A whopping 25% of Costa Rica's total area is protected. This is a conscious effort to preserve the nation's abundant natural treasures in the form of various national parks. To this end, we've created a dream itinerary for intrepid nature lovers that includes the four best parks in the country. So clear two weeks off your calendar—it's time to experience Costa Rica to the fullest extent.

Highlights

  • Visit the Caribbean's largest sea turtle nesting site in Tortuguero National Park
  • Relax in the hot springs of Arenal Volcano National Park
  • Hike the trails of the Monteverde Cloud Forest and spot a variety of local wildlife
  • Enjoy the white-sand beaches and turquoise waters of Manuel Antonio National Park.

Overview

This two-week tour offers a complete Costa Rican experience, covering national parks on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. This is a country famous for its beaches, virgin rainforest, volcanos, exotic wildlife, and zip-line canopy tours—all of which is included in this itinerary. Specific destinations include the capital of San José and the protected areas of Tortuguero, Arenal, Monteverde, and Manuel Antonio. You'll traverse this land by vehicle, boat, and on foot, which will put you up close and personal with Costa' Rica's famed tropical rainforest ecosystems. If you want a comprehensive trip that showcases everything that makes Costa Rica iconic, this is the tour for you.

Map

Brief Itinerary


Day Destination  
Day 1 San Jose (Arrival) San Jose
Day 2 Transfer to Tortuguero National Park - Guided Hike Tortuguero
Day 3 Boat Tour of Tortuguero Tortuguero
Day 4 Transfer to Arenal Volcano La Fortuna
Day 5 Hanging Bridges, La Fortuna Waterfall, and Hot Springs La Fortuna
Day 6 Free day around Arenal and La Fortuna La Fortuna
Day 7 Transfer to Monteverde - Aerial Fun in the Cloud Forest Monteverde
Day 8 Guided hike in Monteverde Monteverde
Day 9 Free day near Monteverde Monteverde
Day 10 Transfer to Manuel Antonio National Park Manuel Antonio
Day 11 Catamaran and Snorkeling Adventure Manuel Antonio
Day 12 Boat Tour of Damas Island Estuary Manuel Antonio
Day 13 Manuel Antonio National Park to San Jose San Jose
Day 14 San Jose (Departure)  


Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in San José

The National Museum, San José

Welcome to San Jose! Depending on when you arrive (and how tired you are after the flight), you might have some free time to hit the town and explore. There's a lot to do and see in Costa Rica's capital, too. Maybe head downtown and take a stroll among the grand plazas and centuries-old buildings. Here are some other must-visit destinations in the area:

  • Mercado Central (Central Market): A great place to visit if you're a morning person, the central market opens at the crack of dawn and is the oldest such market in San José. This is the center of commerce in the city, with thousands of locals gathering daily to shop for produce, buy and sell various goods, and trade generations-old recipes. Additionally, if you're looking for a last-minute souvenir, this is the place to get something unique—you'll find everything from soccer balls and handicrafts to costumes and handbags.
  • Museo del Oro Precolumbino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum): The exterior of this museum may appear unassuming, but inside it's a different story. Within this building, an underground vault holds one of the largest Pre-Columbian gold collections in all of Latin America. The artifacts here, which include golden figurines and ceremonial adornments, will satisfy both history buffs and casual observers.
  • Museo Nacional (National Museum): The Museo Nacional is hard to miss. It's located in a bright yellow building that used to be a military barracks (the Bellavista Fortress). Now it displays a range of exhibits that highlight the history of the country from pre-Columbian times to modern-day. A favorite for many visitors is the butterfly garden housed in the museum. It offers a bit of serenity amid the hustle and bustle of Costa Rica's capital.

Day 2: Tortuguero National Park - Hiking

Sea Turtle in Tortuguero National Park

Wake up early and embark on your three-day excursion to Tortuguero National Park. Ground transport will take you from San José north to the villages of either Caño Blanco or Finca Pavona, where you will then hop in a motorboat along the network of canals to Tortuguero. This boat ride is the only form of transport here—no cars are allowed in the park. It's all for the best, though, because this ride is one of the highlights of any visit to Tortuguero. The banks are lined with virgin rainforest and you'll likely spot many of its denizens, including, crocodiles, sloths, monkeys, and various species of birds, including herons, ibises, and green macaws.

