This 10-day itinerary combines mountain adventures with a bit of a beach holiday. Spend two days in Rincón de la Vieja exploring the area around one of the country's most active volcanoes. Then travel deeper inland to cross suspension bridges in the jungle, zip-line over trees, and enjoy guided hikes in La Fortuna and the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. You'll end your trip by returning to Guanacaste for relaxation on the beaches of Papagayo.

Highlights

  • Hike near an active volcano at Rincon de la Vieja
  • Swim at the base of beautiful Oropendola Waterfall
  • Zip-line over a unique cloud forest ecosystem in Monteverde
  • Enjoy a sunset catamaran cruise on the Pacific Ocean

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Liberia - Transfer to Rincón De La Vieja Rincon de la Vieja
Day 2 Hiking in Rincon de la Vieja National Park - Oropendola Waterfall Rincon de la Vieja
Day 3 Rincon de la Vieja - Transfer to Arenal Volcano National Park Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 4 Arenal Hanging Bridges - La Fortuna Waterfall and Hot Springs Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Boat from Arenal to Monteverde - Nocturnal Nature Tour Monteverde
Day 6 Aerial Fun in the Cloud Forest Monteverde
Day 7 Monteverde - Transfer to the Gulf of Papagayo Gulf de Papagayo
Day 8 Beach Day and Sunset Catamaran Sail Gulf de Papagayo
Day 9 Free Day in Guanacaste Gulf de Papagayo
Day 10 Depart Costa Rica from Liberia  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Liberia -> Transfer to Rincón De La Vieja

View of the valley, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
View of the valley, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Welcome to Costa Rica! Liberia is the northern hub of Guanacaste Province, an area famous for both its Pacific beaches and inland mountainous regions. 

After touching down at Daniel Oduber Quirós International airport you'll transfer about 40 minutes north to the edge of Rincón de la Vieja National Park. On the drive up the Pan-American Highway, you'll be treated to beautiful scenery, including the flatlands of the Guanacaste savannah. Eventually, you'll pass the sleepy village of Curubandé before reaching Hacienda Guachipelin, the secluded eco-hotel where you'll stay.

Day 2: Hiking in Rincon de la Vieja National Park - Oropendola Waterfall

Hiking in Rincón de la Vieja
Hiking in Rincón de la Vieja

Today you'll transfer to the outskirts of Rincón de la Vieja National Park and embark on a brisk 45-minute walk along a scenic forest trail to the Las Pailas entrance. Las Pailas, which means “the cauldrons” in Spanish, offers premium vantage points in which to experience the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano, the largest and most active volcano in Guanacaste Province. Steaming fumaroles, mini-geysers, and bubbling volcanic mud pits are just some of the highlights as you get up close and personal with this volcano.

You will hike the Las Pailas loop trail over 2.5 miles (3.5 km) through tropical forest. Lookout points along the way feature some of the best views of the volcano as well as the wildlife that abounds nearer the trail. The park is home to more than 300 bird species, and other animals, like armadillos, collared peccaries, iguanas, white-nosed coatis, and various types of monkeys, also call it home. 

When you finish your hike, you’ll be ready for a refreshing swim in the Oropendola Waterfall. It is located a short walk from the national park entrance on a trail that winds along the Río Blanco (White River). The Oropendola Waterfall plunges an impressive 82 feet (25 meters) down to a bright turquoise pool in the canyon of the Rio Blanco (White River).

Day 3: Rincon de la Vieja -> Transfer to Arenal Volcano National Park

Arenal and La Fortuna
Arenal and La Fortuna

Today you will travel 3.5 hours southeast to the town of La Fortuna and check into your resort hotel.  At 350 feet above sea level, this tourist-heavy village is best known as the gateway to Arenal Volcano National Park. From town, you'll have panoramic views of the mammoth volcano, which you can enjoy as you relax in the jacuzzi or on the balcony of your hotel room.

If you have the energy, and you want to get the blood pumping, enjoy a zip-line tour over the jungle canopy. If you want to eschew adventure in favor of more relaxation, that's not a problem either. For a soothing experience, soak in one of the many naturally heated geothermal pools located at the base of Arenal.

Day 4: Arenal Hanging Bridges - La Fortuna Waterfall and Hot Springs

Suspension bridge at Mistico Hanging Bridges Park
Suspension bridge at Mistico Hanging Bridges Park

Today, you will experience the best of the Arenal Volcano region. Head out early to Mistico Hanging Bridges Park, a network of hiking trails that involves crossing 15 bridges—some hundreds of feet long—before arriving at lookout points affording sweeping views of Arenal Volcano. You'll also get an up-close look at the incredible biodiversity in this region. More than 350 bird species can be found here alone. 

