Tailor-Made Holiday

Costa Rica Self-Drive

Take to the road & discover rainforests, volcanoes and prolific wildlife

15 days

from £2,225pp (excluding flights)

This holiday to Costa Rica encompasses the highlights of the country with the freedom to travel at your own pace. 

  • Visit a variety of biospheres including wetlands, tropical rainforest and cloud forest 
  • Excellent bird watching opportunities  
  • Visit the mighty Arenal Volcano and explore its lava field and hike the trails at its base
  • Spend time in the ‘most biologically intense place on Earth’ - the Osa Peninsula

Self driving in Costa Rica

Driving in Costa Rica is relatively straight-forward and can be great fun. The Costa Ricans (Ticos) are helpful and welcoming, the roads (in most cases) are in good condition and Steppes Travel can provide sat navs and mobile phones with all hire cars, however we also suggest packing a good road map. It is also a good idea to obtain local advice from hotels about road conditions before setting off on the next section of your journey.

Tortuguero Wetlands

After a night in Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose, travel north to the Caribbean coast and the canals of Tortuguero.  Dense rainforest, swamps and waterways allow for some superb wildlife viewing.  Trips by boat navigating the tributaries will provide opportunities to see monkeys, birds and reptiles such as the Jesus Christ lizard and sun bathing turtles.  In season, the beach at Tortuguero becomes a hotspot for nesting Green Turtles.

Arenal Volcano

From Tortuguero drive north-west to Arenal.  The volcano is the main draw to this region, with its picture perfect cone rising above the town of La Fortuna.  A stay at the Arenal Observatory Lodge permits the best views, with walking trails on your doorstep.  Spend a morning with a naturalist guide navigating the hanging bridges through the canopy of Arenal National Park for excellent bird watching.

Monteverde Cloud Forest

Leaving the volcanic landscapes behind, continue the drive into the mountains of Monteverde where atmospheric mist descends on the cloud forests.  Wonderful hiking, bird watching and night walks provide a completely different bird viewing experience in Costa Rica.

Osa Peninsula

The next leg of the drive continues south, with a stop on the central pacific coast to break the journey in the coastal town of Uvita.  The goal, however is Corcovado National Park on Costa Rica’s bountiful Osa Peninsula.  An outstandingly bio-diverse region and considered the most “biologically intense place on Earth” by National Geographic, the Peninsula teems with wildlife.  Explore the rainforest, the beautiful Golfo Dulce and pacific beaches.  Scarlett Macaws fly overhead, all four species of monkey can be observed and the famous blue jean frog lurks amongst the vegetation.  With a lot of luck and perseverance, even a fleeting glimpse of a Puma is not out of the question.

Costa Rica is a remarkable country with an enormous variety of wildlife, activity and adventure.  Self-drive holidays are a great way to explore and Steppes Travel can tailor any route and interest, so please get in touch to discuss your holiday to Costa Rica.

For a more detailed itinerary with great ideas on what to do and where to stay, please get in touch with our experts.

Price Excluding Flights £Flight cost from 
£ 2225 £ 770

Itinerary at a glance

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Day 1

Fly London to Madrid

Fly Madrid to San Jose

Most visits to Costa Rica start and finish in San José, the country's capital. This bustling city lies in Costa Rica's Central Valley and has a year round, spring-like climate and a cosmopolitan feel. While it may lack the impressive colonial architecture of other Latin cities, it offers a handful of good museums, regular cultural events and excellent day trips into the surrounding countryside.

In the central highlands above San Jose, you will find the small towns of Alajuela and Heredia as well as numerous coffee plantations located on the fertile slopes of the Poas Volcano. The accommodation in this area offers a tranquil retreat that's just a short drive from San José's city centre.

You will be staying at Grano de Oro, bed and breakfast

Day 2

Tortuguero arrival by road and boat
Depart in the early morning for the two hour drive drive through the Braulio Carrillo National Park to the canals lining the Caribbean coast. Breakfast is included on the way followed by a three-hour boat trip to Tortuguero National Park arriving at the lodge in time for lunch.
Please note that luggage is restricted to 12kg per person. Excess luggage may be stored at the boat departure point until you return. All transfers and tours in to/in/from Tortuguero will be operated on a shared basis.

