Perfect for travelers looking to hike and observe wildlife, this 10-day itinerary starts and ends in San José, and includes many of the Caribbean Coast's best destinations—Tortuguero, Puerto Viejo, and the famous Arenal volcano. From nature treks to surfing pristine beaches, this trip plan offers a versatile, outdoor adventure with a laid-back feel.

Highlights

  • Explore Costa Rican museums, markets, and landmarks in San José
  • Spot birds, monkeys, and sloths on a boat safari in Tortuguero
  • Visit the Bribri tribe and learn about their native culture and customs
  • Explore Arenal volcano and visit the iconic La Fortuna Waterfall

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in San José San José
Day 2 Travel to Tortuguero National Park Tortuguero
Day 3 Tortuguero National Park - Boat Safari Tortuguero
Day 4 Travel to Puerto Viejo Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 5 Puerto Viejo - Guided Tour of Bribri Village Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 6 Puerto Viejo - Free Day Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 7 Travel to La Fortuna Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 8 La Fortuna - Arenal Volcano Hike and Visit La Fortuna Waterfall Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 9 La Fortuna - Free Day Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 10 Depart From San José  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in San José

The Edificio Correos (Post Office) in the city center.
The Edificio Correos (Post Office) in the city center

Welcome to Costa Rica! After arriving at Juan Santamaría International Airport in San José, a local representative will meet you to give you all of the travel documents you need for your trip, and escort you to your hotel. The rest of the day you'll have free to explore the city at your leisure.

Take a stroll through Mercado Central (Central Market), featuring more than 200 shops, food stalls, and sodas (traditional restaurants). Then, visit the Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Church), whose interior combines Greek Orthodox, Neoclassical, and Baroque styles, and features wood carvings and stained-glass windows. There's also a pair of popular museums in San José: Museo del Oro Precolumbino, the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, and Museo del Jade, the world's largest collection of pre-Columbian jade artifacts.

Be sure to explore Barrio Amón, a historic neighborhood home to cafetalero (coffee grower) mansions built during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of this area’s historic buildings have been converted into hotels, restaurants, and galleries, making Amón a popular bohemian district. 

For dinner, opt for a restaurant in the hills of Escazú. This elevated region on the western edge of the city offers panoramic views of the valley below. However, San José is filled with great restaurants serving everything from traditional to forward-thinking fusion cuisine, too.

Day 2: Travel to Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero Town
Tortuguero 

Early in the morning, a driver will pick you up at your hotel and will transport you through the beautiful mountain ranges of the Braulio Carrillo National Park.

The tour continues after a typical breakfast by bus and boat along a 20-mile-long system of waterways and rivers surrounded by lush scenery until you reach the town of Tortuguero around noon. Tortuguero National Park is one of the most important protected areas in Costa Rica and offers a perfect nesting place for leatherback and green sea turtles, alike.

This afternoon, you’ll visit the colorful town of Tortuguero. Once at the lodge, you can enjoy the amenities at your disposal, including the tropical garden and the swimming pool.

Day 3: Tortuguero National Park - Boat safari

Sloth lounging in the trees
Keep an eye out for sloths on your boat trip through Tortuguero

The optimal time to spot wildlife in Tortuguero is early in the morning, so today, you'll wake up bright and early to experience the beauty of the rainforest on a boat trip through the canals of Tortuguero National Park. During the boat trip, you’ll discover many animals that can only be seen in this tropical paradise, such as birds, monkeys, sloths, and more. After the tour, you’ll return to the lodge for breakfast.

In the afternoon, you’ll embark on a second boat tour, where you can enjoy the beauty of the canals, and focus on the flora and fauna of the national park. The rest of the day is free for you to enjoy as you see fit.

Day 4: Travel to Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo
Punta Uva in Puerto Viejo

Today after breakfast, you will travel by boat back to the dock in La Pavona, and from there, you will continue by bus to Guápiles, where you will enjoy lunch. Then, continue on your way by private transportation to Puerto Viejo, which is located on the Southern Caribbean Coast. Known for its laid-back attitude and famous for its surfing, Puerto Viejo´s cultural influences are interesting: a mix of Afro-Caribbean, Bribri Indian, tico, and hippie-style counterculture.

Depending on what time you arrive, here are some suggestions for things to see and do:

  • Hang out at the town's renowned beaches for some sun, swimming, and surfing; mingle with the locals at Playa Cocles, or head to Punta Uva or Playa Chiquita for some peace and quiet
  • Dine at one of the many restaurants and local sodas this melting pot has to offer; you'll find Caribbean cuisine, fresh seafood, traditional Tico fare, and more—try Bread and Chocolate for breakfast or lunch, and Chile Rojo for a beachfront dinner of Asian fusion, seafood, and even some vegan options, and don’t miss out on Afro-Caribbean-inspired cuisine at Restaurante Johanna
  • Visit the nearby Jaguar Rescue Center to learn about how they rescue and rehabilitate animals before reintroducing them back into the wild
  • If you're in the mood for dancing, check out local hotspots, like Tasty Waves, Johnny's Place, or The Lazy Mon for live music and Caribbean rhythms, or just sip on tropical cocktails at one of the many spots along the beach

You’ll have the afternoon free to explore the area at your leisure.

