This 11-day vacation offers everything you could imagine on a trip to Costa Rica–volcanic views of Arenal, the beautiful Pacific beaches of Playa Panama and Manuel Antonio, and fun activities along the way. Enjoy a chocolate-making class, a mangrove tour by boat, horseback riding along the ocean, and more.

Highlights

  • Rent an ATV to explore scenic Playa Panama
  • Visit La Fortuna Waterfall and take a refreshing dip in the river
  • Spot native monkeys on a hanging bridge tour of the rainforest
  • Embark on a lively mangrove boat tour of the Damas Island Estuary

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Liberia and Travel to Playa Panama Playa Panama
Days 2-4 Playa Panama - Free Days Playa Panama
Day 5 Travel to La Fortuna - Chocolate and Coffee Tours Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 6 La Fortuna - Hanging Bridges and Waterfall Tour Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 7 Travel to Manuel Antonio Manuel Antonio
Day 8 Manuel Antonio - Mangrove Boat Tour Manuel Antonio
Day 9 Manuel Antonio - Free Day Manuel Antonio
Day 10 Travel to San José San José
Day 11 Depart From San José  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Liberia and travel to Playa Panama

 Gulf of Papagayo
Gulf of Papagayo

Welcome to Costa Rica! Liberia is the northern hub of the Guanacaste Province, an area famous for both its Pacific beaches and inland mountainous regions. Once you arrive, your private transportation will take you to Playa Panama–one of the best-maintained beaches in the country. Its crystal-clear waters and gorgeous scenery make it a very popular beach strip on the west coast. Here, you will enjoy a perfect, quiet beach environment.

Upon arrival at the Gulf of Papagayo, check in to your hotel and spend the rest of the day unwinding. Enjoy a cocktail as you watch that beautiful coastal sunset. For dinner, you can stay in and dine at your hotel.

Days 2-4: Playa Panama - Free days

Playa Hermosa area
Playa Hermosa area

The next few days are yours to relax and enjoy the soft-sand beaches. Lay down a blanket and soak up some sun with your favorite book. Take a dip in the inviting tropical water when it’s time to cool off.

You can also build your own schedule with much to do around the beach. Playa Panama has many optional tours that you can book on-site. Consider one of the following:

  • An ATV rental to discover the surrounding beaches
  • A snorkeling tour to get up-close and personal with the local marine life
  • Horseback riding with a beach backdrop
  • A ziplining tour, if you’re the more adventurous type
  • Paddleboarding along the scenic beach

Make sure you set aside some time to enjoy the sunset each night, along with a delicious dinner of local cuisine.

Day 5: Travel to La Fortuna - Chocolate and coffee tours

Arenal Volcano
Arenal Volcano

In the morning, enjoy breakfast at your hotel. Then, you will take a private car through the northern plains of the country with its exotic tropical flora and different types of plantations. Then, you’ll arrive at La Fortuna, the little town that is home to Arenal volcano. La Fortuna is the gateway to the volcano area and offers an endless array of activities.

Around noon, you will arrive at your hotel, check in to your room, and then it’s off to your first activity. With volcanic views all around, you’ll ride to a chocolate-making class, where you’ll discover the ancient secrets of chocolate–from its discovery and use in tropical America to the processing of the product we know and enjoy today.

Considered as a gift of the Gods, the cacao tree was very important to the ancient culture; it was not only used to create a ceremonial drink, but its seeds were also utilized as currency, because of its economic value in many regions of Mesoamerica, including Costa Rica.

On this tour, you’ll have the opportunity to learn all the interesting aspects of cocoa and chocolate. You’ll be educated on the origin and history, the production process–from the harvesting of the fruit to the drying and grinding of the seeds, to the development of the traditional drink of Costa Rican ancestors, and of course enjoying the high-quality organic chocolate. Along this tour, you’ll also learn about coffee plantations. You’ll also be taught how to plant your own coffee bean as you learn about how the beans are grown, harvested, and turned into coffee. 

As evening approaches, make sure to try some of the local fare at one of La Fortuna's more than 100 restaurants. Some suggestions include the following:

  • 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 6: La Fortuna - Hanging bridges and waterfall tour

La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna Waterfall

Today, you’ll leave La Fortuna to head to the rainforest with hanging bridges at different heights. Go on a 2-mile hike and with some luck, you’ll spot howler monkeys, spider monkeys, white-faced cappuccino monkeys, lots of birds, snakes, armadillos, coatis, and more.

