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7 Days Costa Rica Itinerary: Top Sights for First Timers

Posted on Published: June 30, 2023  - Last updated: January 5, 2024

Abundant in nature and adventure, Costa Rica is one of the most incredible countries in the world and spending a week here is a dream! But how do you even choose where to go and how long to stay in each spot? From the beach to a cloud forest and even a dormant volcano, this 7 days Costa Rica itinerary has the exact details you need to plan an amazing week!

7 days Costa Rica itinerary aerial view beach teal water white waves trees

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Costa Rica is a country you could spend a month – or more – exploring. What it lacks in size it makes up in adventure! This 7 days Costa Rica itinerary will take you through 3 regions of the country, plus give you some alternatives. After all, it’s nice to have options, right?

From the lush rainforests to stunning beaches of Manuel Antonio and a whole lot more, this small Central American country has so much to offer visitors.

Fill your days with amazing (and natural) wildlife encounters, thrilling ziplines, crazy night tours, waterfall hikes and more. This Costa Rica 1 week itinerary has a bit of everything, no matter what your vacation style.

Before diving into what to do on each day of your vacation, let’s go over some details that will help you plan your trip.

How many days in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica itinerary view of mountains and lush tropical foliage under tree

To make the most of your trip, you’ll want at least a week in this beautiful country. A full 7 days in Costa Rica is just the right amount of adventure and relaxation.

You could do a 5 day itinerary Costa Rica and just omit one of the 3 regions below. But honestly, a week gives you a good taste for the nature and culture that Costa Rica is famous for.

And if you have longer – even better! Spend 10 days, 2 weeks or a month exploring this gorgeous country. With more than a week, you can see more regions, like Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast or take part in slow travel , exploring restaurants, getting to know the locals, soaking in Pure Vida and so much more!

Best time to visit Costa Rica

black monkey white face walking on tree branch in costa rica

If you’re wondering when the best time to visit Costa Rica is, the answer completely depends on what matters most to you!

May through November is typically the rainy season in Costa Rica, so you could generally avoid that timeframe. However, if you want to find cheap prices, this is the timeframe you’d find the best deals!

December through April is the best time to visit Costa Rica. With amazing weather, abundant wildlife and tourist operations fully open, you’ll have a really comfortable trip with many conveniences this time of year.

You could also try the shoulder season to see if you can score a great deal for pricing. Try early to mid-November and mid-late April to try your luck.

Of course, peak travel season is January – March, so keep this in mind for pricing and crowds.

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7 days Costa Rica itinerary: map

This is a map of the itinerary in this guide. The orange icons are the recommended areas for your Costa Rica 1 week itinerary. The yellow icons are alternative options if you’re looking to switch things up. Black icons are the most popular airports for international travel.

As you can see, this Costa Rica itinerary will cover the areas of:

  • Manuel Antonio
  • Drive between Monteverde and Manuel Antonio
  • Isla Tortuga (optional)
  • Tamarindo (optional)

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How to get around Costa Rica

views while driving San Jose to Monteverde tree covered hills looking out to mountains

So at this point you might be thinking: how do you get around Costa Rica? Well good news: there’s plenty of options!

Rental car for your 7 days in Costa Rica

This is the most flexible option for your trip to Costa Rica. You’ll be able to go when you want and where you want. If you’re a US citizen, you can use your US drivers license.

Just keep in mind most vehicles are manual transmissions, and there’s typically an upcharge for automatic (if it’s available).

I recommend using Discover Cars for car rentals in Costa Rica . It’s a free service that searches the major rental companies and provides the best rate. I typically save 10-30% using Discover Cars .

Shuttle service

This is a popular option, especially if you’re looking to relax and keep a slower pace while you’re at each destination on this Costa Rica travel itinerary.

Taking a shuttle service is also great for large groups, or if you simply don’t want to drive the roads in Costa Rica.

You’ll find routes between most popular cities and tourist destinations. The pricing depends on the route and size of the shuttle. For this, I recommend using 12Go . They have a variety of options for transportation, and a ton of routes in Costa Rica, including between the destinations on this travel itinerary!

7 days in Costa Rica view of road over bridge with hill in distance

This is the most budget-friendly option for transportation in Costa Rica. However, the bus lines take a long time and won’t really help you stay on schedule for this Costa Rica itinerary 7 days – it would be more like 12 days based on all the time you’ll spend on the bus!

But, public transportation is the cheapest way to get around Costa Rica , and most other countries for that matter. I recently took a bus like this across the Peloponnese during my 2 weeks Greece itinerary, and it worked out smoothly.

Taxi or Uber in Costa Rica

I really only recommend using a taxi service or Uber once you’re in a town – the cost is price prohibitive to take a private transfer like this from region to region.

Uber works in most major areas of Costa Rica, and is quite convenient too. If your hotel to and from the airport in San Jose or Liberia doesn’t have a free shuttle, Uber or taxi is the way to go.

What to pack for your 7 days in Costa Rica

view of beach through palm trees

Let’s go over the items you’ll want to make your trip comfortable! You’ll be visiting a volcano, cloud forest and beaches for this itinerary, so you’ll definitely want a variety of items for Costa Rica!

  • Water shoes. So many waterfalls, hot springs and beaches in this epic Costa Rica 1 week itinerary! You’ll want a great pair of water shoes, ones sturdy enough to hike to the spot you’re going to need them. These are my favorite water shoes that travel with me everywhere – from the best beaches in Thailand to the Black Sand Beach in Vieques, Puerto Rico and yes, even Costa Rica!
  • Mineral sunscreen. Protect your skin while protecting the Earth’s waterways and marine life with mineral sunscreen. The chemicals in traditional sunblock kills marine life so please only wear mineral sunblock in the ocean in Costa Rica (and everywhere else).
  • Grippy shoes for hiking. If you’re planning to go for an actual hike, like in Arenal Volcano National Park or the Cloud Forest in Monteverde, you’ll want shoes that can handle the mud and give you extra stability. These are my favorite hiking shoes that come with me to hiking destinations.
  • Bug spray. You’ll definitely want bug spray! This is my favorite natural bug repellent I used in Costa Rica to ward off those pesky insects and it worked really well.
  • Dry bag. From beaches to waterfalls, this is a damp environment even when it’s not raining! Keep your valuables in a dry bag to protect your items from getting wet. I love the dry bags with a shoulder strap – so handy for short hikes!
  • Lots of layers. This Costa Rica itinerary will cover 3 regions from the mountains to the beach. You’ll want comfortable, moisture-wicking clothes for the humidity and layers for higher elevation. My favorite are  merino wool  – breathable and they travel great!
  • Rain poncho/ umbrella. Even in the dry season, it still rains in Costa Rica. Pack a poncho and/or umbrella for your week in Costa Rica.
  • GoPro. Whether you want to take snorkeling photos, smooth videos while ziplining or road tripping, a GoPro works wonders while in Costa Rica – or on any vacation!
  • Travel insurance. Last but not least, when you’re traveling quite literally anything can happen. Grab travel insurance before you leave home just in case!

Here’s a complete beach packing list if you’re looking for more details.

How to use this Costa Rica itinerary

7 days in Costa Rica with a view of a dark sand beach palm trees and ocean with sun setting

Geesh are we ready to get to it?! Some important details are covered already in this guide, and it’s just about time to start planning a trip to Costa Rica!

Not-so-fun-fact : the travel times between destinations in Costa Rica will take way longer than Google Maps shows. So for planning purposes, you’ll want to prepare extra time than what GPS is telling you.

So, to use this itinerary, it will assume you’ve arrived in San Jose or Liberia the night before day 1 and that you’re flying out after day 7. However, if you are truly only in the country for 7 days, you can condense this itinerary down to fit your flight schedule.

7 days Costa Rica itinerary

Are you ready for it? This adventure of a lifetime is *almost* too good to be true. Enjoy this fabulous week in Costa Rica. You’re gonna love it!

Fun fact:  6.5% of the worlds biodiversity is in the tiny country of Costa Rica. So you’ll have plenty of options for experiencing amazing vegetation and wildlife during your time in this stunning country!

La Fortuna (days 1-2 on this Costa Rica 1 week itinerary)

lake with trees and arenal volcano large mountain peak

🚗 Waking up in San Jose or Liberia (or flying in early in the day), you’ll make your way to La Fortuna. It’s about a 3 hour drive almost straight north of San Jose and slightly less than that from Liberia.

La Fortuna is one of the most beautiful places in Costa Rica. It’s at the doorstep to Arenal Volcano, and is a nature-lover’s oasis!

Day 1 on this Costa Rica travel itinerary: La Fortuna

A dormant volcano, rainforest, waterfalls and abundant nature is what you’ll find in La Fortuna! After your drive from the airport city, you can grab lunch and explore downtown a bit. Try the budget-friendly Soda La Hormiga or try the traditional Costa Rican food at La Cascada.

La Fortuna Waterfall

La Fortuna waterfall Costa Rica 1 week itinerary view of waterfall in lush rainforest from a distance

One of your first activities on this Costa Rica itinerary is to visit this fabulous waterfall in La Fortuna . This stunning waterfall in the rainforest is quite the welcome to this beautiful country, and a preview of the adventures to come!

There’s an entrance fee at La Fortuna Waterfall to access the waterfall, in which the funds go directly into maintaining and preserving the property.

You’ll walk down about 500 steps to get to the base of the waterfall. Stop at one of the many viewpoints along the way for beautiful photos of the falls from a different angle.

