Picture yourself standing on the deck of a small ship, looking out towards shore where you spot a completely empty beach. You see massive palm trees swaying in the breeze as a speck of color catches your eye. You soon realize you’ve spotted a macaw. Seems surreal, but in reality, you may have just found yourself on a Costa Rica cruise with UnCruise Adventures.
Pairing together the untouched natural world with the comfort of an expedition ship, UnCruise takes you to some of the best areas along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. This includes a great variety of National Parks, beaches and Wildlife Refuges.
The UnCruise Difference
Sure, it is possible to cruise Costa Rica with a variety of companies, but UnCruise does things a little bit different and that is why we love them.
For starters, they operate a small expedition ship in Central America, meaning the maximum number of guests onboard is only ever 62. This means you get an intimate experience and never have to deal with crowds.
To me, this is everything. There were times that we arrived in places, were split into groups of 10 and never saw another person while explored areas of pristine tropical rainforest. You can’t really put a price on those kinds of experiences.
UnCruise puts a heavy emphasis on good ol’ boots on the ground exploration. This means they get you immersed into the destination through adventure. Your days are spent hiking, trekking, kayaking, bird watching, snorkeling, standup paddle boarding and wildlife watching from zodiacs.
They build in happy hours at some stunning locations, time to relax on the beach and there is always an option to stay onboard the ship if you’re not up for an excursion. For active people that want to see more of the destination than the ship, this is the only way to take a Costa Rica cruise.
The UnCruise Central America itinerary visits the Pacific side of Costa Rica and is also combined with some epic stops in Panama over the course of 10 days. Once you cross into Panama, you will also explore some pristine National Parks, islands and even transit the Panama Canal.
UnCruise Costa Rica Cruise Stops
With the departure schedule of UnCruise, it is necessary to fly into San Jose at least one day prior to the cruise. This leaves you some time to explore the city, that features a lively downtown area with museums and historical sights.
We found San Jose to be clean, safe and easy to get around. The center has some great squares and beautiful museums that are worth checking out too.
The city is developed and offers the same amenities you would find in any city in the USA. I have to admit; I was quite surprised by this and I was not expecting to see a Denny’s restaurant next to the airport.
Despite the modernization, the city has some great history and it is worth taking some time to look around, unless of course you’d rather relax at the hotel pool before your cruise starts.
Nicoya Peninsula & Curu Wildlife Refuge
The first stop on our Costa Rica cruise was along the Nicoya Peninsula at the Curu Wildlife Refuge. Not only did we have a beautiful day, but we saw tons of animals. UnCruise gave us the option of 3 different activities, all for varying interests and abilities, and with us being into wildlife watching we chose the early bird watching departure.
By doing this, we were the first off the ship, in a small group and had the entire refuge to ourselves for the better part of 2 hours. In my opinion, these types of experiences are priceless.
Our walk lasted 3 hours, meandering along a road and then off into the rainforest. Our main objective was to spot and identify as many bird species as possible, but we took the time to watch several other species along the way too.
Some of our highlights included Howler Monkeys, Spider Monkeys, a Red Lored Parrot, Gartered Trogon, King Fishers, deer, Red Headed Wood Peckers, 3 species of Hummingbird, iguanas and many more species of bird.
After our morning in Curu Wildlife Refuge, an afternoon of relaxation was in order. The ship set anchor off the shore of Ballena Beach and we were brought ashore via skiff for some beach time.
This stretch of beach was rustic and natural, with the rainforest rushing almost right up to the ocean. Massive palm trees swayed above us as we found a spot to lay our towels for the rest of the day.
Popular with locals, we joined a few families who had come to the beach for picnics. Families played in the sand and waves while the braver kids jumped into the water from a pretty cool tree swing.
Ballena has a vibe that you’d expect in Costa Rica. It is chill, it is natural, it is undisturbed and the people that visit it respect it as nature. There is no commercialization and our visit really gave us a chance to be part of everything that Costa Rica stands for as a country.
Corcovado National Park
After leaving Ballena Beach, we sailed south overnight until we arrived near the Osa Peninsula with our sights set on exploring Corcovado National Park. Despite the number of tourists that frequent Costa Rica, the Osa Peninsula remains off the beaten track.
Wanting a bit of an adventure, we opted for the long hike offered in the morning. This meant being taken by skiff to the far side of the peninsula and dropped on a beach. From there, we made our way across the center of the peninsula to the opposite beach.
