The Top 3 Tailor-Made Costa Rica Holidays
Costa Rica’s small area has abundant wildlife, wonderful scenery, fine beaches and much more. It’s knowing where to go, how best to get there and which hotels to choose that has become the hardest part of planning a Costa Rican holiday.
1. Coast to Coast (15 nights)
This top-of-the-charts all-round trip to Costa Rica works very well for families with active older children and for first timers to Costa Rica who really want to see a lot of what Costa Rica offers. The itinerary crosses between the Caribbean coast and the Pacific, and includes some great places along the way.
Arriving in San Jose, you travel first to the lowland rainforests and pristine beaches of the Gandoca- Mananillo Wildlife Refuge on the Caribbean coast way down in southeastern Costa Rica. At your lodge you can choose to explore the rainforest, go snorkelling on coral reefs or zip-lining through the trees, or visit community projects hosted by indigenous communities.
Moving up the coast you arrive at Tortuguero where you travel by boat into flooded forest that is teeming with wildlife. You are sure to see sloths, monkeys and alligators, lizards that walk on water, countless birds and much else besides. Turtles nest on sea beaches from June to October.
Costa Rica is a small place and it’s a short drive inland from here to Sarapiqui to tour the ‘La Selva’ biological research station, go whitewater rafting, or take a gentle ‘river float’ to explore the Sarapiqui river as it winds through the rainforest.
Arenal volcano, the next stop on this journey, is the one of the most active volcanoes in the Americas. Rising in a perfect cone, it regularly spews smoke and red-hot lava from its summit. There’s a wide choice of activities based around the little town of La Fortuna at the foot of the volcano, from walks, treks and cycle rides, to bathing in thermal springs while the volcano mutters and steams above you.
Moving westwards the mountains rise to lofty heights and you climb to the little town of Monteverde, high up in the cloud forests facing the Pacific. Here ecotourism is a major industry and you’ll find a host of eco-entertainments: hummingbird galleries, butterfly gardens, frog farms, and more. But the real thrill is to delve into the dense cloud forest above the town, where mists swirl among trees decked in mosses and bromeliads, tree ferns flourish, and a huge variety of birds display and call. The fearless can go zip-lining here, on cables stretched between the hills that send you flying for hundreds of metres into the clouds before you arrive, adrenalin pumping through your bloodstream, at the other side.
Descending the mountains you arrive at the Pacific coast at Tamarindo, once a fishing village, now a busy little beach town, with beach cafes and wide sands – a perfect place to relax and unwind before returning to San Jose for your flight home.
2. Creature Comforts (13 nights)
Costa Rica is especially well-known for its amazing wildlife and the next two tailor-made holidays are focussed on just that. The first is called ‘Creature Comforts’ and you can see why. It offers first-rate wildlife and nature experiences while staying in some of Costa Rica’s best boutique hotels and wildlife lodges. There’s no need to sacrifice your comfort to see the best of Costa Rica’s creatures.
You will arrive in San Jose, of course, where you might stay at Xandari Spa as in the ‘Costa Rica Chill-out’ holiday above for two nights to unwind. Then it’s on to Bajos del Toro, a village in the sierras, to stay at El Silencio, Costa Rica’s only upscale hotel in a cloud-forest setting – a 500 acre private reserve, with forests to explore, waterfalls to discover (and bathe in if you wish), a spa and yoga studio, and a fine restaurant based on locally sourced in-season ingredients. You can even have the services of an ‘eco-concierge’ to help you decide what to do.
Most visitors to Costa Rica find Arenal volcano unmissable, and this itinerary stops there for two nights at the Lost Iguana hotel, a boutique property in a 100 acre property with fantastic views of the volcano. When you return from a leg-stretching trek, or from exploring the ‘Hanging Bridges’ – where it is not uncommon to see troupes of mantled howler monkeys foraging in the treetops, or lazing in thermal springs heated by the volcano’s magma, you’ll find spacious rooms with private balconies, a double pool with swim-up bar, a small spa, and a romantic open-air restaurant. Just what every advanced primate needs.
Your journey next takes you to the pocket-sized Manuel Antonio National Park, chosen in 2011 by Forbes magazine as one of the world’s 12 most beautiful national parks, a remarkable setting where the forest comes right down to the sea and a succession of small coves culminates in a remarkable tombola arch above turquoise waters. The park is home to both types of sloth and three kinds of monkey among a 109 species of mammals. There are 184 bird species to be seen, all in an area of just three square miles. We’d also recommend a stay at the Arenas del Mar hotel just outside the park, one of the few hotels in the area that is actually beside the beach.
