This fun weeklong itinerary highlights Costa Rica's amazing natural scenery through a thrilling series of adventurous activities, including whitewater rafting, kayaking, zip-lining, and more. Starting in the nation's capital, you'll make your way to rivers, jungles, waterfalls, and cone-shaped volcanoes, culminating on the Pacific coast with time to relax on Manuel Antonio's four white-sand beaches—each one accessed by hiking trail.

Highlights

  • Go whitewater rafting on the Sarapiqui river
  • SUP or kayak on Lake Arenal
  • Snorkel off the coast of Manuel Antonio National Park

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José San José
Day 2 Drive to Arenal, Whitewater Raft on the Sarapiqui River Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 3 Discover Arenal Volcano from Land & Water Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 4 Arenal to Manuel Antonio Manuel Antonio
Day 5 Sea Kayak & Snorkel Tour at Manuel Antonio Manuel Antonio
Day 6 Snorkel & Sunset Catamaran Cruise in Manuel Antonio Manuel Antonio
Day 7 Manuel Antonio to San José, Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed overview

Day 1: Arrive in San José

The Neo-Classical Teatro Nacional in San José
The Neo-Classical Teatro Nacional in San José

Welcome to the land of Pura Vida! After arriving at Juan Santamaria International Airport in San José, you'll transfer to your hotel. The rest of the day is free for you to explore the country's capital city. Suggested activities include taking a stroll through Mercado Central (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. You can visit the Teatro Nacional, an opulent Neo-Classical building constructed in the late 19th century, which offers free guided tours on the hour.

Alternatively, you can explore a pair of museums. First, visit the Museo del Oro Precolumbino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum), which holds the largest Pre-Columbian gold collection in all of Latin America. Continue to the Museo del Jade (Jade Museum), dedicated to preserving the region's archaeological heritage. The museum features the world's largest collection of pre-Columbian jade artifacts, with over 7,000 items on display, most dated between 500 BCE and 300 BCE.

For a casual dinner, try Tiquicia, a hilltop stalwart that serves up delicious local fare accompanied by live folk music on weekends, with views of the Central Valley. Or, for special-occasion dining, try Restaurante Grano de Oro, a local favorite helmed by French chef Francis Canal, who uses European techniques to prepare Costa Rican-fusion fare paired with an excellent wine list.

For more travel advice, check out 24 Hours in San José and look over this list of the best hotels in San José.

Day 2: Drive to Arenal, Whitewater Raft on the Sarapiqui River

Raft one of the country's most exciting rivers, the Sarapiqui
Raft one of the country's most exciting rivers, the Sarapiqui

After an early breakfast at the hotel, you’ll drive to the area surrounding Arenal Volcano National Park, home of the 5,437-foot-high (1,657 m) peak that is one of Costa Rica’s most famed landmarks—and until 2010, the country’s most active volcano.

First, you'll stop for a whitewater rafting adventure on the Sarapiqui River. After a lesson from your professional guide, you'll begin your two-hour journey down one of Costa Rica’s most exciting rivers with over 30 Class 3 and 4 rapids. About halfway through your trip, you’ll stop and watch the water from the shore while enjoying refreshing tropical fruit and a traditional Costa Rican lunch. Then, after the second leg of the rafting journey, you’ll continue to your hotel.

Find out more about the best boutique hotels and best standard hotels in the region.

Day 3: Discover Arenal Volcano from Land & Water

This morning begins with a hike at Arenal Volcano
This morning begins with a hike at Arenal Volcano

Today is packed with outdoor adventures, starting with a hike at Arenal Volcano National Park. An experienced guide will lead you along the trails to points where you'll get the best views of the volcano, pointing out local flora and fauna along the way and sharing the history of Arenal. Find out more about hiking around Arenal Volcano here.

Next, you'll see Arenal from the water with a standup paddleboarding trip on Lake Arenal, Costa Rica's largest landlocked body of water. The lake is calm and pristine, making a SUP session here ideal for beginners or experienced boarders who want a leisurely paddle to take in the breathtaking scenery and spot water birds like herons and anhingas.

For other ideas, read over this list of the best things to do in Arenal.

Plan your trip to Costa Rica
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 4: Arenal to Manuel Antonio

Drive to the Pacific coast for some beach time
Drive to the Pacific coast for some beach time

This morning, you'll transfer 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. Check out this Ultimate Guide to Manuel Antonio National Park for more information.

In the evening, head to the town of Quepos for dinner at Gabriella's for pretty sunset views over a meal of fresh fish or steak. Read more about the area's best dining options here.

Day 5: Sea Kayak & Snorkel Tour at Manuel Antonio

Explore the coral reef and abundant sea life together at Manuel Antonio National Park
Explore the coral reef and abundant sea life together at Manuel Antonio National Park

After breakfast at your hotel, you will have the whole day to enjoy one of Costa Rica's most striking Pacific Coast areas, starting with a two-person open-seat ocean kayak. The guided kayaking adventure begins near Pez Vela (Sail Fish) Marina in Quepos and winds along Manuel Antonio's coastline. There will be time to relax on the secluded beach of Biezans Bay, where you can go for a swim and enjoy a picnic on the sand. You'll also have the chance to see the area's coral reef and marine life during a snorkeling journey along the shore.

Want a special restaurant in Manuel Antonio? Try Arbol Food & Wine. This is a concept based on seasonal products from Central Pacific farmers and fishers, and the chef uses modern culinary techniques.

For more travel tips and inspiration, read Top Active Experiences in Manuel Antonio National Park.

Day 6: Snorkel & Sunset Catamaran Cruise in Manuel Antonio

Tonight, you'll embark on a sunset sail
Tonight, you'll embark on a sunset sail

After breakfast at your hotel, the morning is yours to spend however you like. In the afternoon, you'll embark on a sunset dinner sail. 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.

Read more about the best nature experiences in Manuel Antonio National Park.

Day 7: Manuel Antonio to San José, Depart Costa Rica

Farewell, Costa Rica
Farewell, Costa Rica

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

More Great Costa Rica Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these other Costa Rica itineraries, explore different ways to experience a week in Costa Rica, or learn about the best time to visit Costa Rica.

Map

Map of Costa Rica's Whitewater, Beaches & Volcanoes - 7 Days
Map of Costa Rica's Whitewater, Beaches & Volcanoes - 7 Days
Emily
Written by Emily Strauss, updated Jul 21, 2022