Combine adrenaline-pumping adventure with a relaxing beach holiday on this 8-day active tour of northwest Costa Rica. Snorkel and sail in the turquoise Gulf of Papagayo, then transfer to Monteverde for an immersive rainforest experience. After touring a local coffee farm and soaring through the treetops of the country’s most famous cloud forest, you’ll end your trip in the shadow of Arenal Volcano—hiking the lush El Silencio reserve and rafting the rapids of the Rio Balsa.

Highlights

  • Snorkel & sail in the Gulf of Papagayo
  • Fly through the Monteverde Cloud Forest via suspension bridges & ziplines
  • Spot rare wildlife & birds in the rainforest canopy
  • Hike in the shadow of Arenal Volcano
  • Go whitewater rafting down the Rio Balsa

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Liberia - Transfer to Gulf of Papagayo Gulf of Papagayo
Day 2 Snorkeling & Catamaran Cruise in the Gulf of Papagayo Gulf of Papagayo
Day 3 Free Day in Papagayo Gulf of Papagayo
Day 4 Transfer to Monteverde -Don Juan Coffee Tour. Monteverde
Day 5 Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Guided Hike & Sky Adventure Tour Monteverde
Day 6 Transfer to Arenal -  El Silencio Hike Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 7 Rafting on the Río Balsa Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 8 Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Liberia - Transfer to Gulf de Papagayo

The scenery on the drive through Guanacaste to the coast
The scenery on the drive through Guanacaste to the coast

Welcome to Costa Rica! Upon arrival at the Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia, you'll be welcomed and transferred to the Gulf of Papagayo. This city is the gateway to the northern Pacific coast region of the country as well as nearby national parks abounding in exotic waterfalls and rainforests.

Along the 40-minute drive, the plains and tropical dry forests will slowly give way to azure seas. Check into your hotel and spend the rest of the day unwinding. Perhaps enjoy a cocktail or batido (fresh fruit juice) as you watch the coastal sunset.

For dinner, you can stay in and dine at your hotel or venture out to one of the local eateries. Recommended options include:

  • Kaixo, an intimate tapas restaurant that also does breakfast, sandwiches and is vegetarian-friendly.
  • Abbaco, the upscale seafood spot using fresh products served with artistic flourishes. Also boasts incredible sea views.
  • Soda Mediterranea, a cozy Italian eatery with killer pasta dishes and famously friendly service. The amiable chef is known to prepare special plates for guests. 

Day 2: Snorkeling & Catamaran Cruise in the Gulf of Papagayo

Enjoy a sunset cruise around the gulf
Sunset over the Gulf of Papagayo

After breakfast at your hotel, embark on a morning of sailing and snorkeling. After exploring some of the Gulf of Papagayo's inviting beaches and secluded coves, your boat will stop in a tranquil bay, drop anchor, and you'll be free to swim and snorkel.

There is plenty of marine wildlife to admire on this tour—it's not uncommon to see schools of tropical fish, sea turtles, and even dolphins frolicking in the surf. You'll then be treated to a delicious spread of refreshing tropical fruit and cool drinks.

Day 3: Free Day in Papagayo

Sensoria, in Rincón de la Vieja National Park
Sensoria, in Rincón de la Vieja National Park

Today can be as relaxing or adventurous as you like. If you've had enough of the beaches, you can opt to go to Rincón de la Vieja National Park and hike a jungle trail called Sensoria. It's part of a wildlife sanctuary featuring waterfalls that plunge into turquoise lagoons. Or, you can experience the rainforest from the water during a two-hour safari float down the Corobicí River, where a guide will point out monkeys, bats, lizards, and even crocodiles. 

Another optional excursion is a guided trip down the Tenorio River. Its class III-IV rapids make it the best river in the Guanacaste area for rafting. After a challenging trip down the rapids led by experts, you'll enjoy lunch before heading back to your hotel in time to catch the sunset.

Plan your trip to Costa Rica
Customize your trip with help from a local travel specialist.

Day 4: Transfer to Monteverde - Don Juan Coffee Tour

The rare and beautiful resplendent quetzal
The rare & resplendent quetzal

This morning you’ll leave the Gulf of Papagayo and transfer to Monteverde. Known as the "Green Lung” of Costa Rica, this biodiverse region is located in the mountainous northwest of the country. Be sure to head out early, as it's a 4-hour trip and you should aim to get there before dark. That's not to say you won't have ample opportunity to stop and enjoy the scenery. If you get peckish on the drive, pull off at a roadside soda for a local lunch. Typical options at these traditional, family-run eateries include the casado, a combo plate featuring rice, beans, and your choice of chicken, beef, pork, or fish. 

Eventually, you'll arrive in Monteverde, home to the famous 26,000-acre Cloud Forest Reserve and countless species of flora and fauna. Suspension bridges throughout the reserve allow for walks above the forest canopy—keep your eyes peeled for the colorfully plumed resplendent quetzal, the David Bowie of birds. The reserve’s marked trails also pass through exotic fauna and flora, including the greatest number of orchid species on the planet (a whopping 500) with new ones discovered regularly. 

