20186
Costa Rica/Panama
Costa Rica and Panama: Rainforest to Canal
Discover the natural and man-made wonders of Panama and Costa Rica, from the Panama Canal to colonial architecture, from rainforest ecology to howler monkeys, toucans and sloths.
Rating (5)
Program No. 20186RJ
Length
13 days
Starts at
3,799
Flights start at
150
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13 days
12 nights
34 meals
12 B 11 L 11 D
Getting There
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DAY
1
Arrivals in San José, Check-in, Dinner on Own
San José
Hotel Balmoral

Activity note: Please note that this is an international travel day; no meals or program activities are scheduled on this day. Hotel check-in usually begins at 3 p.m.

Dinner: On your own to explore local fare.

Evening: At leisure.

DAY
2
Orientation, La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Transfer to Arenal
Arenal
B,L,D
Arenal Paraiso Hotel Resort & Spa

Activity note: Morning check-out. The drive from San José to Arenal takes approximately 3.5 hours.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: Program Orientation. The Group Leader will greet everyone with a warm welcome and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule and any changes, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer any questions you may have. Meals on our program feature local cuisine. In many cases, they will be plated and served set meals; in others, we will have buffets with multiple options. Beverages include coffee, tea, water; other beverages are usually available for purchase. Unless otherwise specified, transportation during your program will be provided by air conditioned motorcoach. Free time is reserved for your personal independent exploration. Please note that program activities, schedules, and personnel may need to change due to local circumstances. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding. A local expert will give an overview presentation on Costa Rica at the hotel before we depart by motorcoach to Arenal with an en route visit to La Paz Waterfall Gardens. La Paz Waterfall Gardens is an ecological park located near the Poás Volcano, in a verdant, misty area where cloud and rain forests meet. The park has five beautiful waterfalls that can be admired from various angles through a network of stairways and viewing platforms. Other attractions include a serpentarium, hummingbird garden, frog exhibit, walking trails, and one of the largest butterfly observatories in the world.

Lunch: At La Paz Waterfall Gardens.

Afternoon: We'll continue with the transfer to Arenal. Mid-afternoon arrival at the hotel, followed by free time. Arenal was once Costa Rica's most active volcano and a main draw to the town of La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano National Park. The volcano lords over the countryside with its perfectly conical shape and occasional smoke and gas emissions. While minor activity excites visitors, they are rarely acknowledged by the locals who have learnt to accept the antics of the volcano as part of their daily lives. The thermal waters emanating from the volcano, the clean air and the energy associated with Arenal, makes this a favorite destination for health spa enthusiasts and nature lovers. Free time to recharge our batteries. Options include walking on hotel grounds, taking a refreshing dip in the swimming pool or maybe catching some z’s before rejoining the group for dinner.

Dinner: At the hotel.

Evening: At leisure.

DAY
3
Arenal Hanging Bridges, Life at a Local Farm
Arenal
B,L,D
Arenal Paraiso Hotel Resort & Spa

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: After breakfast, we'll transfer to Arenal Hanging Bridges for a morning of walking explorations. Arenal Hanging Bridges is a private nature reserve in La Fortuna de San Carlos. The site features a network of standing bridges, hanging bridges, and trails that crisscross 250 hectares of tropical rainforest. The park’s mission is to provide natural history education in a responsible and sustainable way. Visitors are able to view the rainforest from different angles and heights, from ground level to canopy level, learning firsthand about this fascinating and biologically diverse environment. Travel by motorcoach to a local farm for a chance to learn about life in rural Costa Rica.

Lunch: Typical Costa Rican fare at a local farm.

Afternoon: After lunch, get to know some of the farm’s history and gain insights into agricultural practices in this fertile region. The small and painteresque town of Fortuna has changed quite a bit from the village that witnessed the eruptions of Arenal Volcano in 1968. Once a small agricultural community, Fortuna has grown in the shadow of the colossus that once burned and devastated large areas. Tourism is precisely the most important income for the region. Although now on a second level of economic importance, many plantations in the surrounding areas still produce important amounts of papaya, sugar cane, tapioca and ornamental plants. Return to the hotel, followed by free time to enjoy the thermal pools or other hotel amenities.

Dinner: At the hotel.

Evening: At leisure.

