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Signature: Best of Costa Rica and Nicaragua

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These two central American neighbours have a lot in common: rugged volcanoes and fertile landscapes, luscious rainforests, Pacific surf and Caribbean palm-flecked sands. Both have friendly, relaxed populations and prolific wildlife.

But there are big differences too: the heritage of Nicaragua’s colonial and revolutionary history is still very much in evidence, while Costa Rica has become one of the world’s top eco-destinations and hub of active adventures. On this holiday we introduce you to the best highlights of both countries.

We’ve put together a range of adventurous yet undemanding experiences which include a tropical river trip and an island stay on Lake Nicaragua, you get to peer down into an active volcanic crater, clamber over a Spanish colonial fortress once besieged by Nelson, and go spotting exotic birds and spider monkeys swinging through trees where iguanas laze. You’ll be staying in independent simple and hospitable lodges and small hotels carefully selected to complement a holiday where you’ll come to know and love the gentle pace of life.

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Transfer to your hotel in central San José.

Day 2

Transfer to lodge close to Arenal lake and volcano.

Day 3

The Skytram and Hanging bridges in Arenal Volcano National Park.

Day 4

Optional opportunity to luxuriate in natural hot springs at Ecotermales

Day 5

Visit Caño Negro Wildlife Reserve; boat on Rio San Juan to El Castillo, Nicaragua. Night-time caiman spotting.

Day 6

Jungle nature trail in Indio Maíz reserve; guided discovery of the fortress.

Day 7

Boat to the port of San Carlos; by road to Granada.

Day 8

City tour and boat trip on Lake Nicaragua to las Isletas.

Day 9

Night-time visit to active Masaya volcano’s crater.

Day 10

Transfer to Ometepe Island on Lake Nicaragua.

Day 11

Guided tour of the island’s cultural and natural top sights.

Day 12

Ferry to the mainland and transfer to Managua airport for international flight.

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Places visited on this holiday

Signature: Best of Costa Rica and Nicaragua

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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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Arenal and the north
Arenal Volcano
The pleasingly conical volcano Arenal rises from a skirt of thick forest and the waters of Lake Arenal. Once famous for its eruptions of molten lava, it erupts infrequently nowadays (nothing since 2010) The landscape here is ruggedly beautiful and comprises one of Costa Rica’s many conservation areas, protecting a territory of amazing biodiversity which contains half the known species of birds, mammals and reptiles in the country. It is also popular among adventure-activities enthusiasts, and visits are serviced in the formerly dozy town of La Fortuna. Cloud forest, waterfalls, caves and thermal pools – this is a diverse and captivating region.
When's the best time to visit Arenal?

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. La Fortuna, at 1,150m, has a pleasant climate with temperatures averaging 15-25°C.

What's the official language of Arenal?

Spanish.

How do I get local currency in Arenal?

Colón. Notes can be withdrawn from ATMs in La Fortuna 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. If you are not going to the town of La Fortuna, bring your cash with you from San José.

What's the time difference between Arenal and UK?

GMT -5 hours.  

What places combine with Arenal?

A beach wind-down at Manuel Antonio on the Pacific coast, or Nosara on the Nicoya Peninsula: each 5hrs by road; Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, for excellent bird watching, 3 hours by boat and bumpy road. 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 Arenal?

Fly by light aircraft from San José or travel by road from the capital, 3.5 hours.

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Rio San Juan
The beautiful 170km-long Rio San Juan marks the border with Costa Rica and runs from Lake Nicaragua to the Caribbean Sea. Strategically important, it has a hectic history of disputes and attacks from outside Nicaragua and within. The remarkable fortress at El Castillo, built by the Spanish to repel pirates (although Horatio Nelson briefly held it after capture by stealth), bears witness to that. However it’s now a peaceful waterway passing through thick tropical jungle, where efforts are being made to encourage eco-tourism. Downstream from El Castillo is the primary rainforest of the Reserva Biológica Indio Maíiz, possibly the largest nature reserve in Central America.
When to go

Situated well within the tropics, Rio San Juan has a typical tropical climate with high temperatures all year round. May - Nov is rainy season, but places on the eastern coast, the Caribbean side, tend to be rather wetter, and to have a longer rainy season, than those on the Pacific coast to the west. There’s a risk of tropical storms or hurricanes Jun - Nov.

