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Natural Jewels of Costa Rica

Rain Forests, Volcanoes, Jungle Wildlife, Tropical Birds & More on Costa Rica’s Best Nature Adventure!
Day 1: San José, Costa Rica
Our Costa Rica adventure tour begins on arrival in San José, where we transfer to our hotel. This evening, gather for a welcome dinner with our Expedition Leader.

Day 2: Tortuguero National Park
This morning a chartered flight takes us directly to Tortuguero, considered by many the best place to view wildlife in Costa Rica. We’re quickly immersed in tropical wilderness on a private boat cruise along the canals that wind through the dense jungle. We may see spider, howler and white-faced capuchin monkeys, tree sloths, caimans, and a spectrum of colorful birds as we languidly make our way to the river’s mouth. Here in the tropics, steady sunlight, constant rain and warm temperatures create an intense incubator for a profusion of species. Traveling by boat allows us to traverse a large swath of Tortuguero's rain forest, revealing fascinating micro-habitats and varied wildlife not easily viewed on foot.Once we check in to our ecolodge this afternoon, we’ll also have a chance to hike on the network of private trails surrounding it.

Tortuguero is famous for its green sea turtles, which nest here from approximately July to October. Guests traveling during those months may be able to book an optional excursion to see them on the beach late at night. Though we can't book this activity in advance or guarantee availability, our Expedition Leader can arrange it upon arrival through the lodge, if space is available. Furthermore, all travelers are provided the complimentary opportunity to "adopt" an endangered sea turtle during our visit to the Sea Turtle Conservancy. The adoption process includes material about this conservation program, an adoption form, and a free one-year membership to the conservancy, for guests who wish to sign up. Membership allows participants to track the status of their turtle.

Day 3: Tortuguero — Private Boat Cruise / Village Visit
After a morning boat cruise through the canals lacing the jungle, we take a walk through Tortuguero village to the famous local restaurant “Miss Junnie’s,” where we'll enjoy a typical Caribbean lunch. At the home of one of the local people, learn about the importance of coconuts as a food source during Tortuguero's initial settlement and their continuing prominence in the Caribbean diet. We'll also have a chance to taste the coconut water inside freshly cracked coconuts. This afternoon we look for wildlife on another boat excursion through the park's maze of channels.

Day 4: La Ensenada/ Monteverde
Today we make our way from the Caribbean to the Pacific side of Costa Rica. After flying back to San José, we drive to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve in the cool high country. En route, we’ll stop at La Ensenada National Wildlife Refuge, covering nearly 1,000 acres on the Pacific coast along the Gulf of Nicoya. The reserve, which also incorporates a sustainable cattle ranch and extensive replanted flora, contains some of the last primary and secondary forest in northern Puntarenas province. Its diverse ecosystems also include wetlands, mangroves and freshwater lagoons, sustaining some 300 species of birds. Healthy troops of howler monkeys thrive here along with an array of other wildlife, including northern tamandua anteater, white-nosed coatimundi, Hoffmann´s two-toed sloth, Mexican porcupine, coyote, northern naked-tailed armadillo and jaguarundi.

Continuing to Monteverde, we wind from coastal lowlands into misty uplands. Monteverde means “green mountain,” though moisture comes not so much in the form of rain but in the constant mists that swath the mountaintops. We check in to our secluded ecolodge, surrounded by lush gardens, wild forest and the melodious calls of birds in the canopy.

Day 5: Exploring the Monteverde Cloud Forest
The entire day is devoted to discovering the wonders of Monteverde on nature walks that reveal its verdant treasures. This magnificent example of tropical montane cloud forest is the most studied in the world, and one of the world's most threatened ecosystems. Monteverde harbors an estimated 2,500 species of plants, including giant strangler figs, a profusion of ephiphytes that drapes the forest from canopy to floor, nurtured by the perpetual coastal mists that blow in, and 300 different types of orchids. We’ll spot wild relatives of many familiar houseplants, such as philodendrons, bromeliads, ficus trees and ferns…and perhaps some colorful butterflies flitting among the leaves, too.