DAY
4
Monteverde Coffee Plantation, Local Conservation
Monteverde
B,L,D
Hotel Montaña Monteverde

Activity note: Hotel check-out this morning. The boat ride across Arenal Lake usually takes between 45 minutes to 1 hour to complete. This will be followed by an uphill drive on scenic back roads up to Monteverde (approximately 1 hour).

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: After check-out, our motorcoach will deliver us to the local dock in preparation for our boat ride across Arenal Lake. Once the boat journey is completed, a bus will take us on an uphill drive on back roads to Monteverde. Bathroom stops will be made along the way. At Monteverde we'll drive to a local coffee plantation.

Lunch: At the coffee plantation.

Afternoon: An expert led exploration of a local coffee farm will educate us on the origins of the plant and the intricacies of growing and processing coffee. During this visit we will learn the about harvesting and processing of coffee as well as the history of this crop from its beginning in the Arabic countries and Ethiopia. We'll also discover the importance of the golden bean ¨grano de oro¨ and its impact on the social, cultural, and economic development of Costa Rica. Arrive at the hotel and check-in. Time at leisure. Lecture: Conservation and Development of the Monteverde Area.

Dinner: At the hotel.

Evening: At leisure.

DAY
5
Cloud Forest Reserve, Bat Jungle, The Quakers of Costa Rica
Monteverde
B,L,D
Hotel Montaña Monteverde

Activity note: Wear comfortable clothes plus closed-toed shoes for forest hike.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: Field trip to a cloud forest reserve at Monteverde with site lecture. The edges of this rich forest system, often cloaked in clouds and blowing mist, are home to more than 350 avian species and a myriad of other creatures and critters. The Monteverde area is perhaps most famous for breeding Resplendent Quetzals, Three-wattled Bellbird, and Bare-necked Umbrellabird. While these charismatic species can be elusive, a host of other cloud forest birds and amphibians are found in the area.

Lunch: At a local restaurant.

Afternoon: After lunch we will join our Group Leader in a visit to the Bat Jungle to learn about the important role these feared and misunderstood mammals play in nature. The Bat Jungle is an educational space designed and managed by respected U.S. bat biologist Dr. Richard LaVal. Informative displays help to explain about bat biology, bat diversity, and their crucial role in nature as pollinators. The Bat Jungle also has more than 90 bats, representing 8 different species, housed in a recreated nighttime cloud forest environment. Glass windows give visitors the rare opportunity to look inside the forest enclosure and observe bats feeding, flying, and socializing. Special microphones capture the high pitched bat vocalizations and broadcast them through loudspeakers in the bat viewing area. Return to the hotel. Pre-dinner presentation on the Quakers of Monteverde.

Dinner: At the hotel.

Evening: At leisure.

DAY
6
Monteverde Butterfly Garden, Tárcoles River Boat Ride
Punta Leona
B,L,D
Hotel Punta Leona

Activity note: Morning check-out. Monteverde to Punta Leona is about 70 miles; approximately 2.5 - 3 hours by motorcoach.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: Morning visit to the Monteverde Butterfly Garden and Arthropod Education Center. Jim Wolfe and his wife Marta Iris opened the Monteverde Butterfly Garden in 1989. The couple has been hand raising butterflies for many years and has come to learn their individual preferences and habits. These fragile creatures require extreme care as they develop and every species feeds on a different variety of plants. Unlike most butterfly gardens, which buy their butterflies as chrysalides, all the butterflies we'll see here were bred and raised on the premises. Board the motorcoach to begin our transfer to Punta Leona. Punta Leona is located on the Central Pacific Coast, less than 2 hours by car from San José. The area has become a popular vacation spot with Costa Rican families. With white sand beaches on one side and tropical rainforest on the other, there are many options for both the adventure lover and those looking for a little rest and relaxation. Punta Leona is just a short distance from the important Carara National Park.

Lunch: At a local restaurant en route.

Afternoon: After our motorcoach drops us off at a local dock, we'll board a covered river boat and enjoy a crocodile safari along the Tárcoles River. The Tárcoles River Basin is one of the most important in the Pacific coastal region, virtually draining the entire western side of the Central Valley. Tárcoles hosts an amazing diversity of wildlife along its banks and in the extensive mangrove ecosystem. Perhaps the most famous of all the river's inhabitants are its enormous crocodiles. These crocodiles have been studied by numerous local and foreign specialists and featured in TV specials, including several episodes of Dr. Brady Barr's "Reptile Wild" series through National Geographic. Arrive in Punta Leona and check-in at the hotel. A local expert will give us an overview of the endangered Scarlet Macaw during a presentation at the hotel.

