Get out and explore the spectacular natural landscapes of Costa Rica on this lively itinerary. This family-oriented adventure is well suited to travelers with younger children. You'll spot sloths and monkeys in the wild on a guided jungle hike, soak in natural hot springs, sail down the Gold Coast at sunset, and have the chance to try snorkeling off the Catalina Islands. With a mix of active excursions and relaxation, this 8-day journey is terrific for all ages.

Highlights

  • Go on a nighttime rainforest walk to see snakes, insects, and exotic frogs
  • Relax in natural hot springs after a day out exploring
  • Look for sloths overhead while trekking through their natural habitat
  • Discover the mangrove ecosystem on a guided boat tour
  • Sail along Costa Rica's gorgeous Gold Coast at sunset

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Explore the Rainforest After Dark La Fortuna
Day 2 Go on a Sloth and Bird Hike & Dip in Hot Springs La Fortuna
Day 3 Discover the Children's Eternal Forest Monteverde
Day 4 Tour Monteverde Cloud Forest on a Guided Hike Monteverde
Day 5 Enjoy a Catamaran Sailing Tour at Sunset  Tamarindo
Day 6 Boat Around Tamarindo Mangrove & Estuary  Tamarindo
Day 7 Snorkel Around the Catalina Islands Tamarindo
Day 8 Depart Cost Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Explore the Rainforest After Dark

The colorful yet lethal poison dart frog
The colorful yet lethal poison dart frog
Welcome to Costa Rica! You'll arrive at San José International Airport. Your driver will be waiting for you just outside the customs area to transfer you to your hotel in La Fortuna (around three hours, depending on traffic).
 
You will head to Ecocentro Danaus in the late afternoon, a private ecological reserve located 2.75 miles (4.5 km) east of La Fortuna. Here, you will wait for nightfall to embark on a guided nature hike and discover the reserve's nocturnal creatures. As you walk, your guide will point out various insects, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. You're sure to spot bullfrogs, the iconic red-eyed tree frog, the translucent glass frog, and perhaps the brightly colored poison dart frog, one of the planet's most poisonous frogs.
 
While the reserve is open to the public by day, it is closed to most groups by night, making this an exclusive opportunity to see how the rainforest transforms after dusk.

Day 2: Go on a Sloth and Bird Hike & Dip in Hot Springs

Look up to see wildlife
A sloth clinging to a tree

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. On this two-hour guided hike, you'll see a few of these slow-moving 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, discover the La Fortuna area with a hike around Arenal Volcano and other nearby nature reserves. The trails in the area are generally not strenuous—perfect for a leisurely and informative hike with a naturalist guide. Start at the entrance of the 1968 Trail, then hit the well-maintained trails that skirt the base of the Arenal 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.

In addition to the forested parts where you can spot wildlife, you'll also walk through sections of the park devastated by the lava flow of 1968, resulting in little to no vegetation in its surroundings. Your guide will explain the history of the area, both pre-and post-1968 eruption, while also pointing out the unique flora and fauna you will encounter. Of course, the trail also provides magnificent views of the massive Arenal Volcano, the pristine Lake Arenal, and the extinct volcano Cerro Chato.

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. These springs have been used as therapeutic baths for centuries. End the day with a nice dinner at the resort's restaurant, which serves Costa Rican dishes and international fare, before being picked up and transported back to your accommodations.

Day 3: Discover the Children's Eternal Forest

Monteverde cloud forest
Monteverde cloud forest

Today you will transfer to Monteverde, traveling over water. But this is no ordinary route. You will be picked up at your hotel and taken to the boat dock. After arriving at the shores of Lake Arenal, you'll board a boat and begin the journey to the other side of the lake. Upon arrival, you'll officially be in the Monteverde region of Costa Rica. 

Check into your hotel before the evening's activity; a nocturnal walk in the Children's Eternal Forest. The largest private reserve in Costa Rica is part of UNESCO's Water and Peace Biosphere, the Costa Rican Network of Private Reserves, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The activity starts right after nightfall, allowing you to observe the awakening animals and others who seek their nests and caves to sleep.
 

Day 4: Tour Monteverde Cloud Forest on a Guided Hike

Explore the dense jungle of the Monteverde Cloud Forest
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 located high in the mountainous northwest region of the country. 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 resplendent quetzal. It's a nature lover's paradise.

Day 5: Enjoy a Catamaran Sailing Tour at Sunset

Enjoy the sunset aboard a luxury catamaran
Enjoy the sunset aboard a luxury catamaran

Head to the surf town of Tamarindo today. 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 6: Boat Around 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 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 7: 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 receive your 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 8: Depart Cost Rica

A 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 Explore Costa Rica's Volcanoes, Cloud Forests & Beaches - 8 Days
Map of Explore Costa Rica's Volcanoes, Cloud Forests & Beaches - 8 Days
Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated May 24, 2022