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Day by Day Itinerary

Small Groups: Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!

Travel to Costa Rica, where it's easier to be at one with nature than anywhere else in the world. Imagine blinking at the fluttering brilliance of a Blue Morpho Butterfly … stumbling upon a Three-toed Sloth napping in the forest canopy … cocking your head to return the inquisitive look of a giant Green Iguana … spotting a Resplendent Quetzal gliding through the trees. As we travel from volcanic mountain ranges to misty cloud forests and bountiful jungles, our small group will explore this intense biodiversity up close. And we’ll also mingle with Costa Rica’s people, whether sharing a meal at the home of a local family, or visiting the children of a village school. It’s almost impossible to believe that there could be so many wonders in such a small place without witnessing them for yourself—so join OAT to uncover the cornucopia known as Costa Rica.

San José San Gerardo de Dota Expand All
  • Upon your arrival in San José, your Trip Leader or a local OAT representative will meet you at the airport and accompany you to our hotel, where travelers who took the pre-trip extension to Corcovado National Park will also be arriving. The evening is free to relax or explore on your own.

  • Discover Costa Rica's coffee plantations

    After breakfast, we gather for a Welcome Briefing. Then we board our coach and begin our ride northwest from San José into the northern lowlands of Costa Rica along the Pan-American Highway. As we travel through the countryside outside of San José, we’ll have many fine views of the country's agricultural landscapes. We’ll stop en route to visit a 100-year-old coffee finca (plantation) and Costa Rican National Heritage Site: Doka Estate.

    Locally owned by the Vargas Ruiz family for more than 70 years, this finca is a modern operation that uses time-honored techniques—such as the oldest working water-powered mill in all of Costa Rica—to produce delicious gourmet coffee. As we tour the estate, we'll see the various steps in the production of this important national export, and learn about the history of coffee’s introduction to Costa Rica, how the combination of rich mountain soil and a near-perfect coffee-growing climate made it a natural crop for the country, and why locals call the coffee bean the grano d’oro, or golden seed. By the end of the tour, you may have a newfound appreciation for the cup of coffee you can enjoy as we sit down for an included lunch at the finca.

    From there, we’ll continue on toward our next lodgings. We check in, then join our Trip Leader for a Welcome Drink and orientation walk, followed by dinner at the lodge.

  • Encounter the traditions and culture in a Costa Rican village

    We immerse ourselves in local culture this morning, as we set out to experience A Day in the Life of a Costa Rican village. We'll begin by meeting one of the leaders of the Sonafluca village community, as well as his family, during a visit to their home. After our introduction to the village's history, we'll go for a walk through the family's farm, and get a little hands-on experience turning home-grown ingredients into delicious dishes like empanadas (stuffed savory pastries) and a selection of popular Costa Rican drinks that are prepared with sugar cane juice.

    From there, we'll continue to a local school (when in session), which is supported in part by Grand Circle Foundation—part of the World Classroom initiative. Here, a few members of Costa Rica’s next generation will take a break from their studies to meet us, then we’ll have time to speak with them one-on-one before we meet with some of their parents and teachers to learn about Costa Rica’s educational system. Please note: Travelers on select departures will enjoy today's school visit on Day 4.

    We’ll get an even closer look at daily life afterwards, as we join a local family for a Home-Hosted Lunch, dining on traditional Costa Rican specialties and enjoying the opportunity to share stories with our gracious hosts. Many OAT travelers call this opportunity for personal intercultural exchange a highlight of their adventure.

    Afterwards, we'll return to our lodge and have some leisure time to relax at its hot springs before we gather for dinner.

  • View wildlife along the Río Frío during a boat tour

    Early this morning, you can elect to join a nature walk led by our Trip Leader in the area around our hotel, at the time of day when many birds are most active. We have breakfast together afterward, then travel to Costa Rica's remote northern border, near the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge. This reserve is home and habitat to hundreds of species of wildlife, and is an important stopping point for many migrating species of birds, including Costa Rica’s largest colony of neo-tropical cormorants.

    Once there we board a small touring boat to explore the Río Frío, a complex inland waterway where we’ll likely see wading birds—like Northern Jacanas and Wood Storks—as well as many turtles and butterflies. Keep your binoculars and camera ready—we might be lucky enough spot larger animals, like spider or Howler Monkeys, sloths, and caimans that live by the river.

    After lunch, we return to our hotel, where we have the opportunity to relax in the soothing waters of the hotel’s hot springs during an afternoon at leisure. We regroup this evening for dinner at our lodge. Please note: Travelers on select departures will enjoy today's Río Frío cruise on Day 3.

