This 13-day itinerary allows you to experience the full scope of Costa Rica's wonders. In almost two weeks you'll visit the capital of San José, the tropical jungles at Pacuare, the iconic Arenal volcano, the cloud forests of Monteverde, and many wide and inviting beaches, from the north of the country to the south. There are plenty of activities along the way, from white water rafting to soaring over the cloud forest canopy on a zip-line tour.


  • Brave the rapids of the wild Pacuare River on a rafting trip
  • Take a dip in La Fortuna Waterfall—the most famous falls in the country
  • Cap your trip with a sunset catamaran cruise around the Gulf of Papagayo, on the Pacific coast
  • Fly over the treetops on a zip-line canopy tour in Monteverde

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José San Jose
Day 2 Rafting Río Pacuare Río Pacuare
Day 3 Rafting Class III-IV Rapids - Arrive in Arenal Volcano National Park Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 4 Volcano Hike & La Fortuna Waterfall Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Waterfall Rappelling in Arenal Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 6 Coffee Farm Tour & Tabacon Hot Springs Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 7 Boat from Arenal to Monteverde - Nocturnal Nature Tour Monteverde
Day 8 Zip-Line Fun in the Cloud Forest Monteverde
Day 9 Monteverde to Jacó Jacó
Day 10 River Safari in Carara National Park Jacó
Day 11 Day trip to Tortuga Island Jacó
Day 12 Jacó to San José San Jose
Day 13 Depart San José  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José

The neoclassical Teatro Nacional in San José
The neoclassical Teatro Nacional in San José

Welcome to Costa Rica, the land of pura vida! After arriving at Juan Santamaría International Airport in San José, a local representative will meet you and escort you to your hotel. The rest of the day you'll have free to explore the city at your leisure.

Perhaps take a stroll through Mercado Central (Central Market), featuring over 200 shops, food stalls, and sodas (traditional restaurants). Then visit the Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Church), whose interior combines Greek Orthodox, Neoclassical, and Baroque styles, and features wood carvings and stained-glass windows. There's also a pair of popular museums in San José: Museo del Oro Precolumbino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum), and Museo del Jade—the world's largest collection of pre-Columbian jade artifacts.

Be sure to explore Barrio Amón, a historic neighborhood 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 Amón a popular bohemian district.

For dinner, opt for a restaurant in the hills of Escazú. This elevated region on the western edge of the city offers panoramic views of the valley below. That said, San José is filled with great restaurants serving everything from traditional to forward-thinking fusion cuisine.

Day 2: Rafting Río Pacuare

Enjoy the scenic drive to the Pacuare River
Enjoy a scenic drive to the Pacuare River

This morning, you'll wake up early, meet your guide, and begin the 2.5-hour drive east out of the city of San José for a day on the river. Stop en route for a classic Costa Rican breakfast of gallo pinto (rice, black beans, and eggs) before arriving at the Río Pacuare (Pacuare River).

Located along Costa Rica’s Caribbean slope, Río Pacuare’s deep gorge is considered one of the best river-rafting sites in the world.  The Pacuare runs 67 miles from the Talamanca Mountains, in the southwest of the country, to the Caribbean. Along the way, it passes through some of the most diverse topography in Costa Rica. Here it's not uncommon for rafters to spot several species of tropical birds as well as monkeys, ocelots, and (much less frequently) jaguars. 

It's now time for you to begin your whitewater rafting adventure.  After a guided orientation, you'll embark on today's adrenaline-pumping trip on class II-III rapids. You'll paddle past impressive tropical scenery through rushing whitewater all the way to the destination: a riverside eco-lodge. Here, you will check into your luxury jungle accommodations and have the rest of the day to explore the surrounding area with your guide.

After lunch, you can hike through the lodge’s protected forest to an idyllic waterfall, or enjoy a couple's massage, or simply relax in your private bungalow or suite and enjoy the nature and tranquility of this remote tropical dreamland.

Day 3: Rafting Class III-IV Rapids - Arrive in Arenal Volcano National Park

Expect to get wet on this challenging ride
Expect to get wet on this challenging ride

It's time to brace yourself for an even more exhilarating river trip—this time over class III-IV rapids. As you again travel down the Río Pacuare, you'll pass by even more canyons, waterfalls, and virgin rainforest. During the calmer stretches, be on the lookout for various species of birds and other wildlife endemic to the region like toucans and capuchin monkeys. 

