Perfect for travelers looking to hike and observe wildlife, this itinerary starts and ends in San José and includes many of the Caribbean coast's best destinations—including a famous sea turtle nesting site in Tortuguero and Cahuita National Park. Compared to the Pacific Coast, the Caribbean side tends to be less crowded, with more cultural diversity. From nature treks to pristine beaches, this itinerary offers something for everyone who wants to experience splendid scenery with a laid-back feel. 

 Highlights

  • Explore the markets, museums, and architecture of Costa Rica's capital, San José
  • Visit the Caribbean region's largest nesting site for green sea turtles
  • Hike jungle trails in differing national parks and see sloths, tropical birds, and more!
  • Enjoy white-sand beaches and reefs perfect for snorkeling

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José, Evening Tour San José
Day 2 Hike in Tortuguero National Park Tortuguero National Park
Day 3 Boat Tour in Tortuguero National Park Tortuguero National Park
Day 4 Travel to Puerto Viejo Puerto Viejo
Day 5 Snorkel & Hike Cahuita National Park Puerto Viejo
Day 6 Return to San José San José
Day 7 Depart San José  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José, Evening Tour

Colonial architecture in San José

Welcome to San José! If you arrive early, head downtown and explore Costa Rica's capital. Grand plazas and buildings with centuries of history can be found almost everywhere you look, and most can be easily accessed by tourists. Here are some of the main, must-see destinations:

  • Mercado Central (Central Market): A great way to spend your morning, the central market opens at dawn and is one of San José's oldest and most iconic places. Experience the hustle and bustle of daily life as locals gather to talk politics, buy and sell all kinds of goods, and enjoy generations-old recipes handed down through the ages. Additionally, if you're looking for a last-minute souvenir, this is the perfect place to get something special.
  • Museo del Oro Precolumbino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum): This museum holds the largest Pre-Columbian gold collection in all of Latin America, all of which is stored underground for protection. Despite the outside, a vault-like appearance that leads to the displays, the inside is extensive and well-furnished and is bound to satisfy both history buffs and anyone looking for stunning visuals.
  • San José City Evening Tour: Get introduced to local vendors and authentic cuisine in the Central Market, swing by a series of architectural wonders, including the National Theater, and enjoy a fine 3-course meal complete with some of Costa Rica's best wine.

For more travel advice, check out 24 Hours in San José and look over this list of the best hotels in San José.

Day 2: Hike in Tortuguero National Park

Green Sea Turtle

Wake up early and begin your three-day excursion to Tortuguero National Park. Ground transportation will take you from San José to Caño Blanco or Finca Pavona, where you will then ride a motorboat to Tortuguero. This is because there are no cars allowed in Tortuguero, so boats are the only means of transportation. The boat ride to Tortuguero is one of the attractions of the area, along the way, you will see lush forests, crocodiles, sloths, monkeys, and various species of birds.

After you arrive in the area, a short guided hike to the town of Tortuguero will introduce you to the local sights. Afterward, the rest of the day is free for you to relax in your hotel. Then, once the sun sets, green sea turtles may come up to the beach. If you happen to visit during the nesting season from June through mid-October, this is one thing you definitely can't miss, as it is one of the Caribbean's largest nesting sites. Learn more about the best things to do in and around the park.

Day 3: Boat Tour in Tortuguero National Park

Spotting wildlife down the river
Spotting wildlife down the river

For the first half of the day, take a boat tour through the canals on the park grounds and admire a stunning array of wildlife. The afternoon is free for a variety of optional adventure activities in the area, including:

  • Canopy tour: A combination of zip lines and suspended bridges that will allow you to get up and personal with the flora and fauna around.
  • Fishing: With all the canals near the sea, there are many fishing opportunities. Some lodges will even let you cook what you catch for dinner.
  • Canoeing: You can explore the waterways by yourself by renting a canoe. This way, you can explore some of the areas that are a bit hard to reach by motorboat.

If you are interested, there is even a night boat tour.  You will meander down the canals in the darkness, and the guide will shine a spotlight to show you the nocturnal animals, including crocodiles, frogs, caimans, and bats. Find out more about the top nature experiences in Costa Rica.

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

Day 4: Travel to Puerto Viejo

Colorful restaurant in Puerto Viejo
Colorful restaurant in Puerto Viejo

After breakfast, you will be transferred by boat and car to the town of Guapiles. Eat a tasty local lunch, then spend the rest of the day getting to Puerto Viejo, located on the South Caribbean coast.  

With residents of both Afro-Caribbean and indigenous descent, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca has a vibe different from other beach towns in Costa Rica. You will see colorful homes, hear reggaeton beats, and witness a generally laid-back attitude. This ultimate guide to Puerto Viejo gives you all the information you need to enjoy this vibrant town properly!  

Where to eat in Puerto Viejo? You're in luck, as there's a great variety of restaurants and nightlife it has to offer. Don't forget to try coconut rice, which is famous here.

Day 5: Snorkel & Hike in Cahuita National Park

Sloth in Cahuita National Park
Sloth in Cahuita National Park

Start your day with a hike in Cahuita National Park, following a winding jungle trail beginning from the community of Cahuita. Cross through beautiful white-sand beaches up by Cahuita Point, where tourists can relax and go for a dip in the tranquil waters of the Caribbean Sea. Then, set off to spot various types of snakes (boas, bocaraca, bushmaster, eyelash vipers), sloths, white-faced and howler monkeys, anteaters, armadillos, raccoons, blue morpho butterflies, birds, medicinal plants, orchids, and all types of tropical trees.

After the hike, embark on a boat trip from the vibrant coast of the park to a colorful coral reef for some snorkeling. Then, head back to the park grounds for a picnic-style lunch (sandwich, fruit, and drinks) on the shore, complete with amazing views and the fresh sea breeze. In the afternoon, hike another nature trail, this time in the company of a professional guide who will fully explain the range of flora and fauna in Cahuita National Park. 

For more ideas and inspiration, read Best Things to Do in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

Day 6: Beach & Return to San José

Deserted docks in Cahuita National Park
Deserted docks in Cahuita National Park

Take your last full day to relax in the morning, finish exploring the national park, and enjoy the beach. By noon, you hit the road to transfer back to San José, where a hotel will be ready for you on your last night. If you didn't get to visit any of the local attractions or attend the night tour in San José, now is your chance. Alternatively, you can discover the capital's exciting nightlife scene and end your tour with a blast! Read more about the top cultural experiences in Costa Rica here.

Day 7: Depart San José 

Metropolitan Cathedral of San Jose in Costa Rica
Metropolitan Cathedral of San José in Costa Rica

It's time to say goodbye to Costa Rica. A representative will meet you at your hotel and drive you to the airport for your return flight home.

More Great Costa Rica Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these other Costa Rica itineraries, explore different ways to experience a week in Costa Rica, or learn about the best time to visit Costa Rica.

Map

Map of Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast: Tortuguero & Puerto Viejo - 7 Days
Map of Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast: Tortuguero & Puerto Viejo - 7 Days