Nine days in Costa Rica offers a great canvas of exploration in this biodiverse paradise. Tour a handful of the country’s volcanoes, including Arenal, Irazú, Poás, and Turrialba. Relax in the thermal hot springs of La Fortuna. Explore the cloud forests of Monteverde, or go whitewater rafting on the Pacuare River—see the itineraries below for more on what to do during your trip.

Itinerary #1: Highlights of Arenal, Monteverde, & Manuel Antonio

This classic itinerary offers all the best outdoor activities–hiking through Arenal, exploring the cloud forests of Monteverde, and lazing on the beaches of Manuel Antonito. On your nine-day journey, you will get a sampler of all the signature sites and excursions Costa Rica has to offer.

Arenal
Arenal
Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José San José
Day 2 San José to Arenal, Hot Springs and Dinner at night Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 3 La Fortuna Waterfall - Free Afternoon Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 4 Río Celeste Day Trip Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Boat from Arenal to Monteverde - Coffee Tour Monteverde
Day 6 Aerial Fun in the Cloud Forest Monteverde
Day 7 Monteverde to Manuel Antonio Manuel Antonio
Day 8 Snorkeling & Sunset Catamaran Cruise in Manuel Antonio Manuel Antonio
Day 9 Manuel Antonio to San José, Depart Costa Rica  


Upon arrival at Juan Santamaría International Airport in San José, meet your private driver, who will take you to your hotel for the evening. Once settled, explore the capital city, from the bustling Mercado Central marketplace and its 200 vendor stalls to the Barrio Amón bohemian district. Indulge in a scenic, delicious dinner in Escazú.

Your journey into the Costa Rican outdoors begins in La Fortuna. Take in your first up-close glimpse of a volcano at Arenal Volcano National Park, and go kayaking for a different view. Then, go on a ziplining tour through the canopy forest, across the canyons and above Pino Blanco Waterfalls–and the volcano. You’ll also visit the La Fortuna Waterfall, where you can dip into the river below. For more water therapy, soak in Tabacón’s therapeutic hot springs in the evenings.

On day four, make a stop at Rio Celeste (River of the Sky), a river inside Tenorio Volcano National Park, known for its mesmerizing blue hue–a result of the sulfur and carbonate from the nearby volcano. Explore the wildlife in the surrounding rainforest on a 4-hour tour, which culminates with a hike to the stunning Rio Celeste Waterfall.

Next on the agenda is a 3.5-hour boat ride from Arenal to Monteverde, where you’ll embark on a hands-on coffee farm tour. Pick the beans, and roast them on your own, and then enjoy the fruits of your labor with a freshly brewed cup of java. If you have the energy, opt for a nocturnal nature tour through Monteverde, where you can watch the critters come out at night. Day six takes you to Sky Adventures Monteverde Park, an aerial amusement park where you can take a suspended Sky Walk, ride the Sky Tram gondola, and whiz down the Sky Trek zipline.

The last leg of the trip transports you to Manuel Antonio National Park, blanked with white-sand beaches and pristine waters. Go on a nature trail to learn about the local species, including capuchin monkeys and sloths, and then go snorkeling to discover the underwater marine life. A sunset dinner cruise caps off the trip, where you’ll enjoy a swim at sundown, followed by a delicious, fresh farewell meal. Learn more

Itinerary #2: Nature & Wildlife on the Caribbean Coast

This nature-driven tour of Costa Rica is ideal for travelers seeking a May-November getaway. Watch the turtles nesting on the beaches of Tortuguero National Park, go snorkeling among the lively coral reefs in Puerto Viejo, and visit two wildlife refuges for a one-on-one visit with the native species.

Cahuita National Park
Go snorkeling in Cahuita National Park 
Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José San José
Day 2 San José to Tortuguero National Park Tortuguero
Day 3 Explore Tortuguero Tortuguero
Day 4 Tortuguero - Transfer to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 5 Sloths, Monkeys & Beach Time Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 6 Hiking and Snorkeling in Cahuita National Park Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 7 Puerto Viejo Free Day Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 8 Transfer to Braulio Carrillo National Park and San José San José
Day 9 Depart San José  


After touching down in San José, meet your driver, who will take you to your hotel. Then, you can explore the city at your leisure for the rest of the day. There are markets and museums to visit, along with the Catedral Metropolitana, which is a fusion of influences with beautiful wood carvings and stained-glass windows. Enjoy a local welcome dinner before heading into your first adventure.

Take the 4-hour ride to Tortuguero National Park, and keep an eye out for the small towns and banana plantations along the way. You’ll stop at a boat dock, where you will board a vessel and ride along the Tortuguero River until you enter the national park. Check in to your lodge–which is located in the park–and explore the area. Day three includes a canoe tour along the waterways busy with capuchin monkeys, river otters, and rare birds. When you’re back beachside, you’ll have time to relax and stroll the 220-mile sands, along with spotting turtles nesting and eggs hatching.

Puerto Viejo, a small surf town with local flavor, is the next stop. Here, you can indulge in delicious, fresh seafood with a water view. Visit Jaguar Rescue Center, where wildcats and other animals are rehabilitating, and interact with them, as well as the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, which is a nesting area for manatees, crocodiles, dolphins, and more. A field trip to Cahuita National Park offers an easy hike in the jungle, followed by a swim or snorkeling session on the beach, where sightings of nurse sharks, tropical fish, and stingrays are common. Your time in Puerto Viejo winds down with a free day. Surfers can catch big waves at the famed Salsa Brava break, while neophytes can sign up for lessons to learn among calmer waters.  

The end of your trip concludes in Braulio Carrillo National Park, where you can hike remote trails along 100,000 acres of Costa Rica’s largest protected area. Mingle with monkeys, anteaters, deer, and armadillos along your path, and take the aerial tram for an open-air gondola ride atop the park’s canopy. Then, you’ll return to San José, and continue exploring where you left off, before heading home. Learn more

Itinerary #3: Beach and Cloud Forest Adventure

Travel from coast to coast on this nine-day Costa Rican adventure. Watch the sea turtles hatch on the beach in Tortuguero, then explore the flora and fauna of the cloud forest in Monteverde. Next, get lost in the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Papagayo, where you can relax, swim, and snorkel around to your heart’s content.

Monteverde
Monteverde
Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José San José
Day 2 San José to Tortuguero National Park Tortuguero
Day 3 Turtle Spotting in Tortuguero Tortuguero
Day 4 Transfer to Monteverde Monteverde
Day 5 Free Day and Night-time Nature Tour in Monteverde Monteverde
Day 6 Monteverde -> Transfer to the Gulf of Papagayo Gulf de Papagayo
Day 7 Beach Day and Sunset Catamaran Sail in Guanacaste Gulf de Papagayo
Day 8 Snorkeling tour at the Catalina Islands Gulf de Papagayo
Day 9 Depart Costa Rica  

You will arrive at the Juan Santamaría International Airport in San José and meet your private driver. Then, you will check into your hotel, and the rest of the day is yours to explore the capital city. Discover dated artifacts at the Museo del Oro Precolumbino, as well as the Museo del Jade. For dinner, take the trip to Escazú to enjoy a nice meal with valley views.

Make the drive north to Tortuguero National Park, which includes a boat ride from a small dock stationed on the Tortuguero River. At the national park, you will be able to spot various species, including river otters, manatees, and rare birds–so keep your camera close. Along the beaches is where you may spot baby turtles hatching.

Next on the itinerary is the rainforest region of Monteverde, home to misty cloud forests and expansive flora, including a diverse orchid population. You’ll have a free day in Monteverde, as well, where you can make your way to the Cloud Forest Reserve, which is filled with suspension bridges for prime views below. Then, visit the Sky Adventures Monteverde Park, where you can zipline and take a gondola ride up to the Continental Divide. Other options include going to a coffee farm or various wildlife field trips, like the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens, the Curi-Cancha Reserve, and the Bat Jungle. In the evening, make sure to embark on a nighttime nature tour.

Day six involves a road trip west to the Guanacaste Province, toward the Pacific Coast. Your destination is the Gulf of Papagayo, where you will stay for the next few nights. Check in to your hotel and relax on the beach. In the morning, venture over to Playa del Coco, which is a popular fishing village with salsa bars. At night, take a sunset sail on a catamaran, where you can go for an evening swim and have dinner at sea. Then, it’s off to the Catalina Islands for a snorkeling tour where you will discover the underwater world of parrotfish, devil and manta rays, and eels congregating around the coral reefs. Enjoy your remaining time on the beach, before it is time to bid Costa Rica adieu tomorrow. Learn more

Itinerary #4: Tropical Luxury Active Retreat

This luxurious tour of Costa Rica offers an active, tropical getaway. On your nine-day journey, you will go whitewater rafting on the Pacuare River, explore Arenal Volcano National Park and surrounding La Fortuna, and pamper yourself at an upscale resort in Alajuela.

Xandari Resort and Spa
Xandari Resort and Spa in Alajuela
Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Costa Rica - Private Transfer to The Retreat Alajuela
Day 2 Luxury Rainforest Lodge on the Pacuare River Turrialba
Day 3 Exclusive Pacuare River Trip Turrialba
Day 4 Rafting the Río Pacuare - Bajos del Toro Bajos del Toro
Day 5 Bajos del Toro Waterfall Hike With Private Guide Bajos del Toro
Day 6 Transfer to Arenal - Luxury Tabacón Hot Springs Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 7 Exclusive Chocolate Making Experience Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 8 Transfer to Alajuela Alajuela
Day 9 Depart Costa Rica  


As soon as you touch down at Juan Santamaría International Airport, your private driver will meet you to take you on the 45-minute ride to Atenas, located in the Central Valley. Home to two of Costa Rica’s active volcanoes, Irazú and Poás, your destination is The Retreat, which is a luxury wellness center. Book a massage to get rid of any remaining travel stress, and an onsite fine-dining experience.