After arriving at the end of the trip, you'll hop in a car and transfer to the town of La Fortuna, the perfect home base for exploring Arenal Volcano National Park. Located north of the Tilaran Mountains, the cone-shaped Arenal Volcano juts out above the San Carlos Plains and stands an impressive 5,479 feet (1,670 meters). 

Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and can spend the remainder of the day relaxing. For dinner, enjoy one of La Fortuna's over 100 restaurants. The cuisine here runs the gamut from traditional Costa Rican, Mediterranean, Italian, and pizza. There's even an Argentine steakhouse.

Learn more about the best active experiences in Costa Rica.

Day 4: Volcano Hike & La Fortuna Waterfall

Lava fields now cover one side of Arenal
Lava fields now cover one side of Arenal

In the early afternoon, you'll head towards the base of the volcano to hike Arenal 1968. This is a network of trails named after Arenal's last major eruption. The event was so catastrophic it transformed some of the region’s topography, and lava fields now dominate one side of the volcano. The trails wind through those lava fields as well as the surrounding rainforest. Along the way, you'll find lookout points featuring prime views of Arenal. 

Later in the afternoon, you'll experience the other star of the Arenal Volcano region: La Fortuna Waterfall. If Arenal is the most famous volcano in the country, then La Fortuna is easily the most famous falls. It's located a 15-minute drive from the town of La Fortuna, at the base of the dormant Chato Volcano. The waters here plunge 210 feet into a tropical lagoon, and a 500-step downhill hike provides the opportunity to see the falls from the bottom up. Besides taking photos, be sure to swim and relax in the La Fortuna River below the falls.

Then it's back to your hotel where you'll spend the rest of the day unwinding. If you want to treat yourself to a soak in the nearby hot springs, no one will blame you.

Find out more about hiking around Arenal Volcano here.

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Day 5: Waterfall Rappelling in Arenal

Be prepared to get wet
Be prepared to get wet

Waterfall rappelling, also known as canyoning, is one of the most popular adventure sports in Costa Rica. After a couple of hours hiking along winding rivers through a canyon in the heart of the rainforest, you'll reach your destination. You'll then strap into a harness and rappel down the side of the waterfall. It doesn't get more exciting, feeling the mist and spray of the falls as you rebound off rocky cliffs before ending with a splash into the pool below. 

Never rappelled? Not to worry—there's no experience necessary and expert guides will be there to ensure everyone is safe throughout the experience. The minimum age is 13 years old but exceptions can be made for some 12-year-olds. 

Day 6: Coffee Farm Tour & Tabacon Hot Springs

Learn about the coffee harvesting process, from farm-to-cup
Learn about the coffee harvesting process, from farm-to-cup

Today you'll head to a local farm for a tour centered around one of Costa Rica's most famous exports: coffee. You'll participate in the entire farm-to-cup process, from picking the beans to roasting. 

Afterward, spend the evening relaxing with a dip in the mineral-rich waters of Tabacon's hot springs, used as therapeutic baths for more than 200 years. Tabacon Thermal resort also offers day passes and includes a spa where treatments are given in outdoor bungalows (not included). 

Check out this Ultimate Guide to Costa Rican Coffee.

Day 7: Boat from Arenal to Monteverde - Nocturnal Nature Tour

Cloud forest in Monteverde
Cloud forest in Monteverde

After breakfast at your resort in La Fortuna, you'll transfer to the Monteverde region of Costa Rica. This is no ordinary route; you'll skip the drive and board a boat, which will take you across the tranquil waters of Lake Arenal. On this 3.5-hour boat ride, you'll have ample opportunity to spot local birds like herons and anhingas. 

