This itinerary is designed for families who want a nature excursion with plenty of adventure mixed in. Your first adventurous destination is the remote Osa Peninsula, where you'll indulge in beaches and rainforest hikes. From here, you'll head inland to pay a visit to Arenal Volcano and the Monteverde Cloud Forest, where you'll hike among the treetops via suspension bridges and enjoy even more natural wonders. Finally, make your way to The Gulf of Papagayo to spend three days relaxing on pristine beaches.

Highlights

  • Explore the biologically diverse Corcovado National Park
  • Brave the rapids of the Balsa River
  • Take a dip in La Fortuna Waterfall
  • Zip-line over the cloud forest in Monteverde
  • Take a private surf lesson at Playa Tamarindo

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José, Children's Museum & Dinner with a View San Jose
Day 2 Fly to Osa Peninsula - Explore BahĂ­a Drake Corcovado National Park
Day 3 Los Patos to La Sirena Station Corcovado National Park
Day 4 Full Day at La Sirena Ranger Station Corcovado National Park
Day 5 Sirena to La Leona Corcovado National Park
Day 6 Transfer to Puerto Jimenez - Flight to San Jose -> Transfer to Arenal Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 7 Balsa River Whitewater Adventure Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 8 Horseback Riding in Arenal Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 9 Boat from Arenal to Monteverde - Coffee Tour Monteverde
Day 10 Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Guided Hike Monteverde
Day 11 Zip-Line Fun in the Cloud Forest Monteverde
Day 12 Monteverde -> Transfer to the Gulf of Papagayo Gulf de Papagayo
Day 13 Surf Lesson for All Ages at Playa Tamarindo Gulf de Papagayo
Day 14 Snorkeling & Catamaran Cruise in the Gulf of Papagayo Gulf de Papagayo
Day 15 Free Day in Guanacaste Gulf de Papagayo
Day 16 Transfer to San José, Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José, Children's Museum & Dinner with a View

The Edificio Correos (Post Office) in the city's center
The Edificio Correos (Post Office) in the city's center

Welcome to the land of pura vida! After arriving at Juan Santamaria International Airport in San José, Costa Rica's capital, a representative will meet you and drive you to your hotel. After checking in to your hotel, you'll have the day to explore on your own. 

Suggested activities include: 

  • Take a stroll through the San JosĂ© Central Market, the largest in the city, with over 200 shops, food stalls, and sodas (traditional restaurants—perfect for an inexpensive lunch of casado, a traditional dish of rice, beans, and meat served with tortillas. 
  • Visit the Museo de los Niños, a children's museum with more than 40 rooms of interactive experiences on topics ranging from the human body to outer space.
  • Explore Spirogyra Butterfly Garden, located in downtown San JosĂ© amidst the city's lush botanical garden. Kids will love seeing the butterflies in their natural habitat and learning more about different species. 
  • Visit the Teatro Nacional, an opulent Neo-Classical building constructed in the late 19th century, which offers free guided tours on the hour. You can also check their calendar to take in dance, music, and theatre performances.

For a casual kid-friendly dinner spot Tiquicia, a hilltop stalwart that serves up delicious local fare accompanied by live folk music on weekends and views of the Central Valley.

Day 2: Fly to Osa Peninsula - Explore BahĂ­a Drake

Drake Bay, Osa Peninsula
Drake Bay, Osa Peninsula

In the morning you'll board a flight to Bahía Drake (Drake Bay), one of the main villages on the secluded Osa Peninsula. This peninsula is located on the southern Pacific coast and is one of the least developed regions in Costa Rica. It's also the gateway to the famed Corcovado National Park, located directly south of Drake. This famous protected area is known for its virgin rainforests and wind-swept beaches, which are all the more evocative due to the relative lack of crowds.

Upon arrival to Bahía Drake, check into your hotel. You'll now have the entire day to relax and enjoy the beaches until your heart's content. At night, tuck into dinner at your lodgings. Drake's remoteness and limited restaurant options mean most accommodations offer all-inclusive meals.

Alternative airport: Puerto Jiménez

Day 3: Los Patos to La Sirena Station

Coatis are common within the park
Coatis are common within the park

Awake early and enjoy breakfast at your hotel. You'll need the energy, as today you'll be hiking nearly 21 km (13 miles) through the heart of Corcovado. You'll begin at Los Patos Ranger Station, in the Northeast of the park, and finish at La Sirena Biological Station in the southwest.

Along the way, the trail wanders through the protected rainforest, and you'll want to keep a sharp eye out for exotic flora and fauna. You likely won't have to wait long—Corcovado is home to a staggering 5% of the world's biodiversity. Common animals spotted here include monkeys, agoutis, tropical birds, and reptiles. Do be aware of the white-lipped peccaries, as these pig-like animals travel in packs of up to fifty and can be aggressive. 

