This extensive itinerary will introduce you to all of Costa Rica's iconic experiences. Activities range from thrilling jungle adventures to relaxing trips to the beach, making this tour a great option for any traveler.

Highlights

  • See the market and museums of San Jose
  • Observe macaws and crocodiles on the bridge in Tarcoles
  • Zip-line and hike through the Monteverde Cloud Forest
  • Go horseback riding in Arenal and discover the nearby volcano
  • Discover the blue waters of Tenorio and the pristine beaches of Papagayo

Overview

Explore Costa Rica's capital city and Pacific Coast in this two-week long itinerary. The journey starts in San Jose and continues from south to north along the coast, stopping at four national parks with more sites along this route. You can rent a car near the airport for a self-drive experience, or we can help you organize transportation from place to place.

Most destinations in the itinerary will focus on what Costa Rica is best known for - nature. Other than fantastic scenery, this tour also includes several more adventure activities, such as hiking and zip-lining. However, since the activities in each location can be customized, families and our youngest travelers can be accommodated as well. Anyone who joins will be able to discover the sights that make Costa Rica one of the most visited countries in Central America.

Brief Itinerary

Day Destination Activities
Day 1 San Jose (Arrival) Sightseeing

Day 2

Manuel Antonio National Park  Beach
Day 3 Manuel Antonio National Park  Hiking, Snorkeling, Kayak/Boat Tour
Day 4 Manuel Antonio National Park  Hiking, Snorkeling, Kayak/Boat Tour
Day 5 Tarcoles Hiking, Bridge Tour, Kayaking
Day 6 Monteverde Cloud Forest Zip-lining
Day 7 Monteverde Cloud Forest Hiking
Day 8 Arenal Coffee Tour, Boat Ride
Day 9 Arenal Hanging Bridges, Waterfall Tour, Hot Springs
Day 10 Arenal Horseback Riding
Day 11 Tenorio Volcano National Park Hiking
Day 12 Gulf of Papagayo Hiking, Turtle Watching, Kayaking
Day 13 Gulf of Papagayo Hiking, Turtle Watching, Kayaking
Day 14 Liberia (Departure)  

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Arrival to San José, Costa Rica

National Theatre of San Jose

Welcome to Costa Rica! Arrive at San José airport, where our representative will greet you and take you to your hotel nearby.  Take some time to explore the area, and head downtown to experience some of these must-see attractions:

  • Mercado Central (Central Market): A great place to visit if you're a morning person, the market opens at sunrise and is one of the oldest and most iconic parts of San Jose.  Experience this energetic center of commerce as locals gather to chat, buy and sell all kinds of goods, and savor generations-old recipes. Additionally, if you're looking for a last-minute souvenir, you're bound to find something special in one of the many vendor stalls here.

  • Museo del Oro Precolumbino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum): This museum holds the largest Pre-Columbian gold collection in all of Latin America. The entrance is not very inspiring, however the vault like appearance is actually to protect all the gold stored and displayed inside. Once you enter, you will find an extensive venue that is also modern, offering a true educational experience.

  • Museo Nacional (National Museum): The Museo Nacional is hard to miss, as it takes the form of a bright yellow building that used to be a military barrack (Bellavista Fortress). Now, the building hosts a range of exhibits that showcase the country's history, starting from Pre-Columbian times to the modern day.  The butterfly garden inside is always a favorite among visitors, as it provides a small moment of peace in the otherwise bustling capital city.

Day 2: Manuel Antonio National Park 

The coast of Manuel Antonio

Check out in the morning and start your trip toward the Central Pacific Coast, a hub of ecological diversity complete with several astonishing national parks.

For this part of the tour, you will be staying near the famous Manuel Antonio National Park. After checking-in, enjoy the hotel facilities and the beaches nearby along the coast. Tomorrow, the real adventure begins.

Days 3-4: Discovering Manuel Antonio National Park

Spotting a Sloth

In the next few days, you will continue to visit the rugged beaches and coastline of Manuel Antonio National Park. For venturing further inland and exploring natural wonders, these activities below are fantastic options:

  • Hike in Manuel Antonio National Park (Entrance fee: $16 per person, guided tour with Spanish and English-speaking guide: $55 per person): Trek across winding, crystal-clear creeks and lush, vivid forests. Along the way, spot various regional species of monkeys on the trail, as well as sloths, coatis, toucans, and iguanas. Please note, the park is closed on Mondays.