After the sun goes down, you'll have the chance to join one of the most complete coffee tours in the Monteverde region. Here, you will learn everything that goes into the coffee growing process, from bean to cup. For dinner, head to nearby Santa Elena, a charming town with a heavy Quaker influence that’s known for excellent coffee and cheese. Here are a few restaurant suggestions that can be found here: 

  • Orchid Coffee serves a menu of smoothies, salads, and sandwiches. Sweet-toothed visitors will appreciate the café’s extensive hot chocolate menu made with authentic Costa Rican cacao and mixed with unique ingredients like cardamom and orange.  
  • El Jardin Bar & Restaurant wins visitors over with its tree-top setting, friendly service, and fresh homemade bread served alongside every meal. 
  • TreeHouse Restaurant & Café was built around an old higueron (fig) tree and serves well-prepared Costa Rican standards like ceviche and arroz con pollo in a romantic, open-air setting.

Day 5: Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Guided Hike & Sky Adventure Tour 

Hanging bridges in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

After breakfast, you’ll transfer a short distance to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, one of the jewels in Costa Rica's ecological crown. On a guided tour you'll get an up-close look at the incredible biodiversity that occurs in this region, where upland and lowland rainforest meet. More than 350 bird species exist here alone, including the aptly named resplendent quetzal. In other words, it's a nature lover’s paradise.

In the afternoon, adventure awaits with a trip to the area's most popular attraction: Sky Adventures Monteverde Park. This aerial amusement park raises jungle excitement to the next level. Its Sky Tram network of gondolas transports visitors from one adrenaline-pumping activity to another. First, you'll start with a guided Sky Walk, which combines trails and suspension bridges that ultimately reach heights of up to 984 feet (300 m) above the jungle canopy. The flora and fauna of the region will be on full display, and our specialized guides will point out the most interesting specimens. Later, you'll ride in an open-air Sky Tram gondola. During this journey, you'll ascend over the rainforest and enjoy sweeping views across the mountains. 

Arriving at the end of the line, the exhilarating adventure of whizzing down the mountain begins. Connect to a zip-line cable that stretches over rainforest treetops and across clifftops, finally returning you to the starting point. Sky Trek is known as the most thrilling zip line in the country, and Monteverde is the birthplace of the canopy tour in Costa Rica.

Day 6: Transfer to Arenal - El Silencio Hike.

Arenal Volcano
Blue skies over Arenal Volcano

Today, you'll be hitting the road again and transferred northeast to the town of La Fortuna, located in Arenal Volcano National Park. Monteverde and Arenal may be close on the map, but this 3.5-hour trip will take you almost the entire way around Lake Arenal. Naturally, the long drive allows for some great opportunities to stop off and enjoy the countryside.

On the southwest side of Lake Arenal, for example, there's the hillside village of Tilaran. This laid-back mountain town is all charm and makes a great place to stop and stretch your legs. Activities include horseback riding over the hills and windsurfing on the lake. There are good birding opportunities here as well, with herons and egrets a common site. For lunch, you can do like the locals and pull off at one of the many roadside sodas. These family-run eateries are the life-blood of the country and serve delicious homemade fare. Typical options include the casado, a combo plate featuring rice, beans, and your choice of chicken, beef, pork, or fish.

Eventually, you'll arrive in the popular town of La Fortuna, which sits in the shadow of Arenal—a 5,357-foot (1,657 m) peak that's one of Costa Rica’s most famous landmarks and is still classified as an active volcano.

After checking into your hotel, head to the Reserva Mirador el Silencio to enjoy breathtaking views of the volcano from multiple vantage points. Sitting on nearly 250 acres of primary and secondary rainforest, this private reserve features seven trails winding around the base of Arenal Volcano where you can view many species of exotic birds like toucans, parrots, hummingbirds, and woodpeckers. Choose a guided tour with the help of a tourist guide specialized in natural history, or set off on a self-guided hike along the well-marked trails. 

Day 7: Rafting on the Río Balsa.

Rio Balsa's rapids are calm enough for beginners to enjoy
Rio Balsa's rapids are calm enough for beginners to enjoy


Today you'll join a rafting adventure on the Río Balsa, the perfect river for beginners and families with younger children as the class II and III rapids are exciting but not dangerous. After a lesson from your professional guide, you'll begin your journey on the water. Your guide will point out monkeys, sloths, and toucans during the trip, which includes a stop along the riverside for a delicious lunch and tropical fruit snack. 

After the trip, you'll return to your hotel in La Fortuna. In the evening, as an optional visit, you can soothe your muscles with a relaxing dip in one of the many mineral-rich hot springs in the area. Afterward, head to town for dinner and sample one of the over 100 restaurants here. Solid dining options include:

  • Don Rufino, which serves a mix of local and international flavors in charming digs that include an open-air bar overlooking the main street.
  • Café Mediterraneo, a friendly osteria serving up homemade pasta and pizza.
  • La Parrilla de María Bonita, a must-visit for perfectly cooked steak as well as Mediterranean dishes like falafel and baba ghanoush.
  • Rancho Perla, a popular open-air restaurant (you may even spot sloths hanging from the nearby trees) serving well-prepared Costa Rican staples.
  • Ave Del Paraíso offers daily theme dinners such as Italian, Mexican, Mediterranean, and Costa Rican.

Day 8: Depart Costa Rica

Adios, Costa Rica!
Adios, Costa Rica!

It's time to say adiós to Costa Rica! After breakfast, you'll transfer to the airport and catch your international flight home.