With a mix of rugged jungles, active volcanoes and world-class beaches, Costa Rica offers some of the best natural sights and experiences in the world, all conveniently packed into one territory. Almost a quarter of the land is preserved within national parks, allowing a wide range of animals and plants to flourish, making Costa Rica an ideal destination for ecotourism. With this itinerary, you'll discover the best attractions Costa Rica has to offer in just a week.

Highlights

  • Zipline, hike, bike, and more around two impressive volcanoes
  • Discover the thousands of species that call Monteverde's cloud forest their home
  • Relax on the pristine beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park
  • Explore the natural coasts of the Damas Island Estuary

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Overview

This itinerary covers most of the accessible and major ecological sites of interest in Costa Rica — primarily the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and Manuel Antonio National Park — in a relatively short time span of 7 days. This means activities will be tightly-packed, but Costa Rica's small size makes for faster domestic travel times.

This itinerary is highly flexible and can be modified based on preference for transportation, local tour groups, and even an extension to experience Manuel Antonio National Park at a more leisurely pace. For those who love nature and are looking for a less typical travel experience, this tour is a fantastic option.

Brief Itinerary

Day Destination Overnight
Day 1 San José (Arrival) San José
Day 2 San José - Poás Volcano National Park - La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano La Fortuna 
Day 3 Arenal Volcano - Monteverde Cloud Forest Monteverde 
Day 4 Monteverde Cloud Forest Monteverde 
Day 5 Monteverde Cloud Forest - Manuel Antonio National Park Manuel Antonio 
Day 6 Damas Island Estuary/Manuel Antonio National Park Manuel Antonio 
Day 7 Manuel Antonio National Park (Optional Extension) - San José (Departure)  
 

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Downtown San José

San Jose's National Museum

Welcome to Costa Rica! Arrive and get settled in San José, and if your flight arrives earlier in the day, take the rest of the day to head downtown and explore the city. The capital city of Costa Rica, San José features a wide array of green plazas and European-inspired architecture.

Be sure to tour the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum as well as the post office building. If you are interested in architecture, you can visit the Teatro Nacional (National Theater), which many deem the most exquisite building in the entire city. Also, check out the National Museum, a former military barrack painted in a dazzling golden color. There will bound to be something to capture your attention on every street and turn.

Day 2: San José to Arenal Volcano (La Fortuna)

Arenal Volcano

Leave your hotel after an early breakfast and start driving towards Arenal Volcano. If there is enough time, stop by Poás Volcano National Park. Here, you can hike up to the massive crater to see the bubbling lake within, composed of sulfur and rainwater. However, since Poás Volcano has been rather active recently (last eruption June 6, 2017), there is a chance that hiking up may not be an option.

Once we arrive in La Fortuna, the regional hub at the foot of the Arenal Volcano, drop off your luggage at the hotel. Then, spend the afternoon in the Arenal area zip lining, walking through hanging bridges, and admiring views of the forest canopy and the volcano itself. Wind down after a day of adventure by going to the Tabacón Hot Springs and Resort. After peacefully soaking in the natural springs among lush tropical scenery, return to your hotel for the night.

Day 3: Adventures in Arenal and Monteverde

A hanging bridge in Monteverde Cloud Forest

Get one last chance to try some more activities around Arenal National Park this morning. The options are endless; from white-water rafting to mountain biking, horseback riding to hiking the Rio Fortuna Waterfall.  

Next, head to the Monteverde Cloud Forest. The drive will take about 4 hours, following a road that curves around Lake Arenal and into scenic patches of jungles and green hills. Parts of the trip will pass through foggy conditions and unpaved roads, so alternatively, you can boat across Lake Arenal. You can even cycle or ride a horse through the surrounding mountains, as a number of local tour companies provide several interesting options to complete the trip. After getting to Monteverde by sundown, rest up and prepare for tomorrow’s fascinating ecotour.

Day 4: Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve

A colorful quetzal bird

Wake up early and go on a guided tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, a unique tropical ecosystem and one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. Trek through acres of virgin forests and spot a wide variety of rare animals, including quetzal birds, amphibians, three-wattled bellbirds, sloths, and monkeys. Make sure to bring a light extra layer, as the temperature usually reaches a daily high in the mid-60s (F). Additionally, the forest sees frequent showers and can get quite wet, especially in the summer months, so rain gear and hiking gear are also highly recommended.

In the afternoon, continue to explore the park through more activities such as birding or hiking. You can also visit some of the local coffee, chocolate, or sugarcane plantations, or seek out the beautiful Butterfly Garden or Orchid Garden.

