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Private Journeys

Active Costa Rica and Nicaragua: Rivers and volcanoes

16 days from £3,629pp

Costa Rica / Nicaragua


map marker Map

Day 1

Arrive in San José. Transfer to your hotel.

You will be met at the airport by our local representative who will take you to your hotel in the centre of San José. Founded in 1737, the capital was built on the profits of exporting coffee, produced from the fertile soils of the surrounding Central Valley. These days little remains of the city’s colonial or indeed agricultural heritage. It does though have some fine museums and restaurants as well as a lively nightlife.

Day 2

Rainforest aerial tram zip-line adventure.

It is approximately an hour’s drive from San José to the Rainforest Canopy, next to Braulio Carrillo National Park. Jump on a series of 10 zip lines (between 80-140m long) with 6 platforms in between, which provide 360° views of the surrounding forest. The ride takes you 3 times whizzing across the magnificent Molinete River. Below, walking trails allow you to experience  the rainforest at ground level. Return to San José afterwards.

zip lining

Day 3

White-water rafting on the Pacuare river.

Depart San José early in the morning, heading towards the Caribbean and passing through Braulio Carrillo National Park. After an orientation and safety talk, you take to your raft for the 60-90min trip to your lodge, riding rapids which are great run for beginners and experienced rafters alike (class II – III).

River Pacuare is celebrated world-wide for its natural beauty. You pass through a vertiginous river gorge flanked by steep, lushly vegetated walls. You see waterfalls cascading into the river from both sides while tropical birds fly right overhead. Enjoy views of virgin tropical rainforest. The white-water expedition is not overly challenging, but you’ll ride 52 rapids over 30km, giving you a real adrenaline high. There is plenty of calm water for you to sit back and enjoy the surrounding forest and its wildlife; herons, toucans, blue morpho butterfly and monkeys are all common sights. Have a breather to enjoy a picnic lunch on the river bank.

Later, arrive at your lodge where the afternoon is spent at leisure.

Pacuare River

Day 4

White-water rafting; drive to Arenal.

After breakfast and loading the rafts, prepare to paddle down the Pacuare Gorge past waterfalls, serene pools and pounding rapids. A snack stop by the riverside allows time to explore nearby waterfalls and natural waterslides. The afternoon is spent running some serious rapids: you are tossed and turned as if on a roller coaster but if you follow the captain’s orders you’ll love every minute.  Returning to your lodge you can take a shower and pride yourself on your navigating achievement over a drink.

Leaving the lodge mid-morning, you’ll head back up to the main road by 4WD vehicle.  From here you’ll continue to San José in a mini-bus, stopping for lunch on the way and continue to Arenal.

A modest 1,674m high, Arenal volcano was until recently very active but now lava flow and volcanic eruptions are infrequent (nothing since 2010).  The region is considered to be one of the highlights of a visit to Central America and there is a plethora of excursions and thrilling activities to be enjoyed in the surrounding countryside.



Day 5

Hike to Rio Celeste in Tenorio Volcano National Park

You will leave La Fortuna early and drive for 90mins to the Tenorio Volcano National Park, to begin the 7 km hike (approximately 4 hours) through tropical rain forest, eventually arriving at Los Teñíderos of Rio Celeste, the place where two streams of water come together and create the vivid light blue colour which gives the river its name.

As you return along the park trails, you may opt for a quick dip in natural hot springs. Further along the hike, you will see the Rio Celeste waterfall. The final reward for the journey is a typical Costa Rican lunch served at the end of your experience in the rainforest. The adventure takes around 7-8 hours, and is of medium intensity.


Day 6

Mountain-biking in Arenal volcano area.

Having zipped, rafted and hiked, today’s the day to get on your bike! You have the opportunity to observe the unhurried rural life of this remote part of Costa Rica. Cycle gently along the trails within a working sugar cane plantation and cattle farm, observing the workers busy feeding the pigs or herding the dairy cows. Depending on the time of year or day, you may be able to visit a local primary school, and visit one of the teachers in his home.

Day 7

Drive to El Castillo in Nicaragua. Night-time caiman spotting.

Drive to the frontier with Nicaragua at Los Chiles, passing through pineapple and sugar cane plantations. You cross the border and here you are met by our representatives; the rest of the journey to Nicaragua is by boat. Head down the river to San Carlos and then continue for 90mins to El Castillo. The little town is dominated by a huge fortress built by the Spanish to protect the affluent city of Granada from attacks by pirates. Your hotel is in town.

After dark, go searching for caimans under the moonlight, accompanied only by a specialist guide. As you glide through the darkness, a journey orchestrated by the nocturnal sounds of the rainforest, the guide will be using a spotlight to reflect the beady red eye of watchful caimans as they rest in the tropical vegetation along the water’s edge. Once spotted, the caiman may be approached so that you can appreciate its delicate markings and maybe even get a glimpse of its razor-sharp teeth. The baby caimans are particularly endearing, and could fit into the palm of your hand.


El Castillo

Day 8

Trekking in Indio Maíz reserve; guided fortress tour.

A marvellous jungle experience awaits you today. Just 3km downstream from El Castillo you come to the Indio Maíz Biosphere Reserve. This area of rainforest is bursting with wildlife, including huge scarlet macaws and big cats. , On your guided tour of the small part of the reserve open to visitors you might spy a tapir, a manatee, a Harpy eagle and American crocodiles: jaguar and puma lurk here but are rarely spotted.

The trail is 2km long and you’ll take over 2hrs to follow it, pausing to observe the profusion of exotic birds while enjoying the company of watchful lizards and lithe spider monkeys swinging from branch to branch. You’ll also be taken on a guided tour of the fortress.

