On this family-oriented 8-day adventure, you'll explore Costa Rica's top natural attractions, from the towering Arenal Volcano and its nearby hot springs to the beautiful beaches of Guanacaste. The itinerary takes you to three distinct regions: Arenal and La Fortuna, the Monteverde cloud forest, and the pristine Gulf of Papagayo. There are plenty of kid-friendly activities along the way, including waterfall hikes, wildlife viewing tours, and a jungle canopy adventure, plus optional excursions to try kayaking and whitewater rafting.


  • Swim at the base of the La Fortuna waterfall
  • Take a guided hike through the cloud forest 
  • Get your thrills at the Sky Adventures Park in Monteverde
  • Enjoy a sunset catamaran cruise from the Gulf of Papagayo

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Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José & Explore Arenal La Fortuna
Day 2 Experience the Arenal Hanging Bridges & La Fortuna Waterfall La Fortuna
Day 3 Visit the Sky Adventures Park Monteverde
Day 4 Go on a Nighttime Nature Tour in Monteverde Monteverde
Day 5 Continue to the Gulf of Papagayo Gulf de Papagayo
Day 6 Relax on a Sunset Catamaran Cruise Gulf de Papagayo
Day 7 Choose Your Own Adventure in Papagayo Gulf de Papagayo
Day 8 Depart Costa Rica   

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José & Explore Arenal

Maybe try a canopy tour over the jungle
A waterfall in the Costa Rican jungle

Welcome to Costa Rica! After arriving in San José, you'll transfer by car to La Fortuna, best known as the base for embarking into Arenal Volcano National Park. You won't miss the namesake monolith—the volcano 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 El Castillo. Or you can opt for a zip-line tour through the forest canopy, crossing over canyons and the Pino Blanco Waterfall.

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, from pizzerias and steakhouses to Mexican, Mediterranean, and local Costa Rican fare.

Read about the best boutique hotels in town here.

Day 2: Experience the Arenal Hanging Bridges & La Fortuna Waterfall

Suspension bridge at Mistico Hanging Bridges Park
A suspension bridge in the cloud forest

Today, you will head out early to Mistico Hanging Bridges Park, a network of hiking trails that involves crossing more than a dozen bridges that lead to lookout points with 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. 

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. A hike down 500 steps to the base provides an opportunity to see the falls from the bottom up. You can swim and relax in the La Fortuna River, located right below the falls. Later, go for a dip in some of the thermal waters located in the area.

If you're interested in staying in a hotel with access to hot springs, read over this list of top picks.

Day 3: Visit the Sky Adventures Park

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 sprawling Cloud Forest Reserve, home to countless wildlife species. Suspension bridges throughout the reserve lead visitors on walks high above the forest canopy. You'll have 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 varieties discovered regularly. 

After checking 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 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. Grab a seat on the front porch of local favorite Orchid Coffee, which serves a menu of smoothies, salads, and sandwiches. Visitors with a sweet tooth 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 over travelers 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 dishes in a romantic, open-air setting. 

Check out this list of Top Experiences in Monteverde for more ideas of what to see and do.

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Day 4: Go on a Nighttime Nature Tour in Monteverde

Monteverde's Cloud Forest
Monteverde's Cloud Forest

Today you can choose your own activities. 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. Take a walk along the nature trails of the Curi-Cancha Reserve for more bird-watching opportunities, or discover the mysterious and fascinating life of bats during a tour at the Bat Jungle.

In the evening, you'll have the chance to see wildlife 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, including agoutis, porcupines, grey foxes, tarantulas, and frogs.

Learn more about the top nature experiences in Costa Rica.

Day 5: Transfer to the Gulf of Papagayo

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

Get ready for a road trip! Today's 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 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. 

Spend the remainder of the day relaxing on the tranquil beach. Enjoy a beer at one of the local beach bars, or go for a kayaking trip around the bay. Read more about the best places to eat on the Gulf of Papagayo.

Day 6: Relax on a Sunset Catamaran Cruise

On the beach at sunset

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 quiet bay 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 an eye out for dolphins, sea turtles, flying fish, or possibly even a breaching whale. Check out our list of the best things to do in Tamarindo.

Day 7: Choose Your Own Adventure 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, the best river in the Guanacaste area for whitewater 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. Find out more about the best things to do in the area.

Day 8: Depart Cost Rica

Sunset in Costa Rica 
The trip ends today. Transfer to the airport to catch your flight out. Safe travels!

More Great 8-Day Costa Rica Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these other 8-day Costa Rica itineraries, with outdoor adventures, family-friendly trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights. 

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Looking for other ideas for your trip to Costa Rica? We have some great ideas for family-friendly 8-day itineraries. Read more about the best time of year to visit here.

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Map of Volcanoes and Pacific Beaches For Families - 8 Days
Map of Volcanoes and Pacific Beaches For Families - 8 Days
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Sep 19, 2022