Discover northern Costa Rica's lush cloud forests and pristine beaches on this active 11-day adventure. After a day spent in the capital of San José, you’ll transfer to San Ramón for two nights at an eco-lodge deep inside a private nature reserve. Visit Arenal to explore the rainforest canopy and hike to the famous volcano, then head to Monteverde to horseback ride through rare cloud forests and tour coffee and chocolate farms. End on the beach in the quiet surf town of Jacó, where you’ll embark on guided hikes to see monkeys and macaws in Manuel Antonio and Carara national parks.

Highlights

  • Hike through the treetops on Arenal's hanging bridges
  • Horseback ride through Monteverde's cloud forest
  • Stimulate your senses on a coffee, chocolate & sugarcane tour
  • Explore virgin rainforests & white sand beaches in Manuel Antonio National Park
  • See scarlet macaws & howler monkeys in Carara National Park

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José San José
Day 2 Transfer to San Ramón San Ramón
Day 3 San Ramón Free Day San Ramón
Day 4 Transfer to Arenal  Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Explore Arenal - Hanging Bridges, Waterfall & Volcano Hike Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 6 Transfer to  Monteverde - Cloud Forest Horseback Ride Monteverde
Day 7 Coffee, Chocolate & Sugar Cane Tour Monteverde
Day 8 Transfer to Jacó Jacó
Day 9 Manuel Antonio National Park Jacó
Day 10 Guided tour to Carara National Park Jacó
Day 11 Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José

San Jose's Teatro Nacional
San José's Teatro Nacional 

Welcome to Costa Rica! After transferring from the airport, get settled in your hotel in San José. If your flight arrives earlier in the day, take the afternoon to explore the city on foot. The nation's capital features bustling streets, green parks, grand plazas, and European-inspired architecture showcasing centuries of history. Suggested activities include: 

  • Take a stroll through the San José 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 Teatro Nacional, an opulent Neo-Classical building constructed in the late 19th century, which offers free guided tours on the hour. You can also check their calendar to take in dance, music, and theatre performances.
  • Check out a pair of fascinating 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 to the 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 and 300 BCE.

For a casual dinner try Tiquicia, a hilltop stalwart that serves up delicious local fare accompanied by live folk music on weekends and views of the Central Valley. For fine dining, there's Restaurante Grano de Oro, a local favorite helmed by French chef Francis Canal who prepares Costa Rican ingredients using European techniques.

Day 2: Transfer to San Ramón

Costa Rica's Central Valley
Costa Rica's Central Valley

After breakfast, you'll transfer about an hour northwest to reach the small city of San Ramón, nestled among the lush mountains of the Central Valley. Once you arrive, you'll quickly notice that authentic Costa Rican culture abounds in this town and that the pace of life is slow, relaxed, and focused on building strong ties with the community. San Ramón is known locally as "the city of presidents and poets" because many of the most important literary and political figures in the country hail from the area.

Your base for the next two nights is Villa Blanca, set at the heart of a pristine nature reserve. This remarkable destination is one of the few places in Costa Rica where you can enjoy all the comforts of an upscale boutique hotel in the heart of its very own private cloud forest. 

Day 3: San Ramón Free Day

Hummingbirds flock to the gardens at Villa Blanca

Today you'll enjoy at your leisure, exploring your surroundings in Villa Blanca's beautifully appointed re-creation of a mountain village known for its sustainable hospitality. Choose from a number of nature-based activities to discover your biodiverse surroundings, or devote the day to relaxation and rest

Day 4: Transfer to Arenal 

The active volcano of Arenal towers over the region

After breakfast, you'll head north towards La Fortuna, in Arenal Volcano National Park. Along the way, you will be treated to some unforgettable scenery in the form of misty cloud forests, rolling green hills, and charming villages.

Upon arrival at La Fortuna, you'll check into your resort hotel. At 350 feet (106 m) above sea level, this village is best known as the gateway to Arenal Volcano National Park. From town, you'll have panoramic views of the mammoth 5,357-foot (1,633 m) volcano, which you can enjoy as you relax in the jacuzzi or on the balcony of your hotel room. 

For dinner, choose from one of the city's over 100 restaurants. Solid options include: 

  • 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.
  • Rancho Perla, a popular open-air restaurant (you may even spot sloths hanging from the nearby trees) serving well-prepared Costa Rican staples.

Day 5: Explore Arenal - Hanging Bridges, Waterfall & Volcano Hike

The beautiful La Fortuna Waterfall
The beautiful La Fortuna Waterfall

Today you'll venture deep into the rainforest, starting with a guided treetop hike along the Arenal Hanging Bridges. This network of hiking trails involves crossing 15 bridges—some hundreds of feet long—before arriving at lookout points affording sweeping views of Arenal Volcano. You'll also get an up-close look at the incredible biodiversity in this region. More than 350 bird species can be found here alone. Your nature guide will teach you about Costa Rican culture, history, and nature while pointing out rare and remarkable plants, animals, and birds along the way.

