Enjoy the best of Costa Rica on this adventurous 12-day itinerary featuring excursions with private guides and overnight stays in luxury hotels. Begin with a few days of birdwatching, snorkeling, and hiking on the Osa Peninsula, then transfer to La Fortuna, your base for exploring the Arenal area. Trek around Arenal Volcano and relax in hot springs before continuing to Monteverde for a coffee tour and an unforgettable trip through the cloud forest on horseback.

Highlights

  • Explore lush Corcovado National Park on a guided hike
  • Tour a coffee bean farm and learn about the history 
  • Discover nocturnal wildlife on a nighttime nature walk
  • Trek along the stunning blue Río Celeste to a waterfall
  • Discover an underwater world at Isla del Caño Biological Reserve

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José, Explore Downtown  San José
Day 2 Transfer to Drake Bay & Take a Birdwatching Tour Drake Bay
Day 3 Hike in Corcovado National Park Drake Bay
Day 4 Snorkel at Isla del Caño Biological Reserve Drake Bay
Day 5 Fly to San José, Transfer to La Fortuna & Hike to La Fortuna Waterfall La Fortuna
Day 6 See Rio Celeste & Tenorio Volcano National Park  La Fortuna
Day 7 Visit Arenal Volcano & Soak in Hot Springs La Fortuna
Day 8 Taste Costa Rican Coffee, Nighttime Nature Walk Monteverde
Day 9 Tour Monteverde Cloud Forest on a Guided Hike Monteverde
Day 10 Go Horseback Riding in the Cloud Forest Monteverde
Day 11 Enjoy a Coffee & Cocoa Bean Tour Monteverde
Day 12 Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José, Explore Downtown

The National Theater
The National Theater in San José

Welcome to Costa Rica! A driver will transfer you from the airport to your hotel in San José. After settling in, go for a self-guided walking tour of downtown. Depending on your hotel's location, you can walk or take a taxi to your first destination: Mercado Central (Central Market), featuring over 200 shops, food stalls, and sodas (traditional restaurants). It's a short walk to Central Park, a small plaza always bustling with activity. Pass various outdoor sculptures as you walk through the park toward Catedral Metropolitana and continue walking down Central Avenue until you reach the 19th-century Teatro Nacional.

Your first museum stop is the Museo del Oro Precolumbino, which is accessible from beneath the Plaza de la Cultura and holds the most extensive Pre-Columbian gold collection in Latin America. Next, head to the Museo del Jade, the world's largest collection of pre-Columbian jade artifacts. As you wander among thousands of unique jade pieces, you'll gain an even deeper appreciation for Costa Rica's rich history. 

Read about the top restaurant recommendations in San José here.

Day 2: Transfer to Drake Bay & Take a Birdwatching Tour

The beautiful toucan is one of many birding highlights in Corcovado National Park
A toucan in Corcovado National Park

Return to San José International Airport this morning and board a short flight to Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula. When you land, you'll be transferred to your hotel. The luxurious Lapa Rios Lodge is an excellent option.

This evening, you'll embark on a birdwatching adventure. Starting in time to see the sun setting over Drake Bay, the tour will take you into the wild jungle at one of the peak times for avian activity. Your experienced guides will help you to identify the bird species, pointing out different species' behavior and food sources, as well as their colors, sizes, and calls. You may spot various tanagers, toucans, motmots, trogons, flycatchers, hummingbirds, and several birds of prey.

After your jungle hike, you'll return to Drake Bay. For more travel inspiration, you might like to check out the Ultimate Guide to Osa Peninsula.

Day 3: Hike in Corcovado National Park

A king vulture alights on a branch near San Pedrillo in Corcovado National Park - image by scigelova
A king vulture in Corcovado National Park (photo courtesy of scigelova)

Starting at Agujitas Beach on Drake Bay, today's exciting adventure takes you to an interesting and remote part of Corcovado National Park. The park is home to species including the endangered giant anteater, harpy eagle, tapir, and jungle cats like the jaguar and puma.