When you arrive at Monteverde, take the afternoon and evening to enjoy nearby Santa Elena, a charming town with Quaker influences known for excellent coffee and cheese. There are also plenty of dining options featuring delectable Costa Rican standards like ceviche and arroz con pollo (rice with chicken). Here are a few restaurant suggestions: 

  • Grab a seat on the front porch of local favorite Orchid Coffee, which serves a menu of smoothies, salads, and sandwiches. Sweet-toothed visitors will appreciate the café’s extensive hot chocolate menu made with Costa Rican chocolate and mixed with unique ingredients like cardamom and orange. 
  • El Jardin Bar & Restaurant wins visitors over with its lovely setting overlooking the trees, friendly service, and fresh homemade bread served alongside every meal.
  • Built around an old higueron (fig) tree, the Tree House Restaurant & Café serves well-prepared Costa Rican standards like ceviche and arroz con pollo in a romantic, open-air setting.

This evening, you'll have the chance to see the wildlife of the Cloud Forest Reserve at its most active on a guided night tour. A naturalist will point out sloths, armadillos, and kinkajous, as well as sleeping birds. You'll have the chance to hear and see different wildlife than during the daytime, like agoutis, porcupines, grey foxes, tarantulas, and frogs.

See this article on dining recommendations in Monteverde.

Day 8: Zip-Line Fun in the Cloud Forest

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

Prepare yourself for 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 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 zip-line excursions in Monteverde are regarded as the most thrilling in the country.

Check out this list of Top Experiences in Monteverde for more ideas of what to see and do.

Day 9: Monteverde to Jacó

Jacó Beach, Costa Rica
Jacó Beach, Costa Rica

After breakfast, you'll drive south to the Pacific Coast and the surf village of Jacó. This is the closest major beach town to San José, and thus is a popular destination for weekenders from the capital as well as surfers. To this point, the town is known as much for its great waves as it is for its active nightlife. 

After checking into your hotel, you'll have the remainder of the day free. If you're interested in snapping some great pics of the entire area, you can hike up to El Miro, an observation deck south of town. Not only does it offer panoramic vistas of the coast, but if you're lucky you might even spot a scarlet macaw nearby. You can also stroll around town and browse the many artisan's shops before hitting the nightclubs once the sun goes down.

Day 10: River Safari in Carara National Park

Crocodiles are common sites on the Tárcoles River
Crocodiles are common sites on the Tárcoles River

In the morning you'll travel a short way north to Carara National Park. This 53-square-km area was created originally as a protected area in 1978 but was upgraded to national park status in 1990 due to its popularity. It's easy to see Carera's appeal: the region is located between the tropical dry scrub of the northern Pacific coast and the southern Pacific rainforests, making it home to a wide variety of flora and fauna.

Your destination in the park is the Tárcoles River, where you'll embark on a safari boat tour. You're bound to see a multitude of exotic wildlife on this boat trip including the famous 20-foot American crocodiles that inhabit the area. At the end of the excursion, you'll take a break for lunch before returning to Jacó.

Day 11: Day trip to Tortuga Island

View of Isla Tortuga from the top of the hill
View of Isla Tortuga from the top of the hill

This morning, you will be picked up early from your hotel to head to Isla Tortuga.  

First, board a catamaran, and cruise across the Gulf of Nicoya. During the day, you can enjoy snorkeling in the crystal clear turquoise waters that Tortuga Island is famous for, or go on a banana boat ride.  

After lunch, enjoy the beach or a game of volleyball, or just enjoy a nap in a hammock.

Day 12: Jacó to San José

Enjoy one last morning on the beach
Enjoy one last morning on the beach

Today is your last day at the beach, so savor the morning. You can relax on the sand and take a mental snapshot of the scene while enjoying the sound of the waves. Feel free to hike back up to the El Miro lookout point for one last panoramic view of the town.

Depending on your preference, you can head to San José in the morning or in the afternoon. If you decide to go early, you can spend the afternoon exploring the capital.

For advice on what to see and do, check out 24 Hours in San José.

Day 13: Depart San José

San José at twilight
San José at twilight

It's time to say adiós to Costa Rica. Depending on your departure time, you'll have the morning to explore more of San José, relax in a café, and/or browse some shops before boarding your flight home.

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Map of Active Adventure in Costa Rica's Jungles and Beaches - 13 days
Map of Active Adventure in Costa Rica's Jungles and Beaches - 13 days