This hike gave us a chance to explore the rainforest in depth, with our UnCruise guide teaching us about the local plants, trees and eco-system. We navigated through thick forest along a small trail, often climbing up and then descending as it followed the topography of the land.
Near the end of the hike we came out on the shore and followed the trail along the beach. We crossed a couple river outflows and ultimately ended among a grove of mango trees. Sampling fresh mango was a definite highlight of our hike.
Reaching base camp, we were treated to a beautiful picnic style lunch on the beach and had a pair of Scarlet Macaws join us in the trees above. I think I spent more time photographing them than I did eating.
Following lunch we were brought back onboard the ship for a short siesta while the ship relocated to another part of the peninsula. From our new location, we set off on a wildlife watching tour by skiff along one of the mangrove channels.
Now, I know you can never say that wildlife sightings will be guaranteed, the animals are wild after all, but I think it is pretty safe to say that you will see something when you visit Costa Rica. There wasn’t a day that went by without an animal sighting, and our skiff tour at the Osa Peninsula was no exception.
An hour of cruising showed us a couple massive crocodiles, multiple King Fishers, a giant male iguana, several Jesus Christ lizards, white capuchin monkeys and a magnificent Bare-Throated Tiger Heron.
Just when we thought Costa Rica couldn’t get any better, we woke up in Golfo Dulce. Separating the mainland from the Osa Peninsula, this beautiful bay is a prime location for birding. We again opted for the early morning bird watching tour and woke up to a classic rainy day in the rainforest.
Despite the weather, we loaded up our gear, put on our rain jackets and boarded a skiff to shore. What awaited us was a gorgeous botanical reserve and plenty of birds to watch, including a couple toucans!
We spent the better part of 3 hours hanging out in the reserve, walking along the beach, following trails to find birds and lingering in the garden. You’d think the birds would be hunkered down with the rain but there were livelier than on a sunny day.
We had some fantastic bird photography opportunities, but it was the blue misty conditions over the bay that really made the day. Causing fog and low clouds, the colors against the lush forests were a photographer’s dream. Add the ship sitting just off shore, a few kayakers and it really doesn’t get any more photogenic.
After a full morning on shore, we hopped in the skiffs to board the ship and were met by a pod of dolphins. In placid water, this pod decided to put on a show. Leaping from the water they performed jumps, splashes and dives. The more we cheered, the more the ramped up the show.
I’m not exaggerating when I say this show went on for the better part of 45 minutes. When we pulled up anchor and set off, the pod started to follow. They played in the wake of the ship, at the bow and off the sides in spectacular fashion. I’ve never seen anything like it, and it was magical.
Onwards to Panama
Settling sail from the Osa Peninsula, we settled in for an afternoon of sailing and border control as our ship crossed over into Panama waters. This Costa Rica cruise itinerary with UnCruise Adventures goes on to spend another 6-9 days exploring Panama.
I won’t lie to you, the Panama portion of this itinerary is unreal! It includes the insanely gorgeous Coiba National Park, Isla de Iguana, Pearl Islands, Darien Jungle, Panama Canal, Portabelo and Guna Yala (San Blas) Islands.
To read about the rest of our cruise, check out the highlights of our Panama cruise itinerary with UnCruise Adventures.
Complete Panama & Costa Rica Cruise Itinerary – UnCruise
It is possible to book this cruise in either sailing direction. You can either start in Panama and cruise north to Costa Rica or you can start in Costa Rica and cruise south to Panama.
We sailed on the itinerary departing from San Jose, Costa Rica and ending in Panama City, Panama.
- DAY 1: San Jose, Costa Rica – Embarkation
- DAY 2: Curu National Wildlife Refuge, Costa Rica
- DAY 3: Osa Conservation Area, Costa Rica
- DAY 4: Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica
- DAY 5: Granito de Oro, Coiba National Park, Panama
- DAY 6: Captain’s Choice, Panama
- DAY 7: Gulf of Panama
- DAY 8: Darien Jungle, Panama
- DAY 9: Pearl Islands Archipelago/Panama Canal
- DAY 10: Panama City, Panama – Disembarkation Day
NOTE: It is also possible to book a 12-night itinerary on select departures that includes some exploration on the Caribbean side after transiting the Panama Canal.
- DAY 10: Guna Yala, Panama
- DAY 11: Guna Yala, Panama
- DAY 12: Fort San Lorenzo or Portobelo, Panama
- DAY 13: Panama City, Panama – Disembarkation Day
What to Pack to Cruise Costa Rica
One thing we love about traveling in the tropics is that you can pack light. You’ll spend your days either on the beach or in the rainforest, so packing is simple. Below we share a few recommendations with you that you shouldn’t leave home without for your Costa Rica cruise.
