Up Close in Undiscovered Costa Rica

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 15505A, International


  • Kayak on Osa Peninsula through mangroves and in Golfo Dulce
  • Zipline through jungle canopy
  • Search for quetzals, scarlet macaws, toucans, tapirs, sloths, and monkeys on nature walks and hikes


  • All freshly made meals and unique lodgings
  • Expert naturalist and local guides
  • All on-trip transportation by bus and boat, plus airport transfer and gratuities


DatesJan 3–13, 2015
Price$3,045 (12–15)
$3,445 (or fewer)
StaffCarol Marty

Trip Overview

The Trip

“Pura Vida” is not just Costa Rica’s slogan, it’s a way of life in this tropical, biologically diverse paradise for ecotourism. From its rainforests and dense vegetation, its pristine beaches, volcanoes, high mountains, and marshy lowlands, Costa Rica is a favorite among nature lovers and adventure seekers.

This trip focuses on the southernmost, remote peninsula of Osa and the southwestern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, which are relatively undiscovered by tourism and development. We’ll engage in a variety of outdoor activities and search for the elusive quetzal, toucans, tapirs, monkeys, scarlet macaw, and a diverse array of animal and plant species.

Costa Rica is smaller than West Virginia, yet it hosts an astonishing share of the world's biodiversity. While this tiny nation is only 0.25 percent of the world’s landmass, it contains as much as 6% of the world’s plant and animal species, including the endangered jaguar, many species of monkeys, tapirs, sloths, turtles, brightly colored macaws and toucans, poison dart frogs, and red eyed tree frogs. It hosts 1,239 species of butterflies, 838 species of birds, 440 species of reptiles and amphibians, 232 species of mammals, and 1,500 species of orchids. Recognizing the value of ecotourism, Costa Rica dedicated 25% of the country as national parks and protected area.

We get off the beaten path to visit such treasures as Corcovado National Park in the Osa Peninsula, Savegre canyon and Los Quetzales National Park, and Ballena Marine National Park. We'll spend our days viewing a diversity of wildlife with a naturalist guide on early morning bird walks and hikes through cloud and rain forests in primary and secondary forests. We’ll also engage in outdoor activities, including kayaking, snorkeling, river boating, and ziplining. You’ll also have time for relaxing on pristine beaches and in our unique lodgings.

We travel comfortably by "right sized," private mini bus and enjoy a diversity of scenery along the way. We’ll feast on tropical fruits and healthy, fresh, local cuisine and stay in a uniquely diverse set of comfortable lodges.


Note: The leader will make every reasonable effort to meet the goals outlined in the itinerary. Please keep in mind that weather or other conditions beyond our control may cause us to modify the itinerary in order to ensure the safety and well-being of the group. The following itinerary may also vary according to the availability of accommodations.

Day 1: Arrive at San Jose's international airport (SJO), where our hotel van which will shuttle you to our lodging overlooking San Jose. In the evening, we'll get to know each other over a welcome dinner.

Days 2-3: (Poas Volcano & Talamanca Mountains retreat) After breakfast, we'll visit Poas Volcano National Park and enjoy a short hike. Following lunch at a local restaurant, we drive south to the misty and beautiful cloud forest in the Talamanca mountain range, which boasts the highest peaks in Central America. Our mountain retreat is set at an elevation of 7,200 feet, so nights here can be chilly, but our lodge will be warm and comfortable. It is beautifully situated along the river in the Savegre canyon. You’ll have time to explore the beautiful grounds and relax before dinner.

This valley is a prime viewing spot for the beautiful but elusive quetzal, so we’ll start the next day with some early-morning bird watching, which should reward us with sightings of the quetzal, tropical warblers, collared trogons, many hummingbirds, and any of 200 other species.

Here we will hike to a waterfall and/or hike through the oak cloud forest above the lodge at 8,000 feet. There will be time to relax in the quiet gardens of our mountain resort or treat yourself in the lodge’s spa (not included in the trip price).

