This 11-day itinerary celebrates Costa Rica’s remarkable biodiversity and highlights four of the country’s magnificent national parks. Traverse the coastal Caribbean waterways of Tortuguero, see the mythical quetzal bird in the cloud forests of Los Quetzales, and search for jaguars and tapirs in the remote habitats of Corcovado. After a day of snorkeling with colorful sea life at Caño Island, travel up the Pacific coast to the white sand beaches and lush jungles of Manuel Antonio.

Highlights

  • Marvel at the rainforest canals of Tortuguero National Park
  • See the resplendant quetzal in the cloud forests of Los Quetzales National Park
  • Spot jaguars, anteaters & spider monkeys in the wilds of Corcovado National Park
  • Snorkel in the turquoise waters of Caño Island Biological Reserve
  • Relax on the white sand beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José, Transfer to Heredia Heredia
Day 2 Transfer to Tortuguero, Costa Rica's "Little Amazon"  Tortuguero
Day 3 Tortuguero National Park Boat Excursion Tortuguero
Day 4 Fly to San José, Transfer to the San Gerardo de Dota Cloud Forest San Gerardo de Dota
Day 5 Quetzal Search Adventure in Los Quetzales National Park San Gerardo de Dota
Day 6 Transfer to the Osa Peninsula & Drake Bay Corcovado National Park
Day 7 Corcovado National Park Hike Corcovado National Park
Day 8 Caño Island Snorkeling Adventure Corcovado National Park
Day 9 Sierpe to Manuel Antonio, Jungle Night Walk Manuel Antonio
Day 10 Manuel Antonio National Park Hike Manuel Antonio
Day 11 Adios, Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José, Transfer to Heredia

Welcome to Costa Rica!

Welcome to Costa Rica! Upon arrival in the capital at Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) in the capital of San José, you'll be met by your private driver. Kick off your grand Costa Rican adventure with a 25-minute drive into the beautiful natural surroundings of the Heredia area, where you'll get checked into your hotel and rest up for a day of exploring tomorrow.

Day 2: Transfer to Tortuguero, Costa Rica's "Little Amazon" 

Lush rainforests on the banks of the Tortuguero River
Lush rainforests on the banks of the Tortuguero River

Early in the morning, your naturalist guide and driver will meet you at your hotel and take you on a shared guided land and boat transfer to the Caño Blanco dock. Pass through the tropical cloud and rainforests of the Braulio Carrillo National Park, stopping for breakfast along the way. As you wind around the green mountains at various altitudes, exotic flora and fauna will present themselves depending on the elevation. Squirrel monkeys can be found here, as can scarlet macaws.

After passing small towns and banana plantations, you'll reach a small boat dock alongside the network of canals that feed into the Tortuguero River. Once aboard for the approximately 90-minute trip, you can relax and enjoy the ambiance as you zip along the calm waters—maybe make a game of spotting fish and birds as you enter Tortuguero National Park. Enjoy an afternoon visit to the fishing village of Tortuguero before checking into your local hotel.

Day 3: Tortuguero National Park Boat Excursion

Explore the canals of Tortuguero National Park

Today you'll get to experience the beauty of this region on a shared boat ride through the canals and waterways of Tortuguero National Park with an English-speaking guide. Be sure to keep your camera at the ready because you'll likely spot various denizens of the reserve.

The eleven habitats of Tortuguero are some of the most exotic and beautiful regions in the country and are home to three species of monkeys (spider, howler, and white-faced), three-toed sloths, river otters, caimans, iguanas, river turtles, lizards, and poison dart frogs. Over 300 species of birds thrive in the pristine ecosystem, including three species of toucans, eight species of parrots, the salty-tailed trogon, the white-collared manakin, the purple-throated fruit crow, and the white-fronted nun bird. Over 2000 species of plants and more than 400 species of trees can also be found here.

After your peaceful journey by boat, you can explore more of your surroundings on the rainforest trails around the hotel.

Day 4: Fly to San José, Transfer to the San Gerardo de Dota Cloud Forest

The Talamanca Mountains, home to San Gerardo de Dota

A quick 25-minute flight takes you back to San José today, then you'll embark on a two-hour drive south, stopping along the way in the country's old capital of Cartago. Here you can visit one of Costa Rica's most important religious sites, the Nuestra Senora de los Ángeles Cathedral, and enjoy lunch in a local restaurant. 

Continue to San Gerardo de Dota, a rural town nestled in the foothills of the Talamanca Mountain Range. The surrounding region is a famous birding destination, mostly because here you can find the shy and much-coveted resplendent quetzal. The Savegre River, one of the cleanest rivers on the planet, also passes through this region and is a popular fishing spot due to its abundance of trout.

After checking into your hotel, you'll have the afternoon to relax or go out and explore the area on your own.

