Experience Costa Rica's many ecosystems on this two-week trip. You'll visit San José, the towering Arenal Volcano, Monteverde's cloud forest, and the remote beaches of Gulf de Papagayo. There will be plenty of activities to choose from along the way: raft on the world-class rapids of Río Pacuare, sample locally produced chocolate, and take a surf lesson in the glittering Pacific.

Highlights

  • Raft through class II-IV rapids on the Pacuare River
  • Stand-up paddleboard on Lake Arenal
  • Cross suspension bridges for tree-top views of the cloud forest
  • Relax on the white sand beaches of Gulf de Papagayo
  • Spot dolphins and whales from your sunset dinner cruise

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José San José
Day 2 Rafting Río Pacuare on Class II-IIl Rapids Río Pacuare
Day 3 Free Day for Jungle Adventures in Río Pacuare  Río Pacuare
Day 4 Rafting Class III-IV Rapids, Continue to Arenal Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Hike Arenal 1968, Visit Tabacón’s Hot Springs Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 6 Free Day in Arenal Volcano National Park Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 7 Arenal Volcano from Land and Water Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 8 Boat from Arenal to Monteverde, Coffee & Chocolate Tour Monteverde
Day 9 Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Guided Hike Monteverde
Day 10 Free Day in Monteverde Monteverde
Day 11 Monteverde to the Gulf of Papagayo Gulf de Papagayo
Day 12 Beach Day & Sunset Catamaran Sail in Papagayo Gulf de Papagayo
Day 13 Free Day in Papagayo Gulf de Papagayo
Day 14 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 the land of pura vida! After arriving at Juan Santamaria International Airport in San José, you'll transfer to your hotel. 

The rest of the day is free for you to explore the country's capital city. Suggested activities include: 

  • Taking a stroll through Mercado Central (Central Market), the largest in the city, with over 200 shops, food stalls, and sodas (traditional restaurants) perfect for an inexpensive lunch of casado, a traditional dish of rice, beans, and meat, served with tortillas. 
  • Visiting the Teatro Nacional, an opulent Neo-Classical building constructed in the late 19th century, which offers free guided tours on the hour. 
  • Exploring a pair of museums. First, visit the Museo del Oro Precolumbino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum), which holds the largest Pre-Columbian gold collection in all of Latin American. Continue on to the Museo del Jade (Jade Museum), dedicated to preserving the archaeological heritage of the region. The museum features the largest collection of pre-Columbian jade artifacts in the world with over 7,000 items on display, most dated between 500 and 300 BCE.

For a casual dinner try Tiquicia, a hilltop stalwart that serves up delicious local fare accompanied by live folk music on weekends, with views of the Central Valley. Or, for special-occasion dining, try Restaurante Grano de Oro, a local favorite helmed by French chef Francis Canal, who uses European techniques to prepare Costa Rican-fusion fare paired with an excellent wine list.

Day 2: Rafting Río Pacuare on Class II-IIl Rapids

Brave the whitewater on Río Pacuare, one of the best rafting rivers in the world
Brave the whitewater on Río Pacuare, one of the best rafting rivers in the world

This morning, you'll wake up early, meet your guide, and begin the 2.5-hour drive out through the city and countryside east of San José. Stop en route for a classic Costa Rican breakfast before you arrive at Río Pacuare, where you'll begin your rafting excursion. Located along Costa Rica’s Caribbean slope, Río Pacuare’s river gorge is considered one of the best rafting rivers in the world with warm water and stunning green scenery. 

After a guided orientation, you'll embark on today's exciting 1-1.5 hour river rafting trip on class II-III rapids. Paddle past impressive tropical scenery through rushing whitewater, all the way to your riverside eco-lodge. Here, you will check into your luxury jungle accommodations, and have the rest of the day to explore the surrounding area with your guide.

After lunch, you can hike through the lodge’s protected forest to an idyllic waterfall, opt for a couple's massage at the Jawa Juü Spa, or simply relax in your private bungalow or suite and enjoy the tropical nature and tranquility of this remote and beautiful place.

Day 3: Free Day for Jungle Adventures in Río Pacuare 

Zip-lining through the rainforest is an adventure you'll never forget
Zip-lining through the rainforest is an adventure you'll never forget

Today is purposely unscheduled—this is free time for you to explore the jungle-cloaked mountains of Río Pacuare together. Outdoor adventure options include ziplining through the rainforest canopy trees or canyoning El Tesorito Creek, where you'll descend a small waterfall, slide along cables, swing through the jungle like Tarzan, and rappel down a 30-meter rock face. 

