Costa Rica is a well-known adventure destination, and this 10-day itinerary makes time for all the highlights. You'll go whitewater rafting on the Pacuare River, ride a horse through the misty cloud forest, zip from tree to tree in Monteverde, and stand up paddle in the Pacific Ocean. This trip makes time for cultural highlights, too: a visit to a traditional coffee plantation, the National Theater, and Jaco's nightlife round out the trip.

Highlights

  • Navigate class IV rapids on the Pacuare River
  • Explore Arenal Volcano National Park on horseback 
  • Get on the water with a day of stand-up paddleboarding
  • Become part of the forest canopy with a zip line adventure
  • Learn to surf in Jaco Beach

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San Jose San José
Day 2 Poas Volcano, La Paz Waterfall Garden, & Doka Estate Coffee Tour San José
Day 3 White Water Rafting on Pacuare River Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 4 Horseback Riding, Nature Walk, & Hot Springs in Arenal  Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Stand Up Paddle on Arenal Lake & Lake Crossing to Monteverde Monteverde
Day 6 Monteverde Reserve Hike & Zip Line Tour  Monteverde
Day 7 Transfer Monteverde to Jaco Beach Jacó
Day 8 Jaco Beach: Surf Lessons Jacó
Day 9 Jaco Beach: Free Day Jacó
Day 10 Depart From Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San Jose

Photo taken by Khaled S
Welcome to Costa Rica!

Welcome to Costa Rica! After you've arrived, get settled in your hotel in San José. If your flight arrives earlier in the day, take the afternoon to explore the city on foot. The nation's capital features bustling streets, green parks, grand plazas, and European-inspired architecture showcasing centuries of history.

Suggested activities include: 

  • Take a stroll through the San José 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 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.
  • Check out a pair of fascinating museums. First, visit the Museo del Oro Precolumbino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum), which holds the largest indigenous gold collection in all of Latin American. Continue on to the Jade Museum, dedicated to preserving the archaeological heritage of the region. The museum features the largest collection of pre-Columbian jade artifacts in the world with over 7,000 items on display, most dated between 500 BCE and 300 BCE.

Day 2: Poas Volcano, La Paz Waterfall Garden, & Doka Estate Coffee tour

Coffee bean roasting

Start the day in the province of Alajuela, where Poás Volcano is located. It's a fertile region dotted with coffee plantations, strawberry fields, and hydrangea gardens. 

Your first stop of the day is a coffee plantation. Costa Rica is the 10th largest coffee producer in the world. Since 1986 this nation has grown only the highest quality arabica beans, as these coffee plants thrive in the nutrient-rich volcanic soil of the region. At this local coffee finca (farm) you will learn about the harvesting and roasting process, and then finish the tour by enjoying a freshly brewed cup.

From here, continue to the Poas Volcano to enjoy a hike through the rainforest. Bird lovers will enjoy spotting some of the regions many unique species: the blue-throated toucanet, yellow-thighed finch, slaty flowerpiercer, ruddy-capped nightingale-thrush, gray-breasted wood-wren, hairy woodpecker, spot-crowned woodcreeper, flame-throated warbler, chestnut-capped brush finch, mountain Elaenia, black guan, scintillant hummingbird, red-billed pigeon, and prong-billed barbet.

In the afternoon, continue to La Paz Waterfall Garden, where you'll enjoy a buffet lunch (rated 4 Forks by the Costa Rican Tourism Council) that includes multiple selections of Traditional Costa Rican dishes and much more. There's a lot to see and do at this popular eco-theme park, including visiting a wild animal rehabilitation center with a variety of different species. There's also a path that leads through the surrounding cloud forest to a network of beautiful waterfalls, including the star of the show: La Paz.

Day 3: White Water Rafting on the Pacuare River

Conquer the rapids on the Pacuare River
Conquer the rapids on the Pacuare River

Adventure is waiting for you! The day begins early. Start your morning with a pickup and a transfer to the Siquirres area. Once you arrive, a delicious typical breakfast will be waiting for you. Try the famous gallo pinto, the best way to fuel up for a day of adventure.

After breakfast, you will change clothes and get ready to jump into the river, which is only a few minutes away. Upon arrival at the river, the expert guides will proceed with the safety talk, technical instructions, and you will have the chance to practice paddling on calm water. From there you will explore the stunning river rapids and enjoy the majestic scenery among you.

