Experience the best of Costa Rica's tropical flora and fauna on this 10-day trip. Spend a fun-filled week hiking in the rainforest, snorkeling in coral reefs, rafting the world-class rapids of Río Pacuare, and more. This itinerary is ideal for travelers heading to Costa Rica during the "green season" (May - November), as the Caribbean coast stays relatively dry during rainy months—and it's also the best time to see turtles nesting in Tortuguero National Park.

Highlights

  • Raft world-class whitewater on the Río Pacuare 
  • Spot wildlife while navigating the rivers of Tortuguero National Park
  • Visit monkeys and sloths at a wildlife rescue center
  • Watch the sunset from Koki Beach in Puerto Viejo
  • Snorkel among tropical fish, rays, and sharks in Cahuita National Park

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José San Jose
Day 2 San Jose to Tortuguero National Park Tortuguero
Day 3 Boat Tour of Tortuguero National Park Tortuguero
Day 4 Tortuguero -> Transfer to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 5 Sloths, Monkeys & Beach Time in Puerto Viejo Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 6 Hiking & Snorkeling in Cahuita National Park Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 7 Puerto Viejo Free Day Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 8 Transfer from Puerto Viejo to Río Pacuare, Whitewater Rafting Day 1 Rio Pacuare
Day 9 Río Pacuare Whitewater Rafting Day 2 -> Transfer to San Jose San Jose
Day 10 Depart San José  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José

The Neo-Classical Teatro Nacional in San José
The Neo-Classical Teatro Nacional in San José

Welcome to the land of pura vida! After arriving at Juan Santamaria International Airport in San José, you'll transfer to your hotel. 

The rest of the day is free for you to explore the country's capital city. Suggested activities include: 

  • Taking a stroll through Mercado Central (Central Market), the largest in the city, with over 200 shops, food stalls, and sodas (traditional restaurants) perfect for an inexpensive lunch of casado, a traditional dish of rice, beans, and meat, served with tortillas. 
  • Visiting the Teatro Nacional, an opulent Neo-Classical building constructed in the late 19th century, which offers free guided tours on the hour. First, visit the Museo del Oro Precolumbino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum), which holds the largest Pre-Columbian gold collection in all of Latin American. Continue on to the Museo del Jade (Jade Museum), dedicated to preserving the archaeological heritage of the region. The museum features the largest collection of pre-Columbian jade artifacts in the world with over 7,000 items on display, most dated between 500 BCE and 300 BCE.

For a casual dinner try Tiquicia, a hilltop stalwart that serves up delicious local fare accompanied by live folk music on weekends, with views of the Central Valley. Or, for special-occasion dining, try Restaurante Grano de Oro, a local favorite helmed by French chef Francis Canal, who uses European techniques to prepare Costa Rican-fusion fare paired with an excellent wine list.

Day 2: San José to Tortuguero National Park

Typical denizen of Tortuguero National Park
Typical denizen of Tortuguero National Park

You’ll depart early in the morning for Tortuguero National Park, on the Caribbean coast, stopping en route for a typical Costa Rican breakfast—perhaps of gallo pinto (rice and beans), the unofficial national dish, often served with eggs or cheese.

Getting to Tortuguero is an adventure in and of itself. You’ll take the Guapiles Highway through the Zurqui Tunnel, which acts as a literal gateway from the urban world to the tropical forest of Braulio Carrillo National Park. Despite being bisected by a busy road, this area feels remote and breathtaking, featuring flora and fauna at a variety of elevations.

Next, you’ll drive through the town of Guapiles, past banana plantations on the way to the boat dock. Once aboard for the approximately 90-minute trip, everyone can relax, enjoy the refreshing waves—and maybe make a game of spotting fish, birds, amphibians, and reptiles of every stripe as you enter this biodiverse paradise.

Once you arrive, you will have lunch before visiting the local village with your guide.

Day 3: Monkeys & Turtles in Tortuguero National Park

You'll explore Tortuego from the water
You'll explore Tortuego from the water

Unlike many national parks, Tortuguero is shown to its best advantage via the water. Today you'll navigate by the canals and rivers of this 77,032-acre habitat in search of howler and capuchin monkeys, river otters, and rare birds—macaws, toucans, and kingfishers among them. 

Back on terra firma, you'll explore the 22-mile beach (note: it isn't swimmable) that's a favored nesting ground for sea turtles like the hawksbill, loggerhead, and green, which nest in the area from July through October. From February to July, you'll spot the leatherback which, at 6 to 7 feet long and up to 1,500 pounds, is the largest sea turtle in the world.

Day 4: Tortuguero to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

Sunset in Puerto Viejo
Sunset in Puerto Viejo

After breakfast, you’ll travel to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. Located on the southern Caribbean coast, this surfer community is known for its colorful buildings, beautiful beaches, Afro-Caribbean culture and food, and a friendly, laid-back attitude. 

