The beautiful cone of its namesake volcano soars above Volcán Arenal National Park

In 2008, Rutahsa Adventures organized and led its first Costa Rica excursion, and what a great trip it was! Volcanoes and cloud forest, canopy zip lines, bathing in hot springs, time on the beach, whitewater rafting, more wildlife than you can imagine, and good food and great traveling companions. And a popular trip it was, selling out in no time! With an introduction like that, it's only natural we are going back to beautiful Costa Rica, Central America's primo eco-adventure destination.

Our 2009 trip will cover Costa Rica from the Pacific to the Atlantic and all the most important high points in between. Plus, we will cross over into next-door Nicaragua for a boat trip down the fabled Río San Juan, the preferred route to California during the Gold Rush, the presumed site of the trans-isthmian canal, and lifeline of William Walker's adventurers who took over Nicaragua in a forgotten backwater of history. Our itinerary will include dolphin and crocodile watching, whitewater rafting, canopy tours and zip lines, Pacific and Atlantic beaches, visits to volcanoes and hot springs, a tour of a coffee plantation, and much, much more.

The itinerary includes many of the best-known attractions of Costa Rica-- Monteverde cloudforest preserve, active Arenal volcano, Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific, Tortuguero National Park on the Atlantic and of course, the capital city San José. So take a look at our plans and e-mail us if you want an application!

Here's our itinerary:

Day 1, Tues., Sept. 15: Today is mainly a flight day, from the US (or wherever you start your trip) to Costa Rica. Today is El Quince, the 15th of September, Costa Rica's Independence day. Appropriately enough, you will land in Juan Santamaría International Airport, named after Costa Rica's national hero from the 19th century "National War". In 1856, Costa Rica spearheaded Central American efforts to liberate Nicaragua from the grip of Tennessee adventurer William Walker and his army of soldiers of fortune who threatened the independence of all Central America. During the Battle of Rivas (in Nicaragua), Juan Santamaría set fire to the house in which Walker and his men were holed up. Santamaría's brave action forced the American "filibusters" into retreat, but he paid with his life. While Walker is virtually forgotten in the US today, Santamaría remains a martyr to Central American unity and a hero to all Costa Ricans.

You will be picked up at the airport and taken to the Hotel Don Carlos (Superior Rooms), a small hotel with a friendly staff, in the historic heart of the capital city.

Those who arrive San José early in the day may have the opportunity to see independence day parades and celebrations.

This evening we will plan to have a group dinner (included) so that we can all get to know our fellow travelers for the next two weeks.

Included meal: D (dinner)

Day 2, Weds., Sept. 16: After breakfast, we will board our charter bus and begin the adventure with our expert Tour Guide and Naturalist, Ricardo Bolaños, driving through the city of Cartago, the former colonial capital, and then follow a road that winds up to Volcán Irazú, a recently active (currently dormant) volcano with an impressive crater. This is a major stratovolcano, with a peak at 3432 m (11,260 ft) above sea level, so expect to huff and puff as you walk to the crater view point.

In 1963-1964 eruptions of pumice and ash from Irazú devastated coffee fincas (plantations) for miles around and dropped large quantities of ash and grit on San José. Today the coffee fincas thrive on the fertile soils enriched by the volcanic ash.

After descending from Irazú, we will head south on the Pan American Highway to reach Savegre Mountain Hotel, our lodgings for the next two nights. Savegre is a working family farm nestled in a steep-sided valley on the Pacific slopes of the Cordillera de Talamanca. The family has taken advantage of Costa Rica's tourism boom by building a series of cabins and opening a very nice restaurant for their guests, even as they continue farming operations. Here's a preview of Savegre Mountain Lodge, where our lodgings will be "Junior Suites".

Included meal: B (breakfast)

Day 3, Thurs., Sept. 17: Our goal for today is to see the shy and elusive Resplendent Quetzal, perhaps the most spectacularly beautiful bird in tropical America. To maximize our chances to see this wonderful creature, we will go on a short drive to a smaller hostelry named, appropriately, El Paraíso de los Quetzales (Paradise of the Quetzals), located in excellent quetzal territory close to the crest of the cordillera.

The quetzal, a member of the trogon family, is a magnificent creature. Both the male and female of the species are beautiful, but in the case of the male the plumage is truly extravagant: his head is a cockade of emerald green, and his shoulders are draped with shimmering metallic emerald green plumes that hang off him like the exaggerated epaulettes of some pompous 19th-century Central American general, while his breast is a screaming crimson. But his greatest glory are his four auxiliary tail plumes --which are up to two or three feet long, emerald in color, and, serving no function other than to make him more attractive to his mate-- as they stream behind him in flight like the tail of a horse at gallop. A truly amazing and beautiful bird. Let us hope the bird spirits and forest genies smile on us and allow us to see both the male and the female quetzales.

