Embark on a nine-day, nature-driven expedition through Costa Rica. After landing in the current capital, discover the history of the former capital of Cartago en route to Irazú Volcano and Turrialba. Next, visit the significant archaeological site of Guayabo National Monument and the biodiverse CATIE Bontanical Gardens. Then, spend time discovering the rainforest and rivers of Sarapiqui. Embark on a chocolate tour before reaching La Fortuna for the grand finale—the beauty of Arenal Volcano and its incredible surroundings.

Highlights

  • Explore the landscapes of Arenal, Irazú, and Tenorio volcanoes
  • Discover the unique archaeological site of Guayabo National Monument
  • Tour the biodiverse and colorful Pieralla and CATIE gardens
  • Experience the incredible falls of Río Celeste and La Fortuna
  • Stroll the current and former capital cities of San José and Cartago

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José San José
Day 2 Visit Cartago, Explore Irazú, & Transfer to Turrialba Turrialba
Day 3 Tour Guayabo National Monument & CATIE Botanical Gardens Turrialba
Day 4 Sarapiqui Rainforest & River Tour Sarapiquí
Day 5 Visit Finca Sura & Pierella Garden Sarapiquí
Day 6 Chocolate Tour & Transfer to La Fortuna Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 7 Arenal Hanging Bridges & Hike to La Fortuna Waterfall Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 8 Day Trip - Tenorio Volcano National Park & Río Celeste Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 9 Depart From Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José

Welcome to Costa Rica!
Welcome to Costa Rica!

Welcome to Costa Rica! Meet your travel representative at the airport to obtain your information packet that contains an in-depth travel itinerary, vouchers for services, and other important documentation. A driver will take you to your hotel, which is located in San José, just 30 minutes from the airport.

On the route, the travel representative will present a brief introduction to Costa Rica and some recommendations of additional things to do while traveling to ensure your trip is unforgettable. The guide will run through your itinerary with you once you're settled at the hotel.

At night, you can enjoy dinner at the hotel restaurant, or out on the town, before departing for your adventure early tomorrow.

Day 2: Visit Cartago, explore Irazú, and transfer to Turrialba

Irazú Volcano
Irazú Volcano

After an early breakfast, meet up with your expert guide. Head out on a nature expedition to discover the ecosystems of the tropics and the most interesting historical places in Costa Rica. 

The day starts by traveling east of San José, toward the first original capital of the country, Cartago, a rich land covered with plantations of all kinds of products, and crowned by one of the highest volcanoes of Central America. After 30 minutes on the road, arrive in Cartago.  The historical city has conserved some colonial churches and buildings. Downtown, find the most important basilica and the ruins of the oldest church of Costa Rica. Visit the most interesting spots with your tour guide.

Your day continues in the direction of Irazú Volcano, but before you reach the summit your guide will take you to a special farm to see thousands of beautiful flowers. The farm, owned by locals, is a model of excellent management in harmony with the environment and the local community. Take in the concept of what it means to work the land and thrive from it. (This company exports ornamental flowers to the United States and Central America.)

Finally, in the afternoon, reach Irazú Volcano National Park. Irazú is the highest volcano in Costa Rica and the altitude makes the area very different from the rest of the country. Note the change in the temperature and a different type of forest, known as Paramo, instead of the traditional rainforest. The wildlife here is different, too, but the most impressive thing you will see is the huge volcano crater and lunar landscape. Your guide will escort you throughout the volcano trails and lookouts.

Then, continue onward in the direction of the Turrialba Valley, about 1 hour from Irazú. This region is at the crossroads of the South-Pacific, the Central Valley, and the Atlantic Coast. The enormous difference in altitude within such a small area, along with the high rainfall, makes Turrialba one of the richest regions of Costa Rica for the growth of vegetation and numerous species of animals.

The lodge is right in the center of this fascinating area on the slopes of the Turrialba Volcano, at nearly 5,000 feet above sea level, with views of the surrounding valley and rainforest. Once you arrive at the lodge, enjoy dinner and explore the facilities.

