10-Day Grand Costa Rica
Day 1: San Jose, Costa Rica
Arrive in Costa Rica’s capital of San Jose and transfer to your hotel. Enjoy a stroll around the lavish botanical gardens, where the owners have attempted to recreate the Central Valley's biodiversity on the 10-acre grounds, with bromeliads, orchids and a lush tapestry of native plants and flowers attracting a host of birds, with dozens of species on display. Among those you’re likely to see are hummingbirds, blue-crowned motmot, palm tanager, tropical kingbird and boat-billed flycatcher. This evening, meet your guide for an orientation, with a briefing on the activities to come.
Day 2: Ujarrus / Cristina Coffee Plantation / Garden Walk
Stop in the small mountain town of Ujarras to visit the ruins of Costa Rica's oldest church. built by Spanish colonists in the late 16th century. The still-lovely brick façade overlooks the surrounding gardens and Orosi Valley below. Continue to Finca Cristina, an organic shade-grown coffee plantation that produces fine Arabica coffee while preserving native flora and fauna. The farm is located in the middle of a major flyway for migratory birds, and it provides important habitat for species that breed in North America and winter in the tropics. After a tour, you’ll have a chance to purchase coffee from the estate, directly supporting conservation efforts that help native species survive.
Continue climbing into the Talamanca Mountains, crossing Cerro de la Muerte, the highest point along the Costa Rican section of the Pan-American Highway. The views are thrilling, when the frequent mists clear enough to reveal waterfalls on steep slopes and green farmland far below. Your destination is Savegre Mountain Hotel, set along a rushing river in a narrow mountain valley at 7,200 feet. On a guided walk through the extensive gardens around the lodge, look for find myriad colorful birds including the resplendent quetzal, the biggest prize among the more than 600 species that thrive among the flowering tropical plants.
Day 3: Paraiso del Quetzal / Batsu Gardens
At Paraiso del Quetzal — “Quetzal Paradise” — high in the cool Talamanca Mountains, enjoy a 2–3 hour guided nature walk. The vegetation at this altitude is dominated by oak, bamboo and trees in the avocado family, whose fruit is favored by the resplendent quetzal, a gorgeous bird considered sacred by indigenous residents and a coveted sighting among birders who travel from all over the globe to see it here. Listen for its deep, melodious call as we search for the quetzal's telltale scarlet and turquoise feathers among the green foliage.
This afternoon, visit Batsu Gardens for spectacular bird viewing. Batsu, from the local Bribri language, means “small bird” and is used especially for hummingbirds. Every detail of this natural setting has been intentionally designed for bird observation and photography, and you’ll surely add many species to your life list. Later, visit the Quetzal Education Research Center, a small biological station located on the Savegre lodge property. The center connects students and researchers from around the world engaged in studying tropical cloud forest sustainability, integrating local farmers into efforts to merge conservation practices with economic viability.
Day 4: Los Quetzales National Park / Ballena Marine National Park
Los Quetzales National Park, encompassing more than 12,000 acres of pristine cloud forest and 14 distinct ecological zones, offers some of Costa Rica’s most intense biodiversity. Take a leisurely stroll through the oak forest as your guide helps you find four different kinds of oak trees; explore lagoons, wetlands and bogs; and marvel at the unique high-altitude environment with stunted trees and ferns blanketing the mountainsides. After lunch at a home on a small farm, join your host Martin Salazar for a talk on producing local blackberry wine and growing shiitake mushrooms. Salazar began growing mushrooms when the Ministry of Agriculture from Bhutan and local mycology experts from the University of Costa Rica trained 50 farmers on how to raise this valuable crop in the montane oak forests around Cerro de la Muerte.
This afternoon, travel down Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast to Ballena Marine National Park, named for the humpback whales that migrate here to mate and birth their calves. They are often on view from July through October and again from December to April. The marine park protects both offshore waters home to dolphins, sea turtles and large schools of fish, plus 272 acres of jungle, mangroves and coastline. Uvita and Ballena beaches join at a distinctive point that juts into the sea in the shape of whale’s tail made of sand. If surf conditions permit, swim or dip your feet in the ocean. High above the forest-fringed beach, your hotel surveys the vast Pacific, with fabulous sunset views over the ocean from the terrace.
