The Full Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a place that constantly reminds you how fantastically bizarre and teeming with amazement the world is. Blanketed by rainforest and cloud forest, peppered with 121 volcanoes and lapped by the azure waters of both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, it is a melting pot of nature.
On this tour, travel by boat into the steaming jungle and waterways of Tortuguero in search of monkeys, toucans & turtles; immerse yourselves in the pristine rainforests of Sarapiquí; visit the Arenal with its smoking top and unique lava landscapes; get lost in the cloud forests around Monteverde; finally embrace amazing seafood and memorable sunsets on the beaches of Manuel Antonio. Add extra bragging rights by opting in to additional activities such as zip wiring, white water rafting, canyoning, kayaking, horse riding and sailing. Embrace and enjoy this fabulous country.
- Flights: Flights from UK to San Jose (SJO)
- Transport: Boat transfer to Tortuguero, shared ‘van-boat-van’ transfer between La Fortuna and Monteverde, private mini-van transfers elsewhere
- Accommodation: 14 nights in hotels & eco-lodges
- Meals: Breakfasts where stated
- Trip Pack: Key family-friendly information about the country you are visiting with recommended activity links, places to eat and fun facts.
- Visit sulphuric pools and aqua lakes in Poas Volcano National Park
- Cruise along the waterways of the Tortuguero 'mini Amazon'
- Immerse yourself in primary rainforest and nature in Sarapiquí
- Hike the trails around Arenal volcano and take a dip in the refreshing La Fortuna waterfall
- Search for wildlife at the Monteverde-Santa Elena cloud forest
- Explore white sandy beaches in Manuel Antonio National Park
- Enjoy optional zip-lining, white-water rafting, horse riding, canyoning, kayaking
- When can we go? All Year Round
- What type of tour is it? Private Family Tour with guided transfers
- Who is it suitable for? For wildlife enthusiasts (young & old), eco-warriors and active families with a penchant for adrenaline pursuits.
- What is the minimum age? We would recommend a minimum age of 6 years to take full advantage of the range of activities on this trip.
We publish ‘guideline prices’ for both the high and low season to give a reasonable estimate of what you might expect to pay per person based on a family of four (two adults, two children). To get an accurate price based on your estimated departure date and party size please contact us directly.
Guide Price: Dec to April - £1,846pp
Guide Price: May to Nov - £1,958pp
Arrive on your flight from the UK to San Jose and check in to your nearby accommodation. San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica, is filled with rich history and culture. It has a hip urban vibe and an array of restaurants and cafes that you won’t find anywhere else in the country. If you have time we would recommend visiting the National Museum. Otherwise, just relax, take a swim and catch up on some sleep.
Fun Facts: The favourite food of San Jose is Gallo Pinto. You’ll see practically every restaurant serving what is now the official national dish of Costa Rica. It’s a mixture of fried rice and black beans. Lots of working Ticos have little lunchboxes carrying a dish of Gallo Pinto inside.
After a hearty breakfast, you will be picked up by private mini-van and transported north to the 14,000 acres of various habitats and life zones which make up the Poas Volcano National Park. Rising up to 8,885 ft, Poas remains one of Costa Rica's most active volcanoes. A short walk from the visitors centre provides a jaw-dropping view of the mile wide crater with its sulphuric pool steaming like a fire-breathing dragon. From here you can follow a 30 minute hiking trail through the thick cloud forest to the eye-drenchingly lovely jade waters of Botos Lake. On the way keep an eye out for an Emerald Toucanet or a Resplendent Quetzal. What a cool sighting that would be!
Nearby, you have the option of visiting the magical La Paz Waterfall Gardens which contains a football field sized butterfly observatory, hummingbird gardens, frog habitat (with poisonous frogs – best not to lick them!), aviary, hiking trails, five stunning waterfalls and plentiful opportunities for close-ups with Costa Rican wildlife. If a shot of caffeine is required then a guided tour of a coffee plantation is also recommended.
Return to your hotel in San Jose for the evening.
Fun Facts: Costa Rican coffee has been recognized as among the world's finest for over 150 years but it is however, not native to Costa Rica. The aromatic product was introduced to the country when arabica seeds were brought over by the Spanish from Africa and the Middle East in 1808.
