This 12-day adventure around Costa Rica's spectacular natural landscapes leads you to volcanoes, national parks, and Pacific beaches. You'll start the trip in Rincón de la Vieja National Park, where you'll soak in hot springs and ride horses, then you'll continue to Arenal for wildlife spotting and volcano hikes. Swing through the trees on a zip-line in Monteverde, watch sea turtles nesting on the beach in Tamarindo, and kayak or snorkel through clear turquoise waters off the coast of Sámara.

Highlights

  • Relax in the volcano-heated waters of the Rio Negro Hot Springs
  • Snorkel in turquoise waters off the sandy coast of Sámara
  • Spot sloths in the wild while hiking through a wildlife habitat
  • Zip-line through the cloud forest at the Sky Adventures Park
  • Go horseback riding through the rainforest

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Liberia, Soak in the Río Negro Hot Springs Rincón de la Vieja
Day 2 Ride Horses in Rincón de la Vieja National Park Rincón de la Vieja
Day 3 Hike Around a Volcano & Soak in Hot Springs La Fortuna
Day 4 Enjoy a Sloth and Bird Hike & Visit a Cocoa Bean Farm La Fortuna
Day 5 Discover the Children's Eternal Forest Monteverde
Day 6 Tour the Cloud Forest & Sky Adventures Park Monteverde
Day 7 Experience Pacific Green Turtle Nesting Tamarindo
Day 8 Snorkel, Swim & Surf on the Beaches of Guanacaste  Tamarindo
Day 9 See the Beaches Around Sámara Sámara
Day 10 Kayak & Snorkel Around Isla Chora  Sámara
Day 11 Hike in the Werner Sauter Biological Reserve Sámara
Day 12 Samária to San José, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Liberia, Soak in the Río Negro Hot Springs

siblings cover themselves in hot spring mud in Costa Rica
Having fun with the hot spring mud

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 at some of Costa Rica's loveliest hot springs. 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.

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. You can use some of the hot volcanic mud to plaster over your body: this works just like a body mask in a spa, with all the associated benefits of nutrient-rich volcanic mud on your skin. 

Learn more about the top nature experiences in Costa Rica.

Day 2: Ride Horses in Rincón de la Vieja National Park

Horseback Riding to  Las Pailas & La Oropendola Waterfall
Horseback riding to Las Pailas & La Oropendola Waterfall

Today you'll go horseback riding in Rincón de la Vieja National Park. Pause to enjoy views of the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano, the largest and most active volcano in Guanacaste Province. Some of the highlights along the journey are steaming fumaroles, mini-geysers, and bubbling volcanic mud pits.

Follow 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 ride. It is located a short walk from the park entrance on a trail that winds along the Río Blanco. The Oropendola Waterfall plunges an impressive 82 feet (25 m) down to a bright turquoise pool.

Day 3: Hike Around a Volcano & Soak in Hot Springs

Arenal Hanging Bridges
A morning walk on the Arenal Hanging Bridges

This morning is your chance to explore the Arenal Hanging Bridges. This trail system features suspension bridges that take you high above the treetops before treating you to a once-in-a-lifetime view of Arenal Volcano soaring above the canopy. With more than 350 avian species found here, birdwatching is superb.

In the afternoon, go for a hike around Arenal Volcano. Start at the entrance of the 1968 Trail, where you'll 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. 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. 

Find out more about hiking around Arenal Volcano here.

Day 4: Enjoy a Sloth and Bird Hike & Visit a Chocolate Farm

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. It's fun to look for these slow-moving creatures overhead! On this two-hour guided hike, you'll see a few of these 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.

A delicious activity awaits in the afternoon. During a hands-on chocolate tour, you'll learn about the origin, history, and production of one of Costa Rica's most famous exports. You'll participate in the cacao harvest and the drying and grinding of the seeds used to produce creamy cocoa butter and learn how a traditional Costa Rican chocolate drink was developed centuries ago. You'll also have the opportunity to sample plenty of freshly made chocolate. 

Day 5: Discover the Children's Eternal Forest

You can spot red-eyed tree frogs at night.
Spot red-eyed tree frogs at night

Travel from La Fortuna to Monteverde today, stopping at a roadside restaurant for a local lunch. Typical options at these traditional eateries include casado, a dish featuring rice, beans, and your choice of chicken, beef, pork, or fish. The 3.5-hour trip will take you almost all the way around Lake Arenal.

You'll arrive in Monteverde in the afternoon and check into your hotel. In the evening, go on a nocturnal walk through the Children's Eternal Forest, the largest private reserve in Costa Rica. The tour starts right after nightfall, allowing you to watch the animals awakening and others seeking their nests and caves to sleep.

Check out this article on the Best Things to Do in Monteverde for more ideas of what to see and do.

