From whitewater rafting to waterfall rappelling, this active eight-day itinerary around Costa Rica is filled with adventure! After a day of sightseeing in San José, you'll embark on two days of rafting down Class III-IV rapids on the Río Pacuare. Continue to Arenal for volcano hikes and a zip-lining excursion through the rainforest. You'll finish up in Manuel Antonio National Park, where you'll spot crocodiles, snorkel with tropical fish, and sail along the coast at sunset.


  • Go whitewater rafting through the rainforest on a two-day river trip
  • Zip-line through the jungle on an adrenaline-pumping canopy tour
  • Spot dolphins and whales on a boat ride off Manuel Antonio National Park's coast
  • Discover vibrant marine life while snorkeling in Biesanz Bay

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José, Explore Downtown San José
Day 2 Whitewater Raft the Río Pacuare Río Pacuare
Day 3 Continue Rafting Río Pacuare to Siquirres Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 4 Waterfall Rappelling & Hike around Arenal Volcano Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Zip-line Through the Rainforest Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 6 Transfer to Manuel Antonio National Park Manuel Antonio
Day 7 Explore Manuel Antonio National Park  Manuel Antonio
Day 8 Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Sightsee in Downtown San José

The National Theater
The National Theater in San José

Welcome to Costa Rica! A driver will transfer you from the airport to your hotel in San José. After settling in, go for a self-guided walking tour of downtown. Depending on your hotel's location, you can walk or take a taxi to your first destination: Mercado Central (Central Market), featuring over 200 shops, food stalls, and sodas (traditional restaurants). It's a short walk to Central Park, a small plaza always bustling with activity. Pass various outdoor sculptures as you walk through the park toward Catedral Metropolitana and continue walking down Central Avenue until you reach the 19th-century Teatro Nacional.

Your first museum stop is the Museo del Oro Precolumbino, which is accessible from beneath the Plaza de la Cultura and holds the most extensive Pre-Columbian gold collection in Latin America. Next, head to the Museo del Jade, the world's largest collection of pre-Columbian jade artifacts. As you wander among thousands of unique jade pieces, you'll gain an even deeper appreciation for Costa Rica's rich history. 

Read this article about where to eat in San José.

Day 2: Whitewater Raft the Río Pacuare

Rafting fun on the Pacuare
Rafting on the Pacuare River

The 67-mile (108-km) Río Pacuare is one of the best rivers in Central America for whitewater rafting. Starting today, you'll be rafting 22 miles (36 km) over two days. The first day covers 8 miles (13 km) of continuous Class III rapids. Your destination is a wilderness lodge, only accessible by water, with safari-style facilities that include comfortable walk-in tents.

After you arrive at the lodge and settle in, you'll have the option to go on a hike or try river fishing. The lodge's dining area, where you eat dinner tonight, has a beautiful river view. Make sure you get a good night's sleep in preparation for a long day of rafting tomorrow!

You might like to check out this Best Adventure Activities in Costa Rica article.

Day 3: Continue Rafting Río Pacuare to Siquirres

Another day of whitewater adventures

Start the day with breakfast and a cup of Costa Rica's legendary coffee. Read The Ultimate Guide to Costa Rican Coffee to learn more about the country's coffee traditions.

Today, on your second day of rafting, you will encounter exciting Class IV rapids on a 14-mile (23-km) paddle. You'll make two stops along the way, one for a hike and another for a well-deserved lunch! Your final destination for today's rafting trip is the city of Siquirres. Once on dry land, you'll be transferred to your hotel.

Day 4: Waterfall Rappelling & Hike around Arenal Volcano 

Canyoning down the waterfall
Canyoning down the waterfall
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Today you'll try waterfall rappelling, also known as canyoning, in the jungle. This activity is one of the most popular adventure sports in Costa Rica. After hiking along winding rivers in the rainforest, you'll strap into a harness and rappel down the side of the waterfall. No experience is necessary, and expert guides will make sure everyone is safe throughout the experience.

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 dip in mineral-rich waters. 

Find out more about hiking around Arenal Volcano here.

Day 5: Zip-line through the Rainforest

Arenal Hanging Bridges experience
Walking on the Arenal Hanging Bridges

Enjoy a bird's-eye view of Costa Rica today. You'll begin the morning with a scenic ride up a mountain in an open-air gondola. The panoramic views broaden the higher you rise, and when you reach the top observation platform, you'll have 360-degree views of the Arenal landscape.

Next, it's time for an adrenaline-pumping zip-line tour through the rainforest. You'll soar through untouched nature along a series of eight cables. Catch your breath before continuing on a canopy tour, enjoying a guided walk along hanging bridges through the dense forests of Arenal. A naturalist guide will be on hand to point out plants and animals along the way.

Day 6: Transfer to Manuel Antonio National Park

Sunset at Manuel Antonio Beach
Sunset at Manuel Antonio Beach

After breakfast, you'll transfer to Manuel Antonio National Park in a private, air-conditioned minivan. The drive takes approximately five hours, depending on traffic. You'll stop along the way in the town of Tárcoles and make your way to a bridge over the Tárcoles River. The river is famous for having the largest American crocodile population in Central America, and this is your chance to see these toothy reptiles in the wild. You can usually see at least a dozen sunbathing on the riverbanks or floating in the water from the bridge.

Continue to Manuel Antonio National Park, check in to your hotel, and get some rest before the next day's excursion. If you have the energy or inclination, both the beach and the edge of the national park are close to town, so you can easily spend time here with water sports on Espadilla Beach or a hike on the trails through the forest. You can also explore the adjacent town of Quepos for sunset views. Or you may prefer to take it easy, wandering at your own pace and stopping for dinner in a local restaurant. Here are some dining recommendations for Manual Antonio.

Day 7: Explore Manuel Antonio National Park 

A capuchin monkey in Manuel Antonio National Park

Today you'll go on a guided tour to explore the pristine natural beauty of the world-famous Manuel Antonio National Park, filled with exotic wildlife such as monkeys, sloths, birds, reptiles, and butterflies. Your picturesque hike will take you to one of the country's best beaches, known for its white sandy beaches and crystalline blue waters. Have your camera ready as your knowledgeable guide points out diverse flora and fauna along the way.

In the afternoon, board a catamaran at the pier in Quepos for a sailing adventure along the coast. Your guide will highlight notable wildlife and vegetation as you admire the region's islands, cliffs, and rock formations. After touring the coastline, the captain will set anchor at Biesanz Bay, where you can snorkel or relax onboard. You may spot parrotfish, starfish, angelfish, and dolphins from the boat while enjoying a barbecue lunch.

Check out Ultimate Guide to Manuel Antonio National Park for more information.

Day 8: Depart Costa Rica

Take in a Costa Rica sunset 
The trip ends today. You will transfer to the airport to catch your flight out. Safe travels!

More Great Costa Rica Itineraries

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


Map of Active Costa Rica: Río Pacuare Rafting, Arenal & Manuel Antonio- 8 Days
Map of Active Costa Rica: Río Pacuare Rafting, Arenal & Manuel Antonio- 8 Days
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Aug 8, 2022