To venture to Costa Rica is to witness a land where tropical wilderness still reigns above all else. Cool, misty cloud forests shelter an abundance of monkeys and toucans. Macaws and sloths can be spotted in lush jungle canopies, volcanoes tower over fertile lowlands, and remote shores give way to vibrant seas teeming with marine creatures. There are two coasts, and when you add the opportunity to experience one of the world’s greatest feats of engineering—the Panama Canal—it might be hard to choose your adventure from our array of exciting expedition options. Here we break down six ways to discover the wonders of this biodiverse region. Get Inspired By Photos, Videos, Webinars, Stories, And Exclusive Offers. Sign Up

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1. A perfect introduction to Costa Rica, plus a canal transit

Costa Rica & The Panama Canal

Over eight incredible days, explore the remote rainforests and idyllic islands off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica and Panama. Opt to snorkel, kayak, horseback ride, or take a dip in a waterfall pool, far from any inhabited places. Look for parakeets and tanagers, agoutis, and several species of monkeys and sea turtles, and also participate in sea turtle rehabilitation at the Latin American Sea Turtles Association on the Osa Peninsula, We also have special permission to visit the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and to experience the Panama Canal in a way few ever get to, by day and lit up by night.

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Photo: David Vargas

2. An ideal first-time itinerary for avid birders

Costa Rica's Cloud Forest through the Panama Canal

To begin, spend three days and two nights off the ship discovering the stunning biodiversity of the mist-shrouded Monteverde Cloud Forest, in Costa Rica’s rugged interior. Get a bird's-eye perspective as you walk suspension bridgesfor up-close views of hummingbirds and, if luck is on our side, resplendent quetzals in one of the world’s most celebrated locations for bird watching. Then board the National Geographic Quest and continue on to explore wildlife-filled coastal rainforests and coral reefs, including an exciting Panama Canal transit, on this 11-day expedition that provides opportunities for spotting exotic birds like parrots, toucans, and white-throated magpie-jays.

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A resplendent quetzal perches on a moss-covered branch.

3. The ultimate Costa Rican adventure

Panama Canal to the Costa Rican Highlands: A Central American Odyssey

Discover an array of inland sights, sail along the coast, as well as through the Canal on our most comprehensive Costa Rica expedition. Spend two days fully experiencing the awe-inspiring Panama Canal, marveling at the waterway’s fascinating mechanisms. Land on remote shores to explore jungles, volcanoes, and both the country’s Pacific and Caribbean coasts over 15 days. Farther inland hike through a misty cloud forest, look for parrots and monkeys in Arenal Volcano National Park, then relax in neighboring hot springs. In the remote, carless Caribbean community of Tortuguero, which teems with wildlife including nesting sea turtles, venture into canals in a small boat on a jungle river safari.

4. Explore two diverse coasts in one thrilling voyage

Costa Rica by Land and Sea: Guanacaste to Tortuguero

Stretching along the northwestern shores of Costa Rica, Guanacaste is a remote, wild region of volcanic calderas, colorful coral reefs, and a rare tropical dry forest that harbors a roster of unusual inhabitants like peccaries, motmots, and kinkajous. It is also a model for conservation throughout Central America, and you'll learn why as we focus on its many wonders before heading inland to Monteverde Cloud Forest and Arenal National Park. Cap off this spectacular 13-day adventure on the Caribbean coast as we explore Tortuguero's lowland forest, wildlife-rich canals, and pristine beaches ideal for nesting sea turtles. 

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A picturesque waterfall in Guanacaste's Rincon de la Vieja National Park.

5. Experience diverse landscapes in less time

Wild Guanacaste & Monteverde: Costa Rica’s Mangroves, Mists & Mountains

Over the course of nine days, spend three days inland in Monteverde’s mountain cloud forest discovering an incredible array of birds, butterflies, monkeys, and orchids. Then board the National Geographic Quest to explore Guanacaste’s remarkable volcanic landscapes like bubbling mudpots and steaming fumaroles; wildlife-rich jungles, and pristine beaches. From a rare tropical dry forest to lush mangroves and coral reefs, Guanacaste has many ecosystems with diverse wildlife. Plus, like the American West, this fascinating region has a heritage of cattle ranches and cowboys.

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Snorkeling off Isla Tortuga.

6. An active expedition in a compact timeframe

Wild Costa Rica Escape: Exploring Guanacaste’s Natural Wonders

Guests who want to experience Costa Rica’s wild places in a short timeframe and who especially enjoy water-based exploration should consider this six-day option. In extraordinary protected habitats like the Guanacaste Conservation Area, you'll kayak, Zodiac, or go on foot, on the lookout for parakeets, motmots, and with luck, northern tamandua anteaters. Glide through the peaceful stillness of a mangrove forest, home to white ibis and crocodiles. Hike to an idyllic waterfall in the volcanic landscapes of Rincón de la Vieja National Park, and swim off Isla Tortuga, possibly with manta rays and angelfish. There are also opportunities to horseback ride and to zipline over the forest canopy, adding to this memorable getaway.