'Southern Pacific Explorer'

What makes this trip special?

Vistas, volcanoes and villages

Vistas, volcanoes and villages

Central Valley

Keen to avoid the city during your trip? Costa Rica's Central Valley is great place to start or end a holiday - hotels tend to have gardens and/or swimming pools and are within close range of the international airport. There are lots of things to see and do in the area.

Stunning wild beach

Stunning wild beach

Playa Esterillos del Este

A stunning, undeveloped stretch of beach with a scattering of beachfront hotels and little else. Popular with surfers but too rough for swimming. Within proximity of the Carara reserve a good base from which to visit the beautiful but busy Manuel Antonio National Park.

Wild, lush coast and marine reserve

Wild, lush coast and marine reserve


Sparsley populated and until recently difficult to access, Dominical's forest-backed beaches are most popular with surfers. Further south, you can swim and snorkel at Ballena National Marine Park, where whales and dolphins can be seen in season.

Remote rainforest biodiversity

Remote rainforest biodiversity

Golfo Dulce

Tremendously biodiverse and remote corner of the country with over 140 species of tree per hectare, around 2,500 species of plants and and more than 360 species of birds. Wonderful for hiking, kayaking, birdwatching, horse-riding or simply relaxing and enjoying the natural wilderness

Quiet "Garden of Eden" cloud forest

Quiet "Garden of Eden" cloud forest

San Gerardo de Dota & Los Quetzales NP

Tranquil forested valley alive with trout-filled streams close to the highest pass in Costa Rica. Experience 'paramos' habitat above the tree line and keep your eyes peeled - this is the most reliable place in the country to spot the Resplendent quetzal

Agriculture, archeology and an active volcano

Agriculture, archeology and an active volcano


Watched over by the Turrialba volcano, this quiet farming region is an interesting place to spend a few days. Nearby Guayabo National Park is home to 3,000 year old ruins. For adventure-seekers, enjoy mountain biking or raft some of the best white-water in the country. CATIE, a world-renowned centre for research into tropical crops is good for a spot of birding or walking.

Itinerary map for Costa Rica 'Southern Pacific Explorer' holiday


  • Day      Overnight
  • 1 San José
  • 2 San José
  • 3 Nature lodge or beach retreat
  • 4 Nature lodge or beach retreat
  • 5 Dominical
  • 6 Dominical
  • 7 Dominical
  • 8 Osa Peninsula
  • 9 Osa Peninsula
  • 10 Osa Peninsula
  • 11 San Gerardo de Dota
  • 12 San Gerardo de Dota
  • 13 Turrialba
  • 14 Turrialba
  • For the detail of each day click the ‘Day-by-day’ tab above.

Day-by-day itinerary for 'Southern Pacific Explorer'


San José and the Central Valley

You are met on your arrival in San José and transferred to your hotel on the outskirts of the city where you stay for 2 nights.


Your hire car is delivered to your hotel this morning ready for you to explore the Central Valley. You could drive on country roads through lush coffee-growing areas rising through cloud forest to lofty Poás Volcano to walk to its rim with the steaming aquamarine waters of its crater lake below you. The village of Sarchí is known for artists who create the vivid geometric designs on ox carts that are a feature of the Central Valley’s rural heritage.



Driving west towards the Pacific you stay 2 nights either in forested hills at a nature-focused lodge with extensive gardens and grounds where scarlet macaws fly, or by the coast at Esterillos Este, a stunning undeveloped beach with ocean surf.


Spend a morning at your lodge or at the beach, or go wildlife-spotting in the Carara reserve for monkeys, armadillos, agoutis and birds including toucans, trogons and macaws. In the late afternoon join a trip on the Tárcoles river to see crocodiles (some over 4m long), iguanas, basilisk lizards and lots of birds.


South Pacific at Dominical

Continuing an often-scenic drive down the mid-Pacific coast you should pause at Manuel Antonio a much-visited national park (closed on Mondays) with beautiful headlands and coves of sparkling white beaches and coral reefs leading to Cathedral Point, a ‘tombolo’ island linked by a sand spit. There are short trails into the rainforest which teems with wildlife–sloths, monkeys, coatimundi, racoons, iguanas, toucans and parrots. The coast road continues to Dominical where you stay for 3 nights by low hills swathed in luxuriant primary forest overlooking the Pacific.


Activities in the Dominical area

Dominical is a wonderfully natural area that was difficult to reach until recently. During your 2 days here you could visit Hacienda Baru, a private wildlife refuge with walking trails, 3km of beach and orchid and butterfly gardens. We have included one of three special trips into the calm waters of Marino Ballena marine national park: a boat trip with the chance to see pilot whales, 2 resident species of dolphins, humpback whales (who can be highly acrobatic) who visit from mid-July to late October and in smaller numbers from mid-December to late March; or a boat trip to snorkel on coral reefs (if visibility is good around the coral or there are whales, dolphins or turtles about); or a trip to sea-kayak and snorkel. Underwater visibility is best from December to July.


