COSTA RICA AND PANAMA: WILDLIFE, RAINFOREST AND BEACHES
Tiny Costa Rica is a volcanic country of fertile plains, rolling hills supporting acres of coffee plantations and tropical lowlands bursting with fruit. Throughout, it has a friendly, relaxed ambience.Arriving at the modern capital San Jose, you'll be taken out into the valley surrounding the city to peer into the steaming crater of Poás volcano. Move on to a wildlife lodge in an area of the Pacific coast where exotic flora and fauna is especially prolific, and follow trails through the rainforest.
Continue to Panama, an up- and- coming destination for nature lovers with some amazingly unspoilt beaches to boot.You'll spend time in the glorious, rugged mountain landscapes surrounding Boquete, a centre for active adventures: you'll be very tempted to pull on your walking shoes and get out on to the wooded trails in search of quetzals.
After this, travel to the Panamanian Pacific coast for a few days' relaxation based at an intimate boutique beach hotel in low-key Boca Chica, a fishing village at the end of the road opposite a string of tiny islets. The beaches here are powder- white, backed by coconut palms and dense, untouched forest.
Day 1: Arrive in San Jose and transfer to your hotel. You will be met at the airport by our local representative who will take you to your hotel in the modern capital.
Day 2: Guided excursion to Doka, Poás volcano and La Paz waterfalls. Early departure along the Pan-American Highway towards the city of Alajuela, stopping en route at the Doka coffee mill and plantation for an introduction to the traditional techniques used to produce Costa Rica's most celebrated export. Continuing up through the humid cloud forest that surrounds Poás volcano, you'll notice a change in the temperature and vegetation as the lush tropical foliage gives way to a more forbidding highland landscape. Eventually you'll reach the impressive volcanic crater, spouting its potent sulphur fumes - it's an awe-inspiring panorama, and one of Costa Rica's most iconic vistas. From the viewing platform overlooking the crater, begin the hike down to Botos lagoon, before continuing on to La Paz Waterfall Gardens to follow trails through the forest past a succession of waterfalls plunging through tropical greenery. Within these gardens there is also a butterfly observatory, a serpentarium, a bird house and a series of hummingbird feeders where you can photograph the tiny birds at close range.
Day 3: Osa Peninsula Transfer to the airport for your flight to Puerto Jimenez on the Pacific coast and continue 22km along a bumpy road to your rainforest lodge, El Remanso. This is relaxed and peaceful place set above a delightful, wild beach and within its own tropical reserve near Corcovado National Park - one of the most bio-diverse reserves on the planet.
Days 4-5: At leisure. At leisure at the lodge. The area is abundant with wildlife - expect to see howler monkeys, toucans and macaws. Guided naturalist walks make the most of the flora and fauna, with other activities including waterfall rappelling and zip-lining through the forest canopy.
Day 6: By road over the border to Boquete, Panama. By road to the border with Panama and on to Boquete in the Chiriquí highlands. The journey of 135km takes around two to three hours (depending on border traffic) joining the Pan-American Highway for the second half of the drive. Boquete is a small provincial town which enjoys a pleasant mountain climate and the surrounding area is very beautiful. The cool mountain air, rugged mist-shrouded hills, Alpine forests and boulder-strewn rivers come together to create a delightful landscape, while the fertile volcanic soils produce an abundance of coffee and citrus fruits. The volcano Barú (3,475m) looms above the town and Caldera river runs through a steep gorge, while the La Amistad National Park straddles the border with Costa Rica with hiking trails, bathing pools and waterfalls. The town itself has a few quaint old buildings and some good restaurants.
Day 7: Guided cloud-forest safari. Your guided excursion by 4WD vehicle allows you to experience the incredible biodiversity of Boquete's lush, mountainous surroundings. Visit two gardens: Mi Jardín Es Su Jardín, a beautiful private property with lots of water features and quirky statues; and the even more eccentric El Explorador, artistically scattered with recycled everyday items and blessed with panoramic views (accentuated by background classical music). Continue to a local coffee farm and learn more about its cultivation and production. Stop at some waterfalls before arriving at Volcan Barú National Park. Here, follow the beautiful Sendero de los Quetzales trail, on the lookout for the boldly-coloured Resplendent quetzal.
Day 8: Transfer to Boca Chica. Transfer to Boca Chica, a little town at the end of the road on the Gulf of Chiriquí, on the Pacific Ocean side of the country. It's a modest town of low rise buildings and lovely sand beaches, the jumping-off point for visits to the islands in the gulf, which is famous for excellent fishing opportunities. You'll arrive at your accommodation, Seagull Cove, an exclusive, tiny resort of just 5 cottages all with views over the sea. Each cottage has a private terrace with view of the ocean and direct access to the pool, where you may well decide to while away a lot of your time.
Days 9-11: At leisure on the Pacific coast. Two whole days at leisure in this idyllic, relaxing spot. Away from the lodge you can take advantage of opportunities to visit Boca Chica and the islands of the national marine park, with sea kayaking, fishing, diving and snorkelling, and bird-watching among the activities on offer.
Day 12: Fly from David to Panama City. Transfer to David airport and fly to Panama City. Overnight.
Day 13: Transfer to Panama City for international flight home.
Essentials… Included in the journey prices