Costa Rica Explorer Map
Day 1 Arrive San José
Arrive in San José at any time. A G Adventures representative will meet you at the airport and transfer you to our joining point hotel. There are no planned activities so check into our hotel and enjoy the city. Please try to arrive before 6pm for an important group meeting where you can meet the Chief Experience Officer (CEO) and the other group members.
If you arrive early enough, you'll have time to head into the city to visit a museum, shop or people-watch in the main plaza. As it is 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 a reaction to the heat. Be sure to drink plenty of water (cold 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.
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.
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.
The plaza is a good 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 (Costa Ricans) 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 used to be 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. 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 prior to or after your tour, there are a number of activities within the city and area that you can participate in, many of them outdoors.
Day 2-3 Tortuguero (2B,2L,2D)
Travelling east by private shuttle from San José, then by boat through the canals we come to Tortuguero, an important nesting area for Green and Leatherback sea turtles (seasonal March to June for Leatherbacks, June to September for Green turtles). Plenty of opportunity to see a variety of birds and wildlife.
The beaches around Tortuguero, a sleepy Afro-Caribbean town, host the nesting grounds of a variety of sea turtles. Walking paths extend through the village and into the National Park. Tortuguero National Park was created in 1975 to protect the four species of sea turtles which nest along the beaches. En route to Tortuguero, we may see herons, egrets, spoonbills, as well as amphibians and reptiles like the “Jesus Lizard” (it walks on water) and caimans. The tropical rainforest gives way to prime beaches, ideal nesting grounds for Green, Loggerhead, Hawksbill and Leatherback Turtles. The latter nests from mid-March to May, the rest from July to September. The Caribbean Conservation Center, just outside of town, is an excellent source of information about the turtles and their tropical habitat.
Estimated Travel Time: 7 hours
Approximate Distance: 270 km
Day 4 La Fortuna/Arenal (1B,1L)
Depart early and enjoy an included snack enroute. This afternoon, enjoy a visit to a Planeterra-supported coffee cooperative with a tour and local lunch. Arrive in Fortuna this evening and relax at the pool surrounded by jungle and volcano views.
Today we visit a coffee cooperative in the small village of San Miguel de Sarapiqui and take a traditional coffee tour. We will have a delicious local lunch, there's even fresh tilapia farmed onsite, and then tour the grounds of the cooperative to learn about the coffee process from bean to cup. We visit this particular coffee cooperative because we identified it as one that needed economic support through tourism due to a major earthquake that left the village without access to economic opportunities for several years. Under a three-year initiative with the Multilateral Investment Fund, G Adventures and its foundation, Planeterra, are working with the cooperative to further develop the tour, provide tourism training, and develop other local businesses to be linked to the cooperative. Your visit ensures we are providing continued income to the cooperative and its more than 130 member farmers and their families.
Estimated Travel Time: 9 hours (including lunch and coffee tour)
Approximate Distance: 200 km
Day 5-6 La Fortuna / Arenal (2B,1L)
La Fortuna is one of the centres of adventure travel in Costa Rica. Here you can try river rafting, moutain bike, caving, horseback riding or take a walk on the active volcano. And don’t forget about the hot springs, fed directly by the active volcano.
One day for lunch, experience an authentic cultural exchange with a local family at Doña Mara's home. Doña Mara will welcome the group 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, Dona Mara will show us how to flatten the dough into perfect circles ready for cooking. The tortillas will then be served with lunch.
Please note that if you booked the Adrenaline Theme Pack, on day 5 you will have an action packed day with both canyoneering and an option of your choice. Canyoneering is approximately 2.5 hours long, with four waterfall repels through the lush rainforests around Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano.
For your second option, you can choose ONE of the following: Stand up paddle (2 hours), half day hike (3 hours), venado cave (2 hours) or kayak (2 hours).
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.
There are several attractions in the area aside from the lake and volcano. It is a birders’ paradise, with over 600 species as permanent residents, and is inhabited by numerous species of frogs. You can also enjoy hiking the area’s nature trails, or if you’re more daring, you can opt to climb a ladder to participate in one of the canopy tours and catch a fresh glimpse of the forest greenery. After a long day of exploring, you might opt to visit the local hot springs, just the answer to your tired muscles where you can soak in one of the natural thermal baths under the shade of the surrounding canopy.
Day 7-9 Monteverde (3B)
From La Fortuna, we make our way up to the misty mountain air of the Monteverde cloud forest. We spend 2 days exploring the town and nearby Forest Reserve, truly a bird lover’s paradise. Founded by Quakers in the 1950s the mountain dairy community of Monteverde has become an ecotourism haven due to the presence of the cloud forest reserve and the numerous other adventure options in the area.
Optional activities include horse riding en route from La Fortuna to Monteverde, traversing suspension bridges amid the forest's canopy, butterfly garden, coffee tour and a canopy zip-line tour.
Please note that if you booked the Adrenaline Theme Pack, on day 8 you will have a bird’s-eye view of the rainforest canopy as you soar through the trees on a Tarzan swing, a giant rappel and a 450-foot-high zipline. Tour is approx. 2.5 hours long.
Monteverde or "Green Mountain", when translated into English, is exactly what you will find at the end of the long, rutted dirt road we travel to get to this area. The surrounding pastures were once covered with dense forest, but only a small piece of it now remains. That piece of forest has been preserved as the Reserva Biologica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve.
A 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 birds species, and 100 different species of mammals inhabit this small area.
The village of Monteverde was founded in the 1950s by Quakers from the United States. They wished to leave behind the constant fear of war and the obligation to support continued militarism through U.S. taxes and chose Costa Rica because it was committed to a non-militaristic economic path. Since its founding, Monteverde has grown slowly as other people, 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. The Santa Elena Reserve, is another park in this area that is less well known and visited, but also worth seeing. All proceeds from this park profit the local community.
Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours
Approximate Distance: 60 km
Day 10-12 Manuel Antonio National Park area (3B)
The white sand beaches and warm Pacific waters are the ideal atmosphere to relax at the end of your adventure. Opt to enjoy horseback riding, boogie boarding, surfing, whale or dolphin watching excursions (when in season) or travel a bit further down the coast to visit Ballena National Marine Park. Walk out into the sea on the incredible natural sand formation that shapes a whale's tale when the tide goes out.
On Day 11 take an included day trip to Manuel Antonio National Park. Like monkeys? Although this is Costa Rica’s smallest National Park, it is also one of the most popular and it won’t take you long to see why. This park has fabulous beaches, abundant wildlife, and a great trail system for those who want to spend the day hiking. Look for monkeys, armadillos, coatimundis, sloths and some 350 species of birds that are present in the park.
Estimated Travel Time: 6 hours
Approximate Distance: 267 km
Day 13 San José (B)
Travelling across picturesque highlands, we return to San José for one last night in the city.
Estimated Travel Time: 5 hours
Approximate Distance: 190 km
Day 14 Depart San José (B)
Departure day, depart at any time.