  • This morning as we continue our travel in Costa Rica, we take a relaxing boat ride on Lake Arenal. We enjoy views that can range from the cone of the Arenal Volcano in the distance to the peaceful, verdant lakeshore. Cruising along the serene waters, we may spot more of Costa Rica's diverse birds and wildlife. We continue on, sometimes over unpaved roads, to the Monteverde Cloud Forest, stopping en route for lunch at a local restaurant, and enjoying the scenery as we climb to Monteverde's 4,600-foot elevation.

    Monteverde is renowned for its unique environment and diversity of natural life. The mountainsides on which the forest is located trap the warm, humid air rising from the ocean, creating dense clouds that provide near-constant moisture, supporting a large number of mammal, bird, and plant species. Our hotel here is near the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, a protected area where this exceptional natural diversity is preserved.

  • Discover abundant wildlife in Monteverde Cloud Forest

    The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve tops our agenda today, as we depart our lodge after breakfast on a guided nature walk through this acclaimed 26,000-acre reserve. Founded in 1972 as a refuge for local wildlife, Monteverde today is a protected region dedicated to scientific research and education. Stretching down both the Caribbean and Pacific slopes of the Tilarán Mountain Range, the reserve exhibits eight distinct ecological zones. This variety of habitat combined with a yearly average rainfall of 97 inches results in a very large and diverse plant community, with more than 300 species of orchids alone. Monteverde is also home to 100 mammal species, 400 bird species, and more than 120 species of amphibians and reptiles.

    Our guide will aid us in finding and identifying a wide variety of the local creatures and plant life. Hummingbirds (including the Violet Sabrewing Hummingbird) are ever-present and we might glimpse some of the other notable avian residents, such as a Black Guan, a chlorophonia, or an exotic mot-mot. There are some endangered species dwelling in this tree haven as well, including the Three-Wattled Bellbird (whose call carries nearly two miles). We’ll also keep our eyes peeled for White-faced Capuchin Monkeys cavorting in the canopy.

    After lunch at a local restaurant that specializes in regional food, as well as delicious handmade chocolates, you have the remainder of the afternoon to do some exploring on your own. Or, perhaps you’ll join us for an optional Hanging Bridges tour, and discover the lush cloud forest from a unique vantage point. On this excursion, we’ll follow a system of suspension bridges that spans the canopy of the Monteverde Cloud Forest, examining the flora and fauna of the rain forest from a bird's-eye view. Every step of the way, a local naturalist guide will explain the unique characteristics of the canopy and point out animals, birds, and plants peculiar to this treetop milieu. Please note: On December through April departures, the optional Hanging Bridges tour will be available in the morning, and the guided nature walk through the cloud forest will occur in the afternoon.

  • See Costa Rica's cloud forest during a canopy ride

    After breakfast this morning, gear up and join our optional Forest Canopy ride. Using techniques developed by cavers and climbers, we’ll ascend high above the forest floor and traverse from tree to tree in the forest via a series of thrilling zip-lines—it’s a great chance to enjoy the thrill of the adventure and another wonderful view of the treetops.

    Lunch is on our own in nearby Santa Elena today, and this afternoon, you can join our optional The World of Butterflies & Bats tour. We begin with a visit to Costa Rica’s most extensive butterfly garden. Founded by a world-renowned entomologist, this collection of live butterflies and other insects includes everything from brilliant Blue Morphos to Central America’s more unusual varieties. It’s a great opportunity to learn about the life cycle of these tropical beauties. Then we’ll discover the fascinating lives of jungle bats at an indoor habitat and museum where the lighting reverses day and night—so we can see the bats active as they would be after dark—and special equipment enables us to hear the sounds of these amazing flying mammals.

    Or, take the morning and afternoon to explore Monteverde at your own pace. Rest, take a short nature hike, catch up on your journal, or drop a line to friends back home with tales of your adventures so far. Dinner this evening is on your own.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:
    View crocodiles on Rio Tarcoles

    We depart the cloud forest today, and continue our travel in Costa Rica by heading south to the lush environs of the Pacific Coast and Quepos, home to the renowned Manuel Antonio National Park. En route, we stop at Rio Tarcoles Bridge, which borders Carara Biological Reserve.

    In the language of the native Huetar people, carara means “river of crocodiles.” And this spot is a prime location for viewing these ancient reptiles. Your Trip Leader will not only point out the crocs to you, but also explain why they congregate in this particular location.