Day 5: Monteverde to Manuel Antonio National Park

A beach in Manuel Antonio National Park

Spend the morning in Monteverde and scope out some last-minute sights before hitting the road by lunchtime. Our destination today is the Manuel Antonio National Park, located on the Central Pacific coast. Once you arrive, check in at one of the luxurious seaside hotels, enjoy a drink on the beach, and watch the sun set over the ocean horizon. Relax in comfort tonight, as tomorrow, get ready to venture out yet again for more discoveries in the wilderness.

Day 6: Manuel Antonio National Park

A capuchin monkey

In the morning, take a boat tour of Damas Island Estuary. Navigate through the extensive mangrove swamps and kayak through some of the smaller waterways. Make sure to be on the lookout for fascinating island wildlife, including boas, caimans, and over 200 species of birds.  

In the afternoon, take a break on one of the beautiful beaches inside Manuel Antonio National Park. Lay down on the white sands and sunbathe, or go snorkeling in the nearby reefs. If you still seek more adventure, you can hike through the park on one of the many well-marked trails, and if you’re lucky, you can even see a capuchin monkey or a sloth up close!

Day 7: Farewell

If you have a day or two more, you can stay longer at Manuel Antonio National Park. Diving, whale watching, whitewater rafting, fishing, sailing, and more are all available near by. If not, then it’s time to say “adios” to Costa Rica. You can either take a flight from Manuel Antonio to San José, or drive 3.5 hours to San José in time for your departure flight home.

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Map

Map of Best of Costa Rica in 7 Days: Explore Jungles, Volcanoes and Beaches
Map of Best of Costa Rica in 7 Days: Explore Jungles, Volcanoes and Beaches

Recent Trip Reviews

Related trips planned by kimkim specialists
Stephen

Best of costa rica in 7 days: explore jungles, volcanoes and beaches, Costa Rica - Mar 3 - Mar 10, 2018

Traveler: Stephen C. - Local specialist: Sylvia Jurado

I would wholeheartedly recommend kim kim and particularly Sylvia Durado.
My flight over to Costa Rica was delayed due to adverse weather conditions. Sylvia was a lifesaver, altering my booking accordingly. No stress, no hassle.
When i finally got to Costa Rica, everything was seamless!
I had an amazing trip and I cant wait to return!!

Best of costa rica in 7 days: explore jungles, volcanoes and beaches, Costa Rica - Feb 21 - Feb 27, 2018

Traveler: SHENG L. - Local specialist: Randall Jiménez

Randall has been very responsible in tailoring our tour according to my request, with many back and forth. It’s been a great pleasure to work with him on putting the tour together.

Best of costa rica in 7 days: explore jungles, volcanoes and beaches, Costa Rica - Dec 29 - Jan 6, 2018

Traveler: Teresa K. - Local specialist: Randall Jiménez

We had a fabulous trip. I had asked for an active, adventurous itinerary, and that's exactly what we got. I'd have to say the highlight was river rafting, and camping on the river. It was gorgeous and fun and our guide Maurice was absolutely fabulous. He was a great guide on the river and fun companion, sharing lots of interesting things about the river, animals and Costa Rica. The food was excellent and the camp was comfortable, the rafting was exciting but we felt safe throughout.

The... read more

We had a fabulous trip. I had asked for an active, adventurous itinerary, and that's exactly what we got. I'd have to say the highlight was river rafting, and camping on the river. It was gorgeous and fun and our guide Maurice was absolutely fabulous. He was a great guide on the river and fun companion, sharing lots of interesting things about the river, animals and Costa Rica. The food was excellent and the camp was comfortable, the rafting was exciting but we felt safe throughout.

The trip to La Fortuna was easy, and our guide Roy for the hanging bridges and waterfall was great. We really appreciated that he wasn't in a rush and that we could take our time through the woods and enjoy. He had interesting information to share about all the animals we saw.

The ziplining was fun and enjoyed by all. It was great to have the woods all to ourselves, and was a good experience even in the rain.

The only glitch in our trip was the trip from Arenal to Quepos. Initially a vehicle that was too small for our group was sent, so we had to wait about 45 minutes for a 2nd vehicle. We all fit in the 2nd vehicle, but not by much - it was very cramped, and the driver was not smooth.

Our time on the coast was lovely - snorkeling was fun, and it was good to have a day on our own. We organized a night hike for ourselves which was also fun.

We reached out to Randall partway through the trip to change our hotel in San Jose for the return. The KC hotel was not in a neighborhood where we could easily walk to restaurants, and we got hassled a bit when we were out even though it was not late. He was very accomodating, booked us in the Sleep Inn which was perfect. We were able to walk to a nice restaurant for our final dinner in San Jose. I also appreciate that he was able to hold a spot on the tour for my husband, as he wasn't sure he'd be able to join us til just a couple of weeks before the trip. Overall he was very helpful and a pleasure to work with.