One of the best ways to experience a destination is through its cuisine, and Costa Rica is no exception. This itinerary will have you visiting food stalls at San José's Mercado Central, trying your hand at traditional recipes in a cooking class, aand sampling coffee at a plantation. You'll also have time to relax and experience the jungles and beaches Costa Rica is known for.

Highlights

  • Get to know the history and culture of San José
  • Learn about the production process of Costa Rican coffee and cacao
  • Make traditional Costa Rican dishes on a family-owned farm
  • Have dinner on a catamaran while watching the sunset over the Pacific

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Costa Rica, Explore San José's Culture & History San Jose
Day 2 Drive to Arenal Volcano, Chocolate Making & Hot Springs Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 3 Waterfall Hike & Cooking Class Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 4 Coffee Farm Tour Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Arenal to the Gulf of Papagayo Gulf de Papgayo
Day 6 Beach Day & Sunset Catamaran Sail in Papagayo Gulf de Papagayo
Day 7 Free Day in Papagayo Gulf de Papagayo
Day 8 Depart Costa Rica from Liberia  

Detailed Itinerary

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 at Juan Santamaria International Airport 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: Drive to Arenal Volcano, Chocolate Making, and Hot Springs

Participate in the harvest of cacao and the drying and grinding of the seed that produces creamy cocoa butter
Participate in the harvest of cacao and the drying and grinding of the seed that produces creamy cocoa butter

After an early breakfast at the hotel, you’ll meet the shuttle service in the lobby. Your destination is the area surrounding Arenal Volcano National Park, home of the 5,437-foot-high peak that is one of Costa Rica’s most famed landmarks.

Today, you'll get a hands-on lesson about the origin, history, and current production of one of Costa Rica's most famous exports: chocolate. Participate in the harvest of cacao and the drying and grinding of the seed that produces creamy cocoa butter. You'll also learn how the traditional chocolate drink was developed centuries ago, and, of course, sample the chocolate freshly made onsite.

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. Tabacón Thermal Resort also offers day passes and includes a spa where treatments are given in outdoor bungalows (not included).  End the day with a nice dinner at the resort’s pretty Ave Del Paraíso Restaurant, serving Costa Rican dishes as well as international fare.

Here are a few recommended restaurants 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: Waterfall Hike & Cooking Class

Take a cooking class on typical Costa Rican cuisine
Take a cooking class on typical Costa Rican cuisine

After breakfast in La Fortuna, you'll begin today's adventure with a visit to La Fortuna Waterfall Reserve, where a heavy annual precipitation gives you the chance to enjoy a stunning 210-foot waterfall. As you descend downhill on the trail, you'll get a chance to see the falls from the very bottom where a natural pool awaits if you want to swim in the fresh water of La Fortuna River.

In the afternoon, take a guided journey to the family-owned Arenal Vida Campesina Farm where you'll find several crops that Costa Rica is best known for: sugar cane, coffee, corn, yucca, cocoa, bananas, and plantains. The trip includes a visit to the mill for fresh-squeezed sugar cane juice and a taste of sugar cane liquor. Next, you'll head to restaurant La Guaria Morada for a cooking class on typical Costa Rican cuisine, followed by a family-style dinner.

Day 4: Coffee Farm Tour

Learn about the coffee harvesting process, from farm-to-cup
Learn about the coffee harvesting process, from farm-to-cup

Today you'll head to a local farm for a tour centered around one of Costa Rica's most famous exports: coffee. You'll participate in the entire farm-to-cup process, from picking the beans to roasting. 

The rest of the day is yours to spend as you like. For a fun after-dark activity, discover the wildlife of Arenal 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 as an experienced naturalist provides insight into all you’ll see (and hear) in the dark.

Day 5: Arenal to the Gulf of Papagayo

Beyond the arid, volcanic valleys of Guanacaste lie fantastic Pacific Ocean beaches
Beyond the arid, volcanic valleys of Guanacaste lie fantastic Pacific Ocean beaches

Road trip time! This four-hour 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)—a kid favorite, especially made con leche (with milk). As the dry plains and tropical dry forests slowly give way to azure seas, you’ve arrived at your destination, Papagayo, one of the most biodiverse regions in the world.

Once you arrive, you can rest up at your hotel or spend the afternoon exploring with a sea kayak and snorkeling tour that's ideal for families. You'll paddle across the turquoise waters of Tamarindo Beach to the white sand of Capitán Island, you'll have the chance to see the coral reef teeming with exotic fish.

Day 6: Beach Day & Sunset Catamaran Sail in Papagayo

In the evening, you'll go for a sunset sail
In the evening, you'll go for a sunset sail

Today is all about relaxation on the beach. After breakfast at your hotel, get out and explore the coastline around Guanacaste, where you're sure to find a picturesque sandy spot. 

In the evening, you'll board a catamaran for a sunset sail. Stop in a calm bay, drop anchor and snorkel while the crew prepares a dinner feast. While you eat, you'll marvel at the sunset over the watery horizon, while on the lookout for dolphins, sea turtles, flying fish, or even a breaching whale.

Day 7: Free Day in Papagayo

Be on the lookout for white-faced monkeys
Be on the lookout for white-faced monkeys

Today can be as relaxing or adventurous as you like. If you've had enough of the beaches, you can opt to for a tour of the jungle trail called Sensoria, part of a wildlife sanctuary at the foot of the Rincon de la Vieja volcano, where you'll swim in thermal pools, see waterfalls, and have a chance to spot the wild creatures of Costa Rica. Or, see the rainforest from the water during a two-hour safari float tour on the Corobicí River, where a guide will help you identify monkeys, bats, lizards, and even crocodiles. 

You can also choose a guided trip down the Tenor River. It’s pure, white water makes it the best river in Guanacaste 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 8: Depart Costa Rica from Liberia

Farewell, Costa Rica
Farewell, Costa Rica

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

Map

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