Optional Activities: Coffee plantation tour, La Paz Waterfall Gardens
The region of Tortuguero, in the swampy north-eastern corner of Costa Rica, seems like a world away from the volcanoes and waterfalls of the central valley. Only accessible by boat or plane, it is hidden away in an intricate, steamy tangle of fresh-water canals and tropical foliage. Named by locals as the ‘place where turtles go’, this incredible wildlife destination is one of the most important turtle nesting sites in the world. Between July and October green sea turtles nest here, hatching from August through to November. The surrounding mangroves & jungle play host to an amazing diversity of wildlife with huge populations of monkeys and birds. If you want to see wildlife in its natural habitat then this is the place to come.
Getting to Tortuguero is definitely half the fun. After a shuttle van through stunning countryside with views of the Braulio Carrillo Mountains you eventually descend into the sticky Caribbean lowlands with banana plantations at every turn. Spend the last hour of your journey on a motorized narrow boat on the winding Río la Suerte which gradually carves its way into the dense rainforest. The river grows wilder with every turn: snowy egrets perch in low-hanging branches and crocodiles soak up the warm sun on the sandy riverbanks. From the incessant cicada bugs to parakeet canopy chatter, the sounds are amazing. It is easy to see why this place is often described as a 'mini Amazon'. The river eventually spits you out near the tiny village of Tortuguero, sandwiched between the Caribbean Sea and the mangrove swamps. In the afternoon take a tour of Tortuguero village whose colourful homes dot the waterside. Then visit the Sea Turtle Conservancy Centre (donation appreciated). Watch a fascinating documentary about the founding and work of the museum and then tour the small museum displaying the different types of turtles that nest nearby and their life cycles.
Your base for the next two nights will be a traditional rainforest lodge situation close to the waterways. Take a cooling dip in the pool and enjoy the absolute peace and quiet of your surrounds. There are some characterful local eateries in town serving up delicious Costa Rican cuisine or creative Western dishes. All come with a relaxed vibe and fabulous hospitality.
Fun Facts: Tortuguero beach is the most important nesting site of the endangered green turtle in the Western Hemisphere. Giant leatherback, hawksbill, and loggerhead turtles also nest here. The green turtle population is believed to have come perilously close to extinction in the 1960 which led to the establishment of Tortuguero National Park in 1970.
Optional Activities: Visiting the Sea Turtle Conservancy Centre
After a hearty breakfast at the lodge, we would suggest taking a guided tour of the rainforest – by boat or on foot. The local guides are extremely knowledgeable and can name every plant and animal along the way. Expect to hear howler monkeys hooting & hollering from the treetops and colourful tropical birds like the Keel-Billed Toucan and the Green Macaw perched high above the water line. Also keep a close eye on the ground for our personal favourite the tiny Strawberry Poison Dart Frog. True thrill seekers can rent a canoe or kayak themselves, and explore the jungle alone.
Enjoy a leisurely afternoon in town or back at the lodge where you can relax on a hammock or enjoy the swimming pool. From July to October in Tortuguero, the evenings are all about the majestic turtle! The 22-mile stretch of pristine grey sand is the perfect setting for these mysterious creatures. Over five-thousand green, leatherback and loggerhead turtles come ashore to nest making this a once in a lifetime spectacle! Turtle-watching must be done with a registered guide and tours take place at night when the turtles typically nest.
Fun Facts: The reason they’re called dart frogs is because indigenous groups used to coat blowdarts with the poison for hunting. This is definitely one strawberry that we wouldn’t recommend eating.
Optional Activities: Night hike to see the turtle nesting grounds, guided waterway tour of the rainforest
This morning you will leave your lodge by boat before heading inland to the lush landscape of Sarapiquí. Here rust coloured earth clashes with jade green waters, florescent green grass and emerald green rainforest. Jewel-toned birds and butterflies swoop and dance to their own song. A cacophony of nature exploding from the forest.
Known for its amazing and rich biodiversity, Sarapiquí is considered one of the world’s most important research areas for tropical rainforest. Several protected zones such as Braulio Carrillo National Park and La Selva Biological Station are within a close distance as well as the adventure prone Sarapiquí River. Vast areas are carpeted with fruit, cocao and coffee plantations and it is home to some 400 species of birds, 450 species of trees and over 100 species of mammals. A pretty impressive line up!
