This active 9-day itinerary is designed to appeal to nature lovers and adventure fiends of every stripe. It starts on the southern Pacific coast, in the remote, wild Corcovado National Park. Here you'll enjoy rugged hikes abounding with wildlife-spotting opportunities. Then it's off to the north where you'll explore the misty cloud forests of Monteverde and fly over the forest canopy on a zip-line tour.  After a visit to the famed Arenal Volcano, it's time for another hike, this time to the Hule Lagoon, an ancient crater lake like something out of Conan Doyle's "Lost World."

Highlights

  • Trek through the rugged jungles of Corcovado National Park
  • Go for a night hike with a naturalist guide
  • Hike to the Hule Lagoon, an ancient crater lake near Poás Volcano
  • Raft through class II-IV rapids on the Pacuare River

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Costa Rica - San José City Tour San Jose
Day 2 Fly to Puerto Jimenez -> Transfer to La Leona Eco-Lodge Corcovado National Park
Day 3 Corcovado National Park Hike Corcovado National Park
Day 4 Flight to San Jose -> Transfer to Monteverde Monteverde
Day 5 Free Day and Night-time Nature Tour in Monteverde Monteverde
Day 6 Boat from Monteverde to Arenal Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 7 Trekking to Hule Lagoon Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 8 Rafting on Rio Pacuare -> Transfer to San José San Jose
Day 9 Depart San José  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Costa Rica - San José City Tour

The Edificio Correos (Post Office) in the city's center
The Edificio Correos (Post Office) in the city's center

Welcome to Costa Rica, the land of pura vida! After arriving at Juan Santamaría International Airport in San José, 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 José: 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 Amón, a historic neighborhood 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 Amón a popular bohemian district. 

For dinner, opt for a restaurant in the hills of Escazú. This elevated region on the western edge of the city offers panoramic views of the valley below. That said, San José is filled with great restaurants serving everything from traditional to forward-thinking fusion cuisine.

Day 2: Fly to Puerto Jimenez -> Transfer to Carate - La Leona Eco-Lodge

Scarlet macaw, one of the many exotic residents of Corcovado
Scarlet macaw, one of the many exotic residents of Corcovado

After breakfast, you'll leave from the San José airport on an hour-long flight to Puerto Jimenez, located on Costa Rica's rugged Osa Peninsula. Home to Corcovado National Park, this is one of the most biodiverse regions in the entire country. A representative will meet you at the airport and will transfer you to the small village of Carate. The road literally ends here, as it's the gateway to Corcovado.

You'll then hike a kilometer or so to the La Leona Eco-Lodge and prepare for your epic hiking adventure the following day. Overnight accommodation will be in tented cabins.

Day 3: Corcovado National Park Hike

You might spot a jaguar in Corcovado
You might spot a jaguar in Corcovado

Today you'll venture into Corcovado National Park on a scenic half-day hike. This rigorous but moderate trek will take you mostly along Corcovado's rugged coastline. The route covers a number of hiking trails leading eventually to Punta La Chancha. The coastal rock outcroppings here jut out of the water like the spiked backbone of a giant prehistoric reptile. 

The trails will also take you into both secondary and primary rainforest. Corcovado is known as one of the most biodiverse places on earth, and you'll learn this first hand as you walk through the jungle and glimpse the abundant and exotic wildlife in the area. It's not uncommon to witness tapirs cooling off in nearby mud holes or herds of peccaries roaming just a few meters away. 

You'll also spot other endemic animals like howler and capuchin monkeys, and exotic birds like toucans, trogons, and scarlet macaws. If you get really lucky you might spot a jaguar or puma. Each hiker will carry a packed lunch, and additional refreshments will be served at the end of the hike in mid-afternoon. You'll then return to La Leona where you'll overnight.

Day 4: Transfer to Puerto Jimenez - Flight to San Jose -> Transfer to Monteverde

Hanging bridge in the Monteverde Cloud Forest
Hanging bridge in the Monteverde Cloud Forest

After breakfast, make the short hike back to Carate. Upon arrival, you'll transfer to the airstrip at Puerto Jimenez and hop a domestic flight back to San José. A driver will meet you and you'll embark on a 2.5-hour road journey to the region of Monteverde. Located 3,000 feet above sea level in the misty Tilaran Mountains of northwestern Costa Rica, Monteverde is famous for its cloud forests and canopy tours. It's one of the country’s most famous destinations and its Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a model of conservation.