At the base of the falls, you can swim in the gorgeous Jade colored water. You’ll want your water shoes for climbing over the boulders along the way as the rocks are very slippery.

Note: the current is really strong so inexperienced swimmers should stay near the rocky edges and not get too close to the waterfall.

La Fortuna Hot Springs (one of the best things to do on this 7 days in Costa Rica itinerary)

Tabacon hot springs view of hot springs pool through lush foliage in La Fortuna Costa Rica

Well-known in this area are the naturally occurring thermal hot springs. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) most of the land surrounding the hot springs have been purchased by hotels and resorts, which means you’ll either need to pay to spend the night there or pay for a day pass.

So let’s first talk about the one free hot springs in La Fortuna . It’s just down the road from the popular Tabacon resort. There’s a small parking area near the entrance, and a walking path that leads down to the river.

Like most places in Costa Rica, there’s an unofficial parking lot attendant who ‘watches over your car’ while you’re enjoying the hot springs. You’ll just pay him a few bucks to keep it safe – or risk what may happen otherwise (I don’t actually know – I’ve just always paid it)!

There are a few other places you can find day passes to enjoy the hot springs in La Fortuna. Some of them can be pricey, and often have an option to include a meal with it, which can be worth the cost.

Some of the mosts popular day pass options are at Tabacon , The Springs Resort & Spa and Baldi.

Day 2: La Fortuna (one of the best days on this 7 days Costa Rica itinerary)

Let’s amp up the adventure and views on your 2nd full day in La Fortuna!

Arenal Volcano

arenal volcano view of large volcano peak on a clear day with dense forest

This is what’s drawn visitors to La Fortuna for decades. And it’s beautiful to see in real life!

The best places to experience it are the Arenal Volcano National Park and Arenal 1968 Reserve. The national park is government funded and the reserve is private property.

Both have great hiking trails with classic shots of the volcano. Arenal 1968 Reserve is less crowded and you’ll get equally as beautiful of views.

Taking a guided hike at Arenal Volcano National Park will help you learn the history of the volcano and region as you climb for impressive views of the lake and park. Just remember to wear good shoes for hiking (sandals definitely not recommended here).

You’ll want to spend at least 1/2 day in the park or reserve hiking and soaking up this incredible natural experience! After all, it’s one of the very best things to do in Arenal , Costa Rica!

More things to do in La Fortuna

white water raft near with people near waterfall in jungle

For your last afternoon, you have options to explore La Fortuna how you prefer. If you’re staying at a hot springs resort, relaxing is a great way to soak in the latter part of this day. Especially if your morning hike was intense!

Otherwise, booking a tour or visiting another local attraction is a great way to spend the afternoon. Here are some other ideas:

  • White water rafting on the Balsa River
  • Rio Celeste waterfall (1.5 hour drive and requires 3.5 mile hike but it’s stunning!)
  • Kayaking or paddleboarding on Lake Arenal
  • Ziplining in La Fortuna

Best places to stay in La Fortuna

Here are some fun places to stay in La Fortuna. Remember, you can always opt for a vacation rental property on VRBO if you’re looking for more space or a kitchen to make your own food and save some money.

  • Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa. Get instant access to one of the best hot springs in the area by staying on property.
  • Hotel Boutique Casa Del Rio. River views, multiple pools and ultimate relaxation in La Fortuna.
  • Noah’s Forest Hotel. Choose this spot for seclusion, romance and stunning gardens with on-location wildlife.

Monteverde (days 3-4 of this 7 days Costa Rica itinerary)

rolling hills with trees white puffy clouds in blue sky best Costa Rica itinerary

🚗Waking up in La Fortuna, hit the road to Monteverde. You’ll curve around Lake Arenal and then south to Monteverde, over 3 hours drive.

Monteverde is home to the Cloud Forest Biological Reserve . It’s a big deal and so much fun to experience in real life! And remember that biodiversity we chatted about earlier? Yep, it’s big here, too!

Day 3: Monteverde (one of the best places to go in Costa Rica)

After traveling to Monteverde, you’ll arrive in the main town of Santa Elena. Grab food in downtown for a quick lunch before heading out to your next adventure!

That afternoon, you’ll want to take some time to experience the the best things to do in Monteverde .

Monteverde Cloud Forest

Monteverde view of cloud forest with cloud lingerie low in trees 7 days Costa Rica itinerary

One of the top tourist destinations in the country – and certainly the Puntarenas province, visiting the Monteverde Cloud Forest is a must-do on this Costa Rica itinerary!

Note: you’ll definitely want to buy tickets in advance or go with a group tour .

If you arrive by 1:00 – 2:00pm, that will give you some time to hit the trails and see some spectacular fauna and hopefully wildlife!

One of the best hikes in the Monteverde Cloud Forest is the Sendero Bosque Nuboso – La Ventana trail. It’s a 3.6 mile loop, and takes you over the continental divide. Watch for the mysterious Resplendent Queztal bird – the notoriously elusive bird which makes it’s home in the Cloud Forest.

Along the hike, you’ll pass overlooks, which are great on a clear day (a rarity). Expect clouds because you’re quite literally in a cloud forest!

A guided tour will help fill you in on the cloud forest’s nature, including spotting certain wildlife. Expect all kinds of amphibians, mammals, birds, insects and so much more!

Remember your grippy shoes and poncho . You’re in the clouds so expect some moisture!

Resplendent quetzal in Monteverde cloud forest view of brightly colored bird sitting on tree branch

Treetop dining experience (one of the most unique things to do on this 7 days Costa Rica itinerary)

If you want a truly authentic and totally unique experience, enjoy a fine dinner amongst the trees! This dinner will get you feeling all the feels in Monteverde!

I recommend make reservations at  San Lucas Treetop Dining Experience . If you can, go at sunset as it’s simply magical.

Note: you’ll need an advance reservation for this dinner. Select a time that works with your time exploring the Cloud Forest, getting cleaned up and driving from your accommodations.

Day 4 of 7 days Costa Rica itinerary: Monteverde

woman on zipline with black pants teal jacket Costa Rica itinerary 7 days

This full day in Monteverde will have you pinching yourself and asking “is this place even real??”

Grab breakfast in Santa Elena to fuel up for your adventures. I recommend the incredible food (and my husband said the Costa Rican coffee was amazing) at Choco Cafe .

Hanging bridges and zipline in Monteverde

If you’re up for a thrill, you’re going to love this day! Definitely make a reservation in advance to experience one of Monteverde’s top attractions! There are several places where you can experience ziplining over the cloud forest and walking through it via picturesque hanging bridges.

The locals we talked to all  recommended Selvatura Park , so that’s the option in the photos and videos within this guide. But, if you can’t get a reservation there, try Sky Adventures or 100% Adventure Park.

Fly through the air on one of the world’s longest ziplines! It’s truly breathtaking and a travel bucket list check, for sure!

Note: there’s some walking between ziplines so wear comfortable shoes and layers for various weather conditions.

suspension bridge through lush forest 7 days in costa rica

The hanging bridges are an experience in their own! Walk through trails that take you over as many as 8 suspension bridges, deep in the Costa Rican rainforest.🌿

Most of the walking paths are relatively easy. Depending on which route you choose, you may encounter some incline or some mud based on recent rainfall.

A tour like this in Monteverde will take about 4 hours. What a fun adventure!!

Sloth Sanctuary, Coffee Tour or Monteverde Waterfall

For the afternoon on day 4 of this Costa Rica 1 week itinerary, it’s up to you what you want to do to fill your time. There’s so many activities – you could literally spend a week in Monteverde, exploring and relaxing.

view of Monteverde waterfall with rocky base tall trees surrounding

But since you only have an afternoon before continuing on with the trip, here are a few options:

  • Sloth Sanctuary. Located at Selvatura and hosted by the Caribbean Sloth Sanctuary, you can see sloths that can no longer survive in the wild.
  • Coffee tour. Learn what it takes to process the perfect cup of coffee, from farm to table!
  • Monteverde Waterfall. This road-side surprise will have you hiking down to a picturesque setting in the heart of the Cloud Forest.
  • Horseback riding. Get away from the crowds and see beautiful views, unlike most others will experience on horseback!
  • Downtown Santa Elena. This cute downtown is a fun place to walk around. Admire artwork, go shopping or leisurely dine until your heart’s content.

Where to stay in Monteverde

Whether you want to stay in the clouds of the Cloud Forest or near the action, here are a few recommendations for where to stay in Monteverde.

  • Chira Glamping Monteverde. This unique experience will take your Monteverde adventures over the top!
  • Koora Hotel-a Cloud Forest Resort. Perfect for groups or families, with stunning views.
  • Hotel Heliconia. Enjoy the hot tub and spa oasis on property.

Monteverde to Manuel Antonio (day 5 of this best Costa Rica itinerary)

🚗This is a fun travel day across Costa Rica! The trip is nearly 5 hours in a car including traffic, so this is an opportunity to…

  • Have a slow morning and sightsee along the way.
  • Hustle to take an extra day trip to a dreamy island.

Let’s dive into the details!

Monteverde to Manuel Antonio drive – stops along the way

The scenery is spectacular as you head out of the mountains near Monteverde and start your descent to sea level in Manuel Antonio. The curvy roads are fun to drive on – but just remember there’s a lot of switchbacks and potholes to be cautious of!

Along the route from Monteverde to Manuel Antonio, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to stretch your legs and explore a bit. And when you see a scenic overlook – stop! You’ll (likely) only be here once in your life. Soak in the views and grab those photos.❤️

El Roble Costa Rica

By the time you get to El Roble, you’ll likely have been driving around 2 hours. El Roble is a great spot to stretch your legs, grab something to eat or even hit the beach!

