Day by Day Itinerary

From powerful volcanoes to black-sand beaches, from tropical dry forests to mangrove jungles, you'll encounter many natural wonders on this guided tour of Costa Rica, one of the most biologically diverse nations on Earth. You'll also experience the warmth of Costa Ricans, a welcoming people committed to preserving the natural beauty of their beloved country. This itinerary provides a journey into this fascinating culture at a pace that allows you to relax and explore in-depth. Enjoy a stay in the scenic Central Pacific region, as well as a mangrove cruise in Guacalillo that brings you up close to Costa Rica's wildlife, and visits to local artisans crafting Costa Rica's iconic oxcarts, and pottery based on a 5,000-year-old tradition.

San Jose Central Pacific Expand All
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    Fly from your U.S. gateway city to San Jose to begin your guided tour of Costa Rica. You'll be greeted at the airport by your Grand Circle representative, who will assist you with your transfer to your hotel in San Jose. You'll be joined by travelers who took the optional pre-trip extension, Guatemala: Antigua & Lake Atitlan.

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    After breakfast, join your Program Director for a Welcome Briefing, where you’ll learn what to expect on your journey through Costa Rica. Then, embark on an included tour of San Jose.

    The capital of Costa Rica, San Jose was founded in 1737 and is now one of the more developed Central American capitals—a small, lively city rich in culture and history. Your discoveries of San Jose begin in some of its newer neighborhoods, such as La Sabana—home to Costa Rica’s largest urban park and the Museum of Costa Rican Art. You'll also visit the National Monument, Library, and Congress on your tour.

    Then it's on to the National Museum, where you'll be able to learn about Costa Rican history and culture. Then enjoy lunch on your own, perhaps in one of the many restaurants and cafes along the pedestrian-only section of San Jose’s main street, Avenida Central.

    After lunch, you'll visit the Plaza de la Cultura—the main square of San Jose—where you’ll enjoy an included visit to the National Theater, proudly regarded as the "jewel of the nation.” You return to the hotel later this afternoon and enjoy a little leisure time. This evening, get to know your Program Director and fellow travelers during a Welcome Dinner.

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    After breakfast this morning, depart for the town of Alajuela, Costa Rica's former capital and a scenic and laid-back city. You'll have time to browse the large central market and discover local crafts.

    Then, head to the Doka Estate, an award-winning plantation that specializes in the production of gourmet coffee. Locally owned by the Vargas Ruiz family for more than 70 years, the Doka Coffee Estate is a modern operation that uses time-honored techniques—the estate has the oldest working water-powered mill in all of Costa Rica.

    Your included tour takes you through the estate to see the various steps in the production of this important national export. You’ll learn how the many varieties of beans are carefully separated for processing and how the water-powered mill and peeling machines work, as well as the roles of the fermentation tanks, sun-drying patios, and roasting hall. As the tour progresses, you’ll hear about the history of the coffee farm and its owners, the importance of its geographic location, and the value of traditional coffee-growing methods. You will savor the rich, intoxicating aroma of the freshly roasted beans, and have a chance to sip some of the plantation’s tasty brews.

    After an included lunch at the estate, you'll return to your hotel, where your Program Director will provide suggestions on where to dine on your own this evening.

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    After breakfast, begin your transfer to the region dominated by Arenal Volcano. On the way, you'll stop to explore the village of Sarchi and witness artisans at work on the most famous of Costa Rica’s handcrafts—the carreta, or oxcart.

    Later, you'll stop at the town of Zarcero for an included tour of a local topiary garden and the San Rafael Church, a pink and blue church dating from 1895 and noted for the skill of the builders in hiding the building materials—for instance, the columns inside are only painted to resemble marble.

    Enjoy lunch on your own in this picturesque town. Then you will board a motorcoach for a drive through one of Costa Rica's most diverse agricultural areas—the northern plains—where you'll spot dairy farms and cattle ranches against a backdrop of forested peaks.

    You arrive at your resort by mid-afternoon. After checking in, you'll take an orientation walk around its lush, protected grounds, then have the opportunity to enjoy a dip in one of the resort’s two swimming pools. Enjoy dinner at a local restaurant tonight.

