The Best of Costa Rica Map
Day 1 San José
You will be met at San José International Airport and transferred to your hotel for the night. 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 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 marvelous 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 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
This morning you will transfer by road then by boat through the famous canals of Tortuguero. This tropical eco-paradise is home to countless bird and animal species, and you will have many opportunities to view and photograph 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. Our three-hour boat ride along rivers and canals starts just outside the town of Limón 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 Center, just outside of town, is an excellent source of information about the turtles and their tropical habitat.
On our second day we will enjoy guided tours of the Tortuguero canals – you might expect to see toucans, a variety of parrots, herons, kingfishers, fishing bats, three-toed sloths, iguanas, and howler, white-faced and spider monkeys. The tracks of river otters, collared peccaries, and Baird’s tapirs are often seen on the banks of rivers and canals and caiman are commonly observed in the waterways.
Day 4-5 La Fortuna
This morning you’ll be transferred to your hotel near the Arenal Volcano, arriving mid-afternoon. This area is full of exciting and wonderful things to do: whether it's checking out the well-known Tabacon Hot Springs, the La Fortuna Waterfall, the Venado Caves or the Caño Negro Biological Reserve. There are lots of tours available. La Fortuna is one of the centres of adventure travel in Costa Rica. Here you can try numerous optional activities: river rafting, mountain bike, caving, or horseback riding. Don’t forget about the hot springs, fed directly by the volcano. Once you’re seated at the swim-up bar, you won’t want to get out.
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), making Arenal one of the best windsurfing destinations in the world. 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 birder's 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.
Spend the next day exploring the places you missed yesterday – there is no shortage of activity, or take some time to relax at your hotel.
Day 6-8 Guanacaste/Beach Area
Today you'll be transferred to the coast to spend some time relaxing and enjoying the beautiful beach considered one of Costa Ricas best. There are many optional tours. Enjoy the relaxing beach and surrounding areas on the North Pacific coast of Costa Rica in the beautiful Guanacaste region. Spend your days taking in the sun and sea, participating in optional activities such as surfing, fishing, golf, horseback riding, cycling, boating or snorkeling.
Day 9 San José
Return to San José for your last night.
Day 10 San José
Transfer to the airport for your return flight. Please note that the earliest available transfer is at 04:30AM - if your departure flight is prior to 07:00AM - you will have to make arrangements with the hotel for a private transfer (at your own expense).