Costa Rica is a favorite destination for all ages. This 16-day adventure allows your family to experience the country from both coasts and includes a visit to the bustling capital of San José, the lush rainforest of Tortuguero National Park, the towering Arenal Volcano, the cloud forest of Monteverde and the spectacular, white sand beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park. There are plenty of kid-friendly activities along the way, from watching sea turtles hatch on a Caribbean beach to sampling locally produced chocolate to whitewater rafting.

Highlights

  • Visit the nesting site of sea turtles in Tortuguero National Park
  • Hike around volcanoes and waterfalls in Arenal Volcano National Park
  • Take a guided hike of Monteverde and soar over the treetops on a zip-line tour
  • Snorkel offshore of Manuel Antonio National Park and enjoy a catamaran cruise

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José, Children's Museum & Dinner with a View San Jose
Day 2 San José to Tortuguero National Park Tortuguero
Day 3 Turtle Spotting in Tortuguero Tortuguero
Day 4 Tortuguero to La Fortuna Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Hanging Bridges & Hiking in the Arenal 1968 Reserve Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 6 Hiking Waterfalls & River Swimming in La Fortuna Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 7 River Float & Chocolate Tour in Arenal Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 8 Free Day in Arenal Volcano National Park Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 9 Boat from Arenal to Monteverde - Coffee Tour Monteverde
Day 10 Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Guided Hike Monteverde
Day 11 Zip-Line Fun in the Cloud Forest Monteverde
Day 12 Monteverde to Manuel Antonio Manuel Antonio
Day 13 Guided Hike of Manuel Antonio National Park Manuel Antonio
Day 14 Free Day in Manuel Antonio Manuel Antonio
Day 15 Snorkeling & Sunset Catamaran Cruise in Manuel Antonio Manuel Antonio
Day 16 Manuel Antonio to San José, Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José, Children's Museum & Dinner with a View

Downtown San José

Welcome to the land of pura vida! After arriving at Juan Santamaria International Airport in San José, Costa Rica's capital, a representative will meet you and drive you to your hotel. After checking in to your hotel, you'll have the day to explore on your own. 

Suggested activities include: 

  • Take a stroll through the San José 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. 
  • Visit the Museo de los Niños, a children's museum with more than 40 rooms of interactive experiences on topics ranging from the human body to outer space. 
  • Explore Spirogyra Butterfly Garden, located in downtown San José amidst the city's lush botanical garden. Kids will love seeing the butterflies in their natural habitat and learning more about different species. 
  • Visit the Teatro Nacional, an opulent Neo-Classical building constructed in the late 19th century, which offers free guided tours on the hour. You can also check their calendar to take in dance, music, and theatre performances.

For a casual kid-friendly dinner spot Tiquicia, a hilltop stalwart that serves up delicious local fare accompanied by live folk music on weekends and views of the Central Valley.

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 4-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

Turtle hatchling on the beach
Turtle hatchling on the 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.

Boat tour: Three hours

Day 4: Tortuguero to La Fortuna

La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna Waterfall

After breakfast, you'll make the 3-hour trip to the town of La Fortuna, best known as the base for exploring Arenal Volcano National Park. Located north of the Tilaran Mountains, the cone-shaped Arenal juts out from the San Carlos Plains like a giant arrowhead. After checking into your hotel, you'll have the rest of the day to explore on your own. 

If you want to get close to the volcano, kayaking on Lake Arenal provides awesome views of its peak, as does a mountain-bike ride toward the village of El Castillo. Or, opt for a zip-lining tour through the forest canopy, where you'll not only cross canyons but pass by waterfalls as well—and all with a view of the majestic Arenal Volcano in the background.

For dinner, enjoy one of La Fortuna's over 100 restaurants. The cuisine here runs the gamut from traditional Costa Rican, Mediterranean, Italian, and pizza. There's even an Argentine steakhouse.

Day 5: Hanging Bridges & Hiking in the Arenal 1968 Reserve

Hanging bridge in the jungle surrounding Arenal Volcano
Hanging bridge in the jungle surrounding Arenal Volcano

Head out early to spend the day exploring the jungle canopy. You'll wander along well-marked trails that lead you over suspension bridges high above the treetops —some that are hundreds of feet long—for a once-in-a-lifetime view of Arenal Volcano. You'll also get an up-close look at the incredible biodiversity that occurs in this region, where upland and lowland rainforest meet. More than 350 bird species can be found in this park alone. 

