Offering an appealing mix of outdoor adventures, relaxation, and cultural experiences, this 16-day itinerary around Costa Rica is a traveler's favorite. Start with volcano hikes and hot springs in Arenal, then explore Monteverde's cloud forest on a canopy tour and an excursion on horseback. Go whitewater rafting down the Río Pacuare, visit a wildlife rehabilitation center in Puerto Viejo, and enjoy a boat tour along the canals of Tortuguero National Park before heading to San José, where the trip ends.


  • Spot sloths in the wild while hiking through their natural habitat
  • Sample locally produced coffee on a tour of a Costa Rican coffee bean farm
  • Zipline through the cloud forest at the Sky Adventures Park
  • Raft down Class IV rapids on the Río Pacuare
  • Ride horses on the beach in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José & Transfer to La Fortuna La Fortuna
Day 2 See Rio Celeste & Tenorio Volcano National Park  La Fortuna
Day 3 Enjoy a Sloth Hike, Arenal Volcano & Tabacon Hot Springs  La Fortuna
Day 4 Taste Costa Rican Coffee, Nighttime Nature Walk Monteverde
Day 5 Tour Monteverde Cloud Forest & Sky Adventures Park Monteverde
Day 6 Go Horseback Riding in the Cloud Forest Monteverde
Day 7 Whitewater Raft Río Pacuare Puerto Viejo
Day 8 Tour Cahuita National Park Puerto Viejo
Day 9 Visit a Jaguar Rescue Center & BriBri Chocolate Farm Puerto Viejo
Day 10 Horseback Ride on the Beach Puerto Viejo
Day 11 Transfer from Puerto Viejo to Tortuguero National Park, Village Visit Tortuguero
Day 12 Hike to Cerro Tortuguero Tortuguero
Day 13 Boat Along the Tortuguero Canals Tortuguero
Day 14 Learn About Afro-Caribbean Culture on a Village Visit Tortuguero
Day 15 Return to San José, Night on the Town San José
Day 16 Depart San José  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José & Transfer to La Fortuna

The town of La Fortuna, at Arenal
Take a break in the town of La Fortuna

Welcome to Costa Rica! After arriving in San José, you'll transfer to La Fortuna, the closest town to Arenal Volcano. You'll have the rest of the afternoon and evening free to enjoy the area. Take the edge off the day's long journey with a soak in one of the region's natural hot springs.

For dinner, hit the town and sample one of the many restaurants. Solid dining options include Don Rufino, an upscale grill with a good wine list, Café Mediterraneo, an Italian restaurant with fresh pasta and a wood-fired pizza oven, and Rancho Perla, serving up Costa Rican staples like beef, chicken, and seafood. Get lucky, and you might spot toucans, iguanas, and even sloths in the trees near your table.

Find out more about the area's best luxury hotels and best hotels for families.

Day 2: See Rio Celeste & Tenorio Volcano National Park 

Hike to dreamlike waterfalls
Hike to dreamlike waterfalls

Today you'll venture into Tenorio Volcano National Park for a moderate three-hour hike along the Rio Celeste, one of the most stunning natural attractions in Costa Rica. The legend says that after God painted the sky, He washed His brushes in this river, resulting in its famous electric-blue waters.

Highlights along the hike include Los Teñideros, the site where two streams of crystalline water come together and form the "heavenly" blue that gives the river its name. You'll also see the volcano's furnace vents, which expel gases at extremely high temperatures, and the spectacular Rio Celeste waterfall. Enjoy a gourmet lunch at the end of the journey.

Day 3: Enjoy a Sloth Hike, Arenal Volcano & Tabacon Hot Springs 

Look up to see wildlife
Look up to see sloths in the trees

Go on a hiking excursion today along the so-called "Sloth Trail." This nature trail cuts through a habitat for sloths (both two-toed and three-toed) who like to hang on the branches of the trees and feed on bright green leaves. It's fun to look for these slow-moving creatures overhead! On this two-hour guided hike, you'll see a few of these animals and perhaps even spy a mother sloth and its baby. During the walk, your bilingual guide will also point out other animals common to this area, like the famous red-eyed tree frog.

In the afternoon, go for a hike around Arenal Volcano. Start at the entrance of the 1968 Trail, where you'll hit the well-maintained trails that skirt the base of the volcano and Lake Arenal. This 1.5-hour route offers some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities in the park, and your naturalist guide will keep a well-trained eye out for exotic birds, monkeys, and other animals along the way. After hiking the trails, your guide will drop you off at Tabacon Hot Springs so you can soothe your muscles with a dip in mineral-rich waters. 

Find out more about hiking around Arenal Volcano here.

