- Visit towering waterfalls and misty cloud forests in Bajos del Toro
- Travel to the coastal gem of Esterillos Este and laze on long, empty beaches
- Tour mangrove wetlands and see exotic birdlife like herons and egrets
- Hike through the untamed wilds of the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica's far south
|Arrive in San José, Transfer to Bajos del Toro, Jungle Night Hike
|Bajos del Toro
|Del Toro Waterfall Hike, Oxcart Painting
|Bajos del Toro
|Early Morning Birding Tour, Cloud Forest Hike
|Bajos del Toro
|Transfer to Esterillos Este, Optional Surfing & Zipline
|Estrella Beach Day, Optional Manuel Antonio Hike
|Sierpe River Wetlands Tour, Transfer to Puerto Jiménez
|Early Morning Birding Tour, Matapalo Village & Rainforest Hike
|Trek the Osa Trail, Optional Corcovado National Park Hike
|Transfer to San José, Barrio Escalante Food Tour
|Optional Museum Visit, Depart San José
Day 1: Arrive in San José, Transfer to Bajos del Toro, Jungle Night Hike
Welcome to Costa Rica! If your goal is to embark on thrilling eco-adventures while enjoying the utmost in comfort and luxury, you've come to the right country. With four biosphere reserves and dozens of national parks and wildlife corridors, this tiny Central American nation delivers on all fronts—plus, there's no shortage of 4/5-star accommodations here, even in the country's most remote corners.
Upon arrival in the capital of San José, your personal driver will meet you at the terminal for the two-hour transfer north. You're headed off the tourist trail to the rugged wilderness in Bajos del Toro. This small reserve in Costa Rica's Central Highlands sits at the foot of the towering Poás volcano and is famous for its waterfalls and rivers. There, you'll check into El Silencio Lodge & Spa, a luxurious 4-star eco-hotel in the mountains flanked by two national parks. After settling into your private villa, take the rest of the afternoon to relax and enjoy a treatment at the on-site Esencia Spa.
When the sun goes down, the real excitement begins. After dark, you'll head out with a local naturalist guide on a private two-hour hike to spot the nocturnal denizens of Bajos del Toro's rainforest. Equipped with a headlamp, your guide will point out the most interesting species that thrive at night, including sloths, owls, stick insects, kinkajous, bats, and more. You might even spot the notorious poison dart frog. Afterward, you'll return to the lodge.
Day 2: Del Toro Waterfall Hike, Oxcart Painting
Leave in the morning on a brisk hike to the star waterfall in the region, Catarata del Toro. This roaring 290-foot (88 m) cascade plunges over a mountain cliff into an extinct volcanic crater. The trek to the base only takes about 30 minutes, and as you make your way down the steep jungle path, you'll be treated to the sight of hummingbirds and howler monkeys. There will also be brief stops to rest and enjoy breathtaking views from lookout points along the way.
Afterward, embrace your inner artist through local culture. Head into town, where you'll learn traditional oxcart painting techniques from an expert. This type of folk art was born in the 19th/20th centuries and involves the decorative painting of oxcarts, which were traditionally used to transport coffee and other products from the Central Valley to markets and ports. The private workshop will teach you to use bold strokes and kaleidoscopic patterns to create one of Costa Rica's most emblematic crafts. The finished product is perfect to frame and take home as a memento of your getaway in Costa Rica.
Day 3: Early Morning Birding Tour, Cloud Forest Hike
Rise and shine! Grab your binoculars and venture into the tropical dry forest early in the morning when the resident birds are just starting their day. This entire region is known for its rich avian biodiversity, and your naturalist guide will point out some of the most colorful specimens as you hike around the forest. These include colorful hummingbirds, various tanager species, elegant trogons, and raptors like the black hawk-eagle. You also might spot tropical icons like toucans and the resplendent quetzal, a rare bird known for its vibrant green and red plumage.
The jungle adventure continues later in the day with a hike around the famous cloud forests of Bajos del Toro. These ecosystems are typically found at higher elevations and are characterized by lush, misty landscapes created by the humidity from tradewinds. The best part is there are rich cloud forests right on the hotel property, accessible via a trail network. As you stroll the pathways, your private guide will point out the exotic flora and fauna that thrive in this unique and diverse biosphere.
Day 4: Transfer to Esterillos Este, Optional Surfing & Zipline
Continue the journey this morning as you leave the Central Valley via private transfer to Costa Rica's central coast. It's a two to three-hour drive to Playa Esterillos, a stunning beach destination that, like Bajos del Toro, lies off the tourist trail. The dark, smooth beaches here seem to stretch for miles, and you'll have them mostly to yourself. During the drive, there will be stops to stretch your legs and enjoy a batido (fresh fruit smoothie).
Upon arrival, you'll check into Alma del Pacifico. This 4-star hotel sits right on the beach and offers bright, attractive villas overlooking the ocean and tropical gardens. As the name suggests, it features a world-class spa offering an extensive menu of therapies, including deep-tissue massages and anti-aging facials, which you can enjoy outdoors in the fresh sea breeze.
After settling in, you can head out on your own to discover Esterillos. The main beach on your doorstep is something out of a romantic dream—wide and inviting sands fringed by arcing palms fronting the azure waters of the Pacific. It's also a great surf beach, as it features consistent year-round surf, a variety of breaks (including point and reef breaks), and variable waves ideal for both beginners and pros. So, if the mood strikes, grab a board and paddle out. For an even more thrilling adventure, opt for a zipline ride over the coastal forest canopy.
