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Costa Rica

Road Scholar in Costa Rica: Celebrating 50 Years of Adventures

Program No. 21792RJ
Celebrate Road Scholar’s 50th anniversary in Costa Rica as you choose your own adventure to learn about its natural history, wildlife and thrilling activities.

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At a Glance

It’s no secret that Costa Rica is home to some of the most incredible natural wonders and diverse species in the world — in fact, that’s one of the biggest reasons that we love to learn there. In celebration of our 50th Anniversary, join us on an inspiring adventure in the heart of Costa Rica that offers you the opportunity to discover its landscapes and inhabitants according to your interests and pace. Whether you love natural history or hope to add to your birding life list, there’s sure to be great learning and camaraderie as you explore San José and Sarapiqui.
Activity Level
Choose Your Pace
Choose from two or more options of activity levels to find your perfect pace.

Best of all, you’ll…

  • Choose your area of study and activity comfort level as you learn about the unique features of the rain forest.
  • Sample fresh pineapple at a local plantation, enjoy a lesson on making artisanal chocolate and learn about the cultivation of hearts of palm.
  • Enjoy a boat ride or rafting expedition along the Sarapiqui River, and join naturalists for opportunities to observe wildlife — including Costa Rica’s many bird species.

General Notes

Participants will split into groups based on their chosen program theme (selected at time of enrollment). Theme 1: Natural History Focus/Keep the Pace. Theme 2: Natural History Focus/Easy Going. Theme 3: Birding/Outdoor: Spirited. Theme 4: Outdoor Adventure/Outdoor: Spirited.
Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
Culture Smart! Costa Rica
by Jane Koutnik
A guide to local customs, etiquette and culture.
Costa Rica, A Traveler's Literary Companion
by Barbara Ras
A wonderful introduction to the character of the people, culture and land, this anthology brings together 26 stories by Costa Rican writers.
Tropical Plants of Costa Rica
by Willow Zuchowski
Organized by habitat, this photo guide to 400 species has chapters on popular destinations, including Monteverde and Tortuguero.
Costa Rica Adventure Map
by National Geographic
A double-sided map at a scale of 1:500,000.
Coffee and Power, Revolution and the Rise of Democracy in Central America
by Jeffery M. Paige
Panoramic in scope, this scholarly history examines the emerging democracies of Central America and especially the political impact on powerful families who control coffee production.
Costa Rica's National Parks and Preserves: A Visitor's Guide
by Joseph Franke and Joseph Dimijian
A first-rate source for the Costa Rican park system. Profiles 40 parks and preserves and their distinct tropical habitats. Franke provides regional history as well as tips on what to pack.
A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica
by Gary Stiles and Alexander Skutch
Illustrated descriptions of the major habitats, color plates and maps, help to identify more than 850 species of birds in Costa Rica.
Costa Rican Wildlife
by Pocket Naturalist
Put it in your pocket! This handy, fold-up card includes color illustrations of dozens of typical birds, mammals and reptiles.
The Wildlife of Costa Rica, A Field Guide
by Fiona Reid, Twan Leenders, Jim Zook, Robert Dean
Designed to take along on a walk in the forest, this latest compact Zona Tropical guide includes 450 of the most common, interesting and charismatic mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and arthropods that you are likely to encounter in the field. Each gets an exquisite full color illustration.
The Birds of Costa Rica
by Richard Garrigues, Robert Dean (Illustrator)
Built for the field, this great guide includes multiple illustrations for 820 species of birds.
The Penguin History of Latin America
by Edwin Williamson
Williamson traces 500 years of history from the time of Columbus and the Spanish Conquest to the present day. An excellent and very readable history in a compact size.
Lonely Planet Costa Rican Spanish
by Lonely Planet
A pocket guide to understanding idioms, slang and Spanish as it is spoken by the Ticos.
Mammals of Costa Rica
by Fiona Reid
A palm-sized guide to 65 native mammals with handsome full-color illustrations and helpful descriptions. Includes a map, viewing tips and a checklist.
Neotropical Rainforest Mammals: A Field Guide
by Louise H. Emmons & François Feer
This beautifully illustrated field guide contains all you need to know about rainforest mammals in Central and South America. It has color plates, range maps and detailed descriptions of each animal, including information about their biology, behavior and natural habitats.
Lonely Planet Costa Rica Country Guide
by Lonely Planet
Regional maps, detailed site information and general tips will be useful to travelers of all budgets and interests.
Tropical Nature
by Adrian Forsyth, Ken Miyata
A lively, lucid portrait of the tropics as seen by two uncommonly observant and thoughtful field biologists. Its 17 marvelous essays introduce the habitats, ecology, plants and animals of the Central and South American rainforest
The Ticos
by Richard Biesanz
This insightful, fact-filled portrait of the Costa Rican people accessibly explores their culture, history and society.
National Geographic Costa Rica
by Christopher P. Baker
This stylish, informative and up-to-date travel resource features 200 photographs, many maps and good information on the country's history, nature and culture.
Lonely Planet Phrasebooks: Latin American Spanish
by Roberto Esposto
This portable phrasebook provides a useful mix of everyday phrases, words and expressions used in different Spanish speaking countries in Latin America. Learn the nuances of the Spanish language as it is spoken in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile.
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7 days
6 nights
17 meals
6 B 5 L 6 D
Arrive San José, Class, Welcome Dinner, Orientation
San José
Hotel Balmoral