Days 4-5: (Osa Peninsula) Following breakfast, we follow the InterAmerican Highway south, climbing to the 10,600-foot Cerro del Muerte, high above timberline. We'll stop briefly to learn about the paramo highland scrub and tussock fields, a unique ecosystem found only here and in the Andes of South America. We continue south to our destination of the remote lowland tropical rainforest of the Osa Peninsula, stopping en route to visit the mysterious spheres at Palmar Sur.

Owing to its isolation, biological diversity, and large areas of old-growth forest, the Osa Peninsula is one of Costa Rica's most important, but still largely undiscovered, natural areas. Here we are surrounded by the rainforest, and just outside your room are the magical sounds and sights of this amazing and complex environment. During our time here, we’ll kayak the mangrove environment of the Golfo Dulce, seeing many species endemic to the mangrove, with time to relax at the beach and swim in the ocean.

When we depart our Osa lodging, we will take a rugged drive and boat trip to Drake Bay and hike in Corcovado National Park, the only remaining old-growth wet forest on the Pacific coast of Central America. There are 13 major ecosystems here, including lowland rainforest, highland cloud forest, yolillo palm forest, and mangrove swamps, as well as coastal marine and beach habitats. We will hike and swim, and may spy some anteaters, crocs, and small, beautiful (and venomous) frogs.

We’ll enjoy a cruise up the Sierpe River by boat, where we will be met by our bus. We’ll head north to an attractive ecolodge on a private reserve overlooking the Pacific coastline, where we will be welcomed for the next three nights.

Days 6-9: (Ballena Marine National Park) Our accommodations and open-air dining room overlook the beautiful coast of Ballena Marine National Park. This is one of Costa Rica's newest parks, dedicated to protecting nesting grounds for brown boobies, frigate birds, and ibises. From December to April, humpback whales and their offspring ply the waters here.

Here we will hike to a private beach, where we can swim at the beach and in a natural pool, and take nature walks and hikes. We will enjoy a zipline canopy tour in Hacienda Baru, as well as a half-day whale-watching trip, during which we will be able to spend some time snorkeling in the marine park.

Day 10: (Carara National Park and Sarchi enroute to San Jose) We continue north along the Pacific coast and visit the tourist area of Jaco Beach to see how development has changed one beach area. We’ll enjoy a nature walk in Carara National Park. This park protects the northernmost region of the Pacific rainforest and is the beginning of the transition zone into the tropical dry forests of the northwest.

Next we head back to San Jose/Alajuela via the lovely, hilly countryside, stopping in Sarchi, the home of the famous Costa Rican oxcart art. We check into our hotel and relive our adventures over our farewell dinner.

Day 11: (Departure day) After breakfast, we transfer to the airport, where we depart for home.



Getting There

The trip begins and ends in San Jose, Costa Rica. You will make your own travel arrangements to San Jose and will be met at the airport (SJO), which is served from the U.S. by several major airlines. Airport transfers are included; however, the $29 departure tax is not included. U.S. citizens need a passport that is valid at least until the date you exit Costa Rica; however, no visa is required. If you are a citizen of another country, please check the passport and visa requirements. The trip does not include San Jose tourist sites.

Accommodations and Food

Accommodations are double occupancy in a unique variety of lodgings, from a mountain lodge at 7,200 feet above sea level, to a uniquely creative and entirely sustainable lodge on the jungle floor, to a retreat overlooking the Pacific Ocean with a private beach. Rooms will all be double-occupancy, so if you're a solo traveler, you will be assigned a roommate. There are a few days when the rooms may be triple-occupancy, but these rooms are extra-large. Single rooms may be available for a single supplement, but this will depend on the final makeup of the group. Most lodgings do not have air conditioning and some have outdoor bathrooms and showers, which is typical of lodging in a tropical climate.

We’ll enjoy fresh, local, and healthy cuisine, including a variety of tropical fruits and juices. Many meals will be freshly prepared buffets of locally grown foods, so you can select what you like.

