Tropical Discovery: Costa Rica to Nicaragua Plus Granada's Rich History

Starts: San José, Costa Rica
Finishes: Managua, Nicaragua

Visit: San José, Buena Vista, Sarapiquí, Barrio Flamina, Granada, Managua

Accommodation: Moderate

Activity: Sightseeing


Costa Rica holds legendary status as a nature tourism destination. Nicaragua, equally spectacular, is a travel treasure that's far less known. Our newest adventure combines them in an odyssey through a mosaic of tropical habitats that shelters a vivid diversity of wildlife. Listen for the musical call of the resplendent quetzal as you look for a glimpse of its brilliant feathers. Search for sleepy sloths. Watch raucous monkeys swing through the trees. Cruise down languid jungle streams among crocs and caimans. Add the distinctive history and culture of Granada, the first European city in mainland America, and youve got the ultimate Central American journey of discovery.

While nature travelers rave about Costa Rica, far fewer visitors know of Nicaraguas impressive natural features, from active volcanoes and lava islands to old-growth tropical forest filled with jungle animals and wild beaches home to nesting sea turtles. This distinctive itinerary includes a broad sampler of both countries most impressive natural sites, for a less-traveled Central American nature adventure that also includes cultural highlights.

Trip Highlights
  • Explore vast forest reserves on foot and by boat for secluded encounters with jungle mammals, bats, reptiles and tropical birds
  • Discover Nicaragua's volcanic highlights, from ancient lava islets scattered across a giant lake, to nesting parakeets living in the crater of an active volcano
  • Enjoy cultural encounters with local people as we join a Costa Rican family for dinner at their home and visit Nicaraguan artisans handcrafting hammocks and maracas
Important Information About This Trip

In our quest to offer the planet's most spectacular nature experiences, we regularly offer our guests the chance to participate in Exploratory Adventuresinaugural trips to select new destinations. These adventures offer an extra element of discovery, as we never know exactly what may be around the next corner, given that these are first-time experiences. Of course, our office and field staff have explored these areas as we create the initial itinerary, but exact routes, accommodations and activities on Exploratory Trips can be and often are altered on the fly.

Accommodation: This trip uses hand-picked accommodation. Please refer to the itinerary section of this trip for details about the individual accommodation selected for this trip.

Included activities: There are many wonderful activities included with this trip. Please refer to the 'Inclusions' and 'Itinerary' tabs to see what activities are included in this itinerary.

Optional Activities: There are several optional activities available with this trip. Please refer to the itinerary section for details about activities available in visited location.

Small Group Experience: Traveling is often even more exciting by sharing the experience with others. Small groups range from 6 to 16 people in size, making for a trip filled with camaraderie, adventure, and the personal attention of a trained guide.


    • Explore vast forest reserves on foot and by boat for secluded encounters with jungle mammals, bats, reptiles and tropical birds
    • Discover Nicaragua's volcanic highlights, from ancient lava islets scattered across a giant lake, to nesting parakeets living in the crater of an active volcano
    • Enjoy cultural encounters with local people as we join a Costa Rican family for dinner at their home and visit Nicaraguan artisans handcrafting hammocks and maracas

Trip Details

The Trip

Product Code: 44421
Accommodation: Moderate
Guide Language: english

Starts: San José, Costa Rica
Finishes: Managua, Nicaragua
Duration: 11 days
Departures: Guaranteed
Physical rating: Basic


  • All transportation and activities as described in the itinerary including the internal flight from San José to Ometepe
  • Accommodations
  • Meals from dinner on Day 1 through breakfast on the final day
  • Soft drinks with meals and purified drinking water with meals and activities
  • Services of an Expedition Leader, local guides and lodge staff
  • Airport transfers on Day 1 and the final day
  • Most gratuities
  • All permits
  • Entrance fees
  • Taxes


  • Travel to and from start (San José, Costa Rica) and end points (Managua, Nicaragua)
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Some gratuities
  • Passport and visa fees
  • Optional activities
  • Items of a personal nature (phone calls, laundry, etc.)
  • Airport and departure taxes
  • Optional travel insurance


Price person (sharing double) $-001 ($0/day)


$500 per person for bookings made 90 days or more prior to departure

Full Amount for bookings made less than 90 days prior to departure

Cancellation: Super Strict

Trip Notes

Price does not include airfare (to the Trip start & from the end location)

Trip Price generally includes accommodation, transport/transfer, activities, services of a professional guide & more. (Please refer to the include/excludes section for details)

Tour packages spare you the hassles of trip planning, a la carte booking, organizing and managing the logistics at a foreign location.