Activity note: Participants should schedule international flights to arrive in San José, Costa Rica no later than 2:00 p.m. Those who choose to arrive after the recommended arrival time will run the risk of missing the 5:30 p.m. lecture and the welcome dinner scheduled for this first day.

Afternoon: Hotel check-in typically begins at 3 p.m. Early check-ins are at the discretion of the hotel and are based on room availability. If rooms are not available upon arrival, the hotel is able to store luggage so that participants can do some independent explorations in the area and/or enjoy hotel amenities until rooms become ready for check-in. ***Participants attending pre-program extensions will be returned to San José this afternoon in order to join the main program at the hotel.*** Meet fellow Road Scholar participants at 5:30 p.m. for an introductory lecture at the hotel. Lecture: Historical Development of Costa Rica. Details on where the lecture will be held will be provided upon check-in at the front desk.

Dinner: Get to know your program staff and fellow Road Scholar participants during an introduction session followed by a welcome dinner. We will review the up-to-date daily schedule and any changes, discuss responsibilities, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer any questions you may have.

Assorted Morning Activities, Transfer to Sarapiqui
Selva Verde Lodge

Breakfast: At the hotel restaurant.

Morning: After breakfast participants will split into groups based on their chosen program theme (selected at time of enrollment). Theme 1: Natural History Focus/Active Level. Theme 2: Natural History Focus/Easy Level. Theme 3: Birdwatching/Active Level. Theme 4: Adventure Package/Moderately Challenging Level. Theme 1: Board the Road Scholar bus to INBIO Parque located in Heredia to learn about Costa Rica's life zones and biodiversity. The eco-park provides a sensory experience combining interpretive nature trails with multimedia technology. Theme 2: Participants will enjoy a short walk to the Gold Museum for a look at its collection of Pre-Columbian gold artifacts before visiting the historic National Theater nearby. The National Theater was built midst Costa Rica's coffee boom in the late 1800’s. Its quality performances as well as lavish neoclassical architecture and beautiful murals are a source of great national pride. Theme 3: Participants in this grouping will transfer to La Paz Waterfall Gardens via Vara Blanca for birding activities in the beautiful eco-park. This site is located near the Poás Volcano in a verdant, misty area where cloud and rain forests meet. Many migratory species and as many as 26 different hummingbirds from around Costa Rica can be spotted at La Paz. Theme 4: Members of this group will board a Road Scholar bus and transfer to the famous Poás Volcano National Park for a scenic hike on park trails. Fumaroles, geysers, lava formations and a steaming, turquoise-colored, crater lake hint at the powerful geothermal forces at play in this area.

Lunch: Theme 1: At the INBIO Parque. Theme 2: At the hotel. Theme 3: At La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Theme 4: At a local restaurant en route to Sarapiqui.

