This high-octane trip is designed to get your adrenaline pumping as you take on some of the best adventure activities Costa Rica has to offer. You'll see the country's rainforests, volcanoes, and beaches, and encounter tropical wildlife as you take part in a variety of thrilling activities. From whitewater rafting through the rainforest to biking around a volcano to zip-lining down a mountain, this exhilarating itinerary is sure to make for an unforgettable experience.

Highlights

  • Tackle Class IV rapids as you raft down Rio Pacuare
  • Explore Arenal Volcano by mountain bike
  • Hike through the rainforest to a volcanic lagoon
  • Go zip-lining down a mountain through the cloud forest
  • Explore the jungle mangrove ecosystem by kayak

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José San Jose
Day 2 Rafting Río Pacuare Río Pacuare
Day 3 Rafting Class III-IV Rapids - Arrive in Arenal Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 4 Trekking to Hule Lagoon Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Mountain Biking in Arenal Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 6 Hike Arenal 1968 - Tabacón Hot Springs Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 7 Boat from Arenal to Monteverde - Nocturnal Nature Tour Monteverde
Day 8 Aerial Fun in the Cloud Forest Monteverde
Day 9 Monteverde to Manuel Antonio Manuel Antonio
Day 10 Kayaking - Damas Island Manuel Antonio
Day 11 Santa Juana Waterfall Experience Manuel Antonio
Day 12 Manuel Antonio to San José, 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 the capital of 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. The Museo del Oro Precolumbino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum), holds a large collection of Pre-Columbian gold artifacts, and the Museo del Jade (Jade Museum) features 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, you might want to 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. No matter where you go, though, the whole city is filled with delectable restaurants serving everything from traditional local to forward-thinking fusion cuisine.

Day 2: Rafting Río Pacuare

Brave the whitewater on Río Pacuare
Brave the whitewater on Río Pacuare

This morning, you'll wake up early, meet your guide, and begin the 2.5-hour drive east out of the city of San José. Stop en route for a classic Costa Rican breakfast of gallo pinto (rice, black beans, and eggs) before arriving at the Río Pacuare (Pacuare River). Located along Costa Rica’s Caribbean slope, Río Pacuare’s deep gorge is considered one of the best river-rafting sites in the world. It's now time for you to begin your whitewater rafting adventure.

After a guided orientation, you'll embark on today's adrenaline-pumping trip on class II-III rapids. You'll paddle past impressive tropical scenery through rushing whitewater all the way to the destination: a 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, or enjoy a couple's massage, or simply relax in your private bungalow or suite and enjoy the nature and tranquility of this remote tropical dreamland.

Pacuare rafting trip: 1-1.5 hours

Day 3: Rafting Class III-IV Rapids - Arrive in Arenal

Expect to get wet on this challenging ride
Expect to get wet on this challenging ride

After breakfast, it's time to brace yourself for an even more exhilarating river trip—this time over class III-IV rapids. As you again travel down the Río Pacuare, you'll pass by even more canyons, waterfalls, and virgin rainforest. During the calmer stretches, be on the lookout for various species of birds and other wildlife endemic to the region like toucans and capuchin monkeys. 

After arriving at the end of the trip, you'll hop in a car and transfer to the town of La Fortuna, the perfect home base for exploring Arenal Volcano National Park. Located north of the Tilaran Mountains, the cone-shaped Arenal juts out above the San Carlos Plains. Check into your hotel and spend the rest of the day relaxing.

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.

Pacuare rafting trip: 3.5 hours

Day 4: Trekking to Hule Lagoon

A calming vista of the lagoon
A calming vista of the lagoon

Today's hike to the volcanic Hule Lagoon is bound to be one of the highlights of your trip. You'll set out from La Fortuna early in the morning, and drive 1.5 hours along the outskirts of Juan Casto Blanco National Park to your starting point. Trek through the plains bordering the volcanic crater, then make your way into the rainforest toward the lagoon. 

Along the way, immerse yourself the rich biodiversity this area is known for. The landscape here shifts from grasslands to clay and dirt to volcanic rock, making for a wide array of ecosystems within a relatively small area. Keep your eyes peeled for tropical birds, monkeys, and sloths! You'll also pass several other lagoons on your way before reaching the magnificent Hule, located at the base of the Cerro Congo Volcano.

Stop here and enjoy a traditional Costa Rican lunch as you take in spectacular views of the mountains. Return to La Fortuna for a relaxing evening.

Hiking distance: 5 miles (8 km)

Day 5: Mountain Biking in Arenal

Explore Arenal by mountain bike
Explore Arenal by mountain bike

Today, you'll explore the Arenal region by mountain bike. This scenic and moderate ride takes an old road connecting the dam with the main entrance to Arenal Volcano National Park. From there, you'll pedal towards the village of El Castillo, through forest and cattle farms. Stop for snacks on the shore of Lake Arenal where it’s possible to go for a refreshing swim before heading back to the hotel. 

The rest of the day is yours to explore or relax. If you're up for an evening adventure, you can discover the wildlife of Arenal after the sun goes down during 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 while an experienced naturalist provides insight into all you’ll see (and hear) in the dark.

