Costa Rica self drive holiday, natural history

“Tailor made self-drive holiday around Costa Rica for two weeks, with an emphasis on wildlife, national parks and rainforests. And several other spots off the tourist trail. ”


San Jose | San Gerardo de Dota | Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí | Alajuela | Arenal Volcano | Liberia | Rincón de la Vieja tropical dry forest | Central Pacific rainforest / coast |

Description of Costa Rica self drive holiday, natural history

This two week Costa Rica holiday is a self drive, tailor made itinerary, which takes in some of the country’s cultural and natural highlights, as well as some of the most stunning off the beaten track secrets.

Our carefully crafted itinerary below can be tweaked to suit your time frame and interests but some of our guests’ regular favourites include not only famous sites such as Arenal Volcano but lesser known gems like San Gerardo de Dota cloud forest, Sarapiqui and La Selva rainforests. Or Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park which has hiking trails that lead to volcanic features of sulphurous mud pools and hot springs.

We organise off the beaten track accommodation for you that have Costa Rican conservation principles at the core of what they do, as well as being in wonderful locations. Driving from one to the next in a rented four wheel drive, taking as long as you like in each place, as we create an itinerary to suit you.

The best time to visit Costa Rica on a self drive holiday is between the months of December to April when the weather is hot and dry. The rainy season is between May and November, but this is also a beautiful time of year as everything is so green. Indeed, it is sometimes called the ‘green season’ locally. Rain is usually limited to afternoons with short bursts. It is also worth noting that this is also the time of year when turtles lay their eggs on local beaches which is a wonderful sight. The worst months in terms of rain are September and October.

Travel Team

If you'd like to chat about this holiday or need help finding one we're very happy to help. The Travel Team.

01273 823 700 Calling from outside the UK?

Departure information

We offer a complete tailor made service allowing you to decide where you stay and what to do
Our top tip:
Take plenty of chill-out time in each place when putting together your tailor made itinerary.
Trip type:
Tailor made.
Activity level:
3-4* lodges and small hotels
Accommodation, 4x4 car hire, all breakfasts.
Check out the Casado (set lunch) at soda cafes, around £2.45
Can be tailor made for solo travellers at extra cost.
Holiday type

Tailor Made Specialists in Costa Rica

Our specialists have carefully designed this holiday to be the best of its type. You can choose it with confidence straight 'off-the-peg', for any date. You can add days before or after the itinerary if you have more time available. We can also design something just for you on a fully tailor-made basis. A tailor-made service naturally adds a little to the cost of a trip, but you are making sure that you get the most from your valuable holiday time and from the rest of your budget. For inspiration, we provide informative brochures and a comprehensive website. When it comes to planning things in detail our advisers are a phone call or email away. They know Costa Rica exceptionally well, and there's nothing they like better than to share that knowledge with you. We are based in London, fully independent members of AITO, with full financial and legal protection.

Responsible tourism

As the pioneers of responsible tourism, we screen every trip so you can travel knowing your holiday will help support conservation and local people.

As an in depth specialist tour operator to Costa Rica responsible tourism is at the very heart of what we do. To us, this means much more than a simple donation to a charity for each client. We try to build long and constructive involvements with local guides, guest houses, wildlife lodges, and hotels, in the course of which we, and our clients, can make lasting wide-ranging contributions to the wonderful places and people we engage with. In this itinerary we use several lodges that fit with this philosophy perfectly, employing local guides and bringing long-term benefits to the local community. We are the first tour operator in the UK to form a partnership with the Rainforest Alliance to work towards the implementation of best management practices in sustainable tourism. In real terms this means that we are working with hotels who are making a positive impact on their local community – socially, environmentally and economically.

Outlined below are hotels we use that employ sustainable tourism methods.

Trogon Lodge employs energy saving tactics and contributes the local economy, helping to demonstrate that ecotourism is a more sustainable long term way to earn income than destroying or altering habitats for short term gains. The Lodge employs interpretive nature guides who are either trained in biology or have significant local knowledge of the habitat and provides books, posters, maps, photographs and other ways to inform guests and visitors about the biology of the area. It helps train and employ local people at fair wages and informs guests, staff and visitors on the importance and value of a healthy ecosystem and describes how to best enjoy the area without impacting it.

