This jam-packed tour of Costa Rica’s highlights takes you from the Caribbean to the Pacific. Begin with a boat tour of Tortuguero before two days o f relaxation on Puerto Viejo Beach. Conquer the rapids on the Pacuare River en route to adventure-filled Arenal. Then, head to Monteverde, where you'll zipline through the rare cloud forest, followed by a cultural tour of local plantations. The trip winds down in Manuel Antonio, with its gorgeous beaches and adundant wildlife.

Highlights

  • Tour the incredibly biodiverse Tortuguero National Park by boat
  • Enjoy beach time and Caribbean cooking lessons in Puerto Viejo
  • Explore Arenal Volcano, from hanging bridges to La Fortuna Waterfall
  • Visit the cloud forest and learn about local plantations in Monteverde
  • Mingle with wildlife in Manuel Antonio National Park and enjoy the beach

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in San José San José
Day 2 Transfer to Tortuguero National Park Tortuguero
Day 3 Guided Exploration of Tortuguero National Park Tortuguero
Day 4 Transfer to Puerto Viejo Beach Puerto Viejo Beach
Day 5 Beach Day & Caribbean Cooking Lesson Puerto Viejo Beach
Day 6 Pacuare River Rafting Tour & Transfer to La Fortuna Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 7 Explore Arenal: Hanging Bridges, La Fortuna Waterfall, & Scenic Hike Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 8 Transfer to Monteverde & Plantation Tour Monteverde
Day 9 Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Tour & Ziplining Excursion Monteverde
Day 10 Crocodile Safari Tour & Transfer to Manuel Antonio Beach Manuel Antonio
Day 11 Tour Manuel Antonio National Park Manuel Antonio
Day 12 Transfer to San José San José
Day 13 Departure From Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in San José

Welcome to Costa Rica!
Welcome to Costa Rica!

¡Bienvenidos a Costa Rica! When you arrive in this beautiful country, a representative will be waiting for you at the airport to provide all the travel documents needed for your trip. A designated transportation service will take you to your hotel located in the heart of the metropolitan area of San José.

San José is the capital of Costa Rica and is home to almost two-thirds of the country's total population. It has buildings more than 100 years old and vividly maintains its culture, art, and history. A myriad of theaters and museums make the capital a city full of treasures to enjoy. If you arrive early, feel free to explore the city at your leisure.

Be sure to explore Barrio Amón, a historic neighborhood that is home to cafetalero (coffee grower) mansions built during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of this area’s historic buildings have been converted into hotels, restaurants, and galleries, making it a frequented bohemian district. 

For dinner, opt for a restaurant on the hills of Escazú. This elevated region on the western edge of the city offers breathtaking panoramic views of the valley below. That said, San José's culinary offerings cover everything from traditional Costa Rican food to forward-thinking fusion cuisine.

Day 2: Transfer to Tortuguero National Park

Learn all about the turtle conservation history in Tortuguero
Learn all about the turtle conservation history in Tortuguero

Your expert guide will meet you early in the morning at the hotel, and the trip begins northeast, to the Caribbean lowlands. Stop for breakfast in Guapiles and enjoy the local cuisine. 

After breakfast, continue to the La Pavona dock, and from there, board the specially designed riverboat that will take you to the hotel located in the North Caribbean.

In the afternoon, head to the village of Tortuguero to visit the Turtle Museum and walk around town to learn about the relaxed way of life in this region of Costa Rica. Your guide will share the history of the village and its development and why/when the turtle conservation mentality transitioned. Return to the hotel after the tour for lunch. Enjoy some free time in the evening, and return to the hotel for dinner.

Day 3: Guided exploration of Tortuguero National Park

Spot howler, spider, and capuchin monkeys while touring Tortuguero National Park
Spot howler, spider, and capuchin monkeys while touring Tortuguero National Park

After breakfast, board a boat tour of Tortuguero National Park, along with a local nature guide. The small boats go deep into the canals of the park, further beyond the depths that other boats can reach, allowing you the opportunity to find the rarer species of wildlife. The extensive network of freshwater creeks and lagoons behind the beaches of Tortuguero are home to seven species of river turtles, spectacled caiman, southern river otters, a number of crustaceans, and more than 50 species of freshwater fish. On this expedition, you are also likely to see spider, howler, and capuchin monkeys, along with dozens of species of birds. You might even spot an endangered West Indian manatee.

After the boat tour, return to the hotel for lunch. In the afternoon, your guide will take you to a private nature trail to mingle with even more wildlife. The walk is relaxed and slow along the flat terrain.

The rest of the day is at your leisure; you can relax at the swimming pool, enjoy a cocktail while admiring the river lagoon, or spend the afternoon on the beach. Enjoy dinner at the hotel.

Day 4: Transfer to Puerto Viejo Beach

Puerto Viejo Beach
Puerto Viejo Beach

After breakfast, meet at the main dock of the hotel to return, by boat, to La Pavona dock. From there, continue on, by land, to Guapiles for a delicious Caribbean lunch of special dishes packed with notable local flavors. 