Upon our return to Savegre you can enjoy hummingbird watching and strolling about admiring the many tropical plants in the hotel gardens. Or, for the more energetic, we may have time for a hike to a local waterfall.

Second night at Savegre Mountain Lodge. Included meal: B

Day 4, Fri. Sept. 18: This morning we'll continue southward down the spine of the cordillera, passing through a surprising area of stunted alpine vegetation known as páramo... yes folks, these mountains are high, in fact, they hosted glaciers during the Pleistocene ice ages.

Eventually we descend into a valley, and turn westward toward the Pacific, reaching the Dominical area after about three hours of scenic travel. Here, at Marino Ballena National Park we will take a bit of a sea cruise to observe marine life. The probability of seeing pods of dolphins is very high, and whale sightings...well, we need a bit of luck, but this time of year is a good time for whale watching. The probability of interesting scenery is 100%!

After returning to the mainland we will drive north about an hour and a half to La Mansion Inn, near Manuel Antonio National Park, and our lodging for the next two nights. Billed as a "luxury boutique hotel", La Mansion (Standard Rooms) looks like a fine place to spend a couple of nights!

Included meal: B

Day 5, Sat., Sept. 19: We are planning a full day's activities at Manuel Antonio park today. One of Costa Rica's most beautiful coastal parks, Manuel Antonio features three beautiful beaches backed by tropical forest, nature trails for hiking, dramatic rocky headlands, ocean and island views and lots of wildlife. You will want hiking boots and bathing suits for this outing, as well as camera, sun block, and water. We will carry box lunches and make a real day of it.

We will plan to walk out of the park just at closing time and watch the sunset from a nearby beach just outside the park boundary, before returning to La Mansion.

Second night at La Mansion. Included meals: B, BL (box lunch)

Day 6, Sun., Sept. 20: After breakfast we'll again board our private bus and continue north along the coast for about two hours to Tárcoles where we will have a special treat on the Río Tárcoles: a crocodile safari! Yes, real American crocodiles, in great numbers, inhabit the Tárcoles River...good thing we got our swimming done back at Manuel Antonio. There's an old saying, "familiarity breeds contempt", and our boatman for this excursion has certainly gotten familiar with the big crocs. [OK for him, but I'm staying in the boat!]

In addition to the big reptiles, the Tárcoles is great for birds. You might see Scarlet Macaws, Yellow-headed Caracaras, Crested Caracaras, Common Black Hawks, Black-crowned Night-Herons, anhingas, egrets, ibises, Bare-throated Tiger Herons, and vultures, among many other species that frequent this river. Terrific birding locale!

Moving on from Tárcoles, we'll stop for lunch, then continue on north before once again turning inland and ascending into the cordillera to reach world famous Monteverde, arriving at the Hotel Fonda Vela around 5 or 6 PM, in plenty of time to enjoy supper at the hotel's fine restaurant.

Overnight in the Hotel Fonda Vela (Standard Rooms). Included meal: B

Day 7, Mon., Sept. 21: Monteverde was founded about 40 years ago by a group of conservation-minded Quakers looking for a peaceful place to pursue their agrarian lifestyle. The Monteverde cloudforest reserve is one of the best-known and most outstanding wildlife sanctuaries in tropical America. The high elevation forest contains miles of trails and excellent opportunities for spotting tropical birds, including the Resplendent Quetzal which is often sighted here during the months of January to July. Because of its quetzals Monterverde attracts more visitors than any other private preserve in Costa Rica. But whether or not the quetzales reveal themselves, there is much more to see and enjoy here-- you could spot the three-wattled bellbird or an emerald toucan, or other avian species including parrots and of course hummingbirds. Bromeliads, orchids and other types of exuberant tropical vegetation, the cool mountain air and the peaceful ambience make up the constant backdrop that completes Monteverde's charms.

In addition to enjoying hiking through and below beautiful cloud forest in the Monteverde preserve, we plan to see cloud forest from a birds-eye view with a visit to Selvatura, outside the official preserve, where there are suspension bridges, that take you up, through and above the forest canopy.

Next, the adrenaline level goes up a notch with a canopy tour by zip line! Rather than walking along suspension bridges through the canopy, you zip from one treetop platform to another over a series of cables ("zip lines"), including one that is over a kilometer long! Although breath-taking, the ride is perfectly safe, with special equipment holding you securely in place while you flash from platform to platform, and you will be in the care of experienced zip line guides.

For calmer thrills, Selvatura also features one of the largest mariposarios (butterfly houses) in all Central America.

And finally, we have a visit to the intriguing Bat Museum...things you never knew about bats, you'll learn here. There is a lot to see and experience here in Monteverde!

