8-Day Classic Costa Rica
Day 1: San Jose, Costa Rica
Arrive in Costa Rica’s capital of San Jose and transfer to your hotel just outside the city. Enjoy time to wander the gardens before meeting your Expedition Leader at a welcome dinner this evening to learn about all the adventures that lie ahead.
Day 2: Arenal Volcano
Depart from Costa Rica's Central Valley this morning and drive over the mountains to the Caribbean lowlands, with lunch en route. Stop along the way for a personal visit to the studio and gardens of Cope, a talented Costa Rican artist who has spent his entire life in this rural area. Surrounding his home, he has created a lush habitat to attract a variety of birds, insects and animals, including a peaceful pond that provides a serene backdrop for photos. You'll also make a fascinating visit to a site where we observe one of Costa Rica's most remarkable creatures: the leaf-cutter ant. With a highly organized social structure directed by a single queen, these industrious ants have powerful jaws that slice off pieces of leaf weighing at least 20 times their body weight, which they carry back to their nest to help grow the fungus they feed upon.
Your scenic drive continues to the Arenal Volcano area, where you'll check in for a two-night stay at renowned Arenal Observatory Lodge, directly opposite the famous volcano. Though the volcano has been inactive since 2010, its imposing outline dominates the horizon for miles around, and the many hot springs in the area belie its dormant state. Dense rain forest covers the volcano's lower slopes, and a network of trails leads into it from the lodge. Seismologists from the Smithsonian Institution and the National University of Costa Rica closely monitor the volcano from the research station at the lodge.
Day 3: Rain Forest Hike / Danaus Eco-Center / Hot Springs / Frog Walk
Myriad tropical birds are active in the gardens around the lodge at dawn, and a birdwatching outing before breakfast promises colorful sightings. Then, head off with your guide on a nature walk into the forest where you'll look for monkeys, sloth, agouti, coati and possibly
even an ocelot. A special lunch follows at Vida Campesina, offering a taste of life with a rural farming family as you learn about the typical crops they grow using sustainable agricultural techniques. Your visit begins with a demonstration of sugar cane juice production using a manually operated sugar mill (and a chance to taste it). Walk through cultivated tracts of land to learn about common Costa Rican crops such as coffee, bananas and plantains. At the end of the tour, a traditional lunch features fresh vegetables from the farm and a hands-on demonstration of tortilla-making.
This afternoon, visit Danaus Eco-Center, a private ecological reserve dedicated to conservation, environmental education and sustainable agriculture. On a tour of the premises with a local naturalist guide, you'll have a chance to see Costa Rica’s famous red poison dart frogs, blue morpho butterflies and other wildlife, walking on nature trails among the project’s 300 species of tropical plants. Then it's on to Ecotermales Hot Springs, for a relaxing indulgence in a series of volcanically heated pools. After dinner at the lodge, head into the forest with your guide once again in search of frogs. With the help of bright spotting lights, you're sure to see various species around the secluded frog pond as you listen to a percussive night chorus.
Day 4: Pottery Studio / Nicoya Sightseeing / Lagarta Reserve
Depart for Nosara Beach this morning, with a stop in Guatil to visit a family-owned pottery studio, and city sightseeing in Nicoya en route. Your destination is Lagarta Lodge, an eco-resort encompassed by a pristine 90-acre nature sanctuary on the Nicoya Peninsula in northwest Costa Rica. The Reserva Biologica is bordered by the Nosara River and Pacific Ocean and includes a combination of subtropical dry forest and coastal mangrove thickets. The varied habitats showcase a host of native plants and animals that you'll encounter on guided walks. Amid the reserve's impressive biodiversity, expect to see numerous birds and a good selection of howler monkeys, anteater, coati, raccoon, iguanas, butterflies and interesting insects. After an afternoon of exploring, take a dip in one of two infinity pools before dinner at the lodge.
Day 5: Largarta Reserve / Rio Nosara Boat Cruise
Explore more of the private Lagarta biological reserve on a guided nature walk this morning. After lunch, take a boat cruise in search of wildlife and a host of bird species on the tranquil Nosara and Montaña rivers. You may also wish to explore one of the four secluded private beaches near the lodge. One of them, Playa Ostional, is one of the world’s most important nesting grounds for the olive ridley sea turtle. If you visit from July to December, you may witness the amazing phenomenon of dozens of turtles coming ashore once a month to lay their eggs. The young hatch 45 days after this arribada, and guests are sometimes fortunate enough to see them crawl toward the water. Dinner this evening is in town, for a chance to try one of the excellent restaurants.
Day 6: Solimar Ranch / Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
This morning, visit Hacienda Solimar, a 7,400-acre working cattle ranch near the mouth of the Tempisque River that has set aside 30 percent of its property as a wildlife reserve. It has become an important destination for nature lovers who want to see a tremendous variety of waterbirds and species native to Costa Rica’s dry northwest forest. The varied habitat consists of dry forest, gallery forest and wetlands in the form of numerous lagoons. On a tour of the wetlands, look for roseate spoonbill, boat-billed heron, wood stork and the large Jabiru stork, among many other birds. Other wildlife may include white-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, coatis and the American crocodile. After lunch at Hacienda Solimar, continue driving high into the mountains to reach the cool cloud forest of Monteverde.
Monteverde means “green mountain,” though moisture here doesn’t typically come from rain, but rather from the constant mists that swath the summits. Set atop the spine of Costa Rica’s continental divide, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve supports 2.5 percent of worldwide biodiversity including 100 species of mammals and 161 species of amphibians and reptiles. Many of these are indicator species that act as “canaries in the coal mine,” which means they are sensitive to environmental changes and can alert us when an ecosystem is threatened. Check in for two nights at your secluded ecolodge, surrounded by lush gardens, dense forest and the melodious calls of birds in the canopy.
Day 7: Monteverde Reserve—Canopy Skywalk / Coffee Plantation Tour
Discover the wonders of the high-altitude cloud forest on a nature walk in Monteverde this morning. This magnificent example of tropical montane cloud forest is the most studied and endangered ecosystems in the world. Monteverde harbors an estimated 2,500 species of plants, including giant strangler figs, a profusion of epiphytes that drape the forest from canopy to floor, and 300 different types of orchids. We spot wild relatives of many familiar houseplants such as philodendrons, bromeliads, ficus trees, and ferns, and we often see colorful butterflies flitting among the leaves. More than 400 tropical bird species flourish here, including the rare resplendent quetzal, the iridescent bird sacred to the indigenous people of these remote mountains. Other highland endemics include the three-wattled 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.
Then, head to Cafe de Monteverde for lunch and a tour of the coffee plantation. The estate was founded in 1989 as an association of 12 families with deep roots in coffee, agriculture, conservation and education. For more than four generations, these families have grown, processed and roasted the best-quality coffee in the region, practicing methods in harmony with the surrounding cloud forest. The group's educational mission focuses on teaching how sustainable production methods can contribute to the wider agenda for conservation, inspiring future generations with a vision for how agriculture and ecotourism can work hand in hand.
This afternoon, witness the intricate web of life in the cloud forest on display from the Skywalk, a network of suspension bridges that lifts you into the canopy for a toucan's-eye view. In recent decades, biologists have discovered that about 90 percent of all organisms in a rain forest live in the canopy, where the sun strikes the treetops to produce abundant food. Look for animals in the branches as you wander along the 1.5-mile system of elevated walkways. Later this evening, head into town for your farewell dinner at a local restaurant.
Day 8: Monteverde / Depart
After breakfast, a transfer is included to San Jose International Airport for departing flights.