Tour Length: 11 Days
Costa Rica’s National Parks 11 day tour of Manuel Antonio, Marine Ballena, Piedras Blancas, Corcovado and Tortuguero provide visitors a great opportunity to experience the wonders of the southern and Caribbean coast lines as well as the tropical rain forests with educated naturalist guides who take you through trails surrounded by primary tropical forest to large cascading waterfalls, rivers and lagoons.
Day 1 – Arrival in San Jose to Manuel Antonio National Park/Villas Nicolas
Guest Arrival – You will be picked up at the San Jose airport and taken all the way to the coast of the Pacific Ocean to the town and beach of Manuel Antonio to stay at Villas Nicolas – where you can sit back and drink in the tropical surroundings. After settling in, we will venture into the town of Manuel Antonio taking in the sights, walking the beach and enjoying a cocktail watching the spectacular sunset at a local restaurant and pub. Returning to the Villas Nicolas will allow you time to take in the setting and put your feet up and realize you have “arrived”.
Day 2 – Manuel Antonio National Park – Beaches and Wildlife
It’s up early today to experience the country’s most stunningly beautiful national park with a resident naturalist – equipped with a telescope and binoculars – for a personal guided hike into this treasure trove of biodiversity. Home to more than 100 mammal species and 180 bird species, it is one of Costa Rica’s most beloved parks. The park is the size of 1625 hectares and has a trail system that winds through rain forest backed tropical beaches and rocky headlands, and the views across the bay to the pristine outer islands are unforgettable. The picturesque Punta Cathedral was once an island off the coast. Over the years, sedimentation filled in a bar of sand, connecting it to the mainland. The locals call this stretch of white sand beach Tombolo. The volcanic-sedimentary cliffs rise steeply from the shoreline, providing scenic vistas and hiking trails. The forested hillsides are home to many of the animals, plants and flowers that are Costa Rica’s unique attractions: iguanas, howler monkeys, capuchins, sloths, squirrel monkeys, toucans and scarlet macaws add to the mix of what you will see. The islands and islets of Manuel Antonio provide an important refuge for a variety of sea birds. Olocuita and Mogote Islands are mating and nesting sites for brown pelicans, frigate birds and ahingas. The three primary beaches of the park are Playas Espadilla Sur, Manuel Antonio and Puerto Escondido Costa Rica. The mouth of the Rio Naranjo forms the southern border of the park.
Mid-morning, after our hike through the park we will take a break and enjoy some refreshments on the uncrowded pristine white sand beach taking in the warm sunshine and relaxing. Remember to bring your pack with bathing suit, sunscreen, camera and binoculars. Upon our return to Villas Nicolas, and getting cleaned up, our evening will end at the El Avion restaurant. This is an unforgettable airplane bar and restaurant constructed from the body of a 1954 Fairchild C-123 – sitting high up in the trees overlooking the pacific coast. The history involves the US government, Nicaraguan Contras and Oliver North. You will have to come to get the rest of the story!
Day 3 – Ballena Marine National Park – Marine Life and Whale migration/Hotel Canto de Ballenas
Up early, we will follow the south pacific coastline to the small town of Uvita where we will drop our luggage and catch a ride to the beach to join others in touring the famous Punta Uvita or “Whale’s Tale”, Ballena Island, Tres Hermanas rocks and Ventanas Sea Caves. During the tour, we can see Humpback and Pilot Whales (in season), and also dolphins. You might see and hear (with a hydrophone) the Humpback Whales and or observe the acrobatic displays of the dolphins. We also visit the coral and rock reefs to snorkel and observe the wonderful marine wildlife. While cruising in the boat, enjoy the scenic beauty of the coastline of Costa Ballena; observe the diversity of birds in the Islets and the amazing caverns of Ventanas Beach. Upon return, the afternoon is yours to indulge. We will check into our rooms at Hotel Canto de Ballenas where you can sit under the covered patio and be treated to a wonderful choreography of colorful birds, hummingbirds, flowers and the sounds of nature. Or lounge around the pool taking in the peaceful setting. Owned and operated by family – you get the true hospitality of the locals. Visitors call it a small paradise where the monkeys and birds entertain you during the evening for dinner and your morning coffee – sitting in an open air restaurant – all part of the experience that makes “off the beaten path” yours to claim.