After lunch, take an optional hike to Arenal 1968. This private reserve is named for the volcano’s eruption of that same year, which completely changed some of the region’s topography: lava fields now predominate on one side of Arenal. Trails wind through those lava fields as well as through the rainforest, offering beautiful views of the volcano. This is a more challenging hike—if you're looking for something more mellow, there are plenty of easier trails in the area.

Optional tour: Naturally heated thermal springs are plentiful here, and several places nearby offer the chance to soak in the relaxing waters. Kids will clamor for a visit to Ecotermales or Tabacon Hot Springs, with five main springs, dozens of cascading waterfalls and warm pools of varying temperatures, plus a cold-water pool with a thermal slide (and a swim-up bar for the adults).

Day 6: Hiking Waterfalls & River Swimming in La Fortuna

Swimming at La Fortuna
Swimming at La Fortuna

Today you'll head to La Fortuna Waterfall, located at the base of the dormant Chato Volcano, a short drive outside town. The falls drop some 210 feet, and a 1,500-foot downhill hike provides the opportunity to see it from the bottom up. Swim and relax in the La Fortuna River below the falls.

The afternoon is free for you to enjoy as you want. 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, opt for a zip lining tour through the forest canopy, where you'll cross canyons, and take in the Fortuna and Pino Blanco Waterfalls, along with the majestic Arenal Volcano.

Day 7: River Float & Chocolate Tour in Arenal

Look out across Arenal Volcano National Park
Look out across Arenal Volcano National Park

This morning, you'll be part of a safari float on the Peñas Blancas River. This 3-hour river tour puts you in direct contact with the areas abundant wildlife and beautiful natural scenery and it's a perfect activity for first-time rafters or families with small children.

After lunch, which is served alongside spectacular views of Arenal Volcano, you'll get a hands-on lesson where 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 and the drying and grinding of the seed that produces creamy cocoa butter. You'll also learn how the traditional chocolate drink was developed centuries ago, and, of course, sample the chocolate freshly made onsite.

From here, you'll have the rest of the day to relax in La Fortuna. For dinner, a few suggested restaurants are: 

  • Café Mediterraneo a friendly osteria serving up homemade pasta and pizza. 
  • La Parrilla de María Bonita for perfectly cooked steak as well as Mediterranean dishes like falafel and baba ghanoush. 
  • Rancho Perla, a popular open-air restaurant (you may even spot sloths hanging from the nearby trees) serving well-prepared Costa Rican staples.
  • Don Rufino, a local favorite, provides a more upscale option a varied menu that includes risotto, ceviche, and steak. The bar overlooks the street, which makes for excellent people watching, too. 

Day 8: Free Day in Arenal Volcano National Park

Tour the rainforest after dark to spot nocturnal wildlife
Tour the rainforest after dark to spot nocturnal wildlife

After breakfast, you'll have a free day to explore the area as you wish. 

If you're up for an evening adventure, you can discover the nocturnal wildlife of this area on a night walk hosted by Danaus Eco-Center. The trail, which is easy enough for beginners, takes hikers through the biodiverse rainforest where you’ll spot nocturnal animals like sloths, bats, and frogs. Throughout the walk, an experienced naturalist will provide insight into everything you see (and hear) in the dark.

Day 9: Boat from Arenal to Monteverde - Coffee Tour

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

After breakfast in La Fortuna, you'll transfer to Monteverde, but this is no ordinary route. You'll bypass the road trip and instead travel by water. After arriving at the shores of Lake Arenal, your captain will welcome you, you'll board the boat, and you'll begin the 3.5-hour 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. Of course, frequent coffee tastings will be provided. 

After the tour, check into your hotel and relax for the rest of the afternoon. Maybe visit nearby Santa Elena, a charming town with Quaker influences 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).

If the kids still have extra energy, take a night nature tour of Monteverde. On this three-hour hike, you'll be accompanied by a naturalist guide who will point out many nocturnal animals and insects. These include bats, red-eyed tree frogs, snakes, and coatis.

Day 10: Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Guided Hike

The resplendent quetzal
The resplendent quetzal

After breakfast, you’ll transfer a short distance to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, one of the jewels in Costa Rica's ecological crown. Known as the "green lung of Costa Rica" due to its rich biodiversity, this 26,000-acre reserve is located high in the mountainous northwest region of the country. The views of the misty cloud forest here are the stuff of postcards.