Pro tip: pick up pizza and watch the surfers at Boca Barranca. It’s a famous surfing spot where surfers can often ride a wave almost 1km before it breaks!

Tarcoles Bridge (AKA Crocodile bridge, a must-see on this Costa Rica itinerary 7 days)

Costa Rica itinerary crocodiles on sand bar in muddy river

It’s a crazy phenomenon in southwestern Costa Rica, and one that you should definitely stop and see if you’re driving from Monteverde to Manuel Antonio. Less than an hour down the road from El Roble is the Tarcoles Bridge.

This is a cool stop on the basis that you can see dozens – potentially hundreds – of crocodiles in the river below. The Tarcoles River is home to over 2,000 American Crocodiles . They seem to congregate in the area below the bridge, making it a safe place to view these wild animals in their natural habitat.

Because it’s drawn the interest of tourists, there’s also a few shops, vendors selling artisan crafts and a restaurant nearby. Oh, and a restroom stop as well.

Just don’t drop anything into the water below. You won’t be getting it back!

This is a fun activity, and maybe one of the most expected adventures on this 7 days Costa Rica itinerary.

Jaco sign with multi colors and ocean in distance

One of the best stops on this Costa Rica 1 week itinerary is in Jaco. It would honestly be a great place to stay for a few days, if you have more than a week in this country.

But since you’re on your way from Monteverde to Manuel Antonio, you could stop here for a bit. Grab some lunch and hit the beach!

One of the top things to do in the area – and one that’s relatively unknown to most tourists is to stop by the Jaco sign and see the macaws. The sign is located on Highway 34 south as you’re leaving town. It’s on the edge of the coast, and just beyond that are a group of trees home to macaws.

Park near the Jaco sign and witness beautiful macaws in their natural environment. Look up into the tall trees, or watch them flying above! Macaws mate for life, so you’ll likely see them in pairs. So fun!

Alternative day 5: Isla Tortuga Tour

view from the green water looking at beach and treelike

Okay so if you’re the kind of person who likes to see alllll the things while on vacation, then this day is for you. It’s action-packed and a long day, but it can be done if you’re determined enough!

Visiting Isla Tortuga is a dream! This beautiful, uninhabited island is a fun day just off the southeastern coast of the Nicoya Peninsula. Take a catamaran tour for snorkeling, beaching and exploring this beautiful island.

Note: you’ll need to book this tour in advance to make it all work!

Starting your day really early in Monteverde, you’ll drive nearly 3 hours to Jaco to make the early morning departure to the marina. (Remember to allow extra time for curvy roads and traffic.) From there, hop on the catamaran and sail about an hour and a half to the island.

Isla Tortuga was once a popular snorkeling destination, and snorkeling is definitely still an option today. However, the reef isn’t as vibrant as it once was, so it’s more of an island destination now. (Remember to always wear mineral sunblock ; chemicals in traditional sunblocks kill our reefs!)

While at Isla Tortuga, you’ll get lunch (as part of your tour), can rent kayaks, go on a nature hike and more.

Returning back to Jaco in the afternoon, check out the macaws and Jaco sign as you make your way down to Manuel Antonio.

Manuel Antonio (days 6-7 of this Costa Rica itinerary)

beach view of rocky shore with land across bay

Known for its incredible beaches and wildlife, Manuel Antonio is the perfect mix of adventure and relaxation. This Costa Rica itinerary has you spending 2 days here and driving back to the airport (in San Jose) at the end of your 2nd day.

Note: if you’re flying back to your home from the airport in Liberia, then you may want to consider the alternative region on this itinerary, Tamarindo, which is detailed below. Otherwise, plan 5-6 hours to drive from Manuel Antonio to Liberia.

Day 6 of this Costa Rica itinerary: Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio is known for its incredible national park, beaches and coastal views. This area is a big attraction and for good reason. Nature, wildlife and good food are the themes in this Costa Rican destination.

There’s so many things to do in Manuel Antonio , you could spend an entire week here and not experience it all. But since you only have 2 days here on this Costa Rica itinerary, these are the highlights.

Manuel Antonio National Park (must-see on this best Costa Rica itinerary)

Manuel Antonio national park beach with palm trees white sand and water Costa Rica Itinerary

This is the day to fully explore one of the best places to go in Costa Rica! The Manuel Antonio National Park is a stunning landscape, perfect for the beach lover and nature lover.

First, let’s talk about the amazing beaches within the park. Playa Manuel Antonio is the main beach in the park. It’s great for swimming and sunbathing. It’s also the busiest, so if you want a spot in the shade under a coveted palm tree, get there early!

I also loved Playa Espadilla Sur. This wide open beach had plenty of room to stretch out. The waves are typically a bit bigger here, but still a great spot to lay out a towel and soak in the views.

And if you’re going for a more secluded vibe, head to Playa Gemelas, just a short walk from Manuel Antonio Beach.

peeking through the trees ocean view costa rica itinerary

Beyond the beaches, wildlife is abundant in the park. These are the types of animals you might see in Manuel Antonio National Park:

  • 2 Toed Sloth
  • 3 Toed Sloth
  • Howler Monkey
  • White Faced Monkey
  • Squirrel Monkey
  • Variety of reptiles
  • Many species of birds

To see wildlife in the park, it’s best to take a guided tour . The experts know when and where to look for wildlife, increasing your chances exponentially!

This is a must-do on this 7 days Costa Rica itinerary!

Book a photo shoot: The best souvenir, booking a photo shoot while traveling preserves memories of your vacation! I love Flytographer because the photo sessions are fun, easy and affordable. you can get $25 off if you book through this link .

Night tour in Manuel Antonio

spotted glass frog on green leaf during night tour

One of the most wild experiences you can have in Costa Rica that aren’t available in most places are night tours in the rainforests. There are many tourist destinations across the country that offer night tours, and one of the best is in Manuel Antonio.

You’ll want to book this tour in advance as it definitely sells out. But on a night tour you’ll get a chance to see the nocturnal creatures in their natural element.

It’s common to see frogs, snakes, tarantulas, sloths, kinkajous and more on a Manuel Antonio night tour.

If you have a fear of anything creepy or crawly – you’ll probably want to skip this. Otherwise, it’s a great opportunity to experience the biodiversity within Costa Rica.

7 days in Costa Rica itinerary: day 7

This is the last day of your Costa Rica 1 week itinerary , so you can truly craft it how you choose! Want to lay on the beach all day? Perfect. Ready for an epic waterfall hike? It’s here. Looking for more thrill on an ATV? Also a good idea.

So, here are the things I’d recommend, but know that you have many more options in this fun coastal town.

🚗 Just remember that if you’re only spending 7 days in Costa Rica, you’ll need to make your way back to San Jose for the airport. Plan your afternoon accordingly, as it takes over 3.5 hours to make the journey from Manuel Antonio to San Jose.

Beach hopping in Manuel Antonio

7 days Costa Rica itinerary picture of busy beach aerial view with hilly coastline teal water white waves

This is such a beach destination and offers so many water activities. You can spend the entire day on the beach if you’d like!

One of the best beaches in Manuel Antonio is Playa Biesanz. A fun spot for pretty much any type of beaching you like, Playa Biesanz is away from the main town and national park, and is a bit of adventure to get to.

It’s about a 10 minute walk to get down to the beach from the parking area. Wear your water shoes , which will double as good walking shoes down the varied terrain on the way.

At the beach, you’ll find food and drink for purchase, bathrooms and even kayak, beach chair and umbrella rentals. Oh, and watch for sloths on the trees by the beach – it’s a common sighting here!

Costa Rica itinerary: more things to do in Manuel Antonio

7 days in Costa Rica view of old airplane with plants and roof overtop

Depending on how much time you have after beach hopping and before driving, you can hang out in town or book a tour. Here’s what I’d recommend if you have the time!

  • Ziplining. How does 11 ziplines sound? Catch beautiful views of the area as you soar though the air on a Manuel Antonio zipline !
  • Nauyaca Waterfall. This fun adventure is a 1/2 day trip from Quepos (just north of Manuel Antonio). If you’re into waterfalls, this is definitely a tour you’ll want to take!
  • Day trip to Damas Island. Another island adventure on this list? Yes, please! This day trip to Damas Island leaves in the morning, and then you can go beaching in the afternoon.
  • ATV tour. Add more thrill to the last day of your trip with this ATV tour in Manuel Antonio . Such a fun way to spend a few hours!

Any combination of activities you choose on your last day in Costa Rica will be perfect!

Best places to stay in Manuel Antonio

best Costa Rica itinerary view of airplane converted to hotel room with deck

Alright, to end this amazing 7 days in Costa Rica, I highly recommend a stay at this bucket-list property. The Hotel Costa Verde has traditional style hotel rooms and also offers old airplanes converted to hotel rooms.🤯

And speaking of amazing and unique stays, you’ll love these cave hotels in Cappadocia ! so fun!

Anyway, here are my recommendations for places in Manuel Antonio:

  • Hotel Costa Verde. Choose the ‘sky loft’ for room style to stay in an airplane.
  • Hotel Playa Espadilla & Gardens. Stay close to the beach and near the town action.
  • Hotel Villas Nicolas. This adults-only hotel will provide peace and tranquility while on your Costa Rican vacation.

Alternative Costa Rica itinerary destination: Tamarindo

If you’re looking for the laid-back beachy vibes in Costa Rica and don’t want to make your way as far south as Maneul Antonio, Tamarindo might be a better alternative for your 7 days in Costa Rica.

