This 13-day itinerary is perfect for travelers who like to combine their mountain adventures with a bit of a beach holiday. After arriving at the airport in Liberia, you'll head to Rincón de la Vieja to explore 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 by returning to Guanacaste for some relaxation on the beaches of Papagayo.

Highlights

  • Hike near an active volcano
  • Swim at the base of the Oropendola Waterfall
  • Hike around Arenal Volcano and soak in natural hot springs
  • Zip-line over cloud forest in Monteverde
  • Enjoy a sunset catamaran cruise on the Pacific

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 Volcano Hike & Hot Springs Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Arenal - Whitewater Rafting on the Sarapiquí River Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 6 Boat from Arenal to Monteverde - Nocturnal Nature Tour Monteverde
Day 7 Zip-Line Fun in the Cloud Forest Monteverde
Day 8 Santa Elena Birdwatching & Jungle Hike Monteverde
Day 9 Monteverde -> Transfer to the Gulf of Papagayo Gulf de Papagayo
Day 10 Snorkeling tour at the Catalina Islands Gulf de Papagayo
Day 11 Surf Lesson at Playa Tamarindo Gulf de Papagayo
Day 12 Beach Day and Sunset Catamaran Sail in Guanacaste Gulf de Papagayo
Day 13 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.

Day 3: Gulf de Papagayo -> Transfer to Arenal Volcano National Park

Arenal and La Fortuna
Arenal Volcano at sunset

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: Volcano Hike & Hot Springs

A hot spring near Arenal
Hot springs near Arenal

After breakfast, take the morning to relax. In the early afternoon, you'll visit Arenal Volcano National Park to walk on the lava flow of 1968, 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 mineral-rich waters by visiting one of the hot springs in the area. 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.

You can choose to end the day with a nice dinner at the resort’s restaurant, which serves Costa Rican dishes as well as international fare.

Arenal Volcano Hike: 2 hours

Day 5: Arenal - Whitewater Rafting on the Sarapiquí River

Raft one of the country's most exciting rivers, the Sarapiquí
Raft one of the country's most exciting rivers, the Sarapiquí

After an early rise and breakfast at the hotel, you’ll transfer by car to the Sarapiquí River for your whitewater rafting adventure. After a lesson from your professional guide, you'll embark on a seven-mile river journey featuring over 30 class III and IV rapids. About halfway through the trip, you’ll take a break on shore for some tropical fruit and a traditional Costa Rican lunch. After the second leg of the rafting journey, you’ll be driven back to your hotel.

Duration: 8 hrs

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: Zip-Line Fun in the Cloud Forest

Suspension bridge in the cloud forest
Suspension bridge in the cloud forest

Today you'll enjoy an adrenaline-pumping zip-line ride in the country where that activity was invented. You'll start by ascending hundreds of feet above the jungle canopy via a network of trails and suspension bridges. The exotic flora and fauna of the region will be on full display, and our specialized guides will point out the most interesting specimens.

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. The whole excursion is regarded as the most thrilling zip-line adventures in the country.

Day 8: 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 9: Monteverde -> Transfer to the Gulf of Papagayo

The arid, volcanic valleys of Guanacaste
The arid, volcanic valleys of Guanacaste

Road trip time! This four-hour drive takes you west into Guanacaste Province, 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 maybe a batido (fresh fruit smoothie). As the plains and tropical dry forests slowly give way to azure seas, you’ll arrive at your destination—the Gulf of Papagayo, where you'll 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 10: Snorkeling tour at the Catalina Islands

The Catalina Islands
The Catalina Islands

This morning, you will be picked up at your hotel and be taken to Catalina Islands for a snorkeling tour.  

The Catalina Islands are a group of volcanic rock formations that rise to the surface in front of Flamingo Bay. 
On a boat tour, you'll visit two snorkeling spots that are part of the Catalina Islands, a chain of 20 islands located eight miles offshore of the mainland.

These islands may not look like much—just a grouping of narrow rocks—but below the surface of the indigo waters, you'll find an undersea menagerie of exotic wildlife. Animals you'll spot include giant manta and devil rays, sea turtles, parrot fish, moray eels, and much more. Most of these specimens congregate around the rich coral reefs you'll visit as part of this four-hour trip—a truly unforgettable experience.

The afternoon is yours to enjoy by the pool or the beach.

Tour duration: 4 hrs

Day 11: Surf Lesson at Playa Tamarindo

A surfer at sundown on Playa Tamarindo
A surfer at sundown on Playa Tamarindo

Today you will head to Tamarindo beach for a fun surf lesson. This ideal beach with soft currents is known to be one of the best spots for beginners to learn to surf in the country. Your instructor will provide guidance to ensure you catch a wave.

For experienced surfers, a must-visit spot near Tamarindo is Playa Naranjo, which locals have nicknamed "Witch’s Rock." It's located in a national park and accessible only by boat. It features big surf with both left and right breaking waves. A few miles beyond, you'll reach Ollie’s Point, another great surfing locale.

After your lesson, take the rest of the afternoon to practice riding the waves on your own or enjoy some well-deserved relaxation on the beach. You can also take a yoga class at one of Tamarindo's studios, stroll through town, or enjoy a meal at a local café before heading back to your hotel in the Gulf of Papagayo. 

Lesson duration: 2 hours

Day 12: Beach Day and Sunset Catamaran Sail in Guanacaste

Plenty of idyllic beaches in the area
Plenty of idyllic beaches in the area

Today is all about beach time. After breakfast at your hotel, get out and explore the coastline around Guanacaste. Maybe hit Playas 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 13: Depart Costa Rica from Liberia

Liberia, Costa Rica
Liberia, Costa Rica

It's time to say adiós to Costa Rica! After breakfast, you'll transfer to the airport in Liberia for your return flight home.

Map

Map of Volcanoes, Cloud Forests, and the Pacific Coast - 13 Days
Map of Volcanoes, Cloud Forests, and the Pacific Coast - 13 Days