Day 3: Tour Guayabo National Monument and CATIE Botanical Gardens

Spot exotic birds on a tour of the CATIE Botanical Gardens
Spot exotic birds on a tour of the CATIE Botanical Gardens

Today, discover the most holistic place in Costa Rica and visit a colorful botanical garden, where you can find plants from all around the world. Departure is early from the hotel (after breakfast), so you have enough time to explore these beautiful locations.

Guayabo National Monument is the most important archaeological site of Costa Rica; it protects archaeological structures built by the first people who lived here. They were influenced by pre-Columbian North and South America. 

Located between the Central Atlantic Basin and the country’s central valley, the Guayabo National Monument is a reflection of the great development in civil engineering, architecture, and the urbanism of one of the ancient, indigenous civilizations of Costa Rica. Archaeological structures like mounds, steps, driveways, open and closed aqueducts, water storage tanks, tombs, petroglyphs, monoliths, and sculptures many of the things you can find on the 2-hour hike in the national park. Feel the energies of the ancient civilizations that lived here. The first people established in the area did it around 500 BC, and it has been important for religion, trading, and politics ever since.

After the walk, continue to the Turrialba Valley to enjoy lunch before arriving to the CATIE Botanical Gardens, where many colorful and different plants will greet you. Here, take a guided tour to view the collections of some of the most important and rare tropical plants in the world. Your guide will explain the great diversity of the forest and fruit plantations. Some of the fruits and crops you will see and taste are cacao, sugar cane, citrus, plantains, bananas, macadamia nuts, pineapple, mangostan, mango, avocados, and many other exotic species. The list of plants is extensive, too, as it includes many types of bromeliads, orchids, epiphytes, ferns, and the most complete collection of palms in the world.

During the walk, your guide will help you spot colorful birds that feed and nest in the garden (they take advantage of the wide variety of fruits they can eat here).

Then, return to the lodge in Turrialba for dinner, and enjoy the rest of the evening on your own.

Day 4: Sarapiqui rainforest and river tour

Explore the Sarapiqui Rainforest and its native species
Explore the Sarapiqui Rainforest and its native species

Today after breakfast, travel toward the Caribbean lowlands of Sarapiqui to stay in a unique jungle lodge. Many years ago, there was a small port in Sarapiqui where locals used to export goods down the Sarapiqui River through the San Juan River, eventually docking in Limon and other locations on the Caribbean Coast. Now, the river is very important for tourism, as locals engage in several activities on it, and it also keeps the forests green all year.

Your guide will show you some of the biggest rivers of Costa Rica as you descend down the mountains.

Once you arrive at the lodge, check-in and have lunch on your own. Then, a guide will escort you throughout the trails of the lodge’s private reserve; this is the pure jungle, which allows you to find many species of animals in a short distance. At night, have dinner at the lodge, and save some energy for a twilight walking tour, so you can visit the local frogs, reptiles, and other nocturnal species. 

Day 5: Visit Finca Sura and the Pierella Gardens

Learn about the butterfly life cycle at Pierella Garden
Learn about the butterfly life cycle at Pierella Garden

In the morning, your guide will take you on an early walk around the lodge to see which animals are up bright and early to feed. The best time to see wildlife is before 8 am. Once you have eaten breakfast, your guide will take you to the Finca Sura eco-friendly farm.

Finca Sura is a private project, owned by a local family who has worked the land for generations. This is the best place to learn how Costa Rican farmers are changing their practices in order to conserve nature around their plantations, so they can coexist with the rainforest and all of its wildlife. During this visit, experience how a real family of farmers lives, along with learning about their customs and traditions. Keep an eye out for the wildlife species that are attracted to the fresh fruits of the farm. After some touring, enjoy a delicious, Costa Rican lunch with the host family.

Tonight, visit Pierella Butterflies and Ecological Garden, along with your guide. Pierella is a family-owned destination where you can learn about butterflies in their natural habitat. Here, view the entire life cycle of these beautiful insects and learn of their importance to tropical ecosystems. The garden is immersed in dense rainforest, away from roads and residential areas—this makes it the best place to see nocturnal wildlife. You can find frogs under the helicon leaves, tarantulas on the ground and in trees, snakes in the trees, and if you are lucky, you can find a lowland paca between the vegetation.