Day 5: Puerto Viejo - Guided tour of Bribri Village

Take a canoe to Yorkin
Take a canoe down the Yorkín River

Today, your journey continues with your guide to the Panamanian border, in the midst of the Talamanca Mountains, to the small village of Bambú. Once there, another local guide will embark with you on an adventurous trip in a dugout canoe on the Yorkín River to the Bribri Indian village of the same name, located in the heart of the tropical forest. 

Once in Yorkín, you will be given a guided tour of the organic cocoa and banana plantations and the small village. After a snack, you’ll visit the river Skui, with its suspension bridge, and take a refreshing bath in the natural water basins. Enjoy a traditional Bribri lunch, followed by a meeting with the local women's association, Stibrawpa, where the members will talk about their work and their history.

In the ‘90s, the women of the community launched the project to cope with the local unemployment and the loss of culture. Here, you will get to learn about a perfect example of sustainable tourism. For dessert, you will be introduced to traditional chocolate making, and can, of course, taste the local confections. The Bribri will also show you their art of making palm leaf roofs or alternatively introduce you to the ancient tradition of archery. You will also receive a BriBri language lesson to learn more about the culture. The project is sponsored by Brot für die Welt, and only allows a limited number of tourists to visit the settlement every year. Your attendance supports the preservation of this culture and community. 

In the afternoon, your guide will take you back to Bambú in your canoe, and from there, you’ll return to Puerto Viejo to enjoy the evening at your own pace.

Day 6: Puerto Viejo - Free day

Bicycle by the beach in Puerto Viejo
Enjoy the beach life in Puerto Viejo

After breakfast at your hotel, you'll have free time to stroll around Puerto Viejo. You can watch the surfers at Salsa Brava, the Caribbean's most infamous surf break. Better yet, take a beginner lesson with expert teachers–even if this isn't your first time out on the water, you can still brush up on your skills. If you do decide to try your luck at Salsa Brava, know that it's an expert-level break—there's a sharp reef here that can be dangerous to both your board and you.

Spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying Puerto Viejo on your own time. Maybe stop in at a beach bar and enjoy a sundowner with your feet in the sand. Revisit the list of earlier recommendations, which include restaurants to bookmark. If you haven’t already, visit the Jaguar Rescue Center, or simply relax and unwind by the water.

Day 7: Travel to La Fortuna

Arenal Volcano
Arenal Volcano

Today, you’ll ride from the Caribbean Coast through the northern plains of the country—with its exotic, tropical flora and different plantations—before you get to La Fortuna, the little town located by the stunning Arenal volcano. You’ll have the afternoon free to explore the surroundings, or you can relax in the natural hot springs of your hotel. Make sure to visit the town and buy some souvenirs, or enjoy a nice, local coffee at one of the cafés.

For dinner, some restaurant recommendations include the following:

  • Ave del Paraíso, which serves a mix of local Costa Rican and international cuisine
  • Café Mediterraneo, a friendly osteria serving up homemade pasta and pizza
  • La Parrilla de María Bonita, a must-visit for perfectly cooked steak, as well as Mediterranean dishes, like falafel and baba ghanoush
  • Rancho Perla, a popular open-air restaurant (you may even spot sloths hanging from the nearby trees) serving well-prepared Costa Rican staples

Day 8: La Fortuna - Arenal volcano hike and visit La Fortuna Waterfall

La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna Waterfall

Today, prepare for an unforgettable tour. You will hike through trails marked with the remains of previous 1968 lava flows of the famed Arenal volcano. The main attraction of La Fortuna is the volcano, itself, with its nearly perfect cone shape, and a height of 5,358 feet. Along the hike, keep an eye out for the abundant flora and fauna, and your guide will tell you all about the Arenal’s history and activity as you go.

After the hike on this popular volcano, continue the journey to the notable La Fortuna Waterfall. Once there, you’ll hike down (500 steps, with some resting areas) to the waterfall base to go for a swim in the cool, pristine waters of La Fortuna River. At the end of the tour, enjoy a delicious lunch, followed by free time to continue exploring or relaxing.

Day 9: La Fortuna - Free day

Explore Arenal by mountain bike
Explore Arenal by mountain bike

After breakfast, you will have a free day to discover the park as you wish. One popular excursion is to explore the Arenal region by mountain bike. The 15-mile route follows an old road connecting the dam of Lake Arenal with the main entrance to Arenal Volcano National Park.

Depending on your mood you can also consider taking a ziplining tour, birdwatching excursion, or a floating safari trip. Those with culinary interests can try a chocolate tasting tour, or if you're looking to relax, opt for a massage at your hotel or soak in the local hot springs.

if you are up for an evening adventure, you can discover the nocturnal wildlife of this area on a night walk, enjoy the activities offered at your hotel, or both.

Day 10: Depart from San José

Airport
Farewell, Costa Rica!

Today, it is time for you to say goodbye to Costa Rica. Depending on your departure time, you will be transferred from Arenal back to Juan Santamaria International Airport to catch your international flight home. Safe Travels!

Map

Map of Costa Rica: Caribbean Coast & Arenal Volcano - 10 Days
Map of Costa Rica: Caribbean Coast & Arenal Volcano - 10 Days