An eight-day trip to Costa Rica provides plenty of time for both adventure and relaxation–explore the history of San José, take a national park tour or two and swim in the hot springs, beaches, and waterfalls that await. Active travelers will appreciate cycling to the Continental Divide, wildlife sightings on a riverboat safari in Nosara, and riding Class IV rapids down the Rio Pacuare in these five trip plans.

#1: Classic Costa Rica - Arenal, Manuel Antonio, Rio Pacuare

This classic Costa Rican adventure was designed with thrill-seekers in mind. After a stint in San José, you’ll raft the Class II-IV rapids along the Rio Pacuare to jumpstart the fun. Then, it’s off to La Fortuna to visit Arenal. Wind down in Manuel Antonio National Park, where you’ll explore the beautiful beaches and native species.

Arenal Volcano 
Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in San Jose San José
Day 2 Pacuare River – Rafting Class II-III Pacuare River
Day 3 Pacuare River – Rafting Class III-IV - Transfer to La Fortuna La Fortuna
Day 4 Hanging Bridges, La Fortuna Waterfall, and Hot Springs La Fortuna
Day 5 Transfer to Manuel Antonio  Manuel Antonio
Day 6 Manuel Antonio - Free day on the beach Manuel Antonio
Day 7 Manuel Antonio - Free day on the beach Manuel Antonio
Day 8 Return to San José and depart Costa Rica  

After you land in San José, Costa Rica’s capital city, take the day to explore on your own. Mingle with the vendors at Mercado Central, and make the trip to the bohemian district of Barrio Amón where you can tour dated mansions now owned by local coffee growers.

On day two, you’ll take the 2.5-hour drive to Rio Pacuare, where the active adventure begins. Known as one of the top rafting sites in the world, the river runs 67 miles from the Talamanca Mountains to the Caribbean. Expect plenty of paddling on this two-day excursion that takes you from Class II to Class IV rapids. You may even spot some monkeys, ocelots, and jaguars along the way. In your downtime, enjoy the riverside eco-lodge accommodations, schedule a massage, or take a walk in nature.

The next stop on the itinerary is La Fortuna, which is home to Arenal Volcano National Park. Along with exploring Arenal via hiking and suspension bridges with plenty of views, and the dormant Chato volcano, plunge into the surrounding waterfalls and relax along the La Fortuna River. You can even take a dip in Arenal’s geothermal hot springs, which have been utilized as therapeutic baths by locals for the past 200 years.

The final leg of your trip lands in Manuel Antonio National Park, which is located on the Pacific Coast. Relax on one of several beaches and walk a trail busied with capuchin monkeys, slots and more than 200 bird species. Indulging in fresh seafood and exceptional sunsets is also a must. At the end of the trip, you’ll have free time to laze around Playa Manuel Antonio and the surrounding beaches. Go for a swim, a snorkeling excursion, and even a surf lesson, so you can really sink in the last of the beach vibes. Learn more

#2: Wildlife Road Trip - Sarapiquí River & Puerto Viejo

This eight-day trip was designed with animal lovers in mind. On this self-drive journey, you can cozy up to all of Costa Rica’s native wildlife, from sloths and monkeys to exotic birds and tropical fish. Along with spotting different species on your Sarapiquí River safari, you’ll embark on a nocturnal hiking tour and snorkel among underwater marine life in Cahuita National Park.

Expect plenty of sloth encounters on this animal-driven road trip
Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José & Pick Up Rental Car San Jose
Day 2 Drive to Sarapiquí, Guided Night Hike Sarapiquí
Day 3 Sarapiquí River Safari Sarapiquí
Day 4 Sarapiqui to Puerto Viejo Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 5 Hiking & Snorkeling in Cahuita National Park Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 6 Sloths, Jaguars & Beach Time in Puerto Viejo Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 7 Surfing in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Return to San José San Jose
Day 8 Depart San José  

As soon as you touch down in Costa Rica’s capital of San José, pick up your rental car, which will be your mode of transportation for the duration of your trip. Depending on what time you arrive, stroll around the city. Start by visiting the Teatro Nacional, where you may even be able to catch a performance. Then, stop by the Museo del Oro Precolumbino and Museo del Jade, where you can peruse different pre-Colombian artifacts.

The road trip begins with a 2-hour drive to the Sarapiquí region, known for its lush rainforests and biodiversity. Check in to Selva Verde Lodge. With its 500-acre private reserve, this will be your home for the next two nights—in a rainforest bungalow. Take a boat safari on the Sarapiquí River, and then an after-dark nocturnal wildlife tour, including tree frogs, kinkajous, and bats. You’ll also pay a visit to Braulio Carillo, the country’s largest national park nestled on 100,000 acres of hills and vegetation. 

