Learn to surf, go whitewater rafting, and spot sloths in the wild on this action-packed 11-day trip around Costa Rica. Created for families, the itinerary is full of outdoor adventures. Start with zip-lining and a dip in hot springs in Rincón de la Vieja National Park, then brave the river rapids in Arenal before moving on to coastal Tamarindo for surf lessons and beach time. Wrap up the itinerary on the beautiful Gulf of Papagayo, where you'll enjoy a sunset cruise and a mangrove boat tour.

Highlights

  • Soak in natural hot springs and play in mineral-rich mud
  • Learn to surf in the laidback town of Tamarindo
  • Look for snakes, insects, and exotic frogs on a nighttime rainforest hike
  • Try whitewater rafting on the Balsa River
  • Swim in a waterfall near an active volcano

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Soak in the Río Negro Hot Springs Rincón de la Vieja
Day 2 Enjoy a Day of Adventure in Hacienda Guachipelin Rincón de la Vieja
Day 3 Hike in Rincón de la Vieja National Park Rincón de la Vieja
Day 4 Explore the Rainforest After Dark La Fortuna
Day 5 Go on a Sloth and Bird Hike & Dip in Hot Springs La Fortuna
Day 6 Try Whitewater Rafting on the Balsa River La Fortuna
Day 7 Sail on the Gulf of Papagayo at Sunset  Gulf of Papagayo
Day 8 Free Day in Papagayo Gulf of Papagayo
Day 9 Discover the Beaches of Guanacaste  Gulf of Papagayo
Day 10 Explore Tamarindo Mangrove & Estuary  Gulf of Papagayo
Day 11 Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Soak in the Río Negro Hot Springs

siblings cover themselves in hot spring mud in Costa Rica
Siblings have fun with the hot spring mud
Welcome to Costa Rica! You and your family will 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. When you stay at Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin, 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. Kids will have lots of fun smearing mud all over themselves! When the mud dries, you can wash it in the cold waters of the river, enter the thermal water pools, and repeat the blissful process. 

Day 2: Enjoy a Day of Adventure in Hacienda Guachipelin

Tubing River
Tubing on the river
Experience a few of Costa Rica's best adventures today at Hacienda Guachipelin. There are a range of activities for your family: zip-lining through the forest, rappelling through the Río Blanco Canyon, tubing on the Río Negro River, horseback riding, and finally, relaxing in volcano-heated thermal waters.
 
Please note that the required minimum age is eight years old for the tubing tour.

Day 3: Hike in Rincón de la Vieja National Park

Hiking through Rincón de la Vieja National Park

Today you'll transfer to the outskirts of Rincón de la Vieja National Park and embark on a brisk 45-minute walk along a scenic forest trail to the entrance. Pause to enjoy views of the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano, the largest and most active volcano in Guanacaste Province. Some of the highlights kids will enjoy along the hike are steaming fumaroles, mini-geysers, and bubbling volcanic mud pits.

You and the family will hike 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. When you finish your hike, you'll be ready for a refreshing swim in the Oropendola Waterfall. 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 4: Explore the Rainforest After Dark

Try and spot the red-eyed tree frog in Ecocentro Danaus
Plan your trip to Costa Rica
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
This morning, your driver will transfer you and your family to your hotel in La Fortuna
 
You'll head to Ecocentro Danaus in the late afternoon, a private ecological reserve located 2.75 miles (4.5 km) east of La Fortuna. You'll 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. Kids will 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. 

Day 5: Enjoy 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 with the kids today along the "Sloth Trail." This nature trail cuts through a habitat for sloths (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, discover the La Fortuna area with a 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.

You will also discover the thrilling Arenal Hanging Bridges. This trail system in a rainforest reserve features suspension bridges that take you high above the treetops before treating you to a once-in-a-lifetime view of Arenal Volcano. Venturing along these elevated walkways, some of which are 180 feet (55 m) above the rainforest floor, you will also appreciate the area's incredible biodiversity in a zone where upland and lowland rainforest meet. Afterward, your guide will drop you off at Tabacon Hot Springs so you and the family can soothe your muscles with a dip in mineral-rich waters. 

