This two-week itinerary includes almost all of Costa Rica's signature destinations. Experience zip-lining, nature hikes, and more while surrounding yourself with some of Central America's most beautiful landscapes.

Highlights

  • Snorkel and kayak along the coast of Manuel Antonio National Park
  • Zip-line across the canopy of Monteverde Cloud Forest
  • Explore the natural beauty and hot springs of Arenal
  • Hike deep into Tenorio, one of the newest national parks open to the public
  • Relax on the beaches along the Gulf of Papagayo

Overview

Costa Rica's Pacific Coast, known for its natural variation, contains everything from pristine beaches to dense mangrove swamps. This tour explores the coast from south to north, starting in San Jose and ending in Liberia. The route is highly flexible and includes several side trips and optional activities.

Costa Rica offers everything from extreme outdoor adventures to peaceful seaside towns and everything in between, all of which can be experienced on this tour. Whether you are a solo thrill-seeker or a family with children, you will be able to enjoy the best of Costa Rica with this inclusive itinerary.

Brief itinerary

Day Destination Overnight
Day 1 San Jose (Arrival) San Jose
Day 2 Manuel Antonio National Park Manuel Antonio
Day 3 Manuel Antonio National Park Manuel Antonio
Day 4 Manuel Antonio National Park Manuel Antonio
Day 5 Tarcoles Tarcoles
Day 6 Monteverde Cloud Forest Monteverde
Day 7 Monteverde Cloud Forest Arenal
Day 8 Arenal Volcano Arenal
Day 9 Arenal Volcano Tenorio
Day 10 Tenorio Volcano National Park Tenorio
Day 11 Tenorio Volcano National Park Tamarindo
Day 12 Gulf of Papagayo Tamarindo
Day 13 Gulf of Papagayo Tamarindo
Day 14 Liberia (Departure)  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in San José, Costa Rica

San Jose's Post Office Building

Welcome to Costa Rica! A representative will pick you up at the Juan Santamaria International Airport and drive you to your hotel in San Jose. Take some time to explore the capital city, or just relax and get ready for your upcoming adventure. If you arrive early, here are some places to check out:

  • Mercado Central (Central Market): A great place to see if you're a morning person, the central market opens at the crack of dawn and is one of the oldest and most iconic sights of San Jose. Experience the bustling center of commerce as locals gather to chat, buy and sell all kinds of goods, and enjoy a variety of generations-old recipes. If you're looking for a souvenir, this is the place to buy something truly unique.
  • Museo del Oro Precolumbino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum): In an underground, protected vault, this museum holds the largest Pre-Columbian gold collection in all of Latin America. Despite its small outside form, the interior is extensive and modern and is bound to satisfy both history buffs and casual observers.
  • Museo Nacional (National Museum): The Museo Nacional is hard to miss. Located in a bright yellow building that used to be a military barracks (Bellavista Fortress), the building now hosts a range of exhibits that showcase the country from Pre-Columbian times to modern-day Costa Rica. A favorite for many visitors is the butterfly garden, a nice piece of serenity in the otherwise hustle and bustle of a capital city.

Day 2: Manuel Antonio National Park and Beaches

Manuel Antonio's coast

Check out early and head to the central Pacific Coast, a hub of biodiversity featuring several world-class national parks.

For this part of the tour, you will be staying near the famous Manuel Antonio National Park.  After checking-in, enjoy the hotel facilities and nearby beaches.

Day 3: Manuel Antonio - Catamaran & Snorkeling

Snorkeling is a popular activity in Manuel Antonio National Park

Continue exploring the rugged coastline of Manuel Antonio National Park. The activities below are fantastic options for experiencing the best the park has to offer and opening your eyes to the surrounding natural beauty:

  • Hike in Manuel Antonio National Park (Entrance fee: $16 per person, guided tour with Spanish and English-speaking guide: $55 per person): This hike will take you across the winding, crystal-clear creeks, and vibrant tropical forests. You will be able to spot multiple regional monkey species on the trail, as well as sloths, coatis, toucans, and iguanas. The park is closed on Mondays.
  • Kayak or Boat Tour in Las Damas Islands (Guided tour with Spanish and English-speaking guide: $50 per person):  The Las Damas Islands, protected under the RAMSAR Convention for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Wetlands, contain unique flora and fauna. Get up close to various rare species as you navigate the waterways between the giant mangroves.