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    A nation with no standing army and a literacy rate of 96 percent—what must it be like to live in a land that is truly devoted to peace in the world and progress for its people? Where does progress still need to be made? Its citizens can tell you. You’ll get acquainted with some of them—and have opportunities to pose questions of your own—during a remarkable day of cultural interaction.

    After breakfast, you’ll experience a feast for the senses as you travel to a tropical garden plantation for an exclusive Discovery Series event. Here, you'll enjoy a guided tour of the grounds, and discover the many plants, fruits, and flowers that help make Costa Rica lush and vibrant. Among the vegetation you may see are bananas, bamboo, and medicinal plants, and you're sure to find colorful birds and butterflies in their midst. From here, you’ll climb aboard a tractor for a ride to a ranch, perhaps spotting other wildlife en route.

    Then you’ll travel to a rural village in the Arenal region. There, you’ll be the guests of honor at a local primary school (when in session) supported by Grand Circle Foundation. You’ll be enthusiastically welcomed by the village’s schoolchildren, who will give you a presentation on the folklore of their country—including traditional songs, dances, and costumes—after which you’ll have the opportunity to interact with them one on one. Then, enjoy a discussion with the student’s teachers and parents, who can answer your questions about Costa Rica’s education system—one of the best in Latin America. Many Grand Circle travelers rank opportunities to interact with local children like these as among the most memorable moments of their travels.

    Such a full morning calls for a satisfying lunch, which you’ll enjoy today at the home of a local family. After meeting your gracious hosts and getting a tour of their house, you’ll have a chance to join your hosts in the kitchen to help prepare a traditional local dish. Costa Rican cuisine is simple, wholesome, and quite delicious. A typical meal features chicken, beef, or fish (sometimes grilled) served with tortillas and gallo pinto (a zesty rice-and-bean side dish). But regardless of what's on the menu, you can count on the hospitality of your hosts and an authentic opportunity to learn about everyday life and customs of rural Costa Rica.

    Afterward, visit the town of La Fortuna. Known as the “front yard of the Arenal Volcano,” La Fortuna offers spectacular views of the beautifully cone-shaped Volcan Arenal (as it's called in Spanish), which had been one of the world’s most active volcanoes since it awakened from a long dormancy in 1968. Enjoy a little time at leisure this afternoon.

    Late this afternoon, head to the organic farm of Don Juan Bautista, where you can discover the sustainable agricultural techniques being used to propel Costa Rican farming into the future. During this visit, you'll also learn about the production of sugar cane—and enjoy an included dinner that features ingredients fresh from the farm.

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    Costa Rica, Arenal Volcano

    After breakfast this morning, enjoy some free time to explore independently, or just relax at the hotel and savor the views of the rain forest. Or, join us on an optional Safari River Float tour. You'll slip silently down the Penas Blancas River, in a boat with no motor to frighten off local animals. As you paddle lightly down this untouched waterway, a local expert guide will deliver information on the wildlife and plants that you pass. You may see monkeys, crocodiles, tropical birds, iguanas, sloths, colorful flowers, or even more. This is a truly unique photo opportunity, as well as a chance to learn about Costa Rica's storied ecology first hand.

    Lunch will be on your own, before a visit to a local pineapple finca, or farm. On this excursion, we’ll enjoy an in-depth look at the finca’s fields and facilities, learn about pineapple cultivation techniques throughout history, discover how the Arenal region’s fertile, volcanic soil nurtures these tropical plants, and enjoy a taste of the "Fruit of Kings."

    This evening is yours for independent discovery and dinner on your own.

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    Playa Tamarindo, Guanacaste province, Costa Rica

    After breakfast this morning, you’ll board the motorcoach for Guanacaste. The journey takes you through some stunning landscapes as you pass near Arenal Lake, making a stop en route for lunch on your own. In mid-afternoon, you arrive in Guanacaste Province on Costa Rica’s Gold Coast.

