COSTA RICA - VOLCANOES, CLOUD FORESTS AND PACIFIC BEACHES
A family adventure full of variety. Mix with the local flora and fauna in volcanic national parks and the Monteverde cloud forest. Head west to the Nicoya Peninsula, home to stunning Pacific coast beaches, where jungle meets sea. Finish your adventures at an eco-lodge in the rainforest close to the wildlife rich San Antonio National Park.
Experience rural Costa Rica on a working coffee and cocoa plantation.
Explore the jungle canopy by zip-line or rope bridge at Arenal volcano.
Stay in a futuristic tree-house in Monteverde's cloud forest
Relax on stunning beaches and explore hidden coves on Costa Rica's Pacific Coast.
Come face to face with sloths, tree frogs, toucans and quetzals in San Antonio National Park.
Stay at an agri-tourist project in the central mountains.
THE BORING (BUT NECESSARY) BITS
Average flight time from UK: 11.5 hours (direct) 16 hours (indirect)
Total drive time: 16 hours
Longest drive: 4.5 hours
Visa free for UK passport holders
Days 1 - 3 Coffee Plantation, Central Highlands
Collect your 4x4 vehilce, drive just 30 minutes from Juan Santamaria Airport and you'll be transported to a working coffee and cocoa plantation in the beautiful hills to the north of San Jose. Your accommodation, one of National Geographic's Unique Lodges of the World, is rife for exploring with a sustainable plantation tour available, solar-heated swimming pool to enjoy and farm-to-fork cafe and restaurant to dine in. In the surrounding area, a rainforest gondola awaits at Braulio Carillo National Park, while three spectacular volcanic crater lakes form an exhilarating hike in Poas Volcano National Park! A visit to the La Paz Water Gardens, with waterfalls, a humming bird garden, frog pond, jungle-cat sanctuary and one of the world's largest butterfly observatories is a fantastic family day out and a great way to close out your first action-packed days in Costa Rica.
Days 3 – 5 Arenal Volcano
Enjoy a scenic drive north-west through incongruous green jungle as you head for one of Costa Rica's most iconic sights; the Arenal Volcano. Home to an array of adventurous activities, as well as some amazing trekking and wildlife spotting opportunities, you'll stay south of popular La Fortuna in a bio-dynamic farm set in tropical gardens and protected rainforest. Before arriving here you'll have the opportunity to stop in the small town of Sarchi, famous for traditional hand painted ox-carts, coloured with beautiful designs.
Arenal Volcano National Park has an abundance of activities to enjoy with all ages covered. Mountain bike or horse ride through pristine forests around Arenal's volcanic base; Kayak or pedal board on nearby Lake Arenal, with the towering volcano a constant backdrop; white water raft, rappel waterfalls or zip-line through lush rainforest or channel your inner macaque at a tree-climbing park. If that all sounds a bit too energetic then a series of inter-connecting rope bridges form a canopy walkway, allowing younger adventurers and adults to come eye-to-eye with luminous tree frogs and sleepy sloths.
Day 5 – 8 Nicoya Peninsula
Your adventure heads west next, in the direction of the Pacific coast. The Nicoya Peninsula is home to some of Costa Rica's best beaches from hidden coves with crystal-clear turquoise waters to great stretches of golden sands backed by lanky palms. There is so much variety along the coastline here that you can spend your days beach-hopping until you find your perfect spot, then let the kids chase the waves and build castles on the sand.
