Take in the best of Costa Rica's wildlife and nature on this two-week trip into the rainforest. Start in Arenal to hike around the Arenal Volcano and soothe your muscles in the regenerative hot springs, then head to Monteverde for a treetops adventure in the cloud forest. You'll zip line through the canopy and hike through the nighttime forest before ending your trip in Manual Antonio, where crystal clear water and endless beaches await.

Highlights

  • Feel the spray of the turquoise Rio Celeste waterfall 
  • Hike around the towering Arenal Volcano
  • Explore the forest canopy on the hanging bridges of Monteverde
  • Spot iconic Costa Rica wildlife, like monkeys, sea turtles, and crocodiles
  • Immerse yourself into the wilderness of Corcovado National Park

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José San José
Day 2 Transfer to Arenal Volcano Area Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 3 Rio Celeste Hike Bijagua / Rio Celeste
Day 4 La Fortuna Waterfall Hike, Arenal Volcano Hike & Hot Springs Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Transfer Arenal Volcano to Monteverde Monteverde
Day 6 Sky Tram, Sky Walk, & Night Walk Monteverde
Day 7 Visit the Tarcoles River & Transfer to Manuel Antonio Manuel Antonio
Day 8 Free Day in Manuel Antonio  Manuel Antonio
Day 9 Tour Manuel Antonio National Park Manuel Antonio
Day 10 Transfer to Corcovado Area Drake Bay
Day 11 Corcovado National Park Drake Bay
Day 12 Caño Island Drake Bay
Day 13 Fly Back to San Jose San José
Day 14 Departure From Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José

Welcome to Costa Rica!
Welcome to Costa Rica!

¡Bienvenidos a Costa Rica! When you arrive in this beautiful country, a representative will be waiting for you at the airport to provide all the travel documents needed for your trip. A designated transportation service will take you to your hotel located in the heart of the metropolitan area of San José.

San José is the capital of Costa Rica and is home to almost two-thirds of the country's total population. It has buildings more than 100 years old and vividly maintains its culture, art, and history. A myriad of theaters and museums make the capital a city full of treasures to enjoy. If you arrive early, feel free to explore the city at your leisure.

Be sure to explore Barrio Amón, a historic neighborhood that is home to cafetalero (coffee grower) mansions built during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of this area’s historic buildings have been converted into hotels, restaurants, and galleries, making it a frequented bohemian district. 

For dinner, opt for a restaurant on the hills of Escazú. This elevated region on the western edge of the city offers breathtaking panoramic views of the valley below. That said, San José's culinary offerings cover everything from traditional Costa Rican food to forward-thinking fusion cuisine.

Day 2: Transfer to Arenal Volcano Area

Arenal Volcano towers over the nearby landscape

Today you'll make the 3.5-hour journey north towards Arenal National Park, home of the 5,357 feet (1,633-meter) volcano of the same name. Take your time, because along the way you'll want to stop and appreciate the scenery.

A stop-over location in the central San José highlands is the town of Zarcero. This charming town comes complete with an impressive colonial church and pretty hedge gardens. It's a great place to stop, relax, and enjoy the sweeping views of the surrounding coffee plantations. It also makes a great jumping-off point to Poás, an active stratovolcano home to a crater lake with a shimmering turquoise surface.

After getting back on the road, you'll eventually arrive in La Fortuna, the main town in Arenal National Park. The afternoon is yours to explore the area. You'll likely want to stretch your legs and decompress from the journey, and there's no better way to do it than with a dip in natural hot springs at Tabacón Resort. It features five mineral-rich pools heated by underground magma. Thermal water flows through the resort, forming the Tabacón River, and the area is home to dozens of cascading waterfalls and over 20 pools of varying temperatures and sizes.

End your day with dinner next to the hot springs.

Day 3: Rio Celeste Hike

Enjoy the refreshing spray of the waterfall

Today you'll experience one of the country's most beautiful waterways: the sky blue Río Celeste, located inside Tenorio Volcano National Park. Local legend has it that after God was done painting the sky he washed his paintbrushes in this river, hence the name, which translates to "River of the Sky." The scientific explanation says the vivid blue color is due to a mixture of sulfur and carbonate, which originates in the dormant Tenorio Volcano, located nearby.