    Home to seven national parks, three wildlife reserves, and more than 100 miles of sandy beaches, the province of Guanacaste is a paradise for nature lovers, ranch enthusiasts, and beachcombers as well. Dominated by the Guanacaste mountain range, this region has a distinctive dry tropical climate—which has resulted in tropical dry forests of mostly deciduous trees, quite unlike the rain forests of Tortuguero or the Central Valley—and a large section of the province has been set aside for preservation and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    When you arrive at your Guanacaste accommodations, you’ll take a short orientation walk around the hotel grounds, then enjoy some time to relax and freshen up before dinner.

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    After breakfast, depart for El Viejo Wetlands, which fringe Palo Verde National Park, by boat. You'll board a small watercraft to cruise through the wetlands' mangrove forest—a unique ecosystem of tropical trees growing in a saltwater marsh formed by a tidal estuary. Your guide will help you spot and identify some of the colorful plants and animals that dwell in this wetland sanctuary, including crocodiles, monkeys, anteaters, iguanas, coatis, and more than 300 species of birds.

    After your cruise, visit a well-preserved casona where you'll be offered local flavors such as handmade tortillas and local coffee. Try not to fill up on these treats, because you still have an included lunch to enjoy at a Hacienda before a tour of a local sugar cane mill—you'll witness the journey sugar cane takes to your table.

    This afternoon is yours at leisure, and dinner tonight is on your own.

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    Playa Flamingo, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

    After breakfast, you have a full day to make your own discoveries in beautiful Guanacaste—and there are many possible pursuits from which to choose. Your hotel is located very close to Avellanas Beach, a stretch of soft sand and lush vegetation that is one of the most scenic in Guanacaste. Perhaps you’ll stroll the beach looking for seashells. Or you may find yourself content to lounge peacefully on the sand, watching the world go by.

    You may choose to join us this morning for an exciting half-day tour of the tropical dry forest canopy. Ride to this leafy locale, and then ascend into the very tops of the giant, tropical trees on a system of aerial platforms and cableways. This is a unique opportunity to observe the layers of canopy vegetation in the upper world of the forest and see this amazing and complex ecosystem up close, exploring recesses of the canopy that travelers have not had access to until very recently. It’s also a chance to add an aspect of adventure to your trip as you enjoy a thrilling descent through the upper forest along a series of sturdy zip-lines, feeling the cool breeze and watching the colorful wildlife flash by you as you glide back to the forest floor. After your tour, return to the hotel and enjoy lunch on your own and the afternoon at leisure.

    Our hotel is located 30 minutes from Tamarindo Town, where you can find numerous bars and restaurants—popular with locals and visitors alike—where you can enjoy lunch on your own. The area also offers popular fishing spots. We'll be visiting there this afternoon, and you can ask your Program Director for suggestions and advice on taking advantage of the many opportunities available to you.

    Later this afternoon, you can choose to take another optional tour and go horseback riding along the beaches near Pinilla. Requiring no previous riding experience, this optional excursion will bring you up close to some of the local flora and fauna. Riders will end up at a lookout point, from which you will be able to appreciate the natural beauty of the area.

    Tonight, dinner is on your own.

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    Today you'll enter the Central Pacific region, an area best known for its beaches. A popular destination for travelers, the Central Pacific takes nature conservation seriously, with many areas declared protected and in order to allow plant and animal species to thrive undisturbed. The climate here is also less humid than it is nearer the Caribbean, making it easy to enjoy the natural wonders around you—whether you're taking in the coastal cliffs, colorful sunsets, or lively animals.

    Our destination is Punta Leona, an area of the Central Pacific region that is set apart as a nature reserve. Punta Leona is an area not often visited by tourists, which makes it an even more special destination to see Costa Rica's flora and fauna up close.

    On your way, enjoy an exclusive Discovery Series event as the artisans of the village of Guaitil give you an introduction to their ancient pottery-making traditions. Going back 5,000 years, these local craftspeople have perfected their art, which is known for the use of natural minerals to provide color. Potters also use local clay, though the clay mines may soon no longer be accessible, as land is bought by private companies. This session will prove to be a fascinating glimpse into art and life in this region.

    Later this morning, you will walk the La Amistad Bridge over the Tempisque River, and pause to enjoy a sweeping view of the river and the surrounding forests. You'll stop en route for lunch on your own. You'll arrive at your hotel by mid-afternoon, and have the rest of the afternoon at leisure before an included dinner at a local restaurant.