You can also opt for a hike through the jungle to reach the legendary sendero de las mulas (mule trail), which is one of the main routes used by the Cabécar Indians. After the initial climb, you'll hike to the Nairi Awari Indigenous Reserve to reach the high point of this excursion: a hidden waterfall. Enjoy a picnic lunch at this scenic spot before hiking back along the trail to a Cabécar indigenous community.

In the afternoon, return to the lodge for one last cozy night surrounded by trees.

Day 4: Rafting Class III-IV Rapids, Continue to Arenal

This morning, you'll tackle a more challenging whitewater route
This morning, you'll tackle a more challenging whitewater route

This morning, you'll embark on a more challenging route that lasts approximately 3.5 hours over class III-IV rapids. Depart after breakfast and brace yourself for an exhilarating whitewater rafting experience. As you travel down Río Pacuare, expect to see beautiful canyons, waterfalls, and virgin forests. During the calmer stretches, be on the lookout for various species of birds and other wildlife that call the region home.

In the afternoon, you'll be driven to La 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.

Try these restaurants during your stay in La Fortuna: 

  • La Parrilla de María Bonita, 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 serves up Costa Rican and international dishes.

Day 5: Hike Arenal 1968, Visit Tabacón’s Hot Springs

No shortage of photo ops around Arenal
No shortage of photo ops around Arenal

Today, after breakfast at your hotel, you'll make a visit to Arenal 1968, a private reserve named for the volcano’s eruption of that same year, which transformed 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. 

Afterward, soothe your muscles with a dip in the mineral-rich waters of Tabacón’s hot springs, used as therapeutic baths for more than 200 years. The Tabacón Thermal Resort includes a spa where treatments like couples massages are performed in outdoor bungalows. End the day with a nice dinner at the resort’s pretty Ave Del Paraíso Restaurant, serving Costa Rican dishes as well as international fare.

Day 6: Free Day in Arenal Volcano National Park

Explore Arenal by mountain bike
Explore Arenal by mountain bike

After breakfast, you'll have a free day to explore the park as you wish.

For optional activities, you can visit Arenal 1968, a private reserve named for the volcano’s eruption of that same year. Trails wind through the lava fields as well as through the rainforest, offering beautiful views of the volcano. 

Or, explore the Arenal region by mountain bike. The ride takes an old road connecting the dam with the main entrance to Arenal Volcano National Park. From there, you'll pedal towards the village of El Castillo, through forest and cattle farms. Stop for snacks on the shore of Lake Arenal where it’s possible to swim, before heading back to the hotel. 

If you're up for an evening adventure, you can discover the wildlife of Arenal after the sun goes down during a night walk hosted by Danaus Eco-Center. The trail, which is easy enough for beginners, takes hikers through the biodiverse rainforest where you’ll spot nocturnal animals like sloths, bats, and frogs as an experienced naturalist provides insight into all you’ll see (and hear) in the dark.

Day 7: Arenal Volcano from Land and Water

This morning begins with a hike at Arenal Volcano
This morning begins with a hike at Arenal Volcano

Today is packed with outdoor adventures, starting with a hike at Arenal Volcano National Park. An experienced guide will lead you along the trails to points where you'll get the best views of the volcano, pointing out local flora and fauna along the way and sharing the history of Arenal. 

Next, you'll see Arenal from the water with a standup paddleboarding trip on Lake Arenal, Costa Rica's largest landlocked body of water. The lake is calm and pristine, making a SUP session here ideal for beginners or experienced boarders who want a leisurely paddle to take in the breathtaking scenery and spot water birds like herons and anhingas.

Day 8: Boat from Arenal to Monteverde, Coffee & Chocolate Tour

The peaceful waters of Lake Arenal
The peaceful waters of Lake Arenal

After breakfast at your resort in La Fortuna, you'll begin your transfer to Monteverde.

This is no ordinary route: you'll meet your transport at your hotel, drive pass the Arenal Volcano directly to the lake.  At the lake, you will be welcomed by your captain and board the boat.  The boat will take you across the peaceful waters of Lake Arenal where you'll have opportunities to spot birds like herons and anhingas along the way. 

On the other side of the lake, you'll head to a local farm for a tour centered around one of Costa Rica's most famous exports: coffee & chocolate. You'll participate in the entire farm-to-cup process, from picking the beans to roasting. Of course, you'll be able to taste both coffee and chocolate straight from the farm.

When you arrive to the Monteverde area, take the afternoon and evening to enjoy nearby Santa Elena, a charming town with Quaker influences known for excellent coffee and cheese. Here are a few restaurant suggestions: 

  • For a late lunch, Orchid Coffee serves a menu of smoothies, salads, and sandwiches. Sweet-toothed visitors will appreciate the café’s extensive hot chocolate menu made with Costa Rican chocolate and mixed with unique ingredients like cardamom and orange.  
  • El Jardin Bar & Restaurant wins visitors over with its lovely setting overlooking the trees, friendly service, and fresh homemade bread served alongside every meal. 
  • Built around an old higueron (fig) tree, the Tree House Restaurant & Café serves Costa Rican standards like ceviche and arroz con pollo in a romantic, open-air setting.