Day 5: Sierpe River Boat Cruise / Finca 6 Stone Spheres
Travel down to the coast to the Sierpe River for a boat tour through its vast mangrove ecosystem. The Terraba and Sierpe rivers flow from their headwaters on the southern slopes of the Talamanca Mountains to the ocean where they form a river delta comprising the Terraba Sierpe National Wetlands. A maze of channels weaves through Costa Rica's largest untouched mangrove estuary, protecting prolific birdlife and wild animals within the reserve’s 67,000 acres. Floating down the languid tropical river, you may see American crocodiles, rainbow boas, green iguanas, white-face capuchins, long-nosed bats, roseate spoonbills, ospreys, kingfishers, frigatebirds and a variety of egrets. If you’re lucky, you might even spy scarlet macaws in the trees.
On the return journey, stop to visit the Finca 6 archaeological site. At this UNESCO World Heritage Site, observe the mysterious pre-Columbian stone spheres discovered here in the 1930s when the United Fruit Company was clearing land for banana plantations. These perfectly carved orbs range in size from a bowling ball to massive globes weighing 16 tons. Their purpose, and the means of creating them, remains open to speculation, but one thing is certain: they are remarkable.
Day 6: Carara National Park / Macaw Lodge Private Forest Reserve
Today you'll explore Carara National Park on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast. This nature reserve is particularly rich in diversity of flora and fauna due to its transitional location between the hot, dry northwest and the wet southwest. Park habitats include marsh, primary and secondary forest, and the Tarcoles River. Its varied terrain sustains white-tailed deer, red brocket, agouti, kinkajou, collared peccary, three species of monkeys and other mammals, as well as plentiful amphibians and reptiles. From a nearby bridge, you’re likely to see scores of American crocodiles basking on the riverbanks. Carara also abounds in birdlife, including parrots, parakeets, toucans, trogons and Costa Rica’s largest population of scarlet macaws.
Arrive this afternoon at Macaw Lodge, a center for ecotourism, research and conservation. Family-owned and run, this premier ecolodge is the outgrowth of the owners’ participation in a government-sponsored forestry investment program designed to reverse damage done by overplanting single agricultural crops. Since the purchase of this land for conservation in the 1980s, the Macaw Lodge Private Forest Reserve has become a model of sustainability, restoring native forests and fostering the return of many animal and plant species, especially its namesake, the famed scarlet macaw.
Day 7: Chocolate Tour & Sustainable Living Farm Tour
Since ancient times, cocoa has been vital to life in Central America. Mayans invented the basics of preparing cocoa, a process still used today: fermentation, drying and roasting of the beans, then shelling, grinding and milling. People from all levels of society consumed cocoa daily as a beverage. Nobility drank the dark liquid in cups hand-decorated by artists, and it was the favorite drink of Mayan kings and priests. You'll witness these ancient traditions still practiced at the lodge today. On a tour of the cocoa plantation, learn about the varieties of cocoa trees and their fruit, and all that is involved in the process of making chocolate.
Macaw Lodge is renowned for its environmental commitment and for nurturing its plantations and crops without chemicals. A guided walk showcases its sustainable gardening operation. Observe how staff use organic waste, coal and earthworm compost and organic fertilizer; tour the aquaponics orchard where fruits and vegetables are grown to serve in the restaurant; see the medicinal plant gardens, used for making teas and ointments; and learn about the lodge’s “stingless bees” and their valuable honey.
Day 8: Solimar Ranch Tour
Located near the mouth of the Tempisque River in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste region, Solimar Ranch is a magnet for a tremendous variety of waterbirds drawn to its wetlands and lagoons surrounded by Costa Rica’s dry northwest forest. Hacienda Solimar, a 7,400-acre working Brahma beef cattle ranch, has reserved 30 percent of its terrain as a reserve for wildlife. Visitors can expect to see roseate spoonbill, boat-billed heron, wood stork and the impressive jabiru stork, among many others. Other prevalent wildlife includes white-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, coati and the American crocodile.
Cap off your tropical nature immersion with a stay at Punta Islita, one of the finest luxury eco-resorts on the Guanacaste coast. Offering one of the best ocean views in Costa Rica, the hotel’s infinity pool merges with the ocean horizon, reflecting whimsical cloud shapes as it surveys the tiny islet for which it is named.
Day 9: Punta Islita Eco-Resort
A host of activities is available to choose from today: explore the 300-acre property on hikes in search of birds and monkeys, take a dusk nature walk to spot frogs and other nocturnal wildlife, ride horseback on the beach, fly through the canopy on a zip line, choose among yoga, golf, Tico cooking lessons, spa treatments and more. Or simply choose to do nothing except watch for scarlet macaws flying overhead as you laze by the pool on your last day in in this tropical paradise.
Day 10: Depart
After breakfast, a transfer is included to Liberia International Airport for your international flight. Plan to check in three hours prior to your scheduled flight time.