Day 4: Taste Costa Rican Coffee, Nighttime Nature Walk

Coffee beans ready for the harvest.
Coffee beans ready for the harvest

Today you will be leaving Arenal and heading to the cloud forest of Monteverde. After breakfast, you'll transfer to the boat dock at the shores of Lake Arenal, where you'll board a boat and journey to the other side of the lake. Upon arrival, you'll officially be in the Monteverde region of Costa Rica. You will have the afternoon to explore on your own.  Maybe visit the hummingbird gardens or just enjoy some downtime in the hotel. 

In the late afternoon, you'll head to a local coffee plantation for coffee and a night tour. First, you'll walk through a local coffee plantation, where you'll have the opportunity to identify and learn about the coffee plant first-hand. Your guide will walk you through every step of the process, from harvesting to roasting and brewing, and show you the simplest way to prepare a perfect cup of coffee.

After finishing your coffee, it's time to head into the jungle! This part of the tour takes place in a protected forest that is about 50% of the plantation's property. The trail extends along a creek that runs through the farm, making it the perfect location to spot creatures in the trees and along the shores of the water. It is common to observe frogs and various snake species along the trail. With a bit of luck, you might even see forest dwellers such as the two-toed sloth or the kinkajou.

Day 5: Explore Monteverde Cloud Forest & Sky Adventures Park

Explore the dense jungle of the Monteverde Cloud Forest
Explore the dense jungle of the Monteverde Cloud Forest

Transfer from your hotel to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, one of Costa Rica's ecological crown jewels. Known as the "green lung of Costa Rica" due to its rich biodiversity, this sprawling reserve is high in the country's mountainous northwest region. On a guided tour, you'll get an overview of the incredible biodiversity of this region, where upland and lowland rainforest meet. More than 350 bird species live here, including the quetzal. It's a nature lover's paradise. Check out Best Things to Do in Monteverde for more ideas of what to see and do.

At the Sky Adventures Park in the afternoon, you'll have your pick of ways to explore the cloud forest: ziplining for the action-inclined, sky tram trips for a panoramic perspective, or walks along suspension bridges for close encounters with elusive bird species and other wildlife. You'll start with the guided Sky Walk, which combines trails and suspension bridges. Later, you'll ride in an open-air gondola for sweeping views across the mountains. At the end of the line, connect to a zipline cable that stretches over rainforest treetops and across clifftops, finally returning you to the starting point.

See this guide for more information on the best ziplining in Monteverde.

Day 6: Go Horseback Riding in the Cloud Forest

A relaxing horseback ride through the forest
A relaxing ride through the forest
Plan your trip to Costa Rica
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
You'll go horseback riding today through Monteverde's picturesque landscapes. Keep your eyes open for sloths and toucans, and learn about the coffee, banana, and sugar grown in the area. Two and a half hours of riding will bring you to a secluded clearing on the banks of a river where you can rest and enjoy a picnic under the trees. During the ride back to the stables, your guide will make time to stop at a local café for a beer or a soft drink.

Day 7: Whitewater Raft Río Pacuare

Rafting fun on the Pacuare
Rafting on the Pacuare River

As you head from Monteverde to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean Coast, why not raft part of the way on Río Pacuare?  The 67-mile (108-km) Río Pacuare is one of the best rivers in Central America for whitewater rafting. Today you'll navigate over 50 rapids—few rivers in the world offer so many rapids in such a short stretch! You'll be outfitted with a life jacket, a helmet, and a paddle before receiving a safety briefing. The first section of the river consists of fun Class II-III rapids, a perfect opportunity to enjoy the surrounding wilderness and gain confidence in your team.

After about 40 minutes, you'll enter the famous Pacuare River Gorge, featuring some of the best white water Costa Rica has to offer. Keep your eyes open for the Huacas Waterfall flowing into the river. The river calms down when you reach the Valle del Pacuare, so you can relax and do some wildlife spotting. The forest remains just as lush, and the rapids just as fun. Your final destination for today's rafting trip is the city of Siquirres. You'll transfer to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, where you'll spend the night.

Find out more about the whitewater rafting experience here.

Day 8: Tour Cahuita National Park

Cahuita National Park
Cahuita National Park

Take a short drive to Cahuita National Park this morning. You'll start at the beach, climbing on board a boat for a scenic 20-minute cruise to Cahuita Point. If the sea conditions allow, you'll have the opportunity to have two snorkeling sessions near the most extensive coral reefs. The seafloor off the coast is as much a jungle as the rainforest, with tropical fish, stingrays, octopus, and nurse sharks on view. The best time for snorkeling is from July to October, as the sea is typically too rough between December and March. Still, regardless of the time of year, the boat ride is a great way to approach Cahuita Point.

Fuel up with a spread of tropical fruit on the beach before heading out on a guided hike through the coastal rainforest. You'll head onto land and enter the national park from the boat. 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.

