From the markets of San José to the rainforests alive with birds and frogs, the best of Costa Rica's culture and coastal landscapes await travelers on this 8-day trip. Ideal for families, you'll see historic San José and visit La Paz Waterfall Gardens. In Tortuguero, a region known for its vibrant wildlife—including resident sea turtles—you'll travel to the beaches of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. Finishing the adventure in Cahuita National Park, where you'll have the chance to snorkel with tropical fish and visit a nearby jaguar rescue center.


  • Explore San José's colorful markets, monuments, and museums
  • Observe nesting sea turtles or hatching baby turtles in Tortuguero
  • Learn about rehabilitating wild animals at a jaguar rescue center
  • Try your hand at making chocolate with an indigenous family
  • Swim in waterfalls and relax on black, gold, and white sand beaches

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Explore Downtown San José San José
Day 2 Enjoy the La Paz Waterfall Gardens San José
Day 3 Spot Wildlife on a Night Hike in Tortuguero Tortuguero
Day 4 Boat Along the Tortuguero Canals Tortuguero
Day 5 Discover the Beaches Around Puerto Viejo Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 6 Tour Cahuita National Park Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 7 Visit a Jaguar Rescue Center Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 8 Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Explore Downtown San José

The National Theater
The National Theater in San José
Welcome to Costa Rica! A driver will be waiting for you at the airport to take you to your hotel in San José. After getting settled in, go for a self-guided walking tour of the city's downtown. Depending on your hotel's location, you can walk or call on a taxi to your first destination: Mercado Central (Central Market). The perfect spot to kick off your city tour, Mercado Central features over 200 shops, food stalls, and sodas (traditional restaurants). Explore the colorful fruit stands full of fresh produce, scope souvenirs, or pop over to a soda for an early lunch of traditional Costa Rican casado

It's a short walk to Central Park, a small plaza that is always bustling with activity. Admire various outdoor sculptures as you make your way through the park toward Catedral Metropolitana, whose interior combines Greek Orthodox, Neoclassical, and Baroque styles. Continue walking down Central Avenue until you reach the historic Teatro Nacional, an opulent Neoclassical building constructed in the late 19th century. A free guided tour is offered on the hour. If you require a caffeine fix, the theater's café is a great place for a quick coffee and pastry before exploring the city's museums.

Your first museum stop is the Museo del Oro Precolumbino, accessible from beneath the Plaza de la Cultura and holds the most extensive Pre-Columbian gold collection in Latin America. A guided visit provides unique insight into the history of Costa Rica and the rest of Central America. Next, head to the Museo del Jade, the world's largest collection of pre-Columbian jade artifacts. The museum's distinctive modern architecture is hard to miss, having been built to look like a block of raw jade stone. As you wander among thousands of unique jade pieces, you'll gain an even deeper appreciation for Costa Rica's rich history. 

If you're still up for more exploring, head just outside San José to the hills of Escazú for dinner. This elevated region on the western edge of the city offers panoramic views of the valley below and is easily reached by taxi. For more dining recommendations, check out this article.

Day 2: Enjoy the La Paz Waterfall Gardens

La Paz Waterfall
La Paz Waterfall

Spend the day exploring La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Once at this natural park, you will visit the largest butterfly garden in the country, an aviary full of local bird species, an impressive hummingbird gallery, as well as snake, frogs, and wildcat exhibits. After enjoying a delicious buffet lunch, you will visit an old farmhouse and continue along forest trails visiting three spectacular waterfalls.

Initially, the only way one could view the falls was by literally hanging over the side of the mountain, peering through trees and ferns. With the construction of the Waterfall Gardens, guests can enjoy views from the platforms above, below, and in front of the falls for fantastic photo opportunities. On the Magia Blanca Waterfall viewing platform, stop to take photos under the waterfall. 

Day 3: Spot Wildlife on a Night Hike in Tortuguero

The red-eyed tree frog is one of the creatures you might spot on a nocturnal exploration of Tortuguero National Park
A red-eyed tree frog in Tortuguero National Park

Today you will transfer from San José to Tortuguero. A driver will pick you up in an air-conditioned minivan, help you with your luggage, and take you to the boat dock near Tortuguero. You will transfer to a boat, which will take you to your hotel. As the day draws to a close, the nocturnal animals and insects wake up, utterly transforming the jungle's sights, sounds, and atmosphere. This transformation is spellbinding to behold and is the focus of your activity this evening as you take a magical nighttime hike through the mysterious jungle surrounding Tortuguero.