Second night in the Hotel Fonda Vela. Included meal: B

Day 8, Tues., Sept. 22: This morning we will descend the east slope of the mountains to reach Lake Arenal, where we will board a boat that will carry us across the lake to be met on the other side by our bus (sent 'round the long way earlier, with our luggage). Our next stop will be the Eco-Termales hot springs spa, to enjoy one of Mother Nature's greatest luxuries, a volcano-powered thermal bath!

The source of the heat is the classic, soaring cone of Volcán Arenal, one of the most active volcanoes in Central America. Our lodgings tonight will be as close as you can sleep to this great cone, at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, which in fact began operations as a scientific observatory (and is still used by vulcanologists today, as well as by turistas). Our rooms will be in the Smithsonian section, with view of the volcano.

Volcanoes are moody and we won't know for sure what is happening at Arenal until we get there, but our hopes are that we'll get to see some nighttime fireworks from Vulcan's Forge.

Included meal: B

Day 9, Weds., Sept. 23: After breakfast we again mount our bus --but this will be the last time for several days-- and head toward Los Chiles, on the border with Nicaragua and about three and one half hours drive from Arenal. Here we will cross into Nicaragua and begin our trip by charter launch down the storied Río San Juan from San Carlos to San Juan del Norte (also known as Greytown).

The San Juan River historically was Nicaragua's outlet to the Atlantic. The Spanish built a fortress on the river to protect its wealthy inland cities from attack by Caribbean pirates. In 1780, a young Horatio Nelson was in the failed British attack on this fortress. During the Gold Rush the "Nicaraguan Transit", via the San Juan River, was the preferred route to California, being far shorter than around the Horn, mainly free from the deadly diseases of Panama, and free from the ravages of hostile Indians that plagued the overland routes to the west. In 1848, Great Britain forcibly seized San Juan del Norte, Nicaragua's Atlantic port, renaming it Greytown, in an effort to extend their long-standing pretensions to a protectorate over the so-called "Mosquito Kingdom". In 1849 the Nicaraguan government signed a contract with the Atlantic and Pacific Canal Company to build an interoceanic canal along the San Juan, engendering a diplomatic conflict with Costa Rica. During 1855-56, the river became the lifeline of William Walker's filibuster army as General Walker attempted to consolidate his takeover of Nicaragua. Until Teddy Roosevelt and his "Big Stick" created the Republic of Panama, the San Juan remained the preferred locus for a trans-isthmian canal. Today it has lapsed into a backwater, without a lot going on, but redolent with history and cradle of a nascent eco-tourism industry.

We will boat down the winding river, starting at San Carlos on the margin of the inland sea that is Lake Nicaragua. The San Juan, which drains the lake, begins at San Carlos. We will pass first through a zone significantly modified by agricultural endeavors, then into increasingly thicker untamed jungle. After about three hours, and a couple of mild rapids, we will reach the riverside village of El Castillo, situated just below the old Spanish fortress. The town's main street originated as a short rail line used during the glory days of the Nicaraguan Transit to bring passengers and freight around the rapids here. We will disembark here to overnight in Albergue El Castillo, a rustic but very pleasant little hostelry just a few yards from the old fortress El Castillo La Inmaculada Concepción (which we will visit, of course!).

Included meals: B, BL

Day 10, Thurs., Sept. 24: After breakfast we'll descend to the river and reboard our launch to continue downstream to the Río Indio Lodge very near the site of historic San Juan del Norte, or, as the English would have it, Greytown. Our passage takes us along a portion of the Indio-Maiz Biosphere Reserve, and --circumstances permitting-- we'll stop and take a hike on one of the preserve's trails through lowland tropical rain forest, where we can see species not seen in the high cloud forest, such as this amazing "walking palm", which, as the name implies, can and does actually migrate (through time towards the sun, away from the shade). We might also see colorful "poison dart" frogs such as the "blue jeans frog".

We should arrive at Río Indio Lodge in time for a late lunch, and then perhaps a short walk to the old Greytown cemetery.

Overnight at Río Indio Lodge. Included meals: B, L (lunch), D

Day 11, Fri., Sept. 25: This morning will be spent learning more about the history and natural history of this area. We may visit present-day San Juan del Norte. Again, what we do will depend in part on the circumstances-- weather, time, group interests, etc. A bit of flexibility is useful in such an undeveloped area.

After lunch, we will set out in our private launch again, this time headed south, back into Costa Rica, and on to Parque Nacional Tortuguero, that is, Tortuguero National Park, one of the very special places on this itinerary. Tortuguero translates as "the place of turtles" and indeed Tortuguero is the most important breeding ground in all the Caribbean for the green sea turtle, Chelonia mydas. Along with the green, three other sea turtles nest at Tortuguero, including the critically endangered leatherback turtle. And traditionally, since the 1600s, it has been a center of turtle hunting and egg gathering. Now however, the turtles of Tortuguero are officially protected by the Costa Rican park service, although poachers still take some eggs.

