8-Day Costa Rica Active Adventure
Day 1: San Jose, Costa Rica
Arrive in Costa Rica’s capital of San Jose and transfer to your hotel, located in a quiet setting on the edge of the city. This evening, meet your guide for an orientation, with a briefing on all the activities to come.
Day 2: Sarapiqui Rafting / Arenal Volcano
After breakfast, drive north through central Costa Rica's lush mountains, passing coffee plantations and valley vistas, then descend to the eastern lowlands for the start of today's rafting adventure on the Sarapiqui River. The Sarapiqui's Class III whitewater is sure to offer plenty of thrills as you navigate 40 rapids in the course of just 8 miles. (Guests who prefer a mellower introduction to rafting can choose a trip on a different section of the Sarapiqui, gentler but still exhilarating.) Dense jungle flanks either side of the river, and you'll want to be on the lookout for monkeys and tropical birds in the trees. Stop on shore midway through for a tropical fruit snack and a swim in a calm, crystal pool, then end with lunch at the river's edge.
Continue this afternoon to the Arenal Volcano area. The most famous of Costa Rica's many volcanoes, Arenal towers over the rain forest that surrounds Lake Arenal at the mountain's base. Explore the region's fascinating geology and biodiversity while based directly opposite the volcano at Arenal Observatory Lodge. Until 2010, the volcano was one of the most active in Costa Rica, but today it is in a dormant phase. Learn about the area's natural history on guided walks over the extensive network of private trails that cross lava flows and lace the lush forest. Birds call out from the treetops, while frogs and other small creatures comprise a nocturnal chorus to serenade your stay.
Day 3: Canyoneering & Arenal Lava Walk
The Arenal area abounds in active adventures. This morning, try some tropical canyoneering: secured by a safety harness (and with plenty of advance instruction), rappel down a series of four waterfalls into a river canyon, where you'll trek on trails through pristine rain forest. No prior experience is necessary, but you should be in good physical condition and ready to get wet! A special lunch at Arenal Vida Campesina will reward your morning's efforts, offering a taste of life with a rural farming family as you learn about the typical crops they grow using sustainable agricultural techniques. Your visit begins with a demonstration of sugar cane juice production using a manually-operated sugar mill (and a chance to taste it). Walk through cultivated tracts of land to learn about common Costa Rican crops such as coffee, bananas and plantains. At the end of the tour, a traditional lunch features fresh vegetables from the farm and a hands-on demonstration of tortilla-making.
Fully replenished, head back toward Arenal Volcano National Park to walk atop a lava flow. The trail crosses an open area before entering the rain forest on the northwest side of the volcano. Geological features along the route are fascinating, including a 60-foot-high pile of lava blocks that offers a panoramic view of the surrounding forest, mountains, Lake Arenal and the volcano itself.
Day 4: Canopy Sky Trek / Rincon de la Vieja National Park
No active adventure in Costa Rica would be complete without zip lining through the canopy, a pursuit that originated in Costa Rica several decades ago. A 20-minute ride on the Arenal Sky Tram takes you 4,100 feet up a forested mountainside with interpretation along the way, while you gain a bird's-eye view on the treetops below from the open-air gondola. At the highest point, exit to stand atop an observation platform for fantastic views of the surrounding mountains, Arenal Lake and Arenal Volcano. Your return journey on the Sky Trek is even more exciting: this system of seven long zip lines takes you back down the mountain past waterfalls, giant strangler figs and rain forest wildlife tucked in the trees.
This afternoon, drive to Rincon de la Vieja National Park, a World Heritage Site in northwest Costa Rica. Your destination is the Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin, where deeply rooted traditions of cowboy life in the Guanacaste region still flourish. This land has been a ranch since 1880, sprawling over the golden savanna and dry tropical forest at the base of Rincon de la Vieja Volcano. Since 1975, two generations of the Batalla family have cared for and worked the ranch land, keeping its legacy alive. In 1985 they added a lodge to the property, to meet growing interest from travelers wanting to experience the volcano, hot springs, volcanic mud, waterfalls and wildlife.
Day 5: Volcano Hike / Las Chorreras Waterfall / Riego Negro Hot Springs
Your day begins with a hike on the volcano slopes in Rincon de la Vieja National Park. The park contains a wide variety of tropical forests that shelter rare flora and fauna including kinkajou, puma and tapir, along with more common sightings of armadillo, collared peccary, white-nosed coati, iguanas, and white-faced, howler and spider monkeys. Among the park's 300 bird species are rare emerald toucanets and blue-crowned motmots. Depending on the season, look for vibrant purple Guaria Morada orchids, the national flower of Costa Rica. You'll also make a short hike to Las Chorreras waterfalls. Two side-by-side falls cascade into a sky-blue mineral pool at the base of a shallow canyon, creating an irresistible setting for a swim.
After lunch at the lodge, relaxation awaits at nearby Rio Negro Hot Springs. The volcanic springs bubble up in the Rio Negro ("Black River"), naturally heated by geothermal forces inside the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano. Surrounded by dense forest, the crystal-clear river flows through 10 man-made pools created to capture the steaming mineral-rich water, accessed via a trail and two hanging bridges. Scoop up some heated volcanic clay to smooth all over like a spa body masque. Once it dries, rinse it off with a cool shower or jump in the river before another soak in the hot pools. This evening, enjoy dinner with a local family in their home.
Day 6: Solimar Ranch / Isla Chiquita
Hacienda Solimar is a 7,400-acre working cattle ranch near the mouth of the Tempisque River that has set aside 30 percent of its property as a wildlife reserve. It has become an important destination for nature lovers who want to see a tremendous variety of waterbirds and species native to Costa Rica’s dry northwest forest. The varied habitat consists of dry forest, gallery forest and wetlands in the form of numerous lagoons. On a tour of the wetlands, you can expect to see roseate spoonbill, boat-billed heron, wood stork and the large Jabiru stork, among many others. Other wildlife often on view includes white-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, coatis and the American crocodile. After lunch at the hacienda, transfer to Puntarenas for a private boat transfer across the Gulf of Nicoya to Isla Chiquita. This secluded luxury camping resort is your base for the next two nights, with comfortable accommodations in walk-in canvas tents with king-size beds and en suite facilities. After an ocean-to-table dinner at the thatched-roof island restaurant this evening, head off for a nighttime "bioluminescence adventure." Produced by high concentrations of light-emitting plankton, bioluminescence imbues the sea with a starry-night effect. You'll head out in kayaks with a guide in search of this unusual spectacle in the waters surrounding Isla Chiquita.
Day 7: Curu Private Wildlife Reserve / Kayak & Standup Paddleboarding
Transfer by boat to the private Curu Wildlife Reserve on the Nicoya Peninsula for a morning hike. The first private biological reserve in Costa Rica, Curu is part of a large farm established in 1933 that combines sustainable agriculture and forest management with the protection of wildlife and nature. A diversity of habitats has been set aside for conservation, including mangroves, river estuaries and ocean beach where endangered sea turtles nest. More than 230 bird species have been counted in Curu, and scarlet macaws have successfully been reintroduced. Among mammals on the premises are rare species such as ocelot, puma and margay cat as well as collared peccary, coyote, anteater, monkeys and more. Look for all of these along Curu's wild trails as your guide chooses a hike according to your ability and preferred pace. This afternoon, discover the waters around Isla Chiquita via kayak, standup paddleboard, or both.
Day 8: Isla Chiquita / Depart
After breakfast, a transfer by boat and road is included to San Jose International Airport.