Following the busy day, head back to the lodge in Sarapiqui for dinner.

Day 6: Chocolate tour and transfer to La Fortuna

Arenal Volcano
Arenal Volcano

This morning, enjoy breakfast and then learn about one of the most delicious treats in the world. Your guide will take you on an educational chocolate tour in La Tirimbina Reserve. The tour starts by walking across the suspension bridge over the Sarapiqui River. Once you are in the forest reserve, take not of the former cacao-growing plot. All the natural and cultural history of the cacao tree will be explained during the hike. The artisanal process by which cacao fruit is transformed into chocolate will be demonstrated (harvest, fermentation, drying, and processing), while the story of pre- and post-colonial chocolate is explained. The grand finale includes a tasting of local chocolates. 

Then, travel to the northern plains of the country to the La Fortuna area, where the stunning Arenal Volcano welcomes you. Arenal was discovered after a full-force volcanic eruption in July 1968. It has also erupted in 1975, 1993, and 1998, but is currently inactive.

Tonight, enjoy a candlelight dinner at the hotel restaurant.

Day 7: Arenal Hanging Bridges and hike to La Fortuna Waterfall

Arenal Hanging Bridges
Arenal Hanging Bridges

Following breakfast, the day is totally focused on rainforest exploration and wildlife observation. Your guide will take you to some of the best natural attractions in the area to seek out different species of wildlife and beautiful landscapes to photograph.

The Arenal Hanging Bridges are a beautiful, environmentally friendly project located near the Lake Arenal—away from resorts and crowds. The trails span a total of 2 miles, allowing you to see the rainforest from a birdseye perspective. Your nature guide will teach you about Costa Rican culture, history, and nature, while pointing out different species of plants, animals, and birds along the way.

After the adventure, head to La Fortuna Waterfall. There will be time to change into your bathing suit, so you can cool off under the waterfall. Expect a decent workout, as there are 300 steps to get down to the waterfall and, of course, 300 to get back up. When you reach the bottom, enjoy a swim in the cool waters, which encompass one of the largest swimming areas in the region. Next, your guide will take you to La Fortuna village for lunch on your own, and you can take some time to explore the town. 

Then, have dinner at the hotel, and enjoy the rest of the night at your leisure.

Day 8: Day trip - Tenorio Volcano National Park and Río Celeste

Río Celeste
Río Celeste

After an early, hearty breakfast, travel to Tenorio Volcano National Park with your guide. The ride takes about 1.5 hours, but is worth the early wake-up.

Upon arrival, hike through the cloud forest of Tenorio Volcano National Park—this is a dormant volcano, but you can still see some of the volcanic activity as you walk the trails. When you arrive at Los Teñideros, two pristine rivers conjoin and form the unique Río Celeste. From the depths of the Tenorio Volcano, mysterious minerals transform the union of the Buena Vista and Roble rivers into a sky-blue stream, giving birth to the stunning Río Celeste. Discover a hot springs river and a beautiful waterfall in a tranquil vibe, all surrounded by varied flora and fauna.

Following the exploration, take a different road on your return, and enjoy the astonishing views of the Lake Arenal with the volcano on the backside. In the evening, enjoy your last dinner in Costa Rica.

Day 9: Depart from Costa Rica

Farewell, Costa Rica!
Farewell, Costa Rica!

Following breakfast, it is time to say goodbye to beautiful Costa Rica. A driver will pick you up at the hotel and take you straight to the airport, located 3 hours from Arenal. Note that in Costa Rica, you must be at the airport at least 3 hours prior to the departure time, so consider an afternoon or nighttime flight back home.

Map

Map of Costa Rica Nature Expedition: Turrialba, Irazú, Sarapiqui, Arenal, & More - 9 Days
Map of Costa Rica Nature Expedition: Turrialba, Irazú, Sarapiqui, Arenal, & More - 9 Days