    We’ll have lunch at a restaurant near the river, then continue southeast along the coast and arrive in Quepos in the mid-afternoon. After an orientation walk, we have time to settle into our rooms and relax before selecting a spot for dinner on our own. Please note: If Day 8 falls on a Sunday, we’ll enjoy a picnic lunch and head directly to Manuel Antonio National Park, where we’ll enjoy our included nature walk followed by free time at the beach.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:
    See Costa Rica's vibrant wildlife in Manuel Antonio National Park

    We spend our morning in Manuel Antonio National Park, a critical habitat for migrating birds from the U.S. and Canada. While comparatively small (just 1,700 acres), this lush park is home to several distinct ecosystems, each teeming with wildlife. The park includes four marvelous beaches, island bird sanctuaries, and a luxuriant rain forest. And perhaps because of its small size, a morning full of wildlife sightings—including Howler and Capuchin monkeys, sloths, coatis, and countless birds—isn’t at all unusual. In particular, we’ll keep an eye out for the endangered Squirrel Monkey, as Manuel Antonio is one of only two of its habitats in the country.

    We’re bound to work up an appetite after a morning of discovery, so we’ll head back to our hotel for an included lunch. Afterward, you’ll have a little leisure time, which you might use to explore the nearby town of Quepos. Named for the native Quepoa people whom the Spanish conquered in the late 16th century, the town has seen prosperity as a banana- and African palm oil-exporting center, but is now a mecca for sport fishing.

    Later, we’ll have the opportunity to enjoy a taste of the ocean’s bounty when we set out for a local restaurant, where we’ll enjoy views of the sunset over our included dinner. Please note: If Day 9 falls on a Monday, when Manuel Antonio Park is closed, we’ll spend the morning at leisure in the neighborhood of our hotel. All other included and optional activities are as described above.

  • Discover local culture during a tour of Costa Rica

    This morning, our small group departs for San Gerardo de Dota. We'll stop en route at an old family dairy farm in the valley of San Isidro de El General. Known as Finca Don Tavo, the farm was founded in 1921 by the grandfather of the current owners, the Barrantes. We'll take a horseback ride in this scenic area, followed by a traditional gallo (light lunch) by the edge of the Río Parcuare. Then we'll experience Costa Rican farm life firsthand by feeding and milking some of the cattle. Continuing toward San Gerardo de Dota, we travel into the mountains on the Pan-American Highway and make a a brief stop for a stroll in the Costa Rican páramo—a high-elevation environment with distinctive vegetation.

    Afterward, we continue on toward San Gerardo de Dota, the stunning location of which—in the lush, mountain-walled valley of the Savegre River—is the reward for a long day of travel. We learn our way around our hotel and get a preview of tomorrow's discoveries during a late-afternoon orientation walk. We'll have some time to relax before gathering for dinner at our hotel.

  • Discover the Resplendent Quetzal in Costa Rica's forest

    Early this morning, we set out with a purpose: to spot the Resplendent Quetzal. On a birder’s “life list,” this legendary bird is among the most coveted species to sight. Happily for us, we’re in one of the most populous quetzal nesting areas on the planet (owing in large part to its altitude of 7,000 feet). Our Trip Leader will escort us into the green valley forest in search of this elusive bird renowned for its brilliant plumage.

    Perhaps because of its rarity, the Maya esteemed the quetzal as the most sacred bird in the sky. While its feathers flash iridescently in the tropical sun, the bird is predominantly green and can be hard to spot in its jungle habitat. Whether or not we're successful at spotting a quetzal today, there is plenty to observe in this high-altitude tropical environment, and sightings of a variety of interesting birds are quite likely.

    We return to our hotel for breakfast, and enjoy the remainder of the day at leisure. Our hotel makes it easy for us to get closer to the unique ecosystem of San Gerardo de Dota, with nearby elective activities such as birdwatching, hiking, horseback riding, and trout-fishing. Lunch and dinner are included at our hotel today.

  • Explore San Jose during a tour of Costa Rica

    This morning, the final leg of our journey returns us to Costa Rica's capital, San José. En route, we stop to witness a woodworking demonstration by local artisans, then continue on our leisurely drive across the verdant countryside of the Central Valley, stopping once more to enjoy lunch on our own.

    On arrival in San José, we get acquainted with the city on a sightseeing tour. Originally little more than a few simple houses at a rural crossroads, San José's central location relative to the villages, farms, and plantations of the Cordillera Central ultimately earned it its place as Costa Rica's capital city in 1823. As the city attracted entrepreneurs and the intelligentsia in the mid-1800s, its leaders looked to Europe for architectural inspiration, and today it is a modern city with the largest urban population in the country.

    The highlight of our discoveries will be a tour of the Teatro Nacional. Truly the nation's showpiece, the theater was erected at the behest of coffee barons when one of Europe's foremost opera companies left Costa Rica off its Americas tour because there was no proper place to perform. Not intending to be snubbed again, the barons declared a tax on coffee, imported European workers and artists, and built a theater whose Renaissance façade, richly rendered murals, and architectural detail make it the rival of any opera house on the Continent.

    We check into our hotel in the afternoon following our tour, and enjoy the afternoon at leisure to rest up for our flight or explore San José on our own. Tonight we gather to wish each other adios during a Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant.