Also, if your flights are from Liberia, I might suggest you choose Tamarindo instead of Manuel Antonio. The drive from Tamarindo to Liberia is much, much closer than Manuel Antonio and it will give you more freedom to explore and relax.

🚗From Monteverde to Tamarindo is about a 4 hour drive west. If you’re swapping Tamarindo for Manuel Antonio, you can add another day in Monteverde or Tamarindo based on your interests.

What to do in Tamarindo Costa Rica

tan sand beach with palm trees in Tamarindo best Costa Rica itinerary

Located in the Guanacaste Region, Tamarindo is known for its surfing and beaches . It’s also a popular tourist destination if you simply want to hang out at a resort and relax!

Spending 2 days of your 7 days in Costa Rica will be really easy here. Choose between a mix of adventure and relaxation to soak in all the Pure Vida in Tamarindo!

  • Tamarindo Beach. This long stretch of beach has a place for your beach chair or towel, just calling your name! It’s a great way to spend the afternoon soaking up the sun and views of the coast.
  • ATV tour. For adventure and thrill, take an ATV tour ! Anytime you combine an ATV ride on the beach, it’s a win in my book!
  • Learn to surf. One of the best surfing destinations in Costa Rica, Tamarindo is great for beginner surfers. Take a lesson or rent a board to enhance your skills!
  • Volcano Brewing Company. Their tropical beers set the scene for a brewing company in Costa Rica. Relax over a fun meal while enjoying some brews.
  • Kayak the mangroves in Las Baulas National Marine Park. This is such a fun experience! It reminds me of kayaking the mangroves near Anna Maria Island, Florida . So fun!

Of course, you can hang on the beach and find other water sport rentals like kayaks, boogie boards, paddle boarding and more.

Tamarindo is a great place to spend a few days of your 7 days Costa Rica itinerary! Just remember to leave extra time to drive from Tamarindo to Liberia for your flight (or overnight the day before).

Best places to stay in Tamarindo

Whether you prefer staying close to the beach or in a more secluded area, check out these properties in Tamarindo!

  • Ocho Artisan Bungalows. These beach-front bungalows are perfect for ocean views, couples or large groups.
  • Tamarindo Bay Boutique Hotel. With walking distance to the beach, this adults-only hotel is the perfect vibe for Pura Vida.
  • Tamarindo Garden Boutique Homes. Off-the-beaten-path, this property includes plenty of peace and quiet in Tamarindo.

7 days Costa Rica itinerary – that’s a wrap!

Monteverde forest Costa Rica 1 week itinerary view of cloud forest with walking path through trees

Can you believe all the adventure, sightseeing and epic experiences you can see in just a week’s time? From amazing beaches to incredible nature, Costa Rica is a destination with a variety of experiences for every travel style.

Pick and choose which activities are suited to your tastes within this guide. Swap out some of these activities for alternatives, or spend more time at the attractions that really interest you!

Hope you have a great time on your 7 days in Costa Rica!

Related content to read next: 26 Fun and Unique Things to Do in Monteverde Costa Rica You Can’t Miss 26 Incredibly Fun Things to Do in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica You Gotta See to Believe 6 Most Breathtaking Beaches in Manuel Antonio You’ll Love

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7 day itinerary Costa Rica beaches-rainforests-volcano with view of beach and blue water cloud forest and volcano

Wednesday 31st of January 2024

How is the drive from Tamarindo to San Jose airport. We leave Saturday at 7:30 pm and thinking of leaving Saturday morning. Is that doable. thank you

Thursday 1st of February 2024

You should be fine if you leave in the morning. Just add an hour or two for extra drive time. In my experience, if GPS showed a certain amount of time, it takes at least 25% more time (even up to 50% more time) to account for traffic. Slow vehicles are inevitable and most roads aren't built for traffic. Have fun!!

Thursday 19th of October 2023

I've been to Costa Rica several times and love it! The environment and the people are amazing. My favorite places in Costa Rica are Santa Teresa and Nosara, but I haven't made it to Manuel Antonio yet.

Sunday 22nd of October 2023

Oh fun Michelle! I'll trade ya and have to head to Santa Teresa my next visit ;)

I lived in Costa Rica for a while as a child and reading this brought back all the nostalgia. I’m glad you had such a lovely trip, it’s a beautiful place and it looks like you made the most of it!

Oh yay Rose! What a wonderful childhood. 🌿I'm glad this brought back fun memories for you!

simplyjolayne

We visited Costa Rica earlier this year and LOVED it. I would definitely go back.

Oh yay Jolayne! I'd go back in a heartbeat too. Such an amazing destination.

Wednesday 18th of October 2023

A very detailed and helpful guide for first time visitors to Costa Rica. Such diversity and choice of locations and experiences across the island. I particularly would like to experience the cloud forest.

So glad you found this helpful, Marilyn! It's such a fun country with soooo much to do!

The Ultimate Costa Rica Road Trip Guide & Itinerary

Renting a car and driving yourself around Costa Rica is the best way to explore this natural wonderland. In this post, we’ll share our Costa Rica road trip itinerary and tons of tips to help you plan an epic journey by car.

Costa Rica road trip

This article may contain affiliate / compensated links, that may earn me a small commission, at no extra cost to you. For full information, please see our disclaimer here . While all efforts have been taken to ensure the information included in this post is correct and current, travel information such as opening hours, business operations and prices change frequently. If you find anything in this post that is incorrect or outdated please let me know in the comments so I can update it for other readers.

Table of Contents

Your guide to road tripping Costa Rica

Renting a car and driving in a foreign country can be intimidating. Believe me, I know, we’re Australian and most of the countries we visit drive on the other side of the road!

But Costa Rica is one of those places where the rewards of renting a car far, far outweigh any anxiety or hesitation.

Having the freedom to chart your own course in this natural wonderland is a truly special experience, and I guarantee one of the best holidays you’ve ever had.

In this Costa Rica road trip guide, I’m going to share everything you need to know to plan an epic journey through Costa Rica by car.

It’s a big post, so use the table of contents to navigate as you need. If you want to skip the boring logistical stuff, go straight to the road trip itinerary section .

Our Toyota Troopy with rooftop tent set up parked on the shoreline of a beach in Dominical, surrounded by palm trees

Why a road trip is the best way to see Costa Rica

Renting a car and driving yourself around Costa Rica is without a doubt the best way to experience this magical country for so many reasons. 

  • 🚌 Public transport isn’t great: while you can get around the country by bus, many long-distance routes go via San Jose, so you’ll constantly need to go in and out of the capital for connections (and it’s not a nice place to be!). Once you arrive in a town, local transport is very limited and leaves you relying on expensive taxis or tours to see the sights. 
  • 🚐 Tourist shuttles are expensive: tourist shuttles travel directly between popular destinations, picking you up from your hotel in A and dropping you off in B. This solves the problem of buses, but they are very expensive. Prices start from around $30 USD but can go up to $80 + if it’s a lengthier route. If you’re going to take a shuttle 5 times, you may as well rent a car. 
  • 🚗 See more by using travel days: if you’re taking public transport and hauling your luggage around, you can’t really use travel days as exploring days, so you’re constantly wasting time in your itinerary. Having a car means the days you move between destinations can also be normal sightseeing days, stopping at places along the way as you can easily store your luggage in the car. Plus driving is always quicker than taking public transport. 
  • ⏰ You have FREEDOM: having a car gives you complete control over your itinerary and schedule. You can go absolutely anywhere you like, past the tourist trail, outside of the bus route, seeing places in Costa Rica that most people never ever do! Explore aimlessly – if there’s a jungle-lined road that looks cool, take it! If you see a troop of squirrel monkeys on the road, pull over! If Google Maps shows a waterfall that you’ve never heard of, check it out! 
  • 🌅 You can get to places early: this might not sound like a big deal, but if you want to experience Costa Rica’s most popular parks and tourist attractions without the crowds you have to arrive early. Using public transport means you’re tied to the first bus of the day, which is often well past the opening hours of attractions. 
  • 👩🏼‍🤝‍👨🏻 You don’t need to take as many tours: most tours in Costa Rica are really only to provide transport to people who don’t have their own wheels. They are expensive, and in many cases, are for activities that you can easily do independently without a guide. You’ll save a lot of money, and experience places on your own, which is the way we like to travel. (Don’t skimp on guides for wildlife experiences though, you will learn a lot and see a ton more animals!). 

An aerial shot of a white land cruiser driving down a dirt road near the beach lined with palm trees in Costa Rica

Renting a car in Costa Rica

The best place to rent a car in Costa Rica is the capital, San Jose. 

Whilst it is possible to organise rentals in other tourist towns around the country, San Jose has the most rental companies, so prices are generally more competitive here. 

If you are flying into Costa Rica, this is most likely where you’ll arrive anyway, so it’s very convenient. Most rental companies will meet you at the airport. 

My Costa Rica road trip itinerary has you starting and finishing in San Jose, which avoids any hefty one-way rental fees. 

There are hundreds of rental car companies in San Jose. You’ll find all the usual international companies like Budget, Europcar, Sixt etc. 

But there are also a lot of local rental companies, which generally offer much better service and include all the taxes and insurance costs in their quotes. 

This leads me to my next section… rental car insurance. 

A white Toyota Land Cruiser with a rooftop tent on top parked amongst palm trees on a beach in Costa Rica

Rental car insurance

The most important thing to understand about renting a car in Costa Rica is the insurance aspect. 

