Costa Rica and Nicaragua self drive holiday

“Our only self-drive tour of both Costa Rica and Nicaragua for twenty days, accompanied by a private guide throughout Nicaragua who hands over the wheel in Costa Rica. ”


Nicaragua: Managua | Granada | Las Isletas de Granada | Mombacha cloudforest | Mombacha volcano | Artisan markets of Masaya | Lake Nicaragua to Ometepe Island | Maderas volcano hike | San Juan beaches | Costa Rica: Rincon de la Vieja NP | Ranch stay | Arenal Volcano | Arenal hot springs | Bosque de Paz cloud forest | Manuel Antonio NP | San Jose

Description of Costa Rica and Nicaragua self drive holiday

Combine private guiding with self drive independence on this tailor made holiday to Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Private guides introduce you to Nicaragua’s little visited highlights: pretty, colonial Granada, and the beautiful and unique Ometepe Island.

After crossing the border, head into Guanacaste in northern Costa Rica and pristine volcanic rainforest.

Stay at an excellent base for soft adventure such as zip lining, biking and tubing, with its own hot springs and thermal rivers.

Compare the authenticity of Nicaragua with the comforts of Costa Rica.

Experience a heady combination of volcanoes, islands, culture and wildlife.

Contrast the challenges of Nicaragua’s recent history with the warm hospitality of its people.

Travel through Costa Rica’s uniquely diverse habitats at your own pace, then relax at comfortable yet characterful hotels at the end of each day.

Day-by-day experiences

Day 1:Fly to Nicaragua. You are met on arrival from your flight to Managua and driven to your hotel in the centre of this bustling city.
Day 2:Travel to Granada. After a leisurely start, travel to Granada today, the continent’s oldest European city.The afternoon is free to relax. (B)
Day 3:Explore Granada. Spend today exploring this attractive colonial city, compact and easy to navigate on foot. Take a boat tour to Las Isletas de Granada at sunset for beautiful views across the lake, as the local birdlife comes home to roost. (B)
Day 4:Visit cloudforest, markets and villages. Travel the short distance to the cloudforest reserve on the slopes of Mombacho volcano, home to three species of monkey and a variety of birdlife. Cross the lake to Ometepe Island and stay in your ecolodge on the hillside. (B,L)
Day 5:Ometepe Island is formed of two volcanoes, one dormant (Maderas) and one active (Conception). Take a relaxed driving tour of the island before having the afternoon at leisure. (B,L,D)
Day 6:Walk to a crater or a waterfall. You can choose to hike to the crater of Maderas volcano today, or take the gentler route through the forest to the San Ramon waterfall to swim in the clear pool below. (B,L,D)
Day 7:Travel to Costa Rica. Catch the ferry off the island this morning and travel down to the border at Peñas Blancas to collect your 4x4 and continue to Tenorio. (B)
Day 8:Waterfalls and lagoons in Tenorio. Explore the waterways and forests of Tenorio National Park with your guide this morning, a beautiful park with significant primary rainforest. The most renowned sight in the park however, is the Rio Celeste, a river which often runs a vivid blue. (B)
Day 9:Today you head roughly three hours south past Arenal Volcano to the Central Valley, north of the capital. Here you find the cool humidity of the Bajos del Toro cloudforest, a peaceful haven compared to the much better-known Monteverde. (B)
Day 10:Explore the cloud forest at your leisure, which is extremely rich with humming birds, colourful butterflies, exotic frogs and orchids. (B)
Day 11:Drive to the tropical dry-forests where your next lodge is set deep within its own 600-acre private reserve. At its heart are two converging canyons, the cool white waters of the Rio Blanco meet the delightfully warm thermal waters of the Rio Perdido. (B)
Day 12:Have today to follow trails across the reserve leading you through the forests, as well as rivers which can be explored in an inner tube. In addition, there are several different sign posted routes around the property which are designed for mountain bikes but in fact also make for great walking trails. (B)
Day 13:Today you might like to visit the Rincon de la Vieja volcano. To drive to the national park takes around an hour but is well worth it to walk amongst the bubbling mud pots, fumaroles and sulphurous vents that line the paths. (B)
Day 14:Drive to the Pacific Coast of the Nicoya Peninsula. For the next four nights you stay in a lovely small hotel, high on a hill above the coast, where you can hear waves crashing on Ostional beach below. (B)
Day 15:Explore the wildlife of the area today. Because the tracks around the area are so quiet, a morning stroll to the top of the hill behind your hotel is an opportunity to spot lots of birdlife as well as hear howler monkeys and see slices of rural life in the hinterland. (B)
Day 16:Sea turtles. Today you could dedicate your day to sea turtles, this part of the Pacific coastline is an extremely prolific area for the Olive Ridleys. Between July and November they come to nest on the beach in serious numbers, though some will be seen virtually year round. One lovely option is to head out by boat to swim and snorkel amongst them. (B)
Day 17:Explore the coast. Another day to relax or explore the Pacific. Head further afield to find some new beaches, walk in the coastal forest or swim. More active pursuits on offer include several surfing beaches for beginners upwards, horse riding, zip lining, and the fairly new stand up paddle boarding. This is great fun, (though harder than it looks!), and a lovely way to explore the coastline. (B)
Day 18:Drive to the airport and drop off your hire car before your flight home. Ideally you will fly into San Jose but leave from Liberia: otherwise you may require a final night in the capital. (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.

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Departure information

This trip can be tailor made throughout the year
Our top tip:
Learn some Spanish. You are heading into remote but very friendly areas. Especially if you say ‘hola’.
Trip type:
Tailor made.
Activity level:
Small hotels and eco lodges.
Accommodation, all breakfasts, most meals, transfers, excursions, driver guide Nicaragua, car hire, NP guides.
Budget £2-5 per meal not included.
Tailor made at extra cost.

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.

Our tours are structured to create the least possible impact on local ecosystems. In Nicaragua you will generally be accompanied by a private guide which means more attention and therefore a richer overall experience. 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.

We give priority to hotels and lodges with proven ecological credentials, built with sensitivity to the local environment. Where possible we only use small, locally-run properties, who stand up for their employees’ social rights and offer an honest wage. 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. Your holiday with us will help to directly benefit these causes: 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.

The Impacts of this Trip

One of our favourite jungle lodges 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.

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 Nicaragua’s 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.


1 Reviews of Costa Rica and Nicaragua self drive holiday

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed on 02 Aug 2016 by

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

Seeing the lava flowing at the Masaya volcano is a wow! (45 mins from Managua/Nicaragua); zip lining above the tree tops at Arenal. Watching the beautiful sunset, glass of wine in hand, at Arenal Observatory Lodge. Seeing Quetzals close up in the cloud forest. Hundreds of fireflies lighting up and dancing in front if us as the sun set. Seeing all the wonderful wildlife on offer in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

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

If driving use a satnav! Driving in Costa was easy an the road were very good. If visiting Nicaragua learn some Spanish before you go. If you have any spare time, even just 2-3 hours in Managua, go visit the Masaya volcano to see the river of lava flowing right in front of your eyes. One of only 3 volcanoes in the world where you can see lava.

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

Yes and particularly so in Nicaragua.

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

4 star. Costa Rica and Nicaragua are VERY different places and visitors should be aware of that i.e. in some remote areas, no running water and electricity at times (!) and where there was water, cold only - don't expect a hot shower! In some areas, literally no one spoke English. I strongly suggest learning some Spanish, esp if you want to use public transport or cross the Costa Rica/Nicaragua border without any assistance!

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