About Costa Rica & Nicaragua Travel
Arenal: The rainforest is accessible through an elaborate system of eight fixed and six hanging bridges and footpaths known as the Arenal Hanging Bridges. This adventure in the treetops features more than three kilometers/two miles of hiking trails through spectacular lowland rainforest. Rappelling, rafting, caving, lake windsurfing and relaxing in natural hot springs are all on the menu.
Bajos del Toro: In a valley in the central highlands, Bajos del Toro is largely unknown. It is unrivaled in its cloud forest setting surrounded by lush vegetation and waterfalls. Nearby Poas Volcano National Park covers about 65 kilometers/6,000 acres near the Pacific coast. The main crater is 290 meters/950 feet deep and is active with small geyser and eruptions. Also nearby is the lesser explored Juan Castro Blanco National Park has an extensive but rugged trail system. The park shelters turkey, peacock, falcon, monkey, coyote and armadillo. Archaeological finds have linked the area to ancient cultures.
Guanacaste: From the northern area of Papagayo down to Montezuma on the Nicoya Peninsula, the area is rich in outdoor activities. Stunning shoreline and great bird watching combine with horseback riding, surfing and snorkeling to make this just the right combination of sports and relaxation. The eastern border of Guanacaste is a chain of volcanoes that stretch out to join the Cordillera de Guanacaste and Cordillera de Tilaran mountain ranges. Excellent trails take hikers to the summit of some of these volcanoes.
Manuel Antonio National Park: With an area of just 16 square kilometers/4,014 acres, it is the smallest of Costa Rica’s national parks, yet as many as 150,000 travelers a year come to its beautiful beaches and forest hiking trails. Forest, mangrove swamps, lagoons and beach habitats shelter 109 species of mammals and 184 types of birds. Twelve small isles off the coast see dolphins and migrating whales. Quiet Quepos spreads across a tropical inlet surrounded by primary rainforest. The small town center has restaurants, galleries and shops.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve: Majestic trees, wild orchids, bromeliads and a wealth of ferns, vines and mosses welcome travelers. The cloud forest is perpetually nurtured by mists from the coast. The primeval world of this old-growth cloud forest is filled with birds such as the three wattled bellbird and elusive resplendent Quetzal, and is home to jaguar, ocelot and Baird´s tapir. Splendid trees are richly adorned with orchids. Its treetop Sky Trek cable-and-harness system provides exciting bird’s eye views of the jungle canopy.
Osa Peninsula: There are no roads to the remote northern part of Corcovado National Park, a pristine primary forest that supports scarlet macaws, anteaters, monkeys, and tiny frogs inhabit this terrain. Many consider this the crown jewel in Costa Rica’s extensive system of national parks and biological reserves. Indeed, the peninsula is home to at least half of all species living in Costa Rica. Optional fishing or horseback excursions are available.
San Jose: Costa Rica’s capital city is modern and energetic with a bustling economy and a welcoming attitude. Founded in 1738, San Jose became the capital in 1823, and its university was established in 1843. The city retains hints of elegant, old-world character. Both the national theater and Melico Salazar Theatre maintain busy slates of productions in season. The National Museum of History is another valued asset; and the Gold Museum has an unusual collection of gold artifacts from ancient Latin American civilizations. Lankester Botanical Gardens is just outside the city. A player on the international stage as well, the city is headquarters to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Nearby are the tranquil La Paz Waterfalls with its hummingbird, orchid and butterfly gardens.
South Caribbean Coast: Wild and beautiful with pounding surf, gorgeous white sand beaches and prehistoric rainforests, Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast is ideal for nature lovers. Inland rainforests reach all the way down to touch the coastline. Christopher Columbus landed along here in 1502. The country’s 201 kilometers/125 miles of shoreline lies within Limon province, yet, this is one of the country’s least traveled areas. Typically hot and humid most of the year, the region receives the highest amount of rainfall, especially May to August, and December to January. A plethora of activities include outstanding diving and snorkeling and superb sport fishing. The Cahuita National Park here is also home to some of the last remaining indigenous Indian tribes of Costa Rica.
Tortuguero National Park: This park encompasses 11 different habitats, from high rainforest to marsh. It protects a fabulous array of wildlife, including more than 375 bird species, 57 species of amphibians and 111 varieties of reptiles, including three types of marine turtles, and 60 mammal species. Here, 13 of Costa Rica’s 16 endangered animals are found, including jaguars, tapirs, ocelots, cougars, river otters and manatees. The beach runs between the Caribbean and a narrow lagoon. Behind the lagoon, a coastal rainforest is traversed by streams fed by rivers flowing from the central mountain ranges, and by heavy rains. This is an important sea turtle nesting site from June to October. It is the third-most visited park in Costa Rica only reachable by air or boat.
