Costa Rica is an ideal destination for families and this itinerary ensures you'll experience the best the country has to offer. On your 8-day adventure, you'll explore the towering Arenal Volcano, visit the beaches of Guanacaste, and have time to relax in volcanic hot springs. There are plenty of kid-friendly activities along the way, from waterfall hikes to crossing suspension bridges above the trees.

Highlights

  • Swim at the base of the La Fortuna waterfall
  • Take a guided hike through the cloud forest and discover nature's nightlife
  • Take a sunset catamaran cruise from the Gulf of Papagayo

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in San José -> Transfer to La Fortuna Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 2 Arenal Hanging Bridges & La Fortuna Waterfall Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 3 Arenal to Monteverde Monteverde
Day 4 Free Day and Night-time Nature Tour in Monteverde Monteverde
Day 5 Monteverde -> Transfer to the Gulf of Papagayo Gulf de Papagayo
Day 6 Beach Time - Sunset Catamaran Cruise Gulf de Papagayo
Day 7 Free Day in Papagayo Gulf de Papagayo
Day 8 Depart Costa Rica from Liberia  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in San José -> Transfer to La Fortuna

Maybe try a canopy tour over the jungle
Maybe try a canopy tour over the jungle

Welcome to Costa Rica! After arriving at Juan Santamaría International Airport, in the capital of San José, you'll transfer 2.5-hours north by car to the town of La Fortuna, best known as the base for embarking into Arenal Volcano National Park. You won't miss the namesake monolith—Arenal juts out above the San Carlos Plains like an arrowhead. After checking into your hotel, you'll have the rest of the day to explore on your own. 

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, you can opt for a zip-line tour through the forest canopy, crossing over canyons amid the Pino Blanco Waterfall, with the majestic Arenal Volcano as a backdrop. 

Upon returning to town, be sure to take advantage of the dining scene. Because La Fortuna is such a tourism hub, eateries are popping up all the time. These run the gamut from pizzerias and steakhouses to Mexican, Mediterranean, and local Costa Rican fare. You won't be lacking for dinner options.

Day 2: Arenal Hanging Bridges & La Fortuna Waterfall

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.

Free afternoon and evening on your own to explore the area and visit any of the thermal waters located in the area.

Day 3: Arenal to Monteverde

Monteverde is popular for its canopy tours
Monteverde is popular for its canopy tours

After breakfast, you’ll head toward Monteverde, known as the "Green Lung” of Costa Rica due to its rich biodiversity. Located in the mountainous northwest region of the country, Monteverde is famed for its 26,000-acre Cloud Forest Reserve, home to countless wildlife species. Suspension bridges throughout allow for walks above the forest canopy, with plenty of opportunities to spot the colorfully-plumed resplendent quetzal. The reserve’s marked trails pass through exotic fauna and flora, including the greatest number of orchid species on the planet—500—with new ones discovered regularly. 

After check-in at your hotel, you’ll spend the afternoon at the Sky Adventures Park, where you’ll have your pick of ways to explore the cloud forest: zip-lining for the action-inclined, sky tram trips for a panoramic perspective, or walks along suspension bridges for up-close encounters with elusive bird species and other wildlife. 

Take the evening to enjoy nearby Santa Elena, a charming town with a heavy Quaker influence that’s known for excellent coffee and cheese. Here are a few restaurant suggestions: 

  • Grab a seat on the front porch of local favorite Orchid Coffee, which serves a menu of smoothies, salads, and sandwiches. Sweet-toothed visitors will appreciate the café’s extensive hot chocolate menu made with Costa Rican chocolate and mixed with unique ingredients like cardamom and orange.  
  • El Jardin Bar & Restaurant wins visitors over with its lovely setting overlooking the trees, friendly service, and fresh homemade bread served alongside every meal. 
  • Built around an old higueron (fig) tree, the Tree House Restaurant & Café serves well-prepared Costa Rican standards like ceviche and arroz con pollo in a romantic, open-air setting. 

Day 4: Free Day and Night-time Nature Tour in Monteverde

Monteverde's Cloud Forest
Monteverde's Cloud Forest

Today is a choose your own adventure today. The Monteverde region has a long list of options, which include: 

Explore the Cloud Forest Reserve, home to countless wildlife species. Suspension bridges throughout the reserve allow for walks above the forest canopy, with plenty of opportunities to spot the colorfully-plumed resplendent quetzal. At the Sky Adventures Monteverde Park, you can also zip-line through the forest canopy, navigate hanging bridges through the forest canopy, and take the Sky Tram guided tour that will lead you up to the Continental Divide—one of the highest mountains in the area. Among the reserve’s exotic flora are over 500 species of orchids.

In the afternoon you'll return to your hotel and have the rest of the day to spend as you like.
Visit a coffee farm to see how one of the country's most important exports is grown, harvested, and roasted. 
Get up close with Costa Rica's insects, arachnids, and butterflies at Monteverde Butterfly Gardens
See more than 450 species of orchids at the Monteverde Orchid Garden in Santa Elena.
Take a walk along the nature trails of the Curi-Cancha Reserve for more bird-watching opportunities. 
Uncover the mysterious and fascinating life bats during a tour at the Bat Jungle

This evening, you'll have the chance to see the wildlife at its most active after dark on a guided night tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest. A naturalist will point out sloths, armadillos, and kinkajous, as well as sleeping birds. You'll have the chance to hear and see different wildlife than during the daytime, like agoutis, porcupines, grey foxes, tarantulas, and frogs.

Day 5: 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 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 6: Beach Time - Sunset Catamaran Cruise

Sunset over the Pacific in Papagayo
Sunset over the Pacific in Papagayo

There's no shortage of secluded bays and inviting beaches in Guanacaste Province. And after so much activity, you're likely eager for a day relaxing on the sand. If you happen to be a surfer (or just want to learn), Papagayo is the place. You'll find both beginning and advanced waves in the village of Tamarindo, as well as a number of surf schools. This laid-back surfer haven is also home to some of the best restaurants in the country. 

In the evening, you'll board a catamaran for a sunset sail. The ship will stop in a tranquil bay, drop anchor, and you'll explore the crystalline waters while the crew prepares a dinner feast. While you eat, enjoy the sunset over the Pacific horizon while keeping a sharp eye out for dolphins, sea turtles, flying fish, or even a breaching whale.

Day 7: Free Day in Papagayo

Sensoria, in Rincón de la Vieja National Park
Sensoria, in Rincón de la Vieja National Park

Today can be as relaxing or adventurous as you like. If you've had enough of the beaches, you can opt to head back to Rincón de la Vieja. Hike a jungle trail called Sensoria, which is part of a wildlife sanctuary featuring thermal pools and waterfalls that plunge into turquoise lagoons. Or, you can experience the rainforest from the water during a two-hour safari float down the Corobicí River, where a guide will point out monkeys, bats, lizards, and even crocodiles. 

You can also choose a guided trip down the Tenorio River. Its class III-IV rapids make it the best river in the Guanacaste area 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 8: 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 of Liberia, for your return flight home.

Map

Map of Volcanoes and Pacific Beaches For Families - 8 Days
Map of Volcanoes and Pacific Beaches For Families - 8 Days
Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Mar 18, 2019