Trip Number: 12765A
Price: $3,325 (12-15)
$3,725 (or fewer)
Staff: Kath Giel
- See exotic birds and mammals as we hike in five national parks
- Wander the colonial streets of Granada, soaking in the history of Central
- Explore active volcanoes in two countries and enjoy boat journeys to
- Charming lodges, entrance fees, healthy meals, diverse activities, and
- Bilingual naturalists and guides
- Transport by private luxury coach
Photo: Mary Menconi
The December holidays are a great time for an active adventure to two fascinating
countries: Costa Rica and Nicaragua. These two countries share a border, and
both have active volcanoes, exotic plants, and fascinating wildlife. These two
countries, however, have very different histories and have taken different approaches
to protecting the environment and development. On this adventure, we will explore
exquisite natural areas and national parks, as well as colonial cities and quaint
villages and markets, comparing and contrasting different methods of preservation.
Costa Rica and Nicaragua are at the crossroads of the Americas. Birds and plants
from north, south, east, and west all mingle here. Costa Rica has a world-famous
national park system to protect habitat and the environment, while Nicaragua
endeavors to create a similar system. Northwestern Costa Rica and southeastern
Nicaragua vary from dry forests and coastlines to cloud forests and mountain
tops. This is a land of incredible biodiversity and on this trip we will see
birds, monkey and other mammals, beautiful forests, tranquil rivers, remote
beaches, and local people who take pride in their environment.
The city of Granada in Nicaragua is an historic gem of Spanish colonialism
that was founded in 1524. Several volcanoes and the largest lake in Central
America are nearby, along with abundant bird life, beautiful islands, and undeveloped
Pacific beaches. We experience both the cultural beauty and majesty of the natural
environment during our time in this charming area.
As we venture through national parks and reserves, colonial towns, indigenous
markets and villages, dry forests, Pacific beaches, volcanic landscapes, cloud
forest and the serene lake areas, we meet local friendly people who understand
the value of protecting the environment. The birds, mammals, and plants of the
various ecological zones we travel will surprise you with their beauty and natural
history. Costa Rica and Nicaragua are full of color and vitality and are destinations
for travelers seeking an adventure rather than an arm-chair tour. It is possible
that you may fall in love with the spirit of Central America on this trip!
Photo: Jose Vargas
Day 1: Arrival in San Jose, Costa Rica. After landing at the
international airport, our hotel shuttle takes you to our lovely accommodations
overlooking the San Jose valley. In the evening we all meet for a welcome dinner
and orientation. This will be the official start of the trip.
Day 2: Today we travel to Arenal National Park, home to one
of the most active volcanoes in the world. We board our comfortable bus and
travel through the beautiful countryside and coffee plantations toward Arenal
volcano. We stop along the way for lunch and an engaging tour at an organic,
sustainable farm operation. After lunch we travel to the Hanging Bridges where
we will see monkeys, a wide variety of birds, dense vegetation, and waterfalls
as we walk high above the canyons. With luck we might also spot a pit viper.
We retire to our lovely lodge for a swim and dinner.
Day 3: After breakfast we hike the fresh lava flows of Arenal
National Park, enjoying fabulous views of the volcano high above us, and Lake
Arenal far below. We will enjoy the unique flora and fauna of the area. The
afternoon includes some free time in the quaint town of La Fortuna. In the evening
we soak in lava-heated hot springs, surrounded by lush tropical vegetation --
a great way to end the day!
Day 4: This morning we cross Lake Arenal by boat to the Monteverde
Cloud Forest, a rich ecosystem supporting many species of birds, mammals, insects,
reptiles, flowering plants, and trees. With a bit of luck, we may be rewarded
with the sighting of the resplendent quetzal. Later in the day we enjoy a hike
in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve with our naturalist guide who will help
us add new bird species to our list! On the way to our accommodations we will
stop by the famous Monteverde Cheese Factory for some homemade ice cream. A
serene lodge surrounded by the cloud forest is our home base for the next two
nights, and we enjoy a night walk this evening.
Photo: John Hickok
Day 5: This morning we visit Selvatura Park where we can enjoy
one of two optional activities -- a canopy skywalk to view the treetop world,
or the famous zip line in Monteverde. In the afternoon, we plan to visit the
Bat Jungle Exhibition to learn about the intricacies of tropical forest ecology
and conservation efforts in Costa Rica.
