Arrive in San Jose at any time. There are no planned activities so check into our hotel and enjoy the city. Located in the central highlands, San José enjoys a moderate climate. The heat and humidity of the coast and lowland areas may affect you, with a general sense of lethargy and/or loss of appetite. This is no cause for alarm, it is simply your body’s reaction to the heat. Be sure to drink plenty of water (bottled water is available everywhere) and do not attempt too much in any given day. We prefer fan-cooled rather than air conditioned rooms to avoid having to acclimatize to the heat and humidity every time you go outside. This is also a more eco-friendly approach. Like most cities, San José has its good and bad sides. It is the centre of government, theatre, and art, as well as of air pollution and congestion. It has beautiful parks and museums, and a few beggars on the streets. It is big and often noisy, but even from its crowded downtown streets, you’ll often enjoy a view of the surrounding lush mountains. Start your exploration of the city in the main plaza, a great place to people-watch. A mime, juggler, marimba band, magician, or storyteller may be performing for whatever is collected when the hat is passed. Artisan booths are common, creating a regular arts and crafts fair atmosphere. A source of pride for the ticos (as Costa Ricans are known) is the National Theatre. Inaugurated in 1897, the building was paid for by coffee growers through a voluntary tax on every bag of coffee exported. The National Museum, housed in the Bellavista Fortress, offers exhibits on pre-Columbian art, colonial art and furniture and religious art within a 19th century building that was converted from a military fortress after the army was abolished. The Museum of Costa Rican Art, located in La Sabana Park, was once the international airport; the museum is now housed in the old terminal building. The Jade Museum is on the 11th floor of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros building. In addition to the marvellous collection of jade objects, there are pre-Columbian ceramic and stone works as well as displays with archaeological and ethnographic information. The Gold Museum is located underneath the Plaza de la Cultura. Its spectacular collection of indigenous gold art belongs to the Central Bank of Costa Rica. The best and least expensive places to buy souvenirs in San José are the markets. The two main ones are the ones in Plaza de la Cultura, which is an outdoor open market, and the Central Market, where handicrafts are sold along with boots, fish, flour, herbal remedies, shirts and everything else you can imagine. Always watch your belongings and be ready for crowds. If you plan on spending a few days in San José after your tour, there are a number of activities within the city and area that you can participate in, many of them outdoors. Probably the hardest thing you will do in San José, other than get safely across busy streets, is keep the street numbering systems straight. Street and avenue numbers are posted on buildings at the corners of some intersections. Keep looking as you walk, and you will eventually find one.
We begin with an incredible bus ride over the mountains to the Caribbean coast. The picturesque village of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca’s white and black sand beaches are surrounded by exotic tropical vegetation. Options include renting a bike or hiking through Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge. Try snorkelling or take it easy and explore La Isla Botanical Gardens. Rent a boogie board if the waves are calling, dance the night away to reggae and calypso, taste flavourful Afro-Caribbean cuisine, and succumb to the natural beauty of this tropical paradise. This area of Costa Rica was quite isolated until a road was built a only a couple of decades ago, and it still hasn’t lost its charm. Estimated Travel Time: 5 hours Approximate Distance: 220 km
We travel north by bus through varied landscapes and arrive at La Fortuna, a small town near the foot of Arenal Volcano. An excellent base for adventure, La Fortuna offers a wide variety of activities. Hike the area’s nature trails, swim in chilly La Fortuna waterfall or join a canopy tour and catch a bird’s eye view of the forest greenery. Other optional activities include full-day white water rafting on the Toro or Arenal Rivers, mountain biking, caving, horseback riding, or a tour of the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge. Like much of Costa Rica, the area is a birders’ paradise, with over 600 species as permanent residents. Finally, after a long day of exploring, take a relaxing soak in the lush, cascading hot springs of Baldi Resort. Soak in one of the natural thermal baths and rivers under the shade of the surrounding canopy. If you have pre-booked the Costa Rica Adrenaline Theme Pack, your rafting and canyoneering adventures will be on either Day 6 or 7. Set on the northern plains of Costa Rica, Arenal Volcano sits on the southeast shore of artificial Lake Arenal (77 square kilometres, or 48 square miles). Separating the mountain ranges of Guanacaste and Tilarán, the lake was created by a hydroelectric dam. Winds sweeping off the Caribbean Sea reach speeds of 48 to 72 km/hr (30 to 45 mph), across Lake Arenal you can find one of the best locations in the world to go windsurfing. The volcano, once quite active, has been in a dormant state since the beginning of 2011 but still is a dramatic backdrop to the town of La Fortuna. Estimated Travel Time: 9 hours Approximate Distance: 300 km
