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self-drive tour of Costa Rica: Discover Costa Rica

This 15 day itinerary allows for a bit more time to see some of the most interesting areas of the country. From the central volcano region to the cloudforest of Monteverde and Manuel Antonio on the Pacific Coast, to the Cloud forest around Gerardo de Dota and over to the Caribbean Coast - this is a very diverse itinerary that provides a great insight into Costa Rica's varied topography, biodiversity and cultures.

Day 1: Arrival and overnight

Upon your arrival in Costa Rica, after passing through passport control an agent of CANATUR will welcome you and accompany you through to baggage claim and customs. Outside the terminal our English-speaking airport guide will be waiting for you and take you to to Hotel Barceló Palma Real***(*). On the way you will receive your travel documentation, your vouchers and important information about Costa Rica.

Overnight at: Hotel Barcelo Palma Real***(*)
Included meals today: none

Day 2: Car delivery - Pedacito de Cielo/ Horquetas

La Paz Waterfall, Costa RicaYour car will be delivered to your hotel after breakfast. You will need a credit card (Visa, Mastercard, American Express or Diners) and your valid national driving license. After completing the formalities you will leave San Jose and head for Alajuela, the second biggest town in Costa Rica. From here you will drive to Poás volcano (entrance fee US$7 per person). You can park your car safely inside the large parking lot. After a short walk you reach the main crater of the volcano. With a diameter of 1,8 km the crater of Poás Volcano is one of the biggest in the world. We recommend visiting this place before 10h00 in the morning as later in the day clouds for and obscure the view. After visiting this crater, you can take a 30 minute walk to another crater. On this short trip you'll be able to observe many interesting plants and birds. After returning to your car we recommend driving towards San Miguel. Along the way you might want to visit "La Paz Waterfall Gardens", currently the biggest butterfly garden in the world. They also have a hummingbird garden und an extensive beautiful orchid collection. On a 2-hour-walk you can admire the four waterfalls "El Templo", "Magia Blanca", "Encantada" and "La Paz". You will pass La Paz Waterfall once again by car when you continue on your way to the Caribbean Coast. Once you reach the Caribbean lowlands you will drive via Pital and Boca Tapada to Pedacito de Cielo**(*) Lodge, where you will spend the night.

Overnight at: Pedacito de Cielo
Total km today: about 150km
Total driving time today: about 4 hours
Included meals today: breakfast

Pedacito del Cielo Lodge and ReserveDay 3: Pedacito de Cielo/ Horquetas

The Lodge, whose name means 'Little Piece of Heaven' has a private reserve, which protects 300 ha of rainforest. Today you can hike through this interesting ecosystem and observe animals and plants. Right next to the lodge you will find a lagoon that extends 900 meters into the jungle. You can use the complimentary kayaks to paddle silently through the rainforest, one of the best ways to see animals.

Overnight at: Pedacito de Cielo**(*).
Total km today: none
Total driving time today: none
Included meals today: breakfast

Day 4: Pedacito de Cielo/ Horquetas - Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

The next part of your discovery tour takes you via Pital, Aguas Zarcas and Muelle to La Fortuna, located at the foot of Arenal Volcano, passing through extensive fruit plantations along the way. We recommend a visit at 'Ecocentro Danaus', which has a butterfly garden, snake museum and a collection of medicinal plants. Your room for the night is reserved at Hotel Arenal Paraíso***(*) from where you will have a beautiful view of the active volcano. Relax in the thermal pool of the hotel, which also offers excellent views. At night the views are especially impressive as glowing stones roll down the slope of the volcano.

Overnight at: Hotel Arenal Paraíso***(*), superior room
Total km today: about 100km
Total driving time today: about 3 hours
Included meals today: breakfast

Monteverde Walkway, Costa Rica

Day 5: Arenal Volcano - Monteverde

Once again you'll pass the volcano and continue along the shore of Lake Arenal. A beautiful part in tropical rainforest follows now. Sometimes you can see coatis, monkeys and a many colorful birds. Then the road gets worse, and you reach the village of Nuevo Arenal. Continue around the northern part of Lake Arenal, where it is almost always windy. Even from a distance the windmills of the Guanacaste mountains can be seen. In Tilarán follow the road towards Monteverde / Santa Elena. The last stretch of the road is in rather poor condition, especially after heavy rainfalls. A longer route first leads to Las Juntas or Cañas and from there, on over a stretch of about 35km of bumpy road, to Monteverde. Check-in at Hotel Belmar***/ Main building.