Day 5: Estrella Beach Day, Optional Manuel Antonio Hike
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Take the day to relax—no schedules, no itineraries. After a leisurely breakfast, you can walk mere steps from the hotel to the beach and do some suntanning. Unfortunately, the currents here are a little too rough for swimming, but you can grab a board and hit the waves. If you're a "gremmie" (beginner), there are private surf lessons to help get you up to speed.
If you like, transfer an hour down the coast for a tour of Manuel Antonio National Park. This 1,680-acre (680 ha) protected area is home to virgin rainforest running from the mountains to the coast and white-sand beaches. On a guided hike, the naturalist accompanying you will point out fascinating wildlife, including howler monkeys, sloths, iguanas, and birds like araçaris and hummingbirds. The guide will also offer insight into medicinal plants and trees used in traditional Costa Rican culture. Afterward, you can enjoy the beaches on your own.
Day 6: Sierpe River Wetlands Tour, Transfer to Puerto Jiménez
Leave after breakfast on a two-hour drive down the coast to the village of Sierpe, located at the northern edge of Costa Rica's famed Osa Peninsula. This southern region is as wild as it gets, filled with untamed jungle and rugged coast far from the packed resorts of other more famous areas. Your final destination is farther south at the coastal town of Puerto Jiménez, but you'll break up the trip with a stop here for a wildlife tour.
Jump in a boat for a three-hour ride on the Río Sierpe to explore the Terraba-Sierpe National Wetland. This 67,000-acre (27,000 ha) protected nature reserve is actually the largest mangrove system in Central America, making it the perfect home to a variety of mammals, reptiles, birds, and fish. Bird lovers will especially love this tour as there are over 100 species of birds here, including the endemic mangrove hummingbird that you can't find anywhere else on Earth.
Afterward, continue south to Puerto Jiménez. This remote town on the Golfo Dulce is a hub for adventure sports, wildlife tours, and water activities. Even in this far-flung locale, there's no need to forgo creature comforts, as you'll be staying at Lapa Rios Ecolodge. This 3.5-star waterfront hotel sits on a 1,000-acre (404 ha) private nature reserve and boasts furnished bungalows with modern conveniences, private plunge pools, and balconies overlooking the ocean. When you arrive, relax with a spa service in the rainforest massage hut or hit the outdoor yoga deck to boost your chi circulation.
Day 7: Early Morning Birding Tour, Matapalo Village & Rainforest Hike
If the early bird gets the worm, then the early birder gets the best photos. Embark on a private two-hour nature hike around the ecolodge grounds to spot some of the Osa Peninsula's 360 species of birds and various exotic animals. After morning tea and a light snack, you'll hit the trail and encounter specimens like mischievous monkeys and blue morpho butterflies. As for birds, expect a variety, like toucans, macaws, hawks, egrets, and more.
The outdoor adventures continue a little later when you hike a few miles down coastal trails and roads from Puerto Jiménez to the village of Matapalo. This scenic trek will take you by pristine rainforests and rugged beaches. As you go, your private expert guide will point out some of the liveliest creatures in this secondary rainforest ecosystem, from endangered scarlet macaws to various species of monkeys. It's an out-and-back hike that ends with your return to Puerto Jiménez.
Day 8: Trek the Osa Trail, Optional Corcovado National Park Hike
Spend your last day in Osa enjoying the best wildlife experience in the region. In the morning, you'll head out on the famed Osa Trail, an adventurous trek that immerses you fully in the rainforests and wild landscapes of the peninsula. The trail covers up to 9 miles (15 km), but your circuit takes only a half-day to complete. During that time, you'll witness the incredible biodiversity of the region and enjoy breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.
Alternatively, there's the option for a private tour of Corcovado National Park. This is the ultimate destination in the Osa Peninsula—128,500 acres (52,000 ha) of primary and secondary rainforests home to beaches, waterfalls, and hundreds of animal species. The full-day adventure begins with a boat ride down the coast to Sirena Biological Station, the main entrance to the park.
After a thrilling beach landing, you'll embark on a rainforest hike with your expert guide, who'll point out native flora and fauna. Wildlife sightings here can include all of Costa Rica's four species of monkeys, as well as sloths, coatis, banana-beaked toucans, and (if you're lucky) jaguars and pumas. Continue to an isolated spot in the jungle for a picnic lunch at the mouth of the river before trekking back to the biological station. Finally, enjoy one last night in your luxe rainforest resort; take a sunset beach stroll and have dinner beneath the stars.
Day 9: Transfer to San José, Barrio Escalante Food Tour
In the morning, you'll transfer to the airport in Puerto Jiménez for the 1.5-hour flight back to San José. A driver will be waiting to transfer you to your hotel in the city, the Grano de Oro, a 4-star hotel with a world-class restaurant. It's helmed by a French chef who uses European techniques to prepare Costa Rican fusion fare paired with an excellent wine list. Just don't spoil your appetite because later, you're off on a private, food-focused tour of one of San José's coolest neighborhoods.
After time to explore downtown San José on your own, you'll meet a guide and transfer to Barrio Escalante. This trendy enclave near the city center is a famous nightlife hub, but its diverse eateries also attract serious foodies. On a private tour, you'll stop to sample some famous Costa Rican coffee and grab a bite at one of the area's gastropubs, fusion restaurants, chic cafés, and French-inspired bakeries. You can also stop at the Mercado Escalante food hall to sample a variety of dishes all under one roof.