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 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.

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 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.

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    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.

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    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.

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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.

    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.

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    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.

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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.

    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.

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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.

    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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 begin your optional post-trip extension to Tortuguero National Park: Rain Forest Experience.


Traveler Reviews

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Questions and Answers

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Questions and Answers

Want to know more about one of our vacations? Now, when you post a question, travelers who have been on that trip can provide you with an honest, unbiased answer based on their experience—providing you with a true insider’s perspective.

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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


  • 5 locations in 14 days, including 1 single-night stay

Physical Requirements

  • Walk 2 miles unassisted and participate in 1-3 hours of physical activities daily, including stairs
  • 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
  • Program Directors reserve the right to modify participation or send travelers home if their limitations impact the group’s experience

Terrain & Transportation

  • Uneven walking surfaces, including unpaved paths, hills, stairs, and cobblestones
  • Travel by 45-seat motorcoach, tractor, and 30-seat boat


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


  • 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.

  • Tamarindo Diria Beach Resort

    Guanacaste, Costa Rica | Rating: First Class

    Enjoying an idyllic beachside location in the province of Guanacaste, the First-Class Tamarindo Diria Beach Resort features four swimming pools and several on-site restaurants and bars. Each air-conditioned room features a private bathroom with hair dryer, flat-screen TV, complimentary wireless Internet, and coffee- and tea-making facilities.

  • Croc's Casino Resort

    Puntarenas, Costa Rica

    Croc’s Casino Resort is situated upon Jaco Beach on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, overlooking the sea. Hotel amenities include a pool (with poolside bar), three on-site restaurants, and a Vegas-style casino. Each of its air-conditioned rooms features cable TV, mini-fridge, safe, and private bath.


  • 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

Customize Your Trip

Whether you choose to take just a base trip or add an optional pre- and post-trip extension, you have many options when it comes to customizing your trip—and creating your own unique travel experience:

Purchase Flights with Grand Circle

  • Choose the departure city and airline that works best for you
  • Depart from one city and return to another
  • Upgrade your air itinerary based on your travel preferences
  • “Break away” before or after your trip to explore independently or re-energize
  • Combine two or more trips to make the most of your value—and avoid another long flight
  • Extend your discoveries with pre- or post-trip extensions

Make Your Own Arrangements

  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline
  • Purchase optional airport transfers to and from your hotel
  • Extend your Land Tour-only Travel Protection Plan coverage and protect the air arrangements you make on your own—including your frequent flyer miles

OR, leave your air routing up to us and your airfare (as well as airport transfers) will be included in your final trip cost.

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 $164 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.
  • Organic farm of Don Juan Bautista. Learn about innovative agriculture techniques, and enjoy a dinner prepared from farm fresh ingredients.
  • Horse ranch visit. Meet the proprietors of a local, family-owned horse ranch and experience their daily life—including a glimpse into the rare talent of horse whispering.
  • Pottery Demonstration. Learn pre-Columbian pottery techniques from local artisans.

Enjoy the opportunity to visit 2 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

  • Antigua, Guatemala
  • 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.

Natural beauty
"The Costa Rican countryside, rain forests, and beaches are beautiful, and the plants and wildlife alone are worth the trip."
A 23-time traveler from Belvidere, NJ

Home-Hosted Lunch
"The Home-Hosted Lunch is always very interesting. Our hostess obviously put out her best tableware and tried to make it a positive experience. Our Spanish was very limited; her English even less. But, we all tried to share thoughts. Isn't that what it's all about?"
A 19-time traveler from Cape Coral, FL

Optional Canopy Tour
"I was concerned about doing the zip line, but [our Program Director] made me feel comfortable and safe, so I decided to ‘go for it’ and had a marvelous time (and got to check something off my bucket list)."
A 6-time traveler from Minneapolis, MN

Local wildlife
"Probably the most impressive part of the trip for us was the wildlife we were able to see. The resident sloth and breakfast birds at Tilajari, the breakfast monkeys at Punta Leona, the iguanas and birds everywhere, and the crocs on the rivers were fantastic. Actually saw a Jesus Christ lizard run on the water!"
A 24-time traveler from Sparta, NJ