This afternoon, as a gentle introduction to the area, we would recommend a tour of the local pineapple farm or the chocolate museum (yes, a whole tour devoted to the nectar of the Gods). Ride in a wagon through the pineapple fields before tasting pineapple pina coladas, pineapple empanadas, pineapple upside down cake, pineapple marmalade …. you get the picture. On the chocolate tour visit a cacao-tree plantation and discover the secret of transforming cacao fruit into chocolate. Then see the chocolate-making process first-hand and have the opportunity to treat your taste buds to organic rainforest chocolate. Willy Wonka eat your heart out!
You will be staying in an eco-retreat for the next two nights where you can fall asleep on the edge of the forest, listening to the comforting sounds of nature all around you.
Fun Facts: Pineapples grow slowly, and can take up to two years to reach a size suitable for harvest, but if they are left to their own devices they can grow a lot bigger. The world record is currently 8.28kg (18.25lbs).
Optional Activities: Visiting the pineapple farm, chocolate tour in Tirimbina Reserve
Sarapiquí has earned itself a reputation as a great spot for adventure seekers, so today is a free day dedicated to hurling yourself from treetops, tackling tumultuous rapids or cantering through coffee plantations. If you like, you can do all three. The nearby Sarapiquí River is perfect for child-friendly white water rafting. Ride the famous rapids of “El Cano”, “Superman” and “Air Force” whilst paddling your way past some of Costa Rica’s most extraordinary jungle scenery. Alternatively, fly through the trees like Tarzan and get a bird’s eye view of the verdant forest below. For any vertically challenged parents, you can’t send your kids on a canopy tour alone (we already asked). If you prefer a slightly more sedate pace then a horse riding trek through the Proteros Mountains crossing the Bijuagual and Sarapiquí rivers would be perfect. Recommended local operators often use the good natured Costa Rican Paso horses and their knowledge, experience and guides ensure the best possible experience.
After a fantastic day creating lots of amazing memories you will return to your eco-lodge for another night in the beautiful jungle setting. Your Howler Monkey alarm clock will be set for 7am for tomorrow’s volcano quest.
Fun Facts: National Geographic Magazine rated Costa Rica’s Rio Pacuare as one of the world’s ‘top 5’ white-water rafting spots. The World Rafting Championships were held here in October 2011.
Optional Activities: White-water rafting in the Sarapiquí River, zip-lining above the rainforest canopy, horse riding through the local plantations
Enjoy an early morning transfer from Sarapiquí to La Fortuna (around 2 hours). Today is all about the mystical cone of Arenal (sounds like something from Lord of the Rings). This towering volcano frames the skyline with near perfect symmetry. The land around has lush, tropical vegetation and plays host to some unique hiking opportunities. Head to the nearby ‘Arenal 1968’ trail which has two family friendly trails that take you past rain forests, lava fields and volcanic boulders that were shot through the air when the volcano erupted. Once black and barren the jungle is slowly claiming back its territory. The top of the trail offers sublime views of the volcano and the lake. Get the kids to watch out for cool insects like leaf-cutter ants, gigantic blue bumble bees, and some crazy looking beetle’s!
In the afternoon head to La Fortuna Waterfall where 200ft of raging crystalline water crashes down with a vengeance. Mother Nature at her finest! There are peaceful pools to relax in underneath the waterfall and schools of fish for the kids to view underwater. The water is rather refreshing though so be prepared! The 500 steps down and back should definitely get the body temperature back up to normal. As an optional activity you could also join a horse riding trail to the falls.
In the evening you can relax at your hotel or head to one of the nearby optional private hot springs. Most have pools of varying temperatures, slides for the kids and a swim-up bar for the adults. We guarantee you will be skipping around in giddy delight at such heavenly surroundings. If food is more your thing we would recommend a tour to a local rural family estate where you will learn to make typical Costa Rican dishes such as tortillas with a delicious dinner included.
Fun Facts: For over 400 years Arenal sat silent until July 29, 1968 when it exploded with such force that it blew up the entire western side of the mountain and created three craters. On any given day, you can still watch steam rise from the open crater and hear the low rumble of lava rocks tumbling down the mountainside.
Optional Activities: Horseback riding and BBQ, eco-thermal hot springs, Costa Rican cookery class and dinner on a local farm, Arenal observatory for breath-taking views.
Today is a free day for you to swing like tarzan from the treetops or do you best Bear Grylls impression rappelling down a waterfall. From La Fortuna you can go white-water rafting, white-water tubing, canyoning and kayaking or visit the hanging bridges. Animal lovers can volunteer at a nearby rehabilitation centre where they will be educated about the native wildlife and the measures in place to protect them before getting a chance to feed and clean the animals (thankfully this doesn’t involve any toilet duties!).
