This fun 9-day 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 do some surfing in Tamarindo's famous beaches.

Highlights

  • Tour Costa Rica's bustling capital city
  • Raft through class II-IV rapids on the Pacuare river
  • Rappel down a waterfall
  • Soak in volcanic hot springs
  • Relax on the pristine beaches of Tamarindo

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 Waterfall Rappelling / Canyoning Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Arenal Sky Tram, Sky Walk and Zip-line Tour Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 6 Arenal to Playa Tamarindo Tamarindo
Day 7 Private Surf Lesson at Playa Tamarindo Tamarindo
Day 8 Free Day in Tamarindo Tamarindo
Day 9 Depart Costa Rica from Liberia  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José

Afternoon street scene in downtown San José
Afternoon street scene in downtown 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.

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.

Day 4: Waterfall Rappelling / Canyoning

Rappeling down a waterfall in La Fortuna
Rappeling down a waterfall in La Fortuna

Today you will participate in an unforgettable adventure in the rainforest, canyoning  and waterfall rappelling! With no experience necessary, you’ll rappel down amazing waterfalls and trace pristine rivers. Hiking through the canyon takes you right into the heart of the rainforest and gives you an incredibly unique perspective on this environment! Minimum age is 13 years old (exceptions can be made for some 12-year-olds.)

Day 5: Arenal Sky Tram, Sky Walk and Zip-line Tour

Jungle canopy near Arenal
Jungle canopy near Arenal

Enjoy a bird's-eye view of Costa Rica—literally. You'll begin the day with a relaxing, scenic ride up a mountain by open-air gondola. The panoramic views broaden the higher you rise, and when you reach the top observation platform you’ll have 360° views of the Arenal landscape.

Now you're in for a treat because it's time for an adrenaline-pumping zip-line tour through the cloud forest. You'll fly like a bird for miles, from tree-to-tree and canyon-to-canyon. You'll journey through untouched nature over eight cables that stretch 2460 feet and reach heights of 660 feet. Through it all, our knowledgeable naturalist guide will educate you about Costa Rica’s exotic flora and fauna. 

Day 6: Arenal to Playa Tamarindo

Staying on the Pacific coast means great sunset views
Staying on the Pacific coast means great sunset views

Road trip time! After breakfast at your hotel in La Fortuna, this drive takes you west through Guanacaste, past volcanic mountain ranges, flatlands, and villages as you head toward the fabulous Pacific Coast. Stop for a bite and enjoy traditional foods, fresh local fruits, or perhaps a batido (fresh fruit smoothie) made con leech (with milk). 

Once you arrive, you can rest up at your hotel or spend the afternoon exploring with a sea kayak and snorkeling tour. As you row through the blue smooth waters of Tamarindo Beach towards the white sand Capitán Island, you will be able to enjoy the beautiful colors of the water and observe underwater coral reef and exotic fish.

If you happen to visit between October and March, head to Las Baulas National Marine Park to see Leatherback Turtles come ashore for a truly memorable experience. Every night during high tide in the nesting season, female leatherback turtles make their way up the beach to lay eggs. Watch the turtles come and go before the hatchlings follow suit into the water, a once-in-a-lifetime sight. 

For meals, here are a few suggestions in Playa Tamarindo

  • For breakfast, head to charming La Bodega and order one of their fantastic egg sandwiches (like the Kristina, served with tomato, local organic goat chevre, red onion and local smoked trout on a buttered and toasted homemade bread). Homemade banana bread and fresh juices are other standouts. 
  • Pull up a stool at the Green Papaya, which serves some of the best tacos and burritos in town with vegetarian options in a casual atmosphere. 
  • Steps from the beach, Surf Shack serves up topnotch patties, onion rings, and milkshakes in an aluminum-sided hut decorated with surf boards. 
  • Nogi's is a perfect pick for sunset dining thanks to its beachfront location. They serve a varied menu of seafood and grilled meat; be sure to save room for a slice of their Coconut Cream Pie. 

Day 7: Private Surf Lesson at Playa Tamarindo

Today, you'll hit the waves at Playa Tamarindo
Today, you'll hit the waves at Playa Tamarindo

This morning you'll receive a private lesson on Playa Tamarindo, then you'll have the rest of the day on your own to ride the waves or just relax on the beach. 

For those who want to explore, there are five surf spots in Avellanas (a short drive from Tamarindo), including a few that cater to intermediate and expert riders like the one nicknamed Little Hawaii, with the biggest waves rolling in during low tide.

Another must-see spot near Tamarindo for hard-core surfers is Witch’s Rock, located in a national park and accessible only by boat. This is a world class break with big, glassy waves that thousands flock to every year, made famous by the movie Endless Summer II. A few miles beyond here is Ollie’s Point, which is a right-hand point break. You’re likely to see other boats in the water, but it’s a big area, so it won’t feel quite as crowded as Witch’s Rock.

You can also take a yoga class at one of Tamarindo's local studios and then wander around town, stopping at a café for snack or meal.

Day 8: Free Day in Tamarindo

Be on the lookout for capuchin monkeys
Be on the lookout for capuchin monkeys

Today can be as relaxing or adventurous as you like. If you've had enough of the beaches, you can opt to head back to Rincón de la Vieja. 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 down the Corobicí River, where a guide will point out monkeys, bats, lizards, and even crocodiles. 

You can also choose a guided trip down the Tenorio River. Its class III-IV rapids make it the best river in the Guanacaste area for rafting. After a challenging trip down the rapids led by experts, you'll enjoy lunch before heading back to your hotel in time to catch one last sunset.

Day 9: Depart Costa Rica from Liberia

Liberia, Costa Rica
Liberia, Costa Rica

It's time to say adiós to Costa Rica! After breakfast, you'll begin the drive to Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport, in Guanacaste’s capital city of Liberia, for your return flight home.

Map

Map of Costa Rica Adventure: Whitewater, Volcanoes & Surfing - 9 Days
Map of Costa Rica Adventure: Whitewater, Volcanoes & Surfing - 9 Days
Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Apr 17, 2019