Day 6: Today we travel to Palo Verde National Park, a remote
wetland sanctuary that has one of the largest concentrations of aquatic birds
in Central America and is the most important migratory bird site on the Pacific
side of Central America. The surrounding region is mostly tropical dry forests,
and the Park concentrates on conserving vital floodplain, marshes, limestone
ridges, and seasonal pools from the encroachment of development. In the afternoon
we float on the nearby Corobici River and enjoy birding and nature from our
rafts. Maybe we will be lucky to see an otter! We retire to our lodge, which
is also a ranch, dairy farm, research center, and low-impact resort.
Day 7: This will be a special day when we hike in a private
reserve and take a boat ride on the Tempisque River in Palo Verde National Park.
We see a variety of habitats: freshwater and saltwater lagoons, marshes, grasslands
with black mangroves, mangrove swamps, grasslands, and different forests and
savannahs. We hope to see thousands of herons, storks, egrets, grebes, ibis
and ducks that flock to the lagoons and surrounding areas to feed and mate.
Crocodiles over 15-feet long have been seen in this river. We enjoy our resort
for another night.
Photo: Kath Giel
Day 8: After an early-morning walk on the ranch, we depart
for Rincon de la Vieja National Park. This entire area has been declared a biosphere
reserve by UNESCO, protecting one the largest areas of dry forest in Central
America. This is also one of Costa Rica's finest birdwatching, historical, and
wilderness areas. Toucans, parrots, magpie jays, and collared aracaris are common.
Dozens of species of bats (including the vampire bat) are found in the park.
We enjoy a hike and add some new species to our bird list. This evening we stay
at a lodge in the gorge on the Colorado River near Rincon de la Vieja. It is
a great place to enjoy and relax.
Day 9: We have another day to enjoy this UNESCO biosphere
reserve area. On our visit at Santa Rosa National Park, we hike to the historical
Hacienda Santa Rosa (La Casona) where the volunteer army of Costa Rica defeated
the mercenary forces of William Walker in 1856 and the invasion forces of Nicaraguan
dictator Somoza in 1955. In the afternoon we visit a remote northern beach on
the Pacific for a swim and walk on the sand. Our evening is again spent at our
lodge along the Colorado River.
Day 10: We will drive by bus across the border to Nicaragua,
getting our passports stamped on Christmas Day! In the afternoon, we will explore
the historic downtown of Granada. This beautiful, well-preserved city is Central
America's oldest continuously inhabited European settlement. Its colonial architecture,
tile and cobblestone setting, and small scale are perfect for a walking tour.
Christmas decorations will adorn the city and we will settle into a comfortable
colonial hotel for the next three nights.
Day 11: We enjoy a morning tour of nearby Masaya Volcano National
Park to see and learn about one of the most active volcanoes in Nicaragua. Lunch
will be served at the delightful viewpoint over the Apoyo Lagoon in Santa Catarina,
where we savor the local flavors and color. We return to Granada for a free
afternoon and evening. There are many shops, restaurants, and cityscapes to
enjoy on your own or with others in Granada.
Photo: John Hickok
Day 12: We adventure to another volcano at the nearby Mombacho
Volcano Nature Reserve. From the base of this dormant volcano, the park eco-mobile
carries us to the biological station where we have a choice of trails around
the crater. Mombacho is home to hundreds of different bromeliads and orchids,
as well as three kinds of monkeys and many species of birds, reptiles, and amphibians.
On the way back to Granada, we stop at the Mercado Viejo in Masaya, the premier
market for handmade crafts in the country. If we are lucky, we may encounter
music and dancing in this town known for its festivals.
Day 13: Today we travel back to Costa Rica. Lunch is in the
quaint town of San Juan del Sur. Our last evening together once again at our
mountain lodge on the Colorado River. We will enjoy a swim in the river or pool
before our farewell dinner.
Day 14: Transfer to the Liberia airport or onward to San Jose.
We say "Adios" until next time!
The trip begins in San Jose, Costa Rica and ends in Liberia, Costa Rica with
an optional bus ride back to San Jose. You must make your own travel arrangements
to the starting point. Airport transfers are included, and will be arranged
by the leader. You will need a passport that is valid for at least six months
beyond the trip date. The leader will be happy to assist participants who wish
to extend their stay.
Accommodations and Food
Our accommodations are mostly historic lodges, charming ecolodges, and small
hotels that are clean, safe, and comfortable. Rooms are double occupancy with
a roommate arranged for those who are traveling alone. For an additional cost,
a single supplement may be available for solo travelers; please contact the
leader for more information. All meals, from dinner on day one to breakfast
on day 15 are included, except for one dinner as mentioned above. We sample
traditional foods, local cuisines, and Western meals, and enjoy all the abundant
fresh fruits and vegetables. We will attempt to accommodate vegetarians. Your
taste buds are going to enjoy this adventure as well!