For those looking for a more in depth wildlife experience a day trip to the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge comes highly recommended. Based near the border with Nicaragua, this swampy wildlife refuge houses thousands of water birds such as storks, roseate spoonbills and snakebirds. In the shallows live caimans and turtles whilst three-toed sloths and howler monkeys frequent the treetops. Keep an eye out for the Jesus Christ lizard, known for its ability to walk on water – you just couldn’t make it up!
Fun Facts: The ‘Fiestas del la Fortuna’ takes place in La Fortuna every February and includes bull running, craft fairs, horse shows, live music, discos and lots of local food.
Optional Activities: Canyoning, kayaking on Lake Arenal, visiting the hanging bridges, volunteer program at a local wildlife rehabilitation centre
Today is an early start for your unique ‘jeep-boat-jeep’ transfer over the Costa Rican highlands to Monteverde (which means ‘Green Mountain’). Situated in the Tilarán Mountains, Monteverde with its verdant cloud forest and 1,000 endemic plant species is a mecca for eco-tourists. It certainly has all senses of the word “green” covered. This area boasts incredible hiking through the jungle and has many hanging bridges and zip lines for more adventurous types. Just don’t start swaying!
This afternoon visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. The Reserve is at a very high altitude and you often be hiking in the clouds. Wow! The trees and plant life are unlike anywhere in Costa Rica. Thick moss and lichens cover every inch of bark and rock, and broad-leaf plants, vines, and bromeliads practically grow on top of one another. The shorter Sendero Camino trail is perfect for families and leads to the famous red hanging bridge. Afterwards we would recommend a visit to a local café to see some mesmerising hummingbirds. Enjoy a great pastry, coffee or cake whilst the nectar feeders attract a constant supply of hummingbirds hovering just inches from you. Cameras at the ready! Spend the evening enjoying the eclectic cafes and restaurants of Santa Elena where you can try amazing taco’s followed by local coffee so good it’s like drinking liquid chocolate! For truly authentic Costa Rican cuisine we highly recommend the local sodas where you get to mingle with the locals and save a few £’s during the process.
Fun Facts: In the Monteverde and Santa Elena Reserves, trees grow up to 30-40 metres high. A secondary layer forms an elfin cloud forest where the legendary "golden toad" once lived. Sadly, the golden toad has not been spotted since 1987 and is believed to be extinct.
After a hearty breakfast, spend your morning immersing yourself in local culture. At the entrance to the Monteverde Reserve you will usually find glassblower Angel Castellanos Gómez sitting at his table, creating exquisite animals with his torch. He donates a portion of his sales to the conservation of local forests. A visit to the local cheese factory which sells delicious home-made ice cream should go down well with the kids. Visit a women's co-operative which makes fabrics, woodwork, ceramics and jewellery from sustainable indigenous materials and shares the stories of the women behind it. There is a café in the back that sells delicious “tipico” food, delivered at a “tipico” pace. Afterwards we recommend the ‘holy grail’ of tours – that of the chocolate maker. Watch a demonstration of the complete production process from harvesting cocoa beans to perfecting a hand-dipped truffle. Probably best not to visit on an empty stomach!
This afternoon is free for you to enjoy the more adventurous side of the surrounding area. If you and your family would like to try zip-lining then we would recommend this in Monteverde. Try the tarzan swing and numerous zip lines, from short to very long (over 2500ft), whilst whizzing through the cloud forest. We guarantee this will be one of highlights of your trip.
Fun Facts: Scientists studying the rainforests of Costa Rica needed a way to observe the forest without disturbing the animals. The scientific use of zip lines eventually spawned the successful industry of canopy tours.
Optional Activities: Zip-lining above the cloud forest, chocolate factory tour & tasting
Today, you leave the mountains behind and head to the coast (around a 4 hour transfer). You have the option of stopping mid-way for the crocodile safari on the Tarcoles River with a chance to see these magnificent ancient reptiles with sizes of more than 4 metres (gulp!). Further down the Pacific Coast is the resort town of Manuel Antonio which will be your base for the next three nights. Here you’ll find pristine beaches and picturesque coves and an air scented by thick jungle vegetation which crawls with ridiculous numbers of exotic wildlife.