Overnight at: Hotel Belmar***/Main building.
Total km today: about 125km (direct via Tilarán), or about 145km via Las Juntas and Cañas
Total driving time today: about 3 ½ hours via Tilarán, about 4 ½ hours via Las Juntas and Cañas
Included meals today: breakfast

Day 6: Monteverde

Monteverde has many different excursions and tours to offer. We especially recommend the Monteverde or Santa Elena Reserve or the private reserve at Hotel Heliconia, where you won't find many people walking the trails. Other very interesting tours are the hanging bridges of Selvatura or the SKYWALK, systems of suspension bridges that lead through the canopy of the cloud forest, providing a bird's eye view of this secret world. The canopy tour of Selvatura or SKYTREK are very adventurous ways to observe the jungle. Strapped in a harness you glide from platform to platform on steal cables - not for the faint hearted! Santa Elena, a small village close to Monteverde, also has a butterfly farm, a snake museum, a hummingbird gallery and a cheese factory. We highly recommend a guided tour through Monteverde Reserve.

Overnight at: Monteverde Country Lodge***
Total km today: none
Total driving time today: none
Included meals today: breakfast

Day 7: Monteverde - Quepos / Manuel Antonio

Titimonkey, costa RicaAfter following 35 km of gravel road you will reach the Panamerican Highway. Continue south via Puntarenas and Orotina to Jacó on the Central Pacific Coast. Here you can visit Carara National Park, which you will reach 5 km after the long bridge across Tarcoles River (entrance fee appr. US$8 per person). Carara protects a unique ecosystem of mixed forest (dry / humid), which gives rise to an incredibly rich diversity of plants and animals as well as numerous species of orchids. But the main attraction of the park are the large red Scarlet Macaw parrots - Carara is one of only two sites in Costa Rica where these beautiful rare birds can be observe. The other site is in Corcovado, at the very southern tip of the Osa peninsula. Afterwards continue along the coast passing Jacó, until you reach Quepos / Manuel Antonio. Check-in at hotel La Forestera***/ Junior Suite.

Overnight at Hotel La Forestera***/Junior Suite
Total km today: about 200km
Total driving time today: about 4 ½ hours
Included meals today: breakfast

Manuel Antonio National ParkDay 8: Manuel Antonio National Park

You can't miss Manuel Antonio National Park (closed on Mondays, entrance fee US$ 7 per person), located just 80 km south of your hotel. The park protects beautiful beaches bordered by rainforest, which you can explore on the extensive trail system. Several species of mammals can be observed here including the endangered Tití monkeys. Return to Hotel La Forestera*** where you will spend the night.

Overnight at: Hotel La Forestera
Total km today: about 15km
Total driving time today: about 30 minutes
Included meals today: breakfast

Day 9: Quepos / Manuel Antonio - Dominical - Cerro de la Muerte

Your discovery tour continues south towards Dominical. Here you will find beautiful wild beaches that are practically empty. Shortly before reaching Dominical you can visit the private reserve of Hacienda Bar. From there follow the road towards San Isidro del General, where you will reach the Panamerican Highway again. Soon you will start to climb the Talamanca mountain range and cross the highest pass of Costa Rica, the Cerro de la Muerte, at 3400 meters above sea level. Some 8 km later turn left towards San Gerardo de Dota, a small village situated at 2200 meters above sea level. Your room is reserved at Savegre Lodge**(*). This area is the best place in Costa Rica to observe the legendary Quetzal, a shy and colorful bird, which was already almost 'loved to extinction' by the Mayas and other Indian populations. Enjoy a walk through the jungle and observe birds in the later afternoon. (Bring some warmer clothes for this part of the trip - it can get chilly up here)

Overnight at: Savegre Lodge (Junior Suite)
Total km today: about 140km
Total driving time today: about 3 ½ hours
Included meals today: breakfast.

Day 10: San Gerardo de Dota - Cartago - Turrialba

The early morning hours are the best time to hike through the beautiful cloud forest - and a must for birdwatchers. It is a fascinating experience to watch the forest wake up early in the morning. Later you will drive to Turrialba via Cartago. Overnight at Hotel Casa Turire****. Close to Cartago you can visit the Lankester Botanical Gardens with its beautiful orchid and bromelia collections, or climb up to Irazú Volcano (entrance fee US$ 7 per person), where, if the weather is clear, you can see the green crater lake and appreciate beautiful views of the Atlantic and the Pacific coast (this part is not included in the km- and time calculation).