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    This morning, you will embark on an included cruise of a mangrove forest in Guacalillo. On a cruise of this lush wilderness on the Tarcoles River, you’ll discover the many ways in which mangroves contribute to their environment. The forest is a unique ecosystem of tropical trees growing in a saltwater marsh formed by a tidal estuary, and the trees provide a home for many kinds of fish and shellfish, as well as a hunting ground for larger predators such as crocodiles. As you float past the mangrove trees’ sinuous, exposed roots, your guide will help you spot and identify some of the colorful plants and animals that dwell in this wetland sanctuary, including crocodiles, monkeys, anteaters, iguanas, coatis, and more than 300 species of birds.

    Afterwards, you'll visit a local shop before traveling to Jaco for lunch on your own and free time to relax in this laid-back beach town. Then, return to your hotel for some relaxation and an included dinner this evening.

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    Flower farm, Costa Rica

    After breakfast, begin your journey back to San Jose. On the way, stop in La Garita for a tour of the botanical garden this afternoon. There, you’ll learn even more about the range of flora in Costa Rica.

    Orchids are some of the best-known flowers native to Costa Rica, and this plant, being very difficult to cultivate successfully, is coveted among gardeners the world over. See many varieties of this prized blossom, and learn how to grow your own. Orchids bloom in this garden all year round, so you are sure to see some impressive blossoms. There are also water gardens and walking trails to help you get up close to the impressive range of plants in the garden, and an aviary housing mainly rescued birds. There are even more animals to be seen in the ponds on site, such as turtles, ducks, and fish.

    You'll arrive at your hotel in San Jose in time for lunch this afternoon. Enjoy some free time this evening before gathering for a Farewell Dinner at your hotel.

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    • Meals included:

    After breakfast this morning, transfer to the airport for your flight home. Or, join us on our optional Tortuguero National Park: Rain Forest Experience post-trip extension.


Traveler Reviews

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Questions and Answers

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Questions and Answers

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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

Currency Cheat Sheet: Submit

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect


  • 4 locations in 13 days, including 1 single-night stay

Physical requirements

  • Not accessible for travelers using wheelchairs or scooters
  • Travelers using walkers, crutches, or other mobility aids must travel with a companion who can assist them throughout the trip
  • You must be able to walk 2 miles unassisted and participate in 1-3 hours of physical activities each day, including stairs


  • Daytime temperatures range from 75-95°F during touring season
  • March-May are the warmest months
  • Anticipate high humidity and moderate to heavy rainfall


  • Travel over uneven walking surfaces, including unpaved paths, hills, stairs, and cobblestone


  • Travel by 45-seat motorcoach, tractor, and 30-seat boat


  • Meals will be based on the local cuisine

Travel Documents


Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.


U.S. citizens do not need a visa for this trip.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your vacation, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Program Directors and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips


Main Trip

  • Aurola Holiday Inn

    San Jose, Costa Rica | Rating: Superior First Class

    The Aurola Holiday Inn is located downtown in the heart of San Jose, just across the street from Morazán Park, and close to several museums. Each of the hotel’s 200 rooms offers air-conditioning, iron/ironing board, minibar, telephone, safe, and cable/satellite TV. Hotel amenities include a currency exchange, two restaurants, indoor pool, casino, health club and spa.

  • Tilajari Resort Hotel

    San Carlos, Costa Rica | Rating: First Class

    Enjoy your stay in the Arenal region at the relaxing Tilajari Resort Hotel. Take advantage of its health club, spa, and hot tub, or cool off in one of its two outdoor swimming pools. Your air-conditioned room has a balcony, as well as television, wireless Internet access, and coffee- and tea-making facilities.

  • Flamingo Beach Resort & Spa

    Guanacaste, Costa Rica | Rating: First Class

    Enjoying an idyllic beachside location in the province of Guanacaste, the First-Class Flamingo Beach Resort & Spa features a swimming pool (including a poolside bar), restaurant, and on-site spa, offering massage services. Air-conditioned rooms each feature a private bathroom, flat-screen TV, complimentary wireless Internet, and coffee- and tea-making facilities.

