Featuring a mix of wildlife experiences and outdoor adventures, this 11-day exploration of Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast is fun for the whole family. Hike to the top of Costa Rica's highest volcano, spot colorful spiders on a nighttime rainforest hike, and boat around national parks as you explore the country's Caribbean coast. You'll also have the chance to visit a jaguar rehabilitation center, see monkeys in the wild on a kayaking excursion, and ride horses along the beach—fun for the kids and kids at heart!

Highlights

  • Climb to the top of Costa Rica's highest volcano with the kids
  • Spot vibrant wildlife on a guided nighttime jungle walk
  • Learn about conservation efforts at a jaguar rehabilitation center
  • Boat around the lush waterways of Cahuita National Park 
  • Go horseback riding along the shoreline with the family

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Explore San José's Food Scene San José
Day 2 Visit the Highest Volcano in Costa Rica San José
Day 3 Spot Wildlife on a Night Hike in Tortuguero Tortuguero
Day 4 Boat Along the Tortuguero Canals Tortuguero
Day 5 Travel to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 6 Tour Cahuita National Park Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 7 Visit a Jaguar Rescue Center & BriBri Chocolate Farm Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 8 Kayak & Hike at Punta Uva Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 9 Horseback Ride on the Beach Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 10 Return to San José Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 11 Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Explore San José's Food Scene

The National Theater in San José

Welcome to Costa Rica! You'll arrive in San José and transfer to your hotel. After checking in, 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. 

Find out more about where to eat in San José

Day 2: Visit the Highest Volcano in Costa Rica

Irazu Volcano Crater
Looking down at Irazu Volcano

Today you will visit Irazu Volcano, the highest volcano in Costa Rica. When visibility is good, you can see both the Atlantic and Pacific; if you're lucky, you and your family might also notice the smoking vents of the nearby Turrialba Volcano. Along the hike, you'll pass coffee plantations and spot various flora and fauna. The reward is a spectacular view of the massive crater and a bright green lagoon.

After the volcano tour, descend to the historical city of Cartago, where your family will stop at the Virgin of the Angels Basilica, a famous pilgrimage site. Then head back to San José, where the afternoon is yours to explore the city or relax at the hotel.

You might want to look over this article on the best hotels in San José.

Day 3: 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.

Read about the best things to do in Tortuguero National Park for more ideas.

Day 4: 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 5: Travel to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

A beach in Puerto Viejo

You will travel from Tortuguero today to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. Settle into your hotel and spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the amazing 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.

For more ideas and inspiration, read Best Things to Do in Puerto Viejo and Where to Eat in Puerto Viejo.

Day 6: 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 7: 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 8: Kayak & Hike at Punta Uva

Kayaking Peñas Blancas
Kayaking Peñas Blancas

On today's adventure, your family will enjoy the beauty of the Caribbean side of Costa Rica from land, ocean, and river. First, you'll embark on an ocean kayaking journey along a coast lined with cliffs, caves, and rainforest. After the ocean kayak, you'll head to Rio Punta Uva, where you'll have a more leisurely kayak along the river. As you paddle through the rainforest, you can spot monkeys, sloths, colorful birds, river turtles, bats, and iguanas, which are generally close to your kayak!

After kayaking back to the beach, you can either relax on the sand with the kids or join your naturalist guide for a short hike into the rainforest. Take photos of the animals you encounter on the trek, such as monkeys, sloths, and birds. Then you will take a break at the beach to relax, swim, and enjoy some fresh fruit and snacks.

Day 9: Horseback Ride 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!

Day 10: Return to San José

A colorful market in San José 

Head back to San José today in a private, air-conditioned minivan. 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 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 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 11 family-friendly days in Costa Rica, or discover the best time to visit Costa Rica.

Map

Map of Family Fun on Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast - 11 Days
Map of Family Fun on Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast - 11 Days
Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Aug 21, 2022