Self drive holiday in Costa Rica, Pacific Coast

“This self-drive adventure puts you in control of where you go and when, but provides peace of mind in the form of a personalised itinerary and pre-booked accommodation.”

Highlights

Off the beaten track self-drive | Costa Rica's lesser-visited corners | Sleep in the cloud forest | Seek the Resplendent quetzal | Dolphin watching & snorkelling | Sleep at a ranger station in the jungle | Bird watching hotspots | Huge variety of monkeys & mammals | Visit local cacao plantation & a coffee farm | Stroll or horse ride along the beach | See turtles laying eggs | Surfing & swimming opportunities |

Description of Self drive holiday in Costa Rica, Pacific Coast

Self-drive off the beaten track - skip the crowded areas for lesser-visited corners - exceptional wildlife watching opportunities - surfing, snorkeling and hiking available - relax on peaceful Pacific beaches - visit Carlos' cacao plantation - stay in handpicked lodges which guarantee a warm welcome

This self-drive Costa Rica holiday steers you away from the obvious shortlist of highlights. Skip the crowded and commercialised areas like Monteverde, Arenal and Manuel Antonio is favour of unspoilt little-visited corners.

Head into the cloudforest, not the over-developed Monteverde reserve, but the quieter reserves around Cerro Chirripó, Costa Rica's highest mountain.

Continue on to the Osa Peninsula, one of the world's great biodiversity hotspots, for some snorkeling, beach strolls and some of the country's premiere wildlife watching opportunities. For a real dose of adventure, you'll sleep at a ranger station, surrounded by the sounds of the forest.

At the Carara National Park the dry forests of the north merge with the wet forests of the south, creating a birdwatching hotspot.

On the laid-back Nicoya Peninsula stay on the beach, where you can get active with a surfboard in hand, let the horse do the work on a sunset ride or just kick back in a hammock. Monkeys and birds abound in the forests here.

Finish in the coffee producing highlands, via the wetlands of Palo Verde. You can visit a traditional cacao micro-plantation here to sample the country's famed chocolate. Not a bad way to say goodbye to a country you'll know intimately by now.

Day-by-day experiences

Day 1:Fly to San Jose. You are met on arrival and driven to your comfortable hotel. After a welcome briefing you have the rest of the evening free to relax.
Day 2:South to the cloud forest. Your hire car is delivered to your hotel this morning before you set off driving to the cloudforest region around the foot of Cerro Chirripó. There's a beautiful waterfall hike that you could do en route in the San Gerardo cloudforest. Dinner is included on your first night. (B,D)
Day 3:Spend today exploring the quiet trails of the cloudforest with your private guide. The reserve is home to an incredible variety of plant and bird life, as well as pristine waterfalls and old growth forest. If you want to go for a good hike, you can walk the first few kilometres up Chrirripó. (B)
Day 4:Today is at leisure in the cloudforest, with plenty of trails for you to choose from. Some of the best views can be enjoyed from the mirador, reached through a walk through the Herradura Valley, passing lemon trees and coffee plantations. (B)
Day 5:Scenic drive to Sierpe on the Pacific Coast, heading down through the cool mists of the cloudforest into the hot and humid tropical jungle. Take a boat out to Drake Bay to your eco-lodge. Head out for a night walk on the forest trails. (B,D)
Day 6:Head out into the waters with your guide to try to spot dolphins and do some snorkeling in the clear waters around Caño Island, home to colourful reefs. (B,L,D)
Day 7:Visit the pristine jungle at Corcovado National Park today for a chance of seeing monkeys, sloth, parrots, macaws and toucans. You may even be lucky and spot a jaguar! Tonight is a real adventure as you sleep in the jungle at the more basic ranger station. (B,L,D)
Day 8:Wake up to the sounds of the jungle before heading out with your private guide to explore more of the area. Head back by boat to Drake Bay. (B,L,D)
Day 9:Today is yours to relax and perhaps go for a long stroll along the beach. You could stop off at the turtle rescue project along the way. (B,L,D)
Day 10:Set off north for your drive up the Pacific coast. The views across the ocean as you drive are just stunning. Your lodge in the lesser-visited Carara National Park is made from recycled or locally-grown materials and sits in one of the country's best birdwatching hotspots. (B,D)
Day 11:Rise early for some wonderful birdwatching. As the lodge sits in the transition zone between the northern tropical dry forest and the southern rainforests, the activity is incredible. Later you have time to wander the trails or visit a cacao plantation to sample some Costa Rican chocolate. (B,D)
Day 12:It's another scenic drive today as you continue north through classic Guanacaste province farming landscapes to the Pacific coast on the Nicoya Peninsula. Within reach of your hilltop hotel is a fishing village, a surf hotspot and a turtle nesting beach. (B)
Day 13:Your bases gives you a huge range of options; go swimming, surfing or snorkeling, walk through the wildlife refuge or just stroll the beautiful beaches. (B)
Day 14:You might dedicate today to sea turtles, taking an early morning boat ride to snorkel in their company and then returning after dark to see them laying eggs on the beach. In between there's plenty of time to relax or pursue your own interests. (B)
Day 15:Today is free for you to structure as you like. You can do as much (hiking, zip lining, surfing, paddleboarding) or as little as you like. The hammock is a wonderful place to watch the sun go down over the ocean. (B)
Day 16:Tonight you'll sleep in the highlands, in the heart of Costa Rica's coffee producing region. En route stop at the little-visited Palo Verde National Park to experience another of Costa Rica's ecosystems; wetlands. You'll also pass Sarchi, home of the famous painted oxcarts. (B)
Day 17:An intimate cooking lesson and a guided tour of Carlos' micro coffee plantation is a wonderful way to end your time in Costa Rica before you head to the airport to drop of your 4x4 and fly home. (B)

