Go from coast to coast as you encounter wildlife, swim under jungle waterfalls, and unwind on magnificent beaches on this well-rounded Costa Rican adventure. You'll start in the rugged Osa Peninsula on the remote southwestern coast, where you'll find untouched shores and a plethora of tropical animals. Then explore the rainforests of Monteverde and Arenal before embarking on a two-day whitewater rafting trip down the famous Pacuare River. End your unforgettable stay in the Caribbean town of Puerto Viejo, where you'll snorkel, surf, and enjoy the pura vida.

Highlights

  • Explore the natural beauty of the secluded Osa Peninsula
  • Spot tropical wildlife, from sloths and jaguars to birds, crocs, and dolphins
  • Tackle Class IV rapids on a whitewater rafting trip on the famous Pacuare River
  • Enjoy the waterfalls and hot springs of Arenal
  • Learn to surf in the Caribbean

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José San Jose
Day 2 Fly to Osa Peninsula - Explore Bahía Drake Drakes Bay
Day 3 Corcovado National Park Hike - San Pedrillo Puerto Jiménez
Day 4 Transfer from Osa Peninsula to Monteverde Monteverde
Day 5 Birdwatching in Monteverde Monteverde
Day 6 Boat from Monteverde to Arenal Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 7 Arenal Hanging Bridges - La Fortuna Waterfall and Hot Springs Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 8 Arenal to the Pacuare River – Rafting class II-III Río Pacuare
Day 9 Pacuare River – Rafting class III-IV --> Puerto Viejo Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 10 Sloths, Jaguars & Beach Time Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 11 Surf Lesson in Puerto Viejo, Drive to San José San Jose
Day 12 Depart San José  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José

The Neo-Classical Teatro Nacional in San José
The Neo-Classical Teatro Nacional in San José

Welcome to Costa Rica, the land of pura vida! After arriving at Juan Santamaría International Airport, in the capital of San José, a local representative will meet you and escort you to your hotel. 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), whose interior 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. The Museo del Oro Precolumbino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum), holds a large collection of Pre-Columbian gold artifacts, and the Museo del Jade (Jade Museum) features 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, you might want to opt for a restaurant in the hills of Escazú. This elevated region on the western edge of the city offers panoramic views of the valley below. No matter where you go, though, the whole city is filled with delectable restaurants serving everything from traditional local to forward-thinking fusion cuisine.

Day 2: Fly to Osa Peninsula - Explore Bahía Drake

Drake Bay, Osa Peninsula
Drake Bay, Osa Peninsula

In the morning you'll board a flight to Bahía Drake (Drake Bay), one of the main villages on the secluded Osa Peninsula. This peninsula is located on the southern Pacific coast of the country, and while not inaccessible per se, it is one of the least developed regions in Costa Rica. It's also the gateway to the famed Corcovado National Park, located directly south of Drake. This famous protected area is known for its virgin rainforests and wind-swept beaches, which are all the more evocative due to the relative lack of crowds.

Upon arrival to Bahía Drake, you'll check into your hotel. You'll now have the entire day to relax and enjoy the beaches until your heart's content. At night, tuck into dinner at your lodgings. Drake's remoteness and limited restaurant options mean most accommodations offer all-inclusive meals.

Alternative airport: Puerto Jiménez

Day 3: Corcovado National Park Hike - San Pedrillo

You might spot a jaguar within the park
You might spot a jaguar within the park

This day trip into the rainforest is a chance to explore Parque Nacional Corcovado, home to a breathtaking range of wildlife, including the endangered giant anteater, harpy eagle, tapir, and felines like the jaguar, puma, and margay. From the hotel, you’ll take a 25-minute boat ride south down the coast of the Osa Peninsula. After the wet landing (boats go in stern first and drop you a few feet from the beach), you’ll begin the rainforest journey.

During the hike, your bilingual naturalistic guide will point out many of the diverse species along the trail. You may see capuchin, spider, and howler monkeys, as well as white-lipped peccaries, scarlet macaws, coatis, and countless other birds and insects. The trails are clearly marked and easy to navigate, ascending and descending through the rainforest.

After the morning hike and break for lunch, you'll enjoy more wildlife sightings as you hike another trail to a cascading waterfall. There will be time to relax and swim in the refreshing natural pools here before you return to the ranger station and catch the boat back to your hotel. While on the water, be on the lookout for humpback whales or dolphins breaching and spinning in the ocean.

Day 4: Transfer from Osa Peninsula to Monteverde

Hiking in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Hiking in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

This morning, you will take a domestic flight back to San Jose, where a driver will take you to your hotel in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve area. 

With low-hanging cloud-like mist, Monteverde Cloud Forest is a refreshingly cool oasis for thousands of species of flora and fauna. There are plenty of activities to try here, from hiking to horseback riding to zip-lining. Visit the Sky Adventures Monteverde Park, where you can navigate suspension bridges for a treetop walk along the canopy, and take the Sky Tram guided tour up to the Continental Divide for spectacular 360° views of Monteverde. 

