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Explore and Relax Costa Rica and Panama Coast: Pacific route

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Tiny Costa Rica is a volcanic country of fertile plains, rolling hills supporting acres of coffee plantations and tropical lowlands bursting with fruit. Throughout, it has a friendly, relaxed ambiance. Arriving at the modern capital San José, you’ll be taken out into the valley surrounding the city to peer into the steaming crater of Poás volcano. Move on to a wildlife lodge in an area of the Pacific coast where exotic flora and fauna is especially prolific, and follow trails through the rainforest.

Continue to Panama, an up-and-coming destination for nature lovers with some amazingly unspoilt beaches to boot. You’ll spend time in the glorious, rugged mountain landscapes surrounding Boquete, a centre for active adventures: you’ll be very tempted to pull on your walking shoes and get out on to the wooded trails in search of quetzals.

After this, travel to the Panamanian Pacific coast for a few days’ relaxation based at an intimate boutique beach hotel in low-key Boca Chica, a fishing village at the end of the road opposite a string of tiny islets. The beaches here are powder-white, backed by coconut palms and dense, untouched forest.

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in San José and transfer to your hotel.

Day 2

Guided excursion to Doka, Poás volcano and La Paz waterfalls.

Day 3

Osa Peninsula

Days 4-5

At leisure.

Day 6

By road over the border to Boquete, Panama.

Day 7

Guided cloud-forest safari.

Day 8

Transfer to Boca Chica.

Days 9-11

At leisure on the Pacific coast.

Day 12

Fly from David to Panama City.

Day 13

Transfer to Panama City for international flight home.

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What our experts say

This is a lovely itinerary for those searching for a holiday that offers some adventure as well as time to relax. Whether it’s a private cottage overlooking the Pacific Ocean or a stylish country inn in Panama’s highlands, I love that the properties we’ve selected for this holiday – they all allow for total relaxation before the next day’s explorations.

Paul

Paul Winrow-Giffin

Travel Consultants

Places visited on this holiday

Explore and Relax Costa Rica and Panama Coast: Pacific route

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San Jose, central highlands and central valleys
Central San José
Costa Rica’s busy capital, San José, is a city on the move, where the choking traffic and crowds are mitigated by the eager friendliness of the people. There are some good museums and excellent restaurants but no colonial core: it’s a modern place, full of offices, North American style bars and malls - many US citizens visit or are resident in the country and their cultural influence is strong. The landscapes around however are delicious, both in the rolling coffee country of the highlands and in the fertile central valley, watched over by the smouldering Poás and Irazú volcanoes.
When's the best time to go to San Jose and central highlands?

If good weather is your priority, choose the dry season Dec - Apr when there is plenty of sun. The green (i.e. rainy) season is quieter in terms of number of visitors. San José, at 1,150m, has a pleasant climate with temperatures averaging 15-25°C.

What's the official language of San Jose and central highlands?

Spanish.

How do I get local currency in San Jose and central highlands?

Colón. Notes can be withdrawn from the many ATMs using a UK credit or debit card. You may have to authorise your bank first, and withdrawals may be limited to amounts lower than in the UK. US dollars cash can be exchanged in banks too.

What's the time difference between San Jose and central highlands?

GMT -5 hours.

What places combine well with San Jose and central highlands?

A visit to the Caribbean or Pacific coasts for a beach wind down; Arenal, in the north, the most spectacular volcano; Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, for excellent bird watching. There are light aircraft flights from San José airport to many destinations. Costa Rica is a tiny country so road journeys, even winding ones through the highlands, are relatively short. Some roads are in good condition while others are poor and  require 4WD vehicles

How do I get to San Jose and central highlands?

There is a direct flight from London Gatwick to San José (11 hrs) as well as non-direct flights via US and European hubs.

What are the cultural events in San Jose and central highlands?
International Arts Festival: San José, Mar. Music, dance, film art exhibitions.
Independence Day: San José, 15 Sep. music and dancing in the streets starting the evening before.
El Tope: San José, 26 Dec. A horse parade through the city is followed by fairs, fireworks and bull-running south of the city.

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Osa Peninsula
Osa Peninsula
At the southern end of Costa Rica’s Pacific coastline, the Osa Peninsula’s rainforest vegetation contrasts with the open pastures of the northern Nicoya Peninsula. Here, in a remote region not easy to navigate in the wet season, there are opportunities for outdoor adventure and getting enveloped by nature. Wildlife reserves have been established throughout this lush region, notably Corcovado National Park, with magnificent biodiversity, sheltering rare species of mammals including the Central American squirrel monkey, white-faced capuchins, ocelots and tapirs. Caimans and crocodiles lurk watchful in the dark lagoons; a rare harpy eagle may circle overhead.
When's the best time to visit Osa Peninsula?

If good weather is your priority, choose the dry season Dec-Apr when there is plenty of sun. The green (i.e. rainy) season is quieter in terms of number of visitors. It’s hot and humid all year round.

What's the official language of Osa Peninsula?

