This 13-day trip is packed with the best that Costa Rica's nature has to offer: volcanoes, cloud forests, coastlines, and more. You'll start in Poas to see the Tenorio Volcano and visit the La Paz Waterfall, then continue north to Arenal for a look at the iconic volcano and a chance to learn about coffee and chocolate production. Continue to Rio Celeste to see the spectacular blue water for yourself, then end your trip in Monteverde and Manual Antonio for sunny beaches and wildlife walks.

Highlights

  • Soak in the healing waters of the Arenal Volcano Hot Springs
  • Visit Costa Rica's main volcanoes: Arenal and Tenorio
  • Go horseback riding through the cloud forest of Monteverde
  • Fly across the tree canopies on a zipline tour
  • Explore the coast on a kayaking tour of the estuaries

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Transfer to Poas & La Paz Waterfall Gardens Poas National Park
Day 2 Transfer to Arenal & Cooking Lesson Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 3 Arenal Nature Walk & Hot Springs Soak Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 4 Chocolate & Coffee Tour in Arenal Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Transfer to Rio Celeste & Free Day Bijagua / Rio Celeste
Day 6 Rio Celeste Hike Bijagua / Rio Celeste
Day 7 Transfer to Monteverde Monteverde
Day 8 Horseback Riding in the Cloud Forest Monteverde
Day 9 Ziplining Tour in Monteverde Monteverde
Day 10 Transfer to Manuel Antonio Manuel Antonio
Day 11 Tour Manuel Antonio National Park Manuel Antonio
Day 12 Kayak & Snorkel in Manuel Antonio Jacó
Day 13 Transfer to Airport & Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Transfer to Poas & La Paz Waterfall Gardens

La Paz waterfall gardens
La Paz waterfall gardens

Welcome to Costa Rica!  After picking up your luggage, transfer to Poas. Today's destination is La Paz Waterfall Gardens, located a quick one-hour drive north of the capital.

After breakfast, you'll enjoy a guided visit to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, a protected area and expansive open-air theme park home to a wide variety of natural attractions. These, of course, include the namesake waterfalls as well as wildlife habitats and even a butterfly enclosure and aviary home to exotic birds.

The special thing about La Paz is that it is home to all the exotic wildlife you'll continue to encounter over the course of your adventure in Costa Rica. Fauna you'll see in the habitats include big cats, tropical snakes and frogs, various monkeys, and many types of hummingbirds, and other exotic avian species. To arrive at the waterfalls you'll follow a network of jungle trails amid stunning tropical scenery until you reach the falls, at which point you'll be able to admire them and snap photos from different perspectives. 

After your excursion into the forest, enjoy a buffet lunch, then transfer to the hotel for a relaxed afternoon.  

Day 2: Transfer to Arenal & Cooking Lesson

Take a cooking class on typical Costa Rican cuisine
Take a cooking class on typical Costa Rican cuisine

After breakfast in Poas, continue to Arenal to pay a visit to La Fortuna Waterfall Reserve, where heavy annual precipitation gives you the chance to see a 210-foot waterfall. As you descend downhill on the trail, you'll check out the falls from the very bottom where a natural pool awaits if you want to swim in the freshwater of La Fortuna River.

In the afternoon, take a guided journey to the family-owned Arenal Vida Campesina Farm where you'll find several crops that Costa Rica is best known for: sugar cane, coffee, corn, yucca, cocoa, bananas, and plantains. The trip includes a visit to the mill for fresh-squeezed sugar cane juice and a taste of sugar cane liquor. Next, you'll head to restaurant La Guaria Morada for a cooking class on typical Costa Rican cuisine, followed by a family-style dinner.

Day 3: Arenal Nature Walk & Hot Springs Soak

Soak in the hot springs after a hike through Arenal
Soak in the hot springs after a hike through Arenal

After breakfast, spend the morning relaxing. Visit the town of La Fortuna or spend time at your hotel. 

In the afternoon, enjoy more of the rainforest and the natural hot springs near the Arenal volcano. Begin with a nature walk in Arenal Volcano National Park, where an expert guide will explain interesting facts about the volcano and its history. There are many chances to see wildlife on the hike and, of course, experience the volcanic activity firsthand. The trail is easy and your guide will help with spotting and pointing out wildlife as you walk.

Your final stop is the thermal waters near the volcano, where you can swim and relax in the naturally heated hot springs. Dinner is included at the hot springs restaurant, so you can enjoy more time soaking and decompressing.

Day 4: Chocolate & Coffee Tour in Arenal

Learn about the coffee harvesting process, from farm-to-cup
Learn about the coffee harvesting process, from farm-to-cup

Today you'll head to a local farm for a tour centered around one of Costa Rica's most famous exports: coffee. You'll participate in the entire farm-to-cup process, from picking the beans to roasting. 

Afterward, continue the day with some chocolate making, with a hands-on program in which you'll learn about the origin, history, and current production of one of Costa Rica's most famous exports: chocolate. Participate in the harvest of cacao, the drying, and grinding of the seed that produces creamy cocoa butter, learn how the traditional chocolate drink was developed centuries ago, and, of course, sample the freshly made chocolate.

The afternoon is free to relax and enjoy the area. 

Day 5: Transfer to Rio Celeste & Free Day

Catch sight of a sloth in the trees
Catch sight of a sloth in the trees

In the morning, transfer to Rio Celeste, located 1.5 hours north near the Tenorio Volcano. It's one of Costa Rica's true natural wonders. The river's electric blue hue is the result of a mixture of sulfur and carbonate, which is produced by the nearby volcano.

