Wild, Wonderful Costa Rica

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 15545A, International


  • Kayak on Osa Peninsula through beautiful mangrove swamps
  • Search for quetzals, scarlet macaws, dolphins, sloths, monkeys, and more
  • Snorkel in Ballena Marine National Park


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


DatesMar 1–14, 2015
StaffMartha Greason

Trip Overview

The Trip

“Pura Vida” is not just Costa Rica’s national 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, this trip offers all that makes Costa Rica a favorite among nature lovers and adventure seekers.

Whether a gift to yourself, your significant other, or your family members, this trip offers diversity in landscapes, activities, flora, and fauna, with a variety of comfortable lodgings. Immerse yourself in Mother Nature's gifts for a unique expedition, and experience all that is wild and wonderful in this small Central American country that is a model of conservation and sustainability.

Costa Rica 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 visit some well-known parks and reserves, such as Arenal Volcano and Carara national parks, but we also get off the beaten path to visit such treasures as Corcovado National Park in the Osa Peninsula, Savegre canyon, 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 night walks, hiking through cloud and rainforests in primary and secondary forests, as well as engaging in outdoor activities, including kayaking, snorkeling, and river boating. You’ll also have time for relaxing on pristine beaches and in a thermal hot springs. If that’s not enough, there will even be time to partake in optional activities, such as surfing lessons, scuba diving, zip-lining, and horseback riding (all at your own expense).

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 you are met by 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: (Talamanca Mountains retreat) After breakfast, we'll drive south, stopping along the way at INBIoparque, where you’ll be introduced to Costa Rica’s biological diversity, its exotic wildlife and its national parks. After lunch we continue 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 and 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.

In the afternoon you can hike the local trails, or just rest in the quiet gardens of our mountain resort. You can also opt for a horseback ride to a waterfall or treat yourself in the lodge’s spa (both not included in the trip price).

Days 4-6: (Osa Peninsula) Following an early-morning birding walk and breakfast, we follow the InterAmerican Highway south, climbing to the 10,600-foot Cerro del Muerte, high above timberline. Here, 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. 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 4-wheel 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 (but venomous) frogs.

Following our excursion, we 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 6-8: (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, take nighttime as well as daytime nature walks, and swim in a natural pool. Our half-day snorkeling trip should provide us the opportunity to observe a variety of marine life and we may see whales and dolphins.

Here you will also have a free day for optional activities (not included in the trip price) to go diving and/or whale watching at Cano Island Biological Reserve, take a surfing lesson, or go horseback riding to a waterfall. You may also choose to hike on the trails around the lodge, swim in the natural pool behind the lodge or go to the beach, or you may just relax in a hammock overlooking the coastline.

Days 9-10: (Carara National Park and riverboat tour) We continue north along the Pacific coast for two nights near 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. While here, we will hike in Carara National Park and tour the Tarcoles River by boat for incredible bird watching and crocodile sightings.

Days 11-13: (Arenal Volcano) Next we head inland along a scenic highway, where we reach La Fortuna and Arenal National Park. Our hotel has a beautiful view of the Arenal Volcano (weather permitting!), and in the evening it may be possible for us to see lava pouring out of the cone, for Arenal is still an active volcano. During our days here we will enjoy amazing hikes through lava flows and across the Hanging Bridges of Arenal, as well as spend an evening relaxing in the beautiful and natural geothermal Ecotermales Hot Springs. We will also enjoy lunch at an educational, organic farm where we will taste its bounty fresh off the farm.

Here we will have free time to enjoy zip-lining, horseback riding, or white-water rafting (all are optional and not included in the price of the trip).

Finally, we head back to San Jose and relive our adventures over our farewell dinner.

Day 14: (Departure day)After breakfast, we transfer you 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. You will need a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the trip date. 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, and a resort and spa with a view of Arenal Volcano. 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.

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. We’ll also enjoy a meal at a sustainable farm and sample a variety of fruits and vegetables right off the plants. Vegetarians are easily accommodated!

Trip Difficulty

You will have plenty of opportunities for additional, optional pursuits (at your expense) if you wish, such as zip-lining, horseback riding, diving, or surfing. The trip is suitable for ages from teenager to mature adults, as long as you are in good health, 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 all of Costa Rica’s diversity from north to south. We'll mostly be on good roads, and the views will be great.

A part of our trip takes place in the Osa Peninsula, which has year-round tropical weather, so it will be very warm to hot and humid. We can 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 cloud-forest nights and mornings can be chilly, and temperatures vary with elevation, so 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.



  • 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


The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, encouraging grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward environmentally understanding parallel concerns at home and abroad.

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.



Marti Greason has over a decade of experience leading Sierra Club trips to various destinations in the United States as well as abroad, introducing participants to varied landscapes, exotic cultures, and fascinating creatures (elephants and octopi, anyone?). She has traveled extensively in Europe, trekked through the Serengeti, visited the Orient and explored the Holy Land. She has also scuba dived in the Caribbean, zip-lined in the Costa Rican jungle, and followed Darwin's footsteps in the Galapagos. She currently resides in Tucson, Arizona, where she is a docent at Tohono Chul Park, introducing visitors to the basics of desert flora and fauna.

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