    • Meals included:

    After breakfast, you’ll transfer to the airport for your flight home, or travel to Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast to begin your Tortuguero National Park: Ultimate Rain Forest Experience optional post-trip extension.

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Our #1 commitment is delivering the best travel experience at the best value, so we take feedback from our travelers seriously as we strive to improve what we do. And one of the best ways for us to measure how travelers have rated our trips—including their experiences and the value we offer—is from our post-trip surveys, sent in by travelers.

Ratings based on percentage of travelers who rated these features "Excellent".

Overall Trip Excellence
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Trip Leader Excellence
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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.  Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

Pacing

  • 6 locations in 13 days with two 1-night stays and some early mornings
  • 3 overland drives of up to 4 hours, some of which are on unpaved or bumpy roads

Physical requirements

  • Not appropriate for travelers using wheelchairs, walkers, or other mobility aids
  • You must be able to walk 3 miles unassisted and participate in 6-8 hours of physical activities each day

Altitude

  • Brief travel to elevation of 12,000 feet and overnight stay at 7,200 feet

Climate

  • Costa Rica has a tropical climate with high temperatures at lower elevations, high humidity, and moderate-to-heavy rainfall. At higher elevations, temperatures can drop to 30°F at night

Terrain

  • Travel over rural streets, unpaved roads, and rugged paths and trails

Transportation

  • Travel overland on 22-passenger air-conditioned minibus, 25-passenger boat, and horseback
  • 3-4 hour drives

Accommodations & Facilities

  • We stay in hotels, eco-lodges, and villas
  • All accommodations feature private baths and hot showers

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary:

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens do not need a visa for this trip.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then you may need a visa. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your adventure, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Trip Leaders and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • Autentico Hotel

    San Jose, Costa Rica

    The Autentico Hotel is located near Sabana Park, San Jose's largest urban green space. Hotel facilities include a bar, a restaurant serving Costa Rican and international cuisine, and an outdoor swimming pool. Each of the 80 air-conditioned rooms features a telephone, cable TV, wireless Internet access, a safe, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and a private bath with hair dryer.

  • El Tucano Resort and Thermal Spa

    Aguas Zarcas de San Carlos, Costa Rica

    The El Tucano Resort is located in a private rain forest reserve where tropical birds or wildlife can often be spotted on the grounds. The resort offers an on-site restaurant, a spa, hiking trails, and bathing in waters warmed by natural hot springs in an outdoor pool, a jacuzzi, and a river. Each of the 87 rooms has a private bath, TV, telephone, and safe.

  • El Establo Mountain Resort

    Monteverde, Costa Rica

    Set on a private 150-acre farm adjacent to the Monteverde Nature Preserve, El Establo offers an escape from the everyday. Its large windows and balconies offer views of the ocean and mountains, and its amenities include a spa, two restaurants, and two indoor pools. Each of its 155 rooms feature coffee- and tea-making facilities, a refrigerator, private bath, and cable TV.

  • Villas Lirio

    Quepos, Costa Rica

    The 24-room Villas Lirio is set in a secluded locale just outside of Quepos, near Manuel Antonio National Park. Native tropical plants adorn the grounds, and the hotel’s property includes two outdoor swimming pools. Each air-conditioned room features a telephone, cable/satellite TV, balcony or terrace, and private bath.

  • Savegre Lodge

    San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica

    Located in the midst of a tropical cloud forest, this family-run, 22-room lodge is the ideal spot to search for the Resplendent Quetzal, or the more than 170 other species of birds that also abound in this forest. While here, enjoy walks along nearby hiking trails, or simply stroll among the colorful blooms of the lodge’s orchards and gardens. Each of the hotel's simple rooms features a private bath with hot water and hair dryer.

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  • Autentico Hotel

    San Jose, Costa Rica

    The Autentico Hotel is located near Sabana Park, San Jose's largest urban green space. Hotel facilities include a bar, a restaurant serving Costa Rican and international cuisine, and an outdoor swimming pool. Each of the 80 air-conditioned rooms features a telephone, cable TV, wireless Internet access, a safe, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and a private bath with hair dryer.

  • Drake Bay Wilderness Lodge

    Drake Bay, Costa Rica

    The family-owned Drake Bay Wilderness Lodge is situated between the ocean and a jungle river in Costa Rica’s beautiful Drake Bay. The charming resort features 20 tropical cabins, each with private bath, porches, and a ceiling fan, and a view of the bay, mountains, and surrounding rain forest. There is also an open-air bar at the resort, perfect for relaxing as the sun settles over the bay.