Spanish.

How do I get local currency in Osa Peninsula?
Colón. Notes can be withdrawn from ATMs in San José using a UK credit or debit card. You may have to authorise your bank first, and withdrawals may be limited to amounts lower than in the UK. US dollars cash can be exchanged in banks too. Stock up with your local currency needs before travelling to the Osa Peninsula.
What's the time difference between Osa Peninsula and UK?

GMT -5 hours.

What places combine well with Osa Peninsula?

Arenal, in the north, the most spectacular volcano; Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, for excellent bird watching; Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast for wildlife and turtle watching. Costa Rica is a tiny country so road journeys, even winding ones through the highlands, are relatively short. Some roads are in good condition while others require 4WD vehicles.

How do I get to Osa Peninsula?

By light aircraft from San José to Palmar Sur. By road along the Pan-American Highway to Puerto Jiménez. From Puerto Jiménez there is an air taxi service to Carate and San Pedrillo.

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Boquete and the Chiriquí Highlands
Coffee Plantation in Boquete Panama

Inland from David on the sultry coast, the highlands of Chiriquí province provide a welcome relief from the humidity. The cool mountain air, rugged mist-shrouded hills, Alpine forests and boulder-strewn rivers come together to create a delightful landscape, while the fertile volcanic soils produce an abundance of coffee and citrus fruits. Visitors flock to the attractive town of Boquete, a centre for outdoor adventures. The volcano Barú (3,475m) looms above the town and River Caldera runs through a steep gorge, while the La Amistad National Park straddles the border with Costa Rica with hiking trails, bathing pools and waterfalls.

When to go

Temperatures in the highlands (1,000m) are uniformly high at 25°C all year round but at altitude the air is much fresher than on the coast. The rainy season is Apr-Nov while Jan-Mar is fairly dry. The region lies outside the main hurricane belt.

Language

Spanish.

Getting local currency

Balboa. The national currency is at parity with the US dollar, and only US banknotes are used. (There are some local coins equivalent to US cents). There are  ATMs in main towns and cities (including one in Boquete) where you can use a UK credit or debit card. You may have ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the  UK and amounts may be limited. You are best advised to acquire dollar bills before travelling to the province. Panamanians are sometimes reluctant to accept US dollar notes of higher denominations.

Time difference

GMT -5 hrs.

Combines with

A beach wind-down on the Caribbean Bocas del Toro archipelago, with 6 large tropical forested islands and scores of smaller ones. The islands have pristine beaches, coral reefs, and excellent snorkelling and diving.

Getting there

It’s a 1 hour flight from Panama City to David, from where it is a 1 hour drive up to Boquete (38 km) on a paved road.

Key Events
Feria de las Flores y del Café: Boquete, Jan. A festival to celebrate flowers and coffee takes place over a two week period starting the second week of the month, during the coffee harvest. It attracts vendors and visitors from well beyond the region.
Independence from Spain Day, Boquete, 28 Nov. A day-long parade of marching bands from all over the country.

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Panama City
Panama City

Panama City is more cosmopolitan than Latin, and enjoys a strategic position which has led to an eventful history, with immigrants arriving from all over the world. On the Pacific coast Panama la Vieja, the first Spanish colonial site of the city and a conduit for plundered gold and oriental silks and spices was sacked by pirates and abandoned. The city moved to what is now known as Casco Viejo where vestiges of colonial streets and buildings have been restored, cocktail bars and trendy restaurants have opened and a lively cultural hub has been established. The sky-scraper filled modern city, hub of commerce and international trade linked to the Panama Canal is an energetic quarter buzzing with shopping malls, sophisticated restaurants and entertainment. Away from the bustle along the Pacific coast, you’ll find relaxed resort hotels with a multitude of activities.

When to go

Situated well within the tropics, Panama City has a typical tropical climate with high temperatures (over 30°C) all year round. May-Nov is rainy season. The city lies outside the main hurricane belt.

Language

Spanish

Getting local currency

Balboa. The national currency is at parity with the US dollar, and only US banknotes are used. (There are some local coins equivalent to US cents). There are a few ATMs in the city where you can use a UK credit or debit card. You may have ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK, amounts may be limited, and vary from bank to bank. Notes can be obtained from exchange houses and also from banks which will supply advances on a debit or credit card. Panamanians are sometimes reluctant to accept US dollar notes of higher denominations. 

Time difference

GMT -5 hrs.

Combines with

 A couple of days staying in Soberanía National Park, where residents include a large variety of mammals, amphibians and reptiles, as well as a profusion of bird species.

Getting there

There are flights via US and European hubs, the journey from London takes around taking around 13 hours.

Key events
Carnival, Feb-Mar. is celebrated with much gusto in Panama City: costumed revelry, music and dancing culminate in a big Shrove Tuesday parade.
Semana Santa, Easter. Celebrated with religious processions. 
Independence Day, 4 Nov. A huge parade through the old city. 

Speak to an expert Travel Consultant or send us your enquiry today.

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