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With lots of activities, this family trip makes a good introduction to tropical wildlife, but also offers time to relax by the pool.  The distances covered are short, so you can enjoy your stay to the full.

A full menu of rainforest trail walks, canopy walks, boat trips, guided visits – all with experienced naturalist  guides – will keep interest alive throughout the trip and ensure there’s no time to get bored. Yet there is also plenty of down time so you can relax as a family – all the hotels where you stay have a pool. And if you want to be more active, you can use this time to take advantage of the many optional activities available locally – everything from whitewater rafting to zip-lining. 

Suggested itinerary

  1. Day 1: Fly to San Jose

    On arrival, transfer to your hotel in the city.

    Radisson Hotel, 1-night

  2. Day 2: Transfer to Caño Blanco, then boat to Tortuguero

    Shared transfer through Braulio Carillo National Park down to the Caribbean coastal plain and on through banana plantations to the jetty at Caño Blanco (4 hours). Board a boat for the trip (roughly 1 hour) through the waterways to Tortuguero, with your first views of the area’s wildlife. After lunch there’s a guided visit to Tortuguero village and the Turtle Centre. 

    Laguna Lodge, 2-nights

  3. Day 3: Explore Tortuguero

    Morning boat tour along the waterways of Tortuguero National Park to spot some of its 300 or so species of birds, other wildlife including monkeys, sloths, iguanas and crocodiles, and see swamp forest and floating aquatic plants. After a free afternoon, take an optional evening walk on the nearby beach to see turtles coming ashore to nest.

  4. Day 4: Boat back to Caño Blanco, transfer to Sarapiquí

    Head back to Caño Blanco for the drive into the region of Sarapiquí (3-4 hours) to explore lowland rainforest. After a relaxing afternoon take a guided evening tour in nearby La Tirimbina Reserve, an educational, scientific and ecotourism centre, to learn about the fascinating world of bats. Your guide will show you some bats that were captured during the evening for research purposes. 

    Selva Verde Lodge, 2 nights 

  5. Day 5: Sarapiqui - visit cacao plantation

    Join an exciting morning tour to a cacao plantation to learn the secrets of making chocolate – you’ll see every stage in the process from harvesting the cacao pod to making chocolate as we know it.  Optional activities include a possible visit to nearby La Selva Biological Station for a guided nature walk (at extra cost). 

  6. Day 6: Transfer to La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano

    Dawn bird and wildlife walk (around 3 hours) in Selva Verde private reserve accompanied by an expert guide – Sarapiquí’s rainforests are home more than half of Costa Rica’s bird species! Afternoon transfer to La Fortuna (around 2 hours), overlooked by Arenal Volcano. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure, with the option of a relaxing dip in the hot springs. 

    Arenal Springs Hotel, 2-nights 

  7. Day 7: Activities in La Fortuna

    The area around Volcan Arenal National Park offers a huge choice of fun activities. The day starts with a visit to Arenal Hanging Bridges where eight elevated walkways and six hanging bridges offer a different close-up perspective of the rainforest canopy. This afternoon visit the Ecocentro Danaus Butterfly Garden, with trails through secondary forest containing a variety of plants and animals. The main attraction is the butterfly farm where you can see the life cycle of the area’s butterflies; there is also an interesting garden of medicinal plants, and you can see frogs and more than 150 species of birds.

  8. Day 8: Boat and road transfer to Monteverde

    This morning you transfer the short distance to Arenal Lake to cross Costa Rica’s largest and most important freshwater lake by boat, then continue by vehicle on unpaved road up to the small town of Monteverde (3-4 hours). The afternoon is free to relax. 

    Cloud Forest Lodge, 3-nights

  9. Days 9-10 : Activities in Monteverde

    Over the next couple of days, there is a variety of activities in and around Monteverde. You’ll explore the hanging bridges, butterfly garden and hummingbird garden here, and also do a guided visit to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve or the adjacent Santa Elena Reserve in search of the resplendent quetzal, Costa Rica’s national bird. There’s plenty of time left over for an optional visit to a coffee plantation or a cheese maker, or a canopy tour (at extra cost).

  10. Day 11: Transfer to Playa Hermosa, near Tamarindo

    After a final morning in Monteverde, transfer to Playa Hermosa, near Tamarindo on the northern Pacific Coast (around 2.5 hours). The perfect arc of this grey-sand beach lies roughly an hour north of Tamarindo between Playa del Coco and Playa Panama, but seldom gets as crowded as its better-known neighbours. It’s great place to wind down for a few days.

    Bosque del Mar Hotel, 3-nights

  11. Days 12-13 : Playa Hermosa - relax or optional activities

    With two full days on the coast to enjoy this low-key resort, there’s plenty of time for the beach. However your stay also includes a trip by small boat to explore the mangroves of Tamarindo Wildlife Refuge – a unique ecosystem with many bird species and monkeys. A wide choice of optional activities is also available.

  12. Day 14: Return to San Jose via Carara National Park

    Morning drive to San José (4-5 hours), with a stop en route at Carara National Park for a walk. Back in the capital, if there is time, you may want to consider an afternoon visit to the Children’s Museum or Inbio Educational Park and Recreational Centre. 

    Country Inn and Suites

  13. Day 15: Depart San Jose

  14. Day 16: Arrive UK

You should note: The main turtle species (hawksbill, loggerhead, green and leatherback) come ashore at Tortuguero to lay their eggs during the winter months between February and July.

