Experience a perfect blend of cloud forests and tropical beaches on this 8-day Costa Rican road trip. Start your adventure in Arenal, where you'll explore the rainforest via suspension bridges and zip-line tours while spotting exotic birds and playful monkeys. After some exhilarating whitewater rafting and volcano hiking excursions, you'll head to the western Nicoya Peninsula to wind down with snorkeling, swimming, and relaxing on the white sands of Tamarindo.


  • Soar over the treetops on a zip-line tour of Arenal
  • Hike through lush volcanic jungles
  • Go whitewater rafting along the Sarapiquí River
  • Spend a day sea kayaking & snorkeling along the coast
  • Take a sunset Catamaran cruise near Tamarindo

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Liberia - Drive to Arenal Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 2 Volcano Hike & Hot Springs Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 3 Day Trip from Arenal - Whitewater Rafting on the Sarapiquí River Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 4 Arenal Gondola, Zip-Line & Canopy Tour Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Arenal Transfer to Playa Tamarindo Tamarindo
Day 6 Kayak & Snorkel in Tamarindo Bay Tamarindo
Day 7 Beach Day & Sunset Catamaran Sail in Tamarindo Tamarindo
Day 8 Tamarindo - Transfer to Liberia International Airport  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Liberia - Drive to Arenal

Arenal Volcano rising out of the jungle
Arenal Volcano rising out of the jungle

Welcome to Costa Rica! Liberia is the northern hub of the Guanacaste Province, an area famous for both its Pacific beaches and mountainous inland regions. After touching down at Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport, you'll pick up your rental car and drive about two hours east to the town of La Fortuna, home base for excursions to one of Costa Rica's most famous landmarks: Arenal Volcano.

There's no need to rush the scenic journey. Once you leave the tropical dry scrub of western Guanacaste, you'll rise into the highland region and be treated to misty cloud forests and wild jungles. Before even reaching this area, you can kick off your road trip with a visit to Rincón de la Vieja National Park, which is located 40 minutes north of Liberia. It's home to a 6,266 foot (1,916 m) active volcano of the same name. At the park entrance, you'll find the Oropendola Waterfall, which plunges into a crystalline lagoon perfect for swimming.

Once on the road towards Arenal, there are several stops you can make along the way. One is the Centro de Rescate Las Pumas, located right off the Pan-American Highway. The rescue center rehabilitates wild animals like monkeys and jungle cats and offers visitors the chance to see Costa Rican wildlife up close.

Further east, and closer to Lake Arenal, you can take a break at Tilaran. This laid-back mountain town is all charm and makes a great place to stop and stretch your legs. Activities here include horseback riding over the hills and windsurfing on the lake. There are excellent birding opportunities as well, with herons and egrets a common sight. 

Eventually, you'll arrive in Arenal National Park, home to the iconic volcano. Standing an impressive 5,358 feet (1,633 m), it dominates the skyline of the entire area, looming prominently over your destination: the town of La Fortuna. After checking into your hotel, hit the town and sample one of the over 100 restaurants here. Popular dining options include:

  • Don Rufino, an upscale grill that serves up generous portions with a decent wine list. 

  • Café Mediterraneo, for Italian classics like handmade fresh pasta and wood-fired pizza.

  • Rancho Perla, a ranch-style eatery that serves Costa Rican staples like beef, chicken, and seafood. Get lucky, and you might spot toucans, iguanas, and even sloths in the trees near your table. 

Day 2: Volcano Hike & Hot Springs

A hot spring near Arenal
A hot spring near Arenal

After breakfast, take the morning to relax and get settled. In the early afternoon, you'll visit Arenal Volcano National Park to walk on the lava flow of 1968, the year of its last major eruption. The event was so catastrophic that it transformed some of the region's topography: lava fields now dominate one side of Arenal. Trails wind through those lava fields as well as the surrounding rainforest. Along the way, you'll find lookout points featuring prime views of the volcano. 

After hiking the trails, soothe your muscles with a dip in mineral-rich waters at one of the hot springs in the area. These springs have been used as therapeutic baths for more than 200 years, and the nearby resort includes a spa where various treatments, like couples massages, are performed in rustic bungalows.

Day 3: Day Trip from Arenal - Whitewater Rafting on the Sarapiquí River

Raft one of the country's most exciting rivers
Raft one of the country's most exciting rivers

After an early rise and breakfast at the hotel, you'll transfer by car to the Sarapiquí River for today's whitewater rafting adventure. After a lesson from your professional guide, embark on a seven-mile river journey featuring over 30 class III and IV rapids. About halfway through the trip, you'll take a break onshore for some tropical fruit and a traditional Costa Rican lunch. After the second leg of the rafting journey, you'll be driven back to your hotel.