From La Fortuna ascend into the cool, misty mountain air of the Monteverde cloud forest. For those interested the trip from La Fortuna can be done on horseback. Spend two days exploring Monteverde and the Forest Reserve, truly a nature lover's paradise. Local guides are extremely knowledgeable about the area and passionate about conservation of this precious ecosystem. The unique community has several local co-operatives worth visiting including artist collectives and a cheese factory. If you're there at the right time of year, you may be lucky enough to see the Resplendent Quetzal, one of the most beautiful and elusive birds in the world. Optional activities include a walk along suspension bridges through dense forest, a coffee tour, or an adrenaline-filled zip through the cloud forest on one of the many famous canopy tours. If you have pre-booked the Costa Rica Adrenaline Theme Pack, your ziplining experience will be on either Day 8 or 9. Monteverde or Green Mountain, is exactly what you find at the end of the long, rutted dirt road through the mountains. The surrounding pastures were once covered with dense forest, but today only a small piece of it remains. That piece of forest has been preserved as the Reserva Biologica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. Cloud forest is much like a rainforest, but much of the moisture comes not from falling rain but from the condensation left by the nearly constant cloud cover that blankets the tops of mountains in many parts of the tropics. Monteverde Reserve covers 1600 hectares of forest and is home to a great variety of wildlife. More than 2,000 species of plants, 320 bird species and 100 different species of mammals inhabit this small area. The Santa Elena Reserve, another park contiguous with Monteverde, is less well known and visited but also worth seeing. All proceeds from this park profit the local community. Quakers from the United States founded the village of Monteverde in the 1950s. Looking to leave behind the constant fear of war and objecting to being forced to support continued militarism through their taxes, the Quakers chose Costa Rica because of its commitment to a non-militaristic economic path—Costa Rica’s army was dissolved in the 1940s. Since its founding, Monteverde has grown slowly as others who shared the original Quaker founders’ ideals moved to the area. Although the Quakers came here to farm the land, they recognized the need to preserve the rare cloud forest that covers the mountain slopes above their fields. The community is very different from those on the coast, and offers several souvenir shops and the Quaker cheese factory, which is definitely worth a visit. Make sure to try their ice cream! Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours Approximate Distance: 60 km
We travel to the coast of the Nicoya peninsula and arrive in Sámara, a cozy little beach village. Sámara is home to a long white sand beach with shallow, calm waters perfect for swimming and is still a thriving fishing and farming community. Here you can fill your day with as much or as little as you like. Start off with an early yoga class or sleep in before setting off to explore nearby beaches in search of a perfect, tranquil spot for a day of relaxing along the beautiful Pacific coast. Carrillo beach is approximately 4 km from Playa Sámara, head there for a visit if you're looking for an even more calm and relaxed vibe. For those who prefer to stay active, try your hand at surfing, fishing, snorkeling, or horseback riding along the beach. There is also a zip-line adventure tour through the tropical forest if you're looking to get a close-up view of monkeys, iguanas, and various other wildlife. If you’d like to strengthen some of the Spanish skills you’ve picked up during your time in Costa Rica, try out some classes at the local Spanish school. At night, enjoy a delicious seafood dinner at one of the beachside restaurants or sip a cocktail as you watch the town come alive. Estimated Travel Time: 6 hours Approximate Distance: 140 km
Return to San José for some last minute shopping and a final night on the town. Estimated Travel Time: 6 hours Approximate Distance: 240 km