Photo: Mary Menconi
This is an active leisure trip, though you'll have plenty of opportunities
for more strenuous pursuits. The trip is suitable for all ages as long as you
are in reasonably good health, enjoy nature, and have a good-humored and flexible
approach to travel in Central America. Keep in mind that both Nicaragua and
Costa Rica are developing countries -- things don't always go exactly as planned
and no specifics in our itinerary can be guaranteed to happen exactly as presented
in this brochure. Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the Americas
and standards may not be what we would hope for. Health care facilities are
minimal. A few of the bus rides will be long, but we will be mostly on good
roads and the views will be great. It is likely to be warm and dry except when
we are in the cloud forest, although in the tropics it can rain even during
the dry season and you’ll need rain gear to be prepared for that.
Equipment and Clothing
A valid passport is required for travel to Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Visas
are not required. No specific vaccinations are required, but check with your
doctor or HMO and the CDC for current conditions. You must have a current tetanus
booster and a Hepatitis A vaccination is advised. A detailed packing list will
be sent to each participant as the trip nears. Packing light is recommended
because our bags will be carried on top of the bus.
- Lonely Planet guidebooks for Nicaragua, Costa Rica.
- Pariser, Harry S., Explore Costa Rica.
- Coates, Anthony G., Central America, a Natural and Cultural History.
- Foster, Lynn V., A Brief History of Central America.
- Kricher, John C., A Neotropical Companion.
- Nicaragua map and Costa Rica map, International Travel Maps Vancouver, B.C.
Photo: Kath Giel
The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about
conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our
work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, encouraging
grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward environmentally
understanding parallel concerns at home and abroad. In Costa Rica, we will get
an up close look at conservation in action. The country has long been committed
to protecting, rather than exploiting, its natural resources. Indeed, as Pulitzer
Prize-winning author Robert Cahn puts it, the Costa Rican park system is "in
some ways the most remarkable national park system in the world." All told,
it contains 34 protected areas, including 28 national parks, and the entire
system encompasses about 11 percent of Costa Rica's land area. When forest reserves
and wildlife refuges are included, the country's federal lands total about 25
percent. By comparison, our national parks cover about one-thirtieth of our
total land area.
There are, however, problems, regarding this protection. Outside of the national
parks and preserves, many areas have been deforested. Traditional tourist development
has impacted several areas, particularly the Pacific Coast. The present government
(and the electorate) are challenged by the need for true and permanent protection
of the environment while balancing economic development. We will have opportunities
to see pristine and developed areas, and discuss the impact on communities and
the country on this trip.
Nicaragua, on the other hand, has faced civil war, several major earthquakes,
and Hurricane Mitch over the past 30 years. Decades of logging and monoculture
farming have deforested much of the country and affected the ecology. Even so,
natural beauty and abundant wildlife exists. Parks and reserves cover about
17 percent of the country, but unfortunately there is neither much money nor
trained staff to protect these rich areas. Our visits and tourist dollars will
demonstrate the value of these resources and may encourage Nicaraguans to continue
to preserve the valuable ecosystems.
This trip requires a $200 per-person deposit. An additional payment of $300 per person is due six months prior to trip departure. International trip prices are subject to change and are based on double-occupancy or group accommodations as described above. Single rooms may not be available or may cost more than the listed price. If you have any questions regarding double occupancy, please contact the trip leader.
See the How to Apply for an Outing
section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the
trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing
up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing
approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical
Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on
the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to
the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and
notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
The Sierra Club accurately and fairly budgets and prices our trips. However, unforeseen costs such as devaluation of the dollar compared to other currencies and fuel surcharges assessed by our international providers may necessitate adjustment in trip price. We will make every effort to mitigate and absorb these fees. If a price increase is necessary, however, you will have 14 days after announcement to cancel without penalty.
Kath Giel loves Latin America for its rich biological diversity and friendly people. She has been involved in the Sierra Club's outings program since 2000 and has led Sierra Club trips to a variety of destinations, including Costa Rica, Nepal, Bavaria, the Sierra Nevada, and the Southwest. Kath has a B.A. in botany and has traveled widely and independently to over 60 countries. When Kath is at home in Northern California, she's often gardening, hiking the local trails, or backpacking and botanizing in the High Sierra.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips