Enjoy waterfall hikes, horseback riding, a sunset sail, and snorkeling with tropical fish on this active 11-day trip around Costa Rica's Pacific Coast. You'll begin the journey in Rincón de la Vieja National Park, where you'll soak in natural hot springs and ride horses. Continue to Arenal for a few days of rainforest adventures, including a visit to a sloth habitat, then head to the Gulf of Papagayo for a jungle cruise. Finish the itinerary with snorkeling, swimming, and hiking around coastal Sámara.

Highlights

  • Relax in the volcano-heated waters at the Rio Negro Hot Springs
  • Ride horses in Rincón de la Vieja National Park
  • Spot sloths in the wild on a guided nature hike
  • Sail on the Gulf of Papagayo at sunset
  • Enjoy kayaking and snorkeling around Isla Chora

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Liberia, Soak in the Río Negro Hot Springs Rincón de la Vieja
Day 2 Ride Horses in Rincón de la Vieja National Park Rincón de la Vieja
Day 3 Visit the Río Celeste & Finca Verde Nature Farm Rincón de la Vieja
Day 4 Hike Around Hanging Bridges & Arenal Volcano, Soak in Hot Springs La Fortuna
Day 5 Enjoy a Sloth and Bird Hike & Visit a Cocoa Bean Farm La Fortuna
Day 6 Sail on the Gulf of Papagayo at Sunset Gulf of Papagayo
Day 7 Go on a Jungle Cruise in Palo Verde National Park Gulf of Papagayo
Day 8 See the Beaches Around Sámara Sámara
Day 9 Kayak & Snorkel Around Isla Chora  Sámara
Day 10 Hike in the Werner Sauter Biological Reserve Sámara
Day 11 Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Liberia, Soak in the Río Negro Hot Springs

siblings cover themselves in hot spring mud in Costa Rica
Having fun with the hot spring mud

Welcome to Costa Rica! You'll arrive in Liberia and transfer to your hotel in Rincón de la Vieja. Thermal waters have rejuvenating and therapeutic properties that people worldwide have appreciated for millennia. Today is your chance to experience this at some of Costa Rica's loveliest hot springs. Located on the edge of Rincón de la Vieja National Park and the country's most active volcano, you can take a dip in the incredible hot springs of the Río Negro. Beautiful and relaxing, these volcanic hot springs are naturally heated by the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano.

Surrounded by a dense, dry tropical forest, the Río Negro Hot Springs area is beautiful and peaceful. The crystal clear waters of the river flow beside 10 thermal pools built on the riverbank, each rich in minerals and naturally heated in the volcano's depths. You can use some of the hot volcanic mud to plaster over your body: this works just like a body mask in a spa, with all the associated benefits of nutrient-rich volcanic mud on your skin. 

Learn more about the top nature experiences in Costa Rica.

Day 2: Ride Horses in Rincón de la Vieja National Park

Horseback Riding to  Las Pailas & La Oropendola Waterfall
Horseback riding to Las Pailas & La Oropendola Waterfall

Today you'll go horseback riding in Rincón de la Vieja National Park. Pause to enjoy views of the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano, the largest and most active volcano in Guanacaste Province. Some of the highlights along the journey are steaming fumaroles, mini-geysers, and bubbling volcanic mud pits.

Follow the Las Pailas loop trail over 2.5 miles (4 km) through tropical forest. Lookout points along the way feature some of the best views of the volcano and the wildlife that abounds nearer the trail, including tropical birds, armadillos, collared peccaries, iguanas, white-nosed coatis, and various types of monkeys. You'll be ready for a refreshing swim in the Oropendola Waterfall when you finish your ride. It is located a short walk from the park entrance on a trail that winds along the Río Blanco. The Oropendola Waterfall plunges an impressive 82 feet (25 m) down to a bright turquoise pool.

Day 3: Visit the Río Celeste & Finca Verde Nature Farm

The Blue Lagoon at the Río Celeste
The Blue Lagoon at the Río Celeste

Today you'll venture into Tenorio Volcano National Park for a moderate three-hour hike along the Río Celeste, one of the most stunning natural attractions in Costa Rica. The legend says that after God painted the sky, He washed His brushes in this river, which resulted in its famous electric-blue waters. The hike takes you 4 miles (7 km) along the river through a rainforest ecosystem home to animals like monkeys, sloths, peccaries, and anteaters. The hike culminates with a descent of 253 steps to reach the Catarata Río Celeste, a waterfall of such profound beauty you'll think you've found your private paradise.

After the hike, stop at Finca Verde Farm and go on an inspiring walk to spot natural wonders such as tropical plants and flowers, birds, sloths, frogs, snakes, and insects. Learn about the life cycle of butterflies and the day-to-day practices of organic farming along the way.

Day 4: Hike Around Hanging Bridges & Arenal Volcano, Soak in Hot Springs

Arenal Hanging Bridges
A morning walk on the Arenal Hanging Bridges

Transfer to La Fortuna. This morning is your chance to explore the Arenal Hanging Bridges. This trail system features suspension bridges that take you high above the treetops before treating you to a once-in-a-lifetime view of Arenal Volcano soaring above the canopy. With more than 350 avian species found here, birdwatching is superb.

In the afternoon, go for a hike around Arenal Volcano. Start at the entrance of the 1968 Trail, where you'll hit the well-maintained trails that skirt the base of the Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal. This 1.5-hour route offers some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities in the park, and your naturalist guide will keep a well-trained eye out for exotic birds, monkeys, and other animals along the way. After hiking the trails, your guide will drop you off at Tabacon Hot Springs so you can soothe your muscles with a soak in mineral-rich waters. 