Key info

Our trip ideas are offered to inspire you and can be tailored to suit your requirements.
  • Duration and price including flights from/to UK: 16 days from £3,395 pp: Child: from £1,695
  • Duration and price excluding international flights: 15 days from £2,595 pp: Child: from £1,095
  • Single supplement: From £770
  • When to go: Jan-Dec
  • Activities available:
    • Boat trip
    • Horse riding
    • Nature drive
    • Sea kayaking
    • Swimming
    • Walking
Featured locations:

Tortuguero National Park

A vast area of untouched rainforest on a remote stretch of Caribbean coast, where beaches, canals and wetlands create an astonishing biodiversity. Activities centre on boat trips through the freshwater creeks and lagoons. Green, hawksbill and leatherback turtles come ashore here to lay their eggs.

  • Where: Limon Province
  • Ideal for viewing: Baird’s tapir, green turtle, spectacled caiman, spider monkey, three-toed sloth
  • Excellent for: River safaris

Sarapiqui

This fascinating lowland area is a good base for exploring Poas Volcano. However the main highlight is La Selva Biological Station, a major research centre for tropical ecosystems. The species diversity here is astounding, with more than 1,850 plants, 448 birds, 70 species of bat and five of Costa Rica’s six felines.

  • Where: Heredia Province
  • Ideal for viewing: ocelated antbird, short-tailed nighthawk, sungrebe, great potoo, great green macaw
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

Volcan Arenal National Park

Until 2010 Arenal was Costa Rica’s most active volcano. In recent times it has entered a period of quiescence, although you can still hear subterranean rumbles and see the odd ash column. The surrounding national park contains a bizarre landscape of solidified lava flows, lush forest and tropical flora and fauna.

  • Where: Alajuela Province
  • Ideal for viewing: boa constrictor, mantled howler monkey, violet sabrewing, agouti, armadillo

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

This reserve is thought to be one of Central America’s finest protected areas. Weather from the Caribbean and Pacific create a cloud forest ecosystem that is home to over 100 species of mammal, 400 birds, tens of thousands of insects (including 5,000 different moths) and 2,500 plants (including 420 varieties of orchid).

  • Where: Puntarenas province
  • Ideal for viewing: bare-necked umbrellabird, swallow-tailed kite, keel-billed toucan, ocelot, resplendent quetzal
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

Tamarindo

The bustling surf capital of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast is blessed with stunning beaches, but is also a good base to explore the surrounding rainforest for wildlife. Its extensive mangroves are protected reserves, and in Marino Las Baulas National Park giant leatherback turtles come ashore at night to lay eggs.

  • Where: Guanacaste Province
  • Ideal for viewing: capuchin monkey, howler monkey, leatherback turtle, green turtle, olive ridley turtle

San Jose

Costa Rica’s capital stands in the centre of the country at an elevation of around 1,200 metres. Home to the main international airport, it has the country’s pristine natural attractions on its doorstep. The downtown area is fairly small and has several interesting museums and parks.

  • Where: San Jose Province
  • Excellent for: City stopover

Carara National Park

This national park protects the last noteworthy tract of primary rainforest in the Central Pacific region. Due to its proximity to the capital, it attracts a lot of visitors – both local and international. However, if you can avoid the crowds it has sufficient wildlife to impress the most avid enthusiast.

  • Where: Central Pacific Region
  • Ideal for viewing: collared peccary, green and black poison arrow frog, scarlet macaw, white-faced capuchin, boat-billed heron
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching
Suggested accommodation options are shown below. Please contact us for further recommendations.

Arenal Springs

Arenal Springs is located just outside La Fortuna en route to Volcan Arenal National Park. Its 87 air-conditioned junior suites all have direct views of the volcano and are surrounded by exotic gardens. Bird lovers will delight in the 132 bird species that have been recorded within the hotel’s grounds.

Bosque del Mar Hotel

This beachfront boutique eco-hotel is located on quiet and beautiful Playa Hermosa, a wide sheltered bay framed by headlands – a hidden haven for families and nature lovers. Although over one hour from crowded Tamarindo, it is still close enough to be able to explore the surrounding attractions.

Cloud Forest Lodge

Cloud Forest Lodge is a tranquil property, with more than five kilometres of trails in the surrounding forest, where some 180 species of birds are known to live. The bungalow-style rooms are equipped with all modern amenities and the beautiful gardens make a great place to relax, rest and enjoy nature.

Hotel Bougainvillea

Situated in a quiet suburb just north of San José, 25 minutes from the international airport and a mere 15 minutes from the city centre, this pleasant hotel makes a good base for exploring the Central Valley. Its extensive gardens are particularly beautiful and attract a variety of birds and frogs.

Laguna Lodge

This rainforest ecolodge occupies an exclusive location on a narrow strip of land that lies between the Caribbean Sea and the main Tortuguero Lagoon. There is direct access to the sandy beach where, from mid-July until October, green sea turtles (amongst others) come ashore to deposit their eggs

Selva Verde Lodge

Conveniently situated beside the highway, this jungle lodge is set within Sarapiquí’s dense rainforest. The other inhabitants of this riverside setting include mantled howler monkeys and keel-billed toucans – making it a perfect location to enjoy the exuberance of tropical nature.