You'll overnight in a tent camp at La Sirena Ranger Station

Day 4: Full Day at La Sirena Ranger Station

Scarlet macaw
You may spot a Scarlet Macaw along your hike

You'll have a full day free to explore the trails in and around La Sirena Station, located in the heart of Corcovado. This is by far the largest outpost and the main contact point for all visitors to Corcovado National Park due to its proximity to the coast. That means it's accessible by foot, plane, or boat, so you'll likely run into other visitors.

You'll also encounter local inhabitants in the form of various other types of wildlife. Maybe you'll spot leatherback turtles just offshore, or curious coatis scavenging on and near the coast. There are always ample birding opportunities in Corcovado, and common species include scarlet macaws and tiger herons.

Day 5: Sirena to La Leona

Beach in Corcovado
Beach in Corcovado

You'll awake early in order to depart for the last station of your Corcovado hike: the La Leona Ranger Station. The coastal trail leading there is 16 km (10 miles) long and follows the scenic coastline along the southern edge of the park. This path takes you through coastal forest and along deserted beaches where you can occasionally encounter tapirs, red brocket deer, opossums, and, yes, even pumas.

After reaching the station, you will then exit the park and continue a short way to your next hotel, located right on the beach.

Day 6: Transfer to Puerto Jimenez - Flight to San Jose -> Transfer to Arenal

Arenal, one of Costa Rica's most majestic landmarks, towers over the countryside
Arenal, one of Costa Rica's most majestic landmarks, towers over the countryside

After breakfast, make the short hike back to Carate. Upon arrival, you'll transfer to the airstrip at Puerto Jimenez and hop a domestic flight back to San José. Then, it's on to La Fortuna, best known as the base for exploring the Arenal Volcano National Park. Located north of the Tilaran mountains, the cone-shaped Arenal juts out above the San Carlos Plains. After you check into your hotel, you'll have the rest of the day to explore on your own.

If you want to get up close to the volcano, kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding on Lake Arenal (optional) provides spectacular views of its peak. Or, opt for a zip lining tour through the forest canopy, where you'll cross canyons, and take in the Fortuna and Pino Blanco waterfalls, along with the majestic Arenal volcano.

Day 7: Balsa River Whitewater Adventure

Whitewater rafting on the Balsa River
Whitewater rafting on the Balsa River

Get ready for a morning of whitewater rafting on the Balsa River. After breakfast, your local tour operator will pick you up in the hotel lobby. Be sure to wear clothes you don't mind getting wet, and bring along a spare set of dry ones. Listen to the safety instructions your guide provides during the trip to the raft-launch site, and get set for plenty of rapids. 

After the adrenaline rush of your whitewater rafting trip, relax with a traditional Costa Rican lunch on the banks of the river. In the afternoon, you can opt to be dropped off at one of the many hot springs in Arenal to unwind and soothe your muscles in nature's own hydromassage.

Enjoy dinner back in La Fortuna. There are over a hundred restaurants in town, featuring everything from traditional Costa Rican fare to pizza and pasta.

Day 8: Horseback Riding in Arenal

Today's 3-hour horseback ride takes you along the ancient paths surrounding the Arenal Volcano. The trip begins at the stables where a seasoned guide will help riders saddle up. From the base of the mountain, the group will travel up through secondary forests, cattle fields, and a primary forest that takes you through a lagoon. Along the way, your guide will point out the local flora and fauna. Continue upwards until you reach the highest point where you'll be met with incredible views of Arenal (be sure to bring your camera). After taking in the scenery, you'll make your way back down the mountain. The rest of the day is yours to spend at leisure around La Fortuna.  

Day 9: Boat from Arenal to Monteverde - Coffee Tour

The peaceful waters of Lake Arenal
The peaceful waters of Lake Arenal

After breakfast in La Fortuna, you'll transfer to Monteverde, but this is no ordinary route. You'll bypass the road trip and instead travel by water. After arriving at the shores of Lake Arenal, your captain will welcome you, you'll board the boat, and you'll begin the 3.5-hour journey to the other side of the lake. 

Upon arrival, you'll officially be in the Monteverde region of Costa Rica. From the lakeshore, you'll transfer by shuttle to a working coffee farm for an educational guided tour. You'll participate in the entire farm-to-cup process, from picking the beans to roasting them. Of course, frequent coffee tastings will be provided. 

After the tour, check into your hotel and relax for the rest of the afternoon. Maybe visit nearby Santa Elena, a charming town with Quaker influences known for excellent coffee and cheese. You'll find various restaurants here, including vegetarian options and those serving Costa Rican standards like ceviche and arroz con pollo (rice with chicken).

(Optional add-on.) Take a night nature tour of Monteverde. On this three-hour hike, you'll be accompanied by a naturalist guide who will point out many nocturnal animals and insects. These include bats, red-eyed tree frogs, snakes, and coatis.

Coffee tour: 2.5 hours

Day 10: Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Guided Hike

The resplendent quetzal
The resplendent quetzal

After breakfast, you’ll transfer a short distance to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, one of the jewels in Costa Rica's ecological crown. Known as the "green lung of Costa Rica" due to its rich biodiversity, this 26,000-acre reserve is located high in the mountainous northwest region of the country. The views of the misty cloud forest here are the stuff of postcards.

