scenic views and the other looking out for the abundant wildlife. Monkeys, armadillos, sloths and hundreds of birds are among the species you may be able to spot. In the late afternoon, perhaps head to Espadilla Beach to watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. A special seafood dinner awaits in town where shared food will be served to the group at La Cueva de Mariscos – a restaurant located at the market, and only open for you and your fellow travellers. Salud!
Spend some time on the beaches surrounding the national park, and perhaps hire a surfboard to catch some waves at Playa El Ray. If you want to spot wildlife and keep active at the same time, consider paddling through the mangrove forest on a guided kayak tour. It’s not unusual for curious monkeys to climb right onto the boat to say hello, and you’ll likely see snakes, crocodiles and plenty of birdlife too. Just remember your insect repellent! In the evening, perhaps take a sunset sail off the coast, watching the blue sky turn orange is a spectacular sight. You’re in Costa Rica, the ‘rich coast’, so soak up the shores as much as possible.