Costa Rica and Nicaragua self drive vacation

“Our only self-drive tour of both Costa Rica and Nicaragua for twenty days, accompanied by a private guide throughout Nicaragua who hands over the wheel in Costa Rica. ”


Nicaragua: Managua | Granada | Las Isletas de Granada | Mombacha cloudforest | Mombacha volcano | Artisan markets of Masaya | Lake Nicaragua to Ometepe Island | Maderas volcano hike | San Juan beaches | Costa Rica: Rincon de la Vieja NP | Ranch stay | Arenal Volcano | Arenal hot springs | Bosque de Paz cloud forest | Manuel Antonio NP | San Jose

Departure information

This trip can be tailor made throughout the year
Our top tip:
Learn some Spanish. You are heading into remote but very friendly areas. Especially if you say ‘hola’.
Trip type:
Tailor made.
Activity level:
Small hotels and eco lodges.
Accommodation, all breakfasts, most meals, transfers, excursions, driver guide Nicaragua, car hire, NP guides.
Budget £2-5 per meal not included.
Tailor made at extra cost.

Responsible tourism

Responsible tourism: Costa Rica and Nicaragua self drive vacation


Our tours are structured to create the least possible impact on local ecosystems. In Nicaragua you will generally be accompanied by a private guide which means more attention and therefore a richer overall experience. The guides we use for walks in the national parks are all trained naturalists and many live locally to the area. They are experts in the flora and fauna of the region and are incredibly passionate about passing on their knowledge, so clients have a greater understanding of local environment and the delicate balance of regional ecosystems.

We give priority to hotels and lodges with proven ecological credentials, built with sensitivity to the local environment. Where possible we only use small, locally-run properties, who stand up for their employees’ social rights and offer an honest wage. We only suggest hotels and lodges where we have stayed ourselves, or where our partners on the ground have stayed, and which we believe to be the best in their area. This does not necessarily mean those with the obvious trappings of comfort, but rather those who have an established ethical outlook and a long-term vision for preserving their local surroundings.

Together with our partners on the ground we also support a series of local projects directly. Your vacation with us will help to directly benefit these causes: The Neotropica Foundation works with communities and schools to improve environmental education, helping local people to live in a more sustainable way. One project currently underway is the “Amigos de la Naturaleza” which seeks to introduce primary school children to the basic concepts of sustainable living, such as protection of water resources, the responsible management of waste and the conservation of national parks.


One of our favourite jungle lodges supports three primary schools located in the villages of Bajo de Tigre, Los Angeles, and Guyacán, downriver from the lodge itself. The lodge donates a percentage of its bookings to the school boards, which in turn use the money for vital materials and services for the schools. The lodge has also improved and maintained previously disused local roads, along with a cable car used by local residents to cross the river.

Similarly, one of our preferred beach retreats on the Pacific coast has set up a comprehensive program of sustainable projects, working with the local community to increase awareness of environmental and social matters. Projects so far include setting up the first public library in the region for residents, as well funding a composting station and a recycling initiative.

Paniamor Foundation is a private non-profit, non-partisan, organization created in 1987 and works to protect the social interests of vulnerable and disadvantaged Costa Ricans. The foundation runs several schemes, including the Social Development Programme, which works with children aged 13 to 18 from deprived communities. The programme seeks to promote values, knowledge and skills that will empower the children to exercise their rights and responsibilities for their own personal growth, and that of their families, peers, and communities of origin.

For almost 20 years World Vision has been working hand in hand with the local communities in Nicaragua’s Chorotega and Northern Huetar regions to promote sustainable development practices. Among the schemes they have initiated are: the Economic Development programme, which generates sources of employment and agricultural funding in rural areas; the Prevention, Emergency and Rehabilitation programme which works in the area of emergency prevention and offers relief and rehabilitation to victims of disaster; the Promotion of Justice programme, which helps to foster respect for the rights of children and women through better education.

Reviews of Costa Rica and Nicaragua self drive vacation

You can trust Responsible Travel reviews because, unlike many other schemes, reviews can ONLY be written by people who we have verified have been on the vacations.

I am reborn! Simply the best vacation I have ever been on
Some great stories to tell the grandchildren. Would recommend to a friend
Very enjoyable
It was OK
A bit disappointing really

Reviewed on 02 Aug 2016 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?

Seeing the lava flowing at the Masaya volcano is a wow! (45 mins from Managua/Nicaragua); zip lining above the tree tops at Arenal. Watching the beautiful sunset, glass of wine in hand, at Arenal Observatory Lodge. Seeing Quetzals close up in the cloud forest. Hundreds of fireflies lighting up and dancing in front if us as the sun set. Seeing all the wonderful wildlife on offer in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?

If driving use a satnav! Driving in Costa was easy an the road were very good. If visiting Nicaragua learn some Spanish before you go. If you have any spare time, even just 2-3 hours in Managua, go visit the Masaya volcano to see the river of lava flowing right in front of your eyes. One of only 3 volcanoes in the world where you can see lava.

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes and particularly so in Nicaragua.

4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?

4 star. Costa Rica and Nicaragua are VERY different places and visitors should be aware of that i.e. in some remote areas, no running water and electricity at times (!) and where there was water, cold only - don't expect a hot shower! In some areas, literally no one spoke English. I strongly suggest learning some Spanish, esp if you want to use public transport or cross the Costa Rica/Nicaragua border without any assistance!

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