This 10-day journey from one side of Costa Rica to the other delivers highlight tours and off-the-beaten-path adventures without sacrificing luxury. Witness nesting sea turtles in Tortuguero National Park before heading to Arenal for waterfall visits, zipline tours, and hiking around the famous volcano. Then, continue to the dazzling Gulf of Papagayo for Pacific coast adventures, including snorkeling, kayaking, and more.

Highlights

  • Witness nesting sea turtles on the Tortuguero coast
  • Soak in natural hot springs at Arenal and visit waterfalls
  • Enjoy luxurious experiences like infinity pools and private dinners
  • Go snorkeling, kayaking, and boating around Guanacaste province

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José, Transfer to Tortuguero, Welcome Dinner Tortuguero
Day 2 Tortuguero Boat Tour, Turtle Nesting Experience Tortuguero
Day 3 Puerto Limón Walking Tour, Tortuguero Mountain Hike Tortuguero
Day 4 Transfer to La Fortuna, Hot Springs & Forest Night Hike Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Arenal Volcano Park Hike, Canopy Tour Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 6 Arenal Hanging Bridges & La Fortuna Waterfall, Private Dinner Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 7 Transfer to Gulf of Papagayo, National Park Boat Tour Gulf of Papagayo
Day 8 Snorkel Catalina Islands & Kayak Tour Gulf of Papagayo
Day 9 Papagayo Free Day Gulf of Papagayo
Day 10 Transfer to Liberia, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José, Transfer to Tortuguero, Welcome Dinner

Enjoy dinner overlooking the water in Tortuguero

Welcome to Costa Rica! This small Central American nation is a naturalist's dream since about 25% of its area is protected as national parks, biological reserves, and wildlife refuges. Within these corridors live over 500,000 species, making this nation one of the world's great biological hotspots.

From the get-go, you'll experience Costa Rica's renowned wildlife and natural beauty. Upon arrival at the airport in the capital of San José, walk to the adjacent domestic airstrip and board a 30-minute flight northwest to Limón province and the village of Tortuguero. This is the main hub for excursions to Tortuguero National Park, a 194 square-mile (312 sq km) protected area that encompasses sections of ocean, coastline, wetlands, and rainforests.

In this region, there are more canals and waterways than paved roads, so from the airport, you'll transfer by boat to Tortuga Lodge & Gardens. Nestled between two lagoons, this luxury 4-star ecolodge sits on its own private nature reserve that spans 70 acres (28 ha) and boasts 29 riverfront rooms and a villa with a private plunge pool. After settling in, you'll change into tropical evening wear and hit the hotel's fine-dining restaurant for a celebratory welcome dinner. The open-air venue features an a la carte menu (a nice break from the typical resort buffets) and an impressive wine cellar.

Day 2: Tortuguero Boat Tour, Turtle Nesting Experience

Witness the spectacle of sea turtles nesting on the beach 

Take to the water this morning on a private two-hour boat ride to discover the miraculous array of flora and fauna in Tortuguero National Park. Accompanied by a local naturalist guide, you'll travel along the canals to the more remote sections of the park, where you can glimpse rare species of wildlife. The freshwater creeks and lagoons here are home to crustaceans, river turtles, spectacled caiman, southern river otters, and dozens of freshwater fish species. If you're lucky, you might spot the endangered West Indian manatee.

At the end of the tour, the boat will drop you off at the lodge. Spend the rest of the morning and afternoon enjoying leisure activities like kayaking on the river or hiking up Cerro Tortuguero, a nearby hill that offers panoramic views of the park. Or, if you prefer, relax by the infinity pool on the riverfront as you sip on a tropical adult beverage. 

When the sun goes down, you'll embark on the most popular activity in the region: a private night tour to witness sea turtle nesting. Leaving around 5 pm, you'll travel to Tortuguero Beach, where sea turtles arrive to lay their eggs. A common sight here is the leatherback, the world's largest species of sea turtle, which can grow 6-7 feet (1.8-2 m) long. The best time to see this spectacular phenomenon is from February to October.

Day 3: Puerto Limón Walking Tour, Tortuguero Mountain Hike

The views from the top of Cerro Tortuguero look out to the Caribbean

You've experienced Tortuguero's natural beauty and exotic wildlife in Tortuguero, now it's time to see how the locals live on this side of the country. In the morning, meet your private guide and travel down the Caribbean coast to Puerto Limón, the capital and main hub of Limón province. This part of Costa Rica's eastern coast is famous for its rich Afro-Caribbean culture, natural beauty, and historical significance.