School visit
"We enjoyed visiting the school. The children were so loving and very well mannered. It was nice to see how Grand Circle is supporting the school for the less developed country."
An 8-time traveler from Burke, VA

Local culture
"... we enjoyed the trip very much. The immersion into the Costa Rican life and world was sudden and near-overwhelming. We saw the natural world, the agricultural world, the city life. We visited a school and loved the children; visited churches and loved the worshippers and the preserved history embodied in the structures."
A 2-time traveler from Rindge, NH

Tortuguero National Park post-trip extension
"If you have more time, visit Tortuguero. It was very well worth this trip: Green turtles, canal rides, and two trips to see wildlife. Excellent!"
A 4-time traveler from Wilmington, DE

Program Director
"…my guide, Eric Salazar Mendes was so passionate about Costa Rica and knowledgeable that I felt immersed into its culture and people's lives, through his efforts. This was the best experience of my life so far!"
A 2-time traveler from Tucson, AZ

Wildlife river cruises
"Our most extensive bird watching and wildlife viewing took place on the rivers and canals … the pilots brought us close to shore whenever there was a sighting and each boat left some distance between the others so everyone had a good opportunity to see and photograph the birds and animals."
A 4-time traveler from Portland, ME

Guatemala: Antigua & Lake Atitlan pre-trip extension
"Guatemala was most enjoyable: Meeting the Mayan people, brick makers, the young man weaving names on pencil cases, the elderly woman demonstrating the headdress …"
A 3-time traveler from Nokomis, FL

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

Discover more of Costa Rica on our NEW 2016 itinerary

We’ve listened to our travelers’ feedback and we’re proud to present a new and improved Costa Rican Treasures itinerary for 2016:

  • Enjoy an extra day to make discoveries at a more relaxed pace
  • Discover the scenic Puntarenas region on a new 3-night stay
  • Savor 2 additional included meals and get even more from your travel dollar

Plus experience 3 new included features:

Poas Volcano

Ascend 9,000 feet to the peak of one of Costa Rica’s largest active volcanoes, where, from a platform perched on the rim of the crater, you can peer down safely into the mile-wide, 984-foot-deep cauldron. Admire the geological forces at work beneath your feet as you observe the rolling steam that fills the crater, and the occasional spout of a geyser.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. One of the smallest—and also most popular—of Costa Rica's national parks, this lush reserve encompasses four beaches, island bird sanctuaries, coral reefs, and a luxuriant rain forest. Manuel Antonio is also one of only two habitats in the country for the endangered squirrel monkey. Keep an eye out for these friendly primates as well as two- and three-toed sloths, capuchin monkeys, giant iguanas, and more.

Horse ranch visit

Costa Rica is known for its rich agricultural traditions, and during this Discovery Series event, you’ll enjoy an exclusive look into the daily life of a local family that lives and works on an active horse farm. Get to know the ranch’s residents—both human and equestrian—and watch as your hosts demonstrate their skills and their trade, including a unique glimpse into the rare art of horse whispering.

History, Culture & More

Learn more about the history, art, culture, and more you’ll discover on this trip by reading the features below. These articles were collected from past newsletters, Harriet’s Corner, and special features created for Grand Circle by our team of writers.

Costa Rica’s hard-fought peace

Learn how Costa Rica became one of the few countries in the world to have no standing army.

Read More »

Saving Costa Rica’s Dry Tropical Forests

Find out how Costa Rica is leading the way to protect one of the world’s most-threatened ecosystems.

Read More »

Tropical treats: pineapple guacamole

Sample a taste of the tico lifestyle with this simple guacamole recipe.

Read More »

History, Culture & More

Costa Rica’s hard-fought peace

More than 60 years without an army

by David Valdes Greenwood, for Grand Circle

On a university campus in Costa Rica, there is a plaque on a concrete wall that might catch your eye if you were strolling by. It bears a simple message only three lines long, but its words are powerful: “Happy is the mother who knows her son will never have to be a soldier.”

