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Costa Rica Travel

Follow rainforest paths in search of tropical wildlife. View a magnificent cone-shaped volcano from the treetops. Spot countless water birds among the coastal mangroves. Plunge into invigorating hot springs in a jungle clearing. And for three memorable nights, scan the magnificent southern night sky and the winter Milky Way from our exclusive Star Lodge plantation retreat in a travel vacation.

TravelQuest offers you all of this and more on our Costa Rica and the Southern Milky Way tours. Some of the brightest, largest, and most dazzling star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies are visible in the southern sky. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, traveling southward to see the celestial spectacle for yourself is well worth the journey. Even better, Costa Rica is very accessible. It’s only a 2.5-hour flight from Miami. And it’s on Central Time, so for North Americans, there’s none of the usual jet lag that comes with crossing multiple time zones.

March is the perfect time for a tropical escape from the northern winter. Combine some of the world’s most striking natural wonders with amazing celestial sights and the company of easygoing, like-minded travelers—what more could you ask of an ecological and astronomical adventure that’s remarkably close to home?

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Amazing Costa Rica

Costa Ricans are dedicated to conservation and environmental education. Discover for yourself why travelers from around the world celebrate this beautiful country in the heart of Central America for its rich biodiversity, dramatically varied landscapes, and the warm hospitality of its people. From Arenal Volcano and Tabacón Hot Springs, to Monteverde and the Santa Elena Cloud Forest, experience the best of this safe, accessible paradise on North America’s doorstep.

Our naturalist guides will show you the best of the country’s diverse ecosystems—from primeval rainforests to mangrove-lined waterways along the Pacific coast. Spot monkeys and sloths in the forest canopy, crocodiles and exotic frogs in the wetlands, and myriad species of jungle and water birds soaring overhead. On the ground, find a host of plant life from orchids and bromeliads to mosses, ferns, and flowering vines. Our guides locate otherwise-missed species in veiled dwellings, and teach you to recognize concealed shelters and telltale signs of life in some of the most fascinating natural habitats on the planet.

Then there is the wonderfully dark night sky as seen from our Star Lodge on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. At a latitude of 10° North, our Costa Rican viewing site is 10° farther south than the Big Island of Hawaii, and 15° farther south than the Florida Keys. Many astronomical highlights that hug the horizon in these popular stargazing locales are 10° to 15° higher in Costa Rica’s southern sky.

When we visit in February or early March, the southern Milky Way and its celestial jewels are on display: the Southern Cross, the beautiful Eta Carinae nebula, the glorious Omega Centauri globular cluster, the Jewel Box star cluster, and many more. As a bonus, the center of our Milky Way galaxy rises during the early morning hours, providing fine views of the bright star clouds and dark dust lanes of our galactic home.

The beautiful southern Milky Way features numerous splendid sights, including the famous Southern Cross on the left. (Photo by Gary Seronik/TQ)
Our Star Lodge’s observing field, located immediately outside the lodgings, has open southern vistas that offer a perfect site for telescopes and other equipment. (Photo by Aram Kaprielian/TQ)

Your Costa Rica Holiday

TravelQuest has journeyed to Costa Rica every winter for nearly 20 years. We spent most of our time at the Star Lodge, with multiple evenings of stargazing and short excursions to enjoy the Costa Rican countryside. In upcoming years, we’re taking a different approach—more Costa Rica! After arriving in San Jose, we visit the Botanical Orchid Garden and the whimsical topiary gardens at Zarcero. Then we move on to Arenal, a cone-shaped volcano rising more than 5,200 feet (1,600 meters) above sea level. Arenal is the youngest and most active of all Costa Rican volcanoes; it last erupted in 1998 and eruptions can be traced back more than 7,000 years.

Nearby is a rainforest canopy, where we walk along a series of “hanging bridges” that span the treetops of this lush corridor. The breathtaking 360° views include (jungle mists permitting) a unique vantage point on Arenal’s fissured slopes and classic conical profile.

