Natural Jewels of Costa Rica
Day 2: Tortuguero National Park
Travel through some of the most ecologically rich rain forest on earth at Braulio Carillo National Park on our way to Limón, where we board our boat for Tortuguero, considered by many the best place to view wildlife in Costa Rica. Our private boat cruises along canals that wind through the dense jungle, where we may see spider, howler and white-faced capuchin monkeys, tree sloths, caimans, and a spectrum of colorful birds. Here in the tropics, steady sunlight, constant rain and warm temperatures create an intense incubator for a profusion of species.
Day 3: Tortuguero – Private Boat Cruise / Village Visit
After a morning boat cruise through the channels lacing the jungle, we take a walk through Tortuguero village with a woman from one of the area's founding families who shares some regional history with us. Her mother runs the famous local restaurant “Miss Junnie’s,” where we'll have a typical Caribbean lunch. At the home of our host's brother, we 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 tour through the park's maze of canals.
Day 4: Tarcoles River Boat Cruise / Monteverde Cloud Forest
We fly back to San José and drive to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve in cool high country. En route, we stop for a boat cruise on the Tarcoles River on Costa Rica's central Pacific coast. Within the tremendous biodiversity of this mangrove ecosystem we find a large number of aquatic birds, as well as one of the largest populations of American crocodiles on the continent. As our boat skirts the riverbank, we may observe crocodiles up to 15 feet long in their native habitat. Thanks to the conservation efforts of the local community, the last inventory revealed that the crocodile population has tripled from 50 to 150 per kilometer within the adjacent Carara National Park, which is also home to one of Costa Rica's largest remaining populations of wild scarlet macaws.
Continuing to Monteverde, we wind from the 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 ecolodge, surrounded by lush gardens and wild forest, then embark on an intriguing bat tour late this afternoon with expert bat biologist Richard LaVal. As a young man La Val liked to explore caves, which nurtured his lifelong fascination with bats. He came to Costa Rica to study tropical biology at the renowned Organization for Tropical Studies before earning a PhD and becoming a bat researcher and conservation pioneer in the Monteverde region.
Day 5: Hiking in Monteverde / Santuario Ecologico
A nature hike this morning reveals the verdant treasures of Monteverde. More than 400 species of birds flourish here, including the rare resplendent quetzal. A hundred mammal species live in the cloud forest, as well as an estimated 2,500 species of plants, including 300 different types of orchids. We spot wild relatives of many familiar houseplants, such as philodendrons, bromeliads, ficus trees and ferns. Later today, toward twilight, we tour Santuario Ecológico, which offers excellent wildlife viewing as evening sets in. This private reserve is part of an extensive chain of nature sanctuaries set aside to conserve and enhance habitat for Costa Rica's birds and other wildlife. The forest has an abundance of fruit-bearing trees that make it ideal habitat for a vast variety of tropical birds, exotic butterflies, and mammals including various monkeys, porcupine, sloth, coati and agouti.
Day 6: Canopy Skywalk / Arenal Volcano
This morning, we explore the cloud forest's intricate web of life 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. The sun that barely reaches the forest floor strikes the treetops with full force, fueling the photosynthesis that eventually results in leaves, fruit and seeds. With a bounty of nutritional food up so high, animals abound in the canopy as well, and we'll hope to spot some as we wander along the 1.5-mile system of elevated canopy paths.
Then, leaving Monteverde, we journey by road and cross Lake Arenal by boat to reach Costa Rica’s most dramatic landmark, Arenal Volcano. Costa Rica lies on the edge of two tectonic plates, one of the most dynamic such junctures on earth. 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. Where there is volcanic activity, there is usually geothermal activity, too, which we embrace with a soak in natural hot springs.
Day 7: Arenal Volcano / Vida Campesina
Explore the rain forest this morning from a 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, and it's fascinating to see how much life flourishes immediately adjacent to this recently very active volcano. A special lunch is in store today 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.