Day 5: Quetzal Search Adventure in Los Quetzales National Park

The irridescent quetzal in flight
The irridescent quetzal in flight

 The small town of San Gerardo de Dota sits next to a quiet road in the Talamanca Mountains. The main attraction here is Los Quetzales National Park, famous among birding enthusiasts as one of the best places to view the resplendent quetzal. With its vivid green and red plumage, it has an earned reputation as one of the world's most beautiful birds, sacred to the Aztecs as the representation of their god Quetzalcóatl.

Today is devoted to discovering the area's remarkable birdlife, starting with an early morning excursion in search of the famous quetzal. You stand a very good chance of spotting one in the early hours, as the birds are attracted to the cool climate, higher altitudes, and many aguacatillo trees of the region. With its metallic green plumage, crimson breast, and long, flowing tail feathers, watching a quetzal soar through the air is a unique and breathtaking experience.

Return to the lodge for breakfast, where hummingbirds hover around the gardens as you eat. After meeting your guide at the hotel reception, set out on another walk along the cool and comfortable cloud forest trails, searching for some of the area's other 170 species of birds.

Day 6: Transfer to the Osa Peninsula & Drake Bay

The remote beaches of Corcovado National Park
The remote beaches of Corcovado National Park

Today, a private land transfer takes you to the Sierpe Dock, where you will take a small boat for a 25 mile (40km) scenic ride to Drake Bay. This is one of the main access points into Corcovado National Park, a 163-square-mile protected area on Costa Rica's famously secluded Osa Peninsula. Containing 13 major eco-systems, Corcovado is the most biodiverse region in the country. The second half of this trip is particularly scenic as you traverse a lush maze of beautiful mangrove canals and rivers. Once in Drake Bay, a short transfer takes you to your hotel, where the rest of the day is free to relax.

Day 7: Corcovado National Park Hike

If you're lucky, you might spot a jaguar in Corcovado National Park
If you're lucky, you might spot a jaguar in Corcovado National Park

Immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Corcovado National Park today, as a guided hike takes you deep into one of the most biologically intense places on Earth. Boasting more than 24 miles (39 km) of beaches and 13 major ecosystems, including the last old-growth wet forest on the Pacific coast of Central America, the park is home to a breathtaking range of wildlife, including the endangered giant anteater, harpy eagle, tapir, and felines like the jaguar, puma, and margay.

During the hike, your naturalist guide will make a selection from several different hiking trails and point out many diverse species such as capuchin, spider, and howler monkeys, as well as white-lipped peccaries, scarlet macaws, coati, and countless other birds and insects. The trails are clearly marked and easy to navigate, ascending and descending through the rainforest.

Day 8: Caño Island Snorkeling Adventure

Snorkel with colorful sea life in Caño Island National Park 

Today takes you on a full-day excursion to Caño Island Biological Reserve. This protected marine area is located just off the northern tip of the Osa Peninsula and is home to an abundance of marine life including reef sharks, sea turtles, parrotfish, eels, manta rays, pufferfish, snappers, sea cucumbers, octopus, and many more. There's also a wide variety of coral-building organisms and 19 different species of coral, such as fan, head, and brain coral.

Your adventure begins with a scenic 12 mile (19 km) boat ride to Caño Island. Keep an eye out for playful dolphins en route, and at certain times of the year, you might even see humpback whales and their calves. On the island, you'll have lots of opportunities to snorkel in the clear waters and see the remarkable sea life up close. When you've had enough of swimming and snorkeling, you'll be whisked away to an idyllic beach, where you can sit back and relax in an island paradise. 

Day 9: Sierpe to Manuel Antonio, Jungle Night Walk

See nocturnal wildlife like sloths on a guided night walk

This morning a scenic 90-minute boat trip takes you back to Sierpe, where a 2-hour private transfer takes you up the Pacific coast to Manuel Antonio. Here you'll relax at your hotel before setting out at dusk for an unforgettable guided night walk in the tropical rainforest. As the sun sets, the jungle transitions into a whole new world. Listen as the pitch-black air fills with the sounds of millions of insects, frogs, and toads. There is no better opportunity to find, observe, and photograph beautiful tree frogs, shy snakes, colorful insects, and nocturnal mammals than on this truly memorable excursion.

Day 10: Nature Hike in Manuel Antonio National Park

Visit the idyllic beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park
Visit the idyllic beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park

Today you'll wake up early and explore the incredible biodiversity found within the roughly 1,680 acres of Manuel Antonio National Park. This is a true natural gem of Costa Rica, boasting lush virgin rainforests running from the mountains down to the coast, where white-sand beaches and coral reefs await.

You'll start your hike on the trails within the park. A naturalist guide will point out the more than 300 species of mammals and birds that call this reserve home, including three-toed sloths, hawks, iguanas, and several different species of monkeys. You'll also have plenty of time to enjoy the park's expansive white sand beaches.

Day 11: Adios, Costa Rica

Bid the beaches of Manuel Antonio farewell
Bid the beaches of Manuel Antonio farewell

Today you'll depart Costa Rica with fond memories, as a three-hour private transfer takes you to the San José Airport to catch your departing flight. Safe travels!

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