Day 1: Arrive in Costa Rica's capital of San Jose

Arrive in Costa Rica's capital of San Jose, where you are met at the airport and transferred to our hotel. Meet your Expedition Leader and traveling companions at a welcome dinner and orientation this evening.

Day 2: Stunning drive into the Talamanca Mountains

On a stunning drive into the Talamanca Mountains we cross 11,322-foot Cerro de la Muerte, the highest point along the Pan-American Highway. En route we stop for lunch at Quetzal’s Paradise, perched high on the side of a bluff surrounded by misty cloud forest. Myriad hummingbirds flit around the lodge, and we’ll hope to see the namesake quetzal as well, with its striking green, turquoise and scarlet plumage. Continuing to Savegre Mountain Hotel, the afternoon is devoted to exploring this 1,000-acre private biological reserve. Nature walks through the lush forest reveal a variety of bromeliads and orchids among many flourishing species of flora. Ferns and mosses also thrive in the constant veil of mist, while birds add splashes of color to the canopy. Looking for wildlife, we keep an eye out for Baird’s tapirs, wild boar, coati and monkeys. The lavish habitat is also the territory of six species of neotropical cats including jaguar, puma, ocelot, margay, oncilla and jaguarundi, though we are not likely to see them as they generally remain hidden in the dense undergrowth.

Day 3: Explore the wondrous Savegre Nature Reserve

Today is devoted to exploring the wondrous biodiversity of the cloud forest. A gentle hike along the Los Robles Trail showcases the magnificent tropical oaks found here, some of which are more than 700 years old and up to 200 feet tall. This high-altitude habitat will delight bird lovers, as it is home to more than 600 different species including many endemics. A nature walk reveals a wide array of vibrant birds, and we may see the emerald toucanet, golden-browed chlorophonia and spangle-cheeked tanager. This habitat is ideal for the resplendent quetzal, a revered and endangered creature of striking beauty. Listen for their deep, melodious calls as we quietly track these elusive birds. We’ll also walk along a stream to a cascading waterfall fed by the Savegre River. This evening, enjoy an authentic home-cooked meal with a local family.

Day 4: Enjoy a wildlife boat tour

Transfer this morning to the Sarapiqui region with lunch en route. Humid and carpeted with fruit plantations, Sarapiqui also shelters some of the best-preserved premontane rainforest in Costa Rica, making it an outstanding ecotourism destination. This afternoon we embark on a 2-hour private boat tour on the Sarapiqui River, enjoying views of the exuberant flora and fauna along the riverbanks. We’ll have opportunities to observe monkeys, iguanas, crocodiles, caimans, sloths, otters, toucans and a wide diversity of other birds in their verdant tropical habitat.

Day 5: Guided walk through La Selva Biological Station

An exciting day of discovery is in store today as we explore the rain forest on visits to two field education centers in the Sarapiqui area. Learn about global efforts to conserve rain forests on a guided walk through La Selva, an international biological research station. During our short hike we may see monkeys, sloths, peccaries, iguanas and up to 400 different kinds of birds! This evening, we head to Tirimbina Rainforest Center to learn about bats — 113 species comprise almost half of Costa Rica’s mammals. On a short night walk into the forest we learn in detail about the fascinating natural history of bats and find the mist nets that scientists have erected to trap them for research purposes.

Day 6: Tour Isla Ometepe

Transfer to San José this morning for a charter flight to Ometepe, an island set within vast Lake Nicaragua. This giant lake contains more than 400 volcanic islands and is surrounded by towering volcanoes. Our first destination on Isla Ometepe is Finca Magdalena, an 865-acre organic farm run by a collective of 24 families. The farm, which stretches up the slopes of Maderas Volcano, produces coffee, plantains, corn, beans, rice, vegetables, milk and honey. We’ll have a chance to sample some of the farm’s coffee as we learn about sustainable agricultural methods that benefit the land and those who work it. Ometepe is famous for its wealth of pre-Columbian petroglyphs and rock carvings, many of which are strewn throughout the premises. Created by the island’s first indigenous residents and dating to the dawn of the first millennium BC, they comprise one of the great rock art areas of the world. On a tour of several petroglyph sites, we’ll observe the highly stylized artistic motifs etched into the basalt boulders, noting the use of abstract circles and spirals in the intricately carved designs.

