See Costa Rica's outdoor highlights on this weeklong adventure around the country's volcanoes, hot springs, cloud forests, wildlife habitats, and beaches. After spending a few days exploring Arenal Volcano and its surroundings, you'll move on to Monteverde to sip locally produced coffee and trek through the cloud forest. Then finish the week in Manuel Antonio National Park for hiking, biking, and wildlife viewing.

Highlights

  • Take a hike around Arenal Volcano and soak in volcanic hot springs
  • Explore the Monteverde Cloud Forest on a guided nature tour
  • Kayak in Manuel Antonio National Park and snorkel offshore
  • Enjoy a swim and a picnic on the shores of Biesanz Bay

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José, Explore the Rainforest at Night Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 2 Sloth & Bird Hike, Soak in Hot Springs Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 3 Taste Costa Rican Coffee, Nighttime Nature Walk Monteverde
Day 4 Guided Monteverde Cloud Forest Tour Monteverde
Day 5 Tárcoles River Crocodiles and on to Manuel Antonio Manuel Antonio
Day 6 Explore Manuel Antonio National Park  Manuel Antonio
Day 7 Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José, Explore the Rainforest at Night

The colorful yet lethal poison dart frog
The colorful poison dart frog

Welcome to Costa Rica! You'll arrive in San José, and your driver will transport you to your hotel in La Fortuna (around three hours, depending on traffic). You'll head to Ecocentro Danaus in the late afternoon, a private ecological reserve located 3 miles (4.5 km) east of La Fortuna. Here, you'll wait for nightfall to embark on a guided nature hike and discover the reserve's nocturnal creatures.

As you walk, your guide will point out various insects, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. Enjoy spotting bullfrogs, the iconic red-eyed tree frog, the translucent glass frog, and perhaps the brightly colored poison dart frog, one of the planet's most poisonous frogs. 

Day 2: Sloth & Bird Hike, Soak in Hot Springs

Look up to see wildlife
A sloth in the wild

Go on a hiking excursion today along the so-called "Sloth Trail." This nature trail cuts through a habitat for sloths (both two-toed and three-toed) who like to hang on the branches of the trees and feed on bright green leaves. On this two-hour guided hike, you'll see a few of these animals and perhaps even spy a mother sloth and its baby. During the walk, your bilingual guide will also point out other animals common to this area, like the famous red-eyed tree frog.

In the afternoon, discover the La Fortuna area with a hike around Arenal Volcano and other nearby nature reserves. Start at the entrance of the 1968 Trail, where you'll hit the well-maintained trails that skirt the base of the Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal. This 1.5-hour route offers some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities in the park, and your naturalist guide will keep a well-trained eye out for exotic birds, monkeys, and other animals along the way. After hiking the trails, your guide will drop you off at Tabacon Hot Springs so you can soothe your muscles with a dip in mineral-rich waters. 

Find out more about hiking around Arenal Volcano here.

Day 3: Taste Costa Rican Coffee, Nighttime Nature Walk

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

From your hotel, you'll transfer to the boat dock at the shores of Lake Arenal, where you'll board a boat and journey to the other side of the lake. Upon arrival, you'll officially be in the Monteverde region of Costa Rica. First, you'll walk through a local coffee plantation, where you'll have the opportunity to identify and learn about the coffee plant first-hand. Your guide will walk you through every step of the process, from harvesting to roasting and brewing, and show you the simplest way to prepare a perfect cup of coffee.

Plan your trip to Costa Rica
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
After finishing your coffee, it's time to head into the jungle! This part of the tour takes place in a protected forest that makes up about 50% of the plantation's property. The trail extends along a creek that runs through the farm, making it the perfect location to spot creatures both in the trees and along the shores of the water. It is common to observe frogs and various snake species along the trail. With a little luck, you might even observe forest dwellers such as the two-toed sloth or the kinkajou.

Day 4: Guided Monteverde Cloud Forest Tour

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

Transfer from your hotel to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, one of Costa Rica's ecological crown jewels. Known as the "green lung of Costa Rica" due to its rich biodiversity, this sprawling reserve is high in the country's mountainous northwest region. On a guided tour, you'll get an overview of the incredible biodiversity of this region, where upland and lowland rainforest meet. More than 350 bird species live here, including the quetzal. It's a nature lover's paradise.

Check out the Best Things to Do in Monteverde for more ideas of what to see and do.

Day 5: Transfer to Manuel Antonio National Park

Sunset at Manuel Antonio Beach
Sunset at Manuel Antonio Beach

After breakfast, you'll transfer to Manuel Antonio National Park in a private, air-conditioned minivan. The drive takes approximately five hours, depending on traffic. You'll stop along the way in the town of Tárcoles and make your way to a bridge over the Tárcoles River. The river is famous for having the largest American crocodile population in Central America, and this is your chance to see these toothy reptiles in the wild. You can usually see at least a dozen sunbathing on the riverbanks or floating in the water from the bridge.

Continue to Manuel Antonio National Park, check in to your hotel, and get some rest before the next day's excursion. If you have the energy or inclination, both the beach and the edge of the national park are close to town, so you can easily spend time here with water sports on Espadilla Beach or a hike on the trails through the forest. You can also explore the adjacent town of Quepos for sunset views. Or you may prefer to take it easy, wandering at your own pace and stopping for dinner in a local restaurant. Here are some dining recommendations for Manual Antonio.

Day 6: Explore Manuel Antonio National Park 

A beach in Manuel Antonio National Park

Today you'll go on a guided tour to explore the pristine natural beauty of the world-famous Manuel Antonio National Park, filled with exotic wildlife such as monkeys, sloths, birds, reptiles, and butterflies. Your picturesque hike will take you to one of the country's best beaches, known for its white sandy beaches and crystalline blue waters. Have your camera ready as your knowledgeable guide points out diverse flora and fauna along the way.

Check out the Ultimate Guide to Manuel Antonio National Park for more information.

Day 7: Depart Costa Rica

Take in a Costa Rica sunset 
The trip ends today. You will transfer to the airport in San José to catch your flight out. Safe travels!

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 spend a week in Costa Rica, or discover the best time to visit Costa Rica.

Map

Map of Costa Rica's Natural Wonders - 7 Days
Map of Costa Rica's Natural Wonders - 7 Days
Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Oct 17, 2022