If you'd prefer something a bit more laidback, visit the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens, or stop by a coffee farm to learn how one of the country's most important exports is grown, harvested, and roasted. You can also see more than 450 species of orchids at the Monteverde Orchid Garden in nearby Santa Elena.

Day 5: Birdwatching in Monteverde

A male resplendent quetzal sits on a tree branch in the forest of Monteverde National Park
A male resplendent quetzal sits on a tree branch in the forest of Monteverde National Park

Set out early this morning for the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (there is more wildlife activity at the beginning of the day) where you'll search the trees for some of Costa Rica's more spectacular feathered creatures. You'll have the opportunity to see the Resplendent Quetzal as well as the Highland Tinamou, Chiriqui quail-dove, black-breasted Wood-Quail, Gray-throated Leaftosser, as well as 30 species of hummingbirds. After walking around the reserve, you can get a bird's eye view of the trees next door with a zip-line tour across the canopy before returning to your hotel and spending the rest of the day as you like. 

Day 6: Boat from Monteverde to Arenal

Lake Arenal
Lake Arenal

After breakfast, you'll be taken by ground transportation to Rio Chiquito. From here, you'll sail down the river on a 30-minute boat ride to the Lake Arenal dam, where another driver will take you to your hotel near the town of La Fortuna.

La Fortuna is the gateway to the Arenal Volcano area and its endless array of activities. Take the afternoon to settle in and explore your surroundings. If you're up to it, go for a hike on the Arenal 1968 Trail for close-up views of the volcano. If you'd rather relax ahead of tomorrow's adventure, try some of the local fare at one of La Fortuna's more than 100 restaurants.

Day 7: Arenal Hanging Bridges - La Fortuna Waterfall and Hot Springs

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.

End the day with a nice dinner. Perhaps soothe your muscles with a dip in the mineral-rich waters of Arenal's famous geothermal hot springs. They are a time-tested remedy—these hot springs have been used as therapeutic baths by locals for more than 200 years.

Day 8: Arenal to the Pacuare River – Rafting class II-III

Rafting by waterfalls on the Pacuare
Rafting by waterfalls on the Pacuare

Today you will leave La Fortuna early in the morning and transferred to the starting point of your two-day whitewater rafting adventure on the Pacuare River. In total, you'll navigate 15.5 miles (25km) of roaring Class II-IV rapids. 

The first day is a short paddle day, which means you'll have plenty of time to explore the pristine river valley. Pacuare cuts through the rainforest, where you'll see plenty of colorful birds, stealthy jungle cats, and lush tropical plants.

Tonight you'll have the option of camping on the river banks or staying in a jungle lodge.

Day 9: Pacuare River – Rafting class III-IV --> Puerto Viejo

Tackle category III-IV rapids with your expert rafting guide
Tackle category III-IV rapids with your expert rafting guide

Your second day on the river will take you through virgin rainforest, past cascading waterfalls, and to river-carved canyons as you tackle the strongest rapids of the trip. Make sure to take in the sights and sounds of the jungle as you go. Take a break along the way to hike uphill to some natural waterslides. 

End your whitewater adventure near the town of Siquirres, where you will be transferred to your hotel in Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast.

Day 10: Sloths, Jaguars & Beach Time

A baby jaguar
A baby jaguar

This morning, you'll head to the Jaguar Rescue Center, a home and rehabilitation facility for ill, injured and orphaned animals. During your guided tour, you'll see monkeys, wild cats, three-toed sloths, and anteaters, among others. The center offers public and private tours of their facilities—a treat for animal lovers of all ages. 

The rest of the day is for lazing on the beach or browsing the boutiques of Puerto Viejo. Another option is to explore the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, which includes several rare habitats like lowland rainforests, wetlands, and mangrove swamps, as well as a beautiful stretch of beach. The refuge is the nesting area for several species of turtles, manatees, crocodiles, caimans, tarpons, and dolphins.

Day 11: Surf Lesson in Puerto Viejo, Drive to San José

Learn to surf in Puerto Viejo
Learn to surf in Puerto Viejo

After breakfast at your hotel, you can spend your morning shopping around the colorful boutiques of Puerto Viejo. While walking around, take time to watch the surfers at Salsa Brava, the Caribbean's most infamous surf break; better yet—take a family beginner lesson with the pros at Surf the Jungle.  

By early afternoon, you'll start the drive back to San José—a journey of about 4.5 hours. Check into your hotel for your last night of the trip. Take this opportunity to visit any of the local attractions and restaurants that you may have missed at the beginning of the trip.

Day 12: Depart San José

San José at twilight
San José at twilight

It's time to say adiós to Costa Rica. Depending on your departure time, you'll have the morning to explore more of San José, relax in a coffee shop, or browse some shops before boarding your flight home.

Map

Map of Wildlife, Rainforest & Beach Adventure - 12 Days
Map of Wildlife, Rainforest & Beach Adventure - 12 Days