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Essence of Costa Rica Experience

Example 8 Day Tour
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There are few places on earth where you can spend one week and experience the variety of landscapes, nature habitats and wildlife as you will in Costa Rica. This small country is so exotic and diverse, yet so close to home! On this 8-day Costa Rica trip travelers will see the essence of this country including its beaches, volcanoes, national parks, cloudforests, traditional cuisine, hot springs, wildlife and welcoming people.

Day-by-Day Summary

Day 1 : Arrive San Jose
Day 2 : Sarapiqui | Arenal Volcano
Day 3 : Arenal
Day 4 : Manuel Antonio National Park
Day 5 : Ballena Marine National Park
Day 6 : Terraba-Sierpe Mangroves
Day 7 : San Jose | Plantation Visit | Culinary Class
Day 8 : San Jose


  • Spend time at Costa Rica's most classic destination, Arenal Volcano
  • Visit Manuel Antonio National Park and Ballena Marine National Park
  • Sample a variety of traditional dishes of Costa Rica
  • Explore the wildlife of one of the largest mangrove wetland ecosystems

Places Visited


Trip Type

  • Small Group

Activity Level

Easy Active

Trip Snapshots

Red-eyed tree frog on flower Caribbean beach in Costa Rica Howler monkey and baby Horses on pasture near Arenal Volcano Sloth in the jungle Playa Manuel Antonio Spider monkey in the jungle

Day 1 Arrive San Jose

Arrive San Jose. A representative will meet & greet you, then transfer you to your hotel to rest for the evening.

Day 2 Sarapiqui | Arenal Volcano

After a hearty breakfast, there will be a welcome briefing and a lesson on useful Spanish expressions. Fortunately, most local residents are far better at English than we are with Spanish! Depart to your first destination, Sarapiqui. En route, you will have the chance to visit a private coffee plantation. After lunch there will be a lecture on Tropical Ecology before we head into the rain forest! Enjoy short trip on the Sarapiqui River which flows along the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border into the San Juan River and Tortuguero water canals on the Caribbean. As you explore the river’s vibrant ecosystem, your guide will help spot some wildlife which may include monkeys, iguanas, sloths, crocodiles, otters, and various bird species.

Continue driving to the Northern plains - home of the iconic Arenal Volcano, rising one mile above sea level and overlooking Lake Arenal. This is undoubtedly Costa Rica’s most classic destination. Some of the locations you will be driving by today provided the setting for Will Smith's Blockbuster movie ‘After Earth’ – filmed partially in Costa Rica! 

Day 3 Arenal

This morning is at your leisure to enjoy the hotel facilities or opt for any extra excursions (for additional cost). Later this afternoon, you will have a guided visit to Arenal Volcano and a hike towards the lookout point from which you can see the basin of the volcano. Although currently in a quiet cycle, Arenal Volcano did erupt in 1968 and still remains one of the most active volcanoes in the world. From the lookout point you will be able to observe a solidified lava site at the volcano foot hills which remains from a small eruption in the 90’s.

Have your swimsuit handy as you will spend some time relaxing in the famous natural thermal hot-water spring pools with temperatures ranging between 98º - 107º F. Nature’s own hot-tub! After your time at the hotsprings you will return to your hotel relaxed and refreshed. 

Day 4 Manuel Antonio National Park

Today you will cross the continental divide and head down through the Central Pacific coast. Soon after departing Arenal, you will stop for a guided nature walk at the Children’s Eternal Forest - Costa Rica’s largest private reserve and a hot spot for biodiversity, ecotourism, bird watching, and hiking trails. Visit the unique shadow forest at Bajo del Tigre. Although located just a mile from a cloud forest, a drier climate means that many of the plant and animal species in Bajo del Tigre are different than those at higher elevations.

We will then continue our journey to the Pacific coast for another guided nature walk. This walk is in the completely different, warmer ecosystem of Manuel Antonio National Park. Although it is the country's smallest national park, the stunning beauty and diversity of wildlife in its 683 hectares is unequaled, featuring a charming combination of rain forest, beaches and coral reefs. These beaches are amongst the most beautiful in the country, uniquely lined with lush forest. The coastal forest is home to sloths, iguanas, the rare and adorable squirrel monkeys and colourful little crabs. After some time enjoying this natural paradise and a picnic lunch by the beach, you will head to Uvita area which will be our base for the next three nights. 

