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Off the beaten track Costa Rica: National parks and private reserves

13 days from £2,458pp

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Off the beaten track Costa Rica: National parks and private reserves:
Trip Dossier

For decades Costa Rica has been a leading light in conservation, and as a result over a quarter of its territory is given over to well managed national parks and private nature reserves. Many of the parks are popular and much visited, with many facilities of all kinds for tourists, all of which provides for a very different experience from the remote wilderness adventure that many wildlife enthusiasts are hoping for.

So for this holiday we have selected a few of our favourite parks and reserves which, although situated in stunning locations, don’t have the infrastructure to receive hoards of visitors. Among them are Carara National Park and the rugged hills and beaches close to Ojochal. Accommodation is in delightful rustic eco-lodges, usually small and family-run, which offer the opportunity to understand how real life is lived in these bucolic areas.  Again, we’ve picked out the best. At these lodges you’ll have the opportunity to participate in optional or included activities, anything from crocodile spotting to coffee tours.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Transfer from the airport to your countryside lodge.

Day 2

Guided discovery of the Carara National Park and crocodile spotting on Rio Tarcoles.

Day 3

Transfer to Santa Juana Lodge inland from the Pacific coast.

Day 4

Activities from the lodge.

Day 5

Transfer to Trogon Lodge close to San Gerado de Dota.

Day 6

Guided activities from the lodge.

Day 7

Transfer to Ojochal area.

Day 8

Activities from the lodge

Day 9

Travel north up the coast to Dominical and Playa Uvita.

Day 10

Free time on the beach or explore the area.

Day 11

Transfer to San José.

Day 12

Transfer to the airport for your international flight.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Transfer from the airport to your countryside lodge.
 
Macaws

Travel west by road for an hour from San José airport to Cerro Lodge, situated close to Carara National Park. Carara National Park hosts a wide range of ecosystems ranging from lakes and swamps to sub- tropical rainforest. The park sits between the dry forests of the north and the humid zones of the south. Many endangered and threatened species live and breed here, such as the American crocodile. Carara is also considered a sanctuary for the scarlet macaw, as well as many other bird species: tiger herons, egrets, sand-pipers, stilts, tanagers, honeycreepers, trogons, toucans among them.

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Macaws

Day 2

Guided discovery of the Carara National Park and crocodile spotting on Rio Tarcoles.
 
Rio Tarcoles crocodile

Start with a guided nature walk in the park, where there are opportunities to spot sloth and moneys in addition to an abundance of tropical birds, including the scarlet macaw. This is followed by a well organised river safari where the star attractions are the huge crocodiles which can reach four metres in length, although bird life is also plentiful here including hawks and different types of heron. There have been crocodiles on Earth for over 200 million years, during which time they haven't evolved much - so the toothy creatures have a really prehistoric air. You can also see iguanas and basilisks basking in their natural habitat.

Your covered boat will be steered by a Captain and a bilingual guide will also accompany you, both of them able to navigate expertly in order to maximise the opportunity of spotting these gigantic reptiles. They can also tell you about all the fauna and flora of the river, pausing to let you photograph and film the wildlife at close range.

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Rio Tarcoles crocodile

Day 3

Transfer to Santa Juana Lodge inland from the Pacific coast.
 
Manuel Antonio

The journey to your next lodge takes you along the coastal section of the Pan American Highway. This small, family-friendly property is situated an hour’s drive on a bumpy road inland from Quepos (25km) on the Pacific coast, so the drive gives you the enhance to survey a varied mix of landscapes from palm plantations up through typical rolling Costa Rican countryside.

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Manuel Antonio

Day 4

Activities from the lodge.
 
man in Santa Juana

Various activities are on offer at the lodge, such as horse riding, waterfall swimming, coffee and nature tours. We recommend maybe taking a canopy zip-line tour for a bird’s eye view of the forest at tree-top level, and maybe visit a sugar-cane plantation to learn about the production techniques for this nowadays much maligned product.  

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man in Santa Juana

Day 5

Transfer to Trogon Lodge close to San Gerado de Dota.
 
trogon lodge

It’s a journey of about three hours along highways and latterly steep, unmade roads to San Gerardo de Dota, huddled up against the Talamanca mountain range which dominates the landscape. Tourism hasn't yet made its mark on this little settlement nestled in the Savegre river valley, although it’s a launch point for visits to Los Quetzales National Park and a base for hikers and bird watchers. The terrain is rugged and hilly: a collage of green trees and mountains; a peaceful setting soothed by the sounds of the river.

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trogon lodge

Day 6

Guided activities from the lodge.
 
Quetzal

This is one of Costa Rica's prime areas for opportunities to spot the glorious resplendent quetzal, owing to the temperate climate and the abundance of tropical fruit bearing trees. With its bright green, crimson and gold plumage, this striking (but sadly endangered) bird has been adopted as the national bird of Guatemala and the currency of that country; is revered by the Mayans of the era of empire and the present day who use its feathers in their traditional head-dresses.  Accompanied by an experienced guide, your chances of spotting one are pretty good. 

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Quetzal

Day 7

Transfer to Ojochal area.
 
yaba chigui lodge activities

Climb out of the Savegre valley. The road continues to rise as you wind your way up to the highest point (3,335m) on the off-puttingly named Cerro de la Muerte (Death Hill - nowadays however, to reassure visitors, it’s more appealingly known as Cerro Buena Vista  (Lovely View Hill).

On a clear day views of the Talamanca mountain range are spectacular. Now the road descends an unpaved all the way down to your lodge (you switch to one of the lodge's vehicles; the driver knows the route well and can stop to point out wildlife) at sea level where the climate is sub-tropical, with vegetation to match.

Yaba Chigui Lodge is a friendly eco-lodge situated in the hills behind the southern Pacific coast.

