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National Parks of Costa Rica


Route map for National Parks of Costa Rica (TCRNPC)

Day 1 San Jose

You will be met at the airport and transferred to your hotel for overnight. 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 Jose 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 Jose has its good and bad sides. It is the centre of government, theater, 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 Jose, 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 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 Jose are the markets. The two main ones are 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 Jose 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 Tortuguero

Travel via bus and boat to your Lodge for two nights. Nestled deep in the rainforest canals of Tortuguero, the lodge lies at the threshold of the Tortugero National Park, home to the endangered green turtle.

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. Our three-hour boat ride along rivers and canals starts just outside the town of Limn and ends in the village of Tortuguero, near the park perimeter. 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 Centre, just outside of town, is an excellent source of information about the turtles and their tropical habitat.

Day 3 Tortugero

Today you will traverse the waterways this area is famous for on a boat tour followed by a short jungle walk, accompanied by specialist guides.

Day 4-5 La Fortuna/Arenal

This morning travel to La Fortuna at the Arenal Volcano—one of Costa Rica's most impressive volcanoes that can be viewed from many vantage points. On Day 5 we enjoy a walking tour to see the volcano up close. Later, enjoy an included visit to the hot springs to relax and soak in the revitalizing waters.

Set on the northern plains of Costa Rica, Arenal Volcano is on the shores of Lake Arenal, (77 square kilometres, or 48 square miles), created by a hydroelectric project. Winds sweeping off the Caribbean Sea reach speeds of 48 to 72 km/hr (30 to 45 mph), making Arenal one of the best sail boarding locations in the world. The lake actually separates the mountain ranges of Guanacaste and Tilarn. The volcano is set on the lake's southeast end. 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. During the day, its reflection on Lake Arenal is truly enchanting. 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, the local Hot Springs might just be the answer to your tired muscles. Soak in one of the natural thermal baths under the shade of the surrounding canopy.

Note: If space is unavailable at the Tabacon Hot Springs, you will visit the equally lovely and relaxing Baldi Hot Springs for dinner and leisure time in the hot pools.

Day 6 Rincon de la Vieja National Park

You will be transferred from La Fortuna to Liberia and then on to a Hacienda, a simple working farm on the slopes of the Rincon de la Viejo volcano. Enjoy lunch at the hotel before your exhilarating canyoning tour that includes a rappel, hanging bridges and a Tarzan swing.

Rincon de la Vieja translates as "the old woman's corner." According to locals, the indigenous people of the Guatuso tribe named the volcano for one of two reasons. Either there was an old witch on top of the mountain who sent columns of smoke into the air when she was angry, or there was a kindly old woman occupying the same nook, and the smoke was from her cooking fire as she prepared meals for weary travellers. Perhaps both are appropriate: the Rincon de la Vieja crater has had at least eight periods of intense volcanic activity, and still bubbles and steams.

The park contains hot springs which give rise to very hot mountain streams; sulphuric ponds with small mud-filled depressions which bubble continuously; geysers releasing jets of stream, particularly during the rainy season; and mud cones in all shapes and sizes. Waterfalls dot the park, and there is a small freshwater lake which lies south of the main crater. In addition, Rincon de la Vieja contains what is probably the largest existing growth of the national flower-"guaria morada" (purple orchid) found in the wild in Costa Rica.

Horseback riding, mountain biking, bubbling mud pits, geysers of sulphur dioxide and hydrogen are just a few of the unique optional attractions at Rincon de la Vieja. One of the most unique sights in the park is the Blue Lagoon: approximately 30 minutes from the park headquarters, this small lagoon is blue as a result of special minerals in the lagoon's underlying stones. A large waterfall constantly replenishes the lagoon while a small hot spring to its left provides a warm welcome relief. The colour of the lagoon is at its bluest during the dry season, as the volume of rainfall is at its lowest level.

Day 7 Rincon de la Vieja National Park

This morning you will enjoy a guided tour of the national park, followed by lunch and a chance to relax. Dinner and overnight at the hacienda.

Day 8 Monteverde

Depart to Monteverde via Liberia. After the hotel check-in explore the beautiful cloud forest town.

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 2000 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.

Day 9 Monteverde

Walk across a jungle canopy on a series of suspended bridges for a birds-eye view of the cloud forest.

Day 10 Manuel Antonio/Quepos Area

Arrive to Manuel Antonio National Park, perched on the Pacific Ocean. Enjoy this beach paradise for three nights.

Day 11-12 Manuel Antonio/Quepos Area

Spend your days at leisure. There are ample optional activities to choose from in town and the national park. The white sand beaches and warm Pacific waters near the tiny town of Quepos provide the ideal atmosphere to relax at the end of your adventure. Enjoy swimming, fishing, kayaking, horseback riding, boogie boarding, sailing or surfing. Not far away, Manuel Antonio offers excellent hiking and wildlife viewing. Like monkeys? This is the spot for you. Finally, you can snorkel, swim and try to spot dolphins or relax while enjoying the sunset.

Manuel Antonio sits on the outskirts of the Manuel Antonio National Park and is a great introduction to the laid back Tico lifestyle. This town is very popular with the younger set of international travellers and has a good beach for those who want to get a little sun and swim. If you have the jungle in mind, then we recommend that you head into the national park. 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.

Day 13 San José

Today you will be transferred to San José, where you will check-in to your hotel for the night.

Day 14 San José

Today you’ll be picked up at your hotel for your airport transfer.