- 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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|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|
Day 1: Arrive in San José & Explore Arenal
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
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
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.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 4: Go on a Nighttime Nature Tour in Monteverde
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
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
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
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 RicaThe trip ends today. Transfer to the airport to catch your flight out. Safe travels!
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