Day 6: Tour the Cloud Forest & Sky Adventures Park

Monteverde is popular for its canopy tours
Monteverde is famous for its canopy tours

Although the Santa Elena Cloud Forest is slightly higher in elevation than the nearby reserve in Monteverde, the increase in rainfall and cloud coverage is considerable. Combined with the lack of crowds, this makes the atmosphere of the cloud forest all the more ethereal and mesmerizing. On a guided morning hike, you'll have the chance to see an astonishing number of animals, like the elusive feline species of pumas, jaguarundi, and the endangered jaguar. More commonly seen species include spider monkeys, sloths, bright red poison dart frogs, and tarantulas. 

At the Sky Adventures Park in the afternoon, you'll have your pick of ways to explore the cloud forest: zip-lining for the action-inclined, sky tram trips for a panoramic perspective, or walks along suspension bridges for close encounters with elusive bird species and other wildlife. You'll start with the guided Sky Walk, which combines trails and suspension bridges. Later, you'll ride in an open-air gondola for sweeping views across the mountains. At the end of the line, connect to a zip-line cable that stretches over rainforest treetops and across clifftops, finally returning you to the starting point.
 
Check out this article about the best zip-lining in Monteverde for more information.

Day 7: Experience Pacific Green Turtles Nesting

Nighttime Pacific Green Turtle Nesting Experience
A hatchling turtle 

After traveling to Tamarindo in the morning, you'll have some free time to relax. In the evening, you'll witness an incredible phenomenon of nature as hundreds of green sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. The tour's departure time is based on the tides and the park ranger's predictions for the turtles' arrival. Naturally, sea turtles operate on their schedule, so the waiting period can vary.

As soon as some of the turtles are ready to begin laying their eggs, you will head out to the beach, making your way to the nesting place where the large sea turtles dig holes in the sand to lay between 65 to 90 eggs. Watch as the mother turtles cover their nests with sand to protect their offspring from predators. After an incubation period, the tiny hatchlings will emerge and make their way to the ocean.

You may want to look at this Best Things to Do in Tamarindo article.

Day 8: Snorkel, Swim & Surf on the Beaches of Guanacaste 

Sunset at Flamingo Beach
Quiet scenery at Flamingo Beach

Explore the beautiful beaches surrounding the Gulf of Papagayo today. Your first stop is Flamingo Beach, a pretty white-sand crescent. You'll then visit Grand Beach, known for the rare leatherback turtles that lay their eggs on the sand each year. The third destination is Tamarindo Beach, the perfect spot for those who want to learn how to surf.

One of the most beautiful places on this trip comes at the end. Playa Conchal consistently tops lists as one of the best beaches in Costa Rica, with good reason. The beach is made up of small white shells instead of sand, making a striking contrast to the bright turquoise waters. It's a beautiful place to snorkel, and the mild temperatures of the water make it a fabulous swimming spot, too.

This article on the Best Things to Do on the Gulf of Papagayo has more ideas and information on the area.

Day 9: Explore the Beaches Around Sámara

Sunset at Samara Beach
Sunset at Sámara Beach

After breakfast, you will travel onward to Sámara. 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, making it an excellent option for families and more active travelers wanting to try out some water sports.

Other options include Playa Carrillo, 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 (4WD 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! You'll overnight in Sámara.

Day 10: Kayak & Snorkel Around Isla Chora 

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 waters. After breakfast, you'll drive 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, set out with your guide on a 25-45 minute paddle across the lagoon to the petite Isla Chora. Once 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 11: Hike in the Werner Sauter Biological Reserve

Werner Sauter Biological Reserve (photo courtesy of Samara Adventures)
Werner Sauter Biological Reserve

The Werner Sauter Biological Reserve paths will lead you on a rainforest hiking adventure today. You'll be hiking in one of the Guanacaste province's only private reserves. This belt of tropical dry forest is one of the rarest—and due to wildfires and large-scale deforestation, the most vulnerable—biomes of Central America. In this forest haven, water scarcity has caused wildlife to evolve and thrive in an environment with fewer nutrients than in other tropical forests.

Your experienced guide will lead you through the reserve on a hike of approximately three hours, amazing you with information about this area's biodiversity and other wonders as you walk.

Day 12: Samária to San José, Depart

Take in a Costa Rica sunset 
The trip ends today. You will transfer to the airport to catch your flight out. Safe travels!

More Great Costa Rica Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these other Costa Rica itineraries, explore different ways to spend two weeks in Costa Rica, or discover the best time to visit Costa Rica.

Map

Map of Explore Costa Rica's Volcanoes & Pacific Coast - 12 Days
Map of Explore Costa Rica's Volcanoes & Pacific Coast - 12 Days
Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Aug 27, 2022