Overnight at: Hotel Casa Turire ****/ Standard.
Total km today: about 110km (without Irazú Volcano)
Total driving time today: about 2 ½ hours (without Irazú Volcano)
Included meals today: breakfast

Day 11: Turrialba - Limón - Puerto Viejo

In Turrialba you can visit a coffee and sugarcane plantation. When you set off again, continue on the winding road Siquirres. From the mountains you often have a majestic view of the Atlantic coast - but if you want to admire it, stop the car. Winding mountain roads demand respect and full attention. In Siquirres turn right and continue towards Limón and the Caribbean coast. A few km south of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca you will find your hotel.

Overnight at Hotel Cariblue***/ Standard
Total km today: about 165km
Total driving time today: about 3 ½ hours
Included meals today: breakfast

Day 12: Puerto Viejo

Gandoca Manzanillo ReserveThere are beautiful beaches in this area. Highly recommended is a drive to the southernmost part of Costa Ricas's Caribbean Coast, Here you will find beautiful white sandy beaches. You can also explore the Gandoca Manzanillo Reserve, located just a few kilometers south of your hotel.

Overnight at hotel Cariblue***/ Standard
Total km today: none
Total driving time today: none
Included meals today: breakfast

Day 13: Puerto Viejo

Another day at your leisure to enjoy the Caribbean coast.

Overnight at hotel Cariblue***/ Standard
Total km today: none
Total driving time today: none
Included meals today: breakfast

Day 14: Puerto Viejo - San José - Car return

You can still enjoy the beaches during the morning. Return to San José via Limón, Siquirres, Guápiles and Braulio Carillo National Park. If you leave early from Puerto Viejo, you will have the opportunity to stop and enjoy a ride on the Aerial Tram, located in the Braulio Carillo National Park. Return your car before 06.00pm at Hotel Barceló Palma Real***(*).

Overnight at Hotel Barcelo Palma Real***(*)
Total km today: about 230km
Total driving time today: about 4 hours
Included meals today: breakfast

Day 15: Transfer to the airport or extension program

Transfer to the airport or extension program
Included meals today: breakfast

Package Rate 2016/2017 - per person

DoubleTriple Single (1x) Single (2x)
1 Nov 16 -19 Dec 16
09 Jan 17 - 08 Apr 17

US$1557 US$1260 US$2788 US$2390
10 May 17 - 31 Oct 17
US$1447 US$1169US$2582 US2229
17 Apr 17 - 09 May 17 US$1557 US$1260 US$2788 US$2390

• Transfer in and out on seat-in basis
• Overnight stay at the mentioned hotels or similar in rooms with private bathroom
• Meals as per description 
• Rental car with basic insurance as follows:
- 1 pax: SUV Economic 4WD (Suzuki Jimny or similar)
- 2 pax: SUV Compact 4WD (Daihatsu BeGo or similar)
- 3 & 4 pax: SUV Intermediate 4WD Manual (Hyundai Tucson IX35 or similar
• Documentation with information about the country in English

Not included
• Further services (insurances except basic insurance, GPS etc.) for the rental car
• Tips
• Fees for national parks and other activities
• Tours
• Drinks 
• Airport departure tax SJO, currently USD 29 per person

Hotels Used for this Itinerary

Hotel Barceló Palma Real***(*), San José

Official classification:

****

Total number of rooms:

67

Location:

Hotel Barceló Palma Real is located north of Sabana Park in a classy district of San José, surrounded by houses, business buildings, restaurants and some shops. San José downtown can be reached by taxi within 10 - 20 minutes depending on traffic.

Transfer time:

Approximately 20 minutes from the airport

Hotel facilities:

  • Babysitter
  • Courier services
  • Currency exchange
  • Fitness Center
  • Flight confirmation services
  • Fully-equipped business center
  • Express check in/out Gift shop
  • Late check-out
  • Laundry service
  • Medical services
  • Meeting facilities for up to 100
  • Open air Jacuzzi
  • Live Music
  • Sustainability Certificate
  • Free Shuttle Service Airport- Hotel - Airport

Room facilities:

All rooms are comfortable, nicely appointed with private bathroom, hair dryer, air-conditioning, mini-bar, coffee makers, complimentary coffee, safe deposit box, telephone, wireless high-speed internet access, cable TV. There are rooms available for smokers.

Our opinion:

This hotel offers excellent value. Due to its small size the service is highly personal. Its location is ideal, yet it is situated in a quiet area.

Pedacito del Cielo Cabanas, Boca Tapada, Costa Rica
Pedacito del Cielo, Bocas Tapada, Costa Rica

Pedacito de Cielo**(*), Boca Tapada

A charming new Jungle Lodge in Boca Tapada at the shore of the San Carlos River.