In the morning, you’ll make the trip to the Talamanca Mountains, where Pacuare River Lodge resides. This rainforest lodge is surrounded by highly biodiverse flora and fauna. Relax at your eco-lodge or go for a waterfall hike. On day three, your adventure on the Pacuare River begins. Take a gondola ride and keep an eye out for sloths, exotic birds, and monkeys lounging in the trees. Then, you’ll visit Bajo del Tigre, a small farming village, where a host will serve you local snacks and tell you about the community. The following day encompasses your 2-5-hour whitewater rafting excursion down the Pacuare, where wildlife sightings abound. Then, make the drive to Bajos del Toro, which is near Poás Volcano National Park. Get settled into the El Silencio Lodge and Spa and enjoy your surroundings. Day five brings you to Catarata del Toro, a cascading waterfall that plunges into a volcano crater, where you can hike through a cloud forest along the way.

The next leg of the itinerary lands you in Arenal, which is 2.5 hours north. Along with exploring Arenal National Park, you can go rafting, repelling, hiking, and ziplining. Set aside some time for a soak at your home base, the Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort, which is flows with therapeutic, thermal hot springs. Next, you will indulge in a hands-on chocolate-making class, where you’ll learn the history of cacao and create your own confections.

The end of your trip involves the 3.5-hour drive to Alajuela, where you’ll stay at the luxurious Xandari Resort and Spa–a five-star tropical paradise outfitted with exotic gardens, waterfalls, lap pools, jacuzzis, and private spas with panoramic views. On your final day, kick back and enjoy the amenities, before departing from Costa Rica the next day. Learn more

Itinerary #5: Arenal Volcano & Rio Pacuare Rafting

Hop on your bike for this active tour of Costa Rica, which includes hiking, rafting, and even some downtime among nature. Notable stops along the way include Arenal, the Mistico Hanging Bridges Park, La Fortuna Waterfall, and the Pacuare River.

Rio Pacuare
Go whitewater rafting on the Pacuare River
Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Costa Rica – Experience San José's Culture San José
Day 2 Warm-Up Ride to Samará Playa Sámara
Day 3 Mountain Biking to Tilarán Tilarán
Day 4 Mountain Biking Around Lake Arenal Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Arenal Hanging Bridges, Waterfall & Hot Springs Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 6 Mountain Biking Irazú & Turrialba Volcanoes Turrialba
Day 7 Pacuare Adventure Río Pacuare
Day 8 Pacuare Adventure – Finca Pacuarito - Return to San José San José
Day 9 Departure  


You’ll arrive in San José, where your driver will pick you up and take you to your hotel. Once checked in and settled, the rest of the day is yours to stroll around the city. Bookmark Mercado Central with its impressive 200 vendors, Barrio Amón, with its trendy bohemian neighborhood and historic mansions, and the Catedral Metropolitana, with its impressive structure and multi-cultural influences.  

In the morning, make the 3-hour drive to the Guanacaste Province and the Nicoya Peninsula, and unload your gear for a warm-up ride. You’ll coast along the Pacific Ocean and stop in Playa Carrillo, where you can explore the surfing village and enjoy the beach. In the morning, take the drive to Guayabo to explore the Miravalles Volcano, where you’ll launch into your 32-mile ride for the day toward the Pan-American Highway. Then, head into the Tilarán region, where you will stay in a hotel overlooking Lake Arenal.

Day four tours Arenal, which is difficult terrain–the exceptional views of the volcano are worth the hard work. You’ll be rewarded with a hot spring soak in La Fortuna, where you can relax your sore muscles. Next, adventure through Mistico Hanging Bridges Park, where you can wander the trails and spot the bird species–there are 350 in total. Your tour of the region ends at La Fortuna Waterfall near the dormant Chato Volcano, where you can swim and relax before heading back to your hotel.

Then, you’ll transfer by vehicle to the top of Irazú Volcano, and then take the 37-mile ride down into the edge of the crater. You’ll pass the active Turrialba Volcano, likely with smoke escaping, and then you’ll descend into the town and ride around the Reventazon River. A beautiful mountain lodge is your home for the evening. In the morning, ride 6 miles to Finca La Cruz and upper Pacuare River. Then, have some lunch before your whitewater rafting excursion on the Class II/III rapids, where you’ll pass a rainforest, towering cliffs, and waterfalls. Wind down at your riverside camp at El Nido del Tigre, and take the afternoon to wander the jungle, inhabited by local sloths and monkeys.

The final day of your journey includes a scenic 12-mile ride, and more advanced rafting–this time down Class III-IV rapids. Later in the afternoon, you’ll arrive at Finca Pacuarito, where your car will be waiting among the banana plantations. Enjoy your final evening back in San José, where you can indulge in a delicious farewell meal with beautiful views in Escazú. Learn more

Map

Map of 9 Days in Costa Rica - 5 Unique Itinerary Ideas
Map of 9 Days in Costa Rica - 5 Unique Itinerary Ideas