This relaxed, 8-day itinerary immerses you in the unspoiled nature of Costa Rica. Starting from the capital of San José, a scenic drive takes you to the Caribbean coast to discover the spectacular wildlife of Tortuguero National Park. Then it's on to the magnificent landscapes of Arenal National Park, where the iconic volcano towers over lush rainforests and tumbling waterfalls. Spend your days hiking through the forest canopy, soaking in natural hot springs, and swimming in jungle rivers—ending your adventure on a sweet note with an unforgettable chocolate making and tasting experience.

Highlights

  • Spot sea turtles along the pristine beaches of Tortuguero National Park
  • Hike through the rainforest canopies around Arenal Volcano
  • Swim beneath the spectacular La Fortuna Waterfall
  • Soak in Tabacón's soothing thermal hot springs
  • Learn how to make (& taste!) fresh Costa Rican chocolate

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José San José
Day 2 Transfer to Tortuguero National Park Tortuguero
Day 3 Turtle Tour in Tortuguero Tortuguero
Day 4 Transfer to La Fortuna & Arenal National Park Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Discover La Fortuna Waterfall, Free Afternoon in La Fortuna Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 6 Hanging Bridges & Luxury Hot Springs Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 7 Chocolate Tour, Transfer to San José San José
Day 8 Depart San José  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José

Teatro Nacional in San José
The Teatro Nacional in San José

Welcome to the land of pura vida! After arriving at Juan Santamaria International Airport in San José, the rest of your day is free for you to explore Costa Rica's vibrant capital city as you wish. Suggested activities include: 

  • 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. 

  • Explore Barrio Amón, a historic neighborhood that's home to cafetalero (coffee grower) mansions constructed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of the area's historic buildings have been converted into hotels, restaurants, and galleries, making this a popular district. 
  • Visit the Teatro Nacional, an opulent Neo-Classical building constructed in the late-19th century, which offers free guided tours on the hour. 

  • Explore Spirogyra Butterfly Garden, located in the city's lush botanical garden. 

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: Transfer to Tortuguero National Park

Rainforest on the banks of the Tortuguero River
Lush rainforest on the banks of the Tortuguero River

After breakfast, you’ll depart early in the morning for Tortuguero National Park on the northern Caribbean coast, stopping en route for a snack. Make sure to try the gallo pinto (rice mixed with black beans), Costa Rica's unofficial national dish, which is often served with eggs or cheese.

Getting to Tortuguero is an adventure in itself. On this nearly 4-hour road trip, you'll head northeast out of town, leaving the concrete jungle of San José behind as you enter the tropical rainforests of Braulio Carrillo National Park. As you wind around the green mountains at various altitudes, exotic flora and fauna will present themselves depending on the elevation. Squirrel monkeys can be found here, as can scarlet macaws.

After passing small towns and banana plantations you'll reach a small boat dock along the network of canals that feed into the Tortuguero River. Once aboard for the approximately 90-minute trip, you can relax and enjoy the ambiance as you zip along the calm waters—maybe make a game of spotting fish and birds as you enter Tortuguero National Park. Once you arrive, the rest of the day is free for you to relax in your hotel (where meals are included). If you do decide to dine out, the area isn't lacking in restaurants—you'll find everything from pizza and crepes to jerk chicken and fresh-baked banana bread.

Day 3: Turtle Tour in Tortuguero

Tortuguero Beach
Footprints along Tortuguero Beach

Today, you'll explore Tortuguero's 22-mile (35 km) expanse of beach. It's a favorite nesting area for three different species of turtle: the hawksbill, leatherback, and green sea turtle. All of these nest in the area from July through October (mostly at night), and seeing the mother turtles lay their eggs is an unforgettable experience. If you're traveling between February and July, you'll spot the leatherback, which is the largest sea turtle in the world, at 6-7 feet (2 m) long and up to 1500 pounds (680 kg).

Day 4: Transfer to La Fortuna & Arenal National Park

The famous Arenal Volcano
The famous Arenal Volcano

After breakfast, you'll meet your driver for the 4-hour trip to the town of La Fortuna, best known as the base for exploring the Arenal Volcano National Park. Located north of the Tilaran Mountains, cone-shaped Arenal juts out from the San Carlos Plains like a giant arrowhead. After checking into your hotel, you'll have the rest of the day to explore on your own. 

If you want to get close to the volcano, kayaking on Lake Arenal provides awesome views of its peak, as does a mountain bike ride toward the village of El Castillo. Or, opt for a zip-lining tour through the forest canopy, where you'll soar across canyons and past waterfalls against the majestic backdrop of the volcano.

Day 5: Discover La Fortuna Waterfall, Free Afternoon in La Fortuna

The beautiful La Fortuna Waterfall.
The beautiful La Fortuna Waterfall

Today, you'll experience the other star of the Arenal region: La Fortuna Waterfall. Located a 15-minute drive from the town of La Fortuna, at the base of the dormant Chato Volcano, the waters here plunge 210 feet (64 m) into a tropical lagoon, and a 500-step downhill hike provides the opportunity to see the falls from the bottom up. Besides taking photos, be sure to swim and relax in the La Fortuna River below the falls.

The afternoon is free for you to enjoy as you please.

Day 6: Hanging Bridges & Luxury Hot Springs

Suspension bridges in the rainforest canopy
Suspension bridges in the rainforest canopy

Head out early to spend the day exploring the jungle canopy. You'll wander along well-marked trails that lead you over suspension bridges high above the treetops—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 uplands and lowlands rainforest meet. More than 350 bird species can be found here alone. 

After hiking the trails, soothe your muscles with a dip in the mineral-rich waters of Tabacón Hot Springs. Formed by highly mineralized water that is heated underground by the Arenal Volcano’s magma, these hot springs have been used as therapeutic baths for more than 200 years. You'll find dozens of cascading waterfalls and warm pools of varying temperatures, some vast and calm, others small and secluded.  

Finally, complete your evening by enjoying a traditional dinner next to the hot springs at the Ave del Paraíso, which serves a mix of local Costa Rican and international cuisine.

Day 7: Chocolate Tour, Transfer to San José

Cacao beans
Freshly harvested cacao beans

Enjoy your last morning in La Fortuna with a fun chocolate-making tour. In this hands-on program, you’ll learn about the origin, history, and production of one of Costa Rica's most famous exports. Participate in the cacao harvest, as well as the drying and grinding of the seeds used to produce creamy cocoa butter. Learn how a traditional Costa Rican chocolate drink was developed centuries ago. And, of course, sample some delicious freshly made chocolate.

After lunch, it's time to drive back to San José. You'll still have much of the evening to explore the city and do some last-minute shopping and dining.

Day 8: Depart San José

San José at twilight
San José at twilight

It's time to say adiós to Costa Rica. Depending on your departure time, you'll have the morning to explore more of the city, relax in a café, or browse some shops before boarding your flight home. Safe travels!

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