The river is surrounded by rainforest and is home to many species of wildlife including sloths, anteaters, and a variety of exotic birds. Despite Rio Celeste's unparalleled beauty, this is one of the lesser-visited locations in Costa Rica. Hence the park doesn't get too crowded and preserves its natural state.

On this day trip, you will hike rainforest trails for approximately four hours, stopping along the way at Los Teñideros, a site where two brooks meet and cause a chemical reaction that gives the river its electric turquoise color. You will then continue the hike until you reach the cherry on the cake, the Río Celeste Waterfall.

Day 4: La Fortuna Waterfall Hike, Arenal Volcano Hike & Hot Springs

Photo taken by seng K
Take a dip in the water

Next, you'll experience the other star of the Arenal Volcano 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 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, a bilingual guide will meet you in the lobby of your hotel and you'll embark on a two-hour hiking tour to the base of Arenal, where you'll walk through rainforest trails and over top of 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.

In the evening, you'll transfer to a natural volcanic hot spring where you can take a relaxing dip in thermal waters and soothe your weary muscles after all that adventure and exertion. A traditional Costa Rican dinner will be served in the restaurant next to the hot springs. 

Day 5: Transfer to Monteverde

Photo taken by mariam a
Take in the scenery

Today, you will head to Monteverde,  known as the "Green Lung” of Costa Rica due to its rich biodiversity. Located in the mountainous northwest region of the country, Monteverde is famed for its 26,000-acre Cloud Forest Reserve, home to countless wildlife species. Suspension bridges throughout allow for walks above the forest canopy, with plenty of opportunities to spot the colorfully plumed resplendent quetzal. The reserve’s marked trails pass through exotic fauna and flora, including the greatest number of orchid species on the planet—500—with new ones discovered regularly. 

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

In the mid-afternoon, head to a nearby private property to go on a horseback ride through the cloud forest. The ride begins on a coffee plantation where you will learn about the product's key role in Costa Rica's economy and culture. The tour continues through dirt roads, trails, and a handful of small rivers, all the while showcasing spectacular views of the Gulf of Nicoya.

Day 6: Sky Tram, Sky Walk, & Night Walk

Photo taken by Khaled S
Ziplining in the rainforest

Sky Adventures Monteverde Park is an aerial amusement park that raises jungle excitement to the next level. Its Sky Tram network of gondolas transport visitors from one adrenaline pumping activity to another. First, you'll start with a guided Sky Walk, which combines trails and suspension bridges that ultimately reach heights of up to 984 feet above the jungle canopy. The flora and fauna of the region will be on full display, and our specialized guides will point out the most interesting specimens. Later, you'll ride in an open-air Sky Tram gondola. During this journey, you'll ascend over the rainforest and enjoy sweeping views across the mountains. 

Arriving at the end of the line, the exhilarating adventure of whizzing down the mountain begins. Connect to a zip-line cable that stretches over rainforest treetops and across clifftops, finally returning you to the starting point. Sky Trek is known as the most thrilling zip line in the country, and Monteverde is the birthplace of the canopy tour in Costa Rica.

This evening, you'll have the chance to see the wildlife at its most active after dark on a guided night tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest. A naturalist will point out sloths, armadillos, and kinkajous, as well as sleeping birds. You'll have the chance to hear and see different wildlife than during the daytime, like agoutis, porcupines, grey foxes, tarantulas, and frogs.

Day 7: Visit the Tarcoles River & Transfer to Manuel Antonio

Stop to see the crocodiles along the Tarcoles River
Stop to see the crocodiles along the Tarcoles River

Today, after breakfast, head to the Central Pacific area of Costa Rica. After a couple of hours on the road, stop along the Tarcoles River to see Costa Rica's famed crocodiles, some of them 19 feet long. For the best reptile sightings, drive to the nearby "crocodile bridge." Located on Route 34 on the Pacific coast, this bridge over the Río Tárcoles is a favorite spot for congregating crocodiles. Snap as many photos as you want, just don't get too close. 

Manuel Antonio is just south of Quepos on the Pacific Coast and is 100 miles from San José.  Visitors flock to the area for its white-sand beaches, abundant wildlife, and coastal islands where lucky travelers can spot dolphins and even whales.

After arriving at Manuel Antonio and checking into your hotel, you can spend the remainder of the day relaxing. In the evening, head to the adjacent town of Quepos for dinner and sunset views. 