More than 400 species of tropical birds flourish here, including the rare resplendent quetzal and highland endemics like the bellbird, umbrella bird and emerald toucanets. A hundred mammal species live in the cloud forest, too, and we may catch glimpses of various monkeys, sloth, olingo, porcupine, coati and agouti. 

Day 6: Canopy Skywalk / Arenal Volcano
This morning we explore the intricate web of life in the cloud forest via the Skywalk, a network of suspension bridges and platforms that lifts us into the lacy canopy for a toucan's eye view. In recent decades biologists have discovered that about 90 percent of all organisms in a rain forest are found in the canopy, where the sun strikes the treetops to produce abundant food. We’ll hope to spot some animals in the branches as we wander along the 1.5-mile system of elevated paths.

Leaving Monteverde, journey by road and cross Lake Arenal by boat to reach Costa Rica’s most dramatic landmark, Arenal Volcano. Though the volcano has been in a resting phase since late 2010, it was Costa Rica's most active volcano for 43 years. Seismologists monitor its activity from Arenal Observatory Lodge, where we'll enjoy excellent views of the volcano looming directly across from us.

After dark we take a hike to look for the many unusual creatures that are active at night in the tropical rain forest, including birds, mammals, insects and reptiles, especially frogs and toads. Walking with our Expedition Leader, flashlight in hand, we’ll hope to spot black-and-white owl, smoky jungle frog, red-eyed tree frog, glass frogs, dink frogs, giant toad, anole lizard and possibly snakes like the boa constrictor and green vine snake. With luck we may spy some nocturnal mammals, too, like the Central American woolly opossum, kinkajou, nine-banded armadillo, paca or even the elusive ocelot.

Day 7: Arenal Volcano / Vida Campesina
A dawn birding excursion is an option for early risers. After breakfast, we commence a day of discovery in Arenal Volcano National Park, exploring the rain forest on the extensive system of trails and hanging bridges, with dramatic views of Arenal Volcano in the background. The rough, black lava beneath our feet provides a stark contrast to the emerald-green forest, filled with palms and bromeliads—it's fascinating to see how much life flourishes immediately adjacent to this recently very active volcano.

Wildlife is abundant in the highland rain forests of the  Arenal region, which offers our best opportunity to spot mammals such as spider and howler monkeys, peccary, tapir and deer, as well as distinctive birds like parrots, orioles and the striking black guan with its ebony plumage, bright blue face and vivid red legs. Hummingbirds flourish here, too, with more than 30 varieties from both highlands and lowlands meeting at this mid-altitude habitat.

A special dinner is in store this evening at Vida Campesina, a local organic farm, where we'll enjoy a meal sourced from produce harvested on site. The farm produces more than 60 crop species, including native and introduced plants. On a short tour we learn about many of the crops and the challenges and benefits of farming organically in the tropics, including techniques that support farming in an environmentally sound way.

Day 8: Arenal / Ecocentro Danaus / San José
After a last breakfast in the shadow of the volcano, we depart for Ecocentro Danaus for a close-up look at Costa Rica’s famed red poison dart frogs, red-eyed tree frogs, sloths and other wildlife. This private biological reserve focuses on conservation programs, environmental education, and training in sustainable land use and resource production. Trails through secondary forest reveal a wide variety of plants and animals in their natural habitat, including more than 150 different kinds of birds. One of the main attractions at Danaus is the butterfly farm, with about 30 species on site. The eco-center's botanic gardens contain some 500 different plant species, while a medicinal plant garden showcases 60 varieties used to support health and healing.

Returning to San José, we stop en route for a farewell lunch. Our afternoon destination, Xandari Plantation Resort & Spa, is situated on a coffee plantation overlooking the broad Central Valley. Xandari offers spa treatments, swimming pools, tropical fruit orchards and trails leading to waterfalls, which you will have time to enjoy at your leisure.

Day 9: San José / Depart
Our Costa Rica adventure tour comes to an end as we transfer to the airport this morning for flights home.

Physical Rating: Easy to Moderate

 

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