Official category:

**(*)

Total number of rooms:

12

Location:

The new Pedacito de Cielo Lodge located in the northern lowlands, 23 km south of the Nicaraguan border and close to San Carlos River has its own private 250ha pristine tropical rainforest reserve. From San Miguel or Aguas Zarcas you drive to Pital, where you will find the intersection towards Boca Tapada. Follow this road for the next 25 km and once in Boca Tapada, follow the signs to the lodge. You need a 4-wheel drive car to reach Pedacito de Cielo Lodge. Besides Laguna del Lagarto Lodge, this is the only lodge in this area, so you can't miss it. (Road Signs)

Transfer time:

From San José about 4-5 hours, from Pital 1 - 1½ hours.

Hotel facilities:

This lodge is run by Costa Ricans and offers a restaurant serving mainly local dishes. Within close proximity of the lodge you can make your first wildlife and flora observations. Hiking through the private reserve into the rainforest at about 2km from the lodge, you can encounter Poison-arrow frogs, monkeys, toucans, green parrots and caimans, as well as an impressive range of plants. You can also do kayaking or boat tours etc on the river near the lodge. A very special experience is a boat tour on the San Carlos River until you almost reach San Juan River, which represents the border to Nicaragua.

Room facilities:

All rooms have private bathrooms and a terrace with chair-hammocks. No hot water yet.

Our opinion:

A real piece of heaven in the jungle with attention to detail and excellent Tico-Service! Recommended minimum stay: 2 nights.

Cabanas at Paraiso Arenal Hotel, Costa Rica
Hotel Paraiso Arenal Room
Pool at Paraiso Arenal Hotel, Costa Rica

Hotel Arenal Paraiso***(*), La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano, Zone 1

Official category:

****

Total number of rooms:

120 (40 Standard, 78 Superior, 2 Suites)

Location:

Situated on a hill, this hotel offers a spectacular view of Arenal Volcano. From La Fortuna, about 7 km towards the volcano. From Lake Arenal, about 2km after Tabacón Hotsprings.

Transfer time:

From San José about 3 ½ hours. From Tilarán about 2 hours. From Monteverde about 3 hours.

Hotel facilities:

The 65ha finca besides of the excellent views to the active side of Arenal Volcano offers a few kilometers of private trails and its own canopy tour. The main attraction of the hotel is its pool park. Water from the thermal hot springs is pumped up to the highest point of the property and flows down to the main pool area, feeding several small pools along its way. There are also some fresh water pools and one of the thermal pools offers a wet bar. Next to the pool area, the hotel offers a complete Spa, where different wellness packages are available. A magnificent view of the volcano can be enjoyed right from the pool. Additionally, the hotel offers a restaurant and conference rooms. Various tours can be arranged at the hotel.

Room facilities:

The rooms are distributed in the nice, big garden, and all have direct view of the volcano. Standard rooms have a private bathroom, refrigerator, fan and balcony. Superior rooms are separate bungalows, very spacious with private bathroom, refrigerator, fan, air condition, TV, telephone and a terrace with windows on two sides, making it possible to observe the volcano in comfort, even at night or on windy days.

Our opinion:

Excellent location to observe the volcanic activity from a safe distance.

Hotel Monteverde Country Lodge, Monteverde, Costa Rica
Monteverde Country Lodge Bedroom
Monteverde Country Lodge Lobby

Monteverde Country Lodge***, Monteverde

Official category:

***

Total number of rooms:

59

Location:

The Monteverde Country Lodge can be found right in the heart of Montverde in the northern part of the province of Puntarenas..

Transfer time:

From San José about 3 hours, from Santa Elena by car about 10 minutes.

Hotel facilities:

This lodge has been recently remodelled and holds now three different areas and sceneries providing a warm, cosy, upscale environment for guests to feel as comfy as possible. Since Monteverde Country Lodge is located in the heart of the cloud forest, visitors will have the chance to experience the subtropical evergreen mountains – a misty shelter of rare species – and yet have a nice place to rest after exploring the region. Sitting out in their spacious and beautifully landscaped gardens as the sun goes down is a favourite!

Room facilities:

Roomy wood walls accentuate the warm ambience and bridge the interiors to the peace-giving outdoors by reminding you to surround yourself with simple, natural materials. All rooms are kept very clean and can accommodate up to four people. The ones upstairs have a chair in their balconies. They also have a large walk-in shower.