Day 6: Hike Arenal 1968 - Tabacón Hot Springs

Hiking trail in Arenal National Park
Hiking trail in Arenal National Park

After breakfast, you can take the morning to relax. In the early afternoon, you'll visit Arenal 1968, a private reserve named after the year of the last major eruption of the volcano. 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 lava fields as well as the surrounding rainforest. Along the way, you'll find lookout points featuring prime views of the volcano. 

After hiking the trails, soothe your muscles with a dip in the mineral-rich waters in and around the Tabacón Thermal Resort. These hot springs have been used as therapeutic baths for more than 200 years, and the resort includes a spa where various treatments, like couples massages, are performed in outdoor bungalows.

(Optional add-on.) End the day with a nice dinner at the resort’s restaurant, which serves Costa Rican dishes as well as international fare.

Arenal 1968 hike: Two hours

Day 7: Boat from Arenal to Monteverde - Nocturnal Nature Tour

A guide will point out animals like sloths during the night tour
A guide will point out animals like sloths during the night tour

After breakfast at your resort in La Fortuna, you'll transfer to the Monteverde region of Costa Rica. This is no ordinary route: you'll skip the drive and board a boat, which will take you across the tranquil waters of Lake Arenal. On this 3.5-hour boat ride, you'll have ample opportunity to spot local birds like herons and anhingas. 

When you arrive at Monteverde, take the afternoon and evening to enjoy nearby Santa Elena, a charming town with Quaker influences known for excellent coffee and cheese. There are also plenty of dining options featuring delectable Costa Rican standards like ceviche and arroz con pollo (rice with chicken). In the evening, you'll have a chance to see nocturnal wildlife at its most active on a guided night tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. A naturalist will point out sloths, armadillos, and kinkajous, as well as sleeping birds and frogs.

Night hike: Two hours

Day 8: Aerial Fun in the Cloud Forest

Bridge walk, Monteverde
Bridge walk, Monteverde

Sky Adventures Monteverde Park is an aerial amusement park that literally raises jungle excitement to the next level. Its Sky Tram network of gondolas transport visitors from one adrenaline pumping activity to another. First, you'll start with a guided Sky Walk, which combines trails and suspension bridges that ultimately reach heights of up to 984 feet above the jungle canopy. The flora and fauna of the region will be on full display, and our specialized guides will point out the most interesting specimens. Later, you'll ride in an open-air Sky Tram gondola. During this journey, you'll ascend over the rainforest and enjoy sweeping views over the mountains. 

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 at Sky Adventures' main building. Sky Trek is regarded as the most thrilling zip line in the country, and this makes sense considering that Monteverde is the birthplace of the canopy tour as we know it.

Day 9: Monteverde to Manuel Antonio

In Manuel Antonio, you can relax on some of Costa Rica's most beautiful beaches
In Manuel Antonio, you can relax on some of Costa Rica's most beautiful beaches

This morning, you'll be picked up from Monteverde and driven to the Pacific coast at 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 10: Kayaking - Damas Island

Kayaking through mangroves
Kayaking through mangroves

Just outside of Quepos and Manuel Antonio is the incredibly biodiverse Damas Island, the setting for today's adventure. You'll get back on the water this morning as you explore the protected inland waterways of the Damas Estuary by open-seat kayak. Paddle under the shade of the jungle mangroves surrounding Damas Island on an intimate guided tour of this delicate rainforest ecosystem. And don't forget your camera — the mangroves are home to a plethora of wildlife, including sloths, monkeys, several species of birds, and boa constrictors!

Feel free to stop along the way to enjoy local fruits and refreshments. When you've had enough kayaking, tuck into a hot Tico-style (Costa Rican) meal at one of the many local restaurants in Manuel Antonio National Park.

Day 11: Santa Juana Waterfall Experience

Santa Juana Waterfall
Santa Juana Waterfall

Learn about Costa Rica's authentic rural heritage today as you embark on a nature tour of the countryside. Hike along the shady, jungle-covered slopes of the private Cloudmaker Nature Reserve with a Greentique Certified Guide. The many mountain streams here feed into three rivers and several waterfalls. Stop to take a dip beneath a waterfall in one of the region's most pristine natural pools, and later go fishing for tilapia. Also keep an eye out for some of the reserve's 150 species of birds, monkeys, crocodiles, and wild cats like pumas.

You'll visit a traditional sugar mill where oxen are still used to press the sugarcane and squeeze out the juice, a centuries-old practice here. Then enjoy a campesino-style (farmer) lunch with a panoramic view of Manuel Antonio National Park and the Pacific Ocean.

Before returning to Manuel Antonio for the evening, help conservation efforts by adopting your own tree as part of the reserve's Carbon Offset/Native Tree Reforestation Program.

Day 12: Manuel Antonio to San José, Depart Costa Rica

Enjoy your last moments to soak in Manuel Antonio's pristine beaches
Enjoy your last moments to soak in Manuel Antonio's pristine beaches

It's time to say goodbye to Costa Rica! After breakfast, you'll be driven back to San José where you'll depart Juan Santamaría International Airport for your journey home.

Map

Map of Costa Rica Adventure Tour - 12 days
Map of Costa Rica Adventure Tour - 12 days