Look for snakes in the jungle during a nighttime tour, whale-watch on a boat excursion, and spot slow-moving sloths in the trees on this kid-friendly 9-day adventure! The itinerary leads you through several of Costa Rica's most beautiful natural areas, including Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna Waterfall, the surf hub of Tamarindo, and the gorgeous beaches of Sámara. With swimming, snorkeling, hiking, wildlife viewing, and boating all on the agenda, this active tour has something for all ages.


  • Enjoy a nighttime rainforest walk to see snakes, insects, and exotic frogs
  • Kayak around a quiet mangrove in Tamarindo
  • Soak in natural hot springs after a guided hike
  • Spot dolphins, turtles, and whales on a sunset cruise along the Gold Coast
  • Kick back on the gold, white, and black sand beaches of Sámara

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Explore the Rainforest After Dark La Fortuna
Day 2 Go on a Guided Rainforest Hike La Fortuna
Day 3 Enjoy a Sloth and Bird Hike & Dip in Hot Springs La Fortuna
Day 4 Hike along the Río Celeste  Tamarindo
Day 5 Kayak Around Tamarindo Mangrove & Snorkel Tamarindo
Day 6 Relax on the Beach in Sámara Sámara
Day 7 Kayak & Snorkel in the Ocean Sámara
Day 8 Hike in the Werner Sauter Biological Reserve Sámara
Day 9 Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Explore the Rainforest After Dark

Try and spot the red-eyed tree frog in Ecocentro Danaus
Welcome to Costa Rica! From the San José International Airport, your driver will transfer you and your family to your hotel in La Fortuna (around three hours, depending on traffic). 
You will head to Ecocentro Danaus in the late afternoon, a private ecological reserve located 2.75 miles (4.5 km) east of La Fortuna. Here, you will wait for nightfall to embark on a guided nature hike and discover the reserve's nocturnal creatures. As you walk, your guide will point out various insects, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. Kids will enjoy spotting bullfrogs, 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. 

Find out more here about the best activities to do in the area.

Day 2: Go on a Guided Rainforest Hike

Hike to dreamlike waterfalls
Waterfalls in the forest

Today you and the kids will venture into Tenorio Volcano National Park for a moderate three-hour hike beside the Río Celeste, one of the country's most stunning natural attractions. Local legend says that after God painted the sky, he washed his brushes in this river, which resulted in its famous electric-blue waters. 

The family-oriented hike leads you 4 miles (7 km) along the river through a rainforest ecosystem home to exotic animals like monkeys, sloths, peccaries, and anteaters. You'll pass by the specific point where two streams merge and produce the reaction in the minerals that give the Celeste its exotic color. 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 a private paradise. You'll visit a waterfall, hot springs, fumaroles of volcanic gases, and the Borbollones, where exhaust gases at the base of the river give the appearance of boiling water.

Day 3: Enjoy 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 sloth habitat (two-toed and three-toed) that like to hang on the branches of the trees and feed on bright green leaves. It's fun for the whole family 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.

In the afternoon, discover the La Fortuna area with a hike around Arenal Volcano and other nearby nature reserves. The trails in the area are generally not strenuous—perfect for a leisurely and informative hike with the family and a guide. 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.

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 your family can soothe your muscles with a dip in the mineral-rich waters. Read more about the hot springs here.

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

Day 4: Hike Along the Río Celeste 

The incredibly blue Rio Celeste
The incredibly blue Río Celeste

Today you will transfer to Tamarindo, stopping once more to spend some time appreciating the stunning Río Celeste river along the way. After continuing on the drive, you'll arrive at the ocean and the popular surf haven of Tamarindo. This small community teeming with activity is famous for its sunny beaches and world-class surf. You'll have the afternoon free to relax or explore. Kids will enjoy some unstructured time in the middle of the trip!

Day 5: Kayak Around Tamarindo Mangrove & Snorkel

A mangrove in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is one of the world's most biodiverse nations, and there are few better places to experience its abundant wildlife than the Tamarindo Estuary. Located adjacent to the town, between the beaches of Playa Tamarindo and Playa Grande, this is where the Tamarindo River meets the Pacific at an estuary teeming with wildlife and knotted by mangroves. Touring these mangroves and wetlands by kayak with the whole family, you'll spot many animals, especially as you are traveling quietly, rather than with a boat's engine noise. The fauna here includes flying fish, iguanas, crocodiles, sharks, monkeys, and fascinating bird species like egrets and motmots.

The Catalina Islands are a group of 20 volcanic islands and rock formations. This afternoon, you'll head to a local dive shop in Playas del Coco, where you and the kids will be outfitted with your snorkeling gear. Then you'll board the diving boat for a 40-minute ride to the Islands. The rocky islands may not look like much at first, but you'll find an underwater menagerie of exotic wildlife below the surface. You'll see why the Catalina Islands are a world-famous diving location. Animals you'll spot include giant manta and devil rays, sea turtles, parrotfish, moray eels, etc. In the right season, you can even hear humpback whales singing! 

Day 6: Relax on the Beach in Sámara

happy boy learning to surf
Take the kids to the beach to surf

After breakfast, you will travel onward to Sámara. The drive takes around two hours, depending on traffic. 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. This makes it a great 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 (4x4 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!

Day 7: Kayak & Snorkel in the Ocean

Explore the coral reef on a snorkel trip
Explore the coral reef on a snorkel trip

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 water that the whole family will enjoy. Learn more about the best active experiences in Costa Rica.

After breakfast, you'll be picked up from your hotel and driven 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, you and your family will 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 8: Hike in the Werner Sauter Biological Reserve

Werner Sauter Biological Reserve (photo courtesy of Samara Adventures)
Werner Sauter Biological Reserve
Today, the Werner Sauter Biological Reserve paths will lead you and your family on a rainforest hiking adventure. You will 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 9: Depart Costa Rica

Sunset in Costa Rica
The trip ends today. Your family will transfer to the airport to catch your flight out. Safe travels!

More Great 9-Day Costa Rica Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these other 9-day Costa Rica itineraries, with outdoor adventures, family-friendly trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights. 


Map of Active Family Adventure in Costa Rica - 9 Days
Map of Active Family Adventure in Costa Rica - 9 Days
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Sep 20, 2022