  • Take a snorkeling tour: Hop aboard a 100 ft catamaran full of amenities and cruise to an ideal spot. Jump in the water to snorkel, or just relax on the boat and if the day is right, watch the dolphins swim by.  Food and drinks are provided on the boat.

  • Kayak or Boat Tour in Las Damas Islands (Guided tour with Spanish and English-speaking guide: $50 per person):  The mangroves of Las Damas Islands are renown for their extensiveness, protected under the RAMSAR Convention for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Wetlands. With flourishing flora and fauna, this is your chance to get up close to various rare plants and animals as you navigate around the ecosystem.

  • Diving, whale watching, whitewater rafting, fishing, sailing, and more are also available within park grounds.

Day 5: Depart to Tarcoles

Treefrog

Make your way up the center of the Pacific Coast to the village of Tarcoles. Sitting on the banks of the Carara River and within the surrounding national park, Tarcoles is known for its picturesque bridge where colorful macaws and giant crocodiles can be spotted. 

Take the afternoon to enjoy the area nearby through some of these suggested activities:

  • Tarcoles River Bridge: The main highlight of Tarcoles, where you can observe American Crocodiles up to 7 meters long in the river below. Macaws and other species of dazzling birds can also be spotted overhead.

  • Visit the Carara National Park:  Carara National Park is considered a "transitional zone", an essential refuge for endemic wildlife in a region where human activity is encroaching. The trek to get there is a modest hike accessible to all experience levels, and also crosses into the natural habitat of the Scarlet Macaw. Since their reintroduction to the park 15 years ago under protected status, these macaws have thrived ever since. 

  • Boat Tour:  This tour will give you a comprehensive overview of the swamp, mangroves, and typical wildlife. It will cover an important nesting and mating site for several bird species, as well as areas populated by various mammals and reptiles. Lunch will be served on site.

  • Hike to Bijagual Waterfall: Also called Manantial de Agua Viva, Bijagual Waterfall is hard to find and access, but worth the effort. Follow a series of rustic, hand-painted signs just past Carara National Park, then conquer the hour-long hike up a steep, mossy trail. Meanwhile, keep an eye out for colorful birds and wildlife, such as scarlet macaws and poison dart frogs. Once you get to the waterfall, celebrate and cool off with a refreshing swim. If you go downstream, you'll find some other smaller waterfalls as well.

Day 6: Monteverde Cloud Forest Zip-lining

Zip-lining in Monteverde

Right after breakfast, head out to Monteverde and drive along a route that allows for side trips. Arrive in time for you afternoon zip line tour.

The zip-line experience takes you across cables and trails, allowing for both ground and canopy views. The tour guides have been professionally trained and safety certified and will assist you throughout all 16 cables and the rappel. Feel your adrenaline rush as you fly from tree to tree, then finish off the tour with the iconic Tarzan Swing.  

Day 7: Monteverde Cloud Forest - Hiking to the Reserve

Hiking in Monteverde Cloud Forest

Take the afternoon to enjoy the area on your own.  Some other interesting activities inside the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve include:

  • Hike in the Children's Eternal Rainforest (Entrance fees: $12 per person, guided tour with Spanish and English-speaking guide: $30 per person): The largest private reserve in Costa Rica, the Children's Eternal Rainforest contains more than 20,000 hectares of protected tropical forest, located in the northeastern region. It was founded thanks to the BEN Fundraising Campaign, which began in 1987 and spread from Sweden and the US to children and adults all over the world. More than half of all terrestrial vertebrate species in Costa Rica have been identified in the reserve, including about 60 species of amphibian, 100 species of reptiles, 425 species of bird and 121 species of mammals.

  • Forest Night Walk (guided tour with Spanish and English speaking guide: $30 per person): Hike along trails that will uncover the nocturnal species in the reserve that only come out at night.

Day 8: Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano

This morning, you will experience the traditional method of planting, growing, and harvesting coffee, one of the country´s most important crops. This tour takes you around a small family farm where you learn about each step in the coffee making process, from seed to bean to cup. The farm is dedicated to a sustainable, eco-friendly cultivation method that respects the time-honored Costa Rican way of harvesting, and the resulting beans are 100% organic, free of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Finally, after a morning of learning, sit back and enjoy the final product along with a light snack. 

