Experience both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Costa Rica — and all that's in between — on this 9-day adventure. Starting in the bustling capital of San Jose, you'll make your way to Tortuguero National Park, where you'll watch sea turtles hatch on the beach. Then head inland to the Monteverde Cloud Forest for incredible wildlife and rainforest trails. After two nights in the heart of the jungle, you'll travel to the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Papagayo. Here you'll go snorkeling and surfing, and end your journey with a spectacular sunset cruise around the bay.

Highlights

  • Watch sea turtles hatch on the beaches of Tortuguero
  • Take a guided hike of Monteverde with a naturalist guide
  • Relax on the spectacular beaches of Guanacaste

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José San Jose
Day 2 San José to Tortuguero National Park Tortuguero
Day 3 Turtle Spotting in Tortuguero Tortuguero
Day 4 Transfer to Monteverde Monteverde
Day 5 Free Day and Night-time Nature Tour in Monteverde Monteverde
Day 6 Monteverde -> Transfer to the Gulf of Papagayo Gulf de Papagayo
Day 7 Beach Day and Sunset Catamaran Sail in Guanacaste Gulf de Papagayo
Day 8 Snorkeling tour at the Catalina Islands Gulf de Papagayo
Day 9 Depart Costa Rica  

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 Costa Rica, the land of pura vida! After arriving at Juan Santamaría International Airport in San José, a local representative will meet you and escort you to your hotel. The rest of the day you'll have free to explore the city at your leisure.

Perhaps take a stroll through Mercado Central (Central Market), featuring over 200 shops, food stalls, and sodas (traditional restaurants). Then visit the Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Church), whose interior combines Greek Orthodox, Neoclassical, and Baroque styles, and features wood carvings and stained-glass windows. There's also a pair of popular museums in San José: Museo del Oro Precolumbino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum), and Museo del Jade—the world's largest collection of pre-Columbian jade artifacts.

Be sure to explore Barrio Amón, a historic neighborhood home to cafetalero (coffee grower) mansions built during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of this area’s historic buildings have been converted into hotels, restaurants, and galleries, making Amón a popular bohemian district.

For dinner, opt for a restaurant in the hills of Escazú. This elevated region on the western edge of the city offers panoramic views of the valley below. That said, San José is filled with great restaurants serving everything from traditional to forward-thinking fusion cuisine.

Day 2: San José to Tortuguero National Park

Rainforest on the banks of the Tortuguero River
Rainforest on the banks of the Tortuguero River

After breakfast, you’ll depart early in the morning for Tortuguero National Park, on the northern Caribbean coast, stopping en route for a snack. Maybe try the gallo pinto (rice mixed with black beans), Costa Rica's unofficial national dish, often served with eggs or cheese.

Getting to Tortuguero is an adventure in itself. On this nearly four-hour road trip, you'll head northeast out of town, leaving the concrete jungle of San José behind as you enter the tropical rainforests of Braulio Carrillo National Park. As you wind around the green mountains at various altitudes, exotic flora and fauna will present itself depending on the elevation. Squirrel monkeys can be found here, as can scarlet macaws.

After passing small towns and banana plantations you'll reach a small boat dock along the network of canals that feed into the Tortuguero River. Once aboard for the approximately 90-minute trip, you can relax and enjoy the ambiance as you zip along the calm waters—maybe make a game of spotting fish and birds as you enter Tortuguero National Park. Once you arrive, the rest of the day is free for you to relax in your hotel (where meals are included). If you do decide to dine out, the area isn't lacking for restaurants—you'll find everything from pizza and crepes to jerk chicken and fresh-baked banana bread.

Day 3: Turtle Spotting in Tortuguero

Tortuguero Beach
Tortuguero Beach

Tortuguero is unique in that, unlike many national parks in Costa Rica, it almost exclusively revolves around the water. Today you'll hop in a canoe and navigate the network of arterial waterways that snake around this protected area. Keep your camera at the ready because you'll be on the hunt for various denizens of the reserve, including manatees, spectacled caimans, river otters, and rare birds. Among these, you'll likely spot macaws, toucans, and kingfishers.

Back on terra firma, you'll have plenty of time to explore Tortuguero's 22-mile expanse of beach. It's a favorite nesting area for three different species of turtle: the hawksbill, leatherback, and green sea turtle. All of these nest in the area from July through October (mostly at night), and seeing the mother turtles lay their eggs is an unforgettable experience. If you come 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: Transfer to Monteverde

The Monteverde region of Costa Rica
The Monteverde region of Costa Rica

After breakfast, you’ll transfer to the highland rainforest region of Monteverde. This area is known for its misty cloud forests and diverse flora. Monteverde features the greatest number of orchid species on the planet, with new ones discovered regularly. 