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

This trip can be tailormade with departure dates to December through September
Our top tip:
Allow a bit of extra budget to book some local tours that you may not have planned for.
Trip type:
Tailor made to suit your preferences.
Activity level:
Leisurely/moderate – how much you do is up to you.
Accomm:
16 nights very good standard hotels/lodges.
Solos:
Solo travellers welcome. Single rooms available.
Meals:
Some included if requested; local recommendations given as per planned itinerary.
Included:
Accommodation, 4WD car hire, listed activities and guiding.
Vouchers
Accepted

Responsible tourism

Self drive holiday in Costa Rica, Pacific Coast

Carbon reduction

Your holiday will help support local people and conservation. We must also reduce CO2. Learn about the CO2 emissions of this holiday and how to reduce them.

Environment

We are passionate advocates of what Costa Rica has to offer visitors, but also of protecting and maintaining the country’s habitats and native cultures. As such we have been careful to ensure our partners on the ground are as equally committed to responsible travel practices as us. Our tours are structured to create the least possible impact on local ecosystems.

Most of our trips are conducted on an independent basis, usually with a hire car, and we encourage clients to book any day tours on the ground with local companies. This gives clients the freedom to explore at their own pace as well as insuring the money spent directly benefits the local economy. When we do book tours in advance group sizes never exceed 15 passengers: the standard size being six to eight in any given group. Not only does this help to keep the effect on the local environment to a minimum, it also means clients receive more attention from the guide, and therefore a richer overall experience.

There are now many properties jumping on the eco bandwagon in Costa Rica, with varying degrees of authenticity. We give priority to hotels and lodges with proven ecological credentials, built with sensitivity to the local environment. We only suggest hotels and lodges where we have stayed ourselves, or where our partners on the ground have stayed, and which we believe to be the best in their area. This does not necessarily mean those with the obvious trappings of comfort, but rather those who have an established ethical outlook and a long-term vision for preserving their local surroundings.

Together with our partners on the ground we also support a series of local projects directly. The Neotropica Foundation works with communities and schools to improve environmental education, helping local people to live in a more sustainable way. One project currently underway is the “Amigos de la Naturaleza” which seeks to introduce primary school children to the basic concepts of sustainable living, such as protection of water resources, the responsible management of waste and the conservation of national parks.

Community

The guides we use for walks in the national parks are all trained naturalists and many live locally to the area. They are experts in the flora and fauna of the region and are incredibly passionate about passing on their knowledge, so clients have a greater understanding of local environment and the delicate balance of regional ecosystems. Where possible we only use small, locally run properties, who stand up for their employees’ social rights and offer an honest wage. One of our favourite jungle lodges, for example, supports three primary schools located in the villages of Bajo de Tigre, Los Angeles, and Guyacán, downriver from the lodge itself. The lodge donates a percentage of its bookings to the school boards, which in turn use the money for vital materials and services for the schools. The lodge has also improved and maintained previously disused local roads, along with a cable car used by local residents to cross the river.

