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Private Journeys

Self-drive Costa Rica: Coast to coast adventures

14 days from £2,170pp

(based on two people sharing & excluding flights)

Costa Rica


map marker Map

Day 1

Arrive in San José and transfer to your hotel.

You will be met at the airport by our local representative who will take you to your hotel in the modern capital. You will not need to collect your hire car until day 4 as days 2 and 3 of your trip will be spent in a region only accessible by boat or air.

You will stay at the Presidente hotel in San José.

Stay at - Presidente

Day 2

Drive and boat to Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast.

Today you’ll head off to discover the Caribbean coast with a few days most rewarding wildlife spotting. This is true wilderness: it isn’t the Caribbean of resort hotels, sugary beaches and weak piña coladas. You’re driven for 3-4hr northeast, including a short bumpy ride through banana plantations to Caño Blanco dock.

Then you have an hour’s boat ride along the shore hugged by twisted mangrove swamps before you arrive in the small, ramshackle and remote village of Tortuguero and your lodge  Turtle Beach Lodge.


Day 3

Wildlife spotting excursions from your lodge.

Set off on a wildlife adventure on a guided boat trip through the mangrove forest of Tortuguero National Park, now one of the last protected areas of tropical rainforest in Central America, with 11 different natural habitats and a huge range of endemic wildlife, much of which can be spotted as you glide through the water.

There are 3 species of monkeys (spider, howler, and white-faced), three-toed sloths, and river otters are often seen along the natural inland waterways and canals. Caiman, iguanas, river turtles, lizards and poison dart frogs inhabit the area, along with over 320 species of birds including 3 of toucan and 8 of parrot. The park was originally intended to conserve a major nesting beach of the Atlantic green sea turtle: if you travel between June and October you might be lucky enough to see them laying their eggs.


Mary Anne Nelson ©

Day 4

Drive to Sarapiqui.

Return by boat and road heading back towards San José but only as far as Guapiles where you will be met by our representative who will deliver your hire car. Drive on a quiet rural road for approximately an hour to Sarapiqui.

The small town has become a popular base in which to take advantage of the wonderful forested national parks in the area, dispersed between banana and pineapple plantations. It has several low key hotels and restaurants. The Rio Sarapiquí runs just east of the main street and is popular for rafting on its rapids and bird-watching. Numerous other activities in the area include mountain-biking, boat trips and canopying.

Your accommodation is  La quinta de Sarapiquí Country Inn, a secluded ranch-style lodge is set in the plains of northern Sarapiquí, surrounded by cattle ranches, fruit plantations and rainforest.

Tom Parrott ©

Stay at - La Quinta de Sarapiquí Country Inn

Day 5

Explore Tirimbina Reserve. Drive to Monteverde in the cloud forest.

The morning is at leisure to explore the Tirimbina Reserve, which caters for research and recreation in this rainforest environment including some walking trails, suspension bridges and a chocolate tour explaining about cacao cultivation in the area.

Later, drive up to Monteverde in cloud forest-clad mountains. This is one of the longest and most interesting drives of the trip as there is no direct route to Monteverde. You have to go back via San José or via La Fortuna which can take up to 5 hours but the scenery is very rewarding as you wind road through lowland plantations and sub-tropical foliage then head into the mist shrouded rainforest, where the foliage dwarfs everything in its shadow.

The road is single lane until the last 3km where it becomes steep and bumpy with volcanic rock as you head towards the final area of cloud forest at around 1,400m above sea level. You can expect it to be dusty in the dry season and muddy in the wet. However you should be diverted by wildlife you spot along the way – sloths, monkeys and tropical birds – keep your binoculars handy.


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Stay at - Cloud Forest Lodge

Day 6

At leisure to discover forest trails and ride on a zip line.

Visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve accompanied by a naturalist guide. The reserve includes a protected area comprising 6 different life zones. So many habitats in such a small area, along with extensive trail improvements, allow visitors to enjoy a rich diversity of flora and fauna with relatively short distance and easy walking.

The reserve was founded in 1972 and extends down both slopes of the Tilarán Mountains. It is home to more than 100 species of mammals, 400 of birds and 1,500 of plants. Walking along the well-marked trails, amidst dense, dripping foliage, you are likely to encounter the Resplendent quetzal (Jan – Jul. Occasionally a dozen or more individuals at once). Other species include the three-wattled bellbird, the emerald toucanet, and white-faced and howler monkeys.


ShutterStock ©

Stay at - Cloud Forest Lodge

Day 7

Drive from Monteverde to Arenal volcano area.

Drive to Arenal, the region home to the famous Arenal volcano. It’s 136km to the nearby town of La Fortuna. Owing to the mountainous terrain, there is no direct route. The first part of the drive, from Monteverde to Tilarán, is along a road in poor condition; unpaved and uneven. Your accommodation, Rancho Margot, has views over Lake Arenal and the conical volcano. Due to its remote setting you will need to head north towards Arenal volcano and then skirt the lake. Views can be quite breathtaking.

A modest 1,674m high but an impressive conical mountain dominating the surroundings, Arenal volcano last erupted in 1998. These days, lava flow and volcanic eruptions are infrequent and there has not been any significant activity since 2010. However, as seismic activity is often unpredictable the situation may change by the time you travel. Even without any recent volcanic activity, the region is still considered to be one of the highlights of a visit to Costa Rica.