Return to your hotel and enjoy the evening in Puerto Viejo. A few restaurants we recommend during your stay are: 

  • Bread & Chocolate, open for breakfast and lunch. Don't miss their homemade PB&J sandwich (they bake the bread and make the peanut butter and jelly themselves) and save room for the chocolate truffles. 
  • Home to some of the best coffee in town, Café Rico also offers healthy breakfast and lunch options, as well as a long list of services including wi-fi, a book exchange, laundry, and snorkel and bike rentals.
  • Miss Lidia's Place, a popular pick for Caribbean fare and ice-cold batidos (fresh-fruit drinks) served in an open-air dining room. 
  • Watch the sun set from Koki Beach, and oceanfront restaurant that serves topnotch seafood and meat, with produce from local, organic suppliers. 
  • Mopri is another casual spot where you'll find some of the fish in town served with your choice of sauce (be sure to try Mopri's garlic butter). It also has a kids' menu and pasta dishes for non-fish eaters. 

Day 5: Sloths, Monkeys & Beach Time in Puerto Viejo

Meet the residents at the Sloth Sanctuary
Meet the residents at the Sloth Sanctuary

This morning, you'll head to the Jaguar Rescue Center, a home and rehabilitation facility for ill, injured and orphaned animals. The rescue center was named after a baby jaguar brought for rehabilitation back in 2007. While your chances of seeing a jaguar at the center these days are slim, you'll see monkeys, wild cats, three-toed sloths, and anteaters, among others. The center offers public and private tours of their facilities—a treat for animal lovers of all ages. 

The rest of the day is for enjoying the beach or shopping around the colorful boutiques of Puerto Viejo. Another option is to explore the Gondoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, which includes several rare habitats like lowland rainforests, wetlands, and mangrove swamps, as well as a beautiful stretch of beach. The refuge is also the nesting area for several species of turtles, manatees, crocodiles, caimans, tarpons, and dolphins. Hike the beach trail, hit the water (and the area's coral reef) via kayak or snorkel gear, or simply relax on the beach.

Day 6: Hiking & Snorkeling in Cahuita National Park

Tropical fish, stingrays, octopus, and nurse sharks on view for snorkelers at Cahuita National Park
Tropical fish, stingrays, octopus, and nurse sharks on view for snorkelers at Cahuita National Park

After breakfast, you'll take a short drive south to Cahuita National Park for an easy jungle hike followed by a swim at the pristine beach. Fronted by the turquoise sea, hikers will find flat, well-maintained trails that run parallel to the beach, allowing you to weave back and forth between the sand and trail for frequent swimming and snorkeling breaks.

On land, keep an eye out for colorful crabs, white-faced and howler monkeys, as well as several species of exotic birds. Meanwhile, the seafloor off the coast of Cahuita is as much a jungle as the rainforest, with tropical fish, stingrays, octopus, and nurse sharks on view for snorkelers.

Day 7: Puerto Viejo Free Day

Cahuita National Park
Cahuita National Park

After breakfast at your hotel, you can spend your morning shopping around the colorful boutiques of Puerto Viejo. While walking around, take time to watch the surfers at Salsa Brava, the Caribbean's most infamous surf break; better yet—take a beginner lesson with the pros at Surf the Jungle.  

One option is to explore the Gondoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, which includes several rare habitats like lowland rainforests, wetlands, and mangrove swamps, as well as a beautiful stretch of beach. The refuge is also the nesting area for several species of turtles, manatees, crocodiles, caimans, tarpons, and dolphins. Hike the beach trail, hit the water (and the area's coral reef) via kayak or snorkel gear, or simply relax on the beach.

Day 8: Transfer from Puerto Viejo to Río Pacuare, Whitewater Rafting Day 1

Braulio Carrillo National Park is home to 150 different types of mammals
Brave the whitewater on Río Pacuare

This morning, you'll wake up early, meet your guide, and begin the 2.5-hour drive from Puerto Viejo to the Pacuare River. Stop en route for a classic Costa Rican breakfast of gallo pinto (rice, black beans, and eggs) before arriving at the Río Pacuare (Pacuare River). Located along Costa Rica’s Caribbean slope, Río Pacuare’s deep gorge is considered one of the best river-rafting sites in the world. It's now time for you to begin your whitewater rafting adventure.

After a guided orientation, you'll embark on today's adrenaline-pumping trip on class II-III rapids. You'll paddle past impressive tropical scenery through rushing whitewater all the way to the destination: a riverside eco-lodge. Here, you will check into your luxury jungle accommodations and have the rest of the day to explore the surrounding area with your guide.

After lunch, you can hike through the lodge’s protected forest to an idyllic waterfall, or enjoy a couple's massage, or simply relax in your private bungalow or suite and enjoy the nature and tranquility of this remote tropical dreamland.

Day 9: Río Pacuare Whitewater Rafting Day 2 -> Transfer to San Jose

Canyon in the Río Pacuare
Canyon in the Río Pacuare

This day on the river will take you past virgin rainforest, cascading waterfalls, and through water-carved canyons as you tackle the strongest rapids (class III-IV) of the trip. Make sure to take in the sights and sounds of the jungle as you go. Take a break along the way to hike uphill to some natural pools featuring stone waterslides. 

Your whitewater adventure ends near the town of Siquirres. From here you will transfer about 3 hours to San José for your last evening in Costa Rica.

Day 10: Depart San José

The Plaza Juan Mora Fernandez
The Plaza Juan Mora Fernandez

It's time to say adiós to Costa Rica. Depending on your departure time, you'll have the morning to explore more of San José or relax in a coffee shop before boarding your flight.

Map

Map of Caribbean Coast Adventure Tour - 10 Days
Map of Caribbean Coast Adventure Tour - 10 Days
Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Aug 10, 2020