Experience the best Costa Rica has to offer on this family-friendly 11-day adventure. You'll watch sea turtles on the Caribbean beaches of Tortuguero National Park, hike around Arenal Volcano, zip-line through the cloud forest of Monteverde, and finally relax on the remote, Pacific beaches of Guanacaste. Along the way, you'll make your own hot chocolate and coffee from bean to cup, spot monkeys in the wild, swim under a waterfall—and maybe even catch a wave.

Highlights

  • Watch sea turtles hatch on the beaches of Tortuguero
  • Relax in the mineral-rich waters of volcanic hot springs
  • Participate in the cacao harvest and make hot chocolate from scratch
  • Go zip-lining through the jungle canopy at Monteverde
  • Enjoy an unforgettable sunset cruise in Papagayo

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Explore Downtown San José San Jose
Day 2 Spot Wildlife in Tortuguero National Park Tortuguero
Day 3 Look for Turtles Nesting on the Beach Tortuguero
Day 4 Transfer to Arenal & Enjoy a Free Afternoon La Fortuna
Day 5 Hike & Soak in Hot Springs La Fortuna
Day 6 Go on a Chocolate Tour & Swim in Waterfalls La Fortuna
Day 7 Boat to Monteverde & Coffee Tour Monteverde
Day 8 Enjoy the Sky Adventures Park Monteverde
Day 9 Road-trip to the Gulf of Papagayo Gulf de Papagayo
Day 10 Sail on the Gulf of Papagayo at Sunset  Gulf de Papagayo
Day 11 Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Explore Downtown San José

Downtown San José 
Downtown San José 
Welcome to Costa Rica! A driver will be waiting for you and your family at the airport to take you to your hotel in San José. After getting settled in, go for a self-guided walking tour of the city's downtown. Depending on your hotel's location, you can walk or call on a taxi to your first destination: Mercado Central (Central Market). The perfect spot to kick off your city tour, Mercado Central features over 200 shops, food stalls, and sodas (traditional restaurants). Explore the colorful fruit stands full of fresh produce, scope souvenirs, or pop over to a soda for an early lunch of traditional Costa Rican casado

It's a short walk to Central Park, a small plaza that is always bustling with activity. Kids will enjoy seeing various outdoor sculptures as you make your way through the park toward Catedral Metropolitana, whose interior combines Greek Orthodox, Neoclassical, and Baroque styles. Continue walking down Central Avenue until you reach the historic Teatro Nacional, an opulent Neoclassical building constructed in the late 19th century. A free guided tour is offered on the hour. If you require a caffeine fix, the theater's café is a great place for a quick coffee and pastry before exploring the city's museums.
 
Visit the Museo de Los Niños, a children's museum with more than 40 rooms of interactive experiences, or explore Spirogyra Butterfly Garden in the city's lush botanical garden. Kids will love seeing the butterflies in their natural habitat and learning more about different species. For a casual kid-friendly dinner spot, try Tiquicia, a hilltop restaurant with live folk music on weekends and views of the Central Valley. See more dining recommendations here and be sure to check out 24 Hours in San José.

Day 2: Spot Wildlife in Tortuguero National Park

The red-eyed tree frog is one of the creatures you might spot on a nocturnal exploration of Tortuguero National Park
A red-eyed tree frog in Tortuguero National Park
Today you will transfer from San José to Tortuguero. A driver will pick you up in an air-conditioned minivan, help you with your luggage, and take you to the boat dock near Tortuguero. You and your family will transfer to a boat, which will take you to your hotel. As the day draws to a close, the nocturnal animals and insects wake up, utterly transforming the jungle's sights, sounds, and atmosphere. This transformation is spellbinding to behold and is the focus of your activity this evening as you take a magical nighttime hike through the mysterious jungle surrounding Tortuguero.
 
Starting at your lodge, you will leave by boat around 5:30 pm for a 5-minute ride to the lodge's network of private trails, located close to Tortuguero National Park. Your walk with an expert naturalist guide begins, taking you along forest trails as twilight descends. There are many creatures for kids to spot—keep your eyes open for moths, crickets, spiders, frogs, bats, sloths, porcupines, nocturnal birds, and caiman. You'll return to the lodge in time for dinner.
 
