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, 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 "pura vida".

Highlights

  • Explore the natural beauty of secluded Corcovado National Park
  • See tons of tropical wildlife, from sloths and jaguars to, crocs, and dolphins
  • Tackle Class IV rapids on a whitewater rafting trip on the Pacuare River
  • Enjoy the waterfalls and hot springs of Arenal
  • Go snorkeling and 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 Corcovado National Park
Day 3 Corcovado National Park Hike Corcovado National Park
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 Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 8 Arenal to the Pacuare River – Rafting class II-III Río Pacuare
Day 9 Free Day in the Jungles of Río Pacuare  Río Pacuare
Day 10 Pacuare River – Rafting class III-IV --> Puerto Viejo Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 11 Hiking and Snorkeling in Cahuita National Park Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 12 Sloths, Jaguars & Beach Time Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Day 13 Surf Lesson in Puerto Viejo, Drive to San José San Jose
Day 14 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 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: Museo del Oro Precolumbino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum), and Museo del Jade—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, 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. That said, San José is filled with great restaurants serving everything from traditional 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 and 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 at Bahía Drake, 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

Coast of Corcovado National Park
Coast of Corcovado National Park

This day trip into the rainforest is a chance to explore Parque Nacional Corcovado, home to species including the endangered giant anteater, harpy eagle, tapir, and jungle cats like the jaguar, puma, and margay. From the hotel, it's 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) near the San Pedrillo ranger station, you’ll begin the rainforest journey.

During the hike, your bilingual naturalistic guide will point out wildlife 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 a break for lunch, you'll enjoy more wildlife sightings as you trek to a cascading waterfall. There will be time to relax and swim in the natural pools 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 the ocean's surface.

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 Monteverde
A male resplendent quetzal sits on a tree branch in Monteverde

Set out early this morning for the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, one of the most popular protected areas in the entire country. You'll be able to take part in the reserve's adrenaline-pumping activities later—right now, it's time for some birding. With a knowledgeable guide, you may spot the resplendent quetzal, highland tinamou, Chiriqui quail-dove, black-breasted wood quail, Grey-throated leaf tosser, and some 30 species of hummingbirds. 

After your birding excursion, it's time for adventure. Strap on a harness and fly over the treetops on an exhilarating zip-line tour. This is the best vantage point from which to experience Monteverde's famed cloud forest.  Afterward, return to your hotel and spend the rest of the day as you see fit.

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 fares at one of La Fortuna's more than 100 restaurants.

Day 7: 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 8: Arenal to the Pacuare River – Rafting class II-III

The scenic and untamed Pacuare River
The scenic and untamed Pacuare River

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: Free Day in the Jungles of Río Pacuare 

Maybe try rappelling down a waterfall
Maybe try rappelling down a waterfall

You've experienced the jungles of the Río Pacuare from the riverbanks, now today you'll venture behind the treeline. Rainforest adventure options here include zip-lining over jungle canopy or canyoning El Tesorito Creek, where you'll descend a small waterfall as you rappel down a 30-meter (98-foot) rock face. 

You can also opt for a hike through the jungle to reach the legendary sendero de las mulas (mule trail), which is one of the main routes used by the indigenous Cabécar people. After the initial climb, you'll hike to the Nairi Awari Indigenous Reserve, a real highlight of the excursion that features a hidden waterfall. Enjoy a picnic lunch at this scenic spot before hiking back along the trail to a Cabécar indigenous community.

In the afternoon, return to the eco-lodge and spend one last cozy night in the rainforest.

Day 10: Pacuare River – Rafting class III-IV --> Puerto Viejo

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 11: Hiking and Snorkeling in Cahuita National Park

Snorkeling in Cahuita National Park
Snorkeling in Cahuita National Park

After breakfast, you'll take a short drive south to Cahuita National Park for an easy jungle hike followed by a swim at the beach. Fronted by the turquoise sea, hikers will find flat, well-maintained trails that run parallel to the shore, allowing you to weave back and forth between the sand and trail for frequent swimming and snorkeling breaks.

On land, keep an eye out for colorful crabs, monkeys, and several species of exotic birds. Meanwhile, the seafloor off the coast of Cahuita is as much a jungle as the rainforest, with tropical fish, stingrays, octopus, and nurse sharks on view for snorkelers.

Day 12: Sloths, Jaguars & Beach Time

Three-toed sloth lounging in the trees
Three-toed sloth lounging in the trees

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 13: 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 14: 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 - 14 Days
Map of Wildlife, Rainforest & Beach Adventure - 14 Days
Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Oct 8, 2019