Afternoon: All groups will transfer this afternoon to Sarapiqui, located in Costa Rica's Caribbean lowlands. Theme 3: Members of this group will make a brief stop at Cinchona for hummingbird observation on their way to Sarapiqui. Sarapiqui is one of the richest sites for birds in Middle America with well over 400 species recorded. Nearby, the La Selva Protection Zone and the Braulio Carrillo National Park form the only significant corridor of forest on the Caribbean slope linking the highlands with the lowlands, a corridor crucial to birds and animals that undertake seasonal altitudinal migrations. Welcome orientation to the lodge and check-in. Social time at the lodge's terrace with snacks at the bar. Pre-dinner lecture: Introduction to Costa Rica’s Biodiversity.

Dinner: At the lodge.

Evening: Time at leisure. Get a good night's rest in preparation for early morning activities the following day.

Birdwatching, Assorted Activities, Lecture, Social Time
Selva Verde Lodge

Breakfast: Themes 1, 2 and 4: Participants will have the option to take part in an early morning birdwalk around the property before having breakfast at the lodge. Theme 3: Early morning transfer to La Selva Biological Station for breakfast and nature hikes.

Morning: Theme 1: Don boots and cross the hanging bridge into the Selva Verde Rainforest Reserve. A naturalist expert will lead participants on an exploratory hike along forest trails in search of resident flora and fauna. Theme 2: Participants will participate in a leisurely nature walk through the lodge's attractive gardens. Learn about heliconias, bromeliads, orchids, ferns, and other tropical flora native to the region and be on alert for sightings of colorful frogs, iguanas, toucans, hummingbirds, and many other interesting creatures that call this area home. Theme 3: Spend the morning birdwatching at La Selva Biological Station's 3,900-acre tropical wet forest reserve. Theme 4: Participants in this group will take part in a community service project coordinated by the Sarapiqui Conservation and Learning Center.

Lunch: All groups will enjoy lunch at the lodge.

Afternoon: Theme 1: This group will transfer to the nearby Tirimbina Biological Reserve for a lesson in the making of artisanal chocolate--from the cultivation and processing of cacao to its transformation into a beloved dessert. Theme 2: Transfer to the nearby Tirimbina Biological Reserve to learn about the making of chocolate. This is a shorter, more leisurely-paced version of the Theme 1 activity. Theme 3: Return to La Selva Biological Station for a continuation of birdingwatching activities at the reserve. Theme 4: After grabbing your equipment and listening to a safety orientation, enjoy a fun and refreshing white water rafting activity on the Sarapiqui River. All groups will return to Selva Verde in time to freshen-up and relax before attending a pre-dinner lecture: The Mesoamerican Biological Corridor Innitiative.

Dinner: At the lodge.

Evening: Social time after dinner.

Birdwatching, Assorted Activities, Nocturnal Wildlife
Selva Verde Lodge

Breakfast: Themes 1-4: Optional early morning birdwatching in lodge environs. Breakfast at the lodge.

Morning: Themes 1 and 2: Learn about the environmental and economic impact of growing pineapples in Costa Rica during a visit to a local pineapple plantation. Next time you buy a fresh pineapple at the grocery store or use the canned variety, take a peek at the label--chances are that your fruit came from Costa Rica! Theme 3: A naturalist expert will lead participants on an exploratory hike in the Selva Verde Rainforest Reserve in search of resident flora and fauna. Theme 4: Members of this group will take part in a looping rainforest hike within the Selva Verde Rainforest Reserve. Participants will have the chance to see a centuries-old, giant almendro tree that towers over the forest (177 ft tall and 46 ft in circumference).

Lunch: At the lodge.

Afternoon: Themes 1 and 2: After receiving your equipment and listening to a safety orientation, enjoy a fun and refreshing white water rafting activity on the Sarapiqui River. Theme 3: Take part in a relaxing boat ride along the Sarapiqui River for a look at the wildlife that frequents the riverine vegetation, including caimans and water birds. Theme 4: This group will transfer to the nearby Tirimbina Biological Reserve for a lesson in the making of artisanal chocolate--from the cultivation and processing of cacao to its transformation into a beloved dessert. Free time to freshen up at the lodge before joining your fellow participants for social time on the veranda and then dinner.

Dinner: At the lodge.