Upon arrival to the village of Tortuguero, you'll familiarize yourself with the local sights on a short guided hike. Afterward, you'll have the rest of the day free to relax in your hotel or amble about town. Once the sun sets, be sure to keep an eye out for the green sea turtles that appear on the beach during the evenings. If you happen to visit during nesting season (June through mid-October) you'll be privy to one of the Carribean's largest nesting sites at its busiest times.

Day 3: Tortuguero National Park - Boating

Spectacled caiman in one of many rivers in Tortuguero

You'll spend the first half of the day on a boat tour, zipping along the park's system of canals. This is an opportunity for even more wildlife spotting. (Note: the entrance fee to the park is not included.)

In the afternoon you can choose from a variety of optional adventure activities in the area, including:

  • Canopy tour: a combination of zip lines and suspension bridges that put you in the midst of Tortuguero's diverse flora and fauna.
  • Fishing: with all the canals near the sea, there are many fishing opportunities. Some lodges will even let you cook what you catch for dinner.
  • Canoeing: by renting a canoe, you can explore some of the waterways that are not so accessible by motorboat.

If you're interested, there's also a night boat tour. On this excursion, you'll glide down the canals in darkness as your guide searches the waters with a spotlight. You're all but certain to see nocturnal animals like crocodiles, frogs, caimans, and bats.

Day 4: Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano

After breakfast, it's time for you to head west to the town of La Fortuna, the gateway to Arenal Volcano. Once you arrive, you'll have the rest of the afternoon free to explore and enjoy your new surroundings. Maybe enjoy dinner out in town. Despite its small size, La Fortuna is home to over a hundred restaurants, and you can find international cuisine as well as traditional Costa Rican food. Regardless, be sure to turn in early and get plenty of rest—these next few days are going to be active ones!

Day 5: Arenal Volcano – Hanging Bridges, La Fortuna Waterfall, and Hot Springs

Hot springs in Arenal

Start your day by visiting the Arenal hanging bridges. This network of 14 suspension bridges features panoramic views of the mammoth Arenal Volcano and adjacent Lake Arenal. Continue to the La Fortuna Waterfall (the most famous falls in the country), which plunges 120 feet (35 meters) into a large natural pool. Hiking down to it you'll descend many steps along steep slopes blanketed in tropical flora. Once you reach the pool be sure to dive in for a swim and enjoy a quick break.

Spend the afternoon exploring the town of La Fortuna on your own or relaxing in your hotel. If you have the energy, sign up for an optional adventure. These include a canopy zip-line tour ending at a butterfly garden, or an ATV excursion to a waterfall that you'll rappel down with the help of ropes and harnesses. Finish the day with dinner right by the water followed by a refreshing soak in the area's famous hot springs.

Day 6: Arenal Volcano - Free Day

Rappelling down a waterfall

Today is a free day, affording you even more time to discover and enjoy the Arenal region. Here are some suggestions for activitives—all of which we can organize for you.

  • Go ziplining. You'll start with a relaxing ride in an open-air gondola. From the observation platform at the top, you'll begin your adrenaline-pumping journey as you zip over cloud forest on miles of cables. 
  • The hiking trails in Arenal Volcano National Park are generally flat and not strenuous—perfect for a leisurely and informative hike with one of our naturalist guides.
  • Learn about the origin, history, and current production of one of Costa Rica's most famous exports: chocolate. Participate in the harvest of cacao, the drying and grinding of the seed, and learn how a traditional chocolate drink was developed centuries ago (of course, you'll enjoy many samples of freshly made chocolate as you go).
  • Go whitewater rafting on the Balsa River. This is a two-hour journey down one of Costa Rica's most exciting rivers, with over 30 class III and IV rapids. 
  • See Arenal Volcano from the water with a standup paddleboarding trip on Lake Arenal, Costa Rica's largest landlocked body of water. The lake is calm, making a SUP session here ideal for beginners as well as experienced boarders.

Day 7: Aerial Fun in the Cloud Forest

Ziplining through the treetops

Right after breakfast, ground transportation will take you to Lake Arenal Dam, and after a 30-minute boat ride to the town of Río Chiquito, another driver will transfer you from the south side of Lake Arenal to the region of Monteverde and your hotel.  

