With abundant wildlife, a nocturnal nature tour, a visit to the jungle in Manuel Antonio National Park, and time to relax on the beach, this trip captures the essence of Costa Rica's motto: Pura Vida! Starting in San José, you'll travel first to the Monteverde Cloud Forest, where you'll encounter Costa Rica's famed biodiversity. Continue on to Manuel Antonio National Park, where the forest meets the sea, for activities including a sunset catamaran cruise.

Highlights

  • Experience the history and culture of San José
  • Spot exotic birds and mammals in the Santa Elena Cloud Forest
  • Take a sunset catamaran cruise from the Manuel Antonio Coast
  • Go on a guided night tour in Monteverde, to see nocturnal creatures

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José San José
Day 2 San José to Monteverde Cloud Forest Monteverde
Day 3 Free Day - Night Tour in Monteverde Monteverde
Day 4 Transfer to Manuel Antonio - Free Afternoon Manuel Antonio
Day 5 Morning Free Time - Afternoon Sunset Catamaran Cruise Manuel Antonio
Day 6 Free Day in Manuel Antonio Manuel Antonio
Day 7 Manuel Antonio to San José - Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José

Teatro Nacional in San José
Teatro Nacional in San José

Welcome to the land of pura vida! After arriving at Juan Santamaria International Airport in San José, a local representative will meet you and escort you to your hotel. 

The rest of your day is free, so you can explore Costa Rica's vibrant capital city as you wish. Suggested activities include: 

  • 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. 
  • 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: San José to Monteverde Cloud Forest

Colorful birds in the cloud forest

After breakfast, head toward Monteverde, known as the "Green Lung” of Costa Rica due to its rich biodiversity.

Located in the mountainous northwest region of the country, Monteverde is famed for its 26,000-acre Cloud Forest Reserve, home to countless wildlife species. Suspension bridges throughout allow for walks above the forest canopy, with plenty of opportunities to spot the colorfully-plumed resplendent quetzal. The reserve’s marked trails pass through exotic fauna and flora, including the greatest number of orchid species on the planet (500!) with new ones discovered regularly. 

After checking in at your hotel, you’ll spend the afternoon in the cloud forest, exploring whichever way you prefer: zip-lining, on a sky tram trip for a panoramic perspective, or walking along suspension bridges for up-close encounters with elusive birds and other wildlife. 

In the evening, enjoy nearby Santa Elena, a charming town with a heavy Quaker influence that’s known for excellent coffee and cheese.

Day 3: Free Day - Night Tour in Monteverde

Monteverde's Cloud Forest
Monteverde's Cloud Forest

Today is a choose-your-own-adventure day. The Monteverde region has a long list of options, so choose something that appeals to you. 

Further explore the Cloud Forest Reserve, home to countless wildlife species. Suspension bridges throughout the reserve allow for walks above the forest canopy, with plenty of opportunities to spot birds and wildlife. 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

You could also choose to visit a coffee farm, to see how one of the country's most important exports is grown, harvested, and roasted. Or, get up close to Costa Rica's insects, arachnids, and butterflies at the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens. See more than 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. Uncover the mysterious and fascinating life bats during a tour at the Bat Jungle.

This evening, you'll have the chance to see the wildlife at its most active after dark on a guided night tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest. A naturalist will point out sloths, armadillos, and kinkajous, as well as sleeping birds. You'll have the chance to hear and see different wildlife than during the daytime, like agoutis, porcupines, grey foxes, tarantulas, and frogs.

Day 4: Transfer to Manuel Antonio - Free Afternoon

Some of Costa Rica's most beautiful beaches are in Manuel Antonio
Some of Costa Rica's most beautiful beaches are in Manuel Antonio

This morning, you'll be picked up from Monteverde and driven 3.5 hours to Manuel Antonio National Park, on the Pacific Coast. Wind down on one of the park's four beautiful beaches, which are some of the best in Costa Rica. If you're hungry for more adventure, you can also hike on one of the park's many trails (following the signs) and get up close to capuchin monkeys, sloths, and over 200 species of birds. Snorkeling is also accessible from multiple points along the beaches. 

In the evening, head to the town of Quepos for dinner, where you can find a table with a sunset view.

Day 5: Morning Free Time - Afternoon Sunset Catamaran Cruise

It's not uncommon to spot dolphins on this sailing tour
It's not uncommon to spot dolphins on this sailing tour

Spend today at leisure, choosing from some of the following options: 

  • Explore the incredible biodiversity of the park on a guided tour. A naturalist will point out the more than 300 species of mammals and birds that call the reserve home, including sloths, hawks, iguanas, and several different species of monkeys. You'll also have time to spend exploring the park's expansive white sand beaches.
  • Tour the Damas Island Estuary on a guided boat tour through the mangroves.
  • Take a surf lesson.
  • Simply relax on Playa Manuel Antonio.

In the late afternoon, embark on a sunset dinner cruise. Stop in a calm bay, drop anchor and swim or snorkel while the crew prepares a feast. Dinner will be perfectly timed so you can watch the sunset while keeping an eye out for dolphins, sea turtles, flying fish, or even a breaching whale.

Day 6: Free Day in Manuel Antonio

Try some surfing in Manuel Antonio
Try some surfing in Manuel Antonio

Today is yours to enjoy as you please. Consider taking a surfing lesson, or simply stake your claim on a section of white sand and relax with a good book. One of the most beautiful beaches in the park is Playa Espadilla. It stretches for nearly a mile and is great for families as it's tranquil and has lifeguards on hand during the day.

Day 7: Manuel Antonio to San José - Depart Costa Rica

Farewell Costa Rica

It's time to say goodbye to Costa Rica! After breakfast, make the 2.5-hour trip to San José, where you'll depart from Juan Santamaría International Airport.

Map

Map of Explore Costa Rica: Monteverde & Manuel Antonio - 7 Days
Map of Explore Costa Rica: Monteverde & Manuel Antonio - 7 Days