After check-in at your hotel, spend the afternoon relaxing. Take the evening to enjoy nearby Santa Elena, a charming town with a heavy Quaker influence that’s known for excellent coffee and cheese. You'll find various restaurants here, including vegetarian options and those serving Costa Rican standards like ceviche and arroz con pollo (rice with chicken).

Day 5: Free Day and Night-time Nature Tour in Monteverde

Monteverde's Cloud Forest
Monteverde's Cloud Forest

Today is a choose your own adventure today. The Monteverde region has a long list of options, which include: 

Explore the Cloud Forest Reserve, home to countless wildlife species. Suspension bridges throughout the reserve allow for walks above the forest canopy, with plenty of opportunities to spot the colorfully-plumed resplendent quetzal. At the Sky Adventures Monteverde Park, you can also zip-line through the forest canopy, navigate hanging bridges through the forest canopy, and take the Sky Tram guided tour that will lead you up to the Continental Divide—one of the highest mountains in the area. Among the reserve’s exotic flora are over 500 species of orchids.

In the afternoon you'll return to your hotel and have the rest of the day to spend as you like.
Visit a coffee farm to see how one of the country's most important exports is grown, harvested, and roasted. 
Get up close with Costa Rica's insects, arachnids, and butterflies at Monteverde Butterfly Gardens
See more than 450 species of orchids at the Monteverde Orchid Garden in Santa Elena.
Take a walk along the nature trails of the Curi-Cancha Reserve for more bird-watching opportunities. 
Uncover the mysterious and fascinating life bats during a tour at the Bat Jungle

This evening, you'll have the chance to see the wildlife at its most active after dark on a guided night tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest. A naturalist will point out sloths, armadillos, and kinkajous, as well as sleeping birds. You'll have the chance to hear and see different wildlife than during the daytime, like agoutis, porcupines, grey foxes, tarantulas, and frogs.

Day 6: Monteverde -> Transfer to the Gulf of Papagayo

The arid, volcanic valleys of Guanacaste
The arid, volcanic valleys of Guanacaste

Road trip time! This four-hour drive takes you west into Guanacaste Province, past volcanic mountain ranges, flatlands, and villages as you head toward Costa Rica's Pacific coast. Stop for a bite and enjoy a traditional lunch or maybe a batido (fresh fruit smoothie). As the plains and tropical dry forests slowly give way to azure seas, you’ll arrive at your destination—the Gulf of Papagayo, where you'll check into your hotel. 

You can spend the remainder of the day relaxing on the tranquil beach. Perhaps enjoy a beer at one of the local beach bars. Maybe kayak around the bay.

Day 7: Beach Day and Sunset Catamaran Sail in Guanacaste

Plenty of idyllic beaches in the area
Plenty of idyllic beaches in the area

Today is all about beach time. After breakfast at your hotel, get out and explore the coastline around Guanacaste. Maybe hit Playa del Coco, which is a popular fishing village with many salsa bars, restaurants, and nightlife. You could even try a little surfing. 

In the evening, you'll board a catamaran in the Golfo de Papagayo for a sunset sail. The boat will drop anchor in a calm bay and you'll enjoy some snorkeling while the crew prepares a dinner feast. While you eat, bask in the sunset over the horizon while making sure to keep an eye out for dolphins, sea turtles, flying fish, or even a breaching whale.

Day 8: Snorkeling tour at the Catalina Islands

The Catalina Islands
The Catalina Islands

This morning, you will be picked up at your hotel and be taken to the Catalina Islands for a snorkeling tour.  

The Catalina Islands are a group of volcanic rock formations that rise to the surface in front of Flamingo Bay. 
On a boat tour, you'll visit two snorkeling spots that are part of the Catalina Islands, a chain of 20 islands located eight miles offshore of the mainland.

These islands may not look like much—just a grouping of narrow rocks—but below the surface of the indigo waters, you'll find an undersea menagerie of exotic wildlife. Animals you'll spot include giant manta and devil rays, sea turtles, parrot fish, moray eels, and much more. Most of these specimens congregate around the rich coral reefs you'll visit as part of this four-hour trip—a truly unforgettable experience.

The afternoon is yours to enjoy by the pool or the beach.

Day 9: Depart Costa Rica

One last view of Costa Rica
One last view of Costa Rica

It's time to say adiós to Costa Rica! After breakfast, you'll transfer to the airport and catch your international flight home.

Map

Map of Coast to Coast: Beach and Cloud Forest Adventure - 9 Days
Map of Coast to Coast: Beach and Cloud Forest Adventure - 9 Days