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Stay at - Rancho Margot

Day 8

Visit La Fortuna Falls and the hanging bridges.

At leisure to explore the rainforest close to Arenal. There’s a 3km long trail taking you through primary forest over bridges so you get a real close-up experience as you spot wildlife and exotic plants. There should be good views of the Arenal volcano and neighbouring reservoir. The trail is linked by 6 hanging bridges and 80 fixed bridges, some measuring up to 22m in length and constructed from steel and aluminium to ‘blend with the natural environment.’ With a maximum grade of 7 degrees the carefully engineered trail is accessible to most ages and levels of fitness.

ShutterStock ©

Stay at - Rancho Margot

Day 9

Discover Caño Negro wildlife.

At leisure to explore Caño Negro. This remote reserve near the Nicaraguan border is a lowland forested wetland set up to protect migratory birds. It has become renowned for opportunities to observe water-loving birds, especially during migrations. It’s an enchanting 3hr boat trip up the Río Frío through the reserve to Caño Negro lake, a shallow overflow from the river in the wet season (it’s dry in March-April).

En route you’ll be watching out for sloths, monkeys, caimans, bats and tropical flora. It’s possible to drive the 1.5 to 2 hours to Los Chiles 4km from the border and trips into the park can be arranged from there or if you fancy a break from driving we can arrange it for you from La Fortuna where many trips depart from early in the morning.

Costa Rican Tourist Board ©

Stay at - Rancho Margot

Day 10

Drive to Rincón de la Vieja.

Drive from Arenal to Rincón de la Vieja. Follow a road through rural Costa Rica flanked by fields and low-lying vegetation. After 2.5hrs you arrive at a junction where you turn off onto a bumpy dirt track for a further 1.5hrs, with views of mist-swathed Rincón de La Vieja National Park.

The verdant park straddles the Guanacaste Cordillera. Its terrain ranges from tropical forest to lower mountain rainforest. There’s an abundance of wildlife particularly of birds and butterflies, and the country’s national flower – the cattleya skinneri orchid. The park’s main attraction though, is its active 1,895m volcano. There are also numerous waterfalls, fumaroles, boiling mud pools and geysers.



Stay at - Hacienda Guachipelin

Day 11

At leisure to raft, hike or go horse-riding.

Your accommodation, Hacienda Guachipelin, is a historic working farm with some contemporary touches. A wide range of classic Costa Rican outdoor activities can be undertaken from the lodge, including horse riding, mountain biking, zip-lining and water rafting. There is also a choice of slower-paced nature tours, including a visit to the butterfly farm.


Stay at - Hacienda Guachipelin

Day 12

Drive to Guanacaste on the Pacific coast.

As you drive on through Guanacaste to the Pacific coast temperatures start to rise, the cool mist turns to a dry heat and the landscape takes on a golden glow. Start off on a gravel track following signs to Liberia (2hrs). It is a pleasant drive.

The lush rainforest gives way to more arid, scorched vegetation as temperatures soar in the coastal area of Guanacaste province. You are heading for the beach at Playa Panama, less than half an hour’s drive from Liberia.

Panama Beach’s rock-free, smooth, toffee-coloured sand is great for sunbathing. With its sheltered position south of Culebra Bay the swimming conditions are perfect. Additionally, the region’s abundant good weather may entice you out on the water: sailing, scuba diving, and sport fishing are popular activities. There are a number of resort hotels and other leisure developments currently under construction there but it remains a balmy, peaceful place with wonderful sunsets.


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Stay at - Casa Conde Beach Front

Day 13

At leisure on the beach.

At leisure to relax or explore the national park.


Stay at - Casa Conde Beach Front

Day 14

Drop off car at Liberia airport and take 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
Bartolome, Galápagos

Meet our team

Real Latin american experts

  • Mary
    Mary Anne Nelson - Travel Expert

    Born in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, Mary’s insider knowledge and dry sense of humour make her a highly valued member of the Tailor-made Holidays and Group Tour sales team.

  • Juliet
    Juliet Ellwood - Travel Expert

    After graduating with a degree in Anthropology and History and having been fascinated by Latin America since childhood by the book featuring photos of Nazca, Juliet first visited the region in 2003. Since then, Juliet has visited the majority of countries in Latin America but has particularly extensive experience with Peru, a country she loves for many reasons but not least, its incredible archaeological richness and delicious food!

  • Chris
    Chris Rendell-Dunn - Travel Expert

    Anglo-Peruvian Chris grew up in Lima and spent much of his adult life in between London and Cusco as a tour leader, before settling permanently in our London-based Tailor-made and Group Tours sales team.

  • Heloise
    Heloise Buxton - Travel Expert

    Heloise started her Latin American journey as an exchange student in Santiago, Chile. With extended summer holidays this was the perfect opportunity to backpack through Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Brazil.

  • Kathryn
    Kathryn Rhodes - Travel Expert

    Kathryn backpacked across Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru before joining us. She has a degree in Philosophy and French and is a keen netball player.

  • Lina
    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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