Day 9: Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Guided Hike

Explore the lush jungle of the Monteverde Cloud Forest
Explore the lush jungle of the Monteverde Cloud Forest

After breakfast at your hotel, you’ll head to Monteverde, the "Green Lung” of Costa Rica, known for its rich biodiversity. Located in mountainous northwest Costa Rica, Monteverde's main attraction is the 25,730-acre Cloud Forest Reserve, one of the world's most unique ecosystems. The cloud forest is home to more than 130 species of mammals and 400 species of birds—including the Resplendent Quetzal and 30 types of hummingbirds—along with 3,000 species of plants. It's a nature lover’s paradise.

In the afternoon you'll return to your hotel and have the rest of the day to spend as you like.

Day 10: Free Day in Monteverde

Hiking the Cloud Forest Reserve in Monteverde
Hiking the Cloud Forest Reserve in Monteverde

Today is a choose your own adventure today. One option is to explore the Cloud Forest Reserve. 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, and take the Sky Tram guided tour that will lead you up to the Continental Divide—one of the highest mountains in the area.

Or, visit a coffee farm to see how one of the country's most important exports is grown, harvested, and roasted. You can also get up close with Costa Rica's insects, arachnids, and butterflies at Monteverde Butterfly Gardens or check out 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, or uncover the mysterious and fascinating life bats during a tour at the Bat Jungle—no matter what you choose, you can't go wrong.

Day 11: Monteverde to the Gulf of Papagayo

Beyond the arid, volcanic valleys of Guanacaste lie fantastic Pacific Ocean beaches
Beyond the arid, volcanic valleys of Guanacaste lie fantastic Pacific Ocean beaches

Road trip time! This four-hour drive takes you west through Guanacaste, past volcanic mountain ranges, flatlands, and villages as you head toward the fabulous Pacific Coast. Stop for a bite and enjoy traditional foods, fresh local fruits, or perhaps a batido con leche (fresh fruit smoothie made with milk)—a kid favorite. As the dry plains and tropical dry forests slowly give way to azure seas, you’ve arrived at your destination, Papagayo, one of the most biodiverse regions in the world.

Once you arrive, you can rest up at your hotel or spend the afternoon exploring with a sea kayak and snorkeling tour. As you row through the blue smooth waters of Tamarindo Beach towards the white sand Capitán Island, you will be able to enjoy the beautiful colors of the water and observe underwater coral reef and exotic fish.

Day 12: Beach Day & Sunset Catamaran Sail in Papagayo

In the evening, you'll go for a sunset sail
In the evening, you'll go for a sunset sail

Today is all about relaxation on the beach. After breakfast at your hotel, get out and explore the coastline around Guanacaste, where you're sure to find a picturesque sandy spot. 

In the evening, you'll board a catamaran for a sunset sail. Stop in a calm bay, drop anchor and snorkel while the crew prepares a dinner feast. While you eat, you'll marvel at the sunset over the watery horizon, while on the lookout for dolphins, sea turtles, flying fish, or even a breaching whale.

Day 13: Free Day in Papagayo

Be on the lookout for white-faced monkeys
Be on the lookout for white-faced monkeys

Today can be as relaxing or adventurous as you like. If you've had enough of the beaches, you can opt to for a tour of the jungle trail called Sensoria, part of a wildlife sanctuary at the foot of the Rincon de la Vieja volcano, where you'll swim in thermal pools, see waterfalls, and have a chance to spot the wild creatures of Costa Rica. Or, see the rainforest from the water during a two-hour safari float tour on the Corobicí River, where a guide will help you identify monkeys, bats, lizards, and even crocodiles. 

You can also choose a guided trip down the Tenor River. It’s pure, white water makes it the best river in Guanacaste area for rafting. After a challenging trip down the rapids led by experts, you'll enjoy lunch before heading back to your hotel in time to catch one last sunset.

Day 14: Depart Costa Rica

Savoring memories after a mountaintop hike in Guanacaste
Savoring memories after a mountaintop hike in Guanacaste

It's time to say "adiós" to Costa Rica! After breakfast, you'll meet your driver for the brief trip from Papagayo to Liberia International Airport in Guanacaste’s capital city for your international flight home.

Map

Map of Costa Rica's Whitewater, Jungle and Beach Adventure  - 14 Days
Map of Costa Rica's Whitewater, Jungle and Beach Adventure - 14 Days