  • Take a snorkeling tour. Cruise aboard a 100 ft catamaran stocked full of amenities. You will head out to a nearby reef where you can snorkel among colorful fish and other aquatic life, or just relax on the boat and try to look for dolphins swimming nearby. Food and drinks are provided on the boat, so there is no need to head ashore.

There are more things to do inside the park and nearby, including whale watching, whitewater rafting, fishing, sailing, and more.

Day 4: Manuel Antonio - Free Day on the Beach

Riding a jet ski is possible on Manual Antonio beach.

Activities today include horseback riding on the beach or to a beautiful waterfall, guided hikes in the park, ocean fishing, sea kayaking, mountain biking, snorkeling, riding scooters, body surfing, boogie boarding, or just relaxing on the beach.

For those who want side excursion, a trip south to either Marino Ballena National Park or Corcovado National Park is possible. Isla del Caño, a top snorkeling, and scuba diving site is also nearby. 

  • Mario Ballena National Park was founded to conserve the abundant marine life on the coast of Ballena. Dolphins thrive year round in the waters nearby, and humpback whales can be spotted between December and March as well as August and October. Booking a whale or dolphin watching tour (depending on the season) is the best way to seek them out. Additionally, you can observe capuchin, howler, and squirrel monkeys, as well as sloths, raccoons, and perhaps even the rare ocelot or puma on land.
  • Corcovado National Park is Costa Rica's premier wildlife viewing destination. Its rainforests host a massive array of species - over 140 mammals (including the jaguar and endangered Baird's tapir), 400 birds, and 116 reptiles. Guided day hikes into the park are great ways to spot anteaters, sloths, howler monkeys and more. If you want to visit Corcovado National Park, consider extending your vacation by a couple of days and staying two nights in nearby Uvita.

Day 5: Depart to Tarcoles

A crocodile on the Tarcoles river bridge

Make your way up the center of the Pacific Coast to the village of Tarcoles, located near the Carara River National Park. This area is known for its scenic bridge where dazzling macaws and giant crocodiles can be spotted.

Take the afternoon to enjoy the area nearby. Some suggested activities include:

  • Tarcoles River Bridge: No trip to Tarcoles is complete without a visit to the river bridge, where you can observe large numbers of American Crocodiles in the river below. The area contains one of the largest crocodile populations in the Americas, and some can grow up to 7 meters long! Macaws and other species of tropical birds can also be spotted overhead.
  • Carara National Park:  Carara National Park is considered an important refuge for endemic wildlife, a "transitional zone" between areas becoming increasingly dominated by human agriculture. A modest hike accessible to all experience levels will take you deep into park grounds, entering into the natural habitat of the Scarlet Macaw. 15 years ago, these macaws were reintroduced to the park under protected status, and have flourished ever since.

  • Boat Tour:  This tour, which includes a guide and on-site lunch, will give you a comprehensive overview of typical swamp and mangrove forest wildlife. It stops at a vital nesting and mating site for several bird species. Mammals and reptiles can also be spotted here.

Day 6: Monteverde Cloud Forest - Zip-lining

Zip line adventure in Monteverde cloud forest

Right after breakfast, travel to Monteverde cloud forest, with some some side trips along the way.

Once you arrive in the afternoon, partake in an exciting zip line tour through the canopy of the cloud forest. Professionally-trained guides will ensure a safe yet thrilling experience as you fly from tree to tree across 16 cables and a rappel. See the forest from multiple perspectives and end your adventure with the famous Tarzan Swing, which will have you screaming all the way to the floor!

If you are not tired after the zip lining, consider some other activities in the area:

  • Hike in the Children's Eternal Rainforest (Entrance fees: $12 per person, guided tour with Spanish and English-speaking guide: $30 per person): The largest private reserve in Costa Rica, the Children's Eternal Rainforest in the northeast contains more than 20,000 hectares of protected tropical forest. It was founded thanks to the BEN fundraising campaign, which started in 1987 and spread from the US and Sweden to children and adults worldwide. More than half of all terrestrial vertebrae in Costa Rica have been identified in the reserve, including about 60 species of amphibian, 100 species of reptiles, 425 species of birds, and 121 species of mammals.
  • Forest Night Walk (guided tour with Spanish and English speaking guide: $30 per person): Encounter nocturnal species in this special guided trek.

