Sea turtles, stingrays, iguanas, sharks, toucans, and sloths are a few examples of the wildlife you're likely to see on this outdoorsy eight-day itinerary around Costa Rica's wetlands and beaches. You'll start with a boat tour and a guided night hike in Tortuguero National Park, home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, then move on to Puerto Viejo and Cahuita national parks. You'll visit a jaguar rehabilitation center, snorkel around a coral reef, and ride horses on the beach before the trip is over.

Highlights

  • Look for nocturnal insects and animals on a nighttime jungle hike
  • Spot vibrant wildlife while boating along the canals of Tortuguero National Park 
  • Get up close with jaguars at a wildlife rehabilitation center
  • Snorkel with tropical fish, stingrays, octopus, and nurse sharks
  • Ride horses along the Costa Rican coastline

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José, Explore Downtown San José
Day 2 Spot Wildlife on a Night Hike in Tortuguero Tortuguero
Day 3 Boat Along the Tortuguero Canals Tortuguero
Day 4 Discover the Beaches Around Puerto Viejo Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 5 Tour Cahuita National Park Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 6 Visit a Jaguar Rescue Center Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 7 Horseback Ride on the Beach Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 8 Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José, Explore Downtown

The National Theater
The National Theater in San José

Welcome to Costa Rica! A driver will transfer you from the airport to your hotel in San José. After settling in, go for a self-guided walking tour of downtown. Depending on your hotel's location, you can walk or take a taxi to your first destination: Mercado Central (Central Market), featuring over 200 shops, food stalls, and sodas (traditional restaurants). It's a short walk to Central Park, a small plaza always bustling with activity. Pass various outdoor sculptures as you walk through the park toward Catedral Metropolitana and continue walking down Central Avenue until you reach the 19th-century Teatro Nacional.

Your first museum stop is the Museo del Oro Precolumbino, which is accessible from beneath the Plaza de la Cultura and holds the most extensive Pre-Columbian gold collection in Latin America. Next, head to the Museo del Jade, the world's largest collection of pre-Columbian jade artifacts. As you wander among thousands of unique jade pieces, you'll gain an even deeper appreciation for Costa Rica's rich history. 

Read about where to dine in San José here.

Day 2: Guided Night Hike in Tortuguero National Park

Night Walk Adventure
A frog at night in Tortuguero National Park

Travel this morning from San José 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. Find out 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 3: Boat Along the Tortuguero Canals

Sun on the tree branches
Sun on the tree branches in Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park is one of the world's most important locations for several species of nesting sea turtles. Explore the park's jungle waterways on a motorboat tour that allows you to see the forest and its wildlife from the water.

A 2021 count registered 186 species of birds in the area, along with three monkey species, crocodiles, caimans, toucans, sloths, and much more. You're likely to see most of these creatures on your tour; on some of the canals, you can get close to the tangled jungle on the riverbanks where many animals can be observed. 

Plan your trip to Costa Rica
Customize your trip with help from a local travel specialist.

Check out this article on the best things to do in the national park.

Day 4: Discover the Beaches Around Puerto Viejo

Punta Uva in Puerto Viejo

You will travel from Tortuguero today to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and Cahuita National Park. No trip to this stunning coastal area would be complete without time to explore the diversity of its Caribbean beaches. You'll have your pick of black, golden, or white sand beaches, all within a short distance of town. Great beaches in the area include what many consider one of Costa Rica's most beautiful, Playa Punta Uva. Rent a bicycle and pedal there! The rest of the day is yours to sunbathe, swim, surf, and relax on the sand.

Learn more here about the best time of year to visit Costa Rica.

Day 5: Tour Cahuita National Park

Cahuita National Park
Cahuita National Park

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

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.

Learn more about the top nature experiences in Costa Rica.

Day 6: Visit a Jaguar Rescue Center

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 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 beautiful swimming holes. Enjoy a dip in the water before returning to the hotel.

Day 7: Horseback Ride on the Beach

Riders enjoying the peaceful beaches
Riding along peaceful beaches

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca sits on a gorgeous stretch of the Caribbean coast. If you've ever dreamed of horseback riding along a practically deserted tropical beach, today is your day!

You'll ride through the jungle, with your guide pointing out local flora and fauna as you go. Wildlife may include howler monkeys, two-toed and three-toed sloths, and a variety of tropical birds. As the jungle opens up to the beach, you'll trot along the shoreline—you can even ride in the water if you like! It's a wonderful way to spend the last afternoon of the trip.

Day 8: Depart Costa Rica

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 eight days in Costa Rica, or discover the best time to visit Costa Rica.

Map

Map of Explore Wetlands & Caribbean Beaches - 8 Days
Map of Explore Wetlands & Caribbean Beaches - 8 Days
Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Aug 10, 2022