Find out more about hiking around Arenal Volcano here.

Day 5: Enjoy a Sloth and Bird Hike & Visit a Cocoa Bean Farm

Look up to see wildlife
A sloth clinging to a tree

Go on a hiking excursion today along the so-called "Sloth Trail." This nature trail cuts through a habitat for sloths (both two-toed and three-toed) who like to hang on the branches of the trees and feed on bright green leaves. It's fun to look for these slow-moving creatures overhead! On this two-hour guided hike, you'll see a few of these animals and perhaps even spy a mother sloth and its baby. During the walk, your bilingual guide will also point out other animals common to this area, like the famous red-eyed tree frog.

A delicious activity awaits in the afternoon. During a hands-on chocolate tour, you'll learn about the origin, history, and production of one of Costa Rica's most famous exports. You'll participate in the cacao harvest and the drying and grinding of the seeds used to produce creamy cocoa butter and learn how a traditional Costa Rican chocolate drink was developed centuries ago. You'll also have the opportunity to sample plenty of freshly made chocolate. 

Day 6: Sail on the Gulf of Papagayo at Sunset

Enjoy the sunset aboard a luxury catamaran
Enjoy the sunset aboard a luxury catamaran

This morning, a driver will pick you up in a private, air-conditioned minivan and transfer you to the Gulf of Papagayo. The drive takes approximately 3.5 to 4 hours, depending on traffic. Check into your hotel and take some time to relax. Later in the afternoon, you'll be picked up at your hotel and transferred to the landing dock in Playas del Coco. You'll board a catamaran and begin silently gliding along the Gold Coast past picturesque bays, white sand beaches, and tropical jungles.

Soak up the bright afternoon sun until it transitions into soft pinks and oranges. You're likely to spot animals, from dolphins to sea turtles, flying fish, and the occasional breaching whale. The crew will be serving up plenty of delicious tropical drinks as you make your way to a tranquil bay where you can swim in the crystal clear waters of the Pacific.

Read more about the best things to do in the Gulf of Papagayo.

Day 7: Go on a Jungle Cruise in Palo Verde National Park 

Prepare for a jungle cruise
A jungle cruise in Palo Verde National Park

Outdoor adventure and wildlife experiences await you today. First, you'll transfer to Palo Verde National Park, where you'll embark on a two-hour river trip. As you motor down the Tempisque River on this jungle cruise, white-faced capuchin monkeys swing from the tree branches on the shore while caimans and even the occasional crocodile patrol the waters.

Take in the sights and sounds of various species, including tiger herons, ospreys, ibises, and the jabiru. Afterward, you'll transfer to the small village of Guaitil. Many residents of this indigenous community make handcrafted pottery, and it's a great place to pick up some high-quality souvenirs. 

Day 8: See the Beaches around Sámara

Sunset at Samara Beach
Sunset at Sámara Beach

After breakfast, travel onward to Sámara. This afternoon is the perfect time to enjoy the region's fantastic beaches. Playa Sámara is by far the most accessible and lively option. Located on the outskirts of town, it sits on a small cove with a flourishing coral reef just offshore. This means the currents here stay relatively calm, so the waves are suitable for beginner surfers, making it an excellent option for families and more active travelers wanting to try out some water sports.

Other options for your family include Playa Carillo, a 10-minute drive south of town. This is a quieter beach with a more local vibe. Playa Barrigona is the furthest option from town (about a 30-minute drive), but it is also considered the most beautiful beach in the area. Because it is only accessible by car (4WD recommended), tourists are unlikely to visit the beach. However, the waves aren't as calm, so Playa Barrigona is better suited to travelers who are comfortable swimming among strong currents or even looking to catch a few waves. This quiet escape is well worth the trek! You'll overnight in Sámara.

Day 9: Kayak & Snorkel Around Isla Chora 

Snorkel off the coast of Isla Chora

Join a kayak and snorkeling tour today to explore the underwater world surrounding Isla Chora. Just off Sámara's coast, the island is a haven of white-sand beaches and aquamarine-hued waters. After breakfast, you'll head to the south end of Sámara's beach, where your choice of kayaks and SUP boards await.

After gearing up and receiving a brief explanation of paddling techniques and safety procedures, set out with your guide on a 25-45 minute paddle across the lagoon to the petite Isla Chora. Once there, snorkel around the island's reefs, looking for sea turtles. Then savor some well-earned snacks and beverages on the beach. Before paddling back, check out the island's iguanas as they sun themselves on the hillside.

Day 10: Hike in the Werner Sauter Biological Reserve

Werner Sauter Biological Reserve (photo courtesy of Samara Adventures)
Werner Sauter Biological Reserve

The Werner Sauter Biological Reserve paths will lead you on a rainforest hiking adventure today. You'll be hiking in one of the Guanacaste province's only private reserves. This belt of tropical dry forest is one of the rarest—and due to wildfires and large-scale deforestation, the most vulnerable—biomes of Central America. In this forest haven, water scarcity has caused wildlife to evolve and thrive in an environment with fewer nutrients than in other tropical forests.

Your experienced guide will lead you through the reserve on a hike of approximately three hours, amazing you with information about this area's biodiversity and other wonders as you walk.

Day 11: Depart Costa Rica

Sunset in Costa Rica

The trip ends today. You'll transfer to the airport to catch your flight out. Safe travels!

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Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these other Costa Rica itineraries, explore different ways to spend 11 days in Costa Rica, or discover the best time to visit Costa Rica.

Map

Map of Active Adventure on Costa Rica's Pacific Coast - 11 Days
Map of Active Adventure on Costa Rica's Pacific Coast - 11 Days
Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Aug 22, 2022