Railway construction and the growth of the banana industry in the early 20th century attracted a significant number of Afro-Caribbean laborers from Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean. This migration left a lasting impact on the region's music, dance, and cuisine. Calypso music, in particular, is a significant part of Limón's cultural heritage. You'll get a taste of all this and more as your guide leads you through the colorful streets of Limón. After meeting locals and sampling delicious Afro-Caribbean food, you'll return to the lodge.

Later, embark on a private 2.5-hour hike up Cerro Tortuguero. Though only 390 feet (119 m) high, this is the region's tallest peak. It begins with a boat ride to the trailhead, where you'll begin the 1.25-mile (2 km) out-and-back hike on a jungle path that demands a decent level of physical fitness. During the trek, your expert guide will point out the exotic wildlife, like butterflies, toucans, sloths, and various monkeys. When you reach the top, you'll be rewarded with an inspired view of Tortuguero, spanning the canals out to the Caribbean. After hiking back to the trailhead, you'll return to the lodge.

Day 4: Transfer to La Fortuna, Hot Springs & Forest Night Hike

Try and spot the iconic red-eyed tree frog on a night hike

You'll transfer back to the Tortuguero airport this morning and hop on a short flight to La Fortuna. This small town northwest of San José sits at the base of Arenal, an active volcano whose iconic cone is perpetually snorting great plumes of white smoke. Though highly active, the town is safe from Arena's fury, and, in fact, it's precisely this geothermal activity that fuels the area's famous hot springs.

Meet your driver at the airport and transfer to Nayara Tented Camp, located northwest of town. Don't let the name fool you—Nayara is a 5-star resort featuring mountainside villas equipped with luxurious amenities like king/queen beds and private pools fed by nearby hot springs. All villas enjoy privileged locations offering prime views over the verdant rainforest canopy below.

Later, transfer to the nearby EcoTermales Hot Springs, a sanctuary offering six thermal pools nestled amid the unspoiled beauty of the Costa Rican rainforest. Spend a few hours away from mass tourist crowds as you soak in mineral-rich waters ranging from 90°F to 106°F (32°C to 41°C). Afterward, you'll return to Nayara—but your day isn't over yet—in the evening, you'll leave on a private night hike. Equipped with a headlamp, your naturalist guide will point out the forest's nocturnal denizens, including sloths, owls, stick insects, kinkajous, bats, and the colorful red-eyed tree frog.

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Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 5: Arenal Volcano Park Hike, Canopy Tour

View of the Arenal volcano and the perpetual smoke rising from its cone

In the morning, meet your personal naturalist guide for a two-hour hike through Arenal 1968, a private reserve named after the year of the volcano's last major eruption. The event was so catastrophic that it transformed some of the region's topography: lava fields now dominate one side of Arenal. Trails wind through those fields as well as the surrounding rainforest. Along the way, you'll stop at lookout points featuring prime views of the volcano, nearby Lake Arenal, and the extinct Cerro Chato volcano.

Later, you'll enjoy a more hair-raising adventure on a thrilling private canopy tour. From Arenal, transfer to a rainforest platform, where you'll put on safety gear and strap into your zipline harness. Then, soar over the treetops as you enjoy a fun ride and the sight of exotic animals (like monkeys and sloths) down below. This is a private zipline tour, so there are no lines, and you'll have the splendor of the rainforest all to yourself. You'll return to Nayara after the tour.

Day 6: Arenal Hanging Bridges & La Fortuna Waterfall, Private Dinner

Mistico Hanging Bridges at Arenal
Get a birds-eye view of the Arenal rainforest as you hike suspension bridges

Fuel up with a good breakfast this morning, as you'll need the energy. After eating, you'll transfer to the famous Arenal Hanging Bridges. This rainforest trail system features a network of bridges above the forest canopy, affording incredible views of Arenal volcano. Some elevated walkways are hundreds of feet long and up to 180 feet (55 m) above the rainforest floor.

The route you'll follow is 2 miles (3 km) long, crossing 10 fixed bridges and six hanging bridges with lengths between 16 and 328 feet (5-100 m). It's also a great activity for birding, as there are more than 350 avian species in the area, including various motmots. Afterward, you'll return to the hotel and can spend the rest of the day enjoying the hot springs and treatments at the on-site spa.