After lunch, you will be transferred across Lake Arenal to the town of La Fortuna.  The scenic boat ride across the lake takes around 30 minutes and offers amazing views of the lake and Arenal Volcano.   Once you arrive, you have the rest of the afternoon to explore and check out your new surroundings. 

Day 9: Arenal Volcano - Hanging Bridges / La Fortuna’s Waterfall / Hot Springs

Arenal Hanging Bridge

In the morning, you will spend about 2 hours on the Arenal Hanging Bridges, complete with breathtaking panoramic views of the Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal. Then, you will continue to the awe-inspiring Rio Fortuna waterfall, which drops 120ft (35 meters) into a large natural swimming pool. The steep hike down the falls takes you past spectacular flora and fauna, and ends at a swim area bordered by smaller cascades.

Spend the rest of the afternoon on your own exploring the town of La Fortuna, relaxing in your hotel, or on an optional adventure. You can sign up for a canopy zip line tour, a butterfly garden or ATV tour, a massage, or waterfall canyoning. Talk with us about all options as well as pricing.

In the evening, finish off the day at one of Arenal Volcano's famous hot springs, and enjoy a scrumptious dinner by the waterside.

Day 10: Arenal Volcano - Horseback Riding

Riding Horses in Arenal

Hike and ride across Arenal through waterfalls, forests, and high hills. Get the best views of the San Carlos Valley and the surrounding forests, and finish at the base of a 213 ft (65 meter) waterfall. Relax, go for a dip, then head back through a private, 400-hectares farm. You will be able to spot toucan, orioles, and one of the largest trees in the park along with other flora and fauna. Finally, after crossing a cattle pasture and 3 different rivers, your journey will be complete.

After lunch, head to Tenorio Volcano National Park, one of the country's newest parks that has yet to hit the public spotlight. Begin exploring the Tenorio Volcano and Rio Celeste without distracting crowds before heading back to your accommodation.

Day 11: Tenorio Volcano National Park - Hiking Tour

Rio Celeste Waterfall

Continue to discover the park with a hike through the forests, where local animals such as monkeys, sloths, and more can be seen. Trek along the banks of the azure Río Celeste, which becomes more and more vivid in color the closer you get to the end. After you hike the trail to completion, you will end up at a stunning waterfall that drops into a blue lagoon. Swim, rest, and eat a quick lunch, before driving the rest of the day to the beautiful Gulf of Papagayo, the last destination on the itinerary.

Day 12 - 13: Gulf of Papagayo 

Leatherback Sea Turtle

The Gulf of Papagayo is situated in the northwest corner of Guanacaste. While other beaches in the region are visited by flocks of surfers, those nestled within the inlets and coves of the Gulf of Papagayo are protected. Safe, calm, and warm year-round, these beaches are great for families with children. Activities here include:

  • Kayak and explore the local beaches from a different perspective. Just rent a kayak, pack a picnic lunch, and head out. Make sure you don't miss Playa Nacascolo, one of the most scenic beaches in the gulf. 

  • If you happen to visit between October and March, head to Las Baulas National Marine Park to see Leatherback Turtles come ashore for a truly memorable experience. Every night during high tide in the nesting season, female leatherback turtles make their way up the beach to lay eggs. Watch the turtles come and go before the hatchlings follow suit into the water, a once-in-a-lifetime sight. Be sure to book a guide for legal entry and refrain from flash photography.

  • Visit Rincon de la Vieja Volcano National Park, where you can observe over 300 species of birds such as emerald toucans, three-wattle bellbirds, eagles, and quetzals. Mammals like cougars, monkeys, jaguars, as well as other animals, can also be found within the park. Since the surrounding volcano is relatively active, you will also get a chance to see boiling mud pots and fumaroles with a guided hiking tour.

Day 14: Departure

It's time to say goodbye to Costa Rica. A representative will meet you at your hotel and drive you to the Liberia airport, where you will board your flight and return home.

Map

Map of Costa Rica Family Vacation: Volcanoes, Jungles, Beaches and Wildlife - 14 Days
Map of Costa Rica Family Vacation: Volcanoes, Jungles, Beaches and Wildlife - 14 Days