Explore the natural wonders of Costa Rica on this exciting 8-day journey around the country's volcanoes, waterfall pools, and top snorkeling spots. Spend the first part of the week hiking through the rainforest and soaking in hot springs in Rincón de la Vieja National Park. Then you'll spend a few days wildlife viewing and boating through mangroves around the Gulf of Papagayo. Finish this family-friendly adventure with a couple of days in coastal Sámara, where a kayak and snorkel tour introduces you to the pristine Isla Chora and the underwater world that surrounds the island.

Highlights

  • Explore fumaroles, geysers, and bubbling mud pots at an active volcano
  • Swim at the base of a waterfall and dip in hot springs
  • Spot dolphins, turtles, and whales on a sunset catamaran trip along the Gold Coast
  • Relax under the palm trees with a local crowd in beachy Sámara
  • Kayak to Isla Chora for a snorkeling excursion around a coral reef

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 Go on a 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 Relax on the Beach in Sámara Sámara
Day 7 Kayak & Snorkel in the Ocean Sámara
Day 8 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 10 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. When the mud dries, wash it off in the cold waters of the river, then enter the thermal water pools and begin the blissful process all over again. You can access the pools from both river banks, thanks to two suspension bridges.

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

Day 3: Go on a 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 beside 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 own private paradise.

You'll visit a magnificent waterfall, hot water springs, 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
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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. Here, 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 all kinds of 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 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 pretty 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'll 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!

Learn more about Costa Rica's main regions here.

Day 6: Relax on the Beach in Sámara

Palm trees on the sand in Sámara

After breakfast, you will travel onward to Sámara. The drive takes around two hours, depending on traffic. This afternoon is the perfect time to enjoy the region's fantastic beaches. Playa Sámara is by far the most accessible and lively option. Located on the outskirts of town, it sits on a small cove with a flourishing coral reef just offshore. This means the currents here stay relatively calm, so the waves are suitable for beginner surfers. This makes it a great option for families and more active travelers wanting to try out some water sports.

Other options include Playa Carillo, a 10-minute drive south of town. This is a quieter beach with a more local vibe. Playa Barrigona is the furthest option from town (about a 30-minute drive), but it is also considered the most beautiful beach in the area. Because it is only accessible by car (4x4 recommended), tourists are unlikely to visit the beach. However, the waves aren't as calm, so Playa Barrigona is better suited to travelers who are comfortable swimming among strong currents or even looking to catch a few waves. This quiet escape is well worth the trek!

Day 7: Kayak & Snorkel in the Ocean

Explore the coral reef on a snorkel trip
Explore the coral reef on a snorkel trip

Join a kayak and snorkeling tour today to explore the underwater world surrounding Isla Chora. Just off Sámara's coast, the island is a haven of white-sand beaches and aquamarine-hued water. 

After breakfast, you'll be picked up from your hotel and driven to the south end of Sámara's beach, where your choice of kayaks and SUP boards await. After gearing up and receiving a brief explanation of paddling techniques and safety procedures, you'll set out with your guide on a 25-45 minute paddle across the lagoon to the petite Isla Chora. Once you're there, snorkel around the island's reefs, looking for sea turtles. Then savor some well-earned snacks and beverages on the beach. Before paddling back, check out the island's iguanas as they sun themselves on the hillside.

Day 8: Depart Cost Rica - End of Trip

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

More Great 8-Day Costa Rica Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these other 8-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 - 8 Days
Map of Discover the Volcanoes, Waterfalls & Coral Reefs of Costa Rica - 8 Days
Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated May 23, 2022