Because many travelers have limited time and resources, organized ecotourism or adventure-travel packages, arranged by tour operators in either Costa Rica or the United States, are a popular way of combining several activities. Bird-watching, horseback riding, rafting, and hiking can be teamed with, say, visits to Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve and Manuel Antonio National Park.
Traveling with a group has several advantages over traveling independently: Your accommodations and transportation are arranged, and most (if not all) meals are included in the package cost. If your tour operator has a reasonable amount of experience and a decent track record, you should proceed to each of your destinations quickly without snags and long delays. You’ll also have the opportunity to meet like-minded souls who are interested in nature and active sports. Of course, you’ll pay more for these conveniences.
In the best cases, group size is kept small (10–20 people), and tours are escorted by knowledgeable guides who are either naturalists or biologists. Ask about difficulty levels when you’re choosing a tour—most companies offer “soft adventure” packages for those in moderately good shape, while others focus on hardcore activities geared toward seasoned athletes.
Costa Rican Tour Agencies
Because many U.S.–based companies subcontract portions of their tours to established Costa Rican companies, smart travelers cut out the middleman and set up their tours directly with these companies. That means these packages are often less expensive than those offered by U.S. companies, but it doesn’t mean they’re cheap. You’re still paying for the convenience of having your arrangements handled for you.
These agencies can arrange everything from whitewater rafting to sightseeing at one of the nearby volcanoes or a visit to a butterfly farm. Although it’s generally quite easy to arrange a day trip at the last minute, other tours are offered only on set dates or when enough people are interested. Contact a few companies before you leave home and find out what tours will be offered when you arrive. These local operators tend to be a bit less expensive than their international counterparts, with 10-day tours generally costing in the neighborhood of $1,500 to $4,000 per person, not including airfare to Costa Rica.
ACTUAR (www.actuarcostarica.com; [tel] 866/393-5889 in the U.S., or 2290-7514 in Costa Rica) is a great option for budget travelers and anyone looking to get a taste of real, rural Costa Rica. ACTUAR manages a network of small, often family-run rural lodges and tour operators, focusing on community interaction and sustainability. It’s not luxurious though; bunk beds and thin foam mattresses are common.
Aventuras Tierras Verde ([tel] 2249-2354; www.tierra-verde.com) is a Rainforest Alliance–approved, eco-centric tour operator with tour options that range from a 3-day tour of Tortuguero National Park to a 17-day full country tour.
Coast to Coast Adventures (www.ctocadventures.com; [tel] 2280-8054) has a unique excursion involving no motor vehicles. The company’s namesake 12-day trip is a completely human-powered 248km (154 mile) crossing of the country, with participants traveling on rafts, by mountain bike, and on foot. Custom-designed trips (with a minimum of motorized transport) of shorter duration are also available, as well as family-friendly adventures and student tours.
Costa Rica Expeditions (www.costaricaexpeditions.com; [tel] 2521-6099) offers everything from 10-day tours covering the entire country to 3-day/2-night and 2-day/1-night tours of Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve and Tortuguero National Park, where it runs its own lodges. It also offers 1- to 2-day whitewater rafting trips and other excursions. Its tours are some of the most expensive in the country, but it is the most consistently reliable outfitter (and its customer service is excellent). If you want to strike out on your own, Costa Rica Expeditions can supply you with just transportation from place to place.
Costa Rica Sun Tours (www.crsuntours.com; [tel] 866/271-6263 in the U.S. and Canada, or 2296-7757 in Costa Rica) offers a wide range of adventures and specializes in
multiday and small group tours that include stays at country lodges.
Horizontes Nature Tours, Calle 32 between avenidas 3 and 5 (www.horizontes.com; [tel] 888/786-8748 in the U.S. and Canada, or 4052-5850 in Costa Rica), is not a specifically adventure-oriented operator, but it offers a wide range of individual, group, and package tours, including those geared toward active and adventure travelers, as well as families and even honeymooners. The company hires responsible and knowledgeable guides, and it is a local leader in sustainable tourism practices.
International Tour Operators
These agencies and operators are known for well-organized and -coordinated tours. Be warned: Most of these operators are not cheap, with 10-day tours generally costing in the neighborhood of $3,000 to $5,000 per person, not including airfare to Costa Rica.
U.S.–Based Tour Operators
Abercrombie & Kent (www.abercrombiekent.com; [tel] 800/554-7016) offers upscale trips around the globe, including several tours of Costa Rica. It specializes in 10-day highlight tours hitting Monteverde, the Osa Peninsula, and Tortuguero, and also has an excellent 7-day family tour. Service is personalized and the guides are top-notch.
Blue Parallel (www.blueparallel.com; [tel] 301/263-6670) creates custom journeys around Costa Rica, combining both luxury and a sense of adventure. Itineraries can include destinations such as the Osa Peninsula, Papagayo, and the Lake Arenal area.
Costa Rica Experts (www.costaricaexperts.com; [tel] 800/827-9046) offers a large menu of a la carte and scheduled departures, as well as day trips and adventure packages, and has decades of experience organizing tours to the country.
Nature Expeditions International (www.naturexp.com; [tel] 800/869-0639) specializes in educational and “low intensity adventure” trips tailored to independent travelers and small groups.
Overseas Adventure Travel (www.oattravel.com; [tel] 800/955-1925) provides natural history and “soft adventure” itineraries with optional add-on excursions. Tours are limited to a maximum of 16 people and are guided by naturalists. All accommodations are in small hotels, lodges, or tent camps, offering very good bang for your buck.
Southern Explorations (www.southernexplorations.com; [tel] 877/784-5400) has a range of nature- and adventure-oriented guided excursions—as well as set itinerary self-guided tours—for individuals, groups, and families.
Tauck (www.tauck.com; [tel] 800/788-7885) is a soft-adventure company catering to higher-end travelers. It offers an 8-day Costa Rica highlight tour that includes explorations of rainforests and coffee plantations.
In addition to these companies, many environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club (www.sierraclub.org; [tel] 415/977-5522) and the Smithsonian Institute (www.smithsonianjourneys.org; [tel] 855/330-1542), regularly offer organized trips to Costa Rica.
U.K.–Based Tour Operators
Imaginative Traveller (www.imaginative-traveller.com; [tel] 44/147-385-2316 outside the U.K.) is a good operator specializing in budget student, group, and family travel. Its offerings in Costa Rica focus on nature and adventure travel, and often include other countries in Central America like Panama or Nicaragua. These trips range in duration from 9 to 58 days.
Journey Latin America (www.journeylatinamerica.co.uk; [tel] 020/3553-1554 in the U.K.) is a large British operator specializing in Latin American travel. It offers a range of escorted tours around Latin America, including a few that touch down in Costa Rica. It also designs custom itineraries and often has excellent deals on airfare.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.