Costa Rica “Must Sees” Vacation

A 9 day trip to Costa Rica 
4.95 out of 5 stars
223 reviews

Cloud forests and Pacific Coast waves, hidden charms of thermal springs and soaring through the treetops - these are some of the must-see experiences you will have during your personalized, custom-tailored Costa Rica vacation. Discover toucans calling in the trees of the rainforest, and howler monkeys groaning in the morning light. Traverse sky bridges and quiet mangrove canals. Trek through lava fields in Arenal, following unique trails, and treat yourself to a featured eco-resort connected to a private reserve during a Costa Rica vacation that immerses you in a world that can’t be missed. 

Customize This Trip For Me
Most tours are customized for private travel.

General Information

Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Arenal, San Jose, Monteverde, Nosara, Corobici River

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Arenal – Arrive in San Jose and Transfer to Arenal to Enjoy the Hot Springs

The pleasures of Costa Rica emanate from the pristine rainforest, spectacular beaches, quiet lodges far away from urban development, and the bustling life around San Jose. The Central Market was established in the 19th century with a circular formation filled with the active life of a Central American shopping center. Tens of thousands of locals and visitors from around the world visit the market daily to walk along the fresh fish, fruits, and vegetables spreading across 200 shops. Small restaurants known as sodas serve popular Costa Rican classics such as gallo pinto, beans and rice, with roasted chicken.

The aroma of fresh pineapple matches the brilliant red and green of vibrant watermelon, and bananas and plantains dangle from the beams of small stands. Outside of the marketplace, the city glows with the bright colors that drape over the facades of homes, cafes, and restaurants, layering the streets with a tropical ambiance. Coffee grows along the ridges of the surrounding mountains, stopping at 5,575 feet above sea level. Your private transfer greets you upon arrival at Juan Santamaria International Airport. You make your way out of the city to the region of Arenal and settle into the comforts of your stunning hotel known for the thermal springs running along its landscape, naturally heated by the volcanic activity of Arenal Volcano. You can see the cone of the summit lingering above the resort like the perfect image of a storybook volcano.

Consider reading some of our travelers' reviews for Costa Rica vacations to learn more about this exciting experience.

What’s Included: airport transfer, accommodation

Day 2: Arenal – Explore the Rainforest Canopy on a High-Flying Zip Line Tour

At breakfast, you can hear the guttural moan of howler monkeys hidden in the dense jungle canopy. The distinctive call echoes up to three miles and affirms a troop’s territory. The loud and affirmative call deceives visitors to the size of the monkey. Though they can grow up to 36 inches tall with a tail extending to an equal length, the monkey is much smaller than their call suggests. At breakfast, you find the aroma of fresh coffee drifting through the dining room accompanying the scent of fresh mango and papaya.

Your private driver greets you at the hotel and escorts you to the base of the trees for a tutorial on zip-lining. You watch your guide with a quickening heart as he informs you how to stop, go, and enjoy yourself during your time gliding through the trees. The course encompasses seven lines, with the highest line at more than 650 feet over the forest floor and the longest cable reaching nearly 2,500 feet long.

Your guides point to a sloth resting in the trees near one of the lines. It turns to find the source of the subtle buzzing caused by your trolley rushing along the metal cable. A white hawk perches atop an open branch in the canopy as you soar through the treetops, enjoying the thrill of the wind brushing against your cheeks. Upon returning the resort, you take the time to submerge your body in the relaxing natural thermal springs, which reach temperatures of 105 degrees Fahrenheit.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 3: Arenal – Hike around Arenal Volcano and Visit a Farm with a Cooking Class

In the morning, you sip your fresh Costa Rican coffee and notice a hint of almond flavor in the rich brew. After the meal, your guide greets you in the lobby and escorts you to the entrance of Arenal National Park, located beneath the lingering peak of the volcano. The summit reaches an altitude of nearly 5,480 feet above sea level. In the 1960s, three craters erupted spewing lava down the slopes and foothills. Until 2010, lava continued to stream down the side of the volcano causing a deep orange glow in the night.