There are several different insurances to take into consideration.

The biggest issue tourists run into is seeing a very cheap quote online, but only to realise when you collect the vehicle, that the mandatory insurances weren’t included, and they’ve whacked on a couple of hundred dollars more to pay before you can drive away with your car. 

I’ve provided a brief summary of the different insurances below, but I would recommend reading this article for a lot more detail.

👉🏼 Mandatory liability insurance 

Every single car rental agency in Costa Rica will charge you a mandatory liability insurance fee. This is basically insurance that covers any damage you cause to other people, cars, property etc. 

There is no getting out of this or substituting this with your credit card/travel insurance. 

If you’re looking at rental cars online, and you don’t see this mentioned on the quote, it’s almost certain this fee will be added on when you pick up the vehicle. 

If the price online seems too good to be true, it’s because this mandatory insurance isn’t included. 

Local rental agencies are generally much more transparent about this, and I would always suggest renting from a Costa Rican-owned agency, vs a large international option. 

👉🏼 Collision damage insurance

On top of the liability insurance, there is insurance that covers damage to your own rental car. 

The most common term is ‘collision damage waiver’ or ‘car protection insurance’, which covers any damage you cause to your car. 

Different rental agencies may have different levels of this insurance, and it will mostly boil down to what excess / deductable you will have to pay if you damage the car. 

This insurance is what you might be able to substitute with your credit card or travel insurance. Most policies have a provision for rental cars and will cover the cost of damage or excess. 

Generally, the rental agency will need to see evidence of this before they allow you to opt out of their insurance, and hand the car over, so they know someone will be footing the bill in case of an accident. 

👉🏼 Optional insurance

On top of this, most agencies will also offer additional, optional insurance. This is usually labelled ‘premium’ coverage.

Usually, this additional insurance is designed to reduce your excess / deductible to nothing, so in the case of a crash, you won’t have to pay anything and you’re not liable.

If you’ve got good travel or credit card insurance, you shouldn’t have to pay anything in case of a crash either. However, you may have to pay the car rental agency’s bill upfront, and then apply for a refund from the insurer.

Opting for this optional insurance means that you and the rental agency have an agreement directly that you don’t pay anything at all because you’ve opted for this premium, full coverage insurance. 

A view of Arenal Volcano seen through the side window of a moving car with the rearview mirror out of focus in the foreground

Do you really need a 4×4?

Another major factor to consider when renting a car in Costa Rica is whether you need to rent a 4×4. 

The roads in Costa Rica are in very mixed condition. Most of the main highways are fine. They’re well-paved, multi-lane and driving is easy. But so many roads are unpaved, and many others that are paved, are actually in worse condition as they are so full of potholes!

This is common all over the country, even in very popular tourist destinations. Don’t think that because somewhere is popular the roads must be good – WRONG! 

There are certain routes around the country where you’ll need to specifically research which route to drive, and take what Google Maps or Waze provides with a grain of salt to avoid very rough roads or even river crossings (e.g. driving to Monteverde, or on the Nicoya Peninsula). 

If money isn’t an issue, rent a 4×4. It will give you complete freedom to go anywhere and follow any unpaved road you see without hesitation or anxiety over damaging your rental car.

Some of the best parts of Costa Rica are down dirt roads. Hidden waterfalls, beachfront camp spots and palm-lined tracks that are just begging to be explored are much more accessible with a 4×4.

For most people though, understandably money is an issue, and renting a 4×4 is substantially more expensive than renting a standard sedan. 

If you’re just visiting Costa Rica for a short time and sticking to the main sites (e.g. La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio ) you can survive without one. You will encounter unpaved roads and roads riddled with potholes, but with slow and careful driving you will be fine. 

But if you’re taking on a more comprehensive Costa Rica road trip like we suggest, and want total freedom and flexibility to go anywhere and see everything, it is worth considering. 

Some other factors to aid in your decision to rent a 4×4: 

  • 🌦️ Wet vs dry season : the roads are much easier to navigate in the dry season (November – April). Once it starts raining, rivers can flood, unpaved roads become washed out and some routes are even impassable. If you’re visiting in the wet season, a 4×4 is much more important. 
  • 🛻 Off-the-beaten-track destinations: how long are you going to be road-tripping around Costa Rica? Do you want to visit places like Drake Bay with a car? A lot of the Nicoya Peninsula? These destinations have very poor roads, and if you want to explore them on your own terms, a 4×4 is usually necessary. 
  • 😬 Your anxiety and driving skills: will you be worried about taking a small sedan on unpaved roads? Are you going to constantly feel anxious about damaging the car and having a hefty repair bill? It’s worth spending the extra money so you enjoy your trip without worrying the whole time. 

If you want a 4×4, this is another reason to use a local car rental agency. Not only are they more transparent with their quotes and insurances, but they will usually be more upfront with the exact car you are renting. 

If you want a 4×4, but rent from an international agency, you might end up with an SUV – which is NOT the same, and won’t give you the tough, offroad capabilities you’re looking for!

A drone shot of a white 4x4 driving through a shallow pebbly river with forest and mountains rising up in the background on a Costa Rica road trip

Renting a 4×4 camper

Money was an object for us when planning our Costa Rica road trip. However, having freedom and flexibility to explore the best parts of the country was a priority, so we came to a compromise. 

We rented a 4×4 camper from Nomad America. Which gave us the ability to get offroad that we wanted, but also the ability to sleep and cook in the car. 

It counteracted the cost of the expensive 4×4 rental, by reducing our accommodation and eating out costs.

I think in the end it all evened out, so we got the adventurous experience we wanted, without spending that much more than a small sedan plus standard accommodation and meals. 

I’ve got more detailed posts about this if you’re thinking about going down this path: 

  • The Complete Guide to Camping in Costa Rica
  • Nomad America 4×4 Camper Rental in Costa Rica – Our Review

Sally and Brayden relaxing beside their road trip vehicle, equipped with a rooftop tent, in a tropical Costa Rican camping spot

Driving in Costa Rica

Without trying to make this post enormous, I wanted to briefly mention a few points about driving in Costa Rica, that will be handy for planning and executing a stress-free road trip!

  • ➡️ Right side: they drive on the right side of the road in Costa Rica.
  • ⚖️ They use the metric system: speed limits are in kilometres per hour, and fuel is in litres, not gallons. 
  • ⛽️ Gas stations: are pretty prevalent but it’s good practice to fill up when you see one. Bajos del Toro and Drake Bay were two places that didn’t have any. Prices fluctuate, but we found fuel quite expensive in Costa Rica. The staff will pump for you, give them a small tip in cash. You can pay for your fuel with card. 
  • 💰 Toll roads: there are a fair few toll roads in and out of San Jose. It’s usually a couple of hundred Colones, and you can pay by cash or on card. If you’re not in a hurry, you can choose a route to avoid them, but generally, it’s quicker if you’re heading in or out of the city. 
  • 🗺️ Download Google Maps offline: phone service is poor in a lot of areas, so having the maps available offline is a lifesaver. 
  • 🛣️ Research your route in advance: before you set off for a day of driving, look properly at the map. Don’t rely blindly on Google Maps, as it often suggests strange routes that usually involve ‘shortcuts’ on insane unpaved roads. Stay on the highways as long as possible. 
  • 🚧 Drive slow: instead of getting into the specifics of Costa Rican driving abilities, just drive slow and always be on the lookout for people, animals, motorbikes, large trucks and buses and pushy drivers. If you drive slowly and stay alert, you’ll have no trouble driving here. 
  • 🅿️ Paid parking: in many popular tourist attractions, there will be parking attendants who watch your car and help you reverse out. Official or not, it’s a thing. In some destinations, they can be pushy mafia-style demanding a ridiculous fee, in others, they’re friendly and will accept a tip of your choice. 
  • 🌙 Avoid driving at night : roads are not well-lit, and with all the aforementioned hazards to watch out for, it’s safer to save long-distance trips for daylight hours.

Brayden's hand on the steering wheel driving through green forest on a Costa Rica road trip

How long do you need for a Costa Rica road trip?

How long is a piece of string?! You could spend months in Costa Rica and not see it all! 

If you have the luxury of choosing, I think a one-month Costa Rica road trip will give you a fantastic opportunity to see a broad cross-section of the country. 

I haven’t provided specific days in my itinerary below, but rather I’ve included a suggested range of days in each place. 

If you had a month, you could easily do this route. It would be quick, but because you’ve got a car and don’t waste your travel days, it’s feasible and not too rushed, with plenty of time to laze on the beach and enjoy some quiet mornings. 

We spent 5 weeks in Costa Rica, 4 with a car, and it was a whirlwind, but we left feeling that we had given the country a good go. 

If you’ve got that length of time, and you’re seeing a variety of places, the beauty is that you don’t have to do everything in each place to have a complete Costa Rica experience. 

What I mean by this, is because Costa Rica has become such a touristy place, there are countless activities and tours to do in each destination (e.g. La Fortuna). But a lot of these are targeted at short vacationers who might be visiting one or two destinations over the course of one week. 

They want to cram every experience into one destination – ziplining, white water rafting, hanging bridges, chocolate and coffee tours, night walks etc. 

With a longer time and more destinations, you can choose the best places to do these experiences and do them once only. You don’t need to zipline 5 times. 

So although you’re seeing more places, if you just focus on doing the activities that are unique or best in the area, you won’t need as long in each place as say the family cramming a jungle and beach adventure into just two places. 