Next, hit the road to Puerto Viejo del Talamanca, which sits on the Caribbean coast. Enjoy a taste of the food and laidback culture that defines Afro-Caribbean culture. You’ll stay in the Tree House Lodge in this small surfer town, which is part of the sustainable Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. Hike through Cahuita National Park and go for a swim or snorkel. Keep an eye out for stingrays, tropical fish, nurse sharks, and octopi. Additionally, you’ll experience the Jaguar Rescue Center, which is home to recovering wildcats and animals of all types. 

The sea will be calling you back on day seven, where you can ride the Caribbean waves. Salsa Brava is not to be missed if you’re a seasoned surfer, while newbies can ride the calmer waves at Playa Cocles and Playa Negra, and take a lesson (both private and group options are offered). Then, take the 4.5-hour ride back to San José, where you can revisit for one last round of sightseeing. Learn more

Plan your trip to Costa Rica
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Itinerary #3: Luxury Volcanos & Rivers Tour

Enjoy the good life on this luxurious, eight-day Costa Rican adventure. In La Fortuna, explore the iconic Arenal volcano, soak in your hotel hot springs, and walk the “sloth trail.” Then, it’s off to Tenorio Volcano National Park, where the exotic Catarata Rio Celeste waterfall lives among the cloud forests and jungle trails. The trip winds down in Nosara with a scenic riverboat safari and a luxurious eco-lodge with your own panoramic views.  

Catarata Rio Celeste
Catarata Rio Celeste
Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Liberia -> Transfer to Arenal and Luxurious Hot Springs La Fortuna
Day 2 Exclusive Wildlife Hike Along the Sloth Trail La Fortuna
Day 3 Early Birding and Private Nocturnal Nature Hike La Fortuna
Day 4 Private Transfer to Tenorio Volcano National Park - Nocturnal Nature Walk Tenorio National Park
Day 5 Exclusive Guided Hike Along the Río Celeste Tenorio National Park
Day 6 Transfer to Nosara - Exclusive Corobicí River Safari Nosara
Day 7 Private Kayak Tour of Boca Nosara Mangroves Nosara
Day 8 Transfer to Liberia - Departure  

Fly into Liberia Airport and meet your private driver, who will take you on the 3-hour trip to Arenal Volcano National Park. This iconic volcano towers 5,479 feet and is surrounded by the beautiful host town of La Fortuna. At the hotel, enjoy an early-evening hot spring soak to get rid of any last travel stressors, and then take a stroll into the main town for a traditional Costa Rican dinner.

The next two days are chock full of Arenal adventure. Walk the “sloth trail” that runs through 50 acres of the nearby tropical forest, where two- and three-toed sloths will greet you while hanging from the trees above. A morning birdwatching excursion will introduce you to a myriad of exotic species, and an after-dark nature hike will reveal nocturnal critters at night.

A private car will transport you to Tenorio Volcano National Park, where cloud forests and jungle trails prevail. Hike through Rio Celeste among the monkeys, peccaries, anteaters, and more sloths. Visit the namesake Catarata Rio Celeste, an exotic blue waterfall rich with volcanic minerals, and then embark on yet another nocturnal nature walk after nightfall.

The last leg takes you on a scenic drive with a stop for a rafting trip on the Corobicí River. The guided, 2-hour riverboat safari is a unique way to spot wildlife, including parrots, motmots, and caimans. Your final destination is Nosara, a coastal village located in Guanacaste Province. A room with a panoramic view of the rainforest awaits at your luxury eco-lodge. Day seven invites you on a 2-hour kayaking tour of Boca Nosara. Explore the expansive mangroves scattered with native water birds, the perfect way to end your adventure. Learn more

Itinerary #4: Caribbean Culture & Arenal Exploration

This anthropological tour of Costa Rica provides an inside look at indigenous cultures. First, hang out with the laid-back Afro-Cuban locals in Puerto Viejo and experience their waterside way of life. Then, meet the Bribri, who are surrounded by mountains and plantations, and favor sustainability and craftsmanship. The trip concludes with a working farm tour and tasting in Agua Azul.

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Costa Rica – Experience San José's Culture San Jose
Day 2 San José to the Caribbean Coast Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 3 Transfer to Bambú - Boat Ride to Bribri Village Yorkin
Day 4 Waterfall Hike - Transfer to Puerto Viejo Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 5 Puerto Viejo to Arenal Volcano Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 6 Los Campesinos Farm Experience Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 7 Arenal to San José San Jose
Day 8 Depart San José  

Once you arrive at Juan Santamaría International Airport, take some time to get acquainted with the Costa Rican capital city. Stroll the local markets, museums, and cathedrals–Catedral Metropolitana is a spectacular fusion of styles. Make dinner plans in Escazú, where you can enjoy the native fare, as well as vast views of the valley below.