Starting at your lodge, you will leave by boat around 5:30 pm for a 5-minute ride to the lodge's network of private trails, located close to Tortuguero National Park. Your walk with an expert naturalist guide begins, taking you along forest trails as twilight descends. There are many creatures to spot—keep your eyes open for moths, crickets, spiders, frogs, bats, sloths, porcupines, nocturnal birds, and caiman. You'll return to the lodge in time for dinner. See the Ultimate Guide to Tortuguero National Park for more ideas.

Plan your trip to Costa Rica
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 4: Boat Along the Tortuguero Canals

Sun on the tree branches
Sun on the tree branches in Tortuguero
Tortuguero National Park is one of the world's most important locations for several species of nesting sea turtles. Today's guided tour of the canals gives you a thrilling chance to see the forest and its wildlife from the water. You will start your journey by boat to the Tortuguero National Park ranger station to learn which canals you can explore. A 2021 count registered 186 species of bird in the area, along with three monkey species, crocodiles, caimans, toucans, sloths, and much more. You are likely to see some of these creatures on your tour. You can get close to the tangled jungle on the riverbanks on some waterways, where many animals can be seen. 

After lunch, you'll take in the panoramic views as you climb the area's highest peak, Cerro Tortuguero. Your adventure starts from Mawamba Lodge to the trailhead. While the peak is only 390 feet (119 m) above sea level, climbing through the jungle is nevertheless demanding. During the hike, your guide will share interesting facts about the area and tell you about the plants and animals you will see. When you get to the top, the most exquisite view of Tortuguero opens up, spanning the Tortuguero canals, the Caribbean Sea, and the communities of San Francisco and Tortuguero. You might even make out the shape of Turrialba Volcano in the distance.

After hiking down to the trailhead, you will take your boat back to the lodge. 

Day 5: Discover the Beaches Around Puerto Viejo

Punta Uva in Puerto Viejo

You will travel from Tortuguero today to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and Cahuita National Park. No trip to this stunning coastal area would be complete without time to explore the diversity of its Caribbean beaches. You'll have your pick of black, golden, or white sand beaches, all within a short distance of town. Great beaches in the area include what many consider one of Costa Rica's most beautiful, Playa Punta Uva. Rent a bicycle and pedal there! The rest of the day is yours to sunbathe, swim, surf, and relax on the sand.

Read more here about the best things to do in the area.

Day 6: Tour Cahuita National Park

Cahuita National Park
Cahuita National Park

You'll start your adventure at the beach, climbing on board a boat for a scenic 20-minute cruise to Cahuita Point. If the sea conditions allow, you will have the opportunity to snorkel twice, just off the coast near the most extensive coral reefs. The seafloor off the coast of Cahuita is as much a jungle as the rainforest, with tropical fish, stingrays, octopus, and nurse sharks on view for snorkelers. The best time for snorkeling is from July to October, as the sea is typically too rough between December and March. Regardless of the time of year, the boat ride is a great way to approach Cahuita Point and start your exploration of the park. 

Indulge in a tropical fruit spread on the beach before heading out on a guided hike through the coastal rainforest. From the boat, you’ll head onto land and enter the national park. Since the region is home to an abundance and diversity of wildlife, the chances are good that you'll see monkeys, tropical birds, sloths, iguanas, poisonous dart frogs, and more. After your hike, head back to Puerto Viejo with your guide.

Day 7: Visit a Jaguar Rescue Center

A jaguar in a wildlife refuge in Costa Rica

Start the morning at the Jaguar Animal Rescue Center, which offers shelter, treatment, rehabilitation, and protection to ill or wounded wild animals in the area. A biologist with many years of experience caring for wild mammals in captivity runs the shelter. The center has become a sanctuary for wild animals through the organization's hard work, with terrariums for snakes and small animals, larger spaces for the monkeys, and special quarantine cages for animals arriving with serious injuries. Your entrance fee and support help keep the center running.

After the rescue center, visit a local family that grows cacao trees on their land. They will show you the entire process, from cacao fruit to a bar of chocolate. You will have the opportunity to purchase some of their chocolate or other indigenous handmade crafts. Later, your guide will bring you to a waterfall with beautiful swimming holes. Enjoy a dip in the water before hiking back to the vehicle and returning to the hotel. Find out more about the daylong experience here.

Day 8: Depart Costa Rica

Puerto Viejo National Park
The trip ends today. Transfer to San José International Airport to catch your flight out. Safe travels!

More Great 8-Day Costa Rica Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these other 8-day Costa Rica itineraries, with outdoor adventures, family-friendly trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights. 


Map of Costa Rican Culture, Wildlife & Caribbean Beaches for Families - 8 Days
Map of Costa Rican Culture, Wildlife & Caribbean Beaches for Families - 8 Days
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Sep 19, 2022