  • Hotel Punta Leona

    Punta Leona, Costa Rica

    The Hotel Punta Leona is set amidst a private rain forest on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, overlooking a secluded white-sand beach. Hotel amenities include three swimming pools, three restaurants and two snack bars, and Internet access. Each of its 108 air-conditioned rooms features cable TV, telephone, mini-fridge, safe, and private bath with hot water.

  • Hotel Los Pasos

    Antigua, Guatemala

    Converted from an old Spanish colonial estate, every aspect of this hotel, from the tiling in the bathroom to the room and lobby décor and the terrace, is evocative of its surroundings. The quiet and cozy two-story hotel is a short stroll from the UNESCO World Heritage Site Antigua Cathedral and the heart of the town’s green space, Parque Central. There is a restaurant on-site and your room features cable TV, a safe, high-speed wireless Internet and a private bathroom.


  • Hotel Los Pasos

    Antigua, Guatemala

    Converted from an old Spanish colonial estate, every aspect of this hotel, from the tiling in the bathroom to the room and lobby décor and the terrace, is evocative of its surroundings. The quiet and cozy two-story hotel is a short stroll from the UNESCO World Heritage Site Antigua Cathedral and the heart of the town’s green space, Parque Central. There is a restaurant on-site and your room features cable TV, a safe, high-speed wireless Internet and a private bathroom.
  • Hotel Dos Mundos

    Panajachel, Guatemala

    Located just one block from the shores of Lake Atitlan, the unrated Hotel Dos Mundos offers easy access to the area's spectacular views and countless activities. Hotel amenities include an outdoor swimming pool, cafe, bar, and authentic Italian cuisine at La Lanterna Restaurant.

  • Hotel Biltmore Express

    Guatemala City, Guatemala

    The Hotel Biltmore Express is located in the commercial center of Guatemala City, and within close proximity to shopping malls, museums, and restaurants. You may choose to relax in the on-site outdoor pool, or take advantage of the nearby fitness center. Each of the hotel’s 116 rooms offers a private bath with shower, air-conditioning, in-room safe, telephone, and Internet access.

  • Pachira Lodge

    Tortuguero, Costa Rica | Rating: Superior Tourist Class

    Located five minutes away from Tortuguero National Park in a quiet, beachfront setting, the Pachira Lodge is a comfortable and relaxing base from which to enjoy the park's attractions. Your room comes with a balcony, and in your free time you may opt to enjoy the outdoor pool, or health spa and massage services.

  • Aurola Holiday Inn

    San Jose, Costa Rica | Rating: Superior First Class

    The Aurola Holiday Inn is located downtown in the heart of San Jose, just across the street from Morazán Park, and close to several museums. Each of the hotel’s 200 rooms offers air-conditioning, iron/ironing board, minibar, telephone, safe, and cable/satellite TV. Hotel amenities include a currency exchange, two restaurants, indoor pool, casino, health club and spa.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two vacations to maximize your value.

  • Extend your vacation and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip excursions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your ship or hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your vacation
  • Choose to "break away" before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of Grand Circle vacations to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium class

The air options listed above may involve additional airfare costs based on your specific choices.

Or, when you make your reservation, you can choose our standard air routing, for which approximate travel times are shown below.

Partner since: 2003
Total donated: $634,868

Supporting a World Classroom: Costa Rica

By seeing how children are educated all over the world, we gain a rare understanding of different cultural values—as well as the common values that unite us all. When you visit Costa Rica, we bring you into a local school supported by Grand Circle Foundation and introduce you to Costa Rica's future as part of our World Classroom experience (provided class is in session).

San Josecito School

Partner since: 2003 • Total donated: $50,252

Before 2003 when our partnership began, the school was lacking in basic necessities, such as restrooms, walls to shield students from the elements, and a kitchen. Through donations, we’ve provided all this, plus two classrooms, a presentation hall, sidewalks, and a fresh coat of paint.

The school principal, Adonai Oviedo, is excited about the changes at his school, and hopes to make even more improvements with our help. He hopes to build a computer lab, in addition to a roof over the sidewalks, sound equipment for community celebrations, and a photocopy machine.