Next, you'll experience the other star of the Arenal region: La Fortuna Waterfall. If Arenal is the most famous volcano in the country, then La Fortuna is easily the most famous falls. It's located a 15-minute drive from the town of La Fortuna, at the base of the dormant Chato Volcano. The waters here plunge 210 feet (64 m) into a tropical lagoon, and a 500-step downhill hike provides the opportunity to see the falls from the bottom up. Besides taking photos, be sure to swim and relax in the La Fortuna River below the falls.

After lunch at a local restaurant, you'll embark on a two-hour hiking tour to the base of Arenal Volcano, where you'll walk through rainforest trails and over dried lava fields as your guide points out the flora and fauna of the area. Eventually, you'll arrive at an observation point just in time for sunset, which affords premium views of the rainforest and volcano 

Day 6: Transfer to Monteverde - Cloud Forest Horseback Ride

monteverde hoserback ride
Explore the cloud forests by horseback

After breakfast at your resort in La Fortuna, you'll transfer to the Monteverde region of Costa Rica. This is no ordinary route; you'll skip the drive and board a boat, which will take you across the tranquil waters of Lake Arenal. On this 3.5-hour boat ride, you'll have ample opportunity to spot local birds like herons and anhingas. 

Monteverde is home to one of the most important protected cloud forests in the world and is one of the jewels in Costa Rica's ecological crown. Known as the "green lung of Costa Rica" due to its rich biodiversity, its 26,000-acre reserve is located high in the mountainous northwest region of the country. The views of the misty cloud forest here are the stuff of postcards.

After settling into your accommodation, you'll be transferred to a local ranch in the afternoon to saddle up and ride gentle horses through the cloud forest. The tour passes coffee plantations and sugar cane fields, then continues through dirt roads, trails, and some small rivers—all the while offering spectacular views of the Gulf of Nicoya.

Day 7: Coffee, Chocolate & Sugar Cane Tour

Coffee berries in Monteverde
Coffee berries in Monteverde

Stimulate your senses today with a journey through the history, culture, and traditions of the three golden crops of Costa Rica – coffee, chocolate, and sugar cane. You’ll visit a farm in Monteverde and be taught about the processing methods of coffee, chocolate, and sugar in a very hands-on way, participating in the harvesting, peeling, roasting, and grinding. You’ll also get to experience one of the best parts of the tours—tasting the fruits of your labor!

In the afternoon, transfer back to your hotel and enjoy the sights and sounds of your final evening in the cloud forest. 

Day 8: Transfer to Jacó

View of Jacó Beach from El Miro
View of Jacó Beach from El Miro

After breakfast, you'll be transferred to the Pacific Coast and the surf village of Jacó. This is the closest major beach town to San José, and thus is a popular destination for weekenders from the capital as well as surfers. To this point, the town is known as much for its great waves as it is for its active nightlife. 

After checking into your hotel, you'll have the remainder of the day free. If you're interested in snapping some great pics of the entire area, you can hike up to El Miro, an observation deck south of town. Not only does it offer panoramic vistas of the coast, but if you're lucky you might even spot a scarlet macaw nearby. You can also stroll around town and browse the many artisan shops before hitting the nightclubs once the sun goes down.

Day 9: Manuel Antonio National Park

Howler monkeys in Manuel Antonio National Park
Howler monkeys in Manuel Antonio National Park

Today you'll wake up early and explore the roughly 1,680 acres (680 hectares) of Manuel Antonio National Park. This is a true gem of Costa Rica, a park that's home to virgin rainforest running from the mountains down to the coast, where white-sand beaches and coral reefs await.

You'll start your hike on the trails within the park. The walk is easy with mostly flat trails—perfect for families with kids. A naturalist guide will point out the more than 300 species of mammals and birds that call this reserve home, including three-toed sloths, hawks, iguanas, and several different species of monkeys. You'll also have time to enjoy the park's expansive white sand beaches on this half-day tour.

What you do the remainder of the afternoon is up to you! Continue exploring the trails on your own, or unwind and relax in the sand and sea.

Day 10: Guided Tour to Carara National Park

Scarlet macaws abound in Carara National Park

After breakfast, transfer to Carara National Park for a guided tour. This national park comprises more than 11,600 acres (4,694 hectares) and is home to some 48% of Costa Rica's bird species, including the main attraction, the scarlet macaw. The reason for this wide variety of species is because the park is located in the transitional area between tropical dry forest and the humid Pacific rainforest. Besides birds, you're sure to spot white-faced and howler monkeys, toucans, and iguanas.

At the end of the tour, you'll take a break for lunch before heading back to the hotel. You'll then have the remainder of the afternoon free to relax.

Day 11: Depart Costa Rica

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San José at twilight


All the good things come to an end. After breakfast today, you'll say goodbye to beautiful Costa Rica and transfer to the San José airport to catch your departing flight. Safe travels!