Dinner: At the hotel.

Evening: At leisure.

DAY
7
Sea Kayaking, Free Time at the Beach
Punta Leona
B,L,D
Hotel Punta Leona

Activity note: A bathing suit, water shoes or sandals, a hat and sunscreen are suggested for the kayaking activity.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: Sea kayaking from the mouth of the Agujas River to Limones Beach. We will have the opportunity to enjoy a bit of swimming before returning to the hotel.

Lunch: At the hotel.

Afternoon: The rest of the afternoon will be free for us to enjoy as we wish. Suggestions include relaxing at the beach, hanging out with friends, or maybe taking a walk on hotel trails.

Dinner: Farewell dinner at the hotel.

Evening: At leisure.

DAY
8
Transfer to Panama City, History of the Panama Canal
Panama City
B,L,D
Country Inn & Suites by Carlson - Panama Canal

Activity note: The drive from Punta Leona to San José usually takes about 2 hours. The flight from San José to Panama City takes approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: Check-out of the hotel. Transfer to San José to catch a short flight to Panama City, Panama.

Lunch: At a local restaurant en route.

Afternoon: Board the flight to Panama. Upon arrival in Panama it will be necessary to proceed through Immigration, Baggage Claim and Customs before exiting the secured area of the airport. Our Panamanian group leader will be waiting outside the exit door, holding up a Road Scholar sign. Our bus will take us to the hotel for check-in. After settling into our rooms, the Group Leader will offer a brief orientation to our program in Panama, followed by an expert presentation on the Panama Canal--it's past, present and future.

Dinner: At the hotel.

Evening: Return to the hotel and time at leisure.

DAY
9
Historic Casco Viejo, Biomuseo, Miraflores Locks Museum
Panama City
B,L,D
Country Inn & Suites by Carlson - Panama Canal

Activity note: Get luggage ready for early check-out tomorrow.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: Depart by motorcoach to Casco Viejo. During this activity, we'll accompany our Group Leader on a walking orientation to Casco Viejo's historic streets. Panama City's old historic quarter (a.k.a. Casco Viejo or Casco Antiguo) dates back to the 1670s, when the destruction of Panama Viejo made relocation a necessity. Casco Viejo’s parks and narrow streets are lined with colorful buildings representative of Spanish, French and early American architectural styles. This eclectic collection of architectural styles reflects the city's role as an international trade center and cultural melting pot that began well before the building of the Canal.

Lunch: At a local restaurant.

Afternoon: Next, we'll drive to the Biomuseo to learn about Panama's natural habitats and its flora and fauna. Panama City’s Biomuseo (aka Biodiversity Museum) is situated on the scenic Amador Causeway—a man-made breakwater found at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. The colorful, eye catching architecture of the museum is the creation of internationally acclaimed architect Frank Gehry. In addition to 8 permanent exhibition galleries, the museum also features a public atrium, temporary exhibits, and a botanical park with outdoor displays. Interactive and multi-media exhibits explain the science behind the formation of the Isthmus of Panama and its crucial role in facilitating biodiversity throughout the Americas. Next, we'll visit the Miraflores Locks Museum, part of the Miraflores Canal Visitor Center, to gain a deeper understanding of the history and engineering behind the Canal. The museum houses informative exhibits and captivating interactive displays; but the open air terrace often steals the show as visitors get to enjoy close-up views of ships going through the locks.

Dinner: At a restaurant in Miraflores, with views of passing ships in the Canal. Return to the hotel.

Evening: At leisure.

DAY
10
Partial Canal Transit, Disembark in Gamboa
Colon
B,L,D
Melia Panama Canal

Activity note: The partial transit through the Panama Canal is expected to last approximately 4:30 hours. Participants will embark at Panama City and disembark at Gamboa. During the cruise, participants will experience and see the Miraflores, Pedro Miguel and Gamboa Locks in action and will also sail through the infamous Culebra/Gaillard Cut. Since this cruise is not a private charter, our group will be sharing space on the vessel with non-Road Scholar passengers.

Breakfast: Early morning transfer to the port. We'll board the boat that will take us on an approximately 4.5 hour-long partial transit through the Panama Canal. Breakfast on board the boat.