Day 7: Stroll through old-growth tropical dry forest along the mile-long Peña Inculta

This morning we stroll through old-growth tropical dry forest along the mile-long Peña Inculta interpretive trail where we’ll see enormous trees growing straight out of lava rock. Among these old giants are jinocuavo, sandbox tree (also called possumwood), spiny cedar and the ceiba, or kapok, tree. More than 60 bird species are frequently seen along the trail; look up for glimpses of yellow-naped parrot and black-headed trogon, as well as howler monkeys and white-faced capuchins swinging in the trees. Later today we take the local ferry to the mainland and make our way to Granada, the oldest city in Nicaragua. Founded by Spanish conquistador Cordoba in 1524 and named for the city of Granada in Spain, this long-standing center of commerce has witnessed many battles and invasions from English, French and Dutch pirates trying to take control of Nicaragua.

Day 8: Tour the highlights of colonial Granada

Tour the highlights of colonial Granada, also known as La Gran Sultana, reflecting its Moorish and Andalusian appearance. Located on Lake Nicaragua, Granada is known for preserving some of the finest colonial-era architecture in the country, its cobblestone streets lined with pastel-colored buildings decorated with ornate white balconies. A highlight of our city tour is a visit to Hamacas Tio Antonio, an artisan hammock-making workshop whose handcrafted products are made by handicapped or otherwise disadvantaged youth. One of these intricately woven hammocks was even made for Pope Francis. 

Later this afternoon we travel to Masaya Volcano National Park, arriving just before sunset to watch the bright green chocoyos (Pacific parakeets) return to their nests. Remarkably, these birds have adapted to the sulfuric smoke from the active volcano and actually live within the crater. The two active volcanoes inside the park have had a dramatic impact on the environment, with lava and volcanic ash covering much of the surrounding area. As dusk falls we observe bats departing in massive numbers from their roosting caves to look for food, another great natural spectacle. Once darkness has descended, we make a nocturnal visit to an underground lava tube. Equipped with flashlights, we enter the natural tunnel formed by air trapped within molten lava flows to see the intriguing rock formations. One last stop at a viewpoint into the crater mouth may offer a chance to observe fiery red lava, if the conditions are right.

Day 9: A scenic boat tour at Las Isletas

When the massive Mombacho Volcano that towers over Lake Nicaragua erupted violently some 20,000 years ago, it threw huge rocks into the water, creating 365 islets in front of where the city of Granada is today. From tiny lava outposts graced with a few palm trees to habitable small islands home to local fishermen as well as the extravagant villas of Nicaragua's upper class, the islets are ideal for exploring via boat. A scenic private motorboat excursion among the islets provides an impressive vantage point on the immensity of Lake Nicaragua. Our local guide points out varied birdlife, and we may see cormorants, herons, parrots, hawks, vultures and many others. A stop at the 18th-century Fort of San Pablo, built on one of the islets to keep pirates out, provides a historical interlude. 

This afternoon we visit a traditional maraca workshop in the small town of Monimbo. We'll meet Juan Pastor Moreno and his family who handcraft hundreds of maracas every week, made from fresh green tropical gourds harvested from local trees. We'll have a chance to help paint some of the maracas, working alongside the artisans on site. The finished products are sold in several Central American countries. The day's adventures conclude at sunset, as we arrive at Morgan’s Rock to watch the streamers of color over the Pacific Ocean.

Day 10: Morgan's Rock Nature Reserve exploration

Located on a 4,000 acre expanse of Nicaraguan jungle on the country's southern Pacific coast, nearly half of Morgan's Rock is a government-protected reserve. The remainder of this breathtaking family-run estate is set aside for low-impact agriculture and sustainable tropical forestland. The mile-long sandy beach is frequented year-round by nesting sea turtles. We spend today exploring the reserve, which harbors a variety of wildlife including spider, howler and capuchin monkeys, sloth, deer, agouti, reptiles, and many native and migrant birds. Over a farewell dinner tonight, we'll have a chance to recap personal highlights of our extraordinary nature odyssey together.

Day 11: Homeward bound

After breakfast we transfer as a group to the Managua airport, about a 2.5 hour drive north from Morgan's Rock. We'll plan to arrive around 11 am, and guests are advised to book departing flights no sooner than 12 noon.

Costa Rica San Jose, Talamanca Mountains, Savegre Nature Reserve, Sarapiqui, La Selva Biological Station, Tirimbina Rainforest Center, Isla Ometepe, Finca Magdalena, Peña Inculta Trail, Granada, Masaya Volcano National Park, Las Isletas, Morgan's Rock Nature Reserve, Managua


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