Checking off three key regions in Costa Rica, this 10-day itinerary is perfect for adventurous travelers. The trip starts with a visit to Costa Rica's famous Arenal Volcano for hiking and natural hot springs before continuing to the Pacific Ocean for some beach time at Manuel Antonio National Park. Finish off in one of the country's most remote areas—Osa Peninsula—for undeveloped rainforests, rare wildlife, and near-empty coastline.

Highlights

  • Go hiking around Arenal Volcano
  • Hike through the jungle to experience the turquoise waters of the Rio Celeste
  • Hike through virgin rainforest in Corcovado National Park
  • Snorkel or dive off the coast of Isla del Caño Nature Reserve

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José San Jose
Day 2 San José to Arenal Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 3 Arenal Hanging Bridges & Arenal 1968 Reserve Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 4 Río Celeste Day Trip Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Guided Hike of Manuel Antonio National Park Manuel Antonio
Day 6 Manuel Antonio to Osa Peninsula Corcovado National Park
Day 7 Corcovado National Park Hike Corcovado National Park
Day 8 Snorkeling & Scuba Diving at Isla del Caño Corcovado National Park
Day 9 Free Day in Osa Peninsula Puerto Jiménez
Day 10 Transfer from Puerto Jiménez to San José - Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José

The Neo-Classical Teatro Nacional in San José
The Neo-Classical Teatro Nacional in San José

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: San José to Arenal

Arenal Volcano
Arenal Volcano

After breakfast, it's on to La Fortuna, best known as the base for exploring the Arenal Volcano National Park. Located north of the Tilaran Mountains, the cone-shaped Arenal juts out above the San Carlos Plains. After you check into your hotel, you'll have the rest of the day to explore on your own. 

If you want to get up close to the volcano, kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding on Lake Arenal (optional) provides spectacular views of its peak. Or, opt for a zip lining tour through the forest canopy, where you'll cross canyons, and take in the Fortuna and Pino Blanco Waterfalls, along with the majestic Arenal Volcano.

Here are a few restaurant recommendations for your stay in La Fortuna

  • Don Rufino, which serves a mix of local and international flavors in charming digs that include an open-air bar overlooking the main street. 
  • Café Mediterraneo, a friendly osteria serving up homemade pasta and pizza. 
  • La Parrilla de María Bonita, a must-visit for perfectly cooked steak as well as Mediterranean dishes like falafel and baba ghanoush. 
  • Rancho Perla, a popular open-air restaurant (you may even spot sloths hanging from the nearby trees) serving well-prepared Costa Rican staples.
  • Ave Del Paraíso, which offers daily theme dinners such as Italian, Mexican, Mediterranean and Costa Rican.

Day 3: Arenal Hanging Bridges & Arenal 1968 Reserve

The hanging bridges at Mistico afford breathtaking views of Arenal and an astounding array of wildlife
The hanging bridges at Mistico afford breathtaking views of Arenal and an astounding array of wildlife

Head out early to Mistico Hanging Bridges Park, where visitors can wander along trails and kids will get a kick out of crossing 15 bridges—some that are hundreds of feet long—for a once-in-a-lifetime view of Arenal Volcano. You'll also get an up-close look at the incredible biodiversity that occurs in this region, where upland and lowland rainforest meet. More than 350 bird species can be found in this park alone. 

After lunch, take an optional hike to Arenal 1968. This private reserve is named for the volcano’s eruption of that same year, which completely changed some of the region’s topography: lava fields now predominate on one side of Arenal. Trails wind through those lava fields as well as through the rainforest, offering beautiful views of the volcano. This is a more challenging hike—if you're looking for something more mellow, there are plenty of easier trails in the area.

Optional tour: Naturally heated thermal springs are plentiful here, and several places nearby offer the chance to soak in the relaxing waters. Kids will clamor for a visit to Ecotermales or Tabacon Hot Springs, with five main springs, dozens of cascading waterfalls and warm pools of varying temperatures, plus a cold-water pool with a thermal slide (and a swim-up bar for the adults).

Day 4: Río Celeste Day Trip

Bridge over the Rio Celeste
Bridge over the Rio Celeste

Today you'll experience one of the country's most beautiful and mysterious natural places - Rio Celeste.  The river is inside Tenorio Volcano National Park. The local legend has it that after God was done painting the sky he washed his paintbrushes in this river, hence the name - Rio Celeste (river of the sky).  The scientific explanation, the river’s blue hue is the result of a mixture of sulfur and carbonate, which originate in the nearby dormant Tenorio Volcano.

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 less visited locations in Costa Rica.  Hence the park doesn't get too crowded and preserves its natural state.

For a day trip, you will hike rainforest trails for approximately 4 hours, stopping along the way at Los Teñideros, the origins of the color, where two brooks meet, causing a chemical reaction that forms the turquoise colored river.  You will continue the hike until you reach the Río Celeste waterfall.

Day 5: Guided Hike of Manuel Antonio National Park

Squirrel monkey in Manuel Antonio
Squirrel monkey in Manuel Antonio

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.

Hiking distance: 1 mile (1.7 km)

Day 6: Manuel Antonio to Osa Peninsula

One last swim in Manuel Antonio before hitting the road
One last swim in Manuel Antonio before hitting the road

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. 

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

Overnight: Osa Peninsula

Day 7: Corcovado National Park Hike

Coast of Corcovado National Park
Coast of Corcovado National Park

This day trip into the rainforest is a chance to explore Parque Nacional Corcovado, home to species including the endangered giant anteater, harpy eagle, tapir, and jungle cats like the jaguar, puma, and margay. From the hotel, it's a 25-minute boat ride south down the coast of the Osa Peninsula. After the wet landing (boats go in stern first and drop you a few feet from the beach) near the San Pedrillo ranger station, you’ll begin the rainforest journey.

During the hike, your bilingual naturalistic guide will point out wildlife along the trail. You may see capuchin, spider, and howler monkeys, as well as white-lipped peccaries, scarlet macaws, coatis, and countless other birds and insects. The trails are clearly marked and easy to navigate, ascending and descending through the rainforest.

After the morning hike and a break for lunch, you'll enjoy more wildlife sightings as you trek to a cascading waterfall. There will be time to relax and swim in the natural pools before you return to the ranger station and catch the boat back to your hotel. While on the water, be on the lookout for humpback whales or dolphins breaching the ocean's surface.

Day 8: Snorkeling & Scuba Diving at Isla del Caño

Leatherback turtle
Leatherback turtle

Today, you'll explore the waters of the Caño Island Biological Reserve on a scuba excursion. This protected marine area is located just off the northern tip of the Osa Peninsula, next to Bahía Drake. 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.

Board a 30-foot Island Hopper and 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. Not interested in diving? Snorkeling gear will be available as well. 

Day 9: Free Day in Osa Peninsula

Costa Rica's white-faced capuchin monkeys
Costa Rica's white-faced capuchin monkeys

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, 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, ascending and descending through the rainforest.

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

Day 10: Transfer from Puerto Jiménez to San José - Depart Costa Rica

Take a sunrise beach walk before your flight
Take a sunrise beach walk before your flight

It's time to say goodbye to Costa Rica! Wake up early and enjoy the sunrise over the beach. It will give you ample time to snap some photos and take a final dip in the ocean. After breakfast, a driver will pick you up from your hotel and transfer you to the airport, where you'll catch a short flight back to the capital of San José. From here, you'll connect to your flight home.

Map

Map of Costa Rica Hiking Adventure - 10 Days
Map of Costa Rica Hiking Adventure - 10 Days