- Lightweight long-sleeve shirts
- Short-sleeve t-shirts
- Lightweight or convertible hiking pants
- Khaki’s, shorts, skirts/dresses
- Close-toed hiking boots/shoes with tread
- Rubber boots (for travel in “green” season May-Nov)
- Light rain jacket or poncho with hood
- Light fleece or jacket/pullover
- Brimmed hat & sun hat that covers ears/neck (We love our Buff’s.)
- SPF-rated long sleeve swim shirt/rash guard
- SPF-rated full-length swim pants/tights **THIS IS A MUST BECAUSE OF JELLYFISH**
- Daypack for walks, hiking, skiff rides
- Dry bag for camera gear or cellphone
- Beach Bag
- Travel binoculars with safety strap
- Extra water bottle
- Electrolyte replacement tablets or mix
- Chargers/power cords for electronics
- Camera, memory cards, extra batteries/charger, safety lanyard
- Sunglasses & retainer strap
- Reef-safe sunscreen & lip protection
- Insect repellent
- Zip-lock bags to separate wet & dry items
Check out our favorite places to go shopping for travel gear.
- Shop Columbia – The industry leader in outdoor apparel and products; You can find anything from great jackets, gloves, hats, shirts and travel pants.
- Shop REI – They offer some of the best outdoor gear around. We love REI since they have a year Love it or hate it no questions guarantee.
Life Aboard the Safari Voyager
The Safari Voyager is a small expedition ship, outfitted to explore the tropical waters of Central America. It is outfitted with an EZ dock kayak launch platform for loading skiffs, kayaks and launching them directly from the ship.
Along with the platform, the ship features onboard kayaks, paddle boards, a fleet of inflatable skiffs, hiking poles and snorkel gear for all in destination adventures. For the afternoons spent sailing, you have access to fitness equipment, yoga mats, a DVD selection, board games and a book library.
With an emphasis on wellness, every guest receives a complimentary 30-minute massage from one of the two onboard massage therapists. There is also daily, early morning yoga classes included.
There are 32 cabins on the Safari Voyager, spread across different classes. No matter which you choose, the cabins are surprisingly spacious for the size of the ship and very comfortable.
Each cabin features a private bathroom with head and shower. The sink was in the main room. Our cabin also included a his and hers wardrobe, Queen bed (also an option to have 2 twin beds) and a desk with chair.
Staying in a Commander Cabin, we also enjoyed a huge picture window. There were afternoons we spent watching the beauty of Central America flow by from the comfort of our room.
Something worth noting is the décor used in the rooms. Each piece of art, the decorative pillows and throws have been purchased from local communities in Central America. It adds a nice touch to the room and is great to see a company sourcing locally.
The dining options onboard the Safari Voyager are simple but delicious. We enjoyed a combination of plated meals, buffets and picnics throughout the cruise. They put out happy hour snacks every day and some pretty delicious deserts.
One thing UnCruise does with their menu is incorporate local dishes. From Costa Rica staples to Panamanian specialties, you’ll have the chance to try food, snacks and drinks from the region.
We’ve never met an UnCruise staff we didn’t love. I know, big words, but oh so true. The people that work for this company are passionate and love their jobs. It shows in everything they do throughout your cruise.
You’ll spend the most time with the Expedition staff, as they are your guides on the ground. They take you on hikes, wildlife watching tours, skiff rides, snorkeling, kayaking and so much more.
They love Central America and being able to show you why. Every one of them is well versed in their own niches and an immense resource when it comes to learning about both Costa Rica and Panama during your cruise.
Besides guiding you onshore, they also take turns giving you daily lectures about each place you visit. You learn the history and about the things you might come across during your adventures. All done with smile and enthusiastic participation.
How to Book with UnCruise
UnCruise Adventures is a small company headquartered in Seattle, Washington. They operate itineraries in Alaska, Pacific Northwest, Columbia & Snake Rivers, Mexico, Central America, Galapagos and Hawaii.
You can book our same itinerary here: Costa Rica & Panama—Canal, Culture, Adventure
Be sure to tell them that Divergent Travelers sent you!
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We partnered with UnCruise Adventures to bring you this story. All opinions, photos, stories and insane love for ‘uncruising’ are 100% our own. As always.