All this has been pretty special you’ll think, but the best is yet to come. Deep in Costa Rica’s southwest, lies the Osa Peninsula, one of the most biodiverse places in the world and the ‘crown jewel’ of Costa Rica’s national park system. There are two options here, depending on your degree of intrepidness. The remote Casa Corcovado takes some getting to, with a boat journey through the most extensive mangroves on the Pacific coast of Central America, across Drake Bay, then skirting the coast, where the seas can be rough, with a wet landing at the beach below the lodge. Once there, you have the privilege of true remoteness and are in a great location to experience incredible rainforest that is very rich in wildlife. Designed by an American naturalist, the lodge is spacious, unpretentious and comfortable, with a good selection of activities.
The alternative in this area that, and which is much easier to reach, is the award-winning Lapa Rios, set in a private 1000 acre reserve on a hillside overlooking the point where the Golfo Dulce meets the Pacific. This lodge is a legend among Costa Ricans, beautifully designed and built, using techniques that reduce its environmental footprint to a bare minimum. A staff naturalist is on hand to take you into the forest, and for birdwatching, while neighbouring guides can take you on boat trips into the mangroves or out to sea for whale and dolphin watching. Kayaking and surfing are also offered, and when you return to base there’s a stylish pool and a restaurant whose nightly achievements belie the remoteness of the location.
3. Costa Rican Adventures (13 nights)
Two weeks of action-packed adventure, all different, all over Costa Rica. This tailor-made holiday brings together a heady mix of action and adventure that delivers lots of excitement, but staying in comfortable hotels and lodges too. It’s ideal for lively couples and for groups of friends and for families with active older kids.
Your first stop, after overnighting in San Jose, is the fabulous Pacuare Lodge. The lodge’s beautifully built cabins are tucked away in a narrow gorge on a river famed for excellent whitewater rafting. You can arrive by an hour’s rafting on class II-III rapids – that means they’re easy enough for novices, but you’ll have to paddle and work the river, and you’ll certainly get wet. Once at the lodge you are in a peaceful spot in the midst of nature. The lodge’s highly trained young guides have plenty of outdoor excitement for you, with zip-lines, rapelling, trekking, and, of course, lots more whitewater rafting.
Arenal would be a good choice from here, it’s a relatively short road journey and there is lots more to do from the little town of La Fortuna. A good option is to join a walking tour to explore Arenal itself, giving fascinating insights into the living geology of an active volcano. You’ve a hard day tomorrow so they’ll book you an evening at thermal pools and hot springs, with dinner included.
Time to climb a volcano. Next to Arenal, which is far too dangerous to climb, is the dormant Cerro Chatto. It’s a demanding 6 hour round trip hike to reach the summit, with amazing views across to Arenal itself and down into Cerro Chatto’s crater, now filled with an emerald green lagoon. On your way back down your trekking guide leads you to a sparkling waterfall for a refreshing dip.
Fancy poking a steer? You’ll get your chance at your next stop, the cattle ranch of Guachipelin northwest of Arenal. As well as joining the cowboys to round up cattle or horses, they offer adventure excursions in their national park, including hikes, mountain biking, zip-lines and river-tubing. At the end of the day wind down with a bath of volcanic mud.
When night falls high in the tops of the sierra in nearby Monteverde, the cloud forest takes on a whole new aspect. You arrive there in time to sample the eco-delights of the town, before the sun goes down and you meet your guide for a night walk in the forests that swathe the mountain tops. The next day you explore the trails through the trees, connected by canopy bridges that give a whole new insight into life in the tree-tops. Later you’ll zip-line through them yourself on some of the longest and highest cables in the country – the high-point of many an adventurer’s trip to Costa Rica.
What haven’t you done yet? Ah yes, surfing! Descending from the mountains you travel by road to Tamarindo on the pacific coast. It’s a lively little beach town, popular with surfies for its good waves, wide sands, beach cafes and bars. You can book you a half-day surfing lesson to get you started or, if you’re an experienced surfer, just rent a board from one of the many surf shacks. Scuba, kayaking and sailing are all available here too. Or you might say ‘sufficiente, amigo!’ and head for the nearest lounger for some chillaxing time before your flight home.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Geodyssey organises tailor-made holidays and small group trips to destinations in Latin America and the Caribbean. For more information please visit costa rica holidays