This 9-day Costa Rican itinerary is ideal for adventure-loving couples. Starting and ending in San José, the two of you will ford the scenic Río Pacuare (one of the best white-water rafting rivers in the world), explore lush jungle, and enjoy downtime together in a luxury eco-lodge.


  • Enjoy a romantic dinner in Costa Rica's dynamic capital city
  • Enjoy a free day to explore the area surrounding your remote jungle lodge
  • Swim at the base of the La Fortuna waterfall
  • Relax in volcanic hot springs
  • Learn about the production process of Costa Rican chocolate

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José, Dinner Reservation for Two 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 Waterfall Hike & Cooking Class Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 8 La Fortuna -> Drive back to San José San Jose
Day 9 Depart San José  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José, Dinner Reservation for Two

Teatro Nacional in San José
Teatro Nacional in San José

Welcome to the land of pura vida! After arriving at Juan Santamaria International Airport in San José, a local representative will meet you and escort you to your hotel. 

The rest of your day is designated free time for the two of you to explore the country's vibrant capital city. Suggested activities include: 

  • A stroll through Mercado Central (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. 
  • Explore Barrio Amón, a historic neighborhood that's home to cafetalero (coffee grower) mansions constructed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of the area’s historic buildings have been converted into hotels, restaurants, and galleries, making this a popular district for taking in the art-deco manses and painted tropical Victorian structures. 
  • 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. 

In the evening, head out on the town and check out one of the city's best restaurants:

  • For special-occasion dining, try Restaurante Grano de Oro, an upmarket favorite helmed by French chef Francis Canal, who uses European techniques to prepare Costa Rican-fusion fare paired with an excellent wine list. 
  • Though it's technically attached to one of the more interesting hotels in Costa Rica (visit the lobby and you'll understand), Del Mar's 24-hour restaurant is a nice continental dinner spot in an amazing 19th century restored mansion with a series of beautiful rooms and stained glass windows.   
  • The restaurant Tin Jo serves a variety of excellent Asian dishes including vegetarian options—this is popular with locals, so make a reservation. 
  • Kalú is a sleek and modern option run by a female chef with a love for French culture as well as Asian, Mediterranean, and Creole gastronomy.

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 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: Free Day in the Jungles of Río Pacuare 

Maybe try rappelling down a waterfall
Maybe try rappelling down a waterfall

You've experienced the jungles of the Río Pacuare from the riverbanks, now today you'll venture behind the treeline. Rainforest adventure options here 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 and spend one last cozy night in the rainforest.

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

Raft class III-IV rapids
Raft class III-IV rapids

After breakfast, 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 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.

Plan your trip to Costa Rica
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 5: Hike Arenal 1968 - Tabacón Hot Springs

Arenal at sunset
Arenal at sunset

After breakfast, you can take the morning to relax. In the early afternoon, 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. 

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 adventure as you embark on a paddleboarding trip around Lake Arenal. This is Costa Rica's largest landlocked body of water, yet the lake is calm, making it ideal 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.

Amateur spelunkers can travel an hour from La Fortuna and venture into the Venado Caves. These six-million-year-old subterranean chambers are home to exotic animals like spiders and bats. Be prepared to get wet, as the Venado Caves feature underground pools.

You'll have the evening to relax back in La Fortuna.

Day 7: Waterfall Hike & Cooking Class

Take a cooking class on typical Costa Rican cuisine
Take a cooking class on typical Costa Rican cuisine

After breakfast in La Fortuna, you'll begin today's adventure with a visit to La Fortuna Waterfall Reserve, where a heavy annual precipitation gives you the chance to enjoy a stunning 210-foot waterfall. As you descend downhill on the trail, you'll get a chance to see the falls from the very bottom where a natural pool awaits if you want to swim in the fresh water of La Fortuna River.

In the afternoon, take a guided journey to the family-owned Arenal Vida Campesina Farm where you'll find several crops that Costa Rica is best known for: sugar cane, coffee, corn, yucca, cocoa, bananas, and plantains. The trip includes a visit to the mill for fresh-squeezed sugar cane juice and a taste of sugar cane liquor. Next, you'll head to restaurant La Guaria Morada for a cooking class on typical Costa Rican cuisine, followed by a family-style dinner.

Day 8: La Fortuna -> Drive back to San José

Cacao beans
Cacao beans

Enjoy your last morning in La Fortuna. Take a stroll around the central plaza, or visit the La Fortuna Waterfall.

If you like, you'll have enough time for a chocolate-making tour. In this hands-on program, you’ll learn about the origin, history, and production of one of Costa Rica's most famous exports: chocolate. You'll participate in the cacao harvest, as well as the drying and grinding of the seeds used to produce creamy cocoa butter. You'll learn how a traditional Costa Rican chocolate drink was developed centuries ago, and, of course, sample the freshly made chocolate.

After lunch, it's time to transfer back to San José and drop off your rental car. You'll still have much of the evening to explore the city and take advantage of anything you may have missed at the beginning of the trip.

Day 9: 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 coffee shop, or browse some shops before boarding your flight home.


Map of Romance in the Jungle - 9 Days
Map of Romance in the Jungle - 9 Days
Written by Emily Strauss, updated Feb 18, 2021