You'll have the rest of your dar free to explore the area. One activity option includes a tubing adventure down the Rio Celeste River, a half-day, wet-and-wild adventure. Let the river current carry you down these sky-blue waters on an excursion that's both exciting and relaxing. You'll take in the ethereal beauty water of the river and the adrenaline of the rapids as you journey down water, flanked on either side by rainforest jungle teeming with monkeys and colorful birds. 

Day 6: Rio Celeste Hike

Take in the waterfall's incredible blue color
Take in the waterfall's incredible blue color

Today you'll visit one of the most incredible sights in the country: the sky blue Río Celeste River, located inside the park. Local legend has it that after God was done painting the sky he washed his paintbrushes in this river, hence the name, which translates to "River of the sky." The scientific explanation says the vivid blue color is due to a mixture of sulfur and carbonate, which originates in the dormant Tenorio Volcano. 

You'll embark on a four-mile (seven-kilometer) hike of the area on a trail that runs next to the Celeste, passing many sites of interest starting with the river's Eden-like waterfall. Then it's off to the Blue Lagoon, a natural turquoise pool. Later, you'll stop at a viewpoint with vistas of the Tenorio Volcano and the surrounding hills. One of the other highlights of the trek is a stop at Los Teñideros, which is the confluence where two streams merge and the chemical reaction takes place that gives the river its signature blue color.

But it's not just incredible landscapes you'll enjoy; Tenorio National Park is a great wildlife viewing destination too. Have your camera at the ready because you're sure to spot many animals on the hike, such as sloths, colorful birds, and monkeys. 

Day 7: Transfer to Monteverde

In the morning, transfer to Monteverde. The area is home to a protected cloud forest that is one of the world's most ecologically diverse. These cloud forests are rare, and conserving them is key in ensuring to protect the unique flora and fauna that inhabit the region.

Today is a choose-your-own-adventure day. Throw the schedule out the window and follow your heart.

There's a near-endless amount of exotic flora in the area, including over 400 species of orchids. You can see many of them at the Monteverde Orchid Garden in Santa Elena. If fluttering works of art are your thing, don't miss the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens, which also features other small wildlife, like colorful insects and spiders. Another option is to visit the smaller, more intimate Curi-Cancha Reserve and walk along the nature trails for some great birding opportunities. 

Day 8: Horseback Riding in the Cloud Forest

Horseback riding in Monteverde
Horseback riding in Monteverde

Spend the morning relaxing at the hotel or exploring the nearby town of Santa Elena.

In the mid-afternoon, head to a nearby private property for a horseback ride through the cloud forest. The ride begins on a working coffee plantation, where you will learn about the importance of this product to Costa Rica's economy and culture. From here, the tour continues through dirt roads, trails, and some small rivers, all the while showcasing spectacular views of the Gulf of Nicoya.

Day 9: Ziplining Tour in Monteverde

Go ziplining through the cloud forest in Monteverde
Go ziplining through the cloud forest in Monteverde

Today is devoted to an adrenaline-pumping zip-line ride through the cloud forests of Monteverde. You'll start by ascending hundreds of feet above the jungle canopy via a network of trails and suspension bridges. The exotic flora and fauna of the region will be on full display, and your specialized guides will point out the most interesting specimens and residents of the forest's remarkable ecosystem.

Upon reaching the end of the line, the adventure of whizzing down the mountain begins. You will connect to a zip-line cable that stretches over the treetops and across canyons, ultimately returning you to the starting point. Monteverde's zip-line excursions are considered the most thrilling in the country and are an unmissable highlight of any Costa Rican vacation.

Day 10: Transfer to Manuel Antonio

Try some surfing in Manuel Antonio
Try some surfing in Manuel Antonio

Start the morning with a 3.5-hour transfer to the Pacific coast and Manuel Antonio National Park. Manuel Antonio is just south of Quepos on the Pacific Coast, 132 km from San José.

The rest of the day is yours to enjoy as you please. Consider taking a surfing lesson, or simply stake your claim on a section of white sand and relax with a good book. One of the most beautiful beaches in the park is Playa Espadilla — It stretches for nearly a mile and is great for families, as it's tranquil and has lifeguards on hand during the day.

Day 11: Tour Manuel Antonio National Park

Spot the white-faced capuchin monkey on a tour of Manuel Antonio National Park
Spot the white-faced capuchin monkey on a tour of Manuel Antonio National Park

Enjoy breakfast at the hotel, and then make your way to visit Manuel Antonio National Park with your nature guide. Although small in size, this 1,685-acre national park is the epitome of everything travelers flock to Costa Rica to see. Find a magnificent beach setting with islands offshore (bird sanctuaries for marine species), as well as lush rainforests laced with a network of welcoming trails and wildlife galore. Experience close-up encounters with monkeys, sloths, coatimundis, and scarlet macaws while you hike, and be prepared to mingle with the wildlife species who are accustomed to human visitors.

 Following the tour, the rest of the day is at your leisure to enjoy the many nearby beaches.

Day 12: Kayak & Snorkel in Manuel Antonio

Kayaking through the mangroves
Kayaking through the mangroves

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 13: Transfer to San Jose Airport & Departure

San Jose at Twilight
San Jose at Twilight

 

It's time to say adiós to Costa Rica. Depending on your departure time, you'll have the afternoon to explore more of the city, relax in a café, or browse some shops before boarding your flight home.