This 7-day trip is ideal for travelers looking to unwind yet still experience the natural wonders of the Arenal region. You'll mountain bike around the famous volcano, visit a working coffee farm, and go for a dip in the area's famous hot springs. You'll also have the chance to spot monkeys and other wildlife during a guided tour of the cloud forests in the Monteverde region. You can also visit beautiful gardens abounding with colorful orchids and exotic butterflies.

Highlights

  • Go mountain-biking in Arenal Volcano National Park
  • Tour a working Costa Rican coffee farm and enjoy a tasting
  • Take a guided nature hike in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in San José - Transfer to La Fortuna Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 2 Mountain Biking in Arenal Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 3 Arenal Free Day Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 4 Boat to Monteverde, with Coffee & Chocolate Tour Monteverde
Day 5 Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Guided Hike Monteverde
Day 6 Free Day in Monteverde Monteverde
Day 7 Transfer Back to San José San José
Day 8 Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in San José - Transfer to La Fortuna & Luxurious Hotsprings

Tabacón Hotsprings
Tabacón Hotsprings

Welcome to the land of pura vida! After arriving at Juan Santamaria International Airport in San José, Costa Rica's capital, your shuttle service will meet you for a 2.5-hour road trip to La Fortuna, best known as the base for exploring the Arenal Volcano National Park. Located north of the Tilaran Mountains, cone-shaped Arenal juts out above the San Carlos Plains. After checking into your hotel, you'll have the rest of the day to explore. 

If you want to get close to the volcano, kayaking on Lake Arenal provides spectacular views of its peak, as does a mountain bike ride through the park toward the village of El Castillo. Or, opt for a zip-line tour over the forest canopy, where you'll see the La Fortuna and Pino Blanco Waterfalls, along with the majestic Arenal Volcano.

In the evening, soothe your muscles with a relaxing dip in one of the many mineral-rich hot springs in the area. Afterward, have dinner in town.

Day 2: Mountain Biking in Arenal

Explore Arenal by mountain bike
Explore Arenal by mountain bike

Today, explore the Arenal region by mountain bike. This scenic and moderate ride takes an old road connecting the dam with the main entrance to Arenal Volcano National Park. From there, you'll pedal towards the village of El Castillo, through forest and cattle farms. Stop for snacks on the shore of Lake Arenal where it’s possible to go for a refreshing swim before heading back to the hotel. 

The rest of the day is yours to explore or relax. If you're up for an evening adventure, you can discover the wildlife of Arenal after the sun goes down during a night walk hosted by the Danaus Eco-Center. The trail, which is easy enough for beginners, takes hikers through the biodiverse rainforest, where you’ll spot nocturnal animals like sloths, bats, and frogs, while an experienced naturalist provides insight into all you’ll see (and hear) in the dark.

Day 3: Arenal Free Day

White-water rafting in Costa Rica

Today you'll have a free day to enjoy the area as you see fit. There's quite a bit to see and do in the Arenal region.

One activity that's always enjoyable no matter how many times you do it is a zip-line tour. Take a zip-line excursion over the rainforest canopy around Arenal. It's a high-flying, pulse-pounding adventure as you soar over the treetops with the iconic cone of Arenal Volcano in the background.

Another popular option is to explore the Arenal region by mountain bike. The 15-mile (25-km) route follows an old road connecting Lake Arenal with the main entrance to Arenal Volcano National Park. From there, pedal towards the village of El Castillo, passing by forests and cattle farms. 

If you're interested in something even more exciting, try braving the rapids of the Balsa or Sarapiquí Rivers (minimum age of 12 applies). Costa Rica is globally renowned as having some of the best whitewater rafting conditions in Latin America. After a lesson from a professional guide, you'll enjoy a true adventure as you spend a few hours navigating one of these world-class rivers.