Your first adventure here will be a thrilling zip-line tour over the cloud forest canopy. A combination of natural trails and cables will allow you to observe the forest from multiple perspectives. Aided by professionally-trained tour guides and state-of-the-art safety equipment, you'll fly from tree to tree and feel the rush of adrenaline as you travel over a network of 16 cables. The tour culminates with its most iconic and heart-pounding activity: the Tarzan swing. On this bungee-like drop, you'll swing hundreds of feet over the ground like the King of the Jungle himself.  

Day 8: Monteverde Cloud Forest - Hiking to the Reserve

Walking trail in the cloud forest

In the morning, a bilingual nature guide will pick you up from your hotel. You'll transfer to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and have a few hours to discover some of Costa Rica's most spectacular natural wonders. This reserve is globally renowned for its diversity of flora and fauna, and you'll see much of it along the hiking trails. If you're lucky, you might even spot the resplendent quetzal, an aptly named bird that is so colorful it looks ready to hit the streets of Mardi Gras. 

Spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying the area on your own.

Day 9: Monteverde Cloud Forest - Free Day

Resplendent quetzal
 
You'll have another free day to experience the Monteverde region as you see fit. Maybe venture back into the cloud-forest reserve for more adventure. Of you can visit nearby Santa Elena, a charming little town with Quaker influences that's famous for its coffee and cheeses. We can also arrange additional activities including hanging bridges, a twilight hike, a bat jungle, a local serpentarium, a butterfly farm, or even horseback riding.

Day 10: Manuel Antonio National Park and Beaches

The coast of Manuel Antonio National Park

After breakfast you'll head west to the coast, eventually arriving at Quepos and Manuel Antonio National Park. Along the way will you'll have many opportunities for breaks and photo ops since rainforest scenery and interesting towns exist all along this route. Your first glimpse of Manuel Antonio will be from up high on a cliffside, looking down at a rugged coastline where the virgin rainforest meets the turquoise waters of the Pacific. 

Day 11: Manuel Antonio National Park - Catamaran and Snorkeling

Scuba Diving

Begin your day with some snorkeling and cruising aboard the Ocean King, a 100 ft catamaran offering with a range of amenities. On board, you will have unlimited snacks, soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages (including premium beers and liquors). Make sure to keep an eye out for dolphins, which sometimes not only play in the surrounding waters nearby but swim right alongside the boat.

Once you get back on shore, spend the rest of the day relaxing. We recommend staking out a section of white sand along the 400-meter-long (1,312 feet), crescent-shaped Manuel Antonio Beach, which is nothing short of paradise on earth. 

Day 12: Manuel Antonio National Park - Boat Tour

A capuchin monkey

In the morning, you'll hop on another boat for a tour of Damas Island Estuary. Navigate through the extensive mangrove wetlands and kayak through some of the smaller waterways. Make sure to be on the lookout for fascinating island wildlife, including boas, caimans, and over 200 species of birds.  

In the afternoon, take a break on one of the beautiful beaches inside Manuel Antonio National Park. You can relax and sunbathe on the white sands like you did the day before, or go snorkeling in the nearby reefs, or both. If you're still hungry for nature and adventure, you can hike through the park on one of the many well-marked trails. If you’re lucky, you might even see a capuchin monkey or a sloth up close. If you do spot a capuchin, keep your valuables close—these critters are famous for being the thieves of the jungle.

Day 13: Beach and Return to San José

The shores of Manuel Antonio

Today is your last full day in Costa Rica, so take the morning to relax at your hotel, hike the park, and enjoy the beach one final time. By noon, you will transfer overland back to San José, where you'll check into your hotel. A 30-minute local flight is also an option, but there is a luggage restriction of 40 pounds per person as well as an additional charge. 

Now that you're back in the capital, take this last opportunity to explore San Jose. One option is to take a night tour of the city. On this 3.5-hour stroll, you will meet local vendors and taste authentic cuisine at the Central Market, see a plethora of architectural wonders (including the National Theater), and savor a gourmet three-course meal complimented with some of Costa Rica's best wine.

Day 14: Departure

Your Costa Rican journey has come to an end. A representative will pick you up from your hotel and drive you to the airport for your flight home.

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