This immersive nature expedition packs a lot of outdoor adventure in a short timeframe. In just five days you'll experience the greatest hits of Arenal Volcano National Park, including swimming in a waterfall lagoon, hiking above misty cloud forests, and soaking in hot springs. You'll also enjoy some metropolitan excitement as you spend an evening exploring Costa Rica's capital, San José.


  • Embark on an active excursion around Arenal National Park
  • Whiz across jungle canopy and over canyons on a zip-line tour
  • Relax and recharge in the thermal pools of Tabacón
  • Indulge your sweet tooth on an optional chocolate tour

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Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in San José - Transfer to La Fortuna Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 2 Arenal Sky Trek and Zip-line Tour Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 3 Hike Arenal 1968 - Tabacón Hot Springs Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 4 La Fortuna - Drive back to San José San Jose
Day 5 Depart San José  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in San José - Transfer to La Fortuna

Arenal, one of Costa Rica's most majestic landmarks, towers over the countryside
Arenal, one of Costa Rica's most majestic landmarks, towers over the countryside

Welcome to Costa Rica! After arriving at Juan Santamaría International Airport, in the capital of San José, you'll transfer 2.5-hours north by car to the town of La Fortuna, best known as the base for embarking into Arenal Volcano National Park. You won't miss the namesake monolith—Arenal juts out above the San Carlos Plains like an arrowhead. After checking into your hotel, you'll have the rest of the day to explore on your own. 

If you want to get close to the volcano, kayaking on Lake Arenal provides spectacular views of its peak, as does a mountain bike ride through the park toward the village of El Castillo. Or, you can opt for a zip-line tour through the forest canopy, crossing over canyons amid the Pino Blanco Waterfall, with the majestic Arenal Volcano as a backdrop. For other ideas, read over this list of the best things to do in Arenal.

Upon returning to town, be sure to take advantage of the dining scene. Because La Fortuna is such a tourism hub, eateries are popping up all the time. These run the gamut from pizzerias and steakhouses to Mexican, Mediterranean, and local Costa Rican fare. You won't be lacking for dinner options.

Here are a few restaurant recommendations for your stay in La Fortuna

  • 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 2: Arenal Sky Trek and Zip-line Tour

Viewpoint in Arenal National Park
Viewpoint in Arenal National Park

Enjoy a bird's-eye view of Costa Rica—literally. 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. 

Now you're in for a treat because it's time for an adrenaline-pumping zip-line tour through the cloud forest. You'll fly like a bird for miles, from tree-to-tree and canyon-to-canyon. You'll journey through untouched nature over eight cables that stretch 2460 feet and reach heights of 660 feet. Through it all, our knowledgeable naturalist guide will educate you about Costa Rica’s exotic flora and fauna. Find out more about hiking around Arenal Volcano here.

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Day 3: Hike Arenal 1968 - Tabacón Hot Springs

A hot spring near Arenal
A hot spring near Arenal

Today, after breakfast at your hotel, you'll visit Arenal 1968, a private reserve named after the year of the last major eruption of the volcano. The event was so catastrophic that it transformed some of the region’s topography: lava fields now dominate one side of Arenal. Trails wind through those lava fields as well as the surrounding rainforest. Along the way, you'll find lookout points featuring prime views of the volcano. 

After hiking the trails, soothe your muscles with a dip in the mineral-rich waters in and around the Tabacón Thermal Resort. These hot springs have been used as therapeutic baths for more than 200 years, and the resort includes a spa where various treatments, like couples massages, are performed in outdoor bungalows. End the day with a nice dinner at the resort’s restaurant, which serves Costa Rican dishes as well as international fare.

If you're interested in staying in a hotel with access to hot springs, read over this list of our top picks.

Day 4: La Fortuna -> Drive back to San José

La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna Waterfall

Enjoy your last morning in La Fortuna. Take a stroll around the central plaza, or visit the La Fortuna Waterfall.

 If you like, you'll have enough time for a chocolate-making tour. In this hands-on program, you’ll learn about the origin, history, and production of one of Costa Rica's most famous exports: chocolate. You'll participate in the cacao harvest, as well as the drying and grinding of the seeds used to produce creamy cocoa butter. You'll learn how a traditional Costa Rican chocolate drink was developed centuries ago, and, of course, sample the freshly made chocolate.

After lunch, it's time to transfer back to San José and drop off your rental car. You'll still have much of the evening to explore the city and take advantage of anything you may have missed at the beginning of the trip. You can read about our top restaurant recommendations in San José here.

Day 5: Depart San José

Plaza Juan Mora Fernández, San José
Plaza Juan Mora Fernández, San José

It's time to say adiós to Costa Rica. Depending on your departure time, you'll have the morning to explore more of San José, relax in a coffee shop, or browse some shops before boarding your flight home.

Looking for other ideas for Costa Rica?

Looking for other ideas for your trip to Costa Rica? We have some great ideas for how to spend 5 days in Costa Rica, plus a list of family-friendly 6-day itineraries. Read more about how many days to stay in Costa Rica here.

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Map of Arenal Expedition - 5 Days
Map of Arenal Expedition - 5 Days
Written by Emily Strauss, updated Jun 23, 2022