You follow the trails that crisscross the more than 29,500 acres of protected land. The herbaceous aroma emanating from the surrounding plant life accompanies the lush greenery of secondary forest. The clouds drift past overhead before giving way to a perfect view of the peak’s cone shape. The greenery dissipates, revealing cooled lava rocks from recent eruptions, and you take your time to focus as you navigate around the rocks.

Ficus trees grow along the verdant grass, and Aracari toucans call to one another in the treetops. The birds have a black stripe along their belly, dividing their yellow breast and underside. Their arched bill features yellow and black hues set against the dark plumage of their crown. You continue to a local organic farm to learn about the cultivation of the different crops in Costa Rica on a family-run plantation. You help collect cherimoya squash and herbs before entering the kitchen for a delightful cooking lesson in traditional Costa Rican cuisine.   

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast, lunch

Day 4: Monteverde – Enjoy a Scenic Lake Crossing and Cloud Forest Night Trek

Close to 900 different species of birds inhabit Costa Rica’s less than 20,000 square miles, which is smaller than West Virginia. In the morning, the avifauna resumes its daily activities with orange-bellied trogons twittering in the trees. The black and white zebra-stripe of their tails is striking against the jade and emerald leaves. The males grow to 10 inches long and shimmer with a green breast and orange under-plumage. After breakfast, your private transfer greets you at the hotel ready to escort you to Monteverde, an area rich in biodiversity and with a thrilling cloud forest to discover.

You cross Arenal Lake on a scenic boat ride. The manmade waterway reaches depths of 200 feet and encompasses more than 30 square miles. In the early morning and late afternoon, the rainbow bass that inhabit the lake actively leap out of the water to capture insects. Tapir graze on the forest underbrush, and jaguars hide in the trees. You take one last view of the panorama before your private jeep transfer takes you into the mountains.

Your eco-luxury accommodation almost blends into the trees, with each room offering a spectacular view over the forest canopy. The scent of pine and jasmine fills the air. You take to the trails leading through the preserved biodiversity protected over 26,000 acres, consisting of six separate ecological zones. The forest returns to bustling activity in the crisp, cool air of the late afternoon. After walking for less than five minutes, you’ve already spotted a skittish kinkajou and two twittering bellbirds.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, tour, breakfast

Day 5: Monteverde – Traverse the Cloud Forest with your Choice of Adventures

At breakfast, you feel the cozy ambiance of your eco-friendly lodge nestled in the landscape. The morning clouds have drifted through the forest and dissipated, leaving behind layers of mist in the moss that dangles on the branches and spreads across the forest ground. After the meal, you head into the trees with your private naturalist guide who is eager to introduce you to the intriguing life in the cloud forest. Monteverde contains more than two percent of the world’s biodiversity and incorporates the Continental Divide from which rivers move to either the Caribbean or Pacific Coast. Suspended bridges travel across the canopy nearly two miles long, and you have a bird’s eye view of the treetops from the longest bridge which travels 180 feet between the mountain ridges.

The tropical ecosystem captivates you as tailed kite birds fly past and capuchin monkeys grab for berries and nuts dangling from the branches. You enter the butterfly gardens to find more than 20 species of butterflies fluttering against the blossoming tropical flowers. The iridescent wings of the Blue Morpho catch your eye as it feeds on the sap and juice leaking from dangling fruits. Fourteen different types of hummingbird buzz around the aviary and a relaxing, trickling waterfall completes the ambiance of this gorgeous setting. The hummingbirds dip their beaks into the pistil of the flower. Your guide points to the magenta-pointed woodstar which glows with an unmistakable magenta plumage around its throat.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 6: Nosara – Float on Corobici River en route to Pacific Luxury in Nosara

At breakfast, you soak in the view of the cloud forest from the comforts of the dining room. The delightful aroma of fresh coffee accompanies the sweet scents of pineapple and passion fruit. Your private transfer greets you in the lobby after the meal and leads you down the mountainside into the Pacific region of Guanacaste. You stop along the banks of the Corobici River, which originates on the slopes of the Tenorio Volcano and flows through the forest until reaching the Tenorio River. You relax in the raft knowing the river barely reaches class II rapids allowing for a leisurely safari in search of the magnificent wildlife perching on the shores.

