Natural Highlights of Costa Rica Map
Day 1 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 La Fortuna / Arenal (2B)
Today, travel to La Fortuna, in the foothills of the spectacular Arenal Volcano. 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 volcano.
If you have pre-booked the Costa Rica Adrenaline Theme Pack, your choose your adventure and canyoneering activities will be on Day 3.
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.
Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours
Approximate Distance: 150 km
Day 4-5 Monteverde (2B,1L)
Enjoy a tortilla-making lesson followed by a typical lunch with a local family before transferring to the cloud forest area of Monteverde. Enjoy a nature hike in the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. Opt to visit a butterfly garden, coffee farm, zipline through the canopy or go horseback riding.
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.
From La Fortuna, we make our way up to the misty mountain air of the Monteverde cloud forest. Explore 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.
If you have pre-booked the Costa Rica Adrenaline Theme Pack, your ziplining experience will be on either Day 5.
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 6-7 Manuel Antonio National Park (2B)
Continue to the Pacific coast where we take a guided visit to Manuel Antonio National Park. Enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of the area with options to surf, go horseback riding, or visit other nearby picturesque beaches.
On Day 7 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. The 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 8 San José (1B)
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 9 San José (1B)
Departure day, depart at any time.