After your hike in the rainforest, continue your journey to La Fortuna Waterfall, a sight surrounded by beautiful vegetation. 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.

Then, you’ll head to lunch. After finishing the tour, your driver will take you back to your hotel, so you can enjoy the rest of the day at your own pace.

Day 7: Travel to Manuel Antonio

Sunset at Manuel Antonio Beach
Sunset at Manuel Antonio Beach

Enjoy breakfast at the hotel. Then, a transportation service will pick you up and drive you toward Manuel Antonio, one of the nicest beach areas in Costa Rica. Most of the hotels and restaurants are located up on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, where you can catch spectacular sunsets.  

On the 4.5-hour ride, take in the picture-perfect landscapes before arriving in Quepos, a small town close to Manuel Antonio National Park. After you check in to your hotel, you can enjoy the afternoon exploring the beach, or just relaxing at your hotel's pool area.

Some recommended restaurants include the following:

  • Gabriella's, where you can treat yourself to some fine dining; go for the seafood–whether it's the pan-seared scallops, ceviche, or snapper, you won't be disappointed
  • Cafe Agua Azul, which is ideal during sunset, because the second-floor patio has the best bay views in the entire area; along with excellent fresh fish, indulge in delectable desserts, like homemade brownies and bread pudding
  • Manuel Antonio Falafel Bar, which offers something different in the form of Middle-Eastern dining; order up favorites like falafel, shawarma, hummus, and gain access to a salad bar any vegetarian would love

Day 8: Manuel Antonio - Mangrove boat tour

The mangrove roots provide a unique sanctuary to hatching fish
The mangrove roots provide a unique sanctuary to hatching fish

Today, you’ll explore the Damas Island Estuary and mangrove ecosystem on one of the area's most popular tours. The mangroves' underwater root networks act as a nursery for thousands of fish and crustaceans and harbor hundreds of unique species of amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. 

The unique conditions created by the shifting sediment and saltwater in the mangroves attract various sea animals. Look down as you travel to get a glimpse of oysters, sponges, majestic stingrays, baby black-tipped sharks, and large schools of fish congregating among the mangrove roots. 

Explore the mangroves during the day on a guided tour boat to spot boat-billed herons, sloths, and tree snakes. Don't be surprised if the curious white-faced capuchin monkeys hop on board–these charismatic animals love to explore. Weave your way through the natural tunnels and passageways created by the river's ebbs and flows, as you discover this fascinating world. 

You can also join an evening tour for a chance to see the nocturnal anteaters, tree frogs, snakes, and bats.

Day 9: Manuel Antonio - Free day

Playa Espadilla, Manuel Antonio
Playa Espadilla, Manuel Antonio

Today is yours to enjoy at your leisure. Beyond amazing wildlife hikes, there are a number of activities to choose from. 

First, you must visit Manuel Antonio National Park. This park has one of the most impressive landscapes in the world and has several coves with many white-sand beaches and lush foliage amidst the mountains and forests that reach the beaches. 

Another optional add-on is to take a surfing lesson on the beach. If that isn't for you, then simply stake your claim on a section of white sand and relax by the water. One of the most ideal beaches in the park is Playa Espadilla, which stretches on for nearly a mile, and is great for families since there are lifeguards on hand during the day.

Day 10: Travel to San José

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

Today, you can spend the morning on the beach and enjoy the sunshine. In the afternoon, a car service will take you from the Pacific Coast to the capital. Once you arrive in San José, you can rest or explore the city at your leisure.

Be sure to visit 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. There are also plenty of great restaurants serving everything from traditional to forward-thinking cuisine in San José.

Day 11: Depart From San José

Airport
Farewell, Costa Rica!

Today, you will say goodbye to Costa Rica and head to the Juan Santamaria International Airport. Have a safe flight home, and be sure to come visit the beautiful country of Costa Rica again soon!

Map

Map of Costa Rica: Beach & Rainforest Tour - 11 Days
Map of Costa Rica: Beach & Rainforest Tour - 11 Days