Turrialba Volcano National Park: Just two and half hours from San Jose, this area is a great option for exploring more off-the-beaten-path areas while still having access to adventure options such as horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking and whitewater rafting. The Pacuare River is ranked as one of the top five rivers in the world for whitewater rafting! What earns the river this acclaim is its 29 kilometers/18 miles of Class III-IV rapids and some of the most breathtaking scenery in all of Costa Rica. The volcano is still active, but the last major eruptions were between 1864 and 1868. Nature combined with culture makes this truly a hidden gem.
Uvita and Dominical: Just an hour south of the more popular Manuel Antonio, this area offers small hotels with spectacular views, rainforest, surfing and a great base for those interested in Corcovado National Park. It is less sophisticated than other Costa Rica locales, but with remarkable rainforest. Dominical and Uvita are beach-front towns known for surfing. Both are growing but still retain that relaxed casual attitude. Rock climbing, zip lining, parasailing, boating and, of course, surfing.
Granada: Established in 1524, Granada is the oldest European-founded city in Nicaragua, the second oldest in Central America, and the third oldest in the Americas. It grew up on the shores of the great lake of Nicaragua. Named after Spanish Granada, the city reveals its history in its colonial churches, narrow streets and large homes built around beautiful indoor patios. Sites include La Merced Church, the museum within Casa de los Tres Mundos, the colonial house of the Zamora family, who have lived here for generations, and the San Francisco Convent. The convent, and the church it is attached to, were first erected in 1525, but pirates burned down the convent 1665. Today the convent-cum-museum is noted for its ancient catacombs beneath the convent and church, where priests and others have been buried since 1546, with an estimated 75,000 people now buried in the catacombs’ walls.
Jicaro Island: This private island is just a few minutes boat ride from Granada. It boasts spectacular views of the Mombacho Volcano and other small islands in Lake Granada. Ages ago, when Mombacho Volcano erupted, 365 isletas were created, including Jicaro. Now it is an upscale nature resort developed in harmony with its surroundings and with the local community. It is a true ecolodge – from water and energy generation, to local, organic foods, to employing local staff. Activities include stellar bird watching, kayaking, yoga classes, zip lining, hiking a volcano and artisanal fishing.
Masaya Volcano: This is Nicaragua’s first and largest national park, one of 78 protected areas in Nicaragua. The complex volcano is composed of a set of nested calderas and craters, the largest of which is Las Sierras shield volcano and caldera. The park was established in 1979, and encompasses cloud forest and a beautiful volcanic lake, Masaya Lagoon. It also features an environmental interpretation center, with a model of the park, paintings by Nicaraguan artists showing the geological history of the volcano. The park’s wildlife includes coyotes, skunks, raccoons, opossums, deer, iguanas, and monkeys. A short distance away is the Masaya Arts and Crafts Market, considered by many to be the greatest craft hub in Central America. Best known for its 19th century artisan market, common crafts include hammocks, leather, fabric and wood items as well as local ceramics.
Matagalpa: Matagalpa is Nicaragua’s sixth largest city but the second most important city in Nicaragua. It sports nicknames such as the “Pearl of the North” and “Land of Eternal Spring.” It was originally an indigenous village of the Matagalpa Indians, who had their own language (which has been extinct since the late 1800s). The Matagalpa were known for creating ceramics in a style known as “Ceramica Negra” and “Naranja Segovia.” They also created stone statues representing their chieftain and warriors. The Spanish feared their bravery and skill with bows. Indeed, Spain tried to subdue them for 300 years, and they were never fully successful. Matagalpa is located on the continental divide between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Gold was discovered around Matagalpa by 1840, attracting many Spanish, German, American and British immigrants, including Ludwig Elster and his wife Katharina Braun, who were the first to successfully plant coffee trees in the area. Coffee agriculture attracted more than 120 European immigrants, many of whom married Matagalpan women. Many of their descendants still live in the area. Today, coffee producers such the Selva Negra Sustainable Farm are recognized for pioneering innovative and sustainable farming methods.
Morgan’s Rock Private Reserve: Barefoot luxury on a private tropical beach with stunning ocean-view bungalows is wrapped up in a 4,000-acre expanse of Nicaraguan jungle. The ecolodge is a 15-bungalow hideaway on a long picturesque sandy beach, frequented year-round by nesting sea turtles. Nearly half of Morgan’s Rock is a private protected reserve. The remainder of this breathtaking property is set aside for low impact agriculture (which provides the restaurant with fresh produce, meat, and dairy). Surf one of the premier surfing hot spots in the world, glide through the jungle canopy, explore preserved colonial architecture, ride horses on a private beach, or simply relax and savor a massage.