Next, it’s time to head to La Fortuna Waterfall, at the base of the dormant Chato Volcano, a short 15-minute drive outside town. The falls plunge some 210 feet, and a hike down 500 steps to the base provides an opportunity to see it from the bottom up. You can swim and relax in the La Fortuna River, located right below the falls.

End the day with a nice dinner. Perhaps soothe your muscles with another dip in the mineral-rich waters of Arenal's hot springs. They are a time-tested remedy—these hot springs have been used as therapeutic baths by locals for more than 200 years.

Mistico hike: 3 hours

Day 5: Boat from Arenal to Monteverde - Nocturnal Nature Tour

Cloud forest in Monteverde
Cloud forest in Monteverde

After breakfast at your resort in La Fortuna, you'll transfer to the Monteverde region of Costa Rica. This is no ordinary route: you'll skip the drive and board a boat, which will take you across the tranquil waters of Lake Arenal. On this 3.5-hour boat ride, you'll have ample opportunity to spot local birds like herons and anhingas. 

When you arrive at Monteverde, take the afternoon and evening to enjoy nearby Santa Elena, a charming town with Quaker influences known for excellent coffee and cheese. There are also plenty of dining options featuring delectable Costa Rican standards like ceviche and arroz con pollo (rice with chicken). In the evening, you'll have a chance to see nocturnal wildlife at its most active on a guided night tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. A naturalist will point out sloths, armadillos, and kinkajous, as well as sleeping birds and frogs.

Night hike: 2 hours

Day 6: Aerial Fun in the Cloud Forest

Canopy tour, Monteverde
Canopy tour, Monteverde

Sky Adventures Monteverde Park is an aerial amusement park that literally raises jungle excitement to the next level. Its Sky Tram network of gondolas transport 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 our 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 over the mountains. 

Upon reaching the end of the line, the exhilarating adventure of whizzing down the mountain begins. You will connect to a zip-line cable that stretches over the treetops and across canyons, ultimately returning you to the starting point at Sky Adventures' main building. Sky Trek is regarded as the most thrilling zip line in the country, and this makes sense considering that Monteverde is the birthplace of the canopy tour as we know it.

Day 7: Monteverde - Transfer to the Gulf of Papagayo

Arid, volcanic valleys of Guanacaste
Arid, volcanic valleys of Guanacaste

Road trip time! This four-hour drive takes you west back into Guanacaste, past volcanic mountain ranges, flatlands, and villages as you head toward Costa Rica's Pacific coast. Stop for a bite and enjoy a traditional lunch or perhaps a batido (fresh fruit smoothie). As the dry plains and tropical dry forests slowly give way to azure seas, you’ll arrive at your destination—the Gulf of Papagayo, where you check into your hotel. 

You can spend the remainder of the day relaxing on the tranquil beach. Perhaps enjoy a beer at one of the local beach bars. Maybe kayak around the bay. 

Day 8: Beach Day and Sunset Catamaran Sail

Sunset sail in Guanacaste
Sunset sail in Guanacaste

Today is all about beach time. After breakfast at your hotel, get out and explore the coastline around Guanacaste. Maybe hit Playa del Coco, which is a popular fishing village with many salsa bars, restaurants, and nightlife. You could even try a little surfing. 

In the evening, you'll board a catamaran in the Golfo de Papagayo for a sunset sail. The boat will drop anchor in a calm bay and you'll enjoy some snorkeling while the crew prepares a dinner feast. While you eat, bask in the sunset over the horizon while making sure to keep an eye out for dolphins, sea turtles, flying fish, or even a breaching whale.

Day 9: Free Day in Guanacaste

Visit the blue waterfall at Sensoria
Visit the blue waterfall at Sensoria

Today is free for you to explore in whatever way you prefer. You can opt to head back inland and embark on a jungle trail tour to Sensoria, part of a wildlife sanctuary at the foot of the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano. You'll relax in thermal pools, swim in waterfall lagoons, and do some more wildlife spotting. Or, you could enjoy the rainforest from the water on a two-hour safari float along the Corobicí River. A local guide will point out monkeys, bats, lizards, and even crocodiles. 

For families with kids over 12 years old looking for an adventure, you could take a guided trip down the Tenor River. Its white-water rapids make it the best river in Guanacaste for rafting. After a challenging trip down the rapids led by experts, you'll enjoy lunch before heading back to your hotel in time to catch one last sunset.

Day 10: Depart Costa Rica from Liberia

Liberia, Costa Rica
Liberia, Costa Rica

It's time to say adiós to Costa Rica! After breakfast, you'll begin the drive to Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport, in Guanacaste’s capital city, for your return flight home.

Map

Map of Volcanoes, Cloud Forests, and the Pacific Coast - 10 Days
Map of Volcanoes, Cloud Forests, and the Pacific Coast - 10 Days
Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Mar 18, 2019