If you headed into the countryside to visit a rural elementary school just a few miles away, you’d be greeted by a colorful hand-painted sign quoting Pope Paul VI: “Peace is great; Peace is necessary; Peace is the object of much search and much devotion. It is very difficult—extremely difficult— but not impossible.”

Learning the hard way to make peace a priority

From early childhood onward, Costa Ricans—ticos, as they are often called—are taught to value peace and to see the benefits of pacifism. And they don’t have to look far: Their country has no standing army, so funds that once would have gone to the military are funneled into education and social programs instead. The result is that Costa Rica is routinely rated the safest country in Central America, and in 2010, it ranked first among all nations in three different “happiness index” lists. But it wasn’t always that way. The grandparents of today’s schoolchildren may still remember when it took bloodshed to bring on this era of pacifism.

For more than 120 years, Costa Rica had an army. From the time of the nation’s independence in 1821 onward, the military had been an arm of the government, both for good—such as when it repelled an invasion from Nicaragua—and for ill, including when it supported an early 20th-century dictatorship. But in 1948, when the military backed the annulment of democratic elections, and then surrounded the house where the popularly elected candidate was meeting supporters (one of whom was shot), the nation erupted into a civil war lasting 44 days and killing thousands.

Leading the charge of the opposition was Jose Figueres, an MIT-trained engineer backed by a force of 700 volunteers. With deep support from the citizenry, Figueres earned the endorsement of the United States, and eventually expelled the old regime. On his watch, a new, more democratic constitution was drafted. Its most famous provision was one in which the standing army was disbanded for good.

Turning swords into ploughshares

This made Costa Rica one of the few independent nations in the world that had no military. The idea of peace as a national value made it a magnet for pacifists from other parts of the globe. Among them were a group of American Quakers, led by Wilford Guindon, who settled in Monteverde and became successful dairy farmers— as some of their descendants remain to this day. In 1980, then-president Rodrigo Carazo founded the University for Peace outside the capital of San Jose, with the goal of using higher education to promote tolerance and peaceful coexistence among human beings worldwide.

Remaining pacifist has not always been easy for Costa Rica. In the 1980s, with civil wars playing out in several neighboring countries at once, some wondered if Costa Rica might have no choice but to re-arm. Instead, the citizens elected peace advocate Oscar Arias as president. He went on to draft accords between his country and Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua that stabilized the entire region (and won him the Nobel Peace Prize).

In light of recent provocations from neighboring Nicaragua, Costa Rica’s former president Laura Chinchilla said in a recent speech to the U.N. General Assembly, “Peace must go beyond action. To educate for peace is to vaccinate against war.”

History, Culture & More

Saving Costa Rica’s Dry Tropical Forests

Sparking environmental change in the Guanacaste Conservation Area

by Catherine Groux

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.

History, Culture & More

Tropical treats: pineapple guacamole

Costa Rica is known for its tropical climate—and its tropical flavors. Put a little pura vida in your pantry with this easy guacamole recipe infused with two typical tico staples: pineapple and avocado. Ideal as a party pleaser or a simple summer snack, this dish is sure to satisfy.

Of course, when it comes to guacamole, everybody has their own personal preference, so tweak this recipe as you like; add jalapeno for a little spice or some diced onion to taste. Practice makes perfect, so don’t be afraid to experiment.


  • 3 ripe avocados
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh pineapple, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • dash of cumin
  • 1 jalapeno, minced and seeded (optional)
  • 1/3 cup of red onion, diced (optional)


  • 1. Pit the avocados and scoop into a bowl, mashing with a fork.
  • 2. Add the remainder of the ingredients into the bowl and combine.
  • 3. Serve with chips, or indulge a guilty pleasure and eat it right out of the bowl—it’s up to you. Either serve immediately or quickly refrigerate; avocados rapidly brown when exposed to the open air.

Serves: 4-6

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