After the meal, a tour representative will pick you up to take you to the next destination of this expedition: Puerto Viejo Beach. Upon arrival, check in to your hotel and enjoy the remainder of the day and evening at your leisure. Take some time to stroll the beach setting—your home for the next two nights.

Day 5: Beach day and Caribbean cooking lesson

Visit Cahuita National Park
Visit Cahuita National Park

Enjoy breakfast at the hotel. Then, the morning is free, so you can explore the gold-sand beaches and lush forest near the coast. Take an easy walk to beaches full of coral reefs to admire colorful fish and pick some shells. Or, rent a bicycle to check out the many beaches around and head into the beach town of Puerto Viejo to find local restaurants with delicious and affordable meals, bars with cheap beer, and souvenir shops.

Some of the beaches you can visit in a day include Manzanillo, Playa Grande, Uvita, Chiquita, Cocles, and Playa Negra. If you want to take a good hike and see wildlife, visit Cahuita National Park on your own, or hire a local guide.

In the late afternoon, enjoy a special cooking class with the company of an experienced chef. At the restaurant, learn the best-kept secrets about a very particular and delicious cuisine. Find out how several spices are used to create incredible flavors for basic dishes, like rice and beans, or the famous rondon, which is a seafood soup with coconut milk. Of course, the fantastic dishes are prepared to be enjoyed as tonight's dinner.

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

Day 6: Pacuare River rafting tour and transfer to La Fortuna

Conquer the rapids along the Pacuare River
Conquer the rapids along the Pacuare River

Early this morning, a driver will pick you up at the hotel in Puerto Viejo Beach and take you to the area of Siquirres on the Caribbean slopes. Once you get to Siquirres, a delicious typical breakfast will be waiting for you to provide plenty of sustenance before a day full of activity.

After breakfast, change clothes and get ready to experience the Pacuare River. The access point to the river is a few minutes away. Upon arrival to the river, the expert guides will proceed with the safety talk, technical instructions, and you will have the chance to practice paddling on calmer waters.

From there, explore the river rapids and enjoy the gorgeous scenery all around. Some of the most exciting rapids are the Upper and Lower Huacas, Cimarron, and Dos Montañas, but the waterfalls next to the river are an added bonus to the whole experience. Once half the river is conquered, have lunch on the banks of the river to recharge your energy for the last part of the rafting tour. 

After this trip, continue traveling northwest to the northern plains of the country to the La Fortuna area, where the Arenal Volcano welcomes you. Arenal was discovered after a full-force volcanic eruption in July 1968. It has also erupted in 1975, 1993, and 1998, but is currently inactive.

Arrive by late afternoon to the hotel in the Arenal area, and the rest of the day is free to rest and enjoy the hotel facilities.

Day 7: Explore Arenal: Hanging Bridges, La Fortuna Waterfall, and scenic hike

La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna Waterfall

Following breakfast, it's time for an incredibly scenic adventure. During the day, visit various attractions and discover the rich rainforest. Start the day hiking across the Arenal Hanging Bridges, where you can admire the jungle—not only from the ground, but also from the treetops. The Arenal Hanging Bridges are beautiful and environmentally friendly and are located near Arenal Volcano. The trails span a total of 2 miles, allowing you to see the rainforest from a birdseye perspective. Your nature guide will teach you about Costa Rican culture, history, and nature while pointing out different species of plants, animals, and birds along the way.

Then, visit the breathtaking La Fortuna Waterfall, This is the time to put on your bathing suit if you want to cool off under the waterfall. Prepare for a good workout—there are 300 steps to get to the down to the waterfall and, of course, 300 to get back up. When you reach the bottom, you'll have an opportunity to swim in the beautiful, refreshing waters.

Next, for lunch, you will try a delicious Costa Rican Casado at a local restaurant. This typical Costa Rican meal is a great source of carbohydrates to refuel after climbing to the waterfall.

Following lunch, head to Arenal Volcano National Park, where your guide will take you on a nature walk. The trails are mostly flat and are not very strenuous—perfect for a leisurely and informative hike with an expert guide. Head through the jungle and go hiking through well-groomed, easy trails that skirt around the base of Arenal Volcano. Your eagle-eyed guide will point out different species of flora and fauna and teach you about the volcanic activity in the area.

Following the full day, the evening is at your leisure for some relaxation back at the hotel.

Day 8: Transfer to Monteverde and plantation tour

Learn all about local crops, including coffee beans
Learn all about local crops, including coffee beans

After breakfast at the hotel, travel to the inspiring Monteverde Cloud Forest. Board a Van-Boat-Van across the Arenal Lake to get to Monteverde. Enjoy views of the volcano and spot different species of birds while you navigate the tranquil lake.

Monteverde has one of the most important protected cloud forests found in the world. There are just a few of these forests; therefore, it is very important to conserve the unique plants and animals that inhabit them. In addition to exploring the forest, get to know the friendly locals who enjoy living in harmony with Mother Nature.