Similarly, one of our preferred beach retreats on the Pacific coast has set up a comprehensive program of sustainable projects, working with the local community to increase awareness of environmental and social matters. Projects so far include setting up the first public library in the region for residents, as well funding a composting station and a recycling initiative.

We also directly support the following organizations: Paniamor Foundation is a private non-profit, non-partisan, organization created in 1987 and works to protect the social interests of vulnerable and disadvantaged Costa Ricans. The foundation runs several schemes, including the Social Development Programme, which works with children aged 13 to 18 from deprived communities. The programme seeks to promote values, knowledge and skills that will empower the children to exercise their rights and responsibilities for their own personal growth, and that of their families, peers, and communities of origin. For almost 20 years World Vision has been working hand in hand with the local communities in the Chorotega and Northern Huetar regions to promote sustainable development practices.

Among the schemes they have initiated are: the Economic Development programme, which generates sources of employment and agricultural funding in rural areas; the Prevention, Emergency and Rehabilitation programme which works in the area of emergency prevention and offers relief and rehabilitation to victims of disaster; the Promotion of Justice programme, which helps to foster respect for the rights of children and women through better education.

9 Reviews of Self drive holiday in Costa Rica, Pacific Coast

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Reviewed on 15 May 2017 by

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


Drake bay is a beautiful spot with lots of nature around, nice excursions and beautiful beach at the door step

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


You have to love the rainforest and its
vegetation, animals and clima

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


Yes

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


It was a great family holiday

Read the operator's response here:

Dear Ana,

Many thanks for taking the time to post your review on the RT site.

We're delighted you and your family had such a great time, and that we were able to tailor your trip to include Drake Bay. As you say, it's a very special and beautiful corner of Costa Rica.

I hope we can help you out with another trip in Latin America soon.

All the best,

David

Reviewed on 10 Apr 2016 by

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


Seeing the wildlife absolute everywhere. One of the best moments was watching monkeys from our room.

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


Travel in daylight. Give yourself time to travel as the roads are busy. Take
bite spray. Insure the car and be savvy of your belongings when at the
beach.

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


Yes.

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


Amazing. A learning experience that was exciting and fun every day.

Reviewed on 04 Jun 2016 by

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


So many memories, it's hard to choose one. Watching quetzals at 6.00am in San Gerardo de Dota, dolphins swimming next to our boat on trip back from Corcovado, scarlet macaws (4), flying overhead at Islita. Add in beautiful beaches, great surf, stunning scenery and the friendlest people I've ever met and this is a fabulous holiday destination.

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


Book it now!

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


Everyone we met was very interested in where we were from and what we thought of Costa Rica. The car hire manager pointed out that the natural beauty and wildlife is the island's greatest asset which everyone is committed to preserving. All the hotels we stayed in supported this concept.

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


Fabulous, we'd go back tomorrow.

Read the operator's response here:

Dear Christine,

Thank you for taking the time to post a review of your holiday.

We're delighted to hear you had such a good trip in beautiful Costa Rica. As you say, one of the most special things about travelling there is how much that beauty is valued by the Costa Ricans, they are rightly proud of it.

I'm particularly pleased to hear how much you enjoyed the abundant wildlife in the less 'obvious' places you travelled to with us. I was recently out in San Gerardo myself, and the quetzals were indeed an absolute wonder!

There's plenty more to see, so we look forward to helping you discover even more of this wonderful country. Thanks again for taking the time to write.

All the best,

David

Reviewed on 04 Feb 2015 by

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


As our trip was staying at various locations all over Costa Rica, each one has a story and we have so many from our total itinerary, then it has to be rafting in and out of Pacuare Lodge and trekking, swimming in the hot pools, zip lining and
tubing at Rio Pedrido. Absolutely amazing locations. For a sense of freedom along your own expanse of beach, it has to be Ostional. Finally, trekking along the slopes of the Arenal volcano was incredible especially as when we started it was covered in cloud and whilst we sat on one of the old lava flows the cloud parted and we saw the whole conical shape of the volcano. Fantastic holiday and a slice of paradise!

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


Hire a 4x4 and travel throughout Costa Rica and get to understand the country and the delightful people. Take walking boots and trek as much as you can and feel the heartbeat of the tropical rainforest. There is so much to see so don't stay
in one place for too long, visit the rain forest, the cloud forest, the national parks, the volcanoes and the Pacific coastline.

