Spend six thrilling days exploring the natural wonderland around Costa Rica's Arenal Volcano. On this family-oriented itinerary, you'll spend a day sightseeing in San José before moving on to the rainforest. Base yourself in La Fortuna as you head out on daily excursions to hike around the volcano, spot sloths in the wild, observe nocturnal insects on a night hike, soar through the forest on a zip line, and feel the spray of the beautiful La Fortuna Waterfall. Blending educational activities with adrenaline-pumping adventures, this trip plan is fun for all ages.

Highlights

  • Spot nocturnal insects, snakes, and frogs on a nighttime rainforest walk 
  • Hike around Arenal Volcano, then relax in natural hot springs
  • Ride through the rainforest in an open-air gondola
  • Explore a sloth habitat on a guided hike
  • Glide through the treetops on a zip line tour

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive, Explore Downtown San José San José
Day 2 Spot Wildlife on a Nighttime Rainforest Walk La Fortuna
Day 3 Go on a Sloth and Bird Hike & Dip in Hot Springs La Fortuna
Day 4 Soar Through the Forest on a Zip Line La Fortuna
Day 5 Hike to La Fortuna Waterfall La Fortuna
Day 6 Depart Costa Rica, End of Trip  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive, Explore Downtown San José

The National Theater
The National Theater in San José
Welcome to Costa Rica! Your driver will meet you at the airport to take you to your hotel in San José. After getting settled in, go for a self-guided walking tour of the city's downtown. Depending on where your hotel is located, you can either walk or grab a taxi to get to your first destination, Mercado Central (Central Market). Mercado Central is the perfect spot to kick off your city tour, featuring over 200 shops, food stalls, and sodas (traditional restaurants). Explore the colorful fruit stands full of fresh produce, scope some souvenir ideas, or pop over to a soda for an early lunch of traditional Costa Rican casado

From Central Market, it's a short walk to Central Park, a small plaza that is always bustling with activity. Admire various outdoor sculptures as you make your way toward Catedral Metropolitana, whose interior combines Greek Orthodox, Neoclassical, and Baroque styles. Continue walking down Central Avenue until you reach the historic Teatro Nacional (National Theater), an opulent Neoclassical building constructed in the late 19th century. A free guided tour is offered. If you need a caffeine fix, the theater's café is a great place for a quick coffee and pastry before exploring the city's museums.

Your first museum stop is The Museo del Oro Precolumbino. Accessible from the Plaza de la Cultura, the museum is located beneath the plaza and holds the most extensive Pre-Columbian gold collection in all of Latin America. A guided visit provides unique insight into the history of Costa Rica and the rest of Central America. Next, head to the Museo del Jade, the world's largest collection of pre-Columbian jade artifacts. The museum's distinctive modern architecture is hard to miss, having been built to look like a block of raw jade stone. As you wander among thousands of unique jade pieces, you'll gain an even deeper appreciation for Costa Rica's rich history. 

If you're still up for more exploring, head just outside San José to the hills of Escazú for dinner. This elevated region on the western edge of the city offers panoramic views of the valley below and is easily reached by taxi.

Day 2: Spot Wildlife on a Nighttime Rainforest Walk

The colorful yet lethal poison dart frog
The colorful yet lethal poison dart frog
This morning, you'll transfer to your hotel in La Fortuna (around three hours, depending on traffic). Settle in and get ready for the next excursion. In the late afternoon, you will transfer to Ecocentro Danaus, a private ecological reserve just outside of La Fortuna. It's a haven for many plants, insects, reptiles, and other animals.

Here, you will wait for nightfall. Once it's dark, embark on a guided nature hike to discover the reserve's array of nocturnal creatures. As you walk, your guide will point out various insects, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. You're sure to spot bullfrogs and the iconic red-eyed tree frog, the translucent glass frog, and perhaps the brightly colored poison dart frog, one of the planet's most poisonous frogs. While the reserve is open to the public by day, it is closed to most groups by night, making this an exclusive opportunity to see how the rainforest transforms after dusk.