Language

Spanish, English.

Getting local currency
Córdoba. Notes can be obtained from money exchanges (casas de cambio) and also from banks which will supply advances on a debit or credit card. There are ATMs in large towns where you can use a UK credit or debit card. You may have to ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK, and amounts may be limited. There is no ATM in el Castillo, bring dollars and córdobas with you. Obtain your local currency needs before travelling to Rio San Juan.

Time difference

GMT -6 hours.

Combines with

A stay at Morgan’s Rock, the well regarded eco-lodge on the Pacific Coast; a few days in the tranquil tropical islands of Solentiname in the southern part of the lake, a 1 hour boat ride from San Carlos at the source of the river.

Getting there

San Carlos, at the lake end of the river, is reached by air from Managua (1hr) or by scenic drive through rolling cattle country on a paved (in 2013) road (3-4hrs). El Castillo is accessible by river from San Carlos, although a bridge makes road access possible from 2014. San Juan del Norte is accessed from Nicaragua by air or by road (3-4hrs) to San Carlos then by river via el Castillo (8-9hrs); there is an erratic service to Bluefields.

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Granada
The gorgeous colonial city of Granada is a paradox: now the country’s principal emblem of restoration and beautification, it has a history of piracy and pillage. The oldest city in Central America is nowadays quiet, peaceful and easily explored on foot, but increasingly seen by foreigners as an attractive place to buy a home, as is the case in Antigua, Guatemala or San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.  Squatting on the lakeshore and at the foot of Mombacho volcano it has a romantic setting almost unequalled on the continent.
When to go

Granada has a typical tropical climate with high temperatures all year round May-Nov is rainy season, but the countryside looks its best at this time. It can be windy Nov - Feb. Hurricanes possible Jun - Nov.

Language

Spanish.

Getting local currency

Córdoba. There are several banks with ATMs where you can use a UK credit or debit card. You may have to ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK and amounts may be limited.

Time difference

GMT -6 hours.

Combines with
A visit to Granada’s historical rival, colonial León (114 km); Ometepe Island, reached by road and ferry (50 km).
Getting there

An hour’s drive from Managua.

Key events

La Hípica, Granada, 2nd week Sep. Horse riding events preceded by bull running through the town’s streets.

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Ometepe Island
Ometepe Island
Relaxed, tranquil Ometepe  - the largest freshwater island in the world, rising from Lake Nicaragua, is dominated by the twin volcanoes of Concepción and Maderas. There’s a timeless feel to the place, where legends and jaguar cults are still in circulation, and the people lead a traditional rural lifestyle avoiding the boisterous political events of the country.  The volcanic landscapes are partially blanketed with luxuriant jungle vegetation populated by monkeys and a plethora of bird species. Thanks to the rich, fertile soil, the slopes and flatter parts of the island are peppered with citrus, banana, watermelon, avocado and cacao plantations.
When to go

The island has a typical tropical climate with high temperatures all year round at low altitude. May - Nov is rainy season, but the countryside looks its best at this time. It can be windy Nov - Feb. Hurricanes possible Jun - Nov.

Language

Spanish.

Getting local currency

Córdoba. There’s a bank with an ATM close to the pier where you can use a UK credit or debit card. You may have to ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK, and amounts may be limited.

Time difference

GMT -6 hours.

Combines with
A visit to colonial Granada on the lakeshore; a boat adventure down the tropical San Juan river to the west of the lake. 
Getting there

There are boat connections from Granada and San Carlos, or a 1 hour public ferry from San Jorge to Moyogalpa.

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

Tailor-made holiday

Our specialists have been expertly crafting award-winning tailor-made holidays to Latin America for over 37 years.
We would be delighted to create a truly personalised trip which perfectly matches your wishes and requirements.

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