  • Turtle Beach Lodge

    Tortuguero, Costa Rica

    Situated in 175 acres of tropical jungle, the Turtle Beach Lodge offers miles of walking trails, a private canal, and a half-mile of private beach on the Caribbean. Your airy cabin room features rustic furnishings, ceiling fans, and windows looking out on the tropical forest. The lodge’s amenities include a turtle-shaped outdoor swimming pool, hammocks for relaxing, and bar and restaurant. Please note: Due to strong currents, swimming is not allowed on the beach.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two adventures to maximize your value. Here are more ways to create the OAT adventure that’s right for you:

  • Extend your adventure and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip extensions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your adventure
  • Choose to “break away” before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of OAT adventures to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium economy class
  • Extend your Land Tour-only Travel Protection Plan coverage and protect the air arrangements you make on your own—including your frequent traveler miles

The air options listed above will involve an additional fee of $100 per person for confirmed requests (as well as incremental airfare costs based on your specific choice).

Or, when you make your reservation, you can choose our standard air routing, for which approximate travel times are shown below.

Standard Air Routing

w/out standard air $2095
w/ standard air $2695

Partner since: 1994
Total donated: $634,868

Making a difference in Costa Rica

Simply by traveling with OAT, you support the work of the nonprofit Grand Circle Foundation. Alan and Harriet Lewis created the Foundation with the mission of changing people's lives through travel—which includes both the travelers who journey with OAT, and the local people who welcome us so warmly into their homelands.

Learn more about our work in Costa Rica and what you'll experience during your itinerary—and read stories about some of our projects and the people who help make them possible:

A Day in the Life of Sonafluca Village

Your school visit at Sonafluca is just one aspect of your Day in the Life experience, which is featured on most OAT itineraries. Each Day in the Life is specially tailored to showcase daily life in your destination—in this case, the Sonafluca village in the fertile farmland near Costa Rica's Arenal Volcano. You'll get to know the local people through conversation and hands-on activities, getting an authentic glimpse of what life is really like here—and not just the typical tourist's version.

Read More

A Day in the Life of Sonafluca Village

Your school visit at Sonafluca is just one aspect of your Day in the Life experience, which is featured on most OAT itineraries. Each Day in the Life is specially tailored to showcase daily life in your destination—in this case, the Sonafluca village in the fertile farmland near Costa Rica's Arenal Volcano. You'll get to know the local people through conversation and hands-on activities, getting an authentic glimpse of what life is really like here—and not just the typical tourist's version.

"The family we had lunch with was fantastic. They showed us their farm, provided us with an excellent lunch, and shared pictures of their family. We thoroughly enjoyed every minute."

Hazel Catoe, 13-time traveler
Lando, SC

Sonafluca village

The Sonafluca School is supported by Grand Circle Foundation's World Classroom initiative, so we've developed close ties with members of the village community, including the schoolchildren and their families, who are eager to welcome you into their daily lives.

Your Day in the Life experience begins in the home of one of the community's leaders, where you'll get a taste of the village's vibrant history through a discussion with him and his family. Then, you'll walk through the family's farm and, after working up an appetite, get a first-hand lesson on how these fresh ingredients are turned into homemade Costa Rican empanadas (savory stuffed pastries). And of course, you'll wash down your empanada with a selection of popular local drinks made with fresh sugar cane.

From there, we'll continue to the Sonafluca School (when in session). There, the students offer a warm and enthusiastic welcome, after which you'll have time to interact with them one-on-one, and meet with their parents and teachers. During your visit, you'll learn about Costa Rica’s universal educational system, which has resulted in a literacy rate of more than 95%, and get a firsthand look at the improvements made possible by Foundation support—and the support of travelers like you.

Following your spirited visit to the school, you'll join one of the students for a Home-Hosted Lunch with their family. In addition to sampling the local cuisine—and perhaps lending a hand in its preparation if you like—you'll have a chance to get to know your hosts and learn about their rural way of life.

Grand Circle Foundation

Supporting a World Classroom: Costa Rica

Pat a cake with young child, student at school

By seeing how children are educated all over the world, we gain a rare understanding of different cultural values—as well as the common values that unite us all. That’s why Grand Circle Foundation supports the Sonafluca School in Costa Rica.

Read More

Supporting a World Classroom: Costa Rica

By seeing how children are educated all over the world, we gain a rare understanding of different cultural values—as well as the common values that unite us all. That’s why Grand Circle Foundation supports the Sonafluca School in Costa Rica.

"Visiting the school was heartwarming and revelatory, showing us the opportunities Costa Rica’s schools provide and the struggles the students face."

Nancy Davis
Radnor, Pennsylvania

Sonafluca School

Partner since: 2009 • Total donated: $82,379

Pat a cake with young child, student at school

The village of Sonafluca was once home to a large hacienda, where all of the residents worked to earn their living—and when the owner of the hacienda passed away, he left the land to the community. Today, every family in Sonafluca owns a small plot to farm, and while they are too poor to support themselves individually, they all work together in a communal fashion to support the village as a whole. The atmosphere in the community is akin to an extended family, and the people are extremely proud of what they've built with what little they have.