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


Yes I was very impressed on how clean Costa Rica was, everything gets recycled! It was great to see all the work being done in the national parks and conservation areas in respect to sustainability. EcoTourism is the major employer in Cost Rica and the people are so happy to greet you, help you and give you a perspective on their country. We felt completely safe in their hands as the level of safety in respect to all the activities we did was extremely high. They are concerned to make sure that no one gets hurt and that you end up leaving Costa Rica with perfect memories.

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


Excellent, Excellent, Excellent! Our agent listened to what we wanted from a holiday and they delivered exactly to our expectations. We are planning to go on Safari in Tanzania in 2016 as I want to go hot air ballooning over the
Serengeti, so will be looking to you for options.

Read the operator's response here:

Dear Charles,

Many thanks for taking the time to write your review on RT, and for calling into the office with further comments. We're absolutely delighted you had such a good time in Costa Rica.

It's very nice of you to praise our listening skills - though in truth this part was very easy, as you clearly approach holidays in very much the same way as we do! It's lovely to hear that you enjoyed the variety of locations, fun activities, and of course the Costa Rican people so much - these are exactly the reasons why we love the country.

Thanks again for taking the time to feedback, and we look forward to hearing from you again when you're next headed to Latin America!

All the best,

David

Reviewed on 05 Jan 2015 by

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


I think the most memorable for the adults was staying on the Osa Peninsula which was perfect in every imaginable way for us. The kids liked that too but would say that learning to surf in Uvita or whitewater rafting were most memorable.

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


Be clear about what you are looking for - if you want remote and unspoilt take the time to travel to the more inaccessible areas.
If you are in a place with good wildlife use the local guides - we were really impressed by the professionalism and enthusiasm of those we went on walks with.
Bear in mind that tours booked locally are quite expensive so allow a budget to pay for these.
Take a raincoat and research weather patterns for all areas you are considering before booking.

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


Yes we did particularly in the more remote area that we visited. Generally we felt that tourism in Costa Rica was a force for good although we caught glimpses of places that looked spoiled by development of "resorts" for visitors.

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


Excellent. We would go back to Costa Rica at the drop of a hat and would recommend the operator without hesitation.

Read the operator's response here:

Dear Anne,

Many thanks for reviewing your recent holiday with us, we were delighted to hear you had such a wonderful time.

It can be a tricky thing to create a successful trip of this nature for a family with several children/teenagers, so it's great that different members of the family would say different parts were best for them. Hopefully this reflects a holiday which had 'something for everyone'!

One of the main aims behind all of our trips to Costa Rica is to get people off the beaten track, whether in the very remote areas or nearer 'civilisation'. Actually we quite like people to get a glimpse of the over-developed areas, as it enhances appreciation of the areas we visit, which are all designed to allow you to experience the real Costa Rica. It's particularly pleasing to hear that your efforts to travel to the remotest area of all (Osa) were so well rewarded.

Thank you again for taking the time to write your review, and we look forward to having you travel with us to Costa Rica
- or elsewhere - in the near future!

All the best,

David

Reviewed on 19 Feb 2014 by

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


It was all memorable but probably the two things which stand out were the tour to Torteguero and the one day trip to the Corcavado national park from Uvita.

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


If hiring a car go for a long wheel base 4x4 if going onto the Nicoya peninsula or anywhere else off the beaten track. We had a small 4x4 and felt every rock on the rough roads!
The car rental company will try to persuade you to rent GPS .. We didn't and found we didn't need it.
If flying via the US 2 hours is probably the minimum transfer time as it takes ages to get through US passport control.
The cloud forest at San Gerado de Dota is at an altitude of about 2500 metres so watch for altitude sickness. Also take a fleece for here.

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


Difficult to comment on the basis of 2/3 weeks in a country however from what we saw it created job opportunities for local people without too much obvious adverse impact on their environment . Most wildlife tours seemed to be well thought through and carefully managed so should help not hinder conservation. Only exception was visit into Manuel Antonio National Park - it wasn't that our particular tour was badly managed at all just that the total number of visitors in the park at the same time as us was huge. Hundreds of people in a small area cannot be good for the environment or conservation?

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


Excellent

Read the operator's response here:

Dear Margaret,

Many thanks for taking the time to post your review on RT.com. We're delighted to hear you had an excellent time.

Thank you for your tips also, it's good to see that you've flagged up some of our recommendations in our local information notes, such as the cloudforest temperature and the GPS! We don't as a matter of course book GPS for clients, though some do find the option useful, as signage can be variable. I'm pleased to hear you navigated successfully with our maps and driving directions.