Evening: Themes 1 and 2: Transfer to Tirimbina Biological Reserve to participate in their nighttime bat program. A multimedia presentation and a demonstration on the use of snare nets will offer insights into local bat research. Enjoy close up views of the bats that were captured this evening before they are released back into the wild. Themes 3 and 4: Join a naturalist expert on a nighttime exploration on lodge grounds in search of nocturnal rainforest species.

Daytime Activities, Folk Dancing, Goodbye to Rainforest
Selva Verde Lodge

Breakfast: At the lodge.

Morning: Themes 1 and 2: Late this morning, participants will visit a local farm to learn about about the cultivation methods, harvesting and processing of hearts of palm. The mild and crunchy white vegetable is an important national export and is frequently used in Tico dishes. Theme 3: After breakfast, transfer to the Bajos del Toro area for a walking field trip in the Bosque de Paz Reserve. The reserve is part of a 3,000-acre biological corridor that is home to howler monkeys, coatis, sloths, and more than 300 bird species. Theme 4: Transfer to the nearby Aventuras del Sarapiqui base camp in preparation for an exciting zip line canopy adventure. After putting on your gear and taking part in a safety orientation, experience the thrill of "flying" over the rainforest and the Sarapiqui River on a course of 14 zip lines!

Lunch: Themes 1 and 2: At the heart of palm farm. Theme 3: At the Bosque de Paz Reserve. Theme 4: Return to the lodge for lunch.

Afternoon: Theme 1 and 2: Take part in a relaxing boat ride along the Sarapiqui River for a look at the wildlife that frequents the riverine vegetation, including caimans and water birds. Theme 3: After lunch, return to the lodge and enjoy some free time to relax and freshen-up before rejoining the main group later for dinner. Theme 4: Enjoy a leisurely paddle in rubber rafts along a tranquil stretch of the Sarapiqui River (approx. 7 miles) to enjoy the sounds and sights along the forest-lined riverbanks. Look for iguanas, turtles, monkeys, and countless number of birds as you float lazily downstream to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui.

Dinner: Social time and dinner at the lodge.

Evening: Celebrate your last evening in the rainforest with a Latin folk dancing presentation at the lodge.

Morning Activities, Transfer to San José, Farewell Dinner
San José
Wyndham San José Herradura Hotel & Convention Center (formerly a Ramada property)

Breakfast: At the lodge.

Morning: Themes 1 and 2: Participants will check-out of the lodge this morning and begin their transfer back to San José via Vara Blanca. A field trip to the Doka Estate, located along the fertile slopes of the Poás Volcano, will reveal the secrets of coffee production--from seedlings to tasty brew. Learn how soil quality and variations in climate affect the quality and taste of the coffee. Theme 3: Members of this team will travel back to San José via Braulio Carrillo. A naturalist-led hike on forest trails at El Tapir Nature Reserve will provide opportunities to observe hummingbirds, antbirds, woodcreepers, raptors, and many other foothill specialties. Theme 4: Participants in this grouping will transfer to San José via the Vara Blanca area. We will make a stop at La Paz Waterfall Gardens to explore the nature trails, hummingbird gardens, and the eco-park's beautiful waterfalls.

Lunch: Themes 1 and 2: At the Doka Estate coffee plantation. Theme 3: At a local restaurant. Theme 4: At the La Paz Waterfall Gardens.

Afternoon: After lunch, participants will continue their journey back to San José, getting to the hotel at varying times in the afternoon. Mid-afternoon arrival at the hotel, followed by check-in and free time to rest and freshen-up before dinner.

Dinner: Farewell Dinner at the hotel.

Evening: Enjoy your last evening in Costa Rica at your leisure, among your new Road Scholar friends. Check out some of the hotel amenities and evening entertainment options, finish your packing, or perhaps make it an early night in preparation for international departures tomorrow.

Program Concludes
In Flight

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

Morning: Transfer to the international airport to catch flights to the U.S. This concludes the main 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. ***Participants enrolled in any of the Road Scholar post-program extensions will commence their activities on this day, after breakfast.***

Important registration tip:
If you want to attend the live lecture, please do not wait until the last minute to enroll.
If you enroll after a lecture is complete, we’ll send you a recording of the event.