Offshore rocky islands dot the vast expanse of sapphire blue sea. You can idle the rest of the day away swimming, surfing, parasailing, or just relaxing in the shade drinking a refreshing coconut water. Do I hear an audible sigh? Time to wind down and chill.
Fun Facts: Manuel Antonio National Park is the smallest national park in Costa Rica but has amongst the highest number of visitors. In 2011, it was listed by Forbes as one of the world's 12 most beautiful national parks. It is closed every Monday and only 600 visitors are admitted each day.
Optional Activities:: Crocodile safari on the Tarcoles River, surf lesson or surf board hire, parasailing above the Manuel Antonio coastline
You can’t possibly come to Manuel Antonio without experiencing its famous national park. It boasts well maintained trails leading to spectacular viewpoints, crystal clear waterfalls and secluded beaches. You can chill on the sands under the shade of a palm tree or meander along the walking trails spotting two-toed sloths, camouflaged iguanas and bright purple crabs. There are even a few popular geocaches inside the park that are fun to find. We recommend an early start to beat the crowds. Keep one eye out for the White-Faced Capuchins on the beach as they will happily rummage through your bag looking for crisps or cookies. If your bag is small enough, they’ll just run off with the whole thing! The beach is a great place for a picnic as there are no places to buy food within the park.
The afternoon is free for you to take advantage of the ocean riches. You could enjoy a catamaran sailing trip from Quepos marina. Feel the sea breeze in your hair, anchor for a swim in the turquoise waters of the Marine Preserve, spot angelfish and parrotfish then head back on deck for a delicious BBQ dinner. Head back to land with a pod of dolphins by the starboard side. ‘A sailor's life, it is a merry life….’
Fun Facts: Sloths are slow but not necessarily lazy. Their diet consists almost entirely of leaves, which are not very nutrient-rich. They therefore need to conserve as much energy as possible. Sloths sleep more than half the day (up to 18 hours) and are most active at night. Lucky sloths!
Optional Activities: Tour of the Kids Saving the Rainforest Project, catamaran sailing trip to the Manuel Antonio Marine Preserve
If it is a Friday or Saturday then its Farmers Market Day! Take a stroll through the feria near the seawall in Quepos to see local farmers hocking mammon chino, tamarindo, guanabana, and other exotic fruits and veggies. Cheese connoisseurs should stop at the artisanal cheese stand with its amazing camembert! The majority of patrons will be locals doing there weekly shop, many of whom have travelled from the outlying rural villages. Experiences like these create unforgettable moments of your trip.
Your afternoon can be spent lazing by the pool or on Playa Biesanz beach with its sheltered bay and calm waters. Alternatively you could hit the saddle for one last jaunt into the rainforest. Ride on well trained horses around a 300 acre hillside ranch which looks like something out of a children’s storybook. Venture into the rainforest, eat fresh fruit picked from trees, cross babbling brooks and take a dip in a natural, refreshing waterfall pool. Finish with a typical Costa Rican lunch. Absolute beginners are well catered for.
Spend your evening enjoying freshly caught seafood or perhaps a spiny lobster which is a regional speciality. Treat the kids to a movie at the local cinema.
Fun Facts: Mamon chino are known as rambutan fruit in other parts of the world (which quite literally means ‘hairy’) and are closely related to the lychee. Tamarindo are curved shells whose red flesh inside is both sweet and sour. It is sometimes used to make juice, paste, syrup or jam. Guanabana are commonly used to make juices and ice cream and are similar in shape and size to a football!
Optional Activities: Horse riding through the rainforest, local cinema visit
Spend your final morning relaxing before taking a private mini-van back over to San Jose. You could take an optional walking tour of the city in the afternoon or check out any museums that you missed at the start of your trip. Reflect on all the amazing things that you have experienced as a family over the last 14 days. Your kids will have been transformed into mini eco-warriors who appreciate the green perspective on life a little more. When was the last time your holiday changed how your family sees the world?
After a final Costa Rican breakfast, take a private mini-van back to San Jose airport for your flight home. Leave this beautiful country with a heart full of memories (and possibly a stuffed toy sloth as well).
Wandering Tribe has travelled to all of the destinations that we feature and we like nothing better than talking about them. If you would like further information about these tours or a tailor-made quote then please contact us on 07392 742333. Alternatively you can fill in the contact form and we will endeavour to get back to you as soon as possible.