Day 4 – Piedras Blancas National Park/Playa Cativo Eco Lodge
Nestled in the tranquil waters of Gulfo Dulce, near Osa Peninsula we will arrive (early) to the isolated and remote Playa Cativo Eco Lodge surrounded by the Piedras Blancas National Park. Playa Cativo’s idyllic location is accentuated by the absence of neighbors, other than the Park itself. The boundaries of our over 1,000-acre private reserve are rocky points and ridge tops encircling a mile of pristine beachfront, closed off from the mainstream world.
Here, once again we will drop our luggage and board a boat to gain access to the Osa Wildlife Sanctuary. This is a special treat because you will be meeting Carol Patrick – a friend of Pat’s and the woman responsible for starting the sanctuary several years ago. Hearing her story will restore your belief that anything is possible if you believe in it. Have you ever petted a porcupine or fed a sloth? Or, heard the tale of the prehensile tail? In visiting the Sanctuary, you will see and learn about the natural history, and the ecological importance and conservation efforts for the wildlife found in the Southern Pacific zone of Costa Rica. Not only do you learn a multitude of interesting facts while interacting with some of the wildlife not able to live their natural lives in the wild, but you will be supporting the Foundation that saves and releases wildlife. If possible, Carol’s “friend” – Sweety, a spider monkey – will come and sit on your lap or ask you to give her a scratch! You will return to Playa Cativo – again – by boat – to spend the afternoon relaxing along the shore or experiencing any number of activities of your choice. Guests can take advantage of paddle boarding, snorkeling, self-guided walks in and around the property, kayaking in the bay, artisanal hand-line pier fishing, birdwatching…just to name a few. We will finish the day at the El Gavilán Restaurant located on-site. The restaurant features à la carte gourmet dining in a private setting. Inspired by the breathtaking views of Golfo Dulce in the Pacific Ocean, the chef’s creations feature the finest seasonal organic produce harvested daily from our on-site organic farm, along with organic poultry, responsibly and locally caught seafood, and grass-fed Costa Rican beef.
Day 5 – Piedras Blancas National Park- Rainforest Biodiversity, Wildlife and Natural Beauty
Our day starts with a Nature Hike enjoying a morning with the beauty and convenience of the surrounding Piedras Blancas National Park. Because the lodge is surrounded by the national park, we will not have to go far to see wildlife at its best. Networks of trails in nearly every direction from the lodge await your discovery. Parts of Playa Cativo are rugged and steep due to its characteristic topography, so trails are rated for different excursion levels, from touring to challenging. The flora of Piedras Blancas National Park is among the richest on the planet, with several thousand different species of plants and hundreds of trees, some very rare and in danger of extinction. It is very similar to the Corcovado National Park but less travelled. Piedras Blancas has even more tree species than Corcovado. The fauna is composed of approximately 140 species of mammals, 350 species of birds, over 100 amphibians and reptiles and several thousand insects. Get ready to hike through the virgin rainforest and pristine waterfalls, with panoramic views of the Golfo Dulce, wetlands and beach. An experience of a lifetime awaits you on the 1,000 acre private tropical rainforest reserve!
With its 35,000 acres of tropical rainforest, Piedras Blancas National Park, a former extension of the nearby Corcovado National Park (in the Osa Peninsula), protects some of the last remaining stretches of undisturbed lowland primary (or old growth) rainforest in Central America. Of all the land-based ecosystems in the world, tropical lowland rainforests are the most biologically diverse and serve as a refuge for many threatened species. The Park surrounding Playa Cativo is a critical last stand for an estimated 750 species of trees, 140 species of mammals, 367 species of birds (with a number of species endemic to the region), 117 species of reptiles, and almost 10,000 species of insects.
