Over an immersive 16 days, you'll alternate between adventure and leisure in Costa Rica. Some days will be filled with culture in the capital of San José, others you'll spend whitewater rafting, and others will involve zipline excursions over the jungle canopy. If that's not enough, you'll also visit Costa Rica's largest active volcano and even make time for surf lessons.


  • Brave the rapids of the wild Río Pacuare on a rafting trip
  • Take a dip in La Fortuna Waterfall, the most famous falls in the country
  • Enjoy a sunset catamaran cruise on the Pacific coast
  • Fly over the treetops on a zipline canopy tour in Monteverde
  • Take a surf lesson in the laid-back beach town of Jacó

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José, Explore San José
Day 2 Transfer to Río Pacuare & Whitewater Rafting Río Pacuare
Day 3 Free Day in the Jungles of Río Pacuare  Río Pacuare
Day 4 Rafting Class III-IV Rapids, Transfer to Arenal/La Fortuna Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Volcano Hike & La Fortuna Waterfall Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 6 Waterfall Rappelling in Arenal Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 7 Arenal to the Gulf of Papagayo Gulf of Papagayo
Day 8 Guanacaste Beach Day & Sunset Catamaran Sail Gulf of Papagayo
Day 9 Free Day in Papagayo Gulf of Papagayo
Day 10 Transfer to Monteverde, Explore Monteverde
Day 11 Zipline Fun in the Cloud Forest Monteverde
Day 12 Transfer to Manuel Antonio National Park Manuel Antonio 
Day 13 Explore Manuel Antonio National Park, Sailing & Snorkeling Trip Manuel Antonio 
Day 14 Take a Surf Lesson in Manuel Antonio Manuel Antonio 
Day 15 Return to San José, Night on the Town San José
Day 16 Depart San José  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José, Explore

The Neo-Classical Teatro Nacional in San José
The neoclassical Teatro Nacional in San José

Welcome to Costa Rica, the land of pura vida! After arriving at Juan Santamaría International Airport, a local representative will meet you and escort you to your hotel. The rest of the day you'll have free to explore the city at your leisure.

Perhaps take a stroll through Mercado Central (Central Market), which features over 200 shops, food stalls, and sodas (traditional restaurants). Then, you could visit the Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Church), whose interior combines Greek Orthodox, neoclassical, and Baroque styles. There's also a pair of popular museums in San José: Museo del Oro Precolumbino (pre-Columbian Gold Museum) and Museo del Jade—the world's largest collection of pre-Columbian jade artifacts.

You'll definitely want to explore Barrio Amón, a popular bohemian district and historic neighborhood home to cafetalero (coffee grower) mansions built during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For dinner, perhaps opt for a restaurant in the hills of Escazú. This elevated region on the western edge of the city offers panoramic views of the valley below.

Day 2: Transfer to Río Pacuare & Whitewater Rafting

Brave the whitewater on Río Pacuare
Enjoy a scenic drive to the Río Pacuare

This morning, you'll wake up early, meet your guide, and begin the 2.5-hour drive east out of the city of San José for a day on the river. Located along Costa Rica's Caribbean slope, Río Pacuare's deep gorge is considered one of the best river-rafting sites in the world. The Pacuare runs 67 miles from the Talamanca Mountains, in the southwest of the country, to the Caribbean. Along the way, it passes through some of the most diverse topography in Costa Rica.

Upon arrival at the river and after a guided safety orientation, you'll embark on an adrenaline-pumping trip on class II-III rapids. Throughout the approximately 1.5-hour trip, you'll paddle past impressive tropical scenery through rushing whitewater all the way to the destination: a riverside ecolodge. Here, you'll check into your luxury jungle accommodations and have the rest of the day to explore the surrounding area with your guide.

Day 3: Free Day in the Jungles of Río Pacuare 

Ziplining is one popular jungle activity 

You've experienced the jungles of the Río Pacuare from the riverbanks, but today, you'll venture behind the treeline. Adventure options here include ziplining over jungle canopy or canyoning El Tesorito Creek, where you'll descend a small waterfall as you rappel down a 98-foot (30 m) rock face.

You can also opt for a hike through the jungle to reach the legendary sendero de las mulas (mule trail), which is one of the main routes used by the Indigenous Cabécar people. After the initial climb, you'll hike to the Nairi Awari Indigenous Reserve, a real highlight of the excursion that features a hidden waterfall. After a picnic lunch at this scenic spot, you'll start the hike back to the ecolodge and stop along the trail at a Cabécar Indigenous community.

Day 4: Continue Rafting, Transfer to Arenal/La Fortuna

Expect to get wet on this challenging ride
Expect to get wet on this ride

It's time to brace yourself for an even more exhilarating river trip—this time over Class III-IV rapids. As you again travel down the Río Pacuare, this time for 3.5 hours, you'll pass by even more canyons, waterfalls, and virgin rainforests. During the calmer stretches, be on the lookout for various species of birds and other wildlife endemic to the region, like toucans and capuchin monkeys.

At the end of the trip, you'll transfer to the town of La Fortuna, the home base for excursions into Arenal Volcano National Park. Located north of the Tilaran Mountains, the cone-shaped Arenal Volcano stands an impressive 5,479 feet (1,670 m) high. After checking into your hotel, feel free to head into town for dinner.

Day 5: Volcano Hike & La Fortuna Waterfall

Lava fields now cover one side of Arenal
Lava fields now cover one side of Arenal

In the early afternoon, you'll head toward the base of the volcano to hike Arenal 1968. This is a network of trails named after Arenal's last major eruption. The event was so catastrophic it transformed some of the region's topography, and lava fields now dominate one side of the volcano. The trails wind through those lava fields as well as the surrounding rainforest. Along the way, you'll find lookout points featuring prime views of Arenal.