A car service will pick you up in San José and drive you 4 hours east to Puerto Viejo. This Afro-Cuban beach town will provide a great introduction to the relaxed Pura Vida culture. Swim, sunbathe, and surf at beaches like Playa Uva, Playa Cocles, and Playa Chiquita. Then, explore the protected wildlife areas of Cahuita and Manzanillo, where you can visit sloths, monkeys, and beautiful birds, as well as the Jaguar Reserve Center, where wildcats rehabilitate.

Next on the itinerary is Bambú, a small village located in the Talamanca Mountains. Take a guided canoe tour of the Yorkin River, home to the Bribri people. Explore the village, too, and learn about the organic plantations all around. You’ll also mingle with members of Stribrawpa, a local women’s organization that is fueled by sustainable tourism. Learn local crafts like how to make chocolate, thatched roof construction, and archery–all before dinner with an indigenous family filled with delicious, traditional food. Day four includes an optional 2.5-hour hike to a waterfall, where you can interact with nature and observe the native wildlife in their habitat. 

The journey continues to La Fortuna, the home of Arenal Volcano National Park. There is plenty of action in store–explore the many nature trails, kayak in the river around the volcano, zipline through the forest, and plunge into the scenic waterfalls. On day six, take the 10-minute ride from Arenal to Agua Azul, where a full-day sustainable farm visit will put you to work. There are artifacts and orchids to discover before enjoying a communal meal featuring farm favorites like coffee, tortillas, and cheese. Then, return to San José, where you can continue getting to know the local culture. Learn more

Itinerary #5: Coast-to-Coast Cycling Adventure

This scenic cycling tour is the ideal way to experience Costa Rica as an avid bike rider. Ride from coast to coast and village to village on this eight-day quest. From banana plantations and sugarcane fields to jungle rivers and active volcanoes, you’ll clock plenty of miles until you reap the final reward–lazing on the beautiful beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park.

Banana Plantations
Bike through banana plantations 
Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José San Jose
Day 2 Biking from Playa Bonita to Siquirres Siquirres
Day 3 Cycle from Siquirres to Turrialba Turrialba
Day 4 Bike from Turrialba to Orosi Orosi
Day 5 Cycling from Orosi to Santa Maria Santa Maria de Dota
Day 6 Downhill Ride from Santa Maria to Quepos Quepos
Day 7 Free Day in Manuel Antonio Manuel Antonio
Day 8 Manuel Antonio to San José, Depart Costa Rica  

Expect a warm welcome to San José as soon as you arrive. Rub elbows with friendly locals at Mercado Central, and explore its many shops, sodas, and food halls. The bohemian area of Barrio Amón is a fun place to peruse historic buildings that now host a range of hotels, galleries, and restaurants.

On day two, the cross-country journey begins. Make the four-hour drive to Playa Bonita, along the East Coast, where you can take a relaxing dip before getting on your bike. Ride dirt roads by the water, under the shade of coconut trees, and through the banana fields. After 37 miles of cycling, wind down at Finca Pacuarito Camp. In the morning, bike across the famed Pacuare River and head north to explore the active center of Siquirres. A 9.3-mile hike is next on the agenda, complete with views of the active Turrialba volcano. Continue enjoying the scene at night from the Turrialtico Lodge, which overlooks the volcano and valley below.

Next comes an exhilarating downhill ride to the Reventzon River, where you’ll pass two sugarcane plants before lunch and a swim in the Pejibaye River. Keep riding through the Orosi Valley, and cross the bridge to Tetey Lodge–31 miles total–to retire for the evening. The most challenging stretch hits on day five. A climb to the Continental Divide elevates you to 7,545 feet before you take a dip back down to the Pacific side to Santa Maria del Dota–a respite until the final leg.

Another downhill day awaits as you breeze through the rainforest and over to Paso Real toward the fishing town of Quepos. Treat yourself to some fresh surf and turf and make sure to toast your progress. The trip concludes with a hard-earned prize–relaxation along Manuel Antonio National Park. Walk the trails of the park where you will discover native species, then take a load off by the white-sand beaches, or go surfing–if you have it in you. The beach bum life is all yours until it’s time to head back to San José to bid Costa Rica farewell. Learn more

More Great 8-Day Costa Rica Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your Costa Rica trip? Check out these other 8-day Costa Rica itineraries, ranging from active, to cultural, to luxury, or family-friendly trips.

Or, describe your ideal trip and we will connect you with a local specialist to make it happen.


Map of 8 Days in Costa Rica - 5 Unique Itinerary Ideas
Map of 8 Days in Costa Rica - 5 Unique Itinerary Ideas