Piedras Blancas offers visitors a chance to encounter rare and fascinating creatures, including all four species of monkeys (capuchin, howler, spider and squirrel) found in Costa Rica, white-nosed coatis, two species of deer, kinkajous, agoutis, peccaries and sloths. Although rarely seen during the day, the Park contains five species of cats: jaguars, pumas, ocelots, margays and jaguarondis. In addition to offering a safe shelter to threatened species, Piedras Blancas has provided the site for several reintroduction projects. The vibrantly colored but endangered scarlet macaw is another creature that has benefitted from the remoteness of our forest.
Day 6 – Corcovado National Park/Luna Lodge
We will be leaving this morning via boat to Puerto Jimenez where we will be met by a driver who will take us to Luna Lodge, a lowland tropical rainforest – located on 150 acres of tropical wilderness on an isolated peninsula in the southern part of Costa Rica. After getting settled we will take advantage of the immediate surroundings and take a short one hour hike to the waterfalls with a guide. There are three amazing waterfalls on the grounds of Luna lodge. The guided tour is an introduction to the rainforest where you will encounter a great variety of plants, trees, birds, insects, mammals, and, of course, fresh pure water. Once back to the lodge, the rest of the day is set aside for you to enjoy and experience at your leisure. Tentatively scheduled is the Sunset Bird Watching opportunity. Around 3:30pm we will start walking around the grounds of Luna Lodge looking for birds with impressive colors and marvelous melodies and songs. Within moments we will encounter different habitats and also a grand diversity of Birds, like Short-Billed Pigeon, Scarlet Macaw, Red-Crowned Woodpecker, Bright-Rumped Attila, Fiery-Billed Aracari and many more species. With the help of the experienced guides it will be much easier to find them. For the lovers of nature and especially birds this excursion is an excellent option for your appetite. Because the lodge is isolated all of our meals will be prepared on-site at the restaurant, “El Eclipse Total”, which features international cuisine and is open all day. As guests, you will dine on inventive cuisine and exotic native dishes, homemade breads, organic fruits and veggies, and scrumptious salads, accompanied with natural juices, sodas, or your favorite tropical libations. The dining area is open and spacious, affording comfort for dozens of guests and many opportunities to interact with the surrounding wildlife.
Day 7 – Corcovado National Park – Jewel of the Osa Peninsula, the Amazon of Costa Rica
Today is your choice of activity – one of the lodge’s favorites is a custom tour of the primary rainforest ridge hike. This is a very special tour that Luna Lodge offers which gives you the opportunity to experience several local microenvironments all in the same day. Your guide will take you deep into the primary rainforest along a protected ridge high above the Pacific, where you will look for three species of monkeys, two types of peccaries, and the many other diverse species of wildlife that may present themselves. After descending along the trail through several levels of varied terrain, you emerge into the wide open spaces and fine volcanic sands of Carate beach, where, after a delectable picnic lunch on the shore, it’s your call for the rest of the day. Swimming? Body surfing? Beachcombing? Frisbee? Fishing? After indulging in your choice of seaside pleasures, you can return either by truck or foot to the lodge depending on how much more excitement – and exertion – your body can take.
Famous for being–the Amazon of Costa Rica—the Corcovado National Park is the largest stronghold of primary forest on a Pacific coastline, and is famous for holding 3% of the biodiversity on this side of the planet. Some say that it is “the most biologically intense place on Earth” and it is widely considered the crown jewel in the extensive system of national parks and biological reserves spread across the country.
The main feature of the Osa Peninsula, and that which makes it famous throughout the world, is Corcovado National Park. It protects approximately 54,539 hectares of humid rainforest and 24,000 hectares of pristine ocean. Corcovado National Park has become an international attraction since it was founded in 1975. It is the #3 ranked national park in the world, mainly because 2% of the entire world’s biodiversity can be found within the park. It is also home to almost 400 species of birds, 140 species of mammals and 116 species of amphibians and reptiles and 6000 species of insects. Six natural eco-systems have been identified in the park. It protects endangered species such as the jaguar, puma, crocodile, tapir, poison dart and golden frogs and the harpy eagle. The rainforest is also home to numerous plants and insects that are extremely valuable for scientific and medical discovery. It is the premier place in Costa Rica to see the diverse wildlife that exists in the country.
