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.
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 (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum) or the nearby Museo de Jade Marco Fidel Tristán (Jade Museum).
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. You might also find caimito, aka star apple, a purple fruit that looks like a plum on the outside but has star-shaped white pulp on the inside.
Head over to the Teatro Nacional. If anything is playing that night, buy tickets for the show. For an eye-opening and delicious dinner, try Sikwa ★★★, a contemporary restaurant that takes its cues from Costa Rica’s indigenous culinary heritage, using ingredients from small producers and foragers around the country .
DAY 2: Hot stuff
Rent a car and head to the Arenal National Park and the Arenal Volcano area. Hike the Sendero Coladas (Lava Flow Trail) ★★, which will take you onto and over a cooled-off lava flow. Spend the evening in the natural hot springs at the Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort, working out the kinks from the road and hike. (The volcano may be dormant right now, but the natural hot springs are working just fine.) And you might want to splurge on a massage or spa treatment.
DAY 3: Adventures around Arenal, ending in Monteverde
Spend the morning doing something adventurous around Arenal National Park. Your options include whitewater rafting, mountain biking, horseback riding, and hiking to La Fortuna Waterfall. Desafío Adventure Co. offers a great canyoning adventure. After your active morning, hit the road, as you want to allot 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, an excellent place to shop for gifts, artwork, and souvenirs. Once you get to Monteverde, settle into your hotel and head for a farm-to-table dinner at Celajes, paired with beer from their own microbrewery.
DAY 4: Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve
Wake up early and take a guided tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. Spend the afternoon visiting some of the area’s other attractions, which might include any combination of the following: the Butterfly Garden, Orchid Garden, Selvatura Park, Trapiche Tour and the Bat Jungle. End the evening with a multi-course meal in the rainforest canopy at the San Lucas Treetop Dining Experience.
DAY 5: From the treetops to the coast
Use the morning to go bird and wildlife watching from a network of paths and suspension bridges at Sky Walk, which puts you up in the cloud forest canopy to peek at flora and fauna you won’t see on the ground. Be sure to schedule the visit 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.
DAY 6: Manuel Antonio
In the morning, take a boat tour of the Damas Island estuary, 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, hike the loop trail through the rainforest here and around Cathedral Point. Make reservations at Café Milagro for an intimate and relaxed final dinner in Costa Rica.
DAY 7: Saying adiós
Drive back to San José in time to drop off your rental car and connect with your departing flight home.
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.