This two-week itinerary is perfect for eco-minded travelers thirsting for a comprehensive Costa Rican adventure. Kick off the journey in metropolitan San José before braving the whitewater rapids of jungle rivers, hiking the base of Costa Rica's most famous volcano, exploring rare cloud-forest eco-systems, and learning to surf (or polish your skills) and Pacific beaches. Enjoy spotting many of Costa Rica's wildlife species along the way.

Highlights

  • Brave the world-class rapids of Río Pacuare
  • Take in the scenery from a paddleboard on Lake Arenal
  • Walk suspension bridges through the Monteverde Cloud Forest
  • Take surfing lessons at Playa Santa Teresa
  • Relax on the white-sand beaches of Isla Tortuga

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José San Jose
Day 2 Rafting Río Pacuare Río Pacuare
Day 3 Free Day in the Jungles of Río Pacuare  Río Pacuare
Day 4 Rafting Class III-IV Rapids - Arrive in Arenal Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Hike Arenal 1968 - Tabacón Hot Springs Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 6 Experience Arenal Volcano from Land and Water Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 7 Boat from Arenal to Monteverde - Coffee and Chocolate Tour Monteverde
Day 8 Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Guided Hike Monteverde
Day 9 Free Day in Monteverde Monteverde
Day 10 Monteverde -> Transfer to Santa Teresa Santa Teresa
Day 11 Tambor Beach Free Day Santa Teresa
Day 12 Surfing Lesson at Playa Santa Teresa Santa Teresa
Day 13 Santa Teresa -> Transfer to San José San Jose
Day 14 Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José

Afternoon street scene in downtown San José
Afternoon street scene in downtown San José

Welcome to Costa Rica, the land of pura vida! After arriving at Juan Santamaria International Airport, in the capital of 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), with 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. The Museo del Oro Precolumbino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum), holds a large collection of Pre-Columbian gold artifacts, and the Museo del Jade (Jade Museum) features 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, you might want to 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. No matter where you go, though, the whole city is filled with delectable restaurants serving everything from traditional local to forward-thinking fusion cuisine.

Day 2: Rafting Río Pacuare

Brave the whitewater on Río Pacuare
Brave the whitewater on Río Pacuare

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. 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. 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 your final 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 opt for a couple's massage, or simply relax in your private bungalow or suite and enjoy the nature and tranquility of this remote tropical dreamland.

Pacuare rafting trip: 1-1.5 hours

Day 3: Free Day in the Jungles of Río Pacuare 

Zip-lining through the rainforest is an adventure you'll never forget
Zip-lining through the rainforest is an adventure you'll never forget

You've experienced the jungles of the Río Pacuare from the riverbanks, now today you'll have free time to venture behind the treeline. Rainforest adventure options include zip-lining over jungle canopy or canyoning El Tesorito Creek, where you'll descend a small waterfall as you rappel down a 30-meter (98-foot) rock face. 

You can also opt for a hike through the jungle to reach the legendary sendero de las mulas (mule trail), which is one of the main routes used by the indigenous Cabécar people. After the initial climb, you'll hike to the Nairi Awari Indigenous Reserve, a real highlight of the excursion that features a hidden waterfall. Enjoy a picnic lunch at this scenic spot before hiking back along the trail to a Cabécar indigenous community.

In the afternoon, return to the eco-lodge for one last cozy night lodging in the rainforest.

Day 4: Rafting Class III-IV Rapids - Arrive in Arenal

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

After breakfast, it's time to brace yourself for an even more exhilarating river trip—this time over class III-IV rapids. As you travel down the Río Pacuare, you'll witness 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 juts out above the San Carlos Plains. Check into your hotel and spend the rest 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.

Pacuare rafting trip: 3.5 hours

Day 5: Hike Arenal 1968 - Tabacón Hot Springs

A hot spring near Arenal
A hot spring near Arenal

Today, after breakfast at your hotel, you'll visit Arenal 1968, a private reserve named after the year of the last major eruption of the volcano. The event was so catastrophic that it transformed some of the region’s topography: lava fields now dominate one side of Arenal. Trails wind through those lava fields as well as the surrounding rainforest. Along the way, you'll find lookout points featuring prime views of the volcano. 

After hiking the trails, soothe your muscles with a dip in the mineral-rich waters in and around the Tabacón Thermal Resort. These hot springs have been used as therapeutic baths for more than 200 years, and the resort includes a spa where various treatments, like couples massages, are performed in outdoor bungalows.

(Optional add-on.) End the day with a nice dinner at the resort’s restaurant, which serves Costa Rican dishes as well as international fare.

Day 6: Experience Arenal Volcano from Land and Water

Paddleboarding on Lake Arenal
Paddleboarding on Lake Arenal

Today is packed with outdoor adventures, starting with a hike in Arenal Volcano National Park. An experienced guide will lead you along the trails, stopping at lookouts that afford the best views of the volcano. Along the way, your guide will point out local flora and fauna and share the rich history of the region, including tales of the volcano's infamous 1968 eruption. 

Next, you'll enjoy Arenal from the water on a paddleboarding trip. This will take place on Lake Arenal, Costa Rica's largest landlocked body of water. The lake is calm, making it an ideal locale for both SUP beginners and experienced boarders. Regardless of your skill level, the surrounding scenery and fluttering of water birds like herons and anhingas will make for an unforgettable excursion.