A lookout photo point in a lush Costa Rican forest reading 'PURA VIDA' with a dense green backdrop

What time of year is best for a Costa Rica road trip?

In a climate like Costa Rica, you have to take the weather seriously. 

🌦️ There is a dry season (usually November – April) and a wet season (usually May – October)

And when they say it’s going to rain, it will rain. It’s not constant the entire season, and you can still visit Costa Rica during its ‘green’ season and have a great trip. 

But I hate people saying it’s totally fine to visit in the peak of the rainy season.

It might be fine, because you could get lucky with a dry week. But you could also be unlucky with a storm front rolling through and a week of constant rain. That is the risk of wet season travel. 

If you want to see the beaches looking blue and sparkly, see the waterfalls without them being brown and murky, and go hiking without getting drenched, you need to consider the seasons. 

I know I was disappointed on the days we had heavy rain because although it is still beautiful, it does affect your plans. When you’re on a time limit, you don’t want to waste any precious moments exploring the country. 

If you can visit during the dry season, do it. 

December – February is the peak of this time, and will be the busiest and most expensive. 

If you can plan your visit for a shoulder month (like November or March/April) you’ll skip some of the crowds but enjoy the best of the weather. 

There are a few regional variations to take into consideration too: 

  • Caribbean Coast: the Caribbean Coast has a different wet/dry season to the rest of Costa Rica. It’s hotter and wetter year round, but the driest months (and the best time to visit) are February – March and August – September.
  • Nicoya Peninsula: this is the driest part of the country, and although it does still experience a rainy season, it generally starts a bit later and doesn’t rain as often. 
  • South Pacific and Osa Peninsula: this is one of the wettest parts of the country, particularly the Osa which is a proper tropical rainforest that can be wet year-round. The wet season starts earlier here and is more intense. 

A sea of palm trees growing along the shoreline of a dark sand beach in Uvita, with trees growing out on angles leaning towards the sand

Costa Rica road trip itinerary

Finally, the fun part! Let’s get into our Costa Rica road trip itinerary. 

I’ve crafted this route based on our own experiences in Costa Rica, reflecting on our trip in hindsight and making minor changes that would have improved our route.

I’ve designed the route to start and end in San Jose, where most visitors will fly in and out of. And I’ve tried to minimize driving times, so you won’t spend entire days in the car. 

My suggested route is:

San Jose – Puerto Viejo – Bajos del Toro – La Fortuna – Monteverde – Montezuma – Manuel Antonio – Uvita – Drake Bay – Dominical – San Jose

Illustrated map showing a Costa Rica road trip route with marked destinations including La Fortuna, Monteverde, and Manuel Antonio

If you’re visiting Costa Rica as part of a broader trip through Central America, I’ve got some suggested alternative routes below , depending if you’re travelling southbound or northbound.

Starting your Costa Rica road trip in San Jose

Your epic Costa Rica road trip starts in the capital, San Jose. This is where the international airport is located, so chances are, you’ll fly in here. 

If your flight arrives early in the morning, you can coordinate to pick up your rental car and start your journey straight away. 

If you arrive later in the afternoon or evening, I would recommend spending a night in Alajuela (the area where the airport is) and collecting your car first thing the following morning. 

You don’t want your first day of driving to be in the dark, and your first stop is 4 hours from San Jose. 

In my opinion, it’s not worth spending any time in the city. Although there are some nice historic buildings, if you had to choose between that or more time in Costa Rica’s nature – it’s a no-brainer. 

So don’t waste any time here, if you can plan your flight to arrive before lunchtime, you can get on the road straight away! 

⏰ Driving time from San Jose to Puerto Viejo: 4 hours

🧭 Directions: this trip is mostly on well-made highways. It can be busy and stressful navigating out of the city, but once you’re clear of that, this is a pretty easy drive.

Stop 1: Puerto Viejo

🌜 How long to spend there: 4 – 6 nights

Start your Costa Rica road trip off in one of my favourite parts of the country – the Caribe Sur (South Caribbean). The heart of this region is the laidback town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca .

While it might feel like somewhere you’d want to end your trip, and relax for a few days, visiting this part of the country first avoids a lengthy coast-to-coast drive, which would waste an entire day.

And believe me, there are plenty of things to keep you busy in Puerto Viejo if you’re not ready to relax!

Cahuita is one of the country’s best national parks, and the wildlife spotting opportunities continue all around town. Rent bikes and hop between pristine Caribbean beaches (far better than the Pacific in my opinion!) and soak up the unique Afro-Caribbean culture and cuisine, you won’t see again once you leave this coast.

An aerial view of a pristine beach, Playa Punta Uva, surrounded by lush greenery and clear blue waters

🏖️ TOP THINGS TO DO IN PUERTO VIEJO

  • Hike the trail and look for wildlife at Cahuita National Park
  • Visit Punta Uva Arrecife , one of the best beaches in Costa Rica
  • See native wildlife at the ethical Jaguar Rescue Centre
  • Get around as the locals do and ride bicycles around town
  • Beach hop between Puerto Viejo’s many amazing Caribbean beaches

🍛 BEST PLACES TO EAT IN PUERTO VIEJO

  • Soda Cocomar
  • De Gustibus Bakery

🛏️ WHERE TO STAY IN PUERTO VIEJO

  • Camping: Camping Arrecife
  • Budget: Playa 506 Hostel
  • Mid-range: Casa BOHÖ
  • Boutique: Namu Hotel

🐢 Optional stop: if you’re visiting Costa Rica between July – October, you should include a stop at Tortuguero. This would be the ideal time in your itinerary to visit. Located on the northern Caribbean coast, this small town is accessible via boat only and is home to one of the largest turtle nesting areas in the country. You can take night tours to see the turtles come ashore to lay and do lots of other nature-based activities.

⏰ Driving time from Puerto Viejo to Bajos del Toro: 4.5 hours

🧭 Directions: this trip is mostly on well-made highways. Take the route that has you use Highway 4 and approach Bajos del Toro from the north.

Stop 2: Bajos del Toro

🌜 How long to spend there: 2 – 4 nights

Your next stop takes you back to the highlands of Central Costa Rica. Bajos del Toro is not on the usual Costa Rica travel route, but man, it should be! This area requires a vehicle to explore, so your great decision to take a Costa Rica road trip allows you to visit this stunning location!

This area is a waterfall wonderland, and there are dozens of cataratas to explore. And the best part? You’ll most likely have them to yourself. Bajos del Toro is well known by the locals but is rarely visited by international tourists.

You could spend weeks here and still not see all the lush, breathtaking waterfalls. Bajos del Toro is everything I thought Costa Rica would be – immense nature, vivid greens and clean air.

A two tiered waterfall cascading down a moss-covered cliff into a serene pool with Brayden in the distance sitting on a  rock next to the lower fall

🏖️ TOP THINGS TO DO IN BAJOS DEL TORO

  • Enjoy the reward of Catarata Vuelta del Cañon after a lengthy hike
  • See Gatorade-coloured blue water at the Blue Falls of Costa Rica
  • Admire the thundering Catarata del Toro , falling into an extinct volcano crater
  • Visit the quiet and less-visited Paraiso Manantiales , with a gorgeous rainforest walk
  • Tour the Jurassic Park-themed Catarata Rio Agrio

🍛 BEST PLACES TO EAT IN BAJOS DEL TORO

  • Mia’s Pizza
  • Restaurante Toro Amarilla
  • Restaurante Alma Libre

🛏️ WHERE TO STAY IN BAJOS DEL TORO

  • Camping: Vuelta del Cañon
  • Budget: Selvática del Toro
  • Mid-range: Blue Morpho Lodge
  • Boutique: El Silencio Lodge & Spa

⏰ Driving time from Bajos del Toro to La Fortuna: 2 hours

🧭 Directions: this is a quick and easy drive once you’ve left Bajos del Toro and connected with Highway 4.

Stop 3: La Fortuna

🌜 How long to spend there: 3 – 5 nights

La Fortuna is easily one of the most popular tourist destinations in Costa Rica, but it totally lives up to the hype! The area is a sea of green, the towering Volcan Arenal looms over the town from wherever you look, and the wildlife spotting is excellent.

It has become a bit of a tourist town though, and you’ll see offers for every kind of tour imaginable. Because you’ve opted to have your own vehicle, you can skip most of these, and experience the natural wonders of La Fortuna on your schedule, without the hefty price tag.

I would also recommend making the most of your freedom and staying in a more nature-centric accommodation option, outside the main town.

See old lava flows around the base of Arenal Volcano, plan an early morning visit to the magical Mistico Hanging Bridges, and soak tired muscles in the geothermal waters of El Choyin.

Sally walking on a suspension bridge amidst the misty Costa Rican rainforest

🏖️ TOP THINGS TO DO IN LA FORTUNA

  • Hike around Volcan Arenal, the perfectly conical-shaped volcano that looms over town
  • Experience the rainforest from above the canopy at the Mistico Hanging Bridges
  • Have some fun at the free El Salto Rope Swing
  • Soak in geothermal waters at the free and natural El Choyin
  • Spot sloths on a guided sloth-watching tour

🍛 BEST PLACES TO EAT IN LA FORTUNA

  • Soda Viquez
  • Soda Hormiga
  • Panadería La Principal

🛏️ WHERE TO STAY IN LA FORTUNA

  • Camping: Lagos del Rio
  • Budget: SantaFe Hostel
  • Mid-range: Villas Las Palmas
  • Boutique: Sangregado Lodge

⏰ Driving time from La Fortuna to Monteverde: 3 hours

🧭 Directions: you’ll drive around the edge of Lake Arenal today. Beware of the unpaved roads and huge potholes as you approach Monteverde. If you don’t have a 4×4, do some research on the best route, as Google Maps may take you a rougher way than you need to go.

