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. ”

Highlights

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

The howl of a monkey across the jungle canopy; the flash of a quetzal in the misty cloud forest; the aroma of coffee roasted at source in the highlands; tales of revolution and pirate raids in the cities.

If ever there was a trip to celebrate the wildlife and local life of these two naturally-blessed neighbours, you've landed upon it.

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.

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 nearby Granada, the continent’s oldest European city, to begin exploring or relax after your journey.
Day 2:Spend today exploring this attractive colonial city with your guide, compact and easy to navigate on foot. Take a boat tour to Las Isletas de Granada for beautiful views across the lake a the sun sets, and the local birdlife comes home to roost.
Day 3:Watch the scenery change around you as you travel to the coffee growing highlands and into the agricultural hub of Matagalpa. Spend this afternoon with your guide on a tour of the city tailored to your interests.
Day 4:Set off for the cloudforest this morning, then explore your lodge's own onsite coffee plantation, following the process from seed to cup. This afternoon is yours to explore more, or just relax and enjoy your surroundings.
Day 5:Spend today at the Peñas Blancas reserve, walking the trail from bamboo plantations into primary rainforests shrouded in mist, passing pretty waterfalls and streams as well as all manner of birds and mammals. After a farmhouse lunch you might like to head to one of the waterfall pools for a dip.
Day 6:Visit the rainforest project we support with our carbon mitigating program to learn about their important work, before settling into your hotel in the historic centre of colonial Leon.
Day 7:Head out with your guide to get under the skin of this historic city, its fascinating history and architecture - finishing with the incredible views from the top of the largest cathedral in Central America.
Day 8:Another day to explore Leon at your own pace, visit the Pacific coast to explore the nature reserve by boat or hit the beach, or hike a nearby active volcano if you're feeling energetic.
Day 9:Visit cloudforest, markets and villages. Travel the short distance to the cloudforest reserve on the slopes of a volcano, home to three species of monkey and a variety of birdlife, as well as a spectacularly clear blue crater lake. Cross the lake later to Ometepe Island and stay in your ecolodge on the hillside.
Day 10:Ometepe Island is formed of two volcanoes, one dormant (Maderas) and one active (Conception). Take a relaxed driving tour of the island and the volcanoes today before an afternoon at leisure to enjoy your surroundings or swim in the clear waters of the Ojo de Agua spring.
Day 11: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. Another gentler option is to take kayaks out onto the lake to enjoy the tranquillity.
Day 12: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 south to the Tenorio volcano national park and your next lodge, which blends in with its rainforest surroundings perfectly.
Day 13: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 and abundant wildlife. The most renowned sight in the park however, is the Rio Celeste, a river which often runs a vivid blue.
Day 14:Set off west this morning, perhaps stopping off to visit Arenal or spend time in one of the rural towns en route before taking the boat to your treehouse accommodation, surrounded by jungle on all sides.
Day 15:Explore the jungle at your leisure, which is extremely rich with hummingbirds, colourful butterflies, exotic frogs and orchids. You could take a kayak out onto the lake to visit the caiman, and perhaps meet the jungle's nocturnal residents this evening on a night walk through the reserve.
Day 16:Drive almost the full length of the country today with beautiful views all the way, watching the scenery change completely as you make your way to the sleepy southern Caribbean coast. You can spot macaws, sloths and monkeys from the pool and gardens at your delightful hotel.
Day 17:Walk in the national park fringing the Caribbean coast with your private guide this morning, spotting howler and capuchin monkeys, sloths, butterflies and birds, before enjoying the relaxed atmosphere and great beaches of the area this afternoon.
Day 18:Enjoy a dip in the Caribbean this morning, then visit a nearby wildlife rescue centre and botanical gardens. After lunch, head south to another beautiful swimming beach before your visit to an important Great Green Macaw reintroduction project. Depending on the time of year, this is also a great spot to stay after dark to see turtles.
Day 19:Take a private tour of a nearby wildlife rescue centre before setting off back north to the verdant, green landscapes of the Central Valley and Turrialba Volcano, where you stay on a family-run coffee estate.
Day 20:Today is spent on your historic finca and the surrounding town, learning about coffee production and the history of this area before a refreshing dip in a nearby waterfall pool. For a more active day, you could jump on river rafts through some of the best white water in Costa Rica, through tropical rainforest, high forested hills shrouded in mist and plunging canyons, with toucans and parrots flying overhead.
Day 21:Set off driving south to the cloud forest region around the foot of Cerro Chirripó, the country's highest mountain. There's a beautiful waterfall hike that you could do en route in the San Gerardo cloudforest, and some lovely thermal baths to soak in on arrival.
Day 22: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.
Day 23:Scenic drive down to the Pacific Coast, heading down from the cool mists of the cloudforest, through banana plantations to the beaches of the southern coastline. Perhaps stop off for a canopy (zipline) tour en route, or arrive early and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and beautiful views.
Day 24:Today is free for you to structure as you like. Your base gives you a huge range of options; sea kayaking, a boat trip to snorkel a nearby marine reserve, walking through the wildlife refuge or just strolling along the beautiful beaches.
Day 25:Another day to enjoy your surroundings. You can do as much (hiking, zip lining, surfing, kayaking, paddleboarding) or as little as you like.
Day 26:Drive north, enjoying the sweeping views as you wind your way up the coastline before turning inland and back to the capital, where you check in for your flight home - or on to the next leg of your adventure.

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 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:
Leisurely.
Accomm:
Small hotels and eco lodges.
Included:
Accommodation, all breakfasts, most meals, transfers, excursions, driver guide Nicaragua, car hire, NP guides.
Meals:
Budget £2-5 per meal not included.
Solos:
Tailor made at extra cost.
Vouchers
Accepted

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.

Environment
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.
Community

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.

Climate

1 Reviews of Costa Rica and Nicaragua self drive holiday

4 out of 5 stars
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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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