You will be staying at Mawamba Lodge, full board

Day 3

Second day in Tortuguero
Your stay at Tortuguero includes a boat tour through the park, a visit to Tortuguero village and access to the trails around the lodge, where it is possible to see a diverse range of wildlife: monkeys, sloths, iguanas, poison arrow frogs, birds and insects, including the blue butterfly. The boat tour visits canals within the national park to discover a large variety of birds and receive detailed information on the flora and fauna of the area.

Incorporating dense rainforest, lagoons and a network of rivers and canals fed from the slopes of the Central Highlands, Tortuguero National Park is one of Costa Rica's most popular eco-tourism destinations and a complete study in rainforest, freshwater and marine biology. Home to over half of the bird and reptile species found in Costa Rica, Tortuguero is also one of the world's major nesting sites for Atlantic green turtle.

You will be staying at Mawamba Lodge, full board

Day 4

Tortuguero Departure by Boat and Road
Depart in the morning by boat, back to the dock at La Pavona, journey of approx 2 hours. On the way look out for three species of monkey (howler, white faced capuchin and spider), sloth, aninga and macaws among other birds and mammals.
After disembarking from the boat, transfer of approx 1 hour 15 minutes to Guapiles where lunch is included before embarking on the next stage of your trip.

Self-Drive from Guapiles to Arenal

Pick up hire car in Guaplies and drive to Arenal, a journey time of approximately 3 hours.

Arenal is an area of stunning scenery, waterfalls, forest and lake but the undoubted star attraction is Arenal Volcano. This perfectly conical volcano is currently entering a quiet phase with little volcanic activity but this huge geological feature has a very imposing presence and offers wonderful walking trails through the tropical forest that cloaks its base. Its geothermal activity also warms the hot springs that sooth many an aching joint.

As a centre for adventure sports, Arenal offers white water rafting, zip lining, canopy walkways, horse riding, canyoning, mountain biking, windsurfing and challenging hikes, all which can be enjoyed in the middle of some outstanding scenery.

You will be staying at Arenal Observatory Lodge, bed and breakfast

Day 5

Arenal Hanging Bridges trails
The guide will meet you at your hotel for a private morning tour of Arenal Hanging Bridges, located in a 250 hectare reserve of primary forest. Walk with a naturalist through 15 bridges from 5 to 100 metres long, along three kms of rain forest circuit trails.

You will be staying at Arenal Observatory Lodge, bed and breakfast

Day 6

Choice of activities and excursions
During your time at leisure in Arenal consider arranging locally to go horse riding, white water rafting, ziplining, canopy walking, fishing, kayaking, windsurfing and hiking.

Visit the La Fortuna Waterfall, take a volcano hike, relax around the swimming pool, visit a nearby water-park or choose from a number of different spas offering treatments and massages.

You will be staying at Arenal Observatory Lodge, bed and breakfast

Day 7

Self-drive from Arenal to Monteverde

Today self-drive to Monteverde, a journey time ofapproximately 4 hours. The last part of the journey takes approx 1 ½ hours and is on unpaved roads. The journey is bumpy, however the views when winding through the mountains towards the cloud forest are spectacular.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is one of the most outstanding wildlife sanctuaries in the tropics. Spanning six ecological zones, the Reserve provides a habitat for hundreds of species of mammals, birds and plants. Exploring the Reserve is a delight and involves adventures from zip lining or aerial tram rides to short jungle trails or romping mountain hikes.

You will be staying at Monteverde Lodge & Gardens, bed and breakfast

Day 8

Walk the Monteverde trails
Half day hike through the well-marked trails, waterfalls, rivers, and the observation area of the Monteverde Cloud Forest. This large reserve is one of the most outstanding wildlife sanctuaries in the Americas and includes eight distinct ecological zones. It protects more than 400 species of birds and over 100 species of mammals, including the resplendent quetzal, the endangered bellbird, emerald toucanet and up to 30 species of hummingbirds.

You will be staying at Monteverde Lodge & Gardens, bed and breakfast

Day 9

Self-drive from Monteverde to Uvita

Today drive from Monteverde to Uvita, a journey time of approximately 4 hours.

