With the awe-inspiring Arenal volcano, an exciting rafting trip, visiting the jungle in Manuel Antonio, and just some time to relax on the beach in Manuel Antonio, this trip captures the essence of the Costa Rican motto - Pura Vida!

Highlights

  • Go on a wildlife tour of Damas Island estuary
  • Laze on the white-sand beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park
  • Traverse hanging bridges over the jungle canopy
  • Visit an animal rescue center in Arenal

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 San José to Manuel Antonio - Optional Hiking Manuel Antonio
Day 2 Damas Mangrove Boat Tour Manuel Antonio
Day 3 Guided Hike of Manuel Antonio National Park Manuel Antonio
Day 4 Manuel Antonio to Arenal Volcano Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Arenal Hanging Bridges & La Fortuna Waterfall Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 6 Proyecto Asis Rescue Center Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 7 Arenal to San Jose, Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: San José to Manuel Antonio - Optional Hiking

Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park

Today you'll head southwest out of San José and travel down the Pacific coast three hours to one of Costa Rica's premier ecological wonderlands: Manuel Antonio National Park. This is a highly coveted national park because it features not only untouched rainforest but four different tropical beaches as well.

After checking into your hotel, spend the day relaxing as you see fit. If you still have the energy, you can hike one of the park's many trails and do some wildlife spotting along the way. Aquatic activities include snorkeling at the beaches or parasailing over the ocean. In the evening, head to the adjacent town of Quepos for dinner and sunset views. Try the famous seafood here—it's as fresh as it comes.

Day 2: Damas Mangrove Boat Tour

The mangrove roots provide a unique sanctuary to hatching fish
The mangrove roots provide a unique sanctuary to hatching fish

Explore the Damas Island Estuary and mangrove ecosystem on one of the area's most popular tours. The mangroves' underwater root networks act as a nursery for thousands of fish and crustaceans and harbor hundreds of unique species or amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. 

The unique conditions created by the shifting sediment and salt water in the mangroves attract various sea animals. Look down as you travel to see oysters, sponges, majestic stingrays, baby black-tipped sharks, and large schools of fish among the mangrove roots. 

Explore the mangroves during the day on a guided tour boat to spot boat-billed herons, sloths, and tree snakes. Don't be surprised if the curious white-faced capuchin monkeys hop on board—these charismatic animals love to explore. Weave your way through the natural tunnels and passageways created by the river's ebbs and flows as you discover this fascinating tidal world. Join an evening tour for a chance to see the nocturnal anteaters, tree frogs, snakes, and bats.

Day 3: Guided Hike of Manuel Antonio National Park

Squirrel monkey in Manuel Antonio
Squirrel monkey in Manuel Antonio

Today you'll wake up early and explore the roughly 1,680 acres (680 hectares) of Manuel Antonio National Park. This is a true gem of Costa Rica, in that the park is home to virgin rainforest running all the way from the mountains down to the coast, where white-sand beaches and coral reefs await.

You'll start your hike on the trails within the park. The walk is easy with mostly flat trails—perfect for families with kids. A naturalist guide will point out the more than 300 species of mammals and birds that call this reserve home, including three-toed sloths, hawks, iguanas, and several different species of monkeys. You'll also have time to enjoy the park's expansive white sand beaches on this half-day tour.

What you do the remainder of the afternoon is up to you! Continue exploring the trails on your own, indulge in the sand and sea, or switch gears and visit the nearby adventure park, MidWorld, for zip-lining and ATV tours.

Hiking distance: 1 mile (1.7 km)

Day 4: Manuel Antonio to Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano stands at an impressive 1,633-meters (5,358-feet) high
Arenal Volcano stands at an impressive 1,633-meters (5,358-feet) high

In the morning you will transfer by ground transportation about four and a half hours northwest of Manuel Antonio. 

After arriving in La Fortuna — the closest town to Arenal Volcano — you'll have the rest of the afternoon and evening free to enjoy the area however you see fit. We recommend taking the edge off the day's long journey with a soak in one of the Arenal region's natural hot springs.

For dinner, hit the town and sample one of the over 100 restaurants here. Solid dining options include:

  • Don Rufino upscale grill serves big portions with a decent wine list. Also has vegetarian options.
  • Cafe Mediterraneo you can't go wrong with this Italian restaurant. They make their own fresh pasta and have a wood-fired pizza oven.
  • Rancho Perla this ranch-style eatery serves Costa Rican staples like beef, chicken, and seafood. Get lucky and you might spot toucans, iguanas, and even sloths in the trees near your table.

Day 5: Arenal Hanging Bridges & La Fortuna Waterfall

Suspension bridge at Mistico Hanging Bridges Park
Suspension bridge at in the jungle

Head out early to spend the day exploring the jungle canopy. You'll wander along well-marked trails that lead you over suspension bridges high above the treetops —some that are hundreds of feet long—for a once-in-a-lifetime view of Arenal Volcano. You'll also get an up-close look at the incredible biodiversity that occurs in this region, where uplands and lowlands rainforest meet. More than 350 bird species can be found here alone. 

Next, it’s time to head to La Fortuna Waterfall at the base of the dormant Chato Volcano, a short 15-minute drive outside town. The falls plunge some 210 feet, and a hike down 500 steps to the base provides an opportunity to see it from the bottom up. You can swim and relax in the La Fortuna River, located right below the falls.

Free afternoon and evening on your own to explore the area and visit any of the thermal waters located in the area.

Day 6: Proyecto Asis Rescue Center

You can help care for animals like white-faced capuchin monkeys at Proyecto Asis
You can help care for animals like white-faced capuchin monkeys at Proyecto Asis

Today you'll visit Proyecto Asis, a rehabilitation and rescue center for local animals. The tour, lead by one of the naturalists, begins with a brief introduction to the center, followed by a walk along the trails around the reserve, stopping in front of each animal enclosure to learn about them. While the animals at the center vary, visitors will likely see ant eaters, snakes, monkeys, parrots, and sloths. Volunteer tours also offer you the chance to help care for the animals during your visit, preparing food and helping to feed them.

Day 7: Arenal to San Jose, Depart Costa Rica

Arenal in the clouds at sunset
Arenal in the clouds at sunset

After breakfast, you'll be driven back to San José where you'll depart Juan Santamaría International Airport for your journey home.

Map

Map of Manuel Antonio & Arenal For Families - 7 days
Map of Manuel Antonio & Arenal For Families - 7 days
Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Oct 8, 2019