School in session:

Mid-February through mid-December

Gifts to bring if you're visiting:

  • Coloring books
  • Board games
  • Notebooks and sheet paper
  • Toothbrushes
  • Pencils
Alan and Harriet Lewis founded Grand Circle Foundation in 1992 as a means of giving back to the world we travel. Because they donate an annually determined amount of revenue from our trips, we consider each one of our travelers as a partner in the Foundation’s work around the world. To date, the Foundation has pledged or donated more than $97 million in support of 300 different organizations—including 60 villages and nearly 100 schools that lie in the paths of our journeys.

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What Makes This Trip Unique

Exclusive Discovery Series Events

  • Tropical garden visit. Discover a tropical garden and learn about Costa Rica's unique plants and fruits.
  • Home-Hosted Lunch. Sample Costa Rican specialties and hospitality during a lunch with a local family.
  • Pottery demonstration. Learn pre-Columbian pottery techniques from local artisans.

Enjoy the opportunity to visit this UNESCO World Heritage Sites

  • Guanacaste province

10 Reasons to experience Costa Rican Treasures—in the words of our travelers

We often find that the best endorsements of our discovery-rich vacations come directly from our travelers. From the mighty volcano to native wildlife, here are some memorable experiences our travelers shared from their trip to Costa Rica.

Arenal volcano
"The volcano at Arenal was a sight to behold. I could not stop taking pictures of it, as it changed momentarily. I am so happy that it was so clear the day we arrived ..."
A 5-time traveler from Merritt Island, FL

School visit
"Most inspiring was our visit to the school which Grand Circle supports. Each traveler was escorted into the school by one of the children. Some were in uniform and others were in dance costumes. We were entertained, and, in turn, with a small donation from each of us, bought the kids a pinata and we enjoyed seeing them getting it opened and then scrambling for the candy."
A 4-time traveler from Mahwah, NJ

Tortuguero National Park post-trip extension
"We will never forget the morning automatic alarm clock: howler monkeys doing their noisy thing right over the cabins and often jumping onto the cabin roof. You won't oversleep! The boat trip on this extension is a lot of fun. In fact, Tortuguero is the 'jewel in the crown' of Costa Rica."
A 13-time traveler from Irvine, CA

Program Directors
"This was a fantastic trip. Our PD, Oliver, had much to do with making it more than we were expecting ... What was not expected, however, was Oliver's digging away dirt from an unexpected landslide on a road around Lake Arenal. Not only did he enable our bus to get by, but all the backed up traffic as well. This is way above his job description, but wonderfully illustrates how far he's willing to go for his Grand Circle travelers."
An 11-time traveler from Cape Coral, FL

"What a wonderful trip! I saw two green turtles laying eggs amidst a thunder-lighting storm—soaked to the skin BUT so worth it ... Birds—scarlet macaws, roseate spoonbill, toucans, egrets, and the turkey vulture—found everywhere. Plus many, many more!"
A 3-time traveler from Wilmington, DE

Tropical Forest Canopy Ride optional tour
"My favorite part was the zip lining. I wasn't sure I would be able to do this since I’m almost 81. However our guide, Andres, assured me I had to go. Was he ever right!"
A 5-time traveler from Southport, NC

Doka Estate coffee plantation
"The coffee plantation was so interesting and fun. The food was good in the included lunch. We don't even drink coffee, but it was just so interesting and gives you an all new appreciation about the amount of work that goes into your morning cup."
A 3-time traveler from Erie, PA

Guatemala: Antigua & Lake Atitlan post-trip extension
"Our visit to a family who makes clay bricks and roof tiles was a high point for me. I was amazed at the dedication and pride that the father and son had! Also our exposure to the Mayan culture was very educational ... I'm very glad that I did this pre-trip before going to Costa Rica because it gave me a greater understanding of what I have in the US and what advantages the Costa Ricans get to enjoy."
A 2-time traveler from Kerrville, TX

Guaitil pottery demonstration
"We stopped by a local pottery shop known for its continued use of pre-Columbian techniques. The demonstration was excellent—very informative."
A 14-time traveler from Apple Valley, CA

Mangrove Cruise
"I loved the cruise on the Tarcoles River where we saw over 30 species of birds and crocodiles, iguanas, and other wildlife."
A 3-time traveler from Hopkinton, MA

For reservations and information on our trip to Costa Rica, call us toll-free at 1-800-221-2610

Saving Costa Rica’s Dry Tropical Forests

Sparking environmental change in the Guanacaste Conservation Area

by Catherine Groux, Grand Circle associate

With this steady stream of destruction, dry forests have become the most endangered ecosystem in the tropics ...

