This exciting 6-day itinerary is perfect for travelers who want to experience quintessential Costa Rica. You'll take in awe-inspiring views of Arenal volcano, and have an exciting rafting day on the Sarapiqui River before heading to Manuel Antonio to explore the jungle and white sand beaches of this nature lovers paradise.


  • Experience the history and culture of San Jose
  • Explore among the treetops by zipline and suspension bridges
  • Whitewater raft down the Sarapiqui River
  • Take a sunset catamaran cruise off the coast of Manuel Antonio

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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 Arenal Free Day Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 4 Arenal to Manuel Antonio Manuel Antonio
Day 5 Snorkeling & Sunset Catamaran Cruise in Manuel Antonio Manuel Antonio
Day 6 Manuel Antonio to San José, Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

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

La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna Waterfall

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. Check out our list of the top places to eat in La Fortuna.

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: Arenal Free Day

Whitewater rafting
Whitewater rafting

Today is a free day, there is a lot to see and do in Arenal.  Here are some suggestions of what you can do, and we can help organize any of these activities.

  • Zipline in Arenal.  See the rainforest from new heights- literally! You'll start with a relaxing ride in an open-air gondola. From the observation platform at the top, you'll begin your adrenaline-pumping journey of zipping through the cloud forest on miles of zipline cables! 
  • Hiking trails in Arenal Volcano National Park are generally flat and not strenuous -- perfect for a leisurely and informative hike with one of our naturalist guides.
  • Chocolate making. Learn about the origin, history, and current production of one of Costa Rica's most famous exports: chocolate. Participate in the harvest of cacao, the drying and grinding of the seed, and learn how the traditional chocolate drink was developed centuries ago (of course, sampling the freshly made chocolate for yourself as you go.)
  • Whitewater rafting adventure on the Balsa River. This is a two-hour journey down one of Costa Rica's most exciting rivers, with over 30 class three and four rapids. 
  • See Arenal Volcano from the water with a standup paddleboarding trip on Lake Arenal, Costa Rica's largest landlocked body of water. The lake is calm and pristine, making a sup session here ideal for beginners or experienced boarders.

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

Day 4: Arenal to Manuel Antonio

Look for capuchin monkeys in the park
Look for capuchin monkeys in the park

This morning, you'll transfer to the Pacific coast at Manuel Antonio National Park, where you can take your pick and wind down on one of the park's four beautiful beaches—some of the best in Costa Rica. If you're hungry for more adventure, you can also hike on one of the park's many trails (following the signs) and get up close to capuchin monkeys, sloths, and over 200 species of birds. Snorkeling is also accessible from multiple points along the beaches. Check out our Ultimate Guide to Manuel Antonio National Park for more information. 

In the evening, head to the town of Quepos for dinner at Gabriella's for pretty sunset views over a meal of fresh fish or steak.

Day 5: Snorkeling & Sunset Catamaran Cruise in Manuel Antonio

Go for a sunset swim while the crew prepares dinner
Go for a sunset swim while the crew prepares dinner

After breakfast at your hotel, the morning is yours to spend however you like:

  • You can explore the incredible biodiversity found within park during a guided tour. A naturalist will point out the more than 300 species of mammals and birds that call the reserve home, including sloths, hawks, iguanas, and several different species of monkeys. You'll also have time to spend exploring the park's expansive white sand beaches.
  • Tour the Damas Island Estuary on a guided boat tour through the mangroves.
  • Take a surf lesson or simply relax on Playa Manuel Antonio.

In the afternoon, you'll embark on a sunset dinner cruise. Stop in a calm bay, drop anchor and swim while the crew prepares a feast. While you dine, you'll marvel at the sunset over the horizon while keeping an eye out for dolphins, sea turtles, flying fish, or even a breaching whale.

Read more about the best nature experiences in Manuel Antonio National Park

Day 6: Manuel Antonio to San José, Depart Costa Rica

Beach in Manuel Antonio National Park
Beach in Manuel Antonio National Park

It's time to say goodbye to Costa Rica! After breakfast, you'll be driven back to San José where you'll depart Juan Santamaría International Airport for your journey 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 6 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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Our specialists can help you customize this itinerary or help you discover the perfect regions in Costa Rica to fit your travel style. Get started now


Map of Costa Rica Highlights: Arenal & Manuel Antonio National Park - 6 days
Map of Costa Rica Highlights: Arenal & Manuel Antonio National Park - 6 days
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Jun 23, 2022