La Quinta de Sarapiqui Country Inn provides jobs for people in the local community (95% of their positions go to local workers). They have developed collaboration programs with local schools, consisting of cultural exchanges with their guests and including donations for improvements to installations and the acquisition of educational materials. They sponsor local cultural and sports activities. They grant four scholarships to students from the local high school. They are involved in community development and local environmental associations and in all the activities meant to improve quality of life in the community of Sarapiquí. They have adopted environmental protection measures through programmes for recycling, saving resources, and the use of non-contaminating products, and they educate tourists about these programmes.

Hacienda Guachipelin is focused on being a self-sufficient community, using energy production methods that are ecologically correct. For example, the water heaters use solar energy and electricity is produced by a water wheel. The property comprises 1600 hectares of land, of which 700 hectares are set aside for the conservation of the tropical dry forest; 575 hectares are used as pastureland; and 325 hectares are being reforested with species in danger of extinction. They are currently working on a methane gas biodigestor. It's a system to process sewage water, grease from the kitchen and other organic residues. Out of the process methane and liquid fertilizer is obtained. The gas is being used on the workers kitchen on the first stage. On the second stage, gas will be used in the hotel's kitchen. This way they are reducing the need for petroleum bi-products. From the effluent they obtain liquid fertilizer. This is used to fertilize the pastures of the Hacienda.

On this trip you will visit National Parks at Sarapiqui and Carara. The entrance fee goes toward the conservation of these protected areas.


5 Reviews of Costa Rica self drive holiday, natural history

4.5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed on 03 Apr 2019 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The diversity of terrain and climate

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Take more warm clothes than you think and be prepared for the state of the roads and the fact the road repair and updating can lead to delays.
We had a data roaming package that was invaluable for navigating

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Absolutely! All our accommodation - even the most luxury - was eco-friendly. Lagarta Lodge - which we would highly recommend - had a hospitality training
scheme for local people to work at the lodge. It also had magnificent local artwork throughout the hotel

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

We found everyone we met very friendly, accommodating and eager to talk. This is a country totally geared to tourism and ensuring that everything runs
like clockwork - unique in this part of the world.
The food was much better than we had anticipated.
Overall it was a fascinating and enjoyable holiday

Reviewed on 10 Dec 2018 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Morning bird trip at Sarapiqui which was excellent.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Be prepared for the high humidity and general damp feeling in rooms. Towels
smelling damp.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Reviewed on 11 Feb 2018 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Our favourite part of the holiday was the three days we spent in the Tortuguero area, a fabulous experience. Going out on the boats early in the morning to
watch wildlife was amazing. We saw all three monkey species here, toucans, Mexican porcupine, boa constrictor and cayman. We stayed at the Laguna
Lodge and they have an area with red eyed tree frogs. Also a great place if you want to see nesting turtles although we weren't there at the right time of year
for that.

What we most enjoyed though was going on a guided kayak trip through the areas waterways. The rain came down in buckets but it was such good fun and we saw quite a lot of wildlife including caymans and sloths - I would definitely recommend that.

Second to this would probably be our night walk at the Mistico Hanging Bridges in Arenal. We had done a guided walk in the morning which we enjoyed so much we decided to come back and do the guided night walk. So glad we did, as the wildlife was so different in the dark. However, if you don't like spiders, scorpions and snakes best not to bother!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

As a rule my husband and I aren't keen on joining organised or guided group trips and prefer to do our own thing at our own pace. However, on this holiday
having a professional guide in the national parks was essential to make the most of the experience. The groups were usually no more than 8 people, often less, and so not crowded or rushed. The guides were amazing and were able to point out things we would never have had a chance of seeing without them. Also, so enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Definitely invest in a guided tour. If you are spending anytime in the San Jose area, perhaps on the way to or from the airport, I can really recommend the Bougainvillea Hotel which has the most spectacular grounds - great for birdwatching.