Rivas: On an isthmus between the Pacific Ocean and Lake Nicaragua, Rivas has a unique location with two coasts across from one another. Indigenous tribes settled in the area around 606 CE, with the first Europeans, the Spanish, arriving in 1522. Most travelers come to the area to explore San Juan del Sur, Tola and Ometepe Island. Once a quiet fishing village, San Juan del Sur has emerged as one of the country´s major beach and surfing destinations while maintaining its charm and laid back atmosphere. Other activities include snorkeling, diving, sailing, canopy tours and whale watching. The Tola region, commonly referred to as the Nicaraguan Riviera, is a tranquil getaway with about 18 kilometers/11 miles of isolated beaches and dramatic coastlines. Ometepe Island is the largest island in a freshwater lake, Lake Nicaragua, in the world. In the 16th century, pirates roamed the island but its first inhabitants date back some 2000 BCE – 500 BCE. The island’s highlights include pre-Columbian relics. In the area of Finca Magdalena, a community farm, are several rock carving (petroglyphs) sites. A small but interesting museum houses pre-Columbian artifacts and some well-preserved indigenous statues and ceramics. Impressive statues carved out of stone and petroglyphs on the island bear witness to the great cultural wealth of the people thatlived here. Visitors will also be surprised by the variety of wildlife in the area.
Suggested Costa Rica Itinerary
Day 1: San Jose, Costa Rica
San Jose is Costa Rica’s lovely capital city and not far from extraordinary natural gems such La Paz Waterfall Gardens.
Day 2: San Jose / Bajos del Toro
Bajos del Toro includes a jungle canopy adventure and the highest rappel of Costa Rica’s original canopy tour.
Days 3-4: Bajos del Toro
Optional activities abound, including expert-led guided nature hikes along centuries-old Cabecar Indian trails and whitewater rafting over Class III-IV rapids.
Day 5: Bajos del Toro / Arenal|
Arenal is known as the adventure capital of Costa Rica, with rafting on the Sarapiqui River, rappelling inside waterfalls and kayaking.
Days 6-7: Arenal
Nature at her best with a forest canopy adventure that includes 15 cables and 18 platforms and an optional “Tarzan Swing.”
Day 8: Arenal / San Jose / Morgan’s Rock Private Reserve, Nicaragua
Hike a volcano, surf one of the premier surfing hot spots in the world, fly through the jungle canopy and more.
Days 9/10: Morgan’s Rock Private Reserve
Explore preserved colonial architecture, ride horses on a private beach, or simply relax and savor a massage.
Day 11: Morgan’s Rock Private Reserve / Depart
Custom Travel Options
Guanacaste (4-5 days)
From beaches to volcanoes, the area is rich in outdoor activities such as horseback riding, surfing and fishing.
Monteverde Cloud Forest (3 days)
This primeval world is a cornucopia of extraordinary biological treasures – both flora and fauna.
Osa Peninsula (4-5 days)
A stronghold of primary forest in the Americas, this park is one of the most eco-diverse regions on earth.
South Caribbean Coast (3-4 days)
Miles of Caribbean shoreline translates to excellent scuba diving and superb sport fishing.
Tortuguero National Park (2-3 days)
From high rainforest to marsh communities, this is one of Costa Rica’s most popular parks.
Turrialba Volcano National Park (3-4 days)
Adventure options at this hidden gem include horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking and whitewater rafting.
Uvita & Dominical (4 days)
A short distance from the more popular Manuel Antonio, this area offers rainforest, surfing and a great base to explore Corcovado National Park.
Granada (4 days)
Granada is one of the oldest Spanish-colonial cities of the Americas, founded in 1524, with a beautifully restored historic center; and is a good base for hiking, zip lining, exploring volcanoes and visiting artisan towns.
Jicaro Island (3 days)
Las Isletas is an archipelago near Granada, and Jicaro is a private island with an ecolodge that has a strong sustainability policy using solar panels, organic products and an ingenious recycling program.
Masaya Volcano (1 day)
Masaya Volcano is Nicaragua´s most accessible volcano, with a road leading up to the smoking crater. Hiking trails lead to the rim where at dusk, the glow of boiling lava may be visible.
Matagalpa (1 day)
Matagalpa is Nicaragua´s coffee capital, and home to nature reserves and ecolodges. Matagalpa has a refreshing climate, beautiful landscapes, excellent hiking possibilities, and is a perfect destination for nature lovers.
Morgan’s Rock Private Reserve (4 days)
Hike a volcano, surf one of the premier surfing hot spots in the world, glide through the jungle canopy and more.
Rivas (3 days)
Located on an isthmus between the Pacific Ocean and Lake Nicaragua, Rivas has a unique location with two coasts across from one another.
Land price, per persopn, double occupancy: From US$400 per person per day