Image: Costa Rica
Kent Gilbert  /  AP file
A winter trip to Costa Rica will allow you to, among other things, check out exotic plants and wildlife.
updated 10/11/2007 10:53:39 AM ET 2007-10-11T14:53:39

The Real Deal: Round-trip airfare, 11 nights' accommodations and ground transportation from $1,799 — plus taxes of up to $100.

When: Jan. 19, Feb. 16, Mar. 8, 29, 2008.

Gateways: Miami, New York City; add $60 from Los Angeles; $78 from D.C.; $107 from Chicago; additional cities available.

The fine print: Fuel surcharges of about $240, daily breakfast, two lunches, two dinners, and hotel taxes are included. Cross-country transportation, admission fees, and the services of an English-speaking tour guide are also part of the package. Additional airport taxes are about $60-$100 per person, depending on the departure city. Based on double occupancy; single supplement is $651. Read these guidelines before you book any Real Deal.

Book by: No deadline; based on availability.

Contact: Gate 1 Travel, 800/682-3333,

Why it's a deal: While a recent Sidestep search showed relatively inexpensive airfare to San José in January — $245 from New York City (Mexicana), $249 from Miami (American), and $355 from L.A. (multiple carriers) — Gate 1 takes the hassle out of piecing together all the trip elements. For about $163 a day, Gate 1 covers airfare, 11 nights' accommodations, ground transportation across the country, some meals, entrance fees, and the services of an English-speaking tour guide.

Trip details: The Costa Rica from the Pacific to the Atlantic package includes round-trip airfare to San José and 11 nights' accommodations divided between San José, Arenal Volcano, Monteverde, Guanacaste, and Tortuguero.

Upon arrival, you'll be transferred to your hotel for a welcome drink and orientation with the tour manager. Your first night in Costa Rica will be spent at the 29-room El Rodeo Country Inn, about 10 minutes from the airport.

On the following day, you'll take a two-and-a-half hour trip to Arenal Volcano National Park to check out exotic plants and wildlife, lava rock formations, Arenal Lake, and, of course, Arenal Volcano. The optional two-part afternoon tour includes a visit to the Arenal Mundo Aventura Maleku indigenous community for a "peace and harmony" demonstration and a traditional dance. You'll get to see and purchase traditional Maleku handmade arts and crafts.

You can opt to add on a trip to the Ecological Tropical Park to view the frog exhibition ($39 additional per person), and in the evening, you'll have the option to visit the Tabacon Hot Springs, followed by a dinner at the hotel's restaurant ($69 additional per person). You'll stay two nights at the Arenal Springs Hotel, situated between the Tabacon Hot Springs and the village La Fortuna.

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Then you'll cross Arenal Lake by boat and continue on land by coach for about two hours until you reach Monteverde. After visiting a local artist community founded in 1982, you'll be free to explore the area on your own. Or opt for the Trapiche sugar mill tour that will take you through a small forest to the mill ($29). You'll learn about the manufacturing process, and get a firsthand look at how the sugar is extracted from the stalk and turned into brown sugar. The most fun part of the tour is a ride from the fields to the mall in a traditional oxcart.

Next on the itinerary is a morning hike in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, home to the Humming Bird Gallery, with over 30 species of hummingbird. Opt to spend the afternoon at your leisure or go on a Hanging Bridges Tour to get a bird's eye view of the diverse plant and animal life ($33). Or if you're feeling gutsy, try the Sky Trek tour, which involves zip lines high in the forest canopy ($63).

While in Monteverde, you'll spend two nights at the 49-room Heliconia Hotel, close to the Cloud Forest and the Santa Elena Rain Forest Reserve.

The next destination is Tamarindo, in the northern province of Guanacaste, on the Pacific. On your way there, you'll stop at Las Pumas Cat Zoo, a rescue shelter for stray and injured wild felines like jaguars, ocelots, and cougars. You'll have the option to explore Guanacaste on your own — or join the floating raft tour down the Corobici River to the Tenorio River to take in the picturesque views of the shoreline and its thriving flora and fauna ($84). You'll stay two nights in Guanacaste's 158-room Tamarindo Diria hotel in Tamarindo Beach.

Then you'll head back to San José, making a quick stop in Sarchi, an artisans' town where you can find handicrafts of all sorts, from hand-carved wood utensils to furniture to jewelry.

The final stretch of your trip is divided between San José and Tortuguero. First, you'll tour San José, from the residential districts in the west and southwest of the city through the downtown area to the suburb of Moravia, which is known for its shopping. You'll stay overnight at El Rodeo.

Once you've explored the city, you'll drive to Braulio Carillo National Park on the Caribbean coast to learn about the processing and packaging of the country's main export — bananas. Then a motor launch will take you along the canals of the Tortuguero jungle to Tortuguero Village for lunch and a visit to the Turtle Museum. You'll also hike through rain-forest trails and tour the canals by boat to catch a glimpse of turtles, monkeys, and tropical birds in action. You'll stay two nights at the 34-room Pachira Lodge.

A motor launch will take you back to San Jose, where you'll spend your last night in Costa Rica before returning home. Gate 1 lets you add extra days in San José at El Rodeo prior to or after your journey for $104 per night.

For more tips on what to do in the area, check Costa Rica's official tourism Web site. You can find the exchange rate and the local time at

The average annual temperature in Costa Rica is in the range of 71-80 degrees Fahrenheit, with November through January being the coolest months. Before you go, check the weather forecast.

Copyright © 2012 Newsweek Budget Travel, Inc.


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