Day 8: Free day in Manuel Antonio Beach

Photo taken by mariam a
Keep an eye out for dolphins and whales

Today is yours to enjoy as you please. Consider taking a surfing lesson, or simply stake your claim on a section of white sand and relax with a good book. Other options include:

  •  Explore the incredible biodiversity of the park on a guided tour. A naturalist will point out the more than 300 species of mammals and birds that call the reserve home, including sloths, hawks, iguanas, and several different species of monkeys. You'll also have time to spend exploring the park's expansive white sand beaches.
  • Tour the Damas Island Estuary on a guided boat tour through the mangroves.
  • Take a surf lesson.

If you're in the mood for relaxation, the area offers an abundance of exceptional beaches. One of the most beautiful in the park is Playa Espadilla, which h stretches for nearly a mile. It's particularly great for families as it's tranquil and has lifeguards on hand during the day.

Day 9: Tour Manuel Antonio National Park

Spot the white-faced capuchin monkey on a tour of Manuel Antonio National Park
Spot the white-faced capuchin monkey on a tour of 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, in that the park is home to virgin rainforest running all the way 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, indulge in the sand and sea, or switch gears and visit the nearby adventure park, MidWorld, for zip-lining and ATV tours.

Day 10: Transfer to Corcovado Area

Photo taken by Sue M
Look at the treetops to spot wildlife

After breakfast, you'll be transferred from Manuel Antonio to Osa Peninsula, where pristine rainforests and the rugged natural beaches make this region among the most beautiful in the country. While expats from around the world are drawn here, few tourists travel to this remote region of Costa Rica. 

Located on the wild Osa Peninsula, Corcovado National Park features some of Costa Rica's most remote areas. Breathtaking rainforests, rugged natural beauty, and secluded beaches await your arrival. Home to more than 400 species of birds, 139 species of mammals and 116 species of amphibians, this "Amazon of Costa Rica" is easily one of the world's most bio-diverse eco-tourism destinations.

The afternoon is yours to relax at the hotel or on Bahía Drake, a long stretch of beautiful beach.

Day 11: Corcovado National Park

Coati, a relative of the North American racoon

Today you'll choose your own adventure, whether that's spending more time in the waves or exploring on land. Visitors who'd like to see some of the country's wildlife should opt for a trip to Parque Nacional Corcovado. This day trip to the rainforest is a chance to explore a breathtaking range of wildlife, including the endangered giant anteater, harpy eagle, tapir and felines like the jaguar, puma, and margay. 

During the hike to the San Pedrillo Station, your bilingual naturalistic guide will point out many of the diverse species along the trail. You may see white-faced, spider and howler monkeys, white-lipped peccaries, scarlet macaws, coati, and countless other birds and insects. The trails are clearly marked and easy to navigate.

Or, for those who want to be in the water, consider a dolphin or whale tour on the coast (depending on the season, Aug- Sep).

In the late afternoon, consider taking a yoga class before heading out for dinner.

Day 12: Caño Island

Look for sea turtles
Look for sea turtles

Today, you'll explore the waters of the Caño Island Biological Reserve (Isla del Caño) on a scuba excursion. This protected marine area is located just off the northern tip of the Osa Peninsula, next to Bahía Drake.  There isn't much wildlife on the island itself, but underwater it is a different story. It's home to an abundance of marine life including reef sharks, sea turtles, parrot fish, eels, manta rays, puffer fish, snappers, sea cucumbers, octopus, and many more. There's also a wide variety of coral-building organisms and 19 different species of coral.

The excursion to Isla del Caño begins with you boarding a 30-foot Island Hopper, at which time an expert will offer a safety lesson geared for all ages and experience levels. Then it's time to plunge into the water. Visibility is 30-100 feet throughout the year, making Caño Island a perfect site for underwater photography.  For those that are not certified divers, don't worry; there will be snorkeling equipment available as well.

Day 13: Fly Back to San Jose

Teatro Nacional in San José
Teatro Nacional in San José

Today after breakfast, meet your guide at the hotel's main dock for the boat ride back to Sierpe. Look for wildlife on the trip back, as you'll be traveling through mangrove forests and through crocodile territory. 

Once you arrive back in San Jose, transfer to the hotel for one last evening in the city. 

Day 14: Departure From Costa Rica

Enjoy your last day in San Jose
Enjoy your last day in San Jose

Today is the last day of your trip. Transfer to the airport and catch your flight home.