Morning: Partial transit through the Panama Canal, from Panama City to Gamboa. This transit leaves through the Pacific entrance of the Canal, just outside Flamenco Island. Here we'll wait for the Panama Canal Commission pilot who will guide our vessel through the transit. We will follow a companion vessel for the transit of the Miraflores locks (by Canal standards, we are a small vessel, so we rarely transit the locks alone). The transit will take us through Miraflores Lake and Locks, Pedro Miguel Locks and Gailard/Culebra Cut, before disembarking at Gamboa. Throughout the transit there are numerous opportunities to see dolphins, birds, monkeys and crocodiles.

Lunch: On board the boat.

Afternoon: We'll disembark at Gamboa and transfer by bus to Colon. Colon was originally an island, separated from the mainland until 1852 when the U.S. began building a railroad across the isthmus. Contemporary Colon is known for its status as a Zona Libre, a free trade zone. Next to Hong Kong, Colon is the largest free-trade zone and marks the northern terminus of the Panama Canal. Transfer to the hotel and check-in.

Dinner: At the hotel.

Evening: At leisure.

DAY
11
Colon, The Embera People of Panama
Colon
B,L,D
Melia Panama Canal

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: Drive to a local Embera village for a full day of activities. Upon reaching the community, the village chief will provide a brief history of the tribe, its traditions, culture and handicrafts.

Lunch: Traditional lunch of fish and plantains prepared by the Embera women.

Afternoon: In the afternoon we'll experience a traditional Embera dance and have the opportunity to view local handicrafts or walk around the village. The sale of local products directly benefits the village and helps to pay the school fees for the children. Do you wish to play a joke on friends and family back home? Get a temporary Embera tattoo painted on your arm or leg (it usually lasts between 1-2 weeks)! The Embera utilize extracts from the jagua fruit (Genipa americana) to make the black ink. Villagers of all ages adorn their bodies--sometimes from head to toe--with interesting geometric designs. Return to the hotel.

Dinner: At the hotel.

Evening: At leisure.

DAY
12
Fort San Lorenzo, New Lock System, Panama Canal Railway
Panama City
B,L,D
Country Inn & Suites by Carlson - Panama Canal

Activity note: Hotel check-out. From the hotel to Fort San Lorenzo is about 20 miles; approximately 1 hour by motorcoach. Train ride from Colon to Panama City is 47.5 miles and takes about 1 hour.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: Check-out of the hotel. After boarding our motorcoach, we'll travel to Fort San Lorenzo--constructed in the 1500s during the reign of the Spanish King, Phillip the II. As we walk through the ruins, our Group Leader will point out sites of interest and discuss the importance of Fort San Lorenzo during the early years of the Panama Canal. This Spanish fort was once a primary defense against English pirates. While the fort successfully thwarted some (look for a captured British cannon on the fort’s grounds), it is perhaps best known for its failure to stop the infamous pirate, Henry Morgan. In 1672 Morgan defeated the forces at San Lorenzo, sailed up the Chagres River and led his men to Panama where they sacked, looted, and burned the city. By the time they completed their raid, Morgan safely escaped with massive quantities of gold and other treasures.

Lunch: At a local restaurant.

Afternoon: After lunch, we'll stop at a viewing point to see the new locks constructed on the Panama Canal's Caribbean side; part of the expansion project meant to accommodate larger and wider, post-Panamax ships. We'll gain insight into the project and, if lucky, we might get to view the new locks in action. Next, we'll drive to the train station in preparation for our scenic train ride to Panama City across the isthmus. Arrive at the hotel and check-in.

Dinner: Farewell dinner at a local restaurant.

Evening: Return to the hotel and time at leisure. Spend your last evening in Panama with your new Road Scholar friends, finish your packing, or get a good night's sleep in preparation for international departures tomorrow.

DAY
13
Program Concludes
In Flight
B

Activity note: Morning hotel check-out. Participants with independent travel arrangements and/or scheduled on later flights can keep their hotel rooms until check-out time on this day. Except for breakfast, all other meals are on your own on this day.

Breakfast: At the hotel (dependent on flight times).

Morning: Transfer to the international airport for flights back home. This concludes the program. We hope you enjoyed your Road Scholar adventure! When you get home, remember to stay in touch via the Road Scholar Social Network; share memories, pictures, and comments about your recent travels.