Free day in the Domincal region.


Osa Peninsula and the Golfo Dulce

A morning’s drive further south to Golfo Dulce and the Osa Peninsula, which has the most biodiverse and pristine forests in all Costa Rica, for 3 nights at one of a range of good lodges.


Depending on your choice of lodge there are excursions to hike in Corcovado NP, visit indigenous communities, go kayaking, take a night walk, tour a cocoa farm, a cooking tour, or bird watching. Some are restricted and best booked in advance.

DAY 10

Free day based on Osa Peninsula or Golfo Dulce

DAY 11

Southern highlands

Looping back you drive inland and then north ascending to high paramó. A turning leads into the peaceful valley of San Gerardo de Dota, among cloud forest festooned with orchids and bromeliads, a favourite area for the beautiful resplendent quetzal. You stay 2 nights at a lodge in the valley.

DAY 12

Exploring the cloudforest in search of the resplendent quetzal

This is a lovely area for walking and exploring or simply relaxing in the grounds of your lodge. Included is an early morning shared birding tour to see quetzals, trogons and hummingbirds.

DAY 13


To complete the circle you drive north into the Turrialba valley for a taste of typical country life with a lot of active options. You could visit the gardens of the CATIE research centre or take an evening tour of a coffee estate followed by dinner. Stay 2 nights.

DAY 14

Activities in the Turrialba area

We have included either a guided visit to the site of the ancient city of Guayabo, a mountain biking or horse-riding outing in the area, or a rafting trip on excellent class II-IV rapids.

DAY 15

Depart Costa Rica

Drive from Turrialba to drop off your hire car at San José airport in time for your flight home.

Guide prices for 'Southern Pacific Explorer'

options based on all year low season mid season high season peak season other season
Mid-range hotels, selfdrive (Vitara) 2 people sharing £2,820 £2,895
Upper range hotels, selfdrive (Gran Vitara) 2 people sharing £3,770 £4,530
Prices are per person and include:
  • all other travel in Costa Rica
  • all accommodation
  • meals as indicated B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner
  • rental car with unlimited mileage and fully comprehensive insurance (details on request)
Prices do not include:
  • international flights
  • travel insurance
  • airport and departure taxes
  • items of a personal nature such as drinks, tips, laundry, etc
  • car-hire: petrol
  • car-hire: additional driver insurance
  • car-hire: refundable deposit

Customer reviews for 'Southern Pacific Explorer'

Recent reviews are shown here from holidays based on this initial design. In each case the itinerary may have been modified (a little or a lot) to suit the individual traveller.

Average customer rating 97%


The birds


The fact the whole trip was stress free. The private transfers were excellent


Tortuguero boat trips, the danta corcovado lodge, wildlife everywhere - especially the squirrel monkeys a few feet from our balcony at Danta Corcovado Lodge, the Costa Rican friendliness


We would happily have spent more time everywhere, except San Jose


Wildlife, botony + the great people we met and Panama Transit


La selva, San Gerardo de Dota, Carara, Tortuguero was extremely wet for all 2.5 days.


Tortuguero and Osa Peninsula.


Tortuguero water excursions, Corcovado general area, the general profusion of wildlife around, Villas Gaia and beautiful Poas Volcano Lodge.


Tortuguero and Osa Peninsula


The variety of environments. We also went to north and south Caribbean coasts and to Arenal.

Seasonal information for 'Southern Pacific Explorer'

Along this route in January

Day Location Max °C Monthly rainfall
1 San José 24°C rainfall 28mm
2 San José 24°C rainfall 28mm
3 Nature lodge or beach retreat 32°C rainfall 18mm
4 Nature lodge or beach retreat 32°C rainfall 18mm
5 Dominical 32°C rainfall 64mm
6 Dominical 32°C rainfall 64mm
7 Dominical 32°C rainfall 64mm
8 Osa Peninsula 32°C rainfall 75mm
9 Osa Peninsula 32°C rainfall 75mm
10 Osa Peninsula 32°C rainfall 75mm
11 San Gerardo de Dota 16°C rainfall 85mm
12 San Gerardo de Dota 16°C rainfall 85mm
13 Turrialba 25°C rainfall 178mm
14 Turrialba 25°C rainfall 178mm

Typical weather for January


Max °C figures are the average daily maximum temperatures for the month. Rainfall is the average precipitation for the month.

