The ultimate 12-day holiday in Costa Rica
Costa Rica has to be one of the world’s most underrated destinations – and yet, with lush landscapes, wildlife-rich jungles, majestic volcanoes and sandy beaches, it is wonderfully diverse.
Costa Rica has to be one of the world’s most underrated destinations – and yet, with lush landscapes, wildlife-rich jungles, majestic volcanoes and sandy beaches, it is wonderfully diverse. It is also home to the happiest people in Latin America, another good reason to go. This country would be perfect for the intrepid traveller looking for an adventure, and we can design the most extraordinary journey for you. The following fantastic 12-day holiday will give you an idea of what we can arrange:
The Central Valley
You will be met at San José International Airport and driven to Finca Rosa Blanca, about half an hour away. Situated on an organic coffee plantation, this gorgeous boutique hotel is a superb place to unwind following your flight. Typically Costa Rican in style, it will immediately get you into the spirit of things. You could do some birdwatching here – more than 130 birds reside in the area – or learn about the production of some of Costa Rica’s best Arabica coffee. After a revitalising night here, it will be time to move on.
We would recommend at least three nights at Pacuare Lodge, one of our favourite Central American boltholes. Getting to this incredible rainforest hideaway is an adventure in itself. From Finca Rosa Blanca, it’s a two- to three-hour drive to the magnificent, white-water Pacuare River, from where you continue by raft. The 90-minute ride to the lodge, through grade 1 and 2 rapids, is exhilarating.
Situated deep in the jungle in a 3sq-km private reserve, this luxury ecolodge feels truly remote. You will be completely immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the forest, continually serenaded by the hum of frogs, birds and crickets and the roar of the river rushing by. The 20 elegant suites are simple but sophisticated – with Cabécar-inspired architecture, teak furniture, outdoor showers and, in some cases, freestanding bathtubs. Many have private plunge pools but there is also a striking, new infinity pool for all the guests. Our favourite room is the enormous Jaguar Villa, an extraordinary space with an oversized verandah and a lovely, private infinity pool.
There are many amazing experiences on offer at Pacuare, such as white-water rafting, canyoning, waterfall and wildlife walks, ziplining and kayaking. It’s also possible to visit the home of a Cabécar family, Costa Rica’s largest indigenous group, who reside in the nearby Talamanca Mountains. We like to treat our clients to a soothing massage at the Jawa JuÃ¼ Spa, too.
Considering its far-flung location, the food here is delicious. The staff serves ‘farm-to-table’ dishes made with organic, locally grown food from the lodge’s own farm, Las Nubes de Tuis, in the nearby mountains. We often set up a very special, candlelit private dinner in ‘The Nest’, a platform 20m above the forest floor in a ceiba tree, which was sacred to the ancient Mayans. You will zipline down a 130m cable to your table and then dine under the stars to the orchestra of the jungle.
Be prepared to leave Pacuare in the manner you arrived – by taking on the grades 3 and 4 rapids on a final, three-hour white-water expedition.
Arenal Volcano National Park
After your departure by raft, it is a three-hour drive to the fabulous Nayara Springs, your home for the next three nights. Situated in Arenal Volcano National Park, which harbours an impressive diversity of tropical flora and fauna, this intimate, adults-only hideaway is encircled by dense rainforest and has a spectacular backdrop of the active Arenal Volcano.
This wonderful boutique hotel has spacious, elegant villas with outdoor showers, private gardens and plunge pools fed by natural mineral hot springs. You will be looked after by a private host who will be able to answer your every request. There are two excellent restaurants – Amor Loco and Mis Amores – as well as an award-winning spa called Yoga Pavilion, where you can enjoy traditional treatments and some more unusual ones, such as a scrub with organic coffee, volcanic mud and chocolate clay.
You could easily spend your days at Nayara Springs relaxing by the two infinity pools, observing the monkeys, toucans, hummingbirds, macaws and iguanas, but there is plenty more to do. Arenal is particularly famous for ziplining, so you must give this a go. We also suggest a visit to CaÃ±o Negro Wildlife Refuge – home to monkeys, lizards, caimans and iguanas – or the Hanging Bridges Private Reserve, where you will cross 10 fixed bridges and six suspension bridges to spy howler monkeys and birds in the treetop canopy and admire Arenal Volcano from up high. One of our favourite outings here is ‘sloth spotting’, during which you will go in search of two- and three-toed sloths.
After three nights in Arenal, you will take a charter flight to the port town of Golfito on the edge of the Golfo Dulce, a rare tropical fjord. From there, it’s a 40-minute boat ride across the glassy waters of the Golfo Dulce to the Osa Peninsula, from where it’s a 15-minute drive to the stunning Lapa Rios lodge. The journey is part of the experience as you may be lucky enough to see schools of up to 200 dolphins, dipping and diving alongside the boat as you go.
The Osa Peninsula – a tiny stretch of land of just 56km by 32km – is an untouched region with a raw beauty, home to pristine rainforest and secluded coves. A staggering 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity can be found here, including several endangered and endemic species. The jungle here is inhabited by monkeys, two- and three-toed sloths, bats, skunks, anteaters and armadillos, as well as pumas, ocelots, margays and jaguars (although the predators are difficult to spot). There are also more than 300 bird species – the chestnut-mandibled toucan, aracaris and endemic black-cheeked ant-tanager to name a few. In addition, in the Pacific Ocean and Golfo Dulce, you will find green sea turtles, dolphins and, at certain times of the year, pilot and humpback whales.
At Lapa Rios, you will wake to the call of howler monkeys. This idyllic lodge is set on a 4sq-km reserve that is reportedly ‘the last remaining tropical lowland rainforest’. Nature thrives here with the help of the lodge’s owners, John and Karen Lewis, who built Lapa Rios as a sustainable tourism project to protect the surrounding primary and secondary jungle and support the local community.
The 17 bungalows are open-air with screens to conjure up an ‘indoor-outdoor experience’. There is plenty to keep you occupied here, from exploring the empty, jungle-fringed beaches and dolphin- and whale-spotting trips on the mirror-like gulf to birdwatching walks and sustainability mornings. In the past, we have organised a scenic trek to a beautiful waterfall with a naturalist guide to point out wildlife along the way. On arrival at the falls, our clients were welcomed with their drink of choice; and since they were with children, we provided colouring pencils and sketchbooks to entertain them while their parents enjoyed a sumptuous lunch.
After three nights at Lapa Rios, you will return to Golfito the way you came – by car and then boat – from where you will catch a scheduled flight to San José in time for returning home the following day.
If you have more time, we recommend combining your Costa Rican adventure with some time in Panama. These two countries are amazing standalone destinations – but together they form an extraordinary Central American journey, especially if you would like to combine nature and adventure in the former with colonial towns and beach R&R in the latter.