Despite Costa Rica’s popularity and booming tourism industry, plenty of places are still off the beaten track. And believe me, you’ll be richly rewarded for venturing down the road less traveled. Start your trip off with a rental car, which you can turn in after Montezuma. After that, fly to Golfito and then arrange for a boat ride to Playa Zancudo.
DAY 1: Rincón de la Vieja National Park
Not nearly as popular as the Arenal Volcano, the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano, along with its namesake national park, is an underexplored gem. The park features challenging and rewarding hikes, sulfur hot springs, volcanic mud deposits, and stunning jungle waterfalls. Try the vigorous 2-hour trek to Blue Lake and La Cangreja Waterfall, which leads to a beautiful forest waterfall emptying into a postcard-perfect turquoise lake. This is a great spot for a picnic lunch and a cool dip. If you have time and energy afterward, finish up with the relatively short and gentle Las Pailas Loop, which showcases the volcanic fumaroles and mud pots here.
DAY 2: Horses, high wires & hot springs
You did plenty of hiking yesterday, so start this day off with something a little different. Hacienda Guachipelín offers a range of adventure activities, including horseback riding, river tubing, ziplining, and a waterfall rappel canyoning tour, in addition to a gorgeous set of natural hot mineral springs alongside a jungle river.
DAY 3: Going deep down under
Sitting on top of a massive cave system, Barra Honda National Park is Costa Rica’s top spot for spelunking. On a typical tour here, you’ll descend into the depths of the Terciopelo Cave and visit the waterfalls and pools of La Cascada. After your visit here, drive to nearby Nosara, about an hour away.
A short walk from the beach, El Chivo Cantina serves up funky Mexican fare like ceviche tostadas and jalapeño-glazed pork belly, alongside 50 or so mostly small-batch tequilas and mezcals.
DAY 4: Beautiful beaches
The Nicoya Peninsula has many of the same charms and nearly as many miles of beach as Guanacaste, but far fewer crowds. Although the beach at Nosara is nice enough, I recommend heading to nearby gems like Playa Barrigona or Playa Carrillo. If you like, sign up for an ultralight flight with the folks at the Flying Crocodile.
DAYS 5 & 6: Montezuma
Montezuma is a great place to mix more beach time with wildlife sightings and visits to some impressive waterfalls. Although you can certainly hike to the foot of the Montezuma Waterfall, it’s even better to visit as part of the Waterfall Canopy Tour. Take a horseback ride to El Chorro Falls, and if you time it right, you can ride home along the beach as the sun sets.
While in Montezuma, visit the Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve, the country’s first officially protected area. The main trail inside this park, Sendero Sueco, leads to the gorgeous and almost always deserted beach Playa Balsita. A trip to Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve can easily be combined with a kayaking and snorkel tour to the little cemetery island located just off the village of Cabuya.
Fresh grilled fish and other Mediterranean fare are the specialty at Playa de los Artistas. If you’re limber, slide onto a tatami mat set around one of the low tables closest to the water.
DAYS 7, 8 & 9: Playa Zancudo
Finish off this itinerary at one of Costa Rica’s most remote and undiscovered beach towns. Playa Zancudo is a sleepy little town on a narrow strip of land between the Golfo Dulce and a saltwater mangrove lagoon. While here, you can go sportfishing, head to nearby Pavones for a surf session, or take an organized tour with Zancudo Boat Tours.
One of the better day trips heads southward to Tiskita Jungle Lodge, which has a wonderful network of trails through the rainforests and fruit orchards of its private reserve. Any wannabe botanist will also want to allot enough time for a visit to the Wilson Botanical Gardens, the most impressive botanical garden in the country.
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.