Day 5: Free Day and Night-time Nature Tour in Monteverde

Monteverde's Cloud Forest
Monteverde's Cloud Forest

Today is a choose your own adventure today. The Monteverde region has a long list of options, which include: 

Explore the Cloud Forest Reserve, home to countless wildlife species. Suspension bridges throughout the reserve allow for walks above the forest canopy, with plenty of opportunities to spot the colorfully-plumed resplendent quetzal. At the Sky Adventures Monteverde Park, you can also zip-line through the forest canopy, navigate hanging bridges through the forest canopy, and take the Sky Tram guided tour that will lead you up to the Continental Divide—one of the highest mountains in the area. Among the reserve’s exotic flora are over 500 species of orchids.

In the afternoon you'll return to your hotel and have the rest of the day to spend as you like.
Visit a coffee farm to see how one of the country's most important exports is grown, harvested, and roasted. 
Get up close with Costa Rica's insects, arachnids, and butterflies at Monteverde Butterfly Gardens
See more than 450 species of orchids at the Monteverde Orchid Garden in Santa Elena.
Take a walk along the nature trails of the Curi-Cancha Reserve for more bird-watching opportunities. 
Uncover the mysterious and fascinating life bats during a tour at the Bat Jungle

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 6: Boat from Monteverde to Arenal

Lake Arenal
Lake Arenal

After breakfast, you'll be taken by ground transportation to Rio Chiquito. From here, you'll sail down the river on a 30-minute boat ride to the Lake Arenal dam, where another driver will take you to your hotel near the town of La Fortuna.

La Fortuna is the gateway to the Arenal Volcano area and its endless array of activities. Take the afternoon to settle in and explore your surroundings. If you're up to it, go for a hike on the Arenal 1968 Trail for close-up views of the volcano. If you'd rather relax ahead of tomorrow's adventure, try some of the local fares at one of La Fortuna's more than 100 restaurants.

Day 7: Trekking to Hule Lagoon

You might spot a sloth on the trail
You might spot a sloth on the trail

Today you'll hike to one of the natural highlights of Costa Rica: the volcanic Hule Lagoon. You'll set out from La Fortuna early in the morning and drive 1.5 hours to the outskirts of Juan Castro Blanco National Park. This is your starting point. Trek five miles (eight km) through the plains bordering the volcanic crater before heading up into the rainforest toward the lagoon. 

Along the way, enjoy the rich biodiversity of the area. The landscape here runs the gamut from grassy plains to clay soil to volcanic rock, which makes for a wide array of ecosystems within a relatively small area. Keep your eyes peeled for tropical birds, monkeys, and even three-toed sloths! You'll also pass several other lagoons on your way before reaching the magnificent Hule, located at the base of the Cerro Congo Volcano.

Stop here and enjoy a traditional Costa Rican lunch as you take in panoramic views of the mountains. Return to La Fortuna for an evening of relaxation.

Day 8: Transfer to Siquirres - Rafting Pacuare -> Transfer to San José

A calm and beautiful section of the Pacuare
A calm and beautiful section of the Pacuare

Early in the morning, you will embark on a three-hour drive to the town of Siquirres, where you will meet the rest of the group for an exhilarating trip down the Pacuare River. Rated one of the top rafting rivers in the world, you’ll travel 19 miles over class III-IV whitewater. As for scenery, you'll pass by cascading waterfalls, virgin rainforest, tropical plants, and all of it abounding with exotic wildlife. Common sightings include parrots, toucans, deer, jaguars, ocelots, monkeys, butterflies, and more. Afterward, a driver will meet you and you'll transfer about two hours back to San José.

Day 9: Depart San José

San José at twilight
San José at twilight

It's time to say adiós to Costa Rica. Depending on your departure time, you'll have the morning to explore more of San José, relax in a coffee shop, or browse some shops before boarding your flight home.

Map

Map of Active Wildlife Adventure in Costa Rica - 9 days
Map of Active Wildlife Adventure in Costa Rica - 9 days