Grand Circle Foundation began our partnership with the Sonafluca School, which serves 209 students, in 2009. Since then, Foundation support has helped replace classroom doors, re-shingle the school's roof, and purchase folkloric costumes for the students. We have also built a protective fence, a community center, additional restrooms, and a covered walkway to shield children from the sun and rain. In the future, we plan to complete several more projects together, including building a gymnasium for physical education classes and sporting events, constructing a presentation hall, and purchasing new library books.

School in session:

Year-round, with vacation period from mid-December through the end of February

Gifts to bring if you're visiting:

  • Coloring books
  • Board games
  • Notebooks and sheet paper
  • Toothbrushes
  • Pencils
Grand Circle Foundation

Inspirational Stories: Inspiring Others to Give Back in Costa Rica

For Roy Parsons and his late wife, Katie, giving back was always a way of life—and his generous offer to personally match all donations to the Sonafluca School encouraged others to give back, too.

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Inspirational Stories: Inspiring Others to Give Back in Costa Rica

It was a day that made history at the Sonafluca School in the San Carlos province of Costa Rica: an OAT traveler, inspired by the time he spent with the children and faculty, offered to personally match all gifts to Sonafluca, up to a total of $5000—a gesture that triggered a chain reaction of giving that ultimately raised $16,275. At the time, the benefactor asked to remain anonymous … but he has since realized that sharing his story might encourage others to give back, too.

His name is Roy Parsons, a 3-time traveler from Newport Coast, California. And for he and his late wife, Katie, giving back has always been a way of life.

A promise, and a proposal

Roy first met Katie Parsons in 1951, when they both attended Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. He was a junior and she was a freshman—and from her very first day, Katie was intrigued by Roy, who drove up to the school with wild, curly hair and a brand-new Ford convertible. They began to go out a few weeks later, though Katie had reservations about getting too serious. Roy, she learned, was a rice farmer's son—and next in line to take over the business when his father retired. Katie, on the other hand, had made a spiritual promise to someday do missionary work overseas.

Roy was aware of her plans—and while he wasn't completely sold on the idea of going overseas, he told her that he'd be willing to do so someday, should the opportunity present itself. This willingness was enough for Katie, and when Roy proposed on Independence Day in 1952, Katie happily accepted. They were married on December 28, 1952, at Katie's home church in Los Angeles.

A dream takes flight

After their marriage, Roy and Katie set their sights on joining Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF). MAF was founded in 1945 to help missionary workers reach remote locales that were previously accessible only by foot. To this day, MAF pilots play a crucial role in disaster response, medical assistance, and the transportation of workers and supplies for community development projects. At the time, the president of MAF happened to be a member of Katie's church—yet despite this connection, the couple didn't immediately get the answer they were looking for. Yes, Roy had his aircraft mechanic's license, which was one of the candidacy requirements. But he was about 30 pounds heavier than the ideal candidate, which meant his planes wouldn't be able to carry enough cargo. He was also well shy of the 300 required flying hours.

Undeterred, Roy and Katie persevered until all requirements were met, including the flying hours, which they logged in Roy's father's Cessna. Once again, they contacted MAF. And this time came the response: "How soon can you come in for candidacy?"

The candidacy was a time for MAF to get acquainted with the couple before officially accepting them and sending them on assignment. Roy and Katie dutifully pitched in wherever they were needed, from taking care of farmland to cleaning the offices. Eventually, they were offered their first assignment in Ecuador, and it was decided that they would go to Spanish language school in Costa Rica after helping Roy's family with the annual rice harvest.

As it turned out, however, their MAF plans would be put on hold yet again: Katie was going to have a baby. While MAF wasn't nearly as thrilled with the news as Roy and Katie were, they permitted the couple to forgo language school so that Katie could deliver the baby at home. When the Parsons finally began their assignment in Ecuador in 1958, they did so with a new family member in tow: three-month-old Royson, who they named after his father and grandfather.

Around the world … and back again

The family lived at the edge of the jungle about 160 miles from Quito. There was a little town up the road with a few stores housed in wooden shacks without windows. This was the only place to do any shopping, and the local people emerged from the jungle every morning with items to trade for what they needed—baskets laden with tropical fruits or live chickens held tightly by the feet. While Roy piloted flights, Katie performed various MAF duties on the ground, including bookkeeping and working with local families.