But Monteverde offers more than sweeping panoramas. On a guided tour you'll get an up-close look at the incredible biodiversity that occurs in this region, where upland and lowland rainforest meet. More than 350 bird species exist here alone, including the aptly named resplendent quetzal. In other words, it's a nature lover’s paradise.

In the afternoon you'll return to your hotel and have the rest of the day to spend as you like.

Monteverde Cloud Forest hike duration: 3 hours

Day 11: Zip-Line Fun in the Cloud Forest

Suspension bridge in the cloud forest
Suspension bridge in the cloud forest

Today you'll enjoy an adrenaline-pumping zip-line ride in the country where that activity was invented. You'll start by ascending hundreds of feet above the jungle canopy via a network of trails and suspension bridges. The exotic flora and fauna of the region will be on full display, and our specialized guides will point out the most interesting specimens.

Upon reaching the end of the line, the exhilarating adventure of whizzing down the mountain begins. You will connect to a zip-line cable that stretches over the treetops and across canyons, ultimately returning you to the starting point. The whole excursion is regarded as the most thrilling zip-line adventures in the country.

Day 12: Monteverde -> Transfer to the Gulf of Papagayo

The arid, volcanic valleys of Guanacaste
The arid, volcanic valleys of Guanacaste

Road trip time! This four-hour drive takes you west into Guanacaste Province, past volcanic mountain ranges, flatlands, and villages as you head toward Costa Rica's Pacific coast. Stop for a bite and enjoy a traditional lunch or maybe a batido (fresh fruit smoothie). As the plains and tropical dry forests slowly give way to azure seas, you’ll arrive at your destination—the Gulf of Papagayo, where you'll check into your hotel. 

You can spend the remainder of the day relaxing on the tranquil beach. Perhaps enjoy a beer at one of the local beach bars. Maybe kayak around the bay.

Day 13: Surf Lesson for All Ages at Playa Tamarindo

The whole family can catch a wave in Tamarindo
The whole family can catch a wave in Tamarindo

Today you will head to Tamarindo beach for a fun surf lesson. This ideal beach with soft currents is known to be one of the best spots for beginners learning to surf in the country and is ideal for families. Your instructor will provide guidance to ensure that everyone catches a wave.

For families of experienced surfers, a must-visit spot near Tamarindo is Playa Naranjo, which locals have nicknamed "Witch’s Rock." It's located in a national park and accessible only by boat. It features big surf with both left and right breaking waves. A few miles beyond, you'll reach Ollie’s Point, another great surfing locale.

After your lesson, take the rest of the afternoon to practice riding the waves on your own or enjoy some well-deserved relaxation on the beach. You can also take a yoga class at one of Tamarindo's studios, stroll through town, or enjoy a meal at a local café before heading back to your hotel in the Gulf of Papagayo. 

Lesson duration: 2 hours

Day 14: Snorkeling & Catamaran Cruise in the Gulf of Papagayo

Enjoy a sunset cruise around the gulf
Enjoy a sunset cruise around the gulf

After breakfast at your hotel, the morning is yours to spend however you like, perhaps just relaxing on the beaches. In the afternoon, you'll embark on a sailing trip. The boat will stop in a tranquil bay, drop anchor, and you'll be free to swim and snorkel. There is plenty of marine wildlife to admire on this tour—it's not uncommon to see schools of tropical fish, sea turtles, and even dolphins frolicking in the surf. You'll then be treated to a delicious spread of refreshing tropical fruit and cool drinks.

Day 15: Free Day in Guanacaste

Visit the blue waterfall at Sensoria
Visit the blue waterfall at Sensoria

Today is free for you to explore in whatever way you prefer. You can opt to head back inland and embark on a jungle trail tour to Sensoria, part of a wildlife sanctuary at the foot of the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano. You'll relax in thermal pools, swim in waterfall lagoons, and do some more wildlife spotting. Or, you could enjoy the rainforest from the water on a two-hour safari float along the Corobicí River. A local guide will point out monkeys, bats, lizards, and even crocodiles. 

For families with kids over 12 years old looking for an adventure, you could take a guided trip down the Tenor River. Its white-water rapids make it the best river in Guanacaste for rafting. After a challenging trip down the rapids led by experts, you'll enjoy lunch before heading back to your hotel in time to catch one last sunset.

Day 16: Transfer to San José, Depart Costa Rica

Say a jubilant goodbye to Costa Rica
Say a jubilant goodbye to Costa Rica

Sadly, is time to leave paradise—for now. Feel free to take one last stroll along the beach at sunrise. Afterward, you'll make the drive back to San Jose's Juan Santamaría International Airport for your flight home.

Map

Map of Family Adventure: Jungles, Beaches, and Volcanoes - 16 Days
Map of Family Adventure: Jungles, Beaches, and Volcanoes - 16 Days