Hotels for 'Southern Pacific Explorer'

Days 1 - 2



Average rating 4.8 (297 ratings)

Hotel Bougainvillea is a very nice 3-4 star hotel set among ten acres of lush flower filled gardens and surrounded by coffee plantations and citrus orchards. Situated in Heredia it provides a quiet first/last night hideaway just 15 minutes from the international airport and from downtown San José. Bedrooms are rather bland, but spacious with two double beds, a sitting area and the full range of facilities. Most of the rooms have free wi-fi internet access. Every room has a balcony offering marvelous views of the mountains on one side and the San José skyline on the other. There is a light and pleasant dining room, a large inviting swimming pool and 2 tennis courts. This is a good option for gardeners, birdwatchers and those who prefer to stay out of the city centre.  It is not ideal if you intend travelling around Costa Rica by shuttle bus transfers.

Day 3

Villa Lapas Rainforest Resort

nr Carara

Villa Lapas is very popular birders hotel due to its unique location adjacent to the Carara Reserve and productive natural history viewing opportunities in its grounds. The hotel has 76 simple, rustic rooms and suites set amid a 500 acre private reserve of secondary forest. All have either a king bed or two queen beds, private bathrooms with hot water, A/C, Smart cable TV's, free wifi and an in room safe. There are trails, a swimming pool and canopy walk in the grounds. The onsite "Casa del Rio" restaurant serves international/Costa Rican fusion meals in a dining room or alfresco terrace overlooking the Tarcolitos river. There is also a bar "La Cantinta" serving  cocktails and snacksm set in the hotel's onsite "Santa Lucia" mock colonial village.

Although the facilities are in want of an up-grade its location is the winning aspect. This area is one of the few places in Costa Rica where Scarlet Macaw can be seen at dusk and dawn flying from their roosts to the forest to feed and back again.

Villa Lapas Rainforest Resort
Hotel grounds
Days 5 - 7

La Cusinga Eco Lodge

near Uvita

Average rating 4.5 (11 ratings)

La Cusinga is a small cliff top, family-run eco-lodge near Ballena Bay with an emphasis on working in harmony with the environment. Great for whale watching in season. The buildings are constructed from reforested wood and use solar and hydroelectric power. Rooms have either ocean or forest views, 2-3 beds and solar-heated water and do not have A/C or T.V's. Two forest rooms share a bathroowm.

All meals are made from organic ingredients and served at set times. Lunches & Dinners must be paid for locally - these cannot be pre-paid.

Breathtaking ocean view (no easy access to a beach, 10 minute steep downhill path). Yoga deck, swimming pool, spa, birdwatching, trails in privately owned primary and secondary forest. Whales can be seen in the area between December to March and July to October.

La Cusinga Eco Lodge
Days 8 - 10

Danta Corcovado Lodge

Osa Peninsula

Average rating 4.6 (21 ratings)

Danta Corcovado is a family run lodge set on a 35 hectare farm in Guadalupe. Sustainability is the ethos here as the lodge strives to involve the local community by using local food products, building trails to support farmers and the conservation of their forests, supporting local artisans and using local nature guides.

Accommodation is either in standard rooms or more isolated bungalows.  They are all simply yet artily furnished from local woods with polished teak floors, ceiling fans and screened windows.  

The remote bungalows are set amid the forest, 200m walk away from the main lodge building. They have three walls made only of hanging nets and alfresco private bathrooms.

Note: this is a place for natural history lovers. Not for the bug phobic.

Over 200 species of birds have been spotted in the area (inv Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager, Fiery-billed Aracari, Yellow-billed Cotinga) and there have also been sightings of Jaguaroundis, Northern Tamanduas (Anteater), Three-toed Sloths, as well as regular appearances made by Squirrel, Howler, and White-faced Capuchin Monkeys.

Danta Corcovado Lodge
Days 11 - 12

Trogon Lodge

San Gerardo de Dota

Average rating 4.7 (18 ratings)

A family farm in the mountains at 7000 ft, a fresh water river also runs through the property. Guest accommodations include 10 rustic cabins, each one with 2 private bedrooms, private bathroom, hot water and heating. Home-cooked meals are served in a family style restaurant.  Optional Quetzal spotting tours and horse riding are available in this enchanted valley.

Trogon Lodge
Days 13 - 14

Casa Turire

Angostura Lagoon

Average rating 5.0 (5 ratings)

Casa Turire resembles a colonial plantation home. It is situated at the edge of a reservoir in the Turrialba valley. It offers guests 12 deluxe rooms and 4 suites, direct dial telephone service as well as cable TV, free wifi, hair dryer, private bathroom with hot water, laundry services, ceiling fans, coffee machines and private balcony.

Facilities include a swimming pool, restaurant serving Costa Rican/international fusion dishes using local produce, bar, pool table area, gift shop. There is a 3km on-site walking trail, stables, bikes for hire. The front desk can help arrange activities in the  surrounding area including coffee plantation tours, birdwatching with local guides, visit to the CATIE centre

Casa Turire