Day 4: Arenal Gondola, Zip-Line & Canopy Tour

Jungle canopy near Arenal
Jungle canopy near Arenal

Today is jam-packed with adventure and starts with a bird' s-eye view of Costa Rica—literally. You'll begin the day with a relaxing, scenic ride up a mountain by open-air gondola. The panorama broadens the higher you rise, and when you reach the top observation platform, you'll have 360° views of the Arenal landscape.

Next, it's time for an adrenaline-pumping zip-line tour through the cloud forest. Fly like a bird for miles, from tree to tree and canyon to canyon, as you journey through untouched nature over eight cables that stretch 2,460 feet (750 m) and reach heights of 660 feet (201 m). Through it all, your knowledgeable naturalist guide will educate you about Costa Rica's exotic flora and fauna.

Lastly, discover the beauty of the Costa Rican forest on a canopy tour. The guided experience follows natural trails and amazing hanging bridges through the dense forests of Arenal. Have a one on one experience with nature at every level of these magical tropical forests. Along the way, a naturalist guide will point out the intriguing plants and animal life so that you won't miss out on any of the forest's remarkable details.

Day 5: Arenal Transfer to Playa Tamarindo

Sunset on the Pacific coast
Sunset on the Pacific coast

Road trip time! After breakfast at your hotel in La Fortuna, you'll head west through Guanacaste, past volcanic mountain ranges, flatlands, and villages as you head toward the Pacific coast. Stop for a bite and enjoy traditional foods, exotic local fruits, or perhaps a batido (fresh fruit smoothie) made con leche (with milk). 

Once you arrive in Tamarindo, you can rest up at your hotel or spend the afternoon enjoying the area's beautiful beaches. If you happen to visit between October and March, head to Las Baulas National Marine Park to see leatherback turtles come ashore for a truly memorable experience. Every night during high tide in the nesting season, female leatherbacks make their way up the beach to lay their eggs. 

For meals in Tamarindo, choose from a great selection of local favorites: 

  • For breakfast, head to the charming La Bodega and order one of their fantastic egg sandwiches (like the Kristina, served with tomato, local organic goat chevre, red onion, and local smoked trout on a buttered and toasted homemade bread). Homemade banana bread and fresh juices are other standouts. 

  • Pull up a stool at the Green Papaya, which serves some of the best tacos and burritos in town (also vegetarian options) in a casual atmosphere. 

  • Steps from the beach, Surf Shack serves topnotch burgers, onion rings, and milkshakes in an aluminum-sided hut decorated with surfboards. 

  • Nogi's is perfect for sunset dining thanks to its beachfront location. They serve a varied menu of seafood and grilled meat—and be sure to save room for a slice of their coconut cream pie. 

Day 6: Kayak & Snorkel in Tamarindo Bay

Get ready for some kayaking
Get ready for some kayaking

Head to the beach today, for an exhilarating kayaking tour around Tamarindo Bay. After paddling out to the picturesque Capitán Island, located a couple of hundred meters offshore, you'll have the opportunity to do some snorkeling and observe the underwater coral reef, which abounds with exotic fish. This tour is perfect for enjoying with the entire family. Snorkeling equipment and drinking water are included, but make sure to pack sunscreen!

Day 7: Beach Day & Sunset Catamaran Sail in Tamarindo

Keep an eye out for dolphins on the tour
Keep an eye out for dolphins on the tour

There's no shortage of secluded bays and inviting beaches in Guanacaste Province. Make the most of them this morning as you enjoy some leisure time to yourself. Relax on the white sands, or head to one of Tamarindo's excellent surf schools to try your hand on both beginner and advanced waves.

In the afternoon, you'll board a catamaran for a sunset sail. The ship will stop in a tranquil bay, drop anchor, and you'll explore the pristine waters while the crew prepares a dinner feast. While you eat, enjoy a colorful sunset over the Pacific horizon while keeping a sharp eye out for dolphins, sea turtles, flying fish, or even breaching whales.

Day 8: Tamarindo - Transfer to Liberia International Airport

Bid Costa Rica's western coast farewell
Bid Costa Rica's western coast farewell

It's time to say adiós to Costa Rica! After breakfast, you'll begin the hour-long drive back to Liberia and the airport, where you'll catch your return flight home. 


Map of Costa Rica Road Trip: Arenal & the Nicoya Peninsula - 8 Days
Map of Costa Rica Road Trip: Arenal & the Nicoya Peninsula - 8 Days
Written by Emily Strauss, updated Feb 18, 2021