By mid-afternoon, arrive at a private property where an interesting cultural activity will take place. The main goal of this activity is to see how a real trapiche works. The tour begins with a short walk through the farm, where you can get a glimpse of different plantations, like sugarcane, coffee, bananas, plantains, tubers, oranges, and more. The entire coffee production process is explained during the second part of this activity, which continues with a ride on an authentic Costa Rican oxcart.

Next, experience the process of making liquor with the sugarcane, known traditionally as guaro. To finish, indulge in a freshly brewed, fragrant cup of the local coffee.

Day 9: Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve tour and ziplining excursion

Go ziplining through the cloud forest canopy
Go ziplining through the cloud forest canopy

Wake up and enjoy breakfast at the hotel, and then explore the magnificent Monteverde Cloud Forest, accompanied by an expert tour guide. Departure from the hotel is early, which allows you more opportunities to see wildlife. Upon arrival at the reserve, your guide will choose the best trail to follow, depending on the weather and your preferences. The historical nature walk can take between 2 to 4 hours, all the while enjoying the enchanting flora and fauna of the forest.

You will hike part of the 7.5 miles of trails that are in this private reserve of cloud forest while your guide explains how animals and plants coexist in this type of ecosystem. If you are lucky, you may spot a quetzal, a trogon, or even the noisy bellbird.

In the afternoon, head out to tackle one of the most popular activities in Costa Rica—the canopy tour, or ziplining, as it’s called locally. It consists of gliding between trees and mountains via wires and a harness specially designed for the movements. While you “fly” through the dense cloud forest, see and feel all the natural activity occurring within the treetops. Birds, insects, and some other mammals are easy to see with the help of your guides. Don't forget your camera, so you can capture the amazing views of the cloud forest on your own.

Day 10: Crocodile safari tour and transfer to Manuel Antonio Beach

Manuel Antonio Beach
Manuel Antonio Beach

Today, after breakfast, head to the Central Pacific area of Costa Rica.

On the way, prepare to get uncomfortably close to one of the largest reptiles in the world. After a couple of hours on the road, make a stop at the Tarcoles River and board a cozy and safe boat for your safari tour. Look out for crocodiles that are more than 13 feet long. They have been on this planet for hundreds of millions of years. Since they have not changed much over time, they are considered living dinosaurs. You can also see iguanas and basilisks in their natural environment. A captain and a bilingual guide will both navigate the way, and provide all the information about the plants and species of the river. It is easy to take excellent photographs and videos of wildlife at close range from the boat. 

After the tour, continue toward Manuel Antonio Beach, which is just south of Quepos on the Pacific Coast, 82 miles from San José. The area is popular thanks to the expansive, white-sand beaches that are backed by an evergreen forest that grows right up to the high-tide line. The principal habitats are primary forests, secondary forests, mangrove swamps, lagoons, and beach vegetation. There is quite a varied fauna, with 109 species of mammals and 184 species of birds. The namesake national park includes 12 little islands just off the coast; these are often visited by a number of dolphins and, at times, migrating whales can be observed from the beach.

The area itself is full of luxury and high-end properties, along with exclusive restaurants with excellent cuisine, where you can sit and admire the ocean and spectacular sunsets.

Day 11: Tour Manuel Antonio National Park

Spot the white-faced capuchin monkey on a tour of Manuel Antonio National Park
Spot the white-faced capuchin monkey on a tour of Manuel Antonio National Park

Enjoy breakfast at the hotel, and then make your way to visit Manuel Antonio National Park, along with a nature guide. Although small in size, this 1,685-acre national park is the epitome of everything tourists flock to Costa Rica to see. Find a magnificent beach setting with islands offshore (bird sanctuaries for marine species), as well as lush rainforests laced with a network of welcoming trails and wildlife galore. Experience close-up encounters with monkeys, sloths, coatimundis, and scarlet macaws while you hike, and be prepared to mingle with the wildlife species who are accustomed to human visitors. 

Following the tour, the rest of the day is at your leisure to enjoy the beach.

Day 12: Transfer to San José

Tour the historical sites in the capital
Tour the historical sites in the capital

After breakfast, it's time to travel back to civilization. A travel representative will take you to San José for the last night in the country. The transportation unit will pick you up in the afternoon.

Check into your hotel downtown in the afternoon and explore the city. Visit museums and historical buildings, and stroll Central Avenue, a place where you can interact with locals and learn a little more about Costa Rican culture. Several dining options are located near the hotel, so you can indulge in a nice farewell dinner.

Day 13: Departure from Costa Rica

Farewell, Costa Rica!
Farewell, Costa Rica!

As they say, all good things must come to an end. A driver will pick you up at the hotel and take you straight to the airport, which is just 15 minutes away. Keep in mind that in Costa Rica, you must arrive at the airport 3 hours prior to your departure time.

Map

Map of Coastal Costa Rica: Tortuguero, Puerto Viejo, Arenal, Monteverde, & Manuel Antonio - 13 Days
Map of Coastal Costa Rica: Tortuguero, Puerto Viejo, Arenal, Monteverde, & Manuel Antonio - 13 Days