You will be staying at La Cusinga Eco Lodge, bed and breakfast

Day 10

Self-drive from Uvita to Puerto Jimenez

Today drive to Puerto Jimenez, a journey time of approximately 2.5 hours.

You will be staying at Bosque del Cabo, full board

Day 11

Bosque del Cabo activities
Hiking, birding and animal watching are key activities in the private 700+ acre reserve at Bosque del Cabo. There are many trails that go through the rainforest down to beaches and creeks. There is also an on-site tree platform. Getting onto the platform requires a thrilling ride through the forest on a 250 foot steel cable zip line!

Bosque also offers an on-site tree climbing experience that is a fun and active way to see the rainforest from inside a beautiful strangler-fig tree. Other activities include horseback riding, surfing, swimming, kayaking, fishing, boating, waterfall rappelling, tree climbing, and snorkelling, as well as massages and reflexology treatments. Hike across a 300-foot suspension bridge to the lodge's tropical garden to see a beautiful stretch of forest and do some birding. All activities may be arranged on arrival with the lodge although it's recommended that you book fishing in advance.

According to National Geographic, the south pacific region of Costa Rica is 'the most biologically intense place on earth'. The Osa Peninsula with Corcovado National Park is home to more than 100 species each of amphibians and mammals. The tropical, humid, primary forest, more than 40,000 hectares of protected land, is home to monkeys, scarlet macaws, coatimundis and other wildlife. Even ponderous humpback whales can often be seen breaking the surface of the water (December to February). This is paradise found for nature lovers.

You will be staying at Bosque del Cabo, full board

Day 12

At leisure

You will be staying at Bosque del Cabo, full board

Day 13

Fly Puerto Jimenez to San Jose

You will be staying at Finca Rosa Blanca, bed and breakfast

Day 14

Finca Rosa and surrounding area
Free time to explore the hotel, grounds and the surrounding area. Consider arranging a tour of the Finca Rosa Blanca organic coffee farm, visit one of three nearby active volcanoes, try high altitude hiking, go horseback riding or take a trip to the nearby botanical gardens.

Fly San Jose to Madrid overnight

Fly Madrid to London


Below you can see some of the wonderful places we recommend you stay on your journey.

Arenal Observatory Lodge

Arenal Observatory Lodge

Perched on a ridge, Arenal Observatory Lodge is situated in a private nature reserve, less than two miles from Arenal volcano....

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Monteverde Lodge & Gardens

Monteverde Lodge & Gardens

Monteverde Lodge & Gardens offers a charming forest lodge experience, just 15 minutes from the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve....

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Finca Rosa Blanca

Finca Rosa Blanca

Finca Rosa Blanca is a graceful countryside mansion set on a hilltop in Costa Rica's Central Valley....

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Grano de Oro

Grano de Oro

Grano de Oro is the most upscale hotel it the city centre providing a true oasis in the heart of the bustling capital....

View Accommodation

For a more detailed itinerary with great ideas on what to do and where to stay, please get in touch with our experts.

Destination Experts

Our experts have unrivalled firsthand knowledge of Costa Rica

James Armitage, Travel Expert

"The help and great knowledge James offered really made the holiday special"

"James listened and managed our expectations and therefore made sure we were prepared for all eventualities when going on our holiday to Brazil"

"James was brilliant and all the advice was spot on."

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"Personalised service. Seemed to really want to get it right for us. Very impressed when I first called and John spent 40 minutes finding out what we wanted to do and tailoring it for us."

"The expertise that John has really gave us faith in where we were going, the regions, the hotels, the trips. John knew about it all, he described them in detail, and when we asked for different regions he was straight in there with suggestions and ideas. The way the whole trip was planned and presented to us, never any pressure to book or any problem to change plans /ideas."

"John Faithful was wonderfully helpful and conscientious in arranging the itinerary and was always ready to suggest alternatives or rearrange matters without any hesitation; this and his detailed knowledge gave one great confidence."

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For a more detailed itinerary with great ideas on what to do and where to stay, please get in touch with our experts.

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