Arrive in San José at any time and transfer to the hotel. There are no planned activities so check in and enjoy the city. In the late afternoon meet our fellow group members to go over the details of the trip, check the notice board (or ask reception) to see the exact time and location of this group meeting. If there is time, it is recommended to travel into the city to visit a museum, shop or people-watch in the main plaza. A mime, juggler, marimba band, magician, or storyteller may be performing and artisan booths are common, creating a regular arts and crafts fair atmosphere. With numerous museums to choose from, here are a few we suggest: The National Theater, inaugurated in 1897, 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 at one time the international airport and this museum is in the old terminal building. The Jade Museum is on the 11th floor of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros building and in addition to the collection of jade objects, there are pre-Columbian ceramic and stone works. 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 are at the San José markets at the Plaza de la Cultura, an outdoor open market; and the Central Market, where handicrafts are sold along with boots, fish, flour, herbal remedies, shirts and anything else you can imagine. Always watch your belongings and be ready for crowds. Like most cities, San José has its good and bad sides. It is the center of government, theater, and art and has beautiful parks and museums, but also has 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. 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. Located in the central highlands, San José enjoys a moderate climate. The heat and humidity of the coast and lowland areas may affect some with a general sense of lethargy and/or loss of appetite. This is no cause for alarm, it is simply a reaction to the heat. Be sure to drink plenty of water (cold bottled water is available everywhere) and do not attempt too much on any given day.
After breakfast we depart for Sarapiqui, which is surrounded by lush, humid green forests, and banana and pineapple plantations. While here, a naturalist guide leads us on a hike through the rainforest and a visit to OTS (Organization for Tropical Studies), where we will visit the La Selva Biological Station. OTS was founded to provide leadership in education, research and the responsible use of natural resources in the tropics. To address this mission, OTS conducts graduate and undergraduate education, facilitates research, participates in tropical forest conservation, maintains three biological stations in Costa Rica and conducts environmental education programs. La Selva Biological Station is located in the Caribbean lowland at the northern base of Braulio Carrillo National Park and recognized internationally as one of the premier facilities for rain forest research. Enjoy a one-hour group Spanish lesson so that you will better be able to communicate the basics while you travel through Costa Rica. Estimated Travel Time: 2.5 hours Approximate Distance: 44 miles (70 km)
Today we discover the wonders behind one of the world’s most tantalizing foods — chocolate. The tour begins at TRC (Tirimbina Rainforest Center), a unique adventure and learning destination in Costa Rica. With our local expert, we cross TRC's popular suspension bridge to a former cacao-tree plantation. Here we will see first hand the chocolate making process with an opportunity to taste organic rainforest chocolate. We also learn about how chocolate making has led to a fantastic sustainable tourism effort in protecting the native Cacao trees and to support the local women (Asociación de Mujeres Amazilia del Caribe ), in their efforts to improve their family's lives by making chocolate.
We depart to La Fortuna, at the foot of the Arenal Volcano. For lunch, experience an authentic cultural exchange with a local family at Doña Mara's home. Dona Mara will welcome us with a tropical drink at her rancho (gazebo) where she will prepare a delicious lunch on her rustic wood-fired stove. We have the opportunity to try making tortillas out of fresh ground corn masa, Doña Mara will show us how to flatten the dough into perfect circles ready for cooking. The tortillas will then be served with lunch. This evening, we visit a local hot springs resort where we enjoy dinner and take a relaxing soak in the lush, cascading waters of the hot springs. Soak under the shade of the surrounding canopy in one of the natural thermal baths, fed by rivers of volcanically-heated water running down from the volcano. Set on the northern plains of Costa Rica, Arenal Volcano sits on the southeast shore of artificial Lake Arenal. Separating the mountain ranges of Guanacaste and Tilarán, the lake was created by a hydroelectric dam. Winds sweep down the lake at speeds that reach 30 to 45 mph (48 to 72 km/hr), and the far end of the lake is one of the world’s top windsurfing locations. Up until early 2010, the volcano was quite active with occasional eruptions, but it has been more calm since then. Even during the day, its reflection on Lake Arenal is truly enchanting. Note that due to normal weather patterns around Arenal, the top of the volcano is often covered in clouds, hopefully we are lucky enough to see the volcano on a clear day. Like much of Costa Rica, this entire area is a birders’ paradise, with over 600 species as permanent residents. Time permitting, optional activities can include: hiking the area’s nature trails, swimming in chilly La Fortuna waterfall, canyoneering (rappelling down rivers and waterfalls), mountain biking, caving and horseback riding. Estimated Travel Time: 3 hours Approximate Distance: 50 miles (80 km)
Today we visit the Danaus Ecocenter for an interpretive walk. You also have time to explore La Fortuna, the hotspot for adventure travel in Costa Rica. There are numerous optional activities in this region, some of the most popular being: river rafting, kayaking, mountain biking, caving, horseback riding and hiking. The Ecocentro Danaus is the headquarters of the Asociación Conservacionista OJOCHE who develop activities of environmental education. There are various programs here with an environmental focus including: observing a variety of endemic plants (orchids, bromelias, palms, bushes, ferns, heliconias, etc), more than 150 species of birds, bats, caymans, iguanas, basilisks, snakes, frogs and butterflies. There is also a tree nursery of native species in danger of extinction as ojoche, Yellow almond Tree, among others. If you have pre-booked the Costa Rica Adrenaline Theme Pack, your choose your adventure and canyoneering activities will be today, Day 5.
Arriving in Monteverde this afternoon, we have some free time to relax at the hotel pool or take in some optional activities such as; Selvatura Park butterfly, reptile and Amphibian Exhibition or the tree-top Sky tram. We can also take a walk around this quaint town to visit local shops and cafes. If you have pre-booked the Costa Rica Adrenaline Theme Pack, your ziplining experience will be on either Day 6 or 7. Monteverde or Green Mountain, is what one would expect to 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 most 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 is home to a great variety of wildlife including more than 2000 species of plants, 320 bird species and 100 different species of mammals. The Santa Elena Reserve, another park connecting with Monteverde, is less well known but equally inspiring and 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. Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours Approximate Distance: 38 miles (60 km)
Led by a local Naturalist, we visit the Santa Elena Reserve which comprises an area of 310 hectare or 765 acres, located high on the Caribbean slopes of the Cordillera de Tilarán (5, 000 feet, 1,500 m), the Continental Divide of Costa Rica. The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve is one of the first community managed reserves in the country, who's philosophy is unique in that long term sustainability is not only a concern of the reserve, but of the community as a whole. Next, we learn about one of Costa Rica's most important exports through a unique tour of a coffee farm. Expert coffee guides will take us through the various aspects of coffee production, its growing, harvest and processing. The guides will highlight the importance of the golden bean or grano de oro and its impact in the social, cultural and economic development of Costa Rica. We also get to sample some of the end results.
After breakfast we make our way back to Costa Rica's capital to enjoy some free time for last minute souvenir shopping and one last night out on the town. Estimated Travel Time: 5 hours Approximate Distance: 170 km (105 miles)
Depart San José at any time.