Begin your journey with a 30-minute boat trip south down the peninsula's western shore to the San Pedrillo Ranger Station, one of the park's checkpoints. Boats here come in bow first, and you must splash the final distance to shore—an exciting experience reminiscent of what early explorers of this remote region would have done. You'll be in the San Pedrillo area for approximately five to six hours, with time for hiking, wildlife spotting, relaxing on the beach, and cooling off in waterfalls and swimming holes. Afterward, you'll return to Agujitas Beach by boat.

Find out more about activities in the area by reading this article on the best things to do on the Osa Peninsula.

Day 4: Snorkel at Isla del Caño Biological Reserve

The sea turtle, a magnificent and regal creature
A sea turtle near Isla del Caño

Today, you'll explore the waters of the Caño Island Biological Reserve (Isla del Caño) on a scuba or snorkeling excursion. This protected marine area is just off the Osa Peninsula's northern tip.

The excursion begins when you board a boat and take a safety lesson geared to all ages and experience levels. Then it's time to plunge into the water, where you'll find abundant marine life, including reef sharks, sea turtles, parrotfish, eels, manta rays, pufferfish, snappers, sea cucumbers, and octopus. There's also a wide variety of coral-building organisms and 19 different species of coral. Visibility is excellent throughout the year, making Caño Island a perfect site for underwater photography.

Day 5: Fly to San José, Transfer to La Fortuna & Hike to La Fortuna Waterfall

La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna Waterfall

This morning you'll catch a flight to San José, then transfer to La Fortuna, the closest town to Arenal Volcano. Later in the afternoon, visit La Fortuna Waterfall Reserve. After paying the entrance fee, you'll cross a small bridge to get to the trailhead. Beyond that is the first observation deck, where you can snap photos with a great elevated view of the waterfall. Then it's time to descend the steps to get close to the waterfall at its base! As you make your way down the roughly 500 steps along the trail, take breaks to check out the local flora and fauna. Once you reach the falls, cool off with a swim in the refreshing water of La Fortuna River.

Enjoy the falls and the river as long as you like before starting the trek back up the stairs. For dinner, hit the town and try out one of La Fortuna's many restaurants. You might spot toucans, iguanas, and even sloths in the trees near your table. There are also many excellent luxury hotels in La Fortuna, including the Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa.

Day 6: See Rio Celeste & Tenorio Volcano National Park 

Hike to dreamlike waterfalls
Hike to dreamlike waterfalls

Today you'll venture into Tenorio Volcano National Park for a moderate three-hour hike along the Río Celeste, one of the most stunning natural attractions in Costa Rica. The legend says that after God painted the sky, He washed His brushes in this river, which resulted in its famous electric-blue waters. 

Highlights along the hike include Los Teñideros, the site where two streams of crystalline water come together and form the "heavenly" blue that gives the river its name. You'll also see the volcano's furnace vents, which expel gases at extremely high temperatures, and the spectacular Río Celeste waterfall. Enjoy a gourmet lunch at the end of the journey.

Learn more about the top nature experiences in Costa Rica

Day 7: Visit Arenal Volcano & Soak in Hot Springs

Canyoning down the waterfall
Canyoning down the waterfall

Today you'll try waterfall rappelling, also known as canyoning, in the jungle. This activity is one of the most popular adventure sports in Costa Rica. After hiking along winding rivers in the rainforest, you'll strap into a harness and rappel down the side of the waterfall. No experience is necessary, and expert guides will make sure everyone is safe throughout the experience.

In the afternoon, go for a hike around Arenal Volcano. Start at the entrance of the 1968 Trail, where you'll hit the well-maintained trails that skirt the base of the Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal. This 1.5-hour route offers some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities in the park, and your naturalist guide will keep a well-trained eye out for exotic birds, monkeys, and other animals along the way. After hiking the trails, your guide will drop you off at Tabacon Hot Springs so you can soothe your muscles with a dip in mineral-rich waters. 