It’s easy to see why Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Province is sometimes called the “Gold Coast.” With hundreds of miles of untamed coastline, a shorter rainy season than the rest of the country, and a laid-back cowboy culture, Guanacaste certainly stands out as one of Costa Rica’s most prized regions. But while the province is renowned for its pristine beaches and vibrant colonial culture, it also carries significant ecological importance, setting a shining example of conservationism for not only Costa Rica, but the world.

The destruction of the world’s tropical dry forests

Guanacaste is cloaked in an ecosystem known as dry tropical forest—an environment UNESCO describes as “an often overlooked, highly vulnerable global conservation priority.” Unlike tropical rain forests, which see a consistent amount of rain throughout the year, this environment faces severe drought from December to May, followed by several months of heavy rainfall.

Just as the world’s rain forests are in constant danger, tropical dry forests in Guanacaste and around the world have faced rapid destruction due to fires, logging, farming, and ranching. Today, it is estimated that almost half of the world’s tropical dry forest has be converted to other land use. In North and Central America in particular, this figure could be as high as 72%. With this steady stream of destruction, dry forests have become the most endangered ecosystem in the tropics and among the most endangered in the world.

This has caused great concern for the many animals that live in the world’s dry forests. In Guanacaste in particular, several species are considered vulnerable or endangered, including the American crocodile, Geoffroy’s spider monkey, great curassow, Baird’s tapir, mangrove hummingbird, and white-lipped peccary. As dry tropical forests continue to be destroyed, the chance for these creatures’ survival continues to fall.

Still, despite the desperate need to preserve what’s left of the world’s tropical dry forest, very few of these ecosystems are currently protected. In the Americas, it’s estimated that only 4.5% of all tropical dry forests are protected by nature reserves, while this figure could be as low as 0.4% in North and Central America in particular.

Finding hope in the Guanacaste Conservation Area

As many countries struggle to preserve their tropical dry forests, Costa Rica is leading the way in the protection of this important ecosystem with the Guanacaste Conservation Area. Beginning in 1971 as Santa Rosa National Park, the Area is now a 147,000-hectare expanse of land and sea in the northwestern corner of the Guanacaste Province, comprised of several national parks, private property, a wildlife refuge, and an experimental forest station. The Conservation Area, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, was established with the goal of not only protecting an entire tropical dry forest ecosystem, but restoring it to its former majesty.

For this reason, the vast Conservation Area also includes several rain forests and cloud forests, as well as transition areas between these different ecosystems. Including these environments ensures that wildlife indigenous to dry tropical forests have a cooler, wetter ecosystem to retreat to during the dry forest’s droughts. At the same time, some biologists predict that if global warming further dries and heats the tropical dry forest in the Conservation Area, several species may make more permanent homes in the cooler rain and cloud forests.

By protecting a wide expanse of dry tropical forest (as well as rain and cloud forests), the Conservation Area has managed to spark the restoration of this once-dwindling ecosystem and continues to ensure its biodiversity flourishes. In order to achieve these goals, Conservation Area staff have worked to eliminate all manmade fires, which were typically set by local farmers to clear out brush and create more farmland. The Area has also experimented with both natural and managed restoration, and focuses on educating local children on the importance of protecting dry tropical forests and other endangered ecosystems.

Today, it is estimated that about 70,000 hectares of what was once fields and pastures has been overtaken by a reemerging dry forest. As the forest reclaims its territory, the populations of the many creatures that call it home are slowly increasing. Still, experts understand that it could take hundreds of years for the tropical dry forest to fully recover from centuries of destruction. Until then, local conservationists and biologists are content with knowing they are protecting one of the world’s most vulnerable ecosystems—and hopefully encouraging the rest of the world to do the same.