- Take a zip-lining tour through the jungle canopy
- Mountain bike in Arenal Volcano National Park
- Go bird-watching in the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge
- Hike in the Santa Elena and Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserves
|Day 1||Arrive in San José||San Jose|
|Day 2||San José to Arenal||La Fortuna|
|Day 3||Mountain Biking in Arenal||La Fortuna|
|Day 4||Hanging Bridges, Waterfalls & Hot Springs||La Fortuna|
|Day 5||Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge||La Fortuna|
|Day 6||Boat from Arenal to Monteverde, Night-time Nature Tour||Monteverde|
|Day 7||Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Guided Hike||Monteverde|
|Day 8||Birdwatching & Jungle Hike||Monteverde|
|Day 9||Monteverde to San José||San Jose|
|Day 10||Depart San José|
Day 1: Arrive 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 vibrant 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.
- Visiting the Teatro Nacional, an opulent Neo-Classical building constructed in the late 19th century, which offers free guided tours on the hour.
- Exploring 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 American. Continue on to the Museo del Jade (Jade Museum), dedicated to preserving the archaeological heritage of the region. The museum features the largest collection of pre-Columbian jade artifacts in the world with over 7,000 items on display, most dated between 500 BC and 300 BC.
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.
Day 2: San José to Arenal
After breakfast, it's on to La Fortuna, best known as the base for exploring the Arenal Volcano National Park. Located north of the Tilaran Mountains, the cone-shaped Arenal juts out above the San Carlos Plains. After you check into your hotel, you'll have the rest of the day to explore on your own.
If you want to get up close to the volcano, kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding on Lake Arenal provides spectacular views of its peak. 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.
Here are a few restaurant recommendations for your stay in La Fortuna:
Don Rufino, which serves a mix of local and international flavors in charming digs that include an open-air bar overlooking the main street.
- Café Mediterraneo, a friendly osteria serving up homemade pasta and pizza.
- La Parrilla de María Bonita, a must-visit 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.
- Ave Del Paraíso, which offers daily theme dinners such as Italian, Mexican, Mediterranean and Costa Rican.
Day 3: Mountain Biking in Arenal
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 4: Hanging Bridges, Waterfalls & Hot Springs
This morning, you'll head out early to Mistico Hanging Bridges Park, where visitors of all ages can wander along trails and cross up to 15 bridges—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 uplands and lowlands rainforest meet. More than 350 bird species can be found here alone.
Next, it’s time to head to La Fortuna Waterfall, 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 and the chance to swim and relax in the La Fortuna River.
Afterward, soothe your muscles with a dip in the mineral-rich waters of Tabacón’s hot springs, used as therapeutic baths for more than 200 years. The Tabacón Thermal Resort includes a spa where treatments like massages are performed in outdoor bungalows.
Day 5: Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge
After breakfast in La Fortuna, you'll take a day-trip to the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge (a 2-hour drive each way) where you can expect to spot dozens of birds from the more than 200 species found in the area including spoonbills, jabiru storks, ibises, northern jacanas, ducks, and egrets.
With this tour down the Rio Frio, you'll see other wildlife, too, such as jaguars, three different species of monkeys, caiman, and turtles. Be sure to keep an eye out for sloths hanging from the trees above as you stop for lunch along the river.
Day 6: Boat from Arenal to Monteverde, Night-time Nature Tour
After breakfast at your resort in La Fortuna, you'll begin your transfer to Monteverde. This is no ordinary route: you'll skip the drive and board a boat instead, which will take you across the peaceful waters of Lake Arenal where you'll have opportunities to spot birds like herons and anhingas along the way.
When you arrive to the Monteverde area, take the afternoon and evening to enjoy nearby Santa Elena, a charming town with Quaker influences known for excellent coffee and cheese. Here are a few restaurant suggestions:
- For a late lunch, Orchid Coffee serves a menu of smoothies, salads, and sandwiches. Sweet-toothed visitors will appreciate the café’s extensive hot chocolate menu made with Costa Rican chocolate and mixed with unique ingredients like cardamom and orange.
- El Jardin Bar & Restaurant wins visitors over with its lovely setting overlooking the trees, friendly service, and fresh homemade bread served alongside every meal.
- Built around an old higueron (fig) tree, the Tree House Restaurant & Café serves Costa Rican standards like ceviche and arroz con pollo in a romantic, open-air setting.
This evening, you'll have the chance to see the wildlife of that's at its most active after dark on a guided night tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest. A naturalist will point out sloths, armadillos, and kinkajous, as well as sleeping birds and frogs.
Day 7: Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Guided Hike
After breakfast at your hotel, you’ll head to the "Green Lung” of Costa Rica due to its rich biodiversity. Located in the mountainous northwest region of the country, Monteverde is most well known for the 26,000-acre Cloud Forest Reserve, home to countless wildlife species.
Suspension bridges throughout the reserve allow for walks above the forest canopy, with plenty of opportunities to spot the colorfully-plumed resplendent quetzal. You can also zip-line through the forest canopy or take the Sky Tram guided tour that will lead you up to the Continental Divide—one of the highest mountains in the area. Among the reserve’s exotic flora are over 500 species of orchids.
In the afternoon you'll return to your hotel and have the rest of the day to spend as you like.
Day 8: Birdwatching & Jungle Hike
This morning you'll embark on a guided hike of the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, home to some of the country's most exotic birds including the resplendent quetzal, hummingbird, black guan, toucanet, and more. You'll also see mammals like howler monkeys, agoutis, coatimundis, tapir, and pumas. A naturalist at the reserve will help you spot the animals, and provide information about the area and its wildlife.
The afternoon is free for you to spend on your own in and around Monteverde and Santa Elena. For another wildlife viewing opportunity later in the day opt for a twilight tour. It begins around sunset, when the animals are at their most active. You'll have the chance to hear and see different wildlife than during the daytime, like agoutis, porcupines, grey foxes, tarantulas, and frogs.
Day 9: Monteverde to San José
After breakfast in Monteverde, you'll begin the 4.5-hour return drive to the capital city of San José. Once you check into your hotel, you will have the rest of night to explore, perhaps taking advantage of anything you may have missed at the beginning of the trip.
Day 10: Depart San José
It's time to say adiós to Costa Rica! Depending on your departure time, you'll have the morning to explore more of San José or relax in a coffee shop before boarding your flight at Juan Santamaria International Airport.