Unforgettable outdoor experiences await on this colorful week-long journey around Costa Rica's beautiful landscapes. Spend the first part of the week exploring Rincón de la Vieja National Park, enjoying rainforest hikes and a dip in hot springs heated by a volcano. Then move on to the pristine Gulf of Papagayo for several days of boating through mangroves and snorkeling around a coral reef with tropical fish, manta rays, and sea turtles. Featuring a sunset catamaran cruise and several waterfall hikes, this family-friendly itinerary takes you to the best of Costa Rica's wilderness.

Highlights

  • Relax in the Rio Negro hot springs heated by the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano
  • Boat through the unspoiled nature of Tamarindo Mangrove & Estuary
  • Look for tropical birds, monkeys, and iguanas in the wild
  • Marvel at the bright blue hues of Catarata Río Celeste
  • Spot giant manta rays, sea turtles, and parrotfish on a snorkeling trip

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Soak in the Río Negro Hot Springs Rincón de la Vieja
Day 2 Hike in Rincón de la Vieja National Park Rincón de la Vieja
Day 3 Guided Rainforest Hike Rincón de la Vieja
Day 4 Sail on the Gulf of Papagayo at Sunset  Gulf of Papagayo
Day 5 Explore Tamarindo Mangrove & Estuary  Gulf of Papagayo
Day 6 Snorkel Around the Catalina Islands Gulf of Papagayo
Day 7 Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Soak in the Río Negro Hot Springs

Hot springs in Costa Rica
Welcome to Costa Rica! You'll arrive in Liberia and transfer to your hotel in Rincón de la Vieja

Thermal waters have rejuvenating and therapeutic properties that people worldwide have appreciated for millennia. Today is your chance to experience this yourself at some of Costa Rica's loveliest hot springs. When you stay at Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin, located on the edge of Rincón de la Vieja National Park and the country's most active volcano, you can take a dip in the incredible hot springs of the Río Negro. Beautiful and relaxing, these volcanic hot springs are naturally heated by the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano itself.

Surrounded by a dense, dry tropical forest, the Río Negro Hot Springs area is beautiful and peaceful. The crystal clear waters of the river flow beside ten thermal pools built on the riverbank, each rich in minerals and naturally heated in the volcano's depths. For more rejuvenating treatment, you can use some of the hot volcanic mud to plaster over your body: this works just like a body mask in a spa would, with all the associated benefits of nutrient-rich volcanic mud on your skin. When the mud dries, you can wash it off in the cold waters of the river, enter the thermal water pools, and begin the blissful process all over again. 

Day 2: Hike in Rincón de la Vieja National Park

Hiking through Rincón de la Vieja National Park

Today you'll transfer to the outskirts of Rincón de la Vieja National Park and embark on a brisk 45-minute walk along a scenic forest trail to the entrance. Pause to enjoy views of the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano, the largest and most active volcano in Guanacaste Province. Steaming fumaroles, mini-geysers, and bubbling volcanic mud pits are just some of the highlights along the hike.

You will hike the Las Pailas loop trail over 2.5 miles (4 km) through tropical forest. Lookout points along the way feature some of the best views of the volcano and the wildlife that abounds nearer the trail, including tropical birds, armadillos, collared peccaries, iguanas, white-nosed coatis, and various types of monkeys. You'll be ready for a refreshing swim in the Oropendola Waterfall when you finish your hike. It is located a short walk from the park entrance on a trail that winds along the Río Blanco (White River). The Oropendola Waterfall plunges an impressive 82 feet (25 m) down to a bright turquoise pool.

Day 3: Guided Rainforest Hike

Hike to dreamlike waterfalls
Waterfalls in the forest

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

The hike leads you 4 miles (7 km) along the river through a rainforest ecosystem home to exotic animals like monkeys, sloths, peccaries, and anteaters. You'll pass by the specific point where two streams merge and produce the reaction in the minerals that give the Celeste its exotic color. The hike culminates with a descent of 253 steps to reach the Catarata Río Celeste, a waterfall of such profound beauty you'll think you've found your private paradise.

You'll visit a magnificent waterfall, hot water springs (swimming is not allowed due to the park's rules), fumaroles of volcanic gases, and the Borbollones, where exhaust gases at the base of the river give the appearance of boiling water.

Day 4: Sail on the Gulf of Papagayo at Sunset 

Enjoy the sunset aboard a luxury catamaran
Sunset from the catamaran

This morning, a driver will pick you up in a private, air-conditioned minivan and transfer you to the Gulf of Papagayo. Soak up the bright afternoon sun until it transitions into soft pinks and oranges later in the afternoon. You'll be picked up at your hotel and transferred to the landing dock in Playas del Coco. You'll board a catamaran and begin silently gliding along the Gold Coast past picturesque bays, white-sand beaches, and tropical jungles.

You're likely to spot animals, from dolphins to sea turtles, flying fish, and the occasional breaching whale. The crew will be serving up plenty of delicious tropical drinks as you make your way to a tranquil bay where you can swim in the crystal clear waters of the Pacific.

Snorkel in the bay or enjoy a stroll down the deserted white sand beach. Have dinner on the boat, then sit back and listen to the waves lapping at the sides of the catamaran as you make your way back to shore, taking in gorgeous sunset views along the way.

Day 5: Explore Tamarindo Mangrove & Estuary

Tamarindo Mangrove & Estuary Boat Tour
Boating through the Tamarindo Mangrove & Estuary

Estuaries play an essential part in nature, hosting important tree species and populations of birds and animals. They also serve as natural barriers to help prevent floods and protect coasts and beaches from tropical storms. The Tamarindo Estuary, part of Las Baulas National Park, is famous for being one of the nesting spots for leatherback and Pacific green turtles. The tour offers a unique opportunity to observe the wildlife living in this oasis. 

The estuary boat will be ready and waiting at the mouth of the river, where you will be provided instructions for a safe take-off. You will glide along the river on this safari tour through the narrow canals. You'll see many different bird species and colorful fish jumping above the water. Above the mangrove trees, you will also have the chance to see monkeys and iguanas.

Your guide will stop in some places for a deeper explanation of the local flora and fauna, specifically the famous local Guanacaste trees, Costa Rica's national tree. Listen for the sounds of local howler monkeys, and keep an eye out for crabs and butterflies!

Day 6: Snorkel Around the Catalina Islands

Snorkeling at the Catalina Islands
Snorkeling at the Catalina Islands
The Catalina Islands are a group of 20 volcanic islands and rock formations that rise above the ocean surface in front of Flamingo Bay. This morning, you will be picked up from your hotel and taken to a local dive shop in Playas del Coco where you'll be given snorkeling gear. Then you'll board the diving boat for a 40-minute ride to the Islands.

The rocky islands may not look like much at first, but below the surface of the indigo waters, you'll find an underwater menagerie of exotic wildlife. You'll see quickly why the Catalina Islands are a world-famous diving location attracting divers of all experience levels. Animals you'll spot include giant manta and devil rays, sea turtles, parrotfish, moray eels, etc. In the right season, you can even hear humpback whales singing! 

Day 7: Depart Cost Rica

Sunset in Costa Rica
The trip ends today. Transfer to the airport to catch your flight out. Safe travels!

More Great 7-Day Costa Rica Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these other 7-day Costa Rica itineraries, with outdoor adventures, family-friendly trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights. 

Map

Map of Discover the Volcanoes, Waterfalls & Coral Reefs of Costa Rica - 7 Days
Map of Discover the Volcanoes, Waterfalls & Coral Reefs of Costa Rica - 7 Days
Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated May 20, 2022