Kayaking, ziplining, whitewater rafting, and horseback riding on the beach are just a few of the outdoor activities featured on this wide-ranging 13-day adventure around Costa Rica. Begin in Arenal with volcano hikes and a dip in hot springs, then move on to Monteverde for a coffee tour and a canopy excursion in the cloud forest. Spend a few days rafting and learning about wildlife conservation in Puerto Viejo before an unforgettable hike to the top of Cerro Tortuguero in Tortuguero National Park.

Highlights

  • Hike around the base of Arenal Volcano, followed by a relaxing visit to hot springs
  • Enjoy a thrilling whitewater rafting adventure on the Rio Pacuare
  • Ride horses on the beach in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
  • Explore biodiverse Monteverde Cloud Forest on a guided nature tour
  • Learn how wild animals are rehabilitated at Jaguar Animal Rescue Center

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José & Transfer to Arenal/La Fortuna Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 2 Spot Nocturnal Wildlife at Ecocentro Danaus  Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 3 Hike Around Arenal Volcano & Soak in Hot Springs Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 4 Taste Costa Rican Coffee, Nighttime Nature Walk Monteverde
Day 5 Tour Monteverde Cloud Forest & Sky Adventures Park Monteverde
Day 6 Go Whitewater Rafting on the Pacuare River Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 7 Tour Cahuita National Park Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 8 Visit a Jaguar Rescue Center & BriBri Chocolate Farm Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 9 Go Horseback Riding on the Beach Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 10 Transfer from Puerto Viejo to Tortuguero National Park Tortuguero
Day 11 Hike in the Mountains & Kayak on the Tortuguero Canals Tortuguero
Day 12 Travel to San José & Enjoy a Free Evening San José
Day 13 Depart San José  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José & Transfer to Arenal/La Fortuna

The town of La Fortuna, at Arenal
Take a break in the town of La Fortuna

Welcome to Costa Rica! After arriving in San José, you'll transfer to La Fortuna, the closest town to Arenal Volcano. You'll have the rest of the afternoon and evening free to enjoy the area. Take the edge off the day's long journey with a soak in one of the region's natural hot springs.

For dinner, hit the town and sample one of the many restaurants. Solid dining options include Don Rufino, an upscale grill with a good wine list, Cafe Mediterraneo, an Italian restaurant with fresh pasta and a wood-fired pizza oven, and Rancho Perla, serving up Costa Rican staples like beef, chicken, and seafood. Get lucky, and you might spot toucans, iguanas, and even sloths in the trees near your table.

Find out more about the area's best luxury hotels and best hotels for families.

Day 2: Spot Nocturnal Wildlife at Ecocentro Danaus 

The colorful yet lethal poison dart frog
The colorful yet lethal poison dart frog

Relax and take it easy this morning. You'll head to Ecocentro Danaus in the 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. Enjoy spotting 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. 

For other ideas, read this list of the best things to do in Arenal.

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

Take in a sunrise view of Arenal Volcano

Today you'll 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: Taste Costa Rican Coffee, Nighttime Nature Walk

Coffee beans ready for the harvest.
Coffee beans ready for the harvest

From your hotel, you'll transfer to the boat dock at the shores of Lake Arenal, where you'll board a boat and journey to the other side of the lake. Upon arrival, you'll officially be in the Monteverde region of Costa Rica. First, you'll walk through a local coffee plantation, where you'll have the opportunity to identify and learn about the coffee plant first-hand. Your guide will walk you through every step of the process, from harvesting to roasting and brewing, and show you the simplest way to prepare a perfect cup of coffee.

After finishing your coffee, it's time to head into the jungle! This part of the tour takes place in a protected forest that is about 50% of the plantation's property. The trail extends along a creek that runs through the farm, making it the perfect location to spot creatures in the trees and along the shores of the water. It is common to observe frogs and various snake species along the trail. With some luck, you might even see forest dwellers such as the two-toed sloth or the kinkajou.

Day 5: Tour Monteverde Cloud Forest & Sky Adventures Park

Explore the dense jungle of the Monteverde Cloud Forest
Explore 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 high in the country's mountainous northwest region. 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 quetzal. It's a nature lover's paradise. Check out the Best Things to Do in Monteverde for more ideas of what to see and do.

At the Sky Adventures Park in the afternoon, you'll have your pick of ways to explore the cloud forest: ziplining 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 zipline cable that stretches over rainforest treetops and across clifftops, finally returning you to the starting point.

See this guide for the best ziplining in Monteverde for more information.

Day 6: Go Whitewater Rafting on the Pacuare River

Photo taken by Katy S
Rafting down the Rio Pacuare

The Río Pacuare runs 67 miles (107 km) from the Talamanca Mountains to the Caribbean. Along the way, it passes through some of the most diverse topography in Costa Rica. After a guided orientation today, you'll embark on an adrenaline-pumping trip down the river and its class II-IV rapids. Enjoy your first few quiet moments on the river because it will be an adrenaline-packed ride through the Pacuare's renowned surges!

 

Tackle the rapids with the help of your experienced guide. You'll also enjoy serene moments between the rapids where you can spot wildlife on the riverbanks, so keep an eye out for several species of tropical birds, as well as monkeys and ocelots. One of the tour's highlights is passing through a stunning canyon complete with cascading waterfalls. You can jump in for a swim or drift slowly through the calm waters as you take in the lush jungle scenery. Afterward, transfer to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, where you'll spend the night.

Discover more active excursions in Costa Rica.

Day 7: Tour Cahuita National Park

Cahuita National Park
Cahuita National Park

Take a short drive to Cahuita National Park this morning. You'll start at the beach, climbing on board a boat for a scenic 20-minute cruise to Cahuita Point. If the sea conditions allow, you will have the opportunity to have two snorkeling sessions near the most extensive coral reefs. The seafloor off the coast is as much a jungle as the rainforest, with tropical fish, stingrays, octopus, and nurse sharks on view. The best time for snorkeling is from July to October, as the sea is typically too rough between December and March. Still, regardless of the time of year, the boat ride is a great way to approach Cahuita Point.

Fuel up with a spread of tropical fruit on the beach before heading out on a guided hike through the coastal rainforest. You'll head onto land and enter the national park from the boat. Since the region is home to an abundance and diversity of wildlife, the chances are good that you'll see monkeys, tropical birds, sloths, iguanas, poisonous dart frogs, and more. After your hike, head back to Puerto Viejo with your guide.

For more ideas and inspiration, check out Best Things to Do in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

Day 8: Visit a Jaguar Rescue Center & BriBri Chocolate Farm

A jaguar in a wildlife refuge in Costa Rica

Start the morning at the Jaguar Animal Rescue Center, which offers shelter, treatment, rehabilitation, and protection to ill or wounded wild animals in the area. The shelter is run by a biologist with many years of experience caring for wild mammals in captivity. The center has become a sanctuary for wild animals through the organization's hard work, with terrariums for snakes and small animals, larger spaces for the monkeys, and special quarantine cages for animals arriving with serious injuries. Your entrance fee and support help keep the center running.

After the rescue center, visit a local Bribri family that grows cacao trees on their land. They will show you the entire process, from cacao fruit to a bar of chocolate. You will have the opportunity to purchase some of their chocolate or other indigenous handmade crafts. Later, your guide will bring you to a waterfall with inviting swimming holes. Enjoy a dip in the water before hiking back to the vehicle and returning to the hotel.

Day 9: Go Horseback Riding on the Beach

Riders enjoying the peaceful beaches
Riding along peaceful beaches

If you've ever dreamed of horseback riding along a (nearly) deserted tropical beach, surf crashing before you, then today is your day! You and your family will be picked up at your hotel in Puerto Viejo and taken to one of the region's lovely beaches. Ride through the jungle with your guide pointing out the local flora and fauna, including howler monkeys, two-toed and three-toed sloths, and many tropical birds. The jungle opens to the beach, where you'll trot along the sandy shoreline. You can even ride in the water if you like!

Check out this Ultimate Guide to Puerto Viejo for more ideas.

Day 10: Transfer from Puerto Viejo de Talamanca to Tortuguero National Park

Rainforest on the banks of the Tortuguero River
Rainforest on the banks of the Tortuguero River

Today you'll transfer from Puerto Viejo de Talamanca to Tortuguero National Park. A driver will pick you up in an air-conditioned minivan and transfer you to the boat dock near Tortuguero. From there, a boat will take you to your hotel in Tortuguero. Read more about the best boutique hotels in the area.

Later, you'll be outfitted with wet weather gear and a flashlight for wildlife spotting. Then you'll embark on a guided twilight adventure through the rainforest. The jungle transforms at night, and you'll have the rare opportunity to witness the transition on this excursion. Your guide will point out various nocturnal animals, insects, and plants along the walk.

Day 11: Hike in the Mountains & Kayak on the Tortuguero Canals

Tortuguero National Park has few high points, but a climb up Cerro Tortuguero reveals beautiful views
Climb up Cerro Tortuguero for beautiful views

Get ready for a spectacular panoramic view as you climb the area's highest peak, Cerro Tortuguero. Your adventure starts with a boat ride to the trailhead, where you will begin on the approximately 1.25-mile (2-km) round-trip hike. During the hike, your guide will share interesting facts about the area. When you get to the top, the most exquisite view opens up, spanning the Tortuguero canals, the Caribbean Sea, and the communities of San Francisco and Tortuguero. You might even make out the shape of Turrialba Volcano in the distance.

In the afternoon, you'll go on a kayaking tour in the national park. Its system of canals makes this one of the best opportunities in Costa Rica to explore rainforests by boat. Paddle through quiet waterways on a Native Watercraft Redfish sit-on-top kayak specially designed to navigate rivers and canals. As you explore, look out for almost 200 species of birds, three monkey species, crocodiles, caimans, toucans, sloths, and much more.

You may want to check out this Ultimate Guide to Tortuguero National Park.

Day 12: Travel to San José & Enjoy a Free Evening

The National Theater
The National Theater in San José

Head back to San José today. You'll have the afternoon and evening free to sightsee, shop for souvenirs, and enjoy one last Costa Rican dinner. 

For more ideas of what to see and do, check out this article on how to spend 24 Hours in San José.

Day 13: Depart Costa Rica

Take in a Costa Rica sunset 
The trip ends today. Depending on your flight details, you may have time for one last outing before you 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 13 days in Costa Rica, or discover the best time to visit Costa Rica.

Map

Map of Explore Costa Rica's Volcanoes, Wetlands & Caribbean Coast - 13 Days
Map of Explore Costa Rica's Volcanoes, Wetlands & Caribbean Coast - 13 Days
Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Aug 17, 2022