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Day 4: Boat to Monteverde, with Coffee & Chocolate Tour

The peaceful waters of Lake Arenal
The peaceful waters of Lake Arenal

After breakfast in La Fortuna, transfer to Monteverde. Bypass the road trip and instead, travel by water. After arriving at the shores of Lake Arenal, you'll be welcomed by your captain, board the boat, and begin the 3.5-hour journey to the other side of the lake. 

Upon arrival, you'll officially be in the Monteverde region of Costa Rica. From the lakeshore, you'll transfer by shuttle to a working coffee farm for a 2.5-hour educational guided tour. Participate in the entire farm-to-cup process, from picking the beans to roasting them. Of course, frequent coffee tastings will be provided. 

After checking into your hotel, take the evening to enjoy nearby Santa Elena, a charming town with a heavy Quaker influence that’s known for excellent coffee and cheese.

Day 5: Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Guided Hike

The resplendent quetzal
The resplendent quetzal

After breakfast, transfer a short distance to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, one of the jewels in Costa Rica's ecological crown. Known as the "green lung of Costa Rica" due to its rich biodiversity, this 26,000-acre reserve is located high in the mountainous northwest region of the country. The views of the misty cloud forest here are the stuff of postcards.

Monteverde offers more than sweeping panoramas, though. On a guided tour you'll get an up-close look at the incredible biodiversity of this region, where upland and lowland rainforest meet. More than 350 bird species exist here alone, including the aptly named resplendent quetzal. In other words, it's a nature-lover’s paradise.

In the afternoon, return to your hotel and spend the rest of the day as you like.

Day 6: Free Day in Monteverde

A Blue Morpho butterfly
A Blue Morpho butterfly

Today is a choose-your-own-adventure day. Throw the schedule out the window and follow your heart. The Monteverde region has a long list of options for amateur naturalists and avid adventurers. We recommend visiting Sky Adventures Monteverde Park. Here you'll zip-line through the towering forest canopy, navigate suspension bridges, and ride the Sky Tram gondola ever higher as it carries you all the way up to the Continental Divide, where you'll enjoy 360° views of Monteverde.

There's also a near-endless amount of exotic flora in the area, including over 400 species of orchids. You can see many of them at the Monteverde Orchid Garden in Santa Elena. If fluttering works of art are indeed your thing, don't miss the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens, which also features creepy crawlies like insects and spiders. Another option is to visit the smaller, more intimate Curi-Cancha Reserve and walk along the nature trails. There are great birding opportunities here.

Day 7: Transfer Back to San José

The forests of Costa Rica

After breakfast in Monteverde, begin the 4.5-hour transfer to the capital city, San José. The rest of the day you'll have free to explore the city at your leisure. Perhaps take a stroll through Mercado Central (Central Market), featuring over 200 shops, food stalls, and sodas (traditional restaurants).

Then visit the Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Church), the interior of which combines Greek Orthodox, Neoclassical, and Baroque styles, and features wood carvings and stained-glass windows. There's also a pair of popular museums in San José: Museo del Oro Precolumbino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum), and Museo del Jade, with the world's largest collection of pre-Columbian jade artifacts.

Be sure to explore Barrio Amón, a historic neighborhood home to cafetalero (coffee grower) mansions built during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of this area’s historic buildings have been converted into hotels, restaurants, and galleries, making Amón a popular bohemian district. 

For dinner, head to a restaurant in the hills of Escazú. This elevated region on the western edge of the city offers panoramic views of the valley below. That said, San José is filled with great restaurants serving everything from traditional to forward-thinking fusion cuisine.

Day 8: Depart Costa Rica

One last view of Costa Rica
One last view of Costa Rica

It's time to say adiós to Costa Rica! After breakfast, you'll transfer to the airport and catch your international flight home.

Map

Map of Volcanoes & Cloud Forests at Arenal & Monteverde - 8 Days
Map of Volcanoes & Cloud Forests at Arenal & Monteverde - 8 Days
Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Feb 18, 2021