Day 8 – Tortuguero National Park/Tortuga Lodge & Gardens
If time permits, an early bird watching opportunity is available at Luna Lodge prior to departure. Rise and shine to the fresh early morning air to find hundreds of birds already awake. There are two different loop trails that are available. For keen birders and animal lovers, the tour will be a special treat. Breakfast will be waiting for you when you return. A comprehensive list of almost 300 birds in the area surrounding Luna Lodge along with their sighting frequency has been recorded. Avid birders can check off birds as they are seen during their visit.
Leaving the Osa Peninsula behind, you will fly across the country traveling by private charter flight from Carate to Tortuguero. The pilot will give you a “bird’s eye” view of the voracious rain forests as we pass over on our way to the Caribbean coast and land on a small airstrip in Tortuguero. Once arrived, we will once again travel by boat to Tortuga Lodge & Gardens. After arriving we will store our luggage and tour the village of Tortuguero and have lunch “in town” – while our rooms are being prepared.
The first inhabitants of the area were Zambo-Miskito Indians and escaped slaves. The villagers subsided off the entire Caribbean coast, raiding cacao plantations and hunting turtle. Nineteenth century sailors included the coast of Tortuguero in their route because they were able to purchase turtle meat, oil and shell to be sold in Europe.
Today’s descendants are mostly from Jamaica, Costa Rica’s main Caribbean city of Limon (also of Jamaican descent) and Nicaragua. Most families came to the north Atlantic Coast of Costa Rica in the early 1940’s, to work for a lumber company. At that time Tortuguero residents survived on subsistence hunting, the bananas, plantains and cassava that they could grow and of course the fish they caught. Most of the men worked logging the forest; and they then tied the logs together and floated them down river, where a boat would haul them to port.
Over time, the village became more focused on tourism and today most of the adults work in some form of tourism or conservation related business. The village has made a big effort to get their basic needs met, such as running water, medical and dental care, and garbage collection and management. Today the town has a population of approximately 1500.
After touring the village, a return to the lodge to explore their grounds, or rest – your choice. Dinner will be cooked and served in the traditional style…that of a Costa Rican grandmother would cook if she was also a creative and contemporary professional chef. The atmosphere in the restaurant is quiet, laid back and tranquil, with open views of the Tortuguero River. No background music, only the sounds of the many birds, monkeys, frogs and crickets of the forest. You can indulge in a Caribbean themed cocktail while contemplating life on the river.
Day 9 – Tortuguero National Park
This morning we will take a 3 hour private boat tour with a local Naturalist Guide into the back water lagoons and creeks of Tortuguero National Park. Your boat is equipped with an ice chest with water and if you’d like to have additional beverages in the boat you can ask your guide to stock your favorite drinks. The time of your scheduled tour may change depending on weather conditions and occupancy.
The lodge’s guides leave for the park in the morning after breakfast, or in the early afternoon. Do either, and then do the other. The coastal rainforest is a place that changes as the day progresses, and no two tours are the same.
In the early morning hours, you’re likely to catch wildlife seeking their energy source for the day. Howler monkeys, Northern Jacanas and even river otters will be out hunting, while caimans quietly wait for their next meal.
In the early afternoon, foraging may still be going intensely, but falls off as the sun drops lower in the sky. Egrets and tiger herons move towards their nests, while White Faced Capuchin monkeys keep the party going until sunset. But as the afternoon light dims, the cacophony of the forest comes to a climax and then as if on cue… quiet. A return to the lodge leaves you an opportunity to wander the grounds, take a nap or sip a cool drink sitting next to the river… again, lots of choices.