Stop 4: Monteverde

You’ll ascend over 1,000 metres (3,200 ft) in elevation on the bumpy drive to Monteverde. You’ll find the weather a little cooler here, creating the perfect conditions to see what we all come here for – the cloud forest.

Your car will come in handy around Monteverde , as things are quite spread out and some of the best accommodation options are on the outskirts of town in the forest.

If you’re looking to cut some time somewhere in your itinerary, you can see the highlights of Monteverde in a day or a day and a half. While we did love the cloud forest, and ziplining was fun and worth it, it is somewhere you can see pretty quickly.

Sally walking through a foggy, lush trail in the Monteverde Cloud Forest

🏖️ TOP THINGS TO DO IN MONTEVERDE

  • Walk through the mystical cloud forest (we recommend Santa Elena Cloud Forest )
  • Go ziplining at 100% Aventura
  • See dozens of colourful hummingbirds at the Hummingbird Gallery
  • Marvel at the unique Ficus La Raiz, a fig tree grown into a natural bridge
  • Spend the day hiking at El Tigre Waterfalls

🍛 BEST PLACES TO EAT IN MONTEVERDE

  • Soda Shangri-La
  • Raulito’s Pollo Asado
  • Cafe Monteverde

🛏️ WHERE TO STAY IN MONTEVERDE

  • Camping: Higueron Camping
  • Budget: OutBox Inn
  • Mid-range: Tityra Lodge
  • Boutique: Chira Glamping

⏰ Driving time from Monteverde to Montezuma: 3.5 hours

🧭 Directions: the quickest way to get from Monteverde to Montezuma is to take the car ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera , on the Nicoya Peninsula. It takes 1.5 hours from Monteverde to Puntarenas, around 1 hour on the ferry, and a further 1 hour drive from Paquera to Montezuma when you land on the peninsula. You can check the ferry schedule here .

Stop 5: Montezuma

Welcome to the Nicoya Peninsula! Although this is technically the Pacific Coast, the peninsula is a bit of a world of its own. Home to the popular tourist towns of Tamarindo and Santa Teresa, you might be wondering why we chose Montezuma .

We actually did visit Santa Teresa, and honestly? We hated it. It’s expensive, crowded and completely taken over by expats and foreign ownership. Montezuma offers the same stunning Nicoya landscapes, but with a charming town that is a much more even mix of locals and expats, with a wholesome community feel.

Plus, this area has so much more to see and do! You can hike at Cabo Blanco, the first protected area in Costa Rica, swim under waterfalls, soak in rock pools and enjoy some gorgeous beaches without the high price tag.

Brayden and friend exploring a deserted beach in Montezuma, with waves gently lapping the shore and tropical palms swaying overhead

🏖️ TOP THINGS TO DO IN MONTEZUMA

  • Swim in all three levels of the Montezuma Waterfalls
  • Soak in the rock pools at Playa Palmeras
  • Spot wildlife on the hike at Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve
  • Beach hike to Playa Cocalito & El Chorro , a waterfall flowing into the sea
  • Take a day trip to Isla Tortuga for snorkelling and pristine beaches

🍛 BEST PLACES TO EAT IN MONTEZUMA

  • Soda Tipica Las Palmeras
  • Soda La Naranja
  • Butterfly Brewing Co.

🛏️ WHERE TO STAY IN MONTEZUMA

  • Camping: Playa Palmeras
  • Budget: Luminosa Hostel
  • Mid-range: Hotel Amor de Mar
  • Boutique: Hotel Nya

⏰ Driving time from Montezuma to Manuel Antonio: 4.5 hours

🧭 Directions: drive back to Paquera (1 hour) and take the car ferry from Paquera to Puntarenas (1 hour). From there, you’ve got a 2.5 hour drive to Manuel Antonio. Stop at the Tarcoles Crocodile Bridge on the way.

Stop 6: Manuel Antonio

Now you’re on the real Pacific Coast! Manuel Antonio is another very popular tourist destination in Costa Rica, and some people hate it. We were nearly turned off visiting altogether after all the negative reviews we read online.

But a place that has that much wildlife was worth visiting in our books, and we’re so glad we did. The coastline is absolutely stunning, and the town of Manuel Antonio is stretched out along a coastal road nestled in the jungle.

It’s touristy, but it’s not pretending not to be (like Santa Teresa). The national park here was excellent, and we had a fantastic day exploring the trails and seeing so many animals (just be sure to go early).

This is another destination that you could see quickly if you needed to cut time. Allow at least half a day in the park, and any other time would just be spent enjoying the beaches and exploring the town. We felt 2 nights was enough.

A capuchin monkey lounging casually on a tree in the lush Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

🏖️ TOP THINGS TO DO IN MANUEL ANTONIO

  • Spot an abundance of animals at Manuel Antonio National Park
  • Hang out on Playa Espadilla Norte, one of the best beaches
  • Enjoy Biesanz Bay, a jungle-clad hidden cove
  • Watch a spectacular sunset from inside an old plane at El Avion
  • Visit Kids Saving The Rainforest, an ethical wildlife sanctuary

🍛 BEST PLACES TO EAT IN MANUEL ANTONIO

  • Restaurante Cerdo Feliz
  • Falafel Bar
  • Soda El Angel

🛏️ WHERE TO STAY IN MANUEL ANTONIO

  • Camping: No good options here
  • Budget : Teva Jungle Hostel
  • Mid-range: La Posada Jungle Hotel
  • Boutique: Shana By The Beach

⏰ Driving time from Manuel Antonio to Uvita: 1 hour

🧭 Directions: this is a quick and easy drive straight down the Costanera Sur Highway. You’ll pass by Dominical, but resist the temptation to stop – you’ll be back there in a few days.

Stop 7: Uvita

Your next stop is deeper along the Pacific Coast and one where you will be very thankful to have a car as Uvita is very spread out.

We actually hated the ‘town’. The highway runs right through, it’s commercial, noisy and not particularly scenic. But head south towards the coast, or north towards the jungle, and you’ll find the appeal of Uvita.

The beach is what everyone dreams a Costa Rican beach to look like – lined with palm trees, stretching on for miles, with gorgeous sunsets. It couldn’t be more perfect.

Throw in the unique whale tail, actual whales to see offshore for 10 months of the year and some lush waterfalls in the jungle, Uvita captivated us in the end.

The iconic shoreline of Uvita, known as the Whale Tail, where the beach creates a natural formation resembling a whale's tail, a notable spot on a Costa Rica road trip

🏖️ TOP THINGS TO DO IN UVITA

  • See the famous whale tail at the Marino Ballena National Park
  • Swim in the lush Uvita Waterfall
  • Go humpback whale watching between December – April & July – November
  • See rescued wildlife at the ethical Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Visit the secluded Cascada El Pavon

🍛 BEST PLACES TO EAT IN UVITA

  • Soda Ranchita Doña Maria
  • Uvita Gastro Park
  • Le French Cafe

🛏️ WHERE TO STAY IN UVITA

  • Camping: Camping Casa Viva
  • Budget: Hostel Cascada Verde
  • Mid-range: Ballena Rey Hotel
  • Boutique: Vista Celestial

⏰ Driving time from Uvita to Drake Bay: 3 hours

🧭 Directions: you should only drive to Drake Bay if you have a 4×4 (3 hours). If you don’t drive to Sierpe (1 hour), pay to park your vehicle and take the boat to Drake Bay (1 hour). Read more about getting to Drake Bay here .

Stop 8: Drake Bay

🌜 How long to spend there: 3 – 5 nights (including an overnight in Corcovado National Park)

Deep in the southwest corner of Costa Rica on the Osa Peninsula, Drake Bay is raw and wild. The first thing we saw when we arrived in town was a crocodile chilling on the banks out the front of a restaurant. That’s what Drake is like!

Your Costa Rica road trip might temporarily end here if you don’t have a 4×4 and can’t drive into town. But don’t worry, you don’t really need your car.

The highlight and number one priority of your time here is Corcovado National Park. Drake Bay is one of two gateways to the park, and you have to do an overnight tour of the Sirena Ranger Station . It costs a pretty penny, but trust me, every other experience you’ve had in Costa Rica has led you to this moment.

Luckily you can make up the funds by doing the free Drake Bay trail, which leads you past stunning empty beaches with lots of wildlife to see.

A squirrel monkey perched on a branch against a backdrop of Costa Rica's verdant foliage in Corcovado National Park

🏖️ TOP THINGS TO DO IN DRAKE BAY

  • Experience the biodiversity of Corcovado National Park (stay overnight if you can)
  • Hike the Drake Bay Trail past dozens of beaches
  • Go snorkelling or scuba diving at Caño Island
  • Spot nocturnal critters on the Bug Lady Night Tour
  • Float down the Rio Claro on a unique tour

🍛 BEST PLACES TO EAT IN DRAKE BAY

  • Las Delicias
  • Fast Food Truck Gaby’s

🛏️ WHERE TO STAY IN DRAKE BAY

  • Camping: Ganadito Camping
  • Budget: Life for Life Hostel
  • Mid-range: Pacheco Beach Cabins
  • Boutique: Copa De Arbol Resort

⏰ Driving time from Drake Bay to Dominical: 3.5 hours

🧭 Directions: if you drove to Drake Bay, you’ve got a 3.5 hour drive to Dominical. If you parked at Sierpe, take the boat back (1 hour) and drive on to Dominical (1.5 hours).

