With lots of activities, this family trip to Costa Rica 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.
Day1: Fly to San José
On arrival in San José, you will be met at the airport and transferred to your hotel in the city,
Accommodation: Radisson Hotel, 1-night
Day2: Transfer to Caño Blanco, then boat to Tortuguero
Today, take a shared transfer through Braulio Carillo National Park down to the Caribbean coastal plain and on through banana plantations to the jetty at Caño Blanco (approximately four hours). Then board a boat for a one journey 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.
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.
Day4: Boat back to Caño Blanco, transfer to Sarapiquí
Head back to Caño Blanco for the drive into the region of Sarapiquí (approximately four 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.
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).
Day6: Transfer to La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano
Dawn bird and wildlife walk (around three 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, overlooked by Arenal Volcano. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure, with the option of a relaxing dip in the hot springs.
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.
Day8: Boat & 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 (approximately three hours). The afternoon is free to relax.
Over the next couple of days, there is a variety of optional 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.
Day11: Transfer to Playa Hermosa, near Tamarindo
After a final morning in Monteverde, transfer to Playa Hermosa, near Tamarindo on the northern Pacific Coast. 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.
Days12-13: 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.
Day14: Return to San Jose via Carara National Park
Morning drive to San José (approximately four hours), wth 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.
Accommodation: Country Inn & Suites, 1-night
Day15: Depart San José
Transfer to the international airport for an overnight flight back to the UK. Depending on your departure time, you might have a final free morning to relax before travelling, or enjoy a final outing in San José.
Day16: 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.
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 daysfrom £3,395 pp: Child: from £1,695
Duration and price excluding international flights: 15 daysfrom £2,695 pp: Child: from £1,095
Single supplement: From £770
When to go: Jan-Dec
Tortuguero is a vast area of pristine 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
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
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.
This reserve is thought to be one of Central America’s finest protected areas. Weather from the Caribbean and Pacific creates 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).
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
Costa Rica’s vibrant 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
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.
for further recommendations.
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. Located just over an hour from Tamarindo, it is close enough to be able to explore the surrounding attractions.
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 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.
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
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.