But Monteverde offers more than sweeping panoramas. On a guided tour you'll get an up-close look at the incredible biodiversity that occurs in this region, where upland and lowland rainforest meet. More than 350 bird species exist here alone, including the aptly named resplendent quetzal. In other words, it's a nature lover’s paradise.

In the afternoon you'll return to your hotel and have the rest of the day to spend as you like.

Day 11: Zip-Line Fun in the Cloud Forest

Suspension bridge in the cloud forest
Walk among the treetops of Monteverde Could Forest

Today you'll enjoy an adrenaline-pumping zip-line ride in the country where that activity was invented. 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 our specialized guides will point out the most interesting specimens.

Upon reaching the end of the line, the exhilarating 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. The whole excursion is regarded as the most thrilling zip-line adventures in the country.

Day 12: Monteverde to Manuel Antonio

Some of Costa Rica's most beautiful beaches are in Manuel Antonio
Some of Costa Rica's most beautiful beaches are in Manuel Antonio

This morning, you'll be picked up from Monteverde and drive 3.5 hours to the Pacific coast and Manuel Antonio National Park, where you can take your pick and wind down on one of the park's four beautiful beaches—some of the best in Costa Rica. If you're hungry for more adventure, you can also hike on one of the park's many trails (following the signs) and get up close to capuchin monkeys, sloths, and over 200 species of birds. Snorkeling is also accessible from multiple points along the beaches. 

In the evening, head to the town of Quepos for dinner at Gabriella's to watch the sunset over fresh seafood and steak.

Day 13: Guided Hike of Manuel Antonio National Park

Squirrel monkey in Manuel Antonio
Squirrel monkey in Manuel Antonio

Today you'll wake up early and explore the roughly 1,680 acres (680 hectares) of Manuel Antonio National Park. This is a true gem of Costa Rica, in that the park is home to virgin rainforest running all the way from the mountains down to the coast, where white-sand beaches and coral reefs await.

You'll start your hike on the trails within the park. The walk is easy with mostly flat trails—perfect for families with kids. A naturalist guide will point out the more than 300 species of mammals and birds that call this reserve home, including three-toed sloths, hawks, iguanas, and several different species of monkeys. You'll also have time to enjoy the park's expansive white sand beaches on this half-day tour.

What you do the remainder of the afternoon is up to you! Continue exploring the trails on your own, indulge in the sand and sea, or switch gears and visit the nearby adventure park, MidWorld, for zip-lining and ATV tours.

Hiking distance: 1 mile (1.7 km)

Day 14: Free Day in Manuel Antonio

Try some surfing in Manuel Antonio
Snorkel off coast of Manuel Antonio National Park

Today is yours to enjoy unencumbered by schedules. Beyond amazing wildlife hikes, there are a number of activities to choose from. 

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 ideal beaches in the park is Playa Espadilla, which stretches on for nearly a mile and is great for families as it's a tranquil public beach with lifeguards on hand during the day.

Optional Damas Island Estuary Tour: 4 hours (with an English-speaking guide; lunch included)

Day 15: Snorkeling & Sunset Catamaran Cruise in Manuel Antonio

Go for a sunset swim while the crew prepares dinner
Go for a sunset swim while the crew prepares dinner

After breakfast at your hotel, the morning is yours to spend however you like:

  • You can explore the incredible biodiversity found within park during a guided tour. A naturalist will point out the more than 300 species of mammals and birds that call the reserve home, including sloths, hawks, iguanas, and several different species of monkeys. You'll also have time to spend exploring the park's expansive white sand beaches.
  • Tour the Damas Island Estuary on a guided boat tour through the mangroves.
  • Take a surf lesson or simply relax on Playa Manuel Antonio.

In the afternoon, you'll embark on a sunset dinner cruise. Stop in a calm bay, drop anchor and swim while the crew prepares a feast. While you dine, you'll marvel at the sunset over the horizon while keeping an eye out for dolphins, sea turtles, flying fish, or even a breaching whale.

Day 16: Manuel Antonio to San José, Depart Costa Rica

Farewell, Manuel Antonio
Farewell, Manuel Antonio

It's time to say goodbye to Costa Rica! After breakfast, you'll transfer 2.5 hours by road to San José where you'll depart Juan Santamaría International Airport for your journey home.

Map

Map of Coast to Coast Family Adventure - 16 Days
Map of Coast to Coast Family Adventure - 16 Days