Plan your trip to Costa Rica
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 3: Go on a Sloth and Bird Hike & Dip in Hot Springs

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 (two-toed and three-toed) who like to hang on the branches of the trees and feed on bright green leaves. On this two-hour guided hike, you'll see a few of these slow-moving animals and perhaps even spy a mother sloth and its baby. Your guide will also point out other animals common to this area during the walk, like the famous red-eyed tree frog.

Later, discover the La Fortuna area by hiking around Arenal Volcano and other nearby nature reserves. The trails in the area are generally not strenuous. Start at the 1968 Trail, where you can use the facilities and read up on the history of the area before you head out. Then, it's time to 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.

In addition to the forested parts where you can spot wildlife, you'll also walk through sections of the park devastated by the lava flow of 1968, resulting in little to no vegetation in its surroundings. Your guide will explain the history of the area, both pre-and post-1968 eruption, while also pointing out the unique flora and fauna you will encounter. Of course, the trail also provides magnificent views of the massive Arenal Volcano, the pristine Lake Arenal, and the extinct volcano Cerro Chato.

After hiking the trails, your guide will drop you off at Tabacon Hot Springs so you can soothe your muscles with a dip in mineral-rich waters. These springs have been used as therapeutic baths for centuries. End the day with a nice dinner at the resort's restaurant, which serves Costa Rican dishes and international fare, before being picked up and transported back to your accommodations.

Day 4: Soar Through the Forest on a Zip Line

Arenal Hanging Bridges experience
Arenal Hanging Bridges

You'll begin the day with a relaxing, scenic ride up a mountain by open-air gondola. The panoramic views broaden the higher you rise, and when you reach the top observation platform, you'll have 360° views of the Arenal landscape. Next, it's time for an adrenaline-pumping zip-line tour through the rainforest. Glide from tree to tree and canyon to canyon through untouched nature, traversing eight cables that stretch across the jungle. Through it all, your knowledgeable naturalist guide will educate you about Costa Rica's exotic flora and fauna.

Lastly, discover the beauty of the Costa Rican forest on a canopy tour. This is a guided experience on natural trails and unique hanging bridges through the dense forests of Arenal. You will go on a hike to have a one-on-one experience with flora and fauna at every level of these magical tropical forests. Once again, a naturalist guide will be on hand to point out the intriguing plants and animal life, so you won't miss out on any of the many natural highlights these forests offer.

Day 5: Hike to La Fortuna Waterfall

La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna Waterfall
On the last full day of the trip, you'll visit La Fortuna Waterfall Reserve. After paying the entrance fee, you'll cross a small bridge to get to the trailhead. Beyond that is the first observation deck, where you can take in the elevated vistas of the waterfall as it plunges into the river below.

Next, you'll descend the steps to get up close to the waterfall at its base. As you make your way down the roughly 500 steps along the trail, feel free to take breaks to check out the local flora and fauna. Once you reach the falls, cool off with a swim in the refreshing water of La Fortuna River. If you decide to take a dip in the pool below the falls, be sure not to venture too far from the shore as the undercurrent can be strong, even in the dry season. Alternatively, just downriver and to the left of the waterfall, there's another natural pool that is both calmer and warmer, ideal for swimming. Enjoy the falls and the river as long as you like before starting the trek back up the stairs.

Day 6: Depart Cost Rica, End of Trip

A road leading to Arenal
The trip ends today. Transfer to San José International Airport to catch your flight out. Safe travels!

More Great 6-Day Costa Rica Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these other 6-day Costa Rica itineraries, with outdoor adventures, family-friendly trips, and beach vacations to hit the highlights. 

Map

Map of Active Adventures & Wildlife Spotting Around Arenal Volcano - 6 Days
Map of Active Adventures & Wildlife Spotting Around Arenal Volcano - 6 Days
Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated May 18, 2022