This 11-day itinerary is perfect for travelers who like to combine their mountain adventures with a bit of a beach holiday. You'll arrive in Liberia, the hub of Costa Rica's Guanacaste Province. From the airport, you'll head to Rincón de la Vieja and spend two days exploring the nature surrounding one of the country's most active volcanoes. Then travel deeper inland to spend a few days crossing suspension bridges, zip-lining over trees, and hiking through the jungles of La Fortuna and the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. You'll end your trip in Manuel Antonio National Park. More than just stunning white-sand beaches, Manuel Antonio is rich in biodiversity and wildlife viewing opportunities.

Highlights

  • Hike near an active volcano
  • Swim at the base of the Oropendola Waterfall
  • Zip-line over cloud forest in Monteverde
  • Go on a wildlife tour of Damas Island estuary

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 Gulf de Papagayo -> Transfer to Arenal Volcano National Park Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 4 Maleku Tribe Village Visit Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Proyecto Asis Rescue Center & Hot Springs Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 6 Boat from Arenal to Monteverde - Nocturnal Nature Tour Monteverde
Day 7 Santa Elena Birdwatching & Jungle Hike Monteverde
Day 8 Monteverde to Manuel Antonio Manuel Antonio
Day 9 Guided Hike of Manuel Antonio National Park Manuel Antonio
Day 10 Damas Mangrove Boat Tour Manuel Antonio
Day 11 Manuel Antonio to San José, Depart Costa Rica  

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: Gulf de Papagayo -> Transfer to Arenal Volcano National Park

Arenal and La Fortuna
Arenal and La Fortuna

Today you will travel 3.5 hours southeast for the town of La Fortuna and check into your resort hotel.  At 350 feet above sea level, this 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: Maleku Tribe Village Visit

Balsa wood carved masks in a Maleku village
Balsa wood carved masks in a Maleku village

After breakfast in La Fortuna, you'll head out on a day-trip to visit one of the country's last tribes of indigenous people: The Maleku.

After a one-hour drive through the northern plains you'll arrive at the Indian community Palenque Tonjibe and be warmly received by their people. Following a brief presentation, you'll begin a hike through the village where you'll see many important cultural aspects of this special place, the antique type of home structures, and their art work and craftsmanship, the use of cocoa in their farming, and the creation of their clothing. Next, you'll take a trail through the forest in order to learn about medicinal plants and how they're currently used. Here you'll also be able to observe antique huacas or indigenous tombs.

Finally you'll pass through a Palenque where you'll be treated to a dance presentation with dialogue in the native Maleku language and customary dress, followed by a traditional meal. You'll depart around 1:00 pm back to La Fortuna, where you have the rest of the day at leisure. 

Day 5: Proyecto Asis Rescue Center & Hot Springs

You can help care for animals like white-faced capuchin monkeys at Proyecto Asis
You can help care for animals like white-faced capuchin monkeys at Proyecto Asis

Today you'll visit Proyecto Asis, a rehabilitation and rescue center for local animals. The tour, lead by one of the naturalists, begins with a brief introduction to the center, followed by a walk along the trails around the reserve, stopping in front of each animal enclosure to learn about them. While the animals at the center vary, visitors will likely see ant eaters, snakes, monkeys, parrots, and sloths. Volunteer tours also offer you the chance to help care for the animals during your visit, preparing food and helping to feed them.

In the afternoon, head to a hot springs complex to enjoy a relaxing evening in the hot springs. Amidst the tropical rainforest, you will enjoy of 25 thermal water pools are filled by crystalline waterfalls, for the use and enjoyment of all visitors. The purity of the water will make you feel like you are floating in an oasis of healing, with birds singing all around and the sound of falling water that invites you to relax and recover your wellness and quality of life. At the end of the evening enjoy a delicious dinner at the restaurant within the hot springs complex.

Day 6: 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, spot 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: Two hours

Day 7: Santa Elena Birdwatching & Jungle Hike

A blue throated toucanet
A blue throated toucanet

This morning you'll embark on a guided hike of the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, home to some of the country's most exotic birds including the resplendent quetzal, hummingbird, black guan, toucanet, and more. You'll also see mammals like howler monkeys, agoutis, coatimundis, tapir, and pumas. A naturalist at the reserve will help you spot the animals, and provide information about the area and its wildlife. 

The afternoon is free for you to spend on your own in and around Monteverde and Santa Elena.

Day 8: Monteverde to Manuel Antonio

Some of Costa Rica's most beautiful beaches are in Manuel Antonio
Some of Costa Rica's most beautiful beaches are in Manuel Antonio

This morning, you'll be picked up from Monteverde and driven to the Pacific coast at Manuel Antonio National Park, where you can take your pick and wind down on one of the park's four beautiful beaches—some of the best in Costa Rica. If you're hungry for more adventure, you can also hike on one of the park's many trails (following the signs) and get up close to capuchin monkeys, sloths, and over 200 species of birds. Snorkeling is also accessible from multiple points along the beaches. 

In the evening, head to the town of Quepos for dinner at Gabriella's to watch the sunset over fresh seafood and steak.

Day 9: Guided Hike of Manuel Antonio National Park

Squirrel monkey in Manuel Antonio
Squirrel monkey in Manuel Antonio

Today you'll wake up early and explore the roughly 1,680 acres (680 hectares) of Manuel Antonio National Park. This is a true gem of Costa Rica, in that the park is home to virgin rainforest running all the way from the mountains down to the coast, where white-sand beaches and coral reefs await.

You'll start your hike on the trails within the park. The walk is easy with mostly flat trails—perfect for families with kids. A naturalist guide will point out the more than 300 species of mammals and birds that call this reserve home, including three-toed sloths, hawks, iguanas, and several different species of monkeys. You'll also have time to enjoy the park's expansive white sand beaches on this half-day tour.

What you do the remainder of the afternoon is up to you! Continue exploring the trails on your own, indulge in the sand and sea, or switch gears and visit the nearby adventure park, MidWorld, for zip-lining and ATV tours.

Hiking distance: 1 mile (1.7 km)

Day 10: Damas Mangrove Boat Tour

The mangrove roots provide a unique sanctuary to hatching fish
The mangrove roots provide a unique sanctuary to hatching fish

Explore the Damas Island Estuary and mangrove ecosystem on one of the area's most popular tours. The mangroves' underwater root networks act as a nursery for thousands of fish and crustaceans and harbor hundreds of unique species or amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. 

The unique conditions created by the shifting sediment and salt water in the mangroves attract various sea animals. Look down as you travel to see oysters, sponges, majestic stingrays, baby black-tipped sharks, and large schools of fish among the mangrove roots. 

Explore the mangroves during the day on a guided tour boat to spot boat-billed herons, sloths, and tree snakes. Don't be surprised if the curious white-faced capuchin monkeys hop on board—these charismatic animals love to explore. Weave your way through the natural tunnels and passageways created by the river's ebbs and flows as you discover this fascinating tidal world. Join an evening tour for a chance to see the nocturnal anteaters, tree frogs, snakes, and bats.

Day 11: Manuel Antonio to San José, Depart Costa Rica

Farewell, Manuel Antonio
Farewell, Manuel Antonio

It's time to say goodbye to Costa Rica! After breakfast, you'll be driven back to San José where you'll depart Juan Santamaría International Airport for your journey home.

Map

Map of Volcanoes, Cloud Forests, and the Pacific Coast - 11 Days
Map of Volcanoes, Cloud Forests, and the Pacific Coast - 11 Days