Take a look at our list of the Best Boutique Hotels in Tortuguero.
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Day 3: Look for Turtles Nesting on the Beach

Tortuguero's long coastline
Tortuguero's long coastline

Today you and your kids will hop into canoes and navigate the network of waterways that snake around the national park. Keep your camera ready—you might see manatees, spectacled caimans, river otters, and rare birds like macaws, toucans, and kingfishers.

Back on dry land, your family will have plenty of time to explore Tortuguero's beautiful expanse of beaches. It's a favorite nesting area for three different kinds of turtles: 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 may spot the leatherback, which is the largest sea turtle in the world.

Read more about the best things to do in Tortuguero.

Day 4: Transfer to Arenal & Enjoy a Free Afternoon

View of Arenal Volcano at sunset
View of Arenal Volcano at sunset

After an early breakfast at the hotel, your family will have time for a last stroll on the beach before catching your flight to the area surrounding Arenal Volcano National Park. The afternoon is yours to relax or explore the area. If you want to get close to the volcano, kayaking on Lake Arenal provides spectacular views of its peak, as does a mountain bike ride through the park toward the village of El Castillo. Or you can opt for a zip-line tour through the forest canopy with the majestic Arenal Volcano as a backdrop.

For dinner, hit the town with the kids and sample one of the many restaurants here. Solid dining options include Don Rufino, an upscale grill with a good wine list, Cafe Mediterraneo, an Italian restaurant with fresh pasta and a wood-fired pizza oven, and Rancho Perla, serving up Costa Rican staples like beef, chicken, and seafood. Get lucky and you might spot toucans, iguanas, and even sloths in the trees near your table.

Read more about the region's best boutique hotels.

Day 5: Hike & Soak in Hot Springs

Relax in hot springs with the family

Today you and the family will go hiking. The trails in the area are generally not strenuous—perfect for a leisurely and informative hike with a naturalist guide. Start at the entrance of the 1968 Trail, where you'll hit the well-maintained trails that skirt the base of the Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal. This family-friendly 1.5-hour route offers some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities in the park, and your naturalist guide will keep a well-trained eye out for exotic birds, monkeys, and other animals along the way.

In addition to the forested parts where you can spot wildlife, you'll also walk through sections of the park devastated by the lava flow of 1968, resulting in little to no vegetation in its surroundings. Your guide will explain the history of the area, both pre-and post-1968 eruption, while also pointing out the unique flora and fauna you will encounter. Of course, the trail also provides magnificent views of the massive Arenal Volcano, the pristine Lake Arenal, and the extinct volcano Cerro Chato. After hiking the trails, your guide will drop you off at Tabacon Hot Springs so you and your kids can soothe your muscles with a dip in mineral-rich waters. 

If you're interested in staying in a hotel with access to hot springs, read over this list of top picks.

Day 6: Go on a Chocolate Tour & Swim in Waterfalls

Cacao pods, beans, and hot chocolate
Cacao pods, beans, and hot chocolate

Start your day in the town of La Fortuna with a hands-on tour during which you’ll learn about the origin, history, and production of one of Costa Rica's most famous exports—chocolate. You and your kids will participate in the cacao harvest as well as the drying and grinding of the seeds used to produce creamy cocoa butter. You'll learn how a traditional Costa Rican cocoa drink was developed centuries ago, and, of course, sample the freshly made chocolate.

Later, visit La Fortuna Waterfall Reserve. After paying the entrance fee, you'll cross a small bridge to get to the trailhead. Beyond that is the first observation deck, where you can snap photos of your kids with a great elevated view of the waterfall as it plunges into the river below. Next, it's time to descend the steps to get close to the waterfall at its base!
 
As you make your way down the roughly 500 steps along the trail, feel free to take breaks to check out the local flora and fauna. Once you reach the falls, cool off with a swim in the refreshing water of La Fortuna River, staying close to the shore to avoid the strong undercurrent. Alternatively, downriver and to the left of the waterfall is another natural pool that is calmer and warmer, ideal for kids. For other ideas, read over this list of the best things to do in Arenal.

Day 7: Boat to Monteverde & Coffee Tour

The peaceful waters of Lake Arenal
The peaceful waters of Lake Arenal

Transfer to Monteverde, traveling over water. But this is no ordinary route. You will be picked up at your hotel and taken to the boat dock. After arriving at the shores of Lake Arenal, you'll board a boat with your family and begin the journey to the other side of the lake. Upon arrival, you'll officially be in the Monteverde region of Costa Rica. 

