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 Costa Rica's most famous volcano
  • 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 - 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. 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.

 

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 7 days in Costa Rica, how to spend 10 days in Costa Rica, and more trip ideas.

 

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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

Best of costa rica in 7 days: explore jungles, volcanoes and beaches, Costa Rica - Dec 16 - Dec 23, 2018

Traveler: Chris L. - Local specialist: Randall Jiménez

I did some research on the Internet on where to go in Costa Rica, gave Kimkim my preferences and date of arrival/departure. Randall took it over from there and came up with a perfect itinerary for us.

Before we left we received the detailed itinerary from kimkim, airport pick up was on time, as well as the rest of the private transport pickup. Hotels were clean and comfortable, the guides were knowledgeable and friendly. No complaints whatsoever.

Highly recommended.

Lydia

Best of costa rica in 7 days: explore jungles, volcanoes and beaches, Costa Rica - Dec 9 - Dec 17, 2018

Traveler: Lydia S. - Local specialist: Sylvia Jurado

I couldn't be happier with my experience. Sylvia is great to work with and helped me plan my perfect trip.

I looked at a few of the ready made trips on Kim Kim to get an idea of what I wanted. Then I reached out to Sylvia. We set up a phone call. She offered suggestions and I told her what I was interested in doing. We had a few back and forths before we settled on my ideal itinerary. The whole thing was super easy!

Before we left: We had a flight change and Sylvia was able to make a few... read more

I couldn't be happier with my experience. Sylvia is great to work with and helped me plan my perfect trip.

I looked at a few of the ready made trips on Kim Kim to get an idea of what I wanted. Then I reached out to Sylvia. We set up a phone call. She offered suggestions and I told her what I was interested in doing. We had a few back and forths before we settled on my ideal itinerary. The whole thing was super easy!

Before we left: We had a flight change and Sylvia was able to make a few adjustments to our trip. Again, all seamless on my end. We were also provided a detailed itinerary which included recommended items to bring each event.

Things were great from the moment we arrived in Costa Rica. Someone met us at arrivals and explained our transportation to our hotel. Sylvia, and Horizontes, arranged all of our transportation to each different city. We decided on doing quite a few tours and all we had to do was be at a designated spot at a specific time. We did canyoning, hot springs, hiking, nature walks sky walk and a coffee tour. Everyone was so nice and helpful and all of the guides were extremely knowledgeable. Also, everyone was punctual so we never had to wait and wonder where our ride was. While in country, we had a WhatsApp phone number we could text 24/7 in case we had any questions. This is great because our phone service wasn't reliable all the time. Responses were always very timely.

Horizontes even arranged for our original driver from the airport to be our final driver back to the airport. It was a nice touch.

Things I would do differently - I'll start by saying this trip is EXACTLY what I asked for. This is my first time using a travel agent and I didn't think to ask some questions. So this is more for anyone else who is a first timer. One hike, which I specifically requested, was about 1.5 hours from town so it made for a long day. The hike was beautiful, but we probably wouldn't have done it if we knew we'd be in a vehicle for 3 hours. Next time, I'll ask about time and distance. The only other thing I'd probably request is a range of hotels. Again, we got exactly what we asked for but next time I'll ask to see one in each category.

I would definitely recommend Sylvia to anybody looking to plan their Costa Rica trip.

Best of costa rica in 7 days: explore jungles, volcanoes and beaches, Costa Rica - Nov 17 - Nov 26, 2018

Traveler: sally c. - Local specialist: Randall Jiménez

We had a great trip despite the driver being 20 minutes late to pick us up at the airport. The Holiday Day Inn in San Jose wasn't anywhere near a 4-5 star hotel but was fine.

Rafting with Wave Company in La Fortuna was a great. The Baldi Hotel/Springs was nice but they had constructions going on the entire time we were there which was loud.

Ziplining (forget the company) in Fortuna was aweseome, small outfitter with great guides.

The Hanging Bridges at Mystic was great but could do... read more

We had a great trip despite the driver being 20 minutes late to pick us up at the airport. The Holiday Day Inn in San Jose wasn't anywhere near a 4-5 star hotel but was fine.

Rafting with Wave Company in La Fortuna was a great. The Baldi Hotel/Springs was nice but they had constructions going on the entire time we were there which was loud.

Ziplining (forget the company) in Fortuna was aweseome, small outfitter with great guides.

The Hanging Bridges at Mystic was great but could do without the walk down to the waterfall as the crowds were a real turn off.

Biking with Arenal Bike Company was nice.

Monteverde Lodge and Garden was really nice, very quiet and the grounds were impressive and the proximity to town was ideal for walking to restaurants.

We opted for another zipline which we booked through the hotel, Sky Adventure would have been fine but nobody mentioned how cold it would at that high location.

The horseback riding was one of our favorite tours, we had a private guide which made a huge difference.

Si Como No was a huge hit with my daughter. The only tour we had was to the Manual Antonio Park was fine but could didn't care for the crowds.

Randall did a great job but would have appreciated a bit more information on what to expect on each tour and how long each tour would last. Aside from that, he did a great job.

Best of costa rica in 7 days: explore jungles, volcanoes and beaches, Costa Rica - Oct 13 - Oct 20, 2018

Traveler: Rosemary S. - Local specialist: Sylvia Jurado

My daughter and I very much enjoyed the trip planned for us by Sylvia which met our interests and our budget. All of the tours were great (cacao farm, waterfall, hanging bridges) and the guides and drivers were excellent. Despite a bit of traffic noise, we also appreciated the lovely views at each of our accommodations. At our first resort near La Fortuna, we had a direct view of the Arenal Volcano, lush vegetation and colourful birds from the patio of our cabina. At our second resort in... read more

My daughter and I very much enjoyed the trip planned for us by Sylvia which met our interests and our budget. All of the tours were great (cacao farm, waterfall, hanging bridges) and the guides and drivers were excellent. Despite a bit of traffic noise, we also appreciated the lovely views at each of our accommodations. At our first resort near La Fortuna, we had a direct view of the Arenal Volcano, lush vegetation and colourful birds from the patio of our cabina. At our second resort in Tamarindo, we had a beautiful view of palm trees, the beach and the Pacific Ocean from the balcony of our low rise hotel. The staff we met at each resort were terrific and we spent many enjoyable moments chatting with them.

Best of costa rica in 7 days: explore jungles, volcanoes and beaches, Costa Rica - Oct 6 - Oct 14, 2018

Traveler: Kareen S. - Local specialist: Sofía Kikut

The entire experience of working with Kim Kim was terrific. I was able to customize a plan that included all of the activities my family wanted to do in Costa Rica. In country, every single driver, guide, etc was very punctual. We never had to wait for anything and all of the activities we planned were excellent. We loved stand up paddle boarding in Lake Arenal, zip lining in the cloud forest, and playing at the beach in Manual Antonio. The company Desafio was especially fun for our... read more

The entire experience of working with Kim Kim was terrific. I was able to customize a plan that included all of the activities my family wanted to do in Costa Rica. In country, every single driver, guide, etc was very punctual. We never had to wait for anything and all of the activities we planned were excellent. We loved stand up paddle boarding in Lake Arenal, zip lining in the cloud forest, and playing at the beach in Manual Antonio. The company Desafio was especially fun for our excursions in Arenal. Two out of the three hotels were great- clean, convenient, and comfortable. The third hotel was not exactly up to the standards we were hoping for so we were disappointed there. But overall, the trip was so memorable and I would recommend the use of Kim Kim to anyone wanting to plan a trip to Costa Rica.