In 1962, the family moved from Ecuador to the deserts of Guyana, where they helped to start up a new MAF program. It was here, while Roy was flying for half of each month in Guyana and the other half in neighboring Suriname, that Katie realized she was pregnant once again. With food in poor supply and no reliable physician nearby, they knew that they would have to find a hospital—so when the missionaries in Suriname requested that Roy pilot flights there for a full month in 1962, he took Katie and Royson with him. There, they found a Dutch doctor who helped Katie carry the baby to term. Their second son, Bruce, was born in November—just in time for the family to return to the U.S. for the holidays, followed by a year-long furlough.

The family returned to Suriname in 1963, and it became the place Katie cherished most of all during their many years overseas. Where their homes in Ecuador and Guyana had had no cities to speak of, in Suriname they had real stores to shop at … and even groceries and restaurants. The Dutch colonists were excellent farmers who knew how to pasteurize—which meant fresh butter, cream, and ice cream. There was a school in town for Royson, who had begun kindergarten back in the U.S. during their furlough. Because two other missionary pilots had flown into Suriname to join them, Roy no longer needed to fly every day, which gave him time to enjoy life on the ground.

They stayed in Suriname quite happily for four years, until 1968, when MAF had a bigger job in mind for Roy: the organization was looking to decentralize operations, which meant assigning separate Vice Presidents to oversee South America, Central America, Indonesia, and Africa—and despite his prior experience in the Americas, Africa was where Roy was needed.

It was a hard decision, considering how happy they'd been in Suriname, but Roy accepted the challenge. He often traveled for weeks at a time, managing operations on seven different bases—which was quite a change from the single bases the family had become accustomed to. Katie, meanwhile, dealt with new complications in bookkeeping, working with multiple currencies and creating reports for operations all over Africa. Life wasn't easy, particularly for Katie and the boys with Roy being gone so frequently, but they grew accustomed to the circumstances and learned to make it work.

Eventually, though, the schedule took a toll on Roy, who realized that his sons were growing fast and he wasn't spending as much time with them as he'd like. He also realized that he'd been quite successful at his duties in Africa: operations were going smoothly, the finances and bookkeeping were in order, and people were happy. Unfortunately, Katie was happy, too, and she wasn't convinced that it was time to leave the Congo just yet … but she came to accept Roy's decision when he made arrangements to retire from MAF and return to the United States. After 16 years overseas, it was time to get used to living in a world where women wore makeup and families could afford five-bedroom houses—even if the Parsons' was a "fixer-upper." Between 1984 and 1986, Roy briefly returned to MAF to oversee Africa operations and start up a program for famine relief in Mali, but life for the Parsons otherwise took on a sense of normalcy—even though, to them, it felt like anything but.

A journey's end

Small wonder, then, that Roy and Katie became avid travelers after Roy's retirement—only this time, their journeys were for pleasure. In 2007, they discovered Overseas Adventure Travel, and visited Peru, Ecuador, Australia, and New Zealand with the company. They climbed Machu Picchu, cruised the Galapagos, and snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef. Closer to home, they explored California in their RV.

Eventually, the local RV trips were the only ones that Katie was able to handle. She was diagnosed with a blood disorder called myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), which is manageable at best, but ultimately incurable. Roy and Katie bravely fought the disease with medications and frequent blood transfusions, all the while praying that a cure would be found. On May 17, 2010, Katie passed away peacefully with Roy at her side.

Roy honored Katie's memory in the same way she had spent so much of her life: by bettering the lives of those less fortunate. Years earlier, they had funded the construction of a school for so-called "untouchable" children in India through Operation Mobilization. Upon Katie's passing, Roy funded some of that school's additional needs, and he also joined friends and family in making an additional gift in Katie's name to the Christian Missions Charitable Trust orphanage in Chenai, India (formerly Madras).

Meeting his match

Like many travelers with OAT who explore the world later in life, Roy was eventually ready to take that first trip on his own. And it was this journey that brought him to the Sonafluca School in Costa Rica.

Although it was a Sunday, a group of students and their parents greeted the OAT bus, with each student taking a traveler by the hand and leading their guest on a tour of the property. During this tour, Roy was impressed to see that the school had a computer room—but he learned that it wasn't doing the students much good, as neither the school nor the government could afford to pay a computer teacher's salary.

This weighed heavily on Roy's mind, since he knew that without learning computers, young people these days aren't likely to go very far—in school or in life. So he decided to do something about it. Knowing that many would-be givers can be motivated by the offer of a matching gift, Roy pulled his Trip Leader, Eduardo Caravaca, aside, and offered to match any donation made to the Sonafluca School through January 31, 2011, up to a total of $5000.

By the time Eduardo made an announcement on the tour bus about the anonymous donation, fellow travelers Romaine Conner and her husband had already decided that they'd like to do something for the Sonafluca School—they just hadn't decided what yet. When they learned about the matching offer, they told Eduardo that they'd match Roy's $5000 … and raise him to $8000. Roy quietly increased his contribution to $8000 as well. All told, Roy's generous gesture blossomed into an extraordinary total of $16,275 for the Sonafluca School.