From the lakeshore, you'll transfer by shuttle to a working coffee farm for an educational guided tour. You'll participate in the entire farm-to-cup process, from picking the beans to roasting them. Eager to sample more locally produced coffee? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Costa Rican Coffee.

If your family is up for it, you could visit nearby Santa Elena, a charming town with Quaker influences. It's known for excellent coffee and cheese, and it's a great place for dinner. See more dining recommendations here. Afterward, you and your kids will take a nighttime nature tour of Monteverde. On the hike, you'll be accompanied by a naturalist guide who will point out many nocturnal animals and insects. Kids will enjoy looking for bats, red-eyed tree frogs, snakes, coatis, and more!

Day 8: Enjoy the Sky Adventures Park

Monteverde is popular for its canopy tours
Monteverde is popular for its canopy tours
Located in the mountainous northwest region of the country, Monteverde is famed for its sprawling Cloud Forest Reserve, home to countless wildlife species. Suspension bridges throughout the reserve lead visitors on walks high above the forest canopy. You and your family will have plenty of opportunities to spot the colorfully plumed quetzal. The reserve's marked trails pass through exotic fauna and flora, including the most significant number of orchid species on the planet (500!), with new varieties discovered regularly. 

At the Sky Adventures Park, you'll have your pick of ways to explore the cloud forest: zip-lining for the action-inclined, sky tram trips for a panoramic perspective, or walks along suspension bridges for close encounters with elusive bird species and other wildlife. First, you'll start with a guided Sky Walk, which combines trails and suspension bridges. Later, you'll ride in an open-air gondola for sweeping views across the mountains—an activity that's great for the whole family to enjoy together. At the end of the line, the exhilarating adventure of whizzing down the mountain begins. Connect to a zip-line cable that stretches over rainforest treetops and across clifftops, finally returning you to the starting point. 
 
Learn more about the best zip-lining in Monteverde.

Day 9: Road-trip to the Gulf of Papagayo

Arid, volcanic valleys of Guanacaste
Arid valleys of Guanacaste

Road trip time! This four-hour drive takes your family 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 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. 

Relax on the beach in the afternoon. If you and your kids are feeling energetic, you could also hike a jungle trail called Sensoria, which is part of a wildlife sanctuary featuring thermal pools and waterfalls that plunge into turquoise lagoons. Or you can experience the rainforest from the water during a two-hour safari float with the family down the Corobicí River, where a guide will point out monkeys, bats, lizards, and even crocodiles.

Find out more about the best things to do on the Gulf of Papagayo.

Day 10: Sail on the Gulf of Papagayo at Sunset 

Enjoy the sunset aboard a luxury catamaran
Sunset from the catamaran

Soak up the bright afternoon sun until it transitions into soft pinks and oranges later in the afternoon. You'll be picked up at your hotel and transferred to the landing dock in Playas del Coco, where you and your family will board a catamaran and begin silently gliding along the Gold Coast past picturesque bays, white sand beaches, and tropical jungles.

You're likely to spot all kinds of animals, from dolphins to sea turtles, flying fish, and the occasional breaching whale. The crew will be serving plenty of delicious tropical drinks as you make your way to a tranquil bay where you can swim in the crystal clear waters of the Pacific. Snorkel in the bay or enjoy a stroll down the deserted white sand beach with the kids. Have dinner on the boat, then sit back and listen to the waves lapping at the sides of the catamaran as you make your way back to shore, taking in gorgeous sunset views along the way.

Learn more about the top nature experiences in Costa Rica.

Day 11: Depart Costa Rica

Sunset in Costa Rica
The trip ends today. Your family will transfer to the airport to catch your flight out. Safe travels!

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Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these other 11-day Costa Rica itineraries, with outdoor adventures, family-friendly trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights. 

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Looking for other ideas for your trip to Costa Rica? We have some great ideas for unique ways to experience Costa Rica, plus a list of family-friendly 11-day itineraries. Read more about how many days to stay in Costa Rica here.

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Map

Map of Coast to Coast Family Adventure - 11 Days
Map of Coast to Coast Family Adventure - 11 Days
Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Sep 27, 2022