Green sea turtle nesting season is July through mid-October, and it is precisely with hopes of seeing this phenomenon that we have scheduled this trip at this time of year! Ricardo will lead us on a nighttime hike tonight or tomorrow night along the beach in hopes of finding laying turtles.

But Tortuguero has a great deal more to offer than just big turtles...the park protects a series of waterways inhabited by river otters, crocodiles, manatees, and fresh-water turtles. It is also home to sloths, spider and capuchin monkeys, Morpho butterflies, plus toucans, oropendulas, parrots, and many other avian species. It would be a real thrill to see one of the shy manatees!

Our lodgings for the next two nights will be Laguna Lodge. Included meals: B, L, D.

Day 12, Sat., Sept. 26: Our planned activities for today include touring along the Tortuguero canals and a nighttime turtle walk. In addition to our guided activities, the lodge offers a wide variety of options for independent activities. You may want to swim in the hotel pool (and enjoy their hydromassage waterfall), visit the butterfly garden, explore the hotel's private trails through 15 acres of exotic flora, relax in a hammock, or hang out at one of the two hotel bars.

Second night at Laguna Lodge. Included meals: B, L, D

Day 13, Sun., Sept. 27: This morning we will take a final walk on the beach to look for turtle hatchlings from nestings earlier in the season. Then we must leave for the Sarapiqui area, traveling southward by boat for about three hours, along the length of Laguna Tortuguero, then along a canal, across Laguna Moin to arrive at Moin where we will meet ground transportation. This is a scenic boat trip and we hope to see lots of water fowl and perhaps other wildlife. Continuing inland by bus, we will stop for lunch (included) along the way, then continue on to Selva Verde Lodge on the Río Sarapiquí.

You will find the Selva Verde Lodge an entrancing place to spend a pair of nights: comfortable rooms and wonderful grounds!

Included meals: B, L

Day 14, Mon. Sept. 28: After breakfast we will travel a short distance to the world famous tropical studies reserve, La Selva. Here there are many kilometers of trails through the rainforest and we will take a hike to see both flora and fauna. In 2008, with just a little effort we saw agouti, a caiman, Green iguanas, sloths, Collared peccaries, a Yellow eyelash viper, and lots of birds, including Crested guan, a sunbittern, Collared aracari, Passerini's tanager (formerly known as the Scarlet-rumped tanager, for obvious reasons), and many more!

After visiting La Selva, we will return to Selva Verde Lodge for lunch and changing into swimwear for the afternoon outing: whitewater rafting on the Sarapiquí River!

Second night as Selva Verde Lodge. Included meal: B

Day 15, Tues., Sept. 29: Today we return to San José...but with more fun visits along the way. The highway winds back up into the central highlands, through the rugged lushness of Braulio Carillo National Park. Outside of San José we will stop at the Café Britt coffee finca for a coffee tour to learn how coffee is grown, processed and produced, and, of course, to sample some of Costa Rica's finest! (Strange that we gringos consume more coffee than any other country, but --Hawaii excepted-- produce none.) Costa Rican coffee makes a good souvenir of your trip and great gifts for friends back home!

Once back in San José we will tour the famous National Theater built in the mid-1890s with coffee baron money. Time permitting, we may also visit the Gold Museum. We might even throw in a quick visit to a city park where stands a massive allegorical monument showing the Central American nations, led by Costa Rica, driving out a defeated William Walker!

Our lodging tonight will be our familiar digs at the Hotel Don Carlos.

Included meal: B

Day 16, Weds., Sept. 30: Today, our Costa Rican adventure must come to an end. You will be taken to the Juan Santamaría International Airport in the morning, or afternoon, or at such time as is appropriate for your departure, airport shuttle service will be provided.

For those who have departures late in the day, San José still has multiple attractions such as the National Museum and a variety of places to shop for arts and crafts, such as the Centro Comercial El Pueblo.

One way or another, today is the day you head back to the airport to wing your way back home, carrying lots of photos and other souvenirs of your travels, the addresses of your traveling-companions-become-friends, and a million memories.

Included meal: B


NOTE: Trip prices DO NOT include US-Costa Rica-US air fare. Travelers are responsible for arranging their own air travel to and from Costa Rica.

A minimum of 10 travelers is necessary to make this trip go; a maximum of 16 will be allowed.

To make an enquiry about Rutahsa's Costa Rica Coast-to-Coast Excursion, e-mail Dr. Ric Finch at

To make a reservation, please request a trip application, fill it out and send it with your deposit of $450 to Rutahsa Adventures at 299 Allen Hollow Rd., Cookeville, TN 38501. Once your trip application blank has been received and your deposit accepted by Rutahsa Adventures, Inc., you will be guaranteed a space on this excursion.

Thanks for visiting!