History of Tortuguero and Tortuguero National Park –
There is evidence that native people visited Tortuguero during the 5 month nesting season to hunt the Atlantic Green Sea Turtle since way before Europeans arrived in the Western Hemisphere. By the mid 1800’s there was thriving trade in turtle meat, oil and shells, much of which was exported to the United States and Europe. Today Tortuguero, still only accessible by boat or light aircraft, has become a mecca for nature travelers. But it was not until 1910 that Don Walton Martinez a sea captain of Afro Caribbean origin decided to settle permanently in Tortuguero, where he planted coconut palms as a way to have a year around income. Despite his Spanish surname Don Walton’s native tongue was Afro-Caribbean English and he named his new home, “Turtle Bog.” When Don Walton died in 1941 the entire population of Tortuguero consisted of his 7 children and their families.
In 1947 timber companies from the United States set up operations in Turtle Bog. And the area was quickly transformed from what was essentially an extended family farm to a town. The people of Spanish origin who came to work in the lumber business called the place Tortuguero. Then in 1954 Dr. Archie Carr, a zoologist from the University of Florida, Gainesville arrived in Tortuguero to study sea turtles and the town was on its way to another big change. By 1972 the timber boom was over. Many people left Tortuguero. Those who stayed returned to turtles and coconuts for income and hunting and fishing for much of their food. A few found work helping Dr. Carr.
It was also in 1972 that the first telephone came to Tortuguero. It functioned as a kind of concession in which the concessionaire, a no nonsense business-woman named, Sabina, paid the phone company and charged the phone calls by the minute—some people said by the second. Then in 1975 Dr. Carr and Costa Rican National Park System Founders, Alvaro Ugalde and Mario Boza convinced the Costa Rican Government to create Tortuguero National Park. The coming of the park deprived the town’s inhabitants of their traditional sources of sustenance. By 1980 the population of the town had shrunk from an estimated 300 persons at the peak of the timber boom to less than 200. Beginning in the early 80’s attracted by the beauty of the park and its highly diverse and abundant wild-life vanguard travelers began to discover Tortuguero. Enchanted by what they found those early travelers spread the word. Now Tortuguero, still only accessible by boat or light air-craft, is a mecca for nature travelers. The population has grown to some 1,700 inhabitants. The town’s traditional problems due to isolation and poverty have been replaced by the challenges of absorbing the impact of over 100,000 visitors a year.
Day 10 – Hotel Grano de Oro – San Jose
Today we will say our good-byes to Tortuguero and travel by boat and private taxi to San Jose – always keeping an eye on the beautiful terrain and wildlife. Once in the city of San Jose, you will check in at the Hotel Grano de Oro, a converted tropical Victorian mansion. Depending on your arrival time and desire, you have the option to tour Sarchi – the most famous crafts center in Costa Rica where artisans produce the ornately painted oxcarts. You know you have arrived because just about everything is covered in the signature geometric designs – even city hall. After shopping, a return to the hotel to rest and prepare for departure back to the states the next day and a farewell dinner to relive the adventures and plan for the next one!
Day 11 – Departure from San Jose
You have the option (very early) to tour the Central Mercado in the Central Plaza for shopping prior to your departure. You will find everything imaginable in bright colors – from pharmaceuticals to gifts to bring home. If you wish, a packed meal can be prepared to take with you for the flight home. Private transportation from the hotel to the San Jose airport is arranged to ensure ample time for check-in. Check in at the international airport is at least 3 hours prior to flight time.
VILLAS NICOLAS – MANUEL ANTONIO NATIONAL PARK
HOTEL CANTO DE BALLENAS – MARINE BALLENA NATIONAL PARK
PLAYA CATIVO – PIEDRAS BLANCAS NATIONAL PARK
LUNA LODGE – CORCOVADO NATIONAL FOREST
TORTUGA LODGE & GARDENS – TORTUGUERO NATIONAL PARK
HOTEL GRANO DE ORO – SAN JOSE
Tour Pricing & Booking
$4,875.00 double occupancy
Fees based on double occupancy
Air travel into and out of San Jose – not included.