On this 8-day adventure, experience every facet of Costa Rica's culture, from food to national museums, native people, and even wildlife. Starting and ending in San José, the itinerary includes a visit to a coffee plantation, immersing with one of the country's last indigenous tribes, and opportunities to explore by land and sea.

Highlights

  • Tour the cultural and historical sites of metropolitan San José
  • Take a tasting tour of a Costa Rican coffee plantation
  • Visit a Maleku Tribe village and experience indigenous culture
  • Learn about the biodiversity of Manuel Antonio National Park

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Costa Rica, Explore San José's Culture & History San Jose
Day 2 San José City Tour San Jose
Day 3 San José to Arenal, Coffee Plantation Tour Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 4 Maleku Tribe Village Visit Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Arenal to Manuel Antonio Manuel Antonio
Day 6 Guided Hike of Manuel Antonio National Park Manuel Antonio
Day 7 Free Day in Manuel Antonio Manuel Antonio
Day 8 Manuel Antonio to San José, Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed overview

Day 1: Arrive in Costa Rica, Explore San José's Culture & History

The striking interior of Catedral Metropolitan
The striking interior of Catedral Metropolitan

Welcome to the land of pura vida! After arriving in San José, a local representative will meet you and escort you to your hotel. The rest of the day is free for you to explore the country's vibrant capital city by yourself or with a guide.

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. 
  • Visit the Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Church) where interiors combine Greek Orthodox, Neoclassical and Baroque styles and feature beautiful wood carvings, tiled floors, and stained glass windows.
  • Explore Barrio Amón, a historic neighborhood that's home to cafetalero (coffee grower) mansions built during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of the area’s historic buildings have been converted into hotels, restaurants, and galleries, making this a popular district for architecture enthusiasts. 

For a casual dinner tonight head to 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 City Tour

Teatro Nacional at night
Teatro Nacional at night

On a private tour beginning at noon, your guide will show you a slice of Costa Rica's rich culture and history with a tour of beautiful museums and historical sites in San José. It begins with an orientation and drive through "the lungs of San José," La Sabana Metropolitan Park. Next, you'll take a walking tour through the historic Teatro Nacional, an opulent Neo-Classical building constructed in the late 19th century, which offers free guides on the hour. 

Continue with a visit to one of the city's best museums like the Museo del Oro Precolumbino, which holds the largest Pre-Columbian gold collection in all of Latin American. Or you can head to the Museo Nacional, housed in former military barracks, featuring a collection of important cultural artifacts as well as a butterfly garden.

Then you'll head to the Universidad de Costa Rica, the oldest and most prestigious institution of higher learning in the country, the Corte Suprema de Justicia de Costa Rica (Supreme Court)and other points of interest, stopping along the way for a bit of souvenir shopping.

Day 3: San José to Arenal, Coffee Plantation Tour

Today, you'll learn about the process of harvesting coffee
Today, you'll learn about the process of harvesting coffee

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. Along the way, you'll visit a Coffee Plantation in the village of Naranjo where you'll learn about one of the country's most important exports, coffee, seeing how it's grown, harvested, and roasted. 

After check in at your hotel, you'll have the rest of the day to explore on your own. If you want to get 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 4: Maleku Tribe Village Visit

Balsa wood carved masks in a Maleku village
Balsa wood carved masks in a Maleku village

Have breakfast in La Fortuna, and head out on a day-trip to visit one of the country's last tribes of indigenous people.

After a one-hour drive through the northern plains you'll arrive at the Indian community Palenque Tonjibe and be warmly received by their people. Following a brief presentation, you'll begin a hike through the village where you'll see many important cultural aspects of this special place, the antique type of home structures, and their artwork and craftsmanship, the use of cocoa in their farming, and the creation of their clothing. Next, you'll take a trail through the forest in order to learn about medicinal plants and how they're currently used. Here you'll also be able to observe antique huacas or indigenous tombs.

Finally you'll pass through a Palenque where you'll be treated to a dance presentation with dialogue in the native Maleku language and customary dress, followed by a traditional meal. You'll depart around 1:00 pm back to La Fortuna, where you have the rest of the day at leisure. 

Day 5: 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. 

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.

Day 6: Guided Hike of Manuel Antonio National Park

Be on the lookout for sloths hanging from the trees
Be on the lookout for sloths hanging from the trees

Today you'll explore the incredible biodiversity found within the roughly 680 hectares of Manuel Antonio National Park. A naturalist will point out the more than 300 species of mammals and birds that call the reserve home, including sloths, hawks, iguanas, and several different species of monkeys. You'll also have time to spend exploring the park's expansive white sand beaches.

Day 7: Free Day in Manuel Antonio

A beach in Manuel Antonio
A beach in Manuel Antonio

Today is a free day to relax or explore the area—whichever way you choose: 

  • Explore the park on a guided tour. A naturalist will point out the more than 300 species of mammals and birds that call the reserve home, including sloths, hawks, iguanas, and several different species of monkeys. You'll also have time to spend exploring the park's expansive white sand beaches.
  • Tour the Damas Island Estuary on a guided boat tour through the mangroves. 
  • Take a surf lesson or simply relax on Playa Manuel Antonio.

Day 8: 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 Juan Santamaría International Airport for your journey home.

Map

Map of Costa Rica Cultural Tour - 8 Days
Map of Costa Rica Cultural Tour - 8 Days