From the heights of smoking volcanoes to the depths of a coral reef, this exciting 9-day tour leads the whole family around Costa Rica's most spectacular natural attractions. While exploring Rincón de la Vieja National Park, the Gulf of Papagayo, and the beautiful beaches of Sámara, you'll have plenty of opportunities to hike in the rainforest, splash in waterfalls, soak in hot springs, spot monkeys in the wild, and snorkel with tropical fish.

Highlights

  • Hike through Rincón de la Vieja National Park near an active volcano
  • Soak in the soothing waters of the Río Negro Hot Springs
  • Spot wildlife after dark on a nocturnal rainforest tour
  • Kayak along the beautiful beaches of Sámara
  • Explore an underwater world while snorkeling offshore small Isla Chora

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Soak in the Río Negro Hot Springs Rincón de la Vieja
Day 2 Hike in Rincón de la Vieja National Park Rincón de la Vieja
Day 3 Guided Rainforest Hike Rincón de la Vieja
Day 4 Sail on the Gulf of Papagayo at Sunset  Gulf of Papagayo
Day 5 Explore Tamarindo Mangrove & Estuary  Gulf of Papagayo
Day 6 Relax on the Beach in Sámara Sámara
Day 7 Kayak & Snorkel in the Ocean Sámara
Day 8 Visit a Scarlet Macaw Refuge and Breeding Center Sámara
Day 9 Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Soak in the Río Negro Hot Springs

Hot springs in Costa Rica
Welcome to Costa Rica! You and your family will arrive in Liberia and transfer to your hotel in Rincón de la Vieja. Thermal waters have rejuvenating and therapeutic properties that people worldwide have appreciated for millennia. Today is your chance to experience this yourself at some of Costa Rica's loveliest hot springs. When you stay at Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin, located on the edge of Rincón de la Vieja National Park and the country's most active volcano, you can take a dip in the incredible hot springs of the Río Negro. Beautiful and relaxing, these volcanic hot springs are naturally heated by the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano itself.

Surrounded by a dense, dry tropical forest, the Río Negro Hot Springs area is beautiful and peaceful. The river's crystal clear waters flow beside 10 thermal pools built on the riverbank, each rich in minerals and naturally heated in the volcano's depths. Like a body mask in a spa, you can plaster the hot volcanic mud over your body for all the associated benefits of nutrient-rich volcanic mud. Kids will have fun smearing mud all over themselves! When the mud dries, wash it in the cold waters of the river, entering the thermal water pools and beginning the process once more. 

Day 2: Hike in Rincón de la Vieja National Park

Hiking through Rincón de la Vieja National Park

Today you'll transfer to the outskirts of Rincón de la Vieja National Park and embark on a brisk 45-minute walk along a scenic forest trail to the entrance. Pause to enjoy views of the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano, the largest and most active volcano in Guanacaste Province. Some of the highlights kids will enjoy along the hike are steaming fumaroles, mini-geysers, and bubbling volcanic mud pits.

You and the family will hike the Las Pailas loop trail over 2.5 miles (4 km) through tropical forest. Lookout points along the way feature some of the best views of the volcano and the wildlife that abounds nearer the trail, including tropical birds, armadillos, collared peccaries, iguanas, white-nosed coatis, and various types of monkeys. When you finish your hike, you'll be ready for a refreshing swim in the Oropendola Waterfall. It is located a short walk from the park entrance on a trail that winds along the Río Blanco (White River). The Oropendola Waterfall plunges an impressive 82 feet (25 m) down to a bright turquoise pool.

Day 3: Guided Rainforest Hike

Hike to dreamlike waterfalls
Waterfalls in the forest

Today the family will venture into Tenorio Volcano National Park for a moderate three-hour hike along the Río Celeste, one of the most stunning natural attractions in Costa Rica. Local legend says that after God painted the sky, he washed his brushes in this river, resulting in its famous electric-blue color. 

The hike leads you and your kids 4 miles (7 km) along the river through a rainforest ecosystem home to exotic animals like monkeys, sloths, peccaries, and anteaters. You'll pass by the specific point where two streams merge and produce the reaction in the minerals that give the Celeste its coloring. The hike culminates with a descent of 253 steps to reach the Catarata Río Celeste, a waterfall of such beauty you'll think you've found your private paradise. You'll visit hot springs (swimming is not allowed), fumaroles of volcanic gases, and the Borbollones, where exhaust gases at the base of the river give the appearance of boiling water.

Day 4: Sail on the Gulf of Papagayo at Sunset 

Enjoy the sunset aboard a luxury catamaran
Sunset from the catamaran
Plan your trip to Costa Rica
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

This morning, a driver will pick you up in a private, air-conditioned minivan and transfer you to the Gulf of Papagayo. Soak up the bright afternoon sun until it transitions into soft pinks and oranges later in the afternoon. You'll be picked up at your hotel and transferred to the landing dock in Playas del Coco. Here, you'll board a catamaran and begin silently gliding along the Gold Coast past picturesque bays, white sand beaches, and tropical jungles.

You're likely to spot animals, from dolphins to sea turtles, flying fish, and the occasional breaching whale. The crew will serve plenty of tropical drinks as you make your way to a tranquil bay where you can swim in the crystal clear waters of the Pacific. Snorkel in the bay or enjoy a stroll down the deserted white sand beach. Have dinner on the boat, then sit back and listen to the waves lapping at the sides of the catamaran as you make your way back to shore, taking in gorgeous sunset views on your return.

Day 5: Explore Tamarindo Mangrove & Estuary

Tamarindo Mangrove & Estuary Boat Tour
Boating through the Tamarindo Mangrove & Estuary

Estuaries are a vital part of nature, hosting important tree species and populations of birds and animals. They also serve as natural barriers to help prevent floods and protect coasts and beaches from tropical storms. The Tamarindo Estuary, part of Las Baulas National Park, is famous for being one of the nesting spots for Leatherback and Pacific Green Turtles. The tour offers a unique opportunity to observe the wildlife living in this oasis. 

The estuary boat will be ready and waiting at the mouth of the river, where you will be provided instructions for a safe take-off. On this safari tour through the narrow canals, you'll glide along the river, seeing many different bird species and colorful fish jumping above the water. Above the mangrove trees, you will also have the chance to see monkeys and iguanas. Your guide will stop in some places for a deeper explanation of the local flora and fauna, specifically the famous local Guanacaste trees, Costa Rica's national tree. Listen for the sounds of local howler monkeys, and keep an eye out for crabs and butterflies!

Day 6: Relax on the Beach in Sámara

Palm trees on the sand in Sámara

After breakfast, you will travel onward to Sámara. The drive takes around two hours, depending on traffic. With no scheduled plans for today, it's the perfect time to enjoy the region's fantastic beaches. Playa Sámara is by far the most accessible and lively option. Located on the outskirts of town, it sits on a small cove with a flourishing coral reef just offshore. This means the currents here stay relatively calm, so the waves are suitable for beginner surfers—a great option for families and more active travelers wanting to try out some water sports.

Other options include Playa Carillo, a 10-minute drive south; it's a quieter beach with more of a local vibe. Playa Barrigona is the furthest option from town (about a 30-minute drive), but it is also considered the most beautiful beach. Because it is only accessible by car (4x4 recommended), the beach goes unvisited by most tourists. The waves aren't as calm or suited to children here, so this beach is better for travelers who are comfortable swimming among strong currents or even looking to catch a few waves. 

Day 7: Kayak & Snorkel in the Ocean

Explore the coral reef on a snorkel trip
Explore the coral reef on a snorkel trip

Join a kayak and snorkeling tour today to explore the underwater world surrounding Isla Chora. Just off Sámara's coast, the island is a haven of white sand beaches and aquamarine-hued water. After breakfast, you'll be picked up from your hotel and driven to the south end of Sámara's beach, where your choice of kayaks and SUP boards await. After gearing up and receiving a brief explanation of paddling techniques and safety procedures, you and your family will set out with your guide on a 25-45 minute paddle across the lagoon to Isla Chora.

Once you're there, snorkel around the island's reefs, looking for sea turtles. Then savor some well-earned snacks and beverages on the beach. Before paddling back, check out the island's iguanas as they sun themselves on the hillside.

Day 8: Visit a Scarlet Macaw Refuge and Breeding Center

See Scarlet macaws in the trees at Punta Islita
Visit a scarlet macaw rescue center today where you and your family will learn about the conservation efforts contributing to the bird's stunning recovery from the brink of extinction. Just south of Playa Carrillo is Punta Islita, home to the Macaw Recovery Network. The network is a conservation organization dedicated to the survival of Costa Rica's native macaws. Thanks to the Recovery Network's efforts, although the scarlet macaw had previously gone extinct in this area of Guanacaste, they are now back and on their way to thriving here once again. 

Throughout the visit, you and your kids will meet many of the rescued birds and gain firsthand knowledge of the complex restoration work performed by the organization. Witnessing these incredible efforts and their direct impact on the birds' survival is sure to be an experience you will cherish forever. The reserve is truly a must-see for anyone who wants to experience the natural wonders of the area and meet these remarkable, charismatic birds for themselves.

Day 9: Depart Costa Rica

Sunset in Costa Rica

The trip ends today. Your family will transfer to the airport to catch your flight out. Safe travels!

More Great 9-Day Costa Rica Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these other 9-day Costa Rica itineraries, with outdoor adventures, family-friendly trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights. 

Map

Map of Costa Rica Family Trip: Volcanoes, Waterfalls & Coral Reefs - 9 Days
Map of Costa Rica Family Trip: Volcanoes, Waterfalls & Coral Reefs - 9 Days
Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Jun 2, 2022