A delightful boat cruise on Lake Arenal reveals the beauty of Costa Rica’s largest freshwater body. After docking, we wind through the tropical landscape to Monteverde and the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, named for the near-constant mists that create a moist, warm environment where exotic plants thrive. On the trails through this lush ecosystem, our naturalist helps us keep watch for a remarkable array of flowers, animals, and especially birds. The bare-necked umbrellabird, the three-wattled bellbird, and, if we’re lucky, the fabulously colorful quetzal are all there, somewhere in this amazing forest. It’s a birdwatcher’s paradise.

While at our night-sky retreat, enjoy a morning guided birding excursion in and around the 800-acre Star Lodge plantation, as well as the nearby mangrove, where up to 100 species of North Pacific dry forest birds can be found. From Tricolored Herons to the ever-popular Turquoise-browed Motmot, you will not be disappointed by the medley of chroma and the tuneful singing. We also head out from the lodge’s private pier on a half-day boat tour along the Gulf of Nicoya, meandering through the coastal mangrove habitat as our naturalist guide helps us spot and identify the many species of North Pacific forest birds that nest there.

We have three nights at our Star Lodge for viewing the southern night sky. Your room includes red lights to keep your eyes adjusted to the dark before you head out to view the heavens. The lodge’s manicured lawn has open southern vistas, offering a perfect site for setting up telescopes and other equipment. And throughout the night, you can count on regular cups of expertly-brewed coffee—Costa Rica’s most famous export.

The binoculars you use for birding will also work for stargazing. No need to bring a telescope (though you’re welcome to do so), because you can observe the heavens through the 30mm eyepiece of our Explore Scientific 16-inch Truss-Tube Dobsonian telescope. Our trip astronomer kicks off our first evening of viewing with a tour of the southern sky, pointing out the most impressive sights visible in binoculars and small telescopes. He also helps with astrophotography and is always around to answer your observing questions.

The Roseate Spoonbill’s spoon-shaped bill allows it to sift easily through mud in shallow coastal waters. (Photo by Gary Seronik/TQ)
Arenal, the youngest and most active of all Costa Rican volcanoes, last erupted five times during the 1990s. (Photo by TQ)
The black spiny-tailed iguana have distinctive black, keeled scales on their long tails. They are excellent climbers, and prefer a rocky habitat. (Photo by Gary Seronik/TQ)

A Memorable Costa Rica Trip

In Costa Rica, environmentalism and tourism go hand in hand. The country has become a model nation for its environmental sustainability and stewardship. This care is evident throughout the countryside. During our numerous trail walks, our naturalist guides will reveal the country’s diverse ecosystems that range from rainforests and forest canopies to mangrove-lined waterways, wetlands, and jungle. Our Costa Rica holiday will reveal a paradise of biodiversity and spectacular natural beauty.

Part of that natural beauty is the cosmos overhead. Why do stargazers travel to Costa Rica? For the same reasons travelers from around the globe journey to this Central American paradise: the inviting tropical climate, wonderful natural scenery, abundant wildlife, friendly people and, of course, the magnificent night sky. It helps that for North Americans, the country is only a 2.5-hour flight from Miami, and it’s on Central Time. Best of all, it’s one of the safest and most hospitable destinations to which TravelQuest journeys.

For those who seek a few days of an “unplugged” vacation, our Star Lodge provides just such an experience: no guest telephones, no TVs, no in-room Internet connections. To further reduce our footprint, there’s also no air conditioning, but most guest rooms have screened windows on three sides, so you can enjoy the evening breezes, and there are ceiling and floor fans if you need them. The open-air restaurant and lounge, which overlooks the tree-lined grounds and the sparkling bay beyond, are popular meeting places throughout the day and evening. This is the ideal place to unwind.

Before dawn, the heart of our Milky Way galaxy rises, revealing its starry core, multiple bright star clusters, and numerous dark dust lanes. (Photo by European Southern Observatory/B. Tafreshi (

Join Us in Costa Rica

If this sounds like perfection, why not travel to Costa Rica with us on our next Southern Milky Way adventure. It’s a balanced journey: Three days of exploring Costa Rica, followed by three nights of exploring the cosmos. So join us and discover the warm hospitality of a people who love to share what they call la pura vida—“the pure life.” Contact TravelQuest for more details on this journey to one of the most awe-inspiring places on Earth!

Header image by Gary Seronik/TQ