The timing is tight, but this itinerary packs a lot into a weeklong vacation. This route takes you to a trifecta of Costa Rica's primary tourist attractions: Arenal Volcano, Monteverde, and Manuel Antonio. You can explore and enjoy tropical nature, take in some beach time, and experience a few high-adrenaline adventures to boot.
Day 1: Arrive & Settle into San José
Arrive and get settled in San José. If your flight gets in early enough and you have time, head downtown and tour the Museos del Banco Central de Costa Rica (Gold Museum).
Fresh Fruit -- As you walk around town, stop at one of the roadside stands or kiosks selling small bags of precut and prepared fruit. Depending on the season, you might find mango, pineapple, or papaya on offer. If you're lucky they'll have mamon chino, an odd-looking golf ball-size fruit you might also know as rambutan or litchi nut.
Head over to the Teatro Nacional (National Theater). If anything is playing that night, buy tickets for the show. For an elegant and delicious dinner, I recommend Grano de Oro Restaurant, a refined restaurant with seating in and around an open-air central courtyard in a beautiful downtown hotel.
Day 2: Hot Rocks
Rent a car and head to the Arenal National Park to see Arenal Volcano. Settle into your hotel and spend the afternoon at the Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort, working out the kinks from the road. In the evening either sign up for a volcano-watching tour or take one on your own by driving the road to Arenal National Park and finding a quiet spot to pull over and wait for the sparks to fly.
Day 3: Adventures around Arenal, Ending Up in Monteverde
Spend the morning doing something adventurous around Arenal National Park. Your options range from white-water rafting to mountain biking to horseback riding and then hiking to the Río Fortuna Waterfall. My favorite is the canyoning adventure offered by Desafío Expeditions. Allow at least 4 hours of daylight to drive around Lake Arenal to Monteverde. Stop for a break at the Lucky Bug Gallery, along the road between Tabacón and Nuevo Arenal, and an excellent place to shop for gifts, artwork, and souvenirs. Once you get to Monteverde, settle into your hotel and head for a drink and dinner at Sofía.
Wake up early and take a guided tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. Spend the afternoon visiting several of the area's attractions, which might include any combination of the following: the Butterfly Garden, Orchid Garden, the Bat Jungle, and the El Trapiche Tour. The last one offers a fascinating look at a sustainable sugar cane farm.
Day 5: From the Treetops to the Coast
Use the morning to take one of the zip-line canopy tours here. I recommend Selvatura Park, which has a wonderful canopy tour, as well as other interesting exhibits. Be sure to schedule the tour early enough so that you can hit the road by noon for your drive to Manuel Antonio National Park. Settle into your hotel and head for a sunset drink at Agua Azul, which offers up spectacular views over the rainforest to the sea. You can drop your car off at any point now and just rely on taxis and tours.
Day 6: Manuel Antonio
In the morning take a boat tour of the Damas Island estuary with Manuel Antonio Expeditions, and then reward yourself for all the hard touring so far with an afternoon lazing on one of the beautiful beaches inside Manuel Antonio National Park. If you just can't lie still, be sure to hike the loop trail through the rainforest here and around Cathedral Point. Make reservations at Milagro for a Nuevo Latino final dinner in Costa Rica.
Day 7: Saying Adiós
Fly back to San José in time to connect with your departing flight home. If you have extra time, feel free to head back into Manuel Antonio National Park, do some souvenir shopping, or simply laze around your hotel pool. You've earned it.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.