Find out more about hiking around Arenal Volcano here.

Day 8: Taste Costa Rican Coffee, Nighttime Nature Walk

Coffee beans ready for the harvest.
Coffee beans ready for the harvest

From your hotel, you'll transfer to the boat dock at the shores of Lake Arenal, where you'll board a boat and journey to the other side of the lake. Upon arrival, you'll officially be in the Monteverde region of Costa Rica. First, you'll walk through a local coffee plantation, where you'll have the opportunity to identify and learn about the coffee plant first-hand. Your guide will walk you through every step of the process, from harvesting to roasting and brewing, and show you the simplest way to prepare a perfect cup of coffee.

After finishing your coffee, it's time to head into the jungle! This part of the tour takes place in a protected forest that is about 50% of the plantation's property. The trail extends along a creek that runs through the farm, making it the perfect location to spot creatures in the trees and along the shores of the water. It is common to observe frogs and various snake species along the trail. With a bit of luck, you might even see forest dwellers such as the two-toed sloth or the kinkajou.

Day 9: Tour Monteverde Cloud Forest on a Guided Hike

Explore the dense jungle of the Monteverde Cloud Forest
Explore the dense jungle of the Monteverde Cloud Forest

Transfer from your hotel to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, one of Costa Rica's ecological crown jewels. Known as the "green lung of Costa Rica" due to its rich biodiversity, this sprawling reserve is high in the country's mountainous northwest region. On a guided tour, you'll get an overview of the incredible biodiversity of this region, where upland and lowland rainforest meet. More than 350 bird species live here, including the quetzal. It's a nature lover's paradise.

Check out the Best Things to Do in Monteverde for more ideas of what to see and do, and be sure to read over this list of the best luxury hotels in Costa Rica.

Day 10: Go Horseback Riding in the Cloud Forest

A relaxing horseback ride through the forest
A relaxing ride through the forest
You'll go horseback riding today through Monteverde's picturesque landscapes. Keep your eyes open for sloths and toucans, and learn about the coffee, banana, and sugar grown in the area. Two and a half hours of riding will bring you to a secluded clearing on the banks of a river where you can rest and enjoy a picnic under the trees. During the ride back to the stables, your guide will make time to stop at a local café for a beer or a soft drink.

Day 11: Enjoy a Coffee & Cocoa Bean Tour

Tour a working coffee farm
Sample coffee at a working coffee farm

Delve into the history of coffee production in Costa Rica today. While visiting a farm, you'll see how coffee cherries are picked and even have the chance to pick a few yourself. You'll learn how pulp was traditionally removed from the coffee cherry, then visit the drying patio to observe coffee beans spread out on a large patio to dry naturally in the sun. Try a deliciously fresh cup of coffee at the end of the tour.

The day continues with a visit to a chocolate processing center. Here you will participate in the chocolate-making process and have the opportunity to learn how small cocoa beans are converted into chocolate. Learn about traditional methods used to roast and grind the beans, and sample a range of tasty chocolates. Finally, you'll learn about the importance of sugar cane in Costa Rica. Your guide will help you extract sugar cane using a traditional press, and you'll enjoy a glass of pure sugar cane juice. It's a sweet ending to the trip!

Read The Ultimate Guide to Costa Rican Coffee for more information.

Day 12: Depart Costa Rica

Take in a Costa Rica sunset 
The trip ends today. You'll transfer to the airport to catch your flight out. Safe travels!

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Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these other Costa Rica itineraries, explore different ways to spend 12 days in Costa Rica, or discover the best time to visit Costa Rica.

Map

Map of Wildlife Luxury Adventure in Arenal, Monteverde & the Osa Peninsula - 12 Days
Map of Wildlife Luxury Adventure in Arenal, Monteverde & the Osa Peninsula - 12 Days
Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Aug 15, 2022