- 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
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.
|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)|
Day 1: Downtown San José
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)
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
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
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
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
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.