Day 6: 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 7: Sail on the Gulf of Papagayo at Sunset 

Enjoy the sunset aboard a luxury catamaran
Sunset from the catamaran

This morning, you'll transfer to the Gulf of Papagayo. Soak up the bright afternoon sun until it transitions into soft pinks and oranges later in the afternoon. You'll be picked up at your hotel and transferred to the landing dock in Playas del Coco, where you and your family will board a catamaran and begin silently gliding along the Gold Coast past picturesque bays, white sand beaches, and tropical jungles.

You're likely to spot all kinds of animals, from dolphins to sea turtles, flying fish, and the occasional breaching whale. The crew will be serving plenty of delicious tropical drinks as you make your way to a tranquil bay where you can swim in the crystal clear waters of the Pacific. Snorkel in the bay or enjoy a stroll down the deserted white sand beach with the kids. Have dinner on the boat, then sit back and listen to the waves lapping at the sides of the catamaran as you make your way back to shore, taking in gorgeous sunset views along the way.

Day 8: Free Day in Papagayo

Sensoria, in Rincón de la Vieja National Park
Sensoria in Rincón de la Vieja National Park

Today can be as relaxing or adventurous as you like. Hike a jungle trail called Sensoria, part of a wildlife sanctuary featuring thermal pools and waterfalls that plunge into turquoise lagoons. Or, you can experience the rainforest from the water during a two-hour safari float with the family down the Corobicí River, where a guide will point out monkeys, bats, lizards, and even crocodiles.

You can also choose a guided trip down the Tenorio River, the best river in the Guanacaste area for whitewater rafting. Or try stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) with the kids. The water is so clear (especially during the dry season) that you can see all kinds of fascinating sea creatures below the surface from the safety of your board.  

Day 9: Discover the Beaches of Guanacaste 

Meet your professional surf instructor for a day of catching waves
A surf lesson in Costa Rica

Today is yours to swim in crystal clear waters and relax on the sand to your heart's content. Visit Flamingo Beach, a white-sand crescent where kids can swim and play. You'll then visit Grand Beach, where rare leatherback turtles lay their eggs on the sand each year. The third destination on the trip is Tamarindo Beach, the perfect spot for teens or older kids who want to learn how to surf.

Surfing at Tamarindo is safe, fun, and easygoing, particularly for children and first-timers. Your instructors will teach you all that you need to know, and you are guaranteed to be able to stand up on your surfboard and ride your first wave in your class.

Day 10: Explore Tamarindo Mangrove & Estuary

Tamarindo Mangrove & Estuary Boat Tour
Boating through the Tamarindo Mangrove & Estuary

Estuaries play an essential part in nature, hosting important tree species and populations of birds and animals. They also serve as natural barriers to help prevent floods and protect coasts and beaches from tropical storms. The Tamarindo Estuary, part of Las Baulas National Park, is famous for being one of the nesting spots for Leatherback and Pacific Green Turtles. The tour offers your family a unique opportunity to observe the wildlife living in this oasis. 

The estuary boat will be ready and waiting at the mouth of the river, where you will be provided instructions for a safe take-off. You will glide along the river on this safari tour through the narrow canals. You'll see many different bird species and colorful fish jump above the water. Above the mangrove trees, kids will also have the chance to see monkeys and iguanas. Your guide will stop in some places for a deeper explanation of the local flora and fauna, specifically the famous local Guanacaste trees, Costa Rica's national tree. Listen for the sounds of local howler monkeys, and keep an eye out for crabs and butterflies!

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 Trip to Costa Rica's Mountains, Volcanoes & the Gulf of Papagayo - 11 Days
Map of Family Trip to Costa Rica's Mountains, Volcanoes & the Gulf of Papagayo - 11 Days