Afterward, you'll visit La Fortuna Waterfall, a 210 feet (64 m) cascade in lush primary rainforest just 15 minutes outside La Fortuna. When you arrive, you'll descend some 500 steps to the bottom of the falls, where you can sit back and enjoy the romantic scenery or take a dip in the turquoise lagoon at the base of the falls. Return to the hotel in time to enjoy a private, al fresco dinner befitting a luxury resort like Nayara. Expert chefs tailor this memorable culinary experience to the tastes of each guest, and a private server attends to every detail, from the table setting to the wine pairing. 

Day 7: Transfer to Gulf of Papagayo, National Park Boat Tour

Transfer to the Gulf of Papagayo and the 4-star Casa Chameleon hotel

Say goodbye to Arenal as you meet your private driver for the transfer to the Gulf of Papagayo. Located in northeastern Guanacaste province, this region not only offers golden beaches and secluded bays, but it's also a highly biodiverse region home to some of the country's best national parks. The drive from La Fortuna takes about three hours, but it's a scenic ride as the inland plains eventually give way to stunning coast and the azure waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Located on Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula, Papagayo is a popular resort destination due to postcard beaches like Playa Panama and Playa Hermosa. You'll be staying at Casa Chameleon, a 4-star hotel on a ridge overlooking the laid-back beach town of Las Catalinas. The hotel's villas and suites come equipped with private terraces, complete with your own saltwater plunge pool. For something more substantial, take a dip in the on-site infinity pool, and when you get hungry, dine al fresco at the hotel restaurant while enjoying wraparound views of the coast.

There will be time to relax and enjoy the hotel amenities later. After check-in, you'll experience Papagayo's renowned biodiversity in the best place for it: Palo Verde National Park. This 73-square-mile (189 sq km) protected area comprises a combination of wetlands and mangroves around the Río Tempisque. After your transfer to the park, you'll board a private boat for a three-hour ride along the river to enjoy the scenery and spot resident wildlife. The area is home to more than 300 species of birds, including storks, egrets, ibises, herons, and more. Afterward, you'll return to the hotel.

Day 8: Snorkel Catalina Islands & Kayak Tour

Tropical fish abound in the corals around the Catalina islands

In the morning, your driver will pick you up for the short ride south to Playa Flamingo. Once there, you'll board a dive boat and head out on a private half-day snorkeling tour. Your destination is the Catalina Islands, an archipelago located in Flamingo Bay. The islands themselves are unimpressive volcanic rocks, but lying just underneath them is an entire underwater universe waiting to be discovered.

Upon arrival at the dive site, you'll strap on your mask and hop in. You'll have a few hours to explore the colorful reefs and coral gardens around these islands. Species to watch for include giant mantas, devil rays, sea turtles, parrotfish, and moray eels. During the season (July to September), you can even spot migrating humpback whales.

After the snorkeling tour, you'll return to your hotel—but the water activities aren't over yet. Now it's time to grab a kayak and embark on a private three-hour excursion led by a local guide. It's a great opportunity to get some more exercise while enjoying the beautiful coastal scenery. You may even spot exotic marine life like sea turtles and dolphins.

Day 9: Papagayo Free Day

Spend the day relaxing at Casa Chameleon or hit the water and explore the Papagayo coast in a kayak
Now it's time to really kick back and relax. Take the entire day to enjoy your hotel amenities, whether it's pampering yourself with a spa treatment or sunbathing by the pool. If you're itching for more adventure, the hotel can arrange a variety of activities, from deep-sea fishing charters and kayak rentals to hiking and horseback riding. Whatever you decide, make sure you're back at the hotel by the end of the afternoon to enjoy a golden Pacific sunset from the comfort of a lounger overlooking the water.

Day 10: Transfer to Liberia, Depart

A cotton candy sunset over the Pacific Ocean in Guanacaste province
You've experienced some of the most amazing natural wonders Costa Rica has to offer. Now, it's time to move on to the next adventure. Enjoy a leisurely al fresco breakfast overlooking the water, then leave your hotel for the transfer to the airport in Liberia, about 30-45 minutes from the coast. There, you'll board your connecting flight home. ¡Buen Viaje!

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Map

Map of Coast-to-Coast Luxury in Costa Rica: Tortuguero, Arenal & Papagayo - 10 Days
Map of Coast-to-Coast Luxury in Costa Rica: Tortuguero, Arenal & Papagayo - 10 Days