As you drift down the waterway, Jesus Christ lizards sit on fallen branches. They scatter back to the shore upon your arrival, speeding across the top of the water, and you quickly realize how they got their name. Large iguanas bask in the warm, dry sunlight and otters jump into the water in search of fish or hidden lizards. Your guide points to a small crocodile resting on the sunny shoreline with its mouth wide open. Your guide pulls a leaf from a scraggly bush and tells you to inhale, and you take in the unmistakable scent of garlic that emanates from the plant. Bare-throated tiger herons linger in the trees and fly farther down the river as you approach their space. The exciting wildlife waits for you on the shore and in the sky as you travel over seven miles on a tranquil cruise.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, tour, breakfast

Day 7: Nosara – Relish a Stand-Up Paddleboard or Kayak Mangrove Tour 

The featured property of Lagarta Lodge covers 90 acres of protected land and offers sensational views of the Pacific Ocean and the lush canopy of the rainforest reserve. The eco-conscious accommodation combines indulgent luxury with impressive scenery for an unforgettable experience amongst singing birds, active monkeys, and the waves that crash against the gold sands on the shore. The adventures of Costa Rica take you to mountaintops and through the jungle canopy. After breakfast, you return to the adventures blending the brilliant wildlife and landscapes of the country by taking to the canals of the mangrove forest.

You have the choice of traversing the waters on a kayak or a paddleboard, each offering a different experience in how you view the surrounding trees and shading canopy. The wildlife is most active in the cooler temperature of the morning, and the crashing waves of the Pacific grow quieter the farther you travel along the canals. The familiar call of the howler monkeys fades and is replaced by the distinctive chatter of motmots perched on the thin branches above. Their tails feature two tassels shimmering with black and indigo feathers and the motmot waggles as you approach, signaling that it knows you are present.

Parakeets flutter past in groups of six, their loud, high-pitched twitter following them through the trees. Your guide explains to you the the distinctive properties of the mangrove trees and points to the roots protruding from the water. The unique riverine trees help keep the soil from eroding and are able to convert the saltwater into freshwater for nourishment. Continuing on, you paddle along the serene canals, keeping your eyes focused on the trees in search of iguanas, butterflies, and the great kiskadee.  

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 8: Nosara – Delight in a Private Surf Lesson and Horseback Riding Excursion

From your private balcony, you can see a brown pelican roosting in the gentle wake brushing against the shoreline. When it regains its energy, the large bird takes to the sky, gliding over the water in search of snapper or Dorado. After an early breakfast, your guide leads you to Playa Guiones to experience the classic surf break rolling along the Pacific. The waves typically reach heights of six feet and are shaped by the sandbar. Your guide eases your mind, telling you to ignore the larger waves in the distance as you begin your private surf lesson. Sunlight spreads across the powdery sand creating the shimmering golden hue that graces the shoreline.

Your guide trains you on how to pop up on the board while on dry land to get used to the motion; then you practice swimming on the board, getting acquainted with the various motions involved in surfing before taking to the ocean. The warm water reaches temperatures of 70 degrees Fahrenheit but offers a cool respite from the tropical heat. Your instructor helps guide you on the water, holding the board as the small waves roll to shore. You practice catching the swell, paddling as fast you as you can before the wave breaks. The momentum can easily catch you off balance, but you continue to pop into the standing position until you finally catch a small wave and ride it parallel to the shoreline. 

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 9: Nosara – Depart for Home

The beauty of Lagarta Lodge continues to captivate you well into your last day in Guanacaste. The sunlight spreads across the emerald canopy of the rainforest preserve, and the breeze carries the subtle aroma of the Pacific. A group of parakeets has settled on the tree beside your balcony, their emerald plumage nearly matching the hue of the treetops. At breakfast, you sip the freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee finding hints of brown sugar and apricot. After the meal, your private transfer escorts you to the Nosara Airport for your brief, scenic flight to Juan Santamaria International Airport, where you have plenty of time to check-in to your flight home.

What’s Included: airport transfer, breakfast


Starting Price 

This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.