Our opinion:

Accommodating staff and a great location. Typical Costa Rican meals and fusion cuisine are served in the lodge's own restaurant. They help you scheduling walks to the Santa Elena and Monteverde cloud forest reserves as well as arranging canopy, coffee and night tours.

Savegre Lodge Cabin, Gerardo de Dota
Savegre Lodge, Room, Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica
savegre Lodge Garden, Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica

Savegre Lodge**(*)

Official category:

***

Total number of rooms:

29

Location:

Located on the grounds of a 400ha finca, of which 250ha consist of primary forest. Coming from San José via the Pan-American Highway you drive south and up to the Cerro de la Muerte pass on a very twisty road. At km 80 you have to turn right to San Gerardo de Dota. After about 9 more km you reach the village and the lodge.

Transfer time:

From San José about 2½ hours, from San Isidro about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Hotel facilities:

The family style, homely lodge has a restaurant serving local cuisine. There is a bar and a conference room. You can explore the rainforest on well maintained trails. Horses can be hired and the hotel offers various activities such as bird watching tours, guided hikes and trout fishing. Catch your dinner, a rainbow trout, yourself and let the chef prepare it for you!

Room facilities:

Standard Rooms: Simple but nicely decorated, with private bathroom, hot water and heating system.
Junior Suites: Large and nice rooms with luxury bathroom, hair dryer, bath tub, sitting area, open fire place, heating system and 2 terraces.

Our opinion:

An ideal place for bird watching and hiking. We recommend the Junior Suites! At this altitude it can get nippy. Bring some warm clothes.

Casa Turire House, Turialba, Costa Rica
Casa Turire Lounge, Turialba, Costa Rica
Casa Turire Room, Turialba, Costa Rica

Hotel Casa Turire****, Turrialba/La Suiza

Official category:

****

Total number of rooms:

16 (12 standard, 2 suite-superior, 1 junior suite, 1 master suite)

Location:

This first-class-hotel is situated in the middle of a big coffee plantation. Coming from Turrialba and going towards Siquirres you reach the hotel after about 15 minutes, it is very well sign posted. Coming from Siquirres, follow the signs before you reach Turrialba.

Transfer time:

From San José about 1 hour 45 minutes. From Turrialba about 15 minutes. From Siquirres about 1 hour.

Hotel facilities:

This is the perfect place to learn all about coffee. The hotel has a beautiful swimming pool located in the extensive gardens. The gourmet restaurant serves international cuisine. Of course, not only coffee tours, but other excursions such as mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding and tours to the rainforest can be booked at the reception. A tennis court and a "driving range" offer sports diversion.

Room facilities:

All rooms provide private bathroom, hairdryer, telephone, satellite-TV, fan and a private balcony.

Our opinion:

A class of it's own! Comfortable, characteristic hospitality with excellent service.

Hotel Cariblue, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
Pool at Hotel Cariblue, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
Bungalow at Hotel Cariblue, Caribbean beach hotel, Costa Rica
Room at Hotel Cariblue, Caribbean beach hotel, Costa Rica

Hotel Cariblue***, Puerto Viejo

Official classification:

***

Total number of rooms:

22

Location:

Hotel Cariblue is nestled in a tropical garden with large jungle trees, approximately 2 km south of Puerto Viejo. The beach is only 100 meters away from the hotel and you reach it by walking on a trail and then crossing the road from Puerto Viejo-Manzanillo.

Transfer time:

Approximately 4 ½ hours by road from San José

Hotel facilities:

This pleasant nature hotel consists of different wooden buildings distributed in its tropical garden. The reception, restaurant and bar are located in 2 ranchos with palm-thatched roofs. The rooms are approximately 100 meters away from the restaurant and can be reached on trails through the garden. The hotel offers a swimming pool with Jacuzzi.

Room facilities:

You can select three different room types. All rooms are constructed with elegant woods.
6 Standard Bunglows: located in 2 separate buildings and equipped with private bathroom, hot water, ceiling fan and terrace.
10 Superior Bungalows: each bungalow is equipped with private bathroom, hot water, ceiling fan and large terrace with hammocks. These individual bungalows offer a lot of privacy.
1 House: with 2 separate sleeping rooms, each with private bathroom, hot water, and ceiling fan. The two rooms have a large common terrace with hammocks and a completely equipped kitchen.

Our opinion:

This is an ideal place for nature lovers looking for a place to enjoy a quiet holiday at a beautiful Caribbean beach, with excellent service. The house is perfect for families with children.

For further information and booking inquiries please send us and e-mail.