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.
Arrive in San José . Take the afternoon to visit the Museo del Jade  and Museo del Oro Precolombino , then dinner at Hotel Grano de Oro (Calle 30, Avenida 2, tel. 506/2255-3322, www.hotelgranodeoro.com ).
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 Arenal Volcano National Park ; a ride on the Sky Tram , including the zip line; and a soak at Tabacón Hot Springs . A traditional meal at Choza de Laurel (tel. 506/2479-7063, www.lachozadelaurel.com ) is a good way to end the day.
Transfer via Lake Arenal and Tilarán to Monteverde , where the Monteverde Lodge (tel. 506/2257-0766, www.costaricaexpeditions.com ) 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 the Serpentario and Frog Pond . This evening, take a guided twilight walk at Bajo del Tigre .
Transfer to Rincón de la Vieja National Park . 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 Manuel Antonio National Park . 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 Corcovado National Park  leads to waterfalls and offers phenomenal wildlife sightings.