Later, you'll experience the other star of the region: La Fortuna Waterfall. If Arenal is the most famous volcano in the country, then La Fortuna is its most famous falls. It's located a 15-minute drive from town, at the base of the dormant Chato Volcano. The waters here plunge 210 feet into a tropical lagoon, and a 500-step downhill hike provides the opportunity to see the falls from the bottom up. Besides taking photos, swim and relax in the La Fortuna River below the waterfall.

Day 6: Waterfall Rappelling in Arenal

Prepare to get wet on a waterfall rappelling adventure today

Waterfall rappelling, also known as canyoning, is one of the most popular adventure sports in Costa Rica. After a couple of hours of hiking along winding rivers through a canyon in the heart of the rainforest, you'll reach your destination. You'll then strap into a harness and rappel down the side of the waterfall. It doesn't get more exciting feeling the mist and spray of the falls as you rebound off rocky cliffs before ending with a splash into the pool below.

Never rappelled? Not to worry—there's no experience necessary, and expert guides will be there to ensure everyone is safe throughout the experience. The minimum age is 13 years old, but exceptions can be made for some 12-year-olds. 

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

Day 7: Transfer to the Gulf of Papagayo

The beaches of Guanacaste
The beaches of Guanacaste

Road trip time! This four-hour drive takes you west through Guanacaste Province, past volcanic mountains, flatlands, and villages as you head toward the Pacific coast. Stop for a bite on the way, perhaps washed down with a batido (fresh fruit smoothie)—a kid favorite, specially made con leche (with milk). As the plains and tropical dry forest slowly give way to azure seas, it signals your arrival at the Gulf of Papagayo, a large lagoon on the coast.

Once you arrive, you can rest up at your hotel or spend the afternoon exploring the coast by kayak or on a snorkeling tour (perfect for families). On a kayak outing, you'll paddle across the turquoise waters to offshore islands and view underwater coral reefs teeming with exotic fish.

Day 8: Guanacaste Beach Day & Sunset Catamaran Sail 

Plenty of idyllic beaches in the area
There's no shortage of stunning beaches in Guanacaste

Today is all about beach time. After breakfast at your hotel, get out and explore the coastline around Guanacaste. Maybe hit Playas del Coco, a popular fishing village with many salsa bars and restaurants. You could even try a little surfing.

In the evening, you'll board a catamaran in the Golfo de Papagayo for a sunset sail. The boat will drop anchor in a calm bay and enjoy snorkeling while the crew prepares a dinner feast. While you eat, bask in the sunset over the horizon while making sure to keep an eye out for dolphins, sea turtles, flying fish, or even a breaching whale.

Day 9: 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 head inland 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.

An optional excursion is a guided trip down the Tenorio River. The 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.

Day 10: Transfer to Monteverde, Explore

Monteverde has a cloud-forest eco-system
Monteverde has a cloud-forest ecosystem

In the morning, you'll head east to the town of Monteverde. Located in the Tilarán Mountains of north-central Costa Rica, this region ranges from 4,100 to over 6,000 feet (1,250 m to 1,829 m)and features a cloud-forest ecosystem due to the cooler temperatures. Monteverde was actually founded in 1951 by Quakers who emigrated from the USA to avoid the Korean War. Once settled, they started a thriving dairy industry and began conserving vast sections of what is now known as the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

Upon arrival, you'll have the day to relax at your hotel. If you can't wait to get out and see the diverse flora and fauna of the region, consider a night hike. On this tour, you'll join a naturalist guide in one of the area's private reserves and do some wildlife spotting. A few active nocturnal animals you're sure to spot include bats, frogs, snakes, and other reptiles.

Day 11: Zip-Line Fun in the Cloud Forest

Suspension bridge in the cloud forest
Suspension bridge in the cloud forest

Prepare yourself for an adrenaline-pumping zipline ride in the country where that activity was invented. You'll start by ascending hundreds of feet above the jungle canopy via a network of trails and suspension bridges. The exotic flora and fauna of the region will be on full display, and our specialized guides will point out the most interesting specimens.

Upon reaching the end of the line, the adventure of whizzing down the mountain begins. You'll connect to a zipline cable that stretches over the treetops and across canyons, ultimately returning you to the starting point. The zipline excursions in Monteverde are regarded as the most thrilling in the country.

Day 12: 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. 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.

Day 13: Explore Manuel Antonio National Park, Sailing & Snorkeling Trip

Snorkeling in Costa Rica

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 sand and crystalline blue waters. Have your camera ready as your knowledgeable guide points out diverse flora and fauna along the way.

Later in the day, 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.

Day 14: Take a Surf Lesson in Manuel Antonio

Surf Lesson in Manuel Antonio
Learn to surf in Manuel Antonio

Try a challenging and fun activity on the beaches of Manuel Antonio today. Surfboards will be provided, and experienced instructors will teach you to ride the waves. After the lesson, feel free to extend your board rental and spend the afternoon practicing! Alternatively, relax on the beach or go for a hike. 

Day 15: Return to San José, Night on the Town

Shop for traditional Costa Rican pottery. 
This morning, a driver will pick you up in a private, air-conditioned minivan and transfer you to San José. The drive takes approximately three hours, depending on traffic. The rest of the afternoon and evening are yours to shop for souvenirs, sightsee, and enjoy one last Costa Rican dinner.

Day 16: Depart San José

Take in a Costa Rica sunset 
Your trip ends today. 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 16 days in Costa Rica, or discover the best time to visit Costa Rica.


Map of Rafting, Rappelling & Hiking in Costa Rica - 16 days
Map of Rafting, Rappelling & Hiking in Costa Rica - 16 days