Day 7: Boat from Arenal to Monteverde - Coffee and Chocolate Tour

Coffee beans ready for the harvest
Coffee beans ready for the harvest

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 three-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 farm for an educational guided tour starring Costa Rica's most famous exports: coffee and chocolate. You'll participate in the entire farm-to-cup process, from picking the beans to roasting them. Of course, frequent coffee and chocolate 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).

Day 8: Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Guided Hike

Explore the dense jungle of the Monteverde Cloud Forest
Explore the dense jungle of the Monteverde Cloud Forest

After breakfast at your hotel, 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, and thus receives much precipitation.

Besides offering sweeping views of misty cloud forest, the reserve is home to countless varieties of wildlife. More than 130 species of mammals live here, as do 400 bird species, 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.

Day 9: Free Day in Monteverde

A Blue Morpho butterfly
A Blue Morpho butterfly

Today is a choose-your-own-adventure day. Throw the schedule out the window and follow your heart. The Monteverde region has a long list of options for amateur naturalists and avid adventurers. We recommend visiting Sky Adventures Monteverde Park. Here you'll zip-line through the towering forest canopy, navigate suspension bridges, and ride the Sky Tram ever higher as it carries you all the way up to the Continental Divide, where you'll enjoy 360° views of Monteverde.

There's also a near-endless amount of exotic flora in the area, including over 400 species of orchids. You can see many of them at the Monteverde Orchid Garden in Santa Elena. If fluttering works of art are your thing, don't miss the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens, which also features creepy crawlies like insects and spiders. You can also visit the smaller, more intimate Curi-Cancha Reserve and walk along the nature trails. There are great birding opportunities here. 

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

Day 10: Monteverde -> Transfer to Santa Teresa

Playa Tambor
Playa Tambor

This morning you'll transfer to the western Nicoya Peninsula and ultimately to the small fishing village of Santa Teresa. Renowned for its excellent surf, beautiful stretches of sand, and laid-back atmosphere, Santa Teresa officially kicks off the beach-holiday portion of your itinerary. After checking in to your luxury hotel, the rest of the day is yours to surf or explore or both. 

One idea for the afternoon is a visit to Playa Tambor, which is set on Bahía Ballena (Whale Bay). It's known for its postcard beaches and abundant marine life (you might just spot a leatherback turtle or two frolicking offshore). Or, rent a kayak or paddleboard at the nearby fishing village of Pochote and paddle through the mangroves. It's a great birding site—you'll spot egrets, herons, and ibises. 

At the end of the day kick back in a local restaurant or beach bar and enjoy a potent tropical cocktail or fruit juice as a sundowner.

Day 11: Tambor Beach Free Day

The turquoise bay of Isla Tortuga
The turquoise bay of Isla Tortuga

You have another free day to relax and recharge on Costa Rican beaches! However, if you have a hankering for more wildlife spotting, then you're in luck. Tambor is surrounded by forested hills which are part of the biological corridor of the Nicoya Peninsula. To the north of the Tambor Bay, you'll find the Curu Wildlife Reserve, which protects ecological habitats and a wealth of wildlife.

Fronting the wildlife reserve is Isla Tortuga, a tropical island paradise you can visit via boat tour. This area has the best diving and snorkeling in all of the southern Nicoya Peninsula. Plunge into the turquoise water and see swarms of colorful fish and all the underwater fauna. You can also hike to a viewpoint on Tortuga Island for some panoramic photo ops, or simply enjoy the views while relaxing on the white-sand beach.

Day 12: Surfing Lesson at Playa Santa Teresa

Time to hit the waves
Time to hit the waves

Today you'll take a private surf lesson in the waves of Playa Santa Teresa, some of the best and most consistent in all of Costa Rica. Beginners will gain confidence under the tutelage of expert teachers, while more advanced surfers can expect to hone their technique. 

After your lesson, you can hike along the coastline towards nearby Playa Carmen, another star of Costa Rica's Pacific beaches. Go for a dip in the tidal pools here, or head back into town. Santa Teresa attracts expats from around the world, and everyone seems to be clutching a surfboard or yoga mat. The long gravel road that runs along the beach is great for people watching and people meeting. You could even rent a vintage Land Rover or hop on an ATV and cruise the coast yourself.

Day 13: Santa Teresa -> Transfer to San José

Say goodbye to Santa Teresa
Say goodbye to Santa Teresa

After breakfast, a driver will pack you up and you'll transfer back to San José. After checking in at your hotel, you'll have the rest of the day to explore and catch any of the sites and museums you may have missed the first time around.

Ideas to consider include paying a visit the Museo de los Niños, a children's museum with more than 40 rooms of interactive experiences covering topics ranging from the human body to outer space. If you're having nature withdrawals, e
xplore Spirogyra Butterfly Garden, located downtown in the city's botanical garden. Kids especially will love seeing the butterflies in their natural habitat while learning about the different species. Architecture buffs should 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 for live performances.

Day 14: Depart Costa Rica

One last view of Costa Rica
One last view of Costa Rica

It's time to say adiós to Costa Rica! After breakfast, you'll transfer to the airport and catch your international flight home.

Map

Map of River, Jungle, and Beach Adventure  - 14 Days
Map of River, Jungle, and Beach Adventure - 14 Days