The drive from Arenal to Manuel Antonio is approximately 4.5 hours. The drive from Manuel Antonio to Uvita is approximately 1.5 hours.

Day 5 Ballena Marine National Park

This morning, you will have a guided visit to Ballena Marine National Park  which protects 110 hectares of land, more than 13,000 acres of ocean, and 9 miles of coastline. Comprised of mangrove forests, coral reefs and untouched beaches, the national park is one for travelers who want to view fragile wildlife while escaping the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Once at the entrance to Uvita beach, you will start the walk following the the trail to the beach. . Along the trail there is a chance of seeing howler monkeys, white-faced monkeys, sloths, bats, raccoons, and birds including the scarlet macaw. After crossing a  creek, you will walk through Punta Uvita and during low tide you may observe the famous "Tombolo" - locally known as the Whale’s Tail. This is a famous natural barrier reef that was created by the forces of two rivers on either side which, due to the currents, has formed and maintained the shape of a whale’s tail when viewed from above. After enjoying some time at the beach, you will head back to the hotel.

Day 6 Terraba-Sierpe Mangroves

Today you will take a guided eco-tour by boat on the Terraba-Sierpe Mangroves. This will be another spectacular opportunity to encounter a diverse variety of wildlife as you explore one of the largest mangrove wetland ecosystem in Central America. The Terraba-Sierpe mangrove consists of a network of water canals and different type of mangrove tress including the white, black, red, cat and pineapple mangroves. This environment provides a home to a great variety of flora and fauna including birds such as Herons, Egrets, Ospreys, Scarlet Macaws; as well as the four species of monkeys found in Costa Rica - the White-Faced, Howler, Spider and Squirrel monkeys. Often seen are also crocodiles, basilisks and iguanas!

Before returning to the hotel, you will visit an often unseen archaeological site which features a collection of the intriguing stone spheres. Considered "Out-of-Place Artifacts", their origins and purpose have been lost in history. They are part of a mystery that suggest that high-tech Prehistoric Civilizations may have existed. Scientists estimate the majority of these stones date back to 12,000 years. With diameters of up to 7 feet and weights that can reach 16 tons, these ancient stone spheres of Costa Rica were made world-famous by the opening sequence of "Raiders of the Lost Ark," when a mockup of one of the mysterious relics nearly crushed Indiana Jones. 

Day 7 San Jose | Plantation Visit | Culinary Class

  • Hotels
  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Your journey back to San Jose begins today. Along the way, visit a tropical spice farm featuring 27 acres of agriculture land. Their cash crops include the plantation’s major crop — vanilla.  Native to Central America and Mexico, it is also the second most expensive flavouring agent! The reason for its high cost is the labor-intensive nature of vanilla cultivation and processing. This stop is a great opportunity to purchase organic real vanilla, cinnamon, cacao, black or white pepper and tumeric. You will continue your drive toward the Central Valley and visit a private ranch for a traditional culinary class!  You will learn how to make authentic Latin American treats such as tortillas, empanadas and the typical latin favourite – Tamal! Traditionally, making tamales is an all-day affair. That’s why Costa Rican families reserve them for special occasions, such as Christmas. After your hard work, enjoy a tamale feast before continuing to your hotel where you will spend your last night in Costa Rica.

Day 8 San Jose

Transfer to the airport for your return flight home.

*Click here to see a longer version that includes Tortuguero

Arenal - Hotels

San Jose - Hotels


Uvita - Hotels

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  • 6 Breakfasts, 5 Lunches, 2 Dinners
  • 7 Nights Accommodations
    • 7 Nights Hotel
  • 5 Days Locally Hosted Guide Service
  • Both International Arrival and Departure Transfers are included.


  • International Flights


  • $100 Meals not Included
  • $29 Airport Departure Tax
  • $100 Optional Excursions
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Chance for unpredictable weather but with fewer visitors.

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