For more ideas and inspiration, check out Best Things to Do in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

Day 9: Visit a Jaguar Rescue Center & BriBri Chocolate Farm

Get up close with wildlife at the Jaguar Rescue Center

Start the morning at the Jaguar Animal Rescue Center, which offers shelter, treatment, rehabilitation, and protection to the area's ill or wounded wild animals. 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 Bribri family that grows cacao trees on their land. They'll show you the entire process, from cacao fruit to a bar of chocolate. You'll have the opportunity to purchase some of their chocolate or other indigenous handmade crafts. Later, your guide will bring you to a waterfall with inviting swimming holes. Enjoy a dip in the water before hiking back to the vehicle and returning to the hotel.

Day 10: Horseback Ride on the Beach

Riders enjoying the peaceful beaches
Riding along peaceful beaches
If you've ever dreamed of horseback riding along a (nearly) deserted tropical beach, surf crashing before you, then today is your day! You and your family will be picked up at your hotel in Puerto Viejo and taken to one of the region's lovely beaches. Ride through the jungle with your guide pointing out the local flora and fauna, including howler monkeys, two-toed and three-toed sloths, and many tropical birds. The jungle opens to the beach, where you'll trot along the sandy shoreline. You can even ride in the water if you like!

Day 11: Transfer from Puerto Viejo to Tortuguero National Park, Village Visit

Rainforest on the banks of the Tortuguero River
Rainforest on the banks of the Tortuguero River

Today you'll transfer from Puerto Viejo de Talamanca to Tortuguero National Park. A driver will pick you up in an air-conditioned minivan and transfer you to the boat dock near Tortuguero. From there, a boat will take you to your hotel in Tortuguero. Read more about the best boutique hotels in the area.

Your two-hour excursion this afternoon focuses on the community of Tortuguero itself. With your bilingual naturalist guide, your group will spend time chatting with the locals in Tortuguero and learning about their way of life and the history of settlement in this Caribbean coastal outpost.

The region's first inhabitants were Zambo-Miskito Indians and people who escaped enslavement. They lived off the land through subsistence farming, turtle hunting, and raiding cacao plantations. The area was later populated by Jamaican immigrants who came to the coast for work laying the region's railroad or as laborers for lumber companies and fruit plantations. The vast seasonal migrations of sea turtles to the Tortuguero coastline also attracted 19th-century sailors who would purchase the turtle meat, oil, and shells to sell in Europe. 

Today, Tortuguero's approximately 1,500 residents have traded turtle hunting for turtle conservation and ecotourism. Most adults work in tourism and conservation-related industries. In many cases, the community is a pioneer for ecotourism in Costa Rica, spearheading efforts to preserve the region's unique cultures, ecosystems, and wildlife which have become a blueprint for ecotourism across the country and beyond. 

Day 12: Hike to Cerro Tortuguero

Tortuguero National Park has few high points, but a climb up Cerro Tortuguero reveals beautiful views
Climb up Cerro Tortuguero for beautiful views

Get ready for a spectacular panoramic view as you climb the area's highest peak, Cerro Tortuguero. Your adventure starts with a boat ride to the trailhead, where you will begin on the approximately 1.25-mile (2-km) round-trip hike. During the trek, your guide will share interesting facts about the area. When you get to the top, the most exquisite view 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.

Day 13: Boat Along the Tortuguero Canals

Sun on the tree branches
Sun on the tree branches in Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park is one of the world's most important locations for several species of nesting sea turtles. Explore the park's jungle waterways on a motorboat tour that allows you to see the forest and its wildlife from the water.

A 2021 count registered 186 species of birds in the area, along with three monkey species, crocodiles, caimans, toucans, sloths, and much more. You will likely see most of these creatures on your tour. On some of the canals, you can get close to the tangled jungle on the riverbanks, where many animals are visible.

Check out this article on the best things to do in the national park.

Day 14: Learn About Afro-Caribbean Culture on a Village Visit

A local in Tortuguero prepares coconut milk drinks
A local man preparing coconut milk drinks

Today you'll have a unique opportunity to understand more about the human inhabitants of this colorful Caribbean region. With your guide, you'll visit another area village and the Caribbean Conservation Company to get a taste of Afro-Caribbean culture and the village's conservation philosophy. 

Read Ultimate Guide to Tortuguero National Park.

Day 15: Return to San José, Night on the Town

Shop for traditional Costa Rican pottery 

This morning, a driver will pick you up in a private, air-conditioned minivan and transfer you to San José. The rest of the afternoon and evening are yours to shop for souvenirs, sightsee, and enjoy one last Costa Rican dinner.

Check out 24 Hours in San José for ideas of what to see and do.

Day 16: Depart San José

Take in a Costa Rica sunset 
The trip ends today. You'll transfer to the airport to catch your flight out. Safe travels!

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Map of Discover the Best of Costa Rica - 16 Days
Map of Discover the Best of Costa Rica - 16 Days