Once you've completed half of the river, enjoy lunch on the banks of the river to recharge your energy for the last part of this water adventure. This is the best white-water rafting in Costa Rica, and this is considered the top 10 rivers in the world to practice this sport. The rapids you will descend today are class III-IV.

After your trip down the river, continue traveling northwest to the northern plains of the country towards the towering Arenal Volcano. In the last several decades, the volcano has erupted in July of 1968 as well as in 1975, 1993, and 1998. It is currently inactive.

Arrive at your hotel by late afternoon, with enough time to relax and enjoy the area.

Day 4: Horseback Riding, Nature Walk, & Hot Springs 

Photo taken by seng K
Take a dip in the water

Today, you'll have a full day to enjoy the rainforests of Arenal Volcano National Park. It begins with a four-hour horseback excursion to the most famous cascades in the country: the La Fortuna Waterfall. Led by an English-speaking guide, you'll trot over to the entrance and then hike down 1,000 steps to the waterfall. The sight of these falls plunging 200 feet (75 meters) straight down into a sky-blue lagoon is a romantic dream come to life. And if you can't resist the lagoon's charms, then feel free to dive right in. 

In the afternoon, you enjoy more of the rainforest and relax in the natural hot springs near the volcano. To maximize your time in the healing waters, enjoy dinner at the adjacent restaurant. 

Day 5: Stand Up Paddle on Arenal Lake & Lake Crossing to Monteverde

Test your balance on the water
Test your balance on the water

Start your morning with a freshwater adventure on Lake Arenal. Get close to nature on a stand-up paddleboard, enjoying exploring the lake, racing, and even trying yoga while balancing on your stand-up paddleboard. 

After a morning of stand-up paddleboarding, transfer across the lake aboard a boat that will take you across the tranquil waters of the lake. On this 3.5-hour ride, you'll have ample opportunity to spot local birds like herons and anhingas. 

Day 6: Monteverde Reserve Hike & Zip Line Tour

Go ziplining through the cloud forest in Monteverde
Go ziplining through the cloud forest in Monteverde

Start your day off with a hike through the rainforest to spot wildlife and learn about the ecosystems. In the afternoon, get your heart pumping with an exciting canopy zipline tour. 

Sky Adventures Monteverde Park is an aerial amusement park that raises jungle excitement to the next level. Its Sky Tram network of gondolas transports visitors from one adrenaline-pumping activity to another. First, you'll start with a guided Sky Walk, which combines trails and suspension bridges that ultimately reach heights of up to 984 feet above the jungle canopy. The flora and fauna of the region will be on full display, and your specialized guides will point out the most interesting specimens. Later, you'll ride in an open-air Sky Tram gondola. During this journey, you'll ascend over the rainforest and enjoy sweeping views across the mountains. 

Arriving at the end of the line, the exhilarating adventure of whizzing down the mountain begins. Connect to a zip-line cable that stretches over rainforest treetops and across clifftops, finally returning you to the starting point. Sky Trek is known as the most thrilling zip line in the country, and Monteverde is the birthplace of the canopy tour in Costa Rica.

Day 7: Transfer Monteverde to Jaco Beach

Photo taken by Li K
Fun in the water

After breakfast, you'll be transferred 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 shops before hitting the nightclubs once the sun goes down.

Day 8: Jaco Beach: Surf Lessons

Hang ten | Photo taken by Rachel H
Hang ten | Photo taken by Rachel H

Today you will head to the beach for a fun surf lesson. This ideal beach with soft currents is known to be one of the best spots for beginners to learn to surf in the country. Your instructor will provide guidance to ensure you catch a wave.

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, stroll through town, or enjoy a meal at a local café before heading back to your hotel.

Day 9: Jaco Beach: Free Day

Taking in the sunset views
Taking in the sunset views

Today is yours to enjoy unencumbered by schedules. Just relax on the beach, or maybe consider one of these fun excursions:

  • Visit Tarcoles, and take the Tarcoles River Crocodile Safari Boat tour.  You're bound to see a multitude of wildlife including the famous, huge, 20-ft American crocodiles that inhabit the Carara Biological Reserve area of the Tarcoles River. You get a delicious lunch at the end of your Safari Crocodile boat tour.
  • Take a catamaran trip across the bay 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 the hammock.

Day 10: Departure Costa Rica

Surfing in Manuel Antonio
Surfing in Manuel Antonio

Today is the last day of your trip. Transfer to the airport and catch your flight home.