Just to touch on the Manuel Antonio question - this is becoming a tricky point, as it is undoubtedly very popular.

Many of our clients do find it appealing, in spite of the numbers (which, I should mention, aren't as great at less peak times of the year than when you travelled). While there is an argument that visitor numbers bring the financial resources to boost conservation, this is a delicate balance, and of course we are very keen to work with areas which are well cared for. Therefore your feedback is very useful to us in determining whether Manuel Antonio is an appropriate destination for our clients, thank you.

Again, thank you for taking the time to share comments on your memorable holiday, and I hope we can welcome you onto another Latin America holiday in the near future.

All the best,

David

Reviewed on 08 Jan 2014 by

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


La Cucinga Lodge! an amazing eco lodge with a spectular view, a private beach, surrounded by rainforest and beautiful gardens full of tropical birds like Toucans and Colibris, and a private beach, and a fantastic restaurant with delicious fresh pure food!!

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


avoid Manuel Antonio, or be at least prepared for tourist-overloaded beach resorts in that area.

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


absolutely, apart fro the Manual Antonio area. but everywhere else, all eco lodges were aimed at preservation and sustainability, it was a fantastic feeling to travel this way!

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


We had a great holiday, and our trip was fantastically organised, but the country was more developed and touristic than we had expected, so we were slightly disappointed that way. but we loved the choice of eco lodges and the tour that Responsible Travel, together with Pura Aventura, had organised for us!!

Read the operator's response here:

Dear Kim,

Many thanks for writing to review your recent holiday to Costa Rica with us. We're delighted to hear that overall you had such a great time.

Costa Rica is a beautiful country, in our view one that's well worth exploring, in spite of the fact that it is very well visited. This is why we do try as much as possible to get you off the beaten track, and into some special places - I was particularly pleased to hear you loved La Cusinga, I was very taken with it myself on my last visit to Costa Rica.

Thank you also for your thoughts on Manuel Antonio, I'm sorry to hear that this didn't live up to expectations. It's true that it has become well developed in recent years, though we feel that given its natural beauty, it still warrants inclusion, particularly if someone is passing by there, travelling from north to south along the coast as you did. I suspect that the fact you were there over Christmas probably exacerbated the sense of overcrowding, so this is useful
feedback, as we'll certainly bear it in mind for future trips.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts, we love hearing all feedback from our clients, and I hope we can help you out with another trip in the near future.

All the best,

David

Reviewed on 04 Aug 2013 by

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


Rafting to Pacuare Lodge and then rafting out again 2 days later. 28km of rafting
in all.

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


If rafting on the Pacuare River, you can only take a small bag each weighing up
to 12kg. The luggage has to fit into their dry bags on the raft. We didn't know
anything about this until the night before which meant we had a panic to sort our
luggage out.

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


Yes.

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


It was an excellent holiday with a great mix of nature, conservation and thrills.

Read the operator's response here:

Dear Christine,

Many thanks for taking the time to post feedback on your holiday to Costa Rica, we're delighted to hear you had such a good time.

Thank you also for your comments about the luggage restrictions at Pacuare, this helps us keep the details we provide to our clients as accurate and informative as possible. I have taken steps to ensure that future clients will be informed of this at an earlier stage. I am glad however, that this didn't prevent Pacuare being your trip highlight, it's an amazing
place, and was definitely the highlight of my own trip to Costa Rica last year!

Again, thank you for your feedback, and we hope to welcome you on another Latin America adventure soon.

All the best,

David

Reviewed on 23 Mar 2013 by

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


The diversity of mammal, bird and reptile life.

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


Costa Rica is wet, even in the dry season. Pack accordingly; we did but witnessed others who hadn't. When you can, eat where the locals eat. Have a sense of adventure.

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


Yes, in some places more than others.

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


An amazing experience.

Read the operator's response here:

Dear Lynne,

Many thanks for taking the time to post your review on RT. We're delighted to hear you had such a great time in Costa Rica, it certainly is a wonderfully diverse and exciting destination.

I'm happy that it seems our information notes were helpful in you being well prepared for your holiday, that's very much one of our aims. Even better that you found the holiday to be along the right lines from a responsible travel perspective.

Thank you once again for choosing to book your holiday with us. I hope we can help you out with another holiday, and get some of your friends out to Costa Rica!

All the best,

David

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