Sharing inspiration

The Conners can't speak highly enough about their fellow benefactor. "He's a terrific guy with a big heart," says Mr. Conner, who has always shared Roy's passion for giving. "We had both wanted to stay anonymous, but during the trip, I was sure I'd figured it out. So one night when we were sitting at a table together, I told him, 'I have a feeling you're the other guy.'"

It came as no surprise that he was right.

And while we may have blown Roy's cover even further, we hope he succeeds in inspiring others by allowing us to share his story—and Katie's story, too. They have certainly inspired everyone at Grand Circle Foundation [GCF] … but we have a feeling that's just the beginning.

Grand Circle Foundation

Alan and Harriet Lewis founded Grand Circle Foundation in 1992 as a means of giving back to the world we travel. Because they donate an annually determined amount of revenue from our trips, we consider each one of our travelers as a partner in the Foundation’s work around the world. To date, the Foundation has pledged or donated more than $97 million in support of 300 different organizations—including 60 villages and nearly 100 schools that lie in the paths of our journeys.

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Private Departures

Explore Costa Rica in an Exclusive Group

Reserve a Private Departure of Costa Rica: Natural Parks & Forests for your exclusive group of as few as 8 travelers, and enjoy a truly special adventure for just you and your family or friends—for an additional $500 per person.

For more details—or to reserve your Private Departure—call your Group Sales Account Representative toll-free at 1-800-353-6262 and select Option #3.

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Birds of Costa Rica

An extraordinary diversity of winged wildlife

by Tom Lepisto, for Overseas Adventure Travel

There is feathered wildlife of every size, shape, and color in the country, including some of the world’s most dazzling tropical birds.

Costa Rica, although a small country, is home to more kinds of birds than the entirety of the United States and Canada: a total of 857 species, according to the official list of the country’s Ornithological Association. This avian abundance is due to the fact that Costa Rica has a large variety of habitats—ranging from the Caribbean and Pacific coasts to mountaintops more than 11,000 feet high—and is located at a spot where species from South and North America converge. As a result, there is feathered wildlife of every size, shape, and color in the country, including some of the world’s most dazzling tropical birds.

Every shape and size

One indication of this tremendous diversity is the range of sizes among Costa Rica’s birds. The smallest is the two-inch-long scintillant hummingbird, a mountain resident weighing less than one-tenth of an ounce that you might spot whirring around on a coffee plantation. The largest bird native to the country is the jabiru, a stork with a black head and white wings that can stand five feet tall with a wingspan of nine feet. You might take the scintillant hummingbird for a bumblebee as it flits by, but the sight of a jabiru spreading its huge wings as it takes flight from a river or pond could remind you more of an airplane.

Nature’s kaleidoscope

The range of colors to be found among Costa Rica’s birds spans every hue on the painter’s palette—and in the case of the scarlet macaw, which has brilliant red, blue, and yellow tints, it seems as if they’re all present at once. The resplendent quetzal is another large bird with eye-catching colors. The male has a crimson breast, a bright green “cloak” with a forked tail longer than his body, and stripes of white under the tail that add a decorative touch a fashion designer might envy. The female’s feathers are a plainer solid green, but sparkle with an iridescence that adds a bit of glitter to the tropical mountain forests where these birds live.

Protecting Costa Rica’s birds

Many of Costa Rica’s colorful birds are faring well due to the country’s dedication to preserving natural habitats—about 25% of its land is protected in parks or nature reserves. That has helped birdwatchers catch many splashes of bright color, from the orange rump on the Passerini’s tanager in Guanacaste National Park to the red brow of the crimson-fronted parakeet in the Caño Negro Refuge and the scarlet head of the red-capped manakin in La Selva Reserve.

You can pick any part of a bird and find it diversified in Costa Rica. Take the beak—extended to impressive proportions (and with varied colors) in the country’s six species of toucans. Among water birds, the boat-billed heron’s broad beak is notable. This fascinating array of adaptations reflects the variety of food sources the birds have evolved to use: plucking fruit for the toucans, scooping shrimp from underwater mud for the heron.

In a country filled with brilliantly colored winged fauna, you might think that a bird like the quetzal would be the one chosen to represent the nation. But in fact, Costa Rica’s national bird is the rather gray clay-colored robin, for reasons rooted in the country’s agricultural history. The spring singing of the male robin coincides with the time of year when the rains arrive to water the crops planted by local farmers. So this grayish-brown bird was chosen as an appropriate symbol for a country where agriculture has long been a mainstay of the economy.

The sheer diversity of Costa Rica’s birds is mind-boggling, and their rainbow of colors is a feast for the eyes.