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 Land Tour provides a journey into this fascinating culture at a pace that allows you to relax and explore in depth. Cruise the mangroves of Guacalillo for an up-close look at Costa Rica's wildlife, and visit local artisans crafting the nation's iconic oxcarts, and pottery based on a 5,000-year-old tradition. And, in 2016, you'll enjoy an enhanced itinerary, featuring an extra day to allow for more discoveries: a three-night stay in the Puntarenas region; new included tours of Poas Volcano and Manuel Antonio National Park; and more.
5 nights from only $845
36 Hours in Antigua, Guatemala
Produced by Fritzie Andrade, Max Cantor, Chris Carmichael, Will Lloyd, and Sarah Brady Voll ©2015 The New York Times
This independent film features destinations you can visit on this pre-trip extension.
89% of our travelers rated this extension “excellent” in 2015
Travel from the cobblestone lanes of colonial Antigua to the contemporary streets of Guatemala City, from the commercial bustle of the capital city to rural villages where weavers still practice the craft of their Maya ancestors. And along the way, discover Guatemala’s stunning natural beauty during a cruise on the serenely beautiful Lake Atitlan.View Extension Itinerary
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.
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 tour begins at the National Museum, where you'll be able to learn about Costa Rican history and culture.
From there, you’ll depart on a drive that takes you past local landmarks including the National Park, National Library, and Morazan Park, dedicated to a 19th-century general that once tried to unite Central America under a common flag.
Next, you’ll arrive at the National Theater, proudly regarded as the "jewel of the nation,” before stopping to seek out lunch on your own in the city, perhaps in one of the many restaurants and cafes along the pedestrian-only section of San Jose's main street, Avenida Central.
You’ll then regroup and continue your tour, which will take you through La Sabana—a newer neighborhood that is home to Costa Rica's largest urban park and the Museum of Costa Rican Art—and the Pavas district before returning to your hotel in the afternoon.
The rest of the day is yours to make your own discoveries before rejoining your fellow travelers for an included Welcome Dinner.
After breakfast this morning, depart for Poas Volcano National Park. Upon your arrival at the park, you’ll ascend almost 9,000 feet to the peak of the volcano—one of the largest active volcanoes in the country. From there, you can peer down into the smoking, steaming, bubbling sulfur lake that rests at the bottom of the nearly mile-wide volcanic crater—a testament to the geothermal forces at work beneath Costa Rica’s serene surface.
Then, enjoy an included lunch followed by a tour of 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.
On your tour of the estate, you’ll 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. Savor the rich, intoxicating aroma of the freshly roasted beans, and have a chance to sip some of the plantation’s tasty brews.
After your tour, you’ll return to your hotel. The rest of the evening is at leisure, and dinner is on your own tonight.
After breakfast, begin your transfer to the region dominated by Arenal Volcano, enjoying a full day of discovery along the way.
Your first stop is the farming town of Grecia, where you’ll visit the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mercy—distinctly constructed out of red metal imported from Belgium—and walk through the local marketplace.
Then, travel to the village of Sarchi and witness artisans at work on the most famous of Costa Rica's handcrafts—the carreta, or oxcart. After your tour, you’ll have time to rest and enjoy an independent lunch in Sarchi.
Your tour continues 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.
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 hotel in Arenal early this evening. After checking in, you'll take an orientation walk around its lush, protected grounds. Dinner is on your own tonight.
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.
After bidding your hosts farewell, you’ll return to your hotel for a brief respite before heading off for a tour of a local pineapple farm. On this excursion, enjoy an in-depth look at the 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."
Then, return to your hotel to spend the rest of the day at leisure. Dinner is on your own tonight.
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.
Then, 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 lunch on your own and 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 an exclusive Discovery Series event. 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.
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.
Along the way, you’ll stop for an exclusive Discovery Series visit to a local family-owned horse ranch. Here, you’ll learn more about the Costa Rican way of life as you get to know the resident family and their rich background in the art of horsemanship—including a demonstration in the unique skill of horse whispering.
After your visit to the horse ranch, you’ll enjoy an included lunch at a local restaurant before arriving at your Guanacaste hotel. Your Program Director will lead you on a short orientation walk of the surrounding area, and then take you to a local restaurant for an included dinner.
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.
Following your cruise, enjoy an included lunch at a local hacienda (estate house) before a tour of a local sugar cane mill—you'll witness the journey sugar cane takes to your table.
This afternoon is yours to spend at leisure before joining your fellow travelers for an included dinner at a local restaurant.
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 Canopy Tour. 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.
Dinner is on your own tonight.
This morning, depart Guanacaste for the scenic Puntarenas province on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. The Puntarenas region is home to many luxurious beach resorts, along with more than a dozen national parks and reserves, making it one of the nation’s most environmentally-preserved regions—no small feat in a country as green as Costa Rica.
On your way to Puntarenas, 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, after an orientation walk, have the rest of the afternoon at leisure before an included dinner at a local restaurant.
This morning, you will embark on an included cruise of a mangrove forest on the Tarcoles River. On a cruise of this lush wilderness, 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 enjoy an included lunch before returning to your hotel. You can spend the rest of the day at leisure, or join us for an optional Pacific Aerial Tram tour, for a unique perspective on some of Costa Rica’s rarest foliage. Join an expert naturalist guide aboard a gondola to glide among the treetops, discovering the transitional tropical rain forest—the area between the extremely rare tropical dry forest and the rain forest. This junction between two ecosystems is packed with exotic wildlife, and full of bright tropical vegetation.
Dinner is on your own tonight.
This morning, you’ll discover Manuel Antonio National Park, a critical habitat for migrating birds from the U.S. and Canada. While comparatively small (just 1,700 acres), this lush park is home to several distinct ecosystems, each teeming with wildlife. The park includes four marvelous beaches, island bird sanctuaries, and a luxuriant rain forest. And perhaps because of its small size, a morning full of wildlife sightings—including howler and Capuchin monkeys, sloths, coatis, and countless birds—isn't at all unusual. In particular, keep an eye out for the endangered squirrel monkey, as Manuel Antonio is one of only two of its habitats in the country.
Your tour of the park begins with a nature walk, followed by time to relax on the beach and soak up some sun. Or, if you’re in the mood for more rainforest sightings, you can head back out for another hike. Then, after another nature walk, you’ll enjoy lunch on your own, and head back to the hotel, where the rest of the day is yours to spend as you like.
Dinner is on your own tonight.
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.
After breakfast this morning, transfer to the airport for your flight home. Or begin your optional post-trip extension to Tortuguero National Park: Rain Forest Experience.
3 nights from only $545
More than a third of our travelers have reserved this extension in 2016
Join Grand Circle in Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica’s “Amazon”—so-called for its lush jungle canopy and the fascinating abundance of wildlife that call this protected haven home. A naturalist’s nirvana, this 47,000-acre expanse stretching along the Caribbean Coast can only be explored by boat along a network of navigable waterways.View Extension Itinerary