Your base will be a a stunning eco-lodge set atop a headland with sweeping views of the jungle and sea around and below. A plunge-pool and outdoor restaurant with arguably the finest views in Costa Rica await, while the on-site nature reserve is perfect for exploring with little adventurers in tow. Towering mangrove trees are home to hundreds of birds, howler monkeys, iguanas, butterflies, racoons, anteaters and coatis while the Nosara and Montana rivers are home to crocodiles, river fish, and otters. Enjoy a pre-breakfast stroll to the deafening whoops of howler monkeys or a sunset meander to the chirping of brightly coloured frogs. The small fishing village of Nosara is within walking distance with a handful of cafes and restaurants as well as delicious home-made ice-creams, a post beach treat to enjoy as you watch fishermen return, nets bulging with the days freshest catch. Snorkeling and diving here are excellent, while there are a number of surfing beaches in the area with schools catering for all ages and level of experience. It's also becoming an increasingly good whale watching destination and your local beaches are home to nesting turtles year round, while in certain seasons you can witness hundreds of tiny babies make their epic first journey from nest to sea. Your final wildlife treat is the nearby Refuge for Wildlife, an animal welfare project that specialises in reintegrating orphaned baby howler monkeys.
Day 8 - 11 Monteverde Cloud Forest
Time to leave the beaches behind and head back east to the Monteverde cloud forest. Here, two giant reserves combine to form a huge area of primary forest almost constantly draped in a blanket of cloud. No less than six different eco-systems are supported with thousands of fabulous, unique and sometimes other-worldly animals calling it home. Trekking here is spectacular and can be enjoyed by all adventurers with or without local guides. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the blustering Quetzal, Costa Rica's national bird, whose long luminous tail feathers glisten between mist wrapped pockets of jungle. There are also a number of more adventurous ways to see the cloud forest and its inhabitants with zip-lining, canopy-surfing and tree-climbing also on offer, and another fantastic aerial walkway providing eye-to-eye animal encounters. When the sun sets the cloud forest really comes alive and a guided night walk through the forest is a fantastic family experience. Let the kids lead the way, flashing torches from side to side looking to catch the red-lit eyes of a tree-hugging local.
The surrounding area is also home to a butterfly garden and bat jungle, two local initiatives aimed at supporting the wildlife rich area and educating tourists, while old-town Monteverde has an excellent local arts and food cooperative empowering local women. Locally crafted souvenirs and delicious Tico-style street food are rustled up and available at bargain prices. All of the above is accessible from your completely unique tree-top home, a giant futuristic orb-like tent with open air kitchen and dining facilities that sits high above the surrounding cloud forest. One that the adventurers of all sizes are sure to remember!
Days 11 – 14 Manuel Antonio National Park
After meandering south along the beautiful Pacific coastal road you'll arrive at the final destination on your Costa Rican adventure, Manuel Antonio National Park and it's beach and jungle surroundings. Choose to stay in a trendy beach-side villa with stunning near deserted sands on your doorstep, or venture into the nearby Fila Chonta Mountains to stay in a traditional cabana style eco-lodge. Both offer brilliant facilities for kids with a mix of beach activities, games and swimming or an authentic agricultural experience learning how to 'juice' a sugarcane or steer an ox and cart.
Manuel Antonio National Park is a short-hop from both bases and is the perfect final stop showcasing much of what Costa Rica is all about in one condense area. Animal rich rainforest fringes white sand beaches and crystal-clear turquoise waters are home to coral reefs, rich with marine life including tropical fish and turtles. The park contains a number of different trails, that range from a few hundred metres to 9 kilometres, each leading to or passing a certain destination including beaches, waterfalls, viewpoints and a turtle trap (a series of rocks positioned by indigenous tribes people to quite literally trap turtles at low-tide). It’s one giant natural adventure playground for little adventurers, who will be wide-eyed with excitement as they wander the jungle trails looking for residents before reaching the beautiful beaches for a swim and a play.
The nearby Damas Islands offer a perfect morning or afternoon excursion once you have exhausted Manuel Antonio. Enjoy a boat or kayak ride through the areas rich mangrove swamps, winding along streams into the think mangrove forest, searching out spider monkeys, green iguanas, crab-eating racoons and spectacled caimans. You may even come face to face with a crocodile or boa constrictor, while younger kids will love the shoals of stripey tropical fish swimming just below the waters surface.