Trip Difficulty

This is an active trip, with a variety of activities that require physical fitness, although none is too strenuous. The trip is suitable for ages from teenager to mature adults, as long as you are in good health and good shape, enjoy the wilderness, and have a good-humored and flexible approach to traveling in Latin America. Keep in mind that Costa Rica is still a developing country -- things don't always run exactly as they do at home. There may not be hot water or air conditioning in some of our accommodations, rain will fall, clothes will get muddy and/or wet, and plans will change, but that's all part of the charm of international travel. A few of the bus rides will be long, but we want you to experience Costa Rica’s least touristed destinations. We'll mostly be on good roads, and the views will be great.

To take advantage of the dry season, we've scheduled this trip during January. The Osa Peninsula has year-round tropical weather, so it will be very warm to hot and humid. We should expect daily rain showers (rain occurs in every season in the tropics). Much of the trip will be in areas that will be warm and humid, however in the higher mountain elevations we will experience cool temperatures. The Central Valley, which includes San Jose, is known for its eternally spring-like weather, with average temperatures in the high 60s.

Equipment and Clothing

Binoculars, camera, and a day pack (preferably waterproof) are highly recommended. Kayaking and snorkeling gear is furnished. The leader will send a detailed packing list to each registered participant.



  • Reid, Fiona A., Twan Leenders, Jim Zook, Robert Dean, The Wildlife of Costa Rica: A Field Guide.
  • Lonely Planet Guidebook for Costa Rica.
  • Pariser, Harry S., Explore Costa Rica.
  • Coates, Anthony G., Central America, a Natural and Cultural History.
  • Foster, Lynn V., A Brief History of Central America.
  • Kricher, John C., A Neotropical Companion.


  • Costa Rica map, International Travel Maps Vancouver, B.C. Canada


Since its founding in 1892, the Sierra Club has worked to preserve and restore the natural environment we all share on this planet. Thousands of grassroots-level volunteers spearhead our efforts to conserve and sustain resources, both in our own backyards and on a global scale. Through direct experience in the outdoors, Sierra Club outings enable participants to better understand, advocate, and participate in the environmental conservation goals of the Club.

In Costa Rica, we will get an up-close look at conservation in action. The country is a global leader in conservation and sustainability and has long been committed to protecting, rather than exploiting, its natural resources. Indeed, as Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Cahn puts it, the Costa Rican park system is "in some ways the most remarkable national park system in the world." All told, it contains 34 protected areas, including 28 national parks, and the entire system encompasses about 11 percent of Costa Rica's land area. When forest reserves and wildlife refuges are included, the country's federal lands total about 25 percent. By comparison, our national parks cover about 3 percent of our total land area.

The rate of deforestation has been reduced somewhat in the last decade and there is a lot of reforestation and natural regeneration going on throughout the country. Ecotourism has been an incentive for private conservation (about 3% of Costa Rica land currently) to preserve the environment. Parks, however, lack money for facilities and staff. The entire country has a long way to go in terms of recycling and waste management as well. The present government (and the electorate) must be convinced of the need for true and permanent protection of the environment in this beautiful country.

Most of our hotels participate in the CST (Certification for Sustainable Tourism), a program that seeks to categorize and certify each tourism company according to the degree to which its operations comply to a model of sustainability.



Having spent some of her formative years living overseas, Carol Marty enjoys sharing her appreciation for other cultures and the outdoors in the hope that we can all be responsible global citizens. She is happiest when engaging in activities in the outdoors, from hiking to kayaking, skiing, snowshoeing, or snorkeling. Over the past 13 years, Carol has led Sierra Club national and international outings -- including family, hiking, and service trips -- to California, the Caribbean, Italy, France, and Costa Rica. Carol has traveled in 23 countries and has lived in many parts of the United States as well as in Peru and Mexico. She lives in Annapolis, Maryland, where she enjoys kayaking the rivers off the Chesapeake Bay.

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