Few visitors have time to explore Costa Rica from tip to toe, but the following itinerary takes in half a dozen of the best national parks, a potpourri of active adventures, and many of the best sights.
An early-morning visit to Poás Volcano National Park is followed by a visit to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens. In late afternoon, get a feel for Costa Rica’s coffee culture with a tour at Café Britt or Doka Estate.
Head to La Fortuna and fill your days with hiking at Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal; a ride on the Sky Tram, including the zip line; and a soak at Balneario Tabacón hot springs. A traditional meal at Choza de Laurel (506/2479-7063) is a good way to end the day.
Transfer via Lake Arenal and Tilarán to Monteverde, where the Monteverde Lodge (506/2257-0766) makes a fine base. After lunch, head to Selvatura for a canopy adventure.
Rise early for a guided hike in Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve or Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. In the afternoon, visit Herpetarium Adventures and Frog Pond. In the evening, take a guided twilight walk at Bajo del Tigre.
Transfer to Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja. After settling in at one of the nature lodges that double as activity centers, you’ll want to visit the bubbling mud pools and fumaroles and partake of canopy tours, horseback riding, and hikes.
Today, it’s the Nicoya Peninsula and Tamarindo, arriving in time for lunch at a beachfront restaurant. This evening, head to Playa Grande to witness marine turtles laying eggs (in season)—you’ll need to make reservations.
Head south to Nosara via Ostional National Wildlife Refuge. If you’re driving, the coast road will prove an adventure. With good timing and prior planning, you can visit the turtle arribada at Ostional.
Travel to Manuel Antonio for wildlife-viewing, snorkeling, and relaxing in and around Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. The resort hotels here offer superb accommodations, and there are plenty of excellent restaurants and a lively night scene.
Transfer to the Osa Peninsula for more rugged adventure. A guided hike along coastal and rainforest trails in Parque Nacional Corcovado leads to waterfalls and offers phenomenal wildlife sightings.
Return to San José for your homeward flight, or extend your trip and fly to Tortuguero, where you can explore Parque Nacional Tortuguero by canoe or boat.
Excerpted from the Tenth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.