- Raft through river rapids and waterfalls, surrounded by canyons and lush jungles
- Explore the breathtaking Arenal Volcano and Rio Fortuna Waterfall
- Enjoy the beaches and wildlife of Manuel Antonio National Park
- Try snorkeling, scuba diving, whale watching, rock climbing, and zip-lining
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This itinerary is slightly more active than other options but still includes plenty of time to explore Costa Rica's biodiversity. Some activities, such as rafting and hiking, will require a modest amount of physical rigor. Therefore, this itinerary is a great fit for any adventurous traveler who enjoys extreme sports and is looking for an active vacation in a less mainstream destination.
Most of the tour will focus on the outdoors in a tropical climate, so sunscreen, bug spray, appropriate clothing and shoes, and other preparations are recommended.
|Day 1||Arrival in San Jose||San José|
|Day 2||Pacuare River – Rafting class II-III||Pacuare River|
|Day 3||Pacuare River – Rafting class III-IV and Transfer to La Fortuna||Arenal/La Fortuna|
|Day 4||Hanging Bridges, La Fortuna Waterfall, and Hot Springs||Arenal/La Fortuna|
|Day 5||Transfer to Manuel Antonio||Manuel Antonio|
|Day 6||Manuel Antonio - Free day on the beach||Manuel Antonio|
|Day 7||Manuel Antonio - Free day on the beach||Manuel Antonio|
|Day 8||Return to San José and depart Costa Rica|
Day 1: Arrival in San Jose
Welcome to Costa Rica, the land of pura vida! After arriving at Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose,a local representative will meet you and escort you to your hotel. The rest of the day you'll have free to explore the city at your leisure.
Perhaps take a stroll through Mercado Central (Central Market), featuring over 200 shops, food stalls, and sodas (traditional restaurants). Then visit the Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Church), whose interior combines Greek Orthodox, Neoclassical, and Baroque styles, and features wood carvings and stained-glass windows. There's also a pair of popular museums in San Jose: Museo del Oro Precolumbino (Pre-Columbian Gold museum), and Museo del Jade the world's largest collection of pre-Columbian jade artifacts.
Be sure to explore Barrio Amon, a historic neighborhood home to cafetalero (coffee grower) mansions built during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of this areas historic buildings have been converted into hotels, restaurants, and galleries, making Amon a popular bohemian district.
For dinner, opt for a restaurant in the hills of Escazu. This elevated region on the western edge of the city offers panoramic views of the valley below. That said, San Jose is filled with great restaurants serving everything from traditional to forward-thinking fusion cuisine. You can read about our top restaurant recommendations in San José here. For more travel advice, check out 24 Hours in San José.
Day 2: Pacuare River – Rafting class II-III 10km/6mi
This morning, you'll wake up early, meet your guide, and begin the 2.5-hour drive east out of the city of San Jose. Stop en route for a classic Costa Rican breakfast of gallo pinto (rice, black beans, and eggs) before arriving at the Rio Pacuare (Pacuare River).
Located along Costa Rica's Caribbean slope, Rio Pacuares deep gorge is considered one of the best river-rafting sites in the world. The Rio Pacuare runs 67 miles from the Talamanca mountains, in the southwest of the country, to the Caribbean. Along the way, it passes through some of the most diverse topography in Costa Rica. Here it's not uncommon for rafters to spot several species of tropical birds, as well as monkeys, ocelots, and (much less frequently) Jaguars.
It's now time for you to begin your whitewater rafting adventure. After a guided orientation, you'll embark on today's adrenaline-pumping trip on class II-III rapids. You'll paddle past impressive tropical scenery through rushing whitewater all the way to the destination: a riverside eco-lodge. Here, you will check into your eco-lodge and have the rest of the day to explore the surrounding area with your guide.
After lunch, you can hike through the lodges protected forest to an idyllic waterfall, or enjoy a couple's massage, or simply relax in your private bungalow or suite and enjoy the nature and tranquility of this remote tropical dreamland. Learn more about the best active experiences in Costa Rica.
