This active weeklong journey around Costa Rica is perfect for families and lovers of the great outdoors! You'll base yourself in Arenal for the first few days, going on nighttime wildlife hikes through the rainforest, balancing high above the trees on the famed Hanging Bridges, spotting sloths in their natural habitat, and soaking in natural hot springs. Continue to the surf town of Tamarindo, your home base, to explore a gorgeous coastal landscape. Snorkel around a coral reef, sail on a catamaran at sunset, and cruise past mangroves on an estuary boat tour—these are just a few of the highlights of this thrilling seven-day trip.


  • Go for a refreshing swim at the base of La Fortuna Waterfall
  • Walk across bridges suspended in a lush rainforest canopy in Arenal
  • Delve into an underwater world while snorkeling around the Catalina Islands
  • Look for sloths in the wild on a guided jungle hike
  • Cruise around Tamarindo Mangrove on a boat tour

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Explore the Rainforest After Dark La Fortuna
Day 2 Trek to Waterfalls on a Guided Rainforest Hike La Fortuna
Day 3 Sloth and Bird Hike & Dip in Hot Springs La Fortuna
Day 4 Enjoy a Catamaran Sailing Tour at Sunset Tamarindo
Day 5 Boat Around Tamarindo Mangrove & Estuary  Tamarindo
Day 6 Snorkel Around the Catalina Islands Tamarindo
Day 7 Depart Cost Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Explore the Rainforest After Dark

The colorful yet lethal poison dart frog
The colorful yet lethal poison dart frog
Welcome to Costa Rica! After arriving at San José International Airport, your driver will transfer you to your hotel in La Fortuna (around three hours, depending on traffic).
You will head to Ecocentro Danaus in the late afternoon, a private ecological reserve located 2.75 miles (4.5 km) east of La Fortuna. You will wait for nightfall and then embark on a guided nature hike to discover the reserve's nocturnal creatures. Your guide will point out various insects, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. You're sure to spot bullfrogs and the iconic red-eyed tree frog, the translucent glass frog, and perhaps the brightly colored poison dart frog. While the reserve is open to the public by day, it is closed to most groups by night, making this an exclusive opportunity to see how the rainforest transforms after dusk. Read this article about the best things to do in the region.

Day 2: Trek to Waterfalls on a Guided Rainforest Hike

Hike to dreamlike waterfalls
Waterfalls in the forest
Plan your trip to Costa Rica
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Today you'll venture into Tenorio Volcano National Park for a moderate three-hour hike along the Río Celeste, one of the most stunning natural attractions in Costa Rica. Local legend says that after God painted the sky, he washed his brushes in this river, which resulted in its famous electric-blue waters. 

The hike leads you 4 miles (7 km) along the river through a rainforest ecosystem home to exotic animals like monkeys, sloths, peccaries, and anteaters. You'll pass by the specific point where two streams merge and produce the reaction in the minerals that give the Celeste its exotic color. The hike culminates with a descent of 253 steps to reach the Catarata Río Celeste, a waterfall of such profound beauty you'll think you've found your private paradise.

You'll visit a magnificent waterfall, hot water springs (swimming is not allowed), fumaroles of volcanic gases, and the Borbollones, where exhaust gases at the base of the river give the appearance of boiling water.

Day 3: 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 habitat for sloths (both two-toed and three-toed) who like to hang on the branches of the trees and feed on bright green leaves. On this two-hour guided hike, you'll see a few of these slow-moving 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, then it's time to hit the well-maintained trails that skirt the base of the Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal. This 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 can soothe your muscles with a dip in mineral-rich waters. These springs have been used as therapeutic baths for centuries. End the day with a nice dinner at the resort's restaurant, which serves Costa Rican dishes and international fare, before being picked up and transported back to your accommodations. Find out more here about hot springs in the area.

Day 4: Enjoy a Catamaran Sailing Tour at Sunset

Enjoy the sunset aboard a luxury catamaran
Enjoy the sunset aboard a luxury catamaran

Head to the surf town of Tamarindo today. 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. You'll 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 animals, from dolphins to sea turtles, flying fish, and the occasional breaching whale. The crew will be serving up 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. 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. Read this article on the best activities in the area.

Day 5: Boat Around Tamarindo Mangrove & Estuary 

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

Estuaries play an essential role 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 a unique opportunity to observe the wildlife living in this oasis. 

The 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 jumping above the water. Above the mangrove trees, you 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!

Learn more about Costa Rica's main regions here.

Day 6: Snorkel Around the Catalina Islands

Snorkeling at the Catalina Islands
Snorkeling at the Catalina Islands
The Catalina Islands are a group of 20 volcanic islands and rock formations that rise above the ocean surface in front of Flamingo Bay. This morning, you will be picked up from your hotel and taken to a local dive shop in Playas del Coco where you'll be given snorkeling gear. Then you'll board the diving boat for a 40-minute ride to the Islands.

The rocky islands may not look like much at first, but below the surface of the indigo waters, you'll find an underwater menagerie of exotic wildlife. You'll see quickly why the Catalina Islands are a world-famous diving location attracting divers of all experience levels. Animals you'll spot include giant manta and devil rays, sea turtles, parrotfish, moray eels, etc. In the right season, you can even hear humpback whales singing! Find out more about the experience here.

Day 7: Depart Cost Rica 

Sunset in Costa Rica
The trip ends today. Transfer to the airport to catch your flight out. Safe travels!

More Great 7-Day Costa Rica Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these other 7-day Costa Rica itineraries, with outdoor adventures, family-friendly trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights. 


Map of Hike, Snorkel & Sail Family Adventure - 7 Days
Map of Hike, Snorkel & Sail Family Adventure - 7 Days
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Sep 16, 2022