Day 9

Transfer to Granada.

By road to Granada on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. Founded in 1524, Granada is the oldest city in the New World and lies at the foot of  Mombacho volcano. At its height it became very prosperous on the back of the gold trade. The city was regularly plundered by pirates and completely razed by American mercenary William Walker at the beginning of the 19th century.  However, Granada has since been wonderfully restored and its colourful colonial houses and cobbled streets that run down to the shores of Lake Nicaragua are a delight.

Day 10

At leisure in Granada area.

Day at leisure to explore the city with its colonial churches, narrow streets and colonial mansions and convents. The historic core is so compact that you can experience much of it on foot with many of the sites within the vicinity of the main square. You might opt for an optional day trip where, in addition to a guided tour of the city, you head off for a boat ride around some of the islets formed by eruptions of the looming bulk of the waterside Mombacho volcano.

The vast lake, more like an inland sea, with surf-tipped waves and reflecting fiery sunsets, is the largest body of freshwater in the Americas after the Great Lakes. Climb by vehicle to the summit of the cone-shaped Masaya volcano. Walk a few steps towards the sizzling, steamy Santiago crater, active since 1946, and explore the surrounding area, dotted with other volcanic formations. Finally. head to the nearby Masaya arts and crafts market which specialises in ceramics, leatherwork, wooden furniture and hammocks before heading back to Granada.

Day 11

Transfer to Ometepe Island; guided biking tour.

You’ll be driven to San Jorge port, also sitting on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. The road takes an inland route through farmed fields and countryside, and half the distance covered is on the fast Pan-American Highway. From there embark on a ferry to Ometepe Island dominated by its twin volcanoes. Ometepe is a serene and as yet totally undeveloped island. Even in comparison with the rest of Nicaragua, the infrastructure is basic with only rough roads and simple accommodation.

Much of the island is still covered in primary rainforest and home to many different species of monkeys and parrots. It is also famous for its pre-Columbian stone statues and petroglyphs, carved by the Chorotega indians centuries ago.

Upon arrival you’ll be whisked off on a guided cycle tour, visiting a couple of museums en route. The island’s roads are virtually empty so pootling along on a bike is a delight.

Day 12

Guided hike up Maderas volcano.

The two volcanoes, looming dominantly over the island, are just begging to be climbed. You’ll set off on an invigorating mountain trek which takes most hikers (you have to be fit) 4hrs to summit and 2-3 to get back down. Theforest-cloaked Maderas volcano – the smaller of the two – reaches 1,394m above sea level.

The climb is relatively steep and muddy all the way, especially near the peak, but you are rewarded by the sight of more species of the plants and animals which inhabit the tropical forest than anywhere else on Ometepe, These include a plethora of butterflies (including blue morphos), white-faced and howler monkeys and dozens of species of bird.  At the top you may be able to enjoy views over the emerald-hued volcanic crater lake, although it is usually shrouded in mist.

Day 13

At leisure on the island.

At leisure on Ometepe with your guide. You might visit one of many coffee cooperatives on the island. Horse-riding and fishing are also options here. Owing to heavy rainfall in recent years there are few beaches on the island, however, there are many spots to sit back and enjoy the views across the lake and possibly take a dip in its warm waters.

Day 14

By boat and road to lodge on Pacific coast.

Return to San Jorge and continue by road to San Juan del Sur on the Pacific coast. San Juan del Sur was until recently a peaceful fishing village but has now been discovered by developers and has a lively tourist scene, while still retaining some of its former rustic characteristics.

North and south of the buzzing town you find a clutch of crescent shaped bays harbouring soft golden sand, slapped by surf-tipped rollers and backed by rugged hills and cliffs smothered in emerald rainforest.

Day 15

At leisure on the Pacific coast.

Here you have time to hang out on the beach or in the town bars and restaurants, musing over all the excitement of the previous 2 weeks.

Day 16

Transfer to Managua airport for international flight home.

Inspired by this trip

Our exciting range of articles on Latin America explore everything from iconic destinations and lesser-known cultural gems to delicious traditional recipes. You’ll also find exclusive travel tips, first-hand client reviews and the chance to get your personal questions answered by our travel experts.


Your edit for Latin American inspiration

Our exciting range of articles on Latin America explore everything from iconic destinations and lesser-known cultural gems to delicious traditional recipes. You’ll also find exclusive travel tips, first-hand client reviews and the chance to get your personal questions answered by our travel experts.

View Extraordinary Inspiration

Real Latin America Experts

  • Charlotte in Bolivia
    Charlotte Daubeney - Travel Expert

    Charlotte's fascination with Latin America began with a family holiday to Belize. She went on to study Spanish in school and at university before spending a year living in Santiago, Chile.

  • Sophie Barber
    Sophie Barber - Travel Expert

    Sophie lived in Chile before joining us and has travelled extensively across Latin America, from Mexico to the furthest tip of Patagonia and beyond to Antarctica.

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    Lina Fuller - Travel Expert

    Lina's passion for the continent where she was born really took off when she moved to Córdoba (Argentina) to study, spending the holidays travelling between Argentina and her native Colombia.

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    Carrie Gallagher - Travel Expert

    A former JLA tour leader, Carrie brings a wealth of on-the-ground experience to our London-based Tailor-made and Group Tours department.

  • Millie Davies
    Millie Davies - Travel Expert

    Having caught the travel bug as a child, Millie has travelled all over Latin America before making her home in Buenos Aires for 3 years.

  • Paul Winrow Giffen
    Paul Winrow-Giffin - Travel Expert

    After graduating in Computer Science, Paul spent seven months travelling from Colombia to Argentina and came home hooked on Latin America.

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