Day 3: Pacuare River – Rafting class III-IV 25km/16mi
After breakfast, it's time to brace yourself for an even more exhilarating river trip this time over class III-IV rapids. As you again travel down the Rio Pacuare, you'll pass by even more canyons, waterfalls, and virgin rainforest. During the calmer stretches, be on the lookout for various species of birds and other wildlife endemic to the region like toucans and capuchin monkeys.
After arriving at the end of the trip, you'll hop in a car and transfer to the town of Fortuna, the perfect home base for exploring Arenal Volcano national park. Located north of the Tilaran mountains, the cone-shaped Arenal juts out above the San Carlos Plains. Check into your hotel and spend the rest of the day relaxing. For other ideas, read over this list of the best things to do in Arenal.
For dinner, enjoy one of La Fortuna's over 100 restaurants. Check out our list of the top places to eat in La Fortuna. The cuisine here runs the gamut from traditional Costa Rican, Mediterranean, Italian, and pizza. There's even an Argentine steakhouse.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 4: Arenal Volcano – Hanging Bridges / La Fortuna’s Waterfall / Hot Springs
Today, you will experience the best of the Arenal Volcano region. Head out early to a network of hiking trails that involve crossing suspension bridges some hundreds of feet long before arriving at lookout points affording sweeping views of the 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.
Next, its time to head to La Fortuna waterfall at the base of the dormant Chato volcano, a short 15-minute drive outside town. The falls plunge some 210 feet, and a hike down 500 steps to the base provides an opportunity to see it from the bottom up. You can swim and relax in the La Fortuna River, located right below the falls. Find out more about hiking around Arenal Volcano here.
End the day with a nice dinner. Perhaps soothe your muscles with a dip in the mineral-rich waters of Arenal's famous geothermal hot springs. They are a time-tested remedy these hot springs have been used as therapeutic baths by locals for more than 200 years. If you're interested in staying in a hotel with access to hot springs, read over this list of our top picks.
Day 5: Manuel Antonio – Free afternoon
This morning, you'll transfer to Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific coast. After checking in to your hotel, you can take your pick and wind down on one of the park's four beautiful beaches—some of the best in Costa Rica. If you're hungry for more adventure, you can also hike one of the park's many trails (following the signs). Get up close to capuchin monkeys, sloths, and over 200 species of birds. Snorkeling is also accessible from multiple points along the beaches. Check out our Ultimate Guide to Manuel Antonio National Park for more information.
In the evening, head to the town of Quepos for dinner at Gabriella's for pretty sunset views over a meal of fresh fish or steak.
Day 6: Manuel Antonio - Free day on the beach
Today is yours to enjoy unencumbered by schedules. Beyond amazing wildlife hikes, there are a number of activities to choose from.
Consider taking a surfing lesson or simply stake your claim on a section of white sand and relax with a good book. One of the most ideal beaches in the park is Playa Espadilla, which stretches on for nearly a mile and is great for families as it's a tranquil public beach with lifeguards on hand during the day. For more travel tips and inspiration, read Top Active Experiences in Manuel Antonio National Park.
Optional: Damas Island Estuary Tour - 4 hours (with an English-speaking guide; lunch included)
Day 7: Manuel Antonio – Free morning / Midday transfer back to San Jose
Today is your last full day in Costa Rica, so take the morning to relax at your hotel, visit the National Park, and enjoy the beach one final time. By noon, you will be transferred by land transportation back to San José, where you can check into your hotel. A 30 minutes local flight is also an option, but there is a luggage weight restriction of 40 pounds per person as well as an additional charge.
This is your last chance to explore San José. If you want to maximize the time left, take a night tour of the city. In 3.5 hr, stroll through the city with a guide, you will meet local vendors and taste authentic cuisine in the Central Market, see a plethora of architectural wonders including the National Theater, and savor a fine 3-course meal complete with some of Costa Rica's best wine. If you're looking for a special place to stay the night, look over our list of the best hotels in San José.
Day 8: Departure
Say goodbye to Costa Rica after breakfast, and fly out from the San Jose airport. Transportation will be provided.
Looking for other ideas for Costa Rica?
Looking for other ideas for your trip to Costa Rica? We have some great ideas for how to spend 8 days in Costa Rica, plus a list of family-friendly 8-day itineraries. Take some time to look at this article on 4 Regions to Visit in Costa Rica, too.
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