Day 7: Monteverde Cloud Forest - Hiking to the Reserve

Resplendent Quetzal which can be spotted in Monteverde cloud forest

In the morning, a bilingual guide will pick you up at your hotel and drive you to the private reserve, famous worldwide for its great diversity of flora and fauna. This is one of the few areas where you can observe the rare Resplendent Quetzal, considered one of the world's most unusual and beautiful birds.

For the afternoon, an optional tour takes you on a visit to a coffee or chocolate plantation. Learn about the history and role of coffee in Costa Rican culture before heading to La Fortuna.  After a traditional Costa Rican lunch head across Lake Arenal to La Fortuna / Arenal Volcano.

Day 9: Arenal Volcano – Hanging Bridges / La Fortuna’s Waterfall / Hot Springs

A natural hot spring in Arenal

In the morning, walk along the Arenal hanging bridges surrounded by a wonderful panoramic view of the Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal. Afterwards, continue on to the breathtaking Rio Fortuna waterfall, which drops 120ft (35 meters) down a lush cliffside. Hike through spectacular flora and fauna down to the base and discover the gentle cascades and a natural swimming pool.

After a refreshing swim, spend the afternoon on your own exploring the town of La Fortuna, relaxing in your hotel, or participating in another optional adventure. You can go on a canopy zip line tour, visit the butterfly garden, drive an ATV, get a massage, or go canyoning with ropes and harnesses across waterfalls. 

In the evening, take a soothing dip in one of Arenal Volcano's famous hot springs and enjoy dinner by the waterside.

Day 9: Arenal - Free Day

Arenal Volcano, a natural highlight of Costa Rica. 

Today, finish your Arenal experience with an activity of your choosing. Explore local culture through live folk music, a tortilla cooking class, a visit to a sugar cane mill, or a Costa Rican style lunch at Casona Río Fortuna, once the home of former Costa Rican president Rafael Yglesias Castro. Whatever you choose, Arenal's charming and authentic cultural immersion will not disappoint.

For those looking for more adventure, a waterfall rappelling tour is sure to satisfy your craving for another adrenaline rush. The tour kicks off with a 25-meter descent down a suspended bridge, continuing onto a quadruple waterfall series within a tropical canyon. By the end of the tour, you will have rappelled down eight waterfalls surrounded by the natural beauty of the rainforest.

Eat lunch in Arenal before heading out to your next destination, Tenorio National Park.

Day 10: Tenorio Volcano National Park

Waterfall in Tenorio

A well-kept secret, Tenorio is one of the newest national parks in Costa Rica. The park's stunning blue river is drawing in curious adventurers, but the area has not yet become a major tourist site.

The two main attractions of the area are the Tenorio Volcano, as well as the blue waters of the Rio Celeste and nearby waterfall. Relax for the evening and get ready to explore more tomorrow.

Day 11: Tenorio Volcano National Park - Hiking Tour

A bridge over Rio Celeste

Hike through the forests in Tenorio Volcano National Park and uncover the beauty of Tenorio. Monkeys, sloths, and more live within the trees, which line the banks of the Río Celeste. Continue along the trail which follows the river, which gets bluer as you travel further upstream, and arrive at a breathtaking waterfall.  

Swim in the blue lagoon below the waterfall and relax before heading back. Grab a quick lunch, and head to your last destination of this trip.

Day 12-13: Gulf of Papagayo - Free Days on the Beach

Sunset in the Gulf of Papagayo

Drive up to the Gulf of Papayago, known for its spectacular golden sand beaches and little inlets and coves that define its coastline. Check out the local area through a variety of activities, including kayaking through the mangroves of Tamarindo, a city tour of Liberia, snorkeling, a catamaran adventure, or visits to Rincon de la Vieja or Palo Verde National Park.

Day 14: Departure from Costa Rica

It's time to say goodbye to Costa Rica after two weeks of nonstop adventure. A representative will meet you at your hotel and drive you to the Liberia airport for your return flight home. 

Map

Map of Best of Costa Rica - 14 Days
Map of Best of Costa Rica - 14 Days