Arrive in San José at any time. 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.
*Please note: if you have pre-booked the Costa Rica Adrenaline Bundle your CEO will inform you when you will do each activity throughout your tour, days are subject to change: Canyoneering (Day 3, half day - Arenal), ONE of the following: Stand up paddle, half day hike, venado cave or kayak (Day 3, half day - Arenal) and ziplining (Day 5 - Monteverde) . For more information on the Bundle see the Optional Activities section.
Located in the central highlands, San José enjoys a moderate climate. 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, as well as 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 the street) is keep the street numbering system straight. Street and avenue numbers are posted on buildings at the corners of some intersections—but not all! Keep looking as you walk, and you will eventually find one.
If you arrive early, head into downtown San José to visit a museum, shop or people-watch in the main plaza, a good place to watch San José at its most lively. A mime, juggler, marimba band, magician, or storyteller may be performing for tips, and artisan booths are common, creating a regular arts and crafts fair atmosphere.
A source of pride for ‘ticos’ (as Costa Ricans are called) 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. Underneath the adjacent Plaza de la Cultura sits probably San José’s best known museum, the Gold Museum; its spectacular collection of indigenous gold art belongs to the Central Bank of Costa Rica.
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, is housed in the old terminal building for what used to be the international airport. The 11th floor of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros building houses the excellent Jade Museum, which houses a marvellous collection of jade objects and pre-Columbian ceramic and stone works.
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.
NOTE: Like any city where tourism is on the increase, crime also tends to increase. While San José is not a noticeably dangerous city, there are certain precautions you should take. Make sure that you are aware of your things at all times and don't go out carrying expensive gear or jewellery.
Travel by bus to La Fortuna, at the foot of Arenal Volcano, our next adventure base. Take an unforgettable hike around the base of the volcano, set to a soundtrack of monkeys and the rumblings of the volcano in the distance. Hike the area’s nature trails, swim in chilly La Fortuna waterfall or try canyoneering (rappelling down rivers and waterfalls—quite the adrenaline rush!) Other optional activities include 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 Tabacón or Baldy Hot Springs Resort. Soak under the shade of the surrounding canopy in one of the natural thermal baths, fed by rivers of volcanically-heated water running don from the volcano.
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.
From La Fortuna travel by van to the shores of Lake Arenal where our mountain bikes will be waiting for a two-hour cycling journey (challenging with some hills and bumps). Anyone wishing to opt out of this activity may, though some waiting for the group might be required. Afterwards, board a boat for the half hour boat ride across, When we arrive at Rio Chiquito, we switch to waiting vans to drive the final leg up into the cool, misty mountain air of the Monteverde cloud forest.
Spend two days exploring Monteverde and the cloud forest reserve, including a guided tour of the cloud forest—our 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 (with great ice cream!) 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 the Sky Walk, a series of suspension bridges through the jungle canopy, a butterfly garden and a thrilling canopy zip line.
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 2000 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!
Head to the Pacific coast for some much needed beach time and an opportunity to enjoy the waves. Playa Santa Teresa and Malpais are small towns frequented by surfers. Beginners should take advantage of the 2 included surf lessons (one 2-hour lesson per day), fine-tune your skills, go for a swim or just chill out on the black sand beach.
Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve is located next to Malpais, take a hike to explore the area or check out the snorkelling at Secret Beach.
Estimated Travel Time: 8 hours
Approximate Distance: 200 km
Squeeze in a morning surf before embarking on our journey back to the capital, San José. Arrive in the evening (approx 9pm) in time to shower and head out for a final night on the town.
Depart at any time.