Stop 9: Dominical

Dominical is only half an hour away from Uvita, and it’s possible to do the same activities from either location, so you might be wondering why we’ve recommended this as a separate stop on your Costa Rica road trip.

Firstly, it really helps to break the drive back from Drake Bay. You would be driving for 7+ hours trying to get all the way back to San Jose in a day. Secondly, Dominical feels totally different from Uvita, and we much preferred it as a beach town.

The rightfully famous Nauyaca Waterfalls are closer to Dominical than Uvita, so you can get there first thing to beat the crowds. Playa Dominicalito is a tropical paradise and the perfect place to spend some of your final day relaxing in Costa Rica.

A wide, strong waterfall falling over tiered rocky ledges into a pool below at Nauyaca Waterfalls, one of the best things to do in Manuel Antonio

🏖️ TOP THINGS TO DO IN DOMINICAL

  • Swim under the spectacular Nauyaca Waterfalls
  • Hang out on Playa Dominicalito, a stunning palm-lined beach
  • Go surfing in Dominical if you’re a pro, or at Dominicalito if you’re learning
  • Enjoy the free and quiet Cascada Poza Azul
  • Watch the sunset from Rocas de Amancio, a unique rocky island accessible at low tide

🍛 BEST PLACES TO EAT IN DOMINICAL

  • Phat Noodle
  • Cafe Mono Congo
  • Fuego Brewing Co.

🛏️ WHERE TO STAY IN DOMINICAL

  • Camping: Playa Dominicalito
  • Budget: Cool Vibes Beach Hostel
  • Mid-range: Bamboo River House
  • Boutique: Tribe Boutique Hotel

⏰ Driving time from Dominical to San Jose: 3.5 hours

🧭 Directions: for the quickest and easiest journey back to San Jose, take the toll roads. If you are heading straight to the airport give yourself plenty of time. Traffic can be terrible coming into the city.

Finishing your Costa Rica road trip in San Jose

Your time in Costa Rica has sadly come to an end! 

If you’re flying straight out of San Jose, try and book a flight for the late afternoon or evening, so you can avoid spending the night in the city. 

Remember to factor in plenty of time for the drive from Dominical to San Jose, as the traffic can be slow coming into the city. You’ll also need to allow a bit of time to return your car. They’ll need to inspect it for damage, refund any security deposits etc. 

Your rental car company will drop you back at the airport. 

Alternate route for Central American travellers

If Costa Rica is part of a broader trip through Central America, you won’t necessarily be arriving or departing via San Jose. 

To cater for this, I would suggest changing the route a little bit to avoid backtracking. This is similar to what we ended up doing ourselves as we came in from Nicaragua and left for Panama. 

👉🏼 Nicaragua – COSTA RICA – Panama

If you’re entering from Nicaragua, I would suggest taking the Nica or Tica bus straight to San Jose. You can pick up your car from here as normal. The only change I would make to this route is to NOT go to Puerto Viejo with a car. Skip stop 1, follow the rest of my itinerary as recommended, drop the car off in San Jose and take the bus to Puerto Viejo. A car is not absolutely essential here, and it means you can cross the border to Panama (Bocas del Toro) very easily from this area, without needing to backtrack and return the car to San Jose.

👉🏼 Panama – COSTA RICA – Nicaragua

If you’re coming from Bocas del Toro, I would suggest you cross the border to Puerto Viejo and enjoy the South Caribbean without a car. As mentioned, it’s not essential in this area, and the combination of bicycles and local buses makes it easy to get around. From here, take the bus to San Jose, collect your rental car and complete the route as planned. Drop the car back in San Jose, and get the Nica or Tica bus across the border to Nicaragua. 

A simplified map of Central America showcasing Costa Rica prominently located between Nicaragua and Panama, ideal for planning a Costa Rica road trip

There is no doubt you would have seen and done incredible things during your Costa Rica road trip. You’ll be daydreaming about the palm tree-fringed coastline, reminiscing on all the wildlife you spotted and imagining yourself back under a thundering waterfall in the jungle for months to come. Please get in touch and let me know how your trip went!

MORE COSTA RICA POSTS

  • Costa Rica On A Budget: How Expensive is Costa Rica?
  • 10 Best Beach Towns in Costa Rica: Which is Right For You?

Costa Rica road trip itinerary Pinterest pin

Sally Rodrick

Sally Rodrick is the voice behind Sally Sees. She has spent 12 months travelling in Mexico and Central America, and has her sights firmly set on South America. Sally helps thousands of readers discover the magic of Latin America. Sharing detailed guides to inspire and equip them with the knowledge they need to plan their own epic adventures in this incredible part of the world.

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Hi Sally, Your site and information are amazing. When I found it, I thought that it had all the sites I would like to see….then I counted the days. 🙂 By any chance, could you tell me what you would do to shorten it down to about 14-15 days? Would it help to fly in and out of the two different airports? Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated. Thank you! Jennifer

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Hey Jennifer, yes it is a huge country with SO much to do. As tempting as it can be to cram in more places, I promise you will enjoy yourself more if you slow it down and allow enough time to properly experience each destination. Rushing and spending the entire time driving is not fun.

It’s so tough to narrow it down and it totally depends what you’re interested in. My two favourite places (Corcovado National Park/Drake Bay and Puerto Viejo) are on opposite sides of the country, so that makes it hard.

I think if wildlife is your priority, Corcovado is unmissable and I’d plan backwards from there. Manuel Antonio and the Caribbean Coast are also great for wildlife, but nothing compares to Corcovado.

You can also cut from the beach destinations and choose one or two. As I said, PV and the Caribbean was by far my favourite beach destination, but sadly it is out of the way if you also want to visit Corcovado. You could visit both places, but you wouldn’t be left with a lot of other time in between and I don’t see a way to avoid at least 2 huge driving days.

I’d suggest dropping the Nicoya Peninsula and skipping Montezuma/Santa Teresa (although it is lovely, it’s out of the way), and choosing one or two places, out of Manuel Antonio (great for wildlife), Uvita (great for whales and gorgeous beach but not so nice town) and Dominical (more beach town vibes and close enough to Uvita to do both, also some great waterfalls). This keeps you aligned to the Pacific Coast as all these places are on the way to Drake Bay.

Then you can do Bajos del Toro, La Fortuna and possibly Monteverde too. I’d start there, then go to say Uvita or Dominical, down to Drake Bay, back to Manuel Antonio and then back to San Jose from there to break up a long drive. I don’t think it’s worth flying out of different airports. Unless you could fly from Drake Bay back to San Jose and then connect to your flight from there. But you’d be left with a car that you couldn’t drop off in that area I don’t think.

Hope that helps a bit and gives you some ideas! Sadly you need to be brutal and drop a few destinations, although they are all amazing!

Enjoy, Sally x

Thank you for the help, Sally! 🙂

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Hello: Thank you so much for such fabulous information! I guess my question is a bit like Jennifer. We may not need as much time either because we are older (67 and 69) and I do not see ziplining in our futures! Any suggestions for the “older” folks? Thank you so much! Sus

Hi Susanne, it totally depends what your priorities are. Beach? Nature/hiking? Wildlife? I think the same suggestions apply as what I mentioned for Jennifer. First choose your priorities and decide which destinations are best for that. For wildlife, Corcovado, Manuel Antonio, Puerto Viejo and La Fortuna, beaches you can easily cut down on as you don’t need to visit all of them. I’d opt for one beach area. The Caribbean coast was my favourite, but it might depend on where else you are visiting (e.g. if you go to Corcovado and Drake Bay, you probably need to choose a Pacific beach destination if you’re short on time). A lot of places do have some extreme/more physically demanding activities, like ziplining, but they also have so many softer and lighter activities that it’s not worth striking them out completely, like Monteverde 🙂 I think you need to work out what is a top priority for you and how much time you’ll need for those places, and fill the gaps with the time that you have left. Working out if you want to visit both or just one coast is also a good first step. I hope that helps! Sally

Greta's Travels

Costa Rica Itinerary – How To Spend 10 Days In Costa Rica

Posted on Last updated: June 10, 2023

Are you planning a Costa Rica itinerary, but don’t know where to start? You’ve come to the right place!

I recently came back from ten days in Costa Rica, and can confidently say it’s one of the most incredible places I have ever visited.

The country has a breathtakingly beautiful landscape and a wealth of unforgettable experiences on offer. When exploring such a diverse country, organisation is key.

A well-prepared Costa Rica itinerary will give you the freedom that you crave to explore the rugged rainforests of the country, without missing out on the main attractions.

If you want to tick off the main cities, explore the natural wonder, go on an adventure and push your comfort zone, then this 10-day Costa Rica itinerary is the perfect plan for you!

  • 1 Best time to visit Costa Rica
  • 2.2 Car rental
  • 2.3 Alternative transport methods
  • 3 Do you need travel insurance for 10 days in Costa Rica?
  • 4.1 Day 1: Arrive in San José
  • 4.2 Day 2: Explore Orosi Valley
  • 4.3 Day 3: Travel to Tortuguero
  • 4.4 Day 4: Early morning canoe in Tortuguero Rainforest
  • 4.5 Day 5: Travel to Sarapiqui
  • 4.6 Day 6: Rafting & Waterfall Chasing
  • 4.7 Day 7: Explore Arenal National Park
  • 4.8 Day 8: Travel to Santa Teresa
  • 4.9 