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 Rafting Río Pacuare on Class II-IIl Rapids Río Pacuare
Day 3 Rafting Class III-IV Rapids, Continue to Tortuguero Tortuguero
Day 4 Monkeys & Turtles in Tortuguero National Park Tortuguero
Day 5 Tortuguero to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 6 Sloths, Monkeys & Beach Time in Puerto Viejo Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 7 Hiking & Snorkeling in Cahuita National Park Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 8 Puerto Viejo Free Day Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 9 Puerto Viejo to Braulio Carrillo National Park to San José 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: Rafting Río Pacuare on Class II-IIl Rapids

Brave the whitewater on Río Pacuare, one of the best rafting rivers in the world
Brave the whitewater on Río Pacuare, one of the best rafting rivers in the world

This morning, you'll wake up early, meet your guide, and begin the 2.5-hour drive out through the city and countryside east of San José. Stop en route for a classic Costa Rican breakfast before you arrive at Río Pacuare, where you'll begin your rafting excursion. Located along Costa Rica’s Caribbean slope, Río Pacuare’s river gorge is considered one of the best rafting rivers in the world with warm water and stunning green scenery. 

After a guided orientation, you'll embark on today's exciting 1-1.5 hour river rafting trip on class II-III rapids. Paddle past impressive tropical scenery through rushing whitewater, all the way to your 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, opt for a couple's massage at the Jawa Juü Spa, or simply relax in your private bungalow or suite and enjoy the tropical nature and tranquility of this remote and beautiful place.

Day 3: Rafting Class III-IV Rapids, Continue to Tortuguero

This morning, you'll tackle a more challenging whitewater route
This morning, you'll tackle a more challenging whitewater route

This morning, you'll embark on a more challenging route that lasts approximately 3½ hours over class III-IV rapids. Depart after breakfast and brace yourself for an exhilarating whitewater rafting experience. As you travel down Río Pacuare, expect to see beautiful canyons, waterfalls, and virgin forests. During the calmer stretches, be on the lookout for various species of birds and other wildlife that call the region home.

In the afternoon, you'll be heading to Tortuguero.  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, the rest of the day is free for you to relax in your hotel (where meals are included) or you can take a short guided hike to the town of Tortuguero, which will introduce you to the local sights. 

Day 4: 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 5: 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 6: 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 7: 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 8: 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 9: Puerto Viejo to Braulio Carrillo National Park to San José

Braulio Carrillo National Park is home to 150 different types of mammals
Braulio Carrillo National Park is home to 150 different types of mammals

After breakfast, you'll be driven to Braulio Carrillo National Park, the country's largest with more than 100,000 acres of rolling hills and dark-green vegetation. Uncrowded hiking trails—both short and long, ranging from easy to difficult—are a highlight and are home to animals such as white-faced monkeys, jaguars, deer, tapir, raccoons, armadillos, and anteaters. Families with young children can opt to experience the rainforest is by aerial tram, located on the eastern flank of the park. This open gondola takes you on a tour of the canopy; it can fit up to four passengers and a guide. 

Then it's on to San José where you'll have your evening free to explore the city and see or do anything you may have missed at the beginning of your trip.

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 Mar 29, 2019