My other tip, particularly if visiting the Caribbean side and definitely if visiting Monteverde, bring some warm clothes and waterproofs! Our hotel in
Monteverde was the closest to the cloud forest and so enveloped in the same cold wet atmosphere. The hotel had no heating and so we went to bed at 9pm
to keep warm. I think we may have been there during a particularly cold and windy spell of weather (when I say windy I mean howling winds, ) but even so I
would take something warm.

If you decide to do a self drive holiday, as we did, be prepared for quite a bumpy road if you go to Monteverde. This is mostly fine in a 4 wheel drive but there are some huge potholes on the way to the cloud forest and some subsidence - we would advise not to drive at night. Sticking to the main roads the driving was fine although a bit manic in San Jose. Make sure the hire company gives you a GPS. WiFi tethering was also useful. We used Sixt car hire which provided this.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

I think the vast majority of the staff in the hotels we stayed in were local. The visit we had to Tortuguero gave us the opportunity to support local people who
I guess depend largely on tourist money. We saw evidence of recycling, respect was shown to the environment and local wildlife and we ate a lot of local foods. Also products in the bathroom were mostly refillable rather than single use which was good. The guides we had in the various locations were very environmentally aware and keen that our visit did not impact upon the local wildlife eg no flash
photography at night, no touching anything.

The one thing I did notice in Costa Rica, not just where we stayed but throughout cafes and restaurants, was the use of plastic straws which is a shame. I think in the UK, having just been made aware of the dangers to the planet of so much plastic through watching Blue Planet 2. I was perhaps ultra aware of this. I know the use of plastic straws is the same worldwide but it was the one thing I thought CR could change quite easily, particularly given their commitment to the ocean environment.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

An absolute five stars. We loved it and I can't wait to save up enough money to go back and explore the other areas. We found the local people to be incredibly friendly and helpful and so eager to share the beauty of the country with visitors. Everyone we met spoke English, which helped. The food was great, fresh and varied. Lots of fresh fruit and rice and beans. We ate in local Sodas where the food was cheap and tasty. We only stayed on the outskirts of San Jose and so can't comment on the safety of visiting there although we did notice that many of the residential properties in the area were surrounded by high fences and razorwire and so I'm guessing there can be an issue with crime. We didn't experience any problems at all. Definitely go to Costa Rica if you are at all interested in wildlife - you'll love it!

Reviewed on 17 Jan 2015 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Being at the crater of Masaya Volcano at night, and also walking in the cloud forest on Mombacho Volcano

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Learn some Spanish or take a phrase book.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

yes, it definitely benefited local people using local tour guides and also the eco lodge definitely supported environmental concerns and the reserve supported conservation

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Fantastic, absolutely loved it!

Reviewed on 24 Feb 2014 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

There were so many highlights - and part of the pleasure was the variety of
different experiences as we travelled around; more like six short mini-holidays
all packed together. The very best moment was kayaking in Tortuguero: just four
of us and a guide exploring the rainforest by river at dawn. The cries of the
howler monkeys echoed across the morning mist, and we got up close to crocodiles, turtles and incredible water birds. Priceless!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Self-drive is a great way to travel - and driving in Costa Rica is not difficult.
Choose an itinerary with a good balance of organised activity and free-time; it
is much easier to see wildlife in the rainforests when you are with a local
guide. We had at least one organised activity every day. Make sure you do at least one forest night walk - it's a different world at night.
Take a good pair of binoculars for everyone in the party. As one guide said "we
promised you wildlife, we didn't promise it would be very close!"

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes. Costa Rica was the most environmentally aware country I have visited.
Tourism and environmentalism are very closely linked - and as long as the country is able to benefit economically from the preservation of its fabulous natural habitats, it can continue to support conservation instead of other more
environmentally harmful activities, and to employ many local people in the

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Fabulous. An wonderful and unforgettable experience.

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