This 8-day trip is ideal for travelers looking to experience Costa Rica's highlights. Go for a dip in Arenal's hot springs and spot monkeys and other wildlife on hikes around the famous volcano. Continue to Monteverde, where you'll discover the remarkable flora and fauna of the cloud forest. Finally, spend a few days in Manuel Antonio National Park, kayaking through turquoise waters and relaxing on pristine white sand beaches.

Highlights

  • Enjoy a waterfall hike & a soak in hot springs in Arenal Volcano National Park
  • Zipline through the rainforest canopy at Monteverde
  • Kayak around tropical islands outside of Manuel Antonio National Park
  • Spot dolphins & sea turtles on a sunset catamaran cruise

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in San José - Transfer to La Fortuna & Hotsprings Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 2 La Fortuna Waterfall - Free Afternoon Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 3 Arenal to Monteverde by Boat with Nocturnal Nature Tour Monteverde
Day 4 Sky Walk, Sky Tram & Sky Trek Zipline Monteverde
Day 5 Transfer to Manuel Antonio - Free Afternoon Manuel Antonio
Day 6 Damas Island Kayaking Tour Manuel Antonio
Day 7 Morning Free Time - Afternoon Sunset Catamaran Cruise Manuel Antonio
Day 8 Manuel Antonio to San José - Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

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

The mineral-rich, thermal waters of Tabacón Hotsprings.
The mineral-rich, thermal waters of Tabacón Hotsprings.

Welcome to the land of pura vida! After arriving at Juan Santamaria International Airport in Costa Rica's capital of San José, a shuttle service takes you on a 2.5-hour road trip to La Fortuna, a perfect base for exploring the Arenal Volcano National Park. Located north of the Tilaran Mountains, the cone-shaped Arenal juts out above the San Carlos Plains. After checking into your hotel, you'll have the rest of the day to explore. 

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, opt for a zip-line tour over the forest canopy, where you'll see the La Fortuna and Pino Blanco waterfalls, along with the majestic Arenal Volcano.

In the evening, soothe your muscles with a relaxing dip in one of the area's many mineral-rich hot springs. Afterward, have dinner in town. 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: La Fortuna Waterfall - Free Afternoon

The beautiful La Fortuna Waterfall.
The beautiful La Fortuna Waterfall.

Today, you'll experience the other star of the Arenal region: La Fortuna Waterfall. If Arenal is the most famous volcano in the country, then La Fortuna is one of its most famous falls. It's located a 15-minute drive from the town of La Fortuna, at the base of the dormant Chato Volcano. The waters here plunge 210 feet (64 m) into a tropical lagoon, and a 500-step downhill hike provides the opportunity to see the falls from the bottom up. Besides taking photos, be sure to swim and relax in the La Fortuna River below the falls.

The afternoon is free for you to enjoy as you please. 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, opt for a zip lining tour through the forest canopy, where you'll cross canyons, and take in the Fortuna and Pino Blanco Waterfalls, along with the majestic Arenal Volcano.

Day 3: Arenal to Monteverde by Boat with Nocturnal Nature Tour

A guide will point out animals like sloths during the night tour.
A guide will point out animals like sloths during the night tour.

After breakfast at your resort in La Fortuna, you'll transfer to the Monteverde region of Costa Rica. This is no ordinary route; you'll skip the drive and board a boat, which will take you across the tranquil waters of Lake Arenal. On this 3.5-hour boat ride, you'll have ample opportunity to spot local birds like herons and anhingas. 

When you arrive at Monteverde, take the afternoon and evening to enjoy nearby Santa Elena, a charming town with Quaker influences known for excellent coffee and cheese. There are also plenty of dining options featuring delectable Costa Rican standards like ceviche and arroz con pollo (rice with chicken.) Local restaurant suggestions include: 

  • Grab a seat on the front porch of local favorite Orchid Coffee, which serves a menu of smoothies, salads, and sandwiches. Sweet-toothed visitors will appreciate the café’s extensive hot chocolate menu made with Costa Rican chocolate and mixed with unique ingredients like cardamom and orange. 

  • El Jardin Bar & Restaurant wins visitors over with its lovely setting overlooking the trees, friendly service, and fresh homemade bread served alongside every meal.

  • Built around an old higueron (fig) tree, the Tree House Restaurant & Café serves well-prepared Costa Rican standards like ceviche and arroz con pollo in a romantic, open-air setting.

This evening, you'll have the chance to see the wildlife of the Cloud Forest Reserve at its most active on a guided night tour. A naturalist will point out sloths, armadillos, and kinkajous, as well as sleeping birds. You'll have the chance to hear and see different wildlife than during the daytime, like agoutis, porcupines, gray foxes, tarantulas, and frogs.

Day 4: Sky Walk, Sky Tram & Sky Trek Zipline

Explore the cloud forest's treetops with a day of sky walks and zip lining.
Explore the cloud forest's treetops with a day of sky walks and zip-lining.

Sky Adventures Monteverde Park is an aerial amusement park that raises jungle excitement to the next level. Its Sky Tram network of gondolas transport 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 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 5: Transfer to Manuel Antonio - Free Afternoon

Snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters around Manuel Antonio.
Snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters around Manuel Antonio.

This morning, you'll be picked up from Monteverde and driven 3.5 hours to Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific Coast. Wind down on one of the park's four beautiful beaches, which are 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 with capuchin monkeys, sloths, and over 200 species of birds. Snorkeling is also accessible from multiple points along the beaches. 

In the evening, head to the town of Quepos for dinner, where you can find a table with a sunset view.

Day 6: Damas Island Kayaking Tour

Spot wildlife like iguanas on your kayaking tour.
Spot wildlife like iguanas on your kayaking tour.

Just outside of Quepos and Manuel Antonio is the incredibly biodiverse Damas Island, the setting for today's adventure. You'll get back on the water this morning as you explore the protected inland waterways of the Damas Estuary by open-seat kayak. Paddle under the shade of the jungle mangroves surrounding Damas Island on an intimate guided tour of this delicate rainforest ecosystem. Don't forget your camera—the mangroves are home to a plethora of wildlife, including sloths, monkeys, several species of birds, and boa constrictors!

Feel free to stop along the way to enjoy local fruits and refreshments. When you've had enough kayaking, tuck into a hot Tico-style (Costa Rican) meal at one of the many local restaurants in Manuel Antonio National Park.

Day 7: Morning Free Time - Afternoon Sunset Catamaran Cruise

It's not uncommon to spot dolphins on this sailing tour.
It's not uncommon to spot dolphins on this sailing tour.

Spend today at your leisure, choosing from some of the following options: 

  • Explore the incredible biodiversity of the park on 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.

  • Simply relax on the white sands of Playa Manuel Antonio.

In the late afternoon, embark on a sunset dinner cruise. Stop in a calm bay, drop anchor, and swim or snorkel while the crew prepares a feast. Dinner is perfectly timed so you can watch the sunset while keeping an eye out for dolphins, sea turtles, flying fish, or even breaching whales.

Day 8: Manuel Antonio to San José - Depart Costa Rica

Bid Costa Rica's beautiful beaches farewell.
Bid Costa Rica's beautiful beaches farewell.

It's time to say goodbye to Costa Rica! After breakfast, make the 2.5-hour trip to San José, where you'll depart from Juan Santamaría International Airport.

Map

Map of Best of Costa Rica: Arenal, Monteverde & Manuel Antonio - 8 Days
Map of Best of Costa Rica: Arenal, Monteverde & Manuel Antonio - 8 Days