Look for monkeys in the trees, go whitewater rafting, and swim in waterfall pools on this exciting 11-day adventure perfect for families. You'll start the trip in colorful San José, then explore the rainforest of Tortuguero National Park. Enjoy the beautiful beaches of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and the volcanoes, hot springs, and rushing rivers of Arenal. Along the way, you'll go on a safari-style boat ride, visit a jaguar rescue center, and learn how chocolate is made at a cocoa bean farm.

Highlights

  • Snack on empanadas while exploring San José's central marketplace
  • Go whitewater rafting with the kids on the Balsa River
  • Ascend Cerro Tortuguero, the region's highest peak, for views over the Caribbean
  • Look for monkeys, sloths, and tropical birds on a guided wildlife hike
  • Get up close with jaguars at an animal rehabilitation center 

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Explore San José's Food Scene San José
Day 2 Spot Wildlife on a Night Hike in Tortuguero Tortuguero
Day 3 Boat Along the Tortuguero Canals Tortuguero
Day 4 Travel to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 5 Visit a Jaguar Rescue Center Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 6 Discover the Beaches Around Puerto Viejo Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 7 Hike to La Fortuna Waterfall La Fortuna
Day 8 Go on a Sloth and Bird Hike & Dip in Hot Springs La Fortuna
Day 9 Try Whitewater Rafting on the Balsa River La Fortuna
Day 10 Embark on a Safari Float & Visit a Chocolate Farm La Fortuna
Day 11 Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Explore San José's Food Scene

Colorful fruits for sale in the market

Welcome to Costa Rica! You'll arrive in San José and transfer to your hotel. After checking in, you'll head out for a food-focused walking tour around the city. Start by strolling through the Central Market with your local guide to learn about the uses of the roots, herbs, and fruit common in local cuisines. Sample traditional snacks—kids will love trying empanadas, freshly cut fruit, and batidos (smoothies). Then make your way down Central Avenue toward one of the most architecturally beautiful buildings in the city, the Teatro Nacional (National Theater). Walk through Morazan Park, then continue to Spain Park for a fantastic view of the Yellow House.

Continue to charming Barrio Amon, one of the city's oldest neighborhoods. You'll spend the rest of the evening at a local restaurant specializing in Costa Rican cuisine. The view from the terrace is like looking out onto an open-air museum. Enjoy a three-course meal (with wine pairings for adults) before heading back to your hotel to rest. 

Day 2: Spot Wildlife on a Night Hike in Tortuguero

The red-eyed tree frog is one of the creatures you might spot on a nocturnal exploration of Tortuguero National Park
A red-eyed tree frog in Tortuguero National Park
Today you will transfer from San José to Tortuguero. A driver will pick you up in an air-conditioned minivan, help you with your luggage, and take you to the boat dock near Tortuguero. You and your family will transfer to a boat, which will take you to your hotel. As the day draws to a close, the nocturnal animals and insects wake up, transforming the jungle's sights, sounds, and atmosphere. This transformation is spellbinding to behold and is the focus of your activity this evening as you take a magical nighttime hike through the mysterious jungle surrounding Tortuguero.
 
Starting at your lodge, you will leave by boat around 5:30 pm for a 5-minute ride to the lodge's network of private trails, located close to Tortuguero National Park. Your walk with an expert naturalist guide begins, taking you along forest trails as twilight descends. There are many critters for kids to spot—keep your eyes open for moths, crickets, spiders, frogs, bats, sloths, porcupines, nocturnal birds, and caiman. You'll return to the lodge in time for dinner.

Day 3: Boat Along the Tortuguero Canals

Sun on the tree branches
Sun on the tree branches in Tortuguero
Tortuguero National Park is one of the world's most important locations for several species of nesting sea turtles. The park's canals can be explored by boat, and today's guided tour of the canals gives you a thrilling chance to see the forest and its wildlife from the water. Start the journey by boat to the Tortuguero National Park ranger station for your admission tickets and canal access. A 2021 count registered 186 species of bird in the area, along with three monkey species, crocodiles, caimans, toucans, sloths, and much more. You and your family will likely see some of these creatures on your tour. 

After lunch, get ready to see the most spectacular panoramic view in Tortuguero as you climb the area's highest peak, Cerro Tortuguero. Start with a boat ride from Mawamba Lodge to the trailhead. The peak is only 390 feet (119 m) above sea level, but climbing through the jungle is nevertheless a challenge. When you get to the top, the most exquisite view of Tortuguero opens up, spanning the Tortuguero canals, the Caribbean Sea, and the communities of San Francisco and Tortuguero. After hiking down to the trailhead, you will take your boat back to the lodge. 