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yaba chigui lodge activities

Day 8

Activities from the lodge
 
yaba chigui lodge activity

Bookable at the hotel are many optional activities you can choose from including whale watching (in season), snorkelling, scuba diving, canyoning, white-water rafting, deep sea fishing, stand-up paddling and horse-riding (pay locally for these). We recommend a trip out to the marine reserve at Caño Island, where you can snorkel in clear, sapphire blue water lapping suntanned beaches. There have been interesting pre-Columbian artifacts found here too including Diquis stones, spherical petroglyphs attributed to an now extinct culture. 

Alternatively spend the day relaxing on this tranquil property.

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yaba chigui lodge activity

Day 9

Travel north up the coast to Dominical and Playa Uvita.
 
Uvita Beach

Dominical is a beach-front town well known for its year-round Pacific rollers; making it popular among surfers. The gorgeous, whale-tail shaped beach at Uvita is a popular destination for whale-watching, especially in March and September. If you are visiting between August and September or January and April, you can sign up for a water-borne expedition in search of these huge yet curious mammals as they breach the surface of the ocean or swim alongside the boat. 

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Uvita Beach

Day 10

Free time on the beach or explore the area.
 
Whale jumping

You are staying at La Cusinga, an eco-lodge tucked away in a private rainforest reserve, with sweeping views over the Pacific and a sandy palm-shaded beach studded with natural pools. The property sits on the border of Ballena Marine National Park, one of only two nationally protected marine zones in the country. Here you can observe abundant wildlife on gentle trail hikes and take a dip in natural swimming holes. Sport fishing, surfing, kayaking, horse riding, sailing and snorkelling among schools of tropical fish, turtles and octopuses are also popular additional activities available to book from the lodge. It’s not all action though: the property has a spa with yoga classes, and you are welcome just to sit back and enjoy a tangerine sunset with a cocktail in your hand.  

Close by, a number of French expatriates and North Americans have settled in the village of Ocotal and opened high end restaurants offering mouth-watering takes on Costa Rican and French cuisine. 

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Whale jumping

Day 11

Transfer to San José.
 
Uvita NP

It’s a four-five hour drive to your accommodation, set in leafy gardens in a peaceful location outside the capital but close to the airport.

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Uvita NP

Day 12

Transfer to the airport for your international flight.

Essential information

Vaccination

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following; typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. For specific requirements you must consult your GP.

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website.

Visa

Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins.  Anyone with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the relevant consulate.

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:

ESTA - if flying to, or via, the USA, you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online. This costs $14 per person, and must be applied for by you personally.
Passports must also be e-passports with digital chip.. Avoid locking suitcases if transiting the USA, as their customs authorities retain the right to break into them.

APIS - Many countries now oblige airlines to provide additional information about passengers prior to the flight departure. This Advance Passenger Information (APIS) must be supplied to us promptly in order to issue tickets and avoid fare increases. We will provide the airlines with the relevant details if we are booking your international flights. If the information is not provided you may be denied boarding.

Transport

64 road journeys (longest 4.5 hrs).

Accommodation

Stay at small, intimate and mostly family-run eco-lodges, rustic but comfortable, with a wildlife and outdoor activity focus as well as offering peaceful relaxation.

Meals

Breakfast daily.

Guides

English speaking guides with good wildlife knowledge.

Included excursions

• Guided excursion in Carara National Park and Rio Tarcoles crocdile spotting.
• Guided excursions and activities at Santa Juana Lodge.
• Guided excursion to spot quetzals in San Gerardo de Dota forests.
• Whale-watching at Uvita (depending on season)

Summary of nights

12 days, 11 nights: Carara 2; Naranjito 2; San Gerardo de Dota 2; Ojochal 2; Dominical 2; Alujela 1.

Included in the journey price

• Services of our team of experts in our London office.
• Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides.
• All land transport within Latin America.
• Accommodation as specified.
• Meals as specified.
• Excursions as specified, including entrance fees

Not included in the journey price

• Tips and gratuities
• Meals other than specified.
• International flights to Latin America.
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket
• Optional excursions.

Currency

The unit of currency in Costa Rica is the colón.

How to take it

Cash machines are available in San José airport: taking a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip and in many shops and restaurants you can also pay by card. However, since cards can get lost, damaged, withheld or blocked, you should not rely exclusively on a card to access funds.

We recommend that additionally you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can exchange into local currency in San José at the beginning of your trip. Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can exchange sterling but the rate may be unfavourable and there are fewer outlets providing this service.

Tipping

Tips are welcomed and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. 

Most service industry workers will welcome a tip of some kind and so it is useful to have spare change for hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common to leave 10 - 12% in restaurants.

Insurance

Travel insurance is essential. 

Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance page.

Airport taxes

Departure tax is included in he price of the ticket.

Journey grade

Generally this holiday is suitable for all able, reasonably fit visitors, including families with children.

Climate

The trip covers climates ranging from tropical lowland to more temperate zones in the highlands. Those travelling between May and October journeys should encounter high temperatures (around 35°C) and high humidity in the lowlands. The ‘official’ rainy (green) season is May to October. 

Clothing and special equipment

Bring plenty of light cotton clothing and good, comfortable walking shoes.  A waterproof jacket is also necessary. We suggest that you plan to ‘layer’ your clothing; it is easier and more efficient to put on a couple of light layers than one thick jumper, and sensible to have long sleeves for areas where mosquitos may be lurking. Sandals are a good informal option for evenings. Protection against the sun (sunblock, sun hat) and mosquito repellent are essential and you should bring swimwear. A daypack is useful for carrying sunblock, guidebook, water and any extra layers. If you have your own binoculars we strongly recommend taking them.

Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts. Good equipment is very important and hard to come by in Central America.
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