Day 4: Travel to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

A beach in Puerto Viejo

You will travel from Tortuguero today to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. 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 within a short distance of town. The rest of the day is yours to sunbathe, swim, and relax on the sand. Enjoy some unstructured time as the kids run and play on the beach.

Day 5: 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 the area's ill or wounded wild animals. 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. It's fascinating for kids, and 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. Kids can sample different kinds of homemade chocolate, and you will have the opportunity to purchase sweets and handmade crafts. Later, your guide will bring you to a waterfall with beautiful swimming holes. Enjoy a dip in the water before hiking back to the vehicle and returning to the hotel.

Day 6: Explore the Beaches Around Puerto Viejo

Punta Uva, in Puerto Viejo
Punta Uva, in Puerto Viejo
Today you'll have plenty of time to spend at one of Costa Rica's most beautiful beaches, Playa Punta Uva. Rent bicycles with the kids and pedal there! Kids will love swimming in the shallow surf, building sandcastles, and playing on the beach. Don't miss the sunset before indulging in some freshly caught seafood for dinner back in town.

Day 7: Hike to La Fortuna Waterfall

La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna Waterfall

In the morning, you will travel to La Fortuna, the closest town to Arenal Volcano. Later in the afternoon, visit La Fortuna Waterfall Reserve. After paying the entrance fee, you'll cross a small bridge to get to the trailhead. Beyond that is the first observation deck, where you can snap photos of your kids with a great elevated view of the waterfall as it plunges into the river below.

After taking in the views from the platform, it's time to descend the steps to get close to the waterfall at its base! As you make your way down the roughly 500 steps along the trail, take breaks to check out the local flora and fauna. Once you reach the falls, cool off with a swim in the refreshing water of La Fortuna River, staying close to the shore to avoid the strong undercurrent. Alternatively, downriver and to the left of the waterfall is another natural pool that is calmer and warmer, ideal for kids.

Enjoy the falls and the river as long as you like before starting the trek back up the stairs. For dinner, hit the town and try out one of La Fortuna's many good restaurants. Kids might spot toucans, iguanas, and even sloths in the trees near your table.

Day 8: 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 sloth habitat (both two-toed and three-toed) that like to hang on the branches of the trees and feed on bright green leaves. It's fun for the whole family 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.

In the afternoon, 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, where you'll hit the well-maintained trails that skirt the base of the Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal. This family-friendly 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 and your kids can soothe your muscles with a dip in mineral-rich waters. 

Day 9: Try Whitewater Rafting on the Balsa River

Rafting fun on the Balsa River
Rafting fun on the Balsa River

Running through the Arenal area is the Río Balsa, one of the best rafting rivers in the entire region. You'll embark on a full-day whitewater adventure with the family in the morning. After a safety talk and paddling instructions, you'll grab your helmet and life vest and be off down the river. Expect a fun ride as you paddle through rolling rapids. There will be stops in tranquil river pools for swimming, and throughout the trip, you'll be able to spot exotic wildlife in the jungles along the banks of the river.

At the end of the adventure, you'll return to your hotel in La Fortuna, where you can dry off and spend the remainder of the day relaxing with the kids.

Day 10: Embark on a Safari Float & Visit a Chocolate Farm

The cocoa bean harvest

Get acquainted with the tropical river ecosystem and experience the tranquility of the forest while floating slowly down the wildlife-rich Peñas Blancas River. This is a golden opportunity for your family to observe many wildlife species such as monkeys, sloths, iguanas, turtles, and alligators, as well as different types of birds like herons, cormorants, American darters, and passerines. You might even get lucky and spy a quirky reptile called a basilisk lizard, capable of walking on water.

This tour is perfect for kids and those who don't want to walk as much but would appreciate plenty of opportunities to observe and photograph nature's beauty. The raft makes for a quiet and peaceful trip—you will only occasionally need to paddle to avoid an obstacle. The raft's material allows it to be light, highly buoyant, and stable without affecting the river floor as it passes or disturbing the animals that inhabit it. In addition, the boat captain is an experienced naturalist guide equipped with the knowledge to interpret the ecosystem and provide interesting information about it.

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. Kids can participate in the cacao harvest, as well as 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. Your family will also have the opportunity to sample plenty of freshly made chocolate. It's a sweet end to the trip!

Day 11: Depart Costa Rica

Sunset in Costa Rica
The trip ends today. Your family will transfer to the airport to catch your flight out. Safe travels!

More Great 11-Day Costa Rica Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these other 11-day Costa Rica itineraries, with outdoor adventures, family-friendly trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights. 

Map

Map of Family Adventure in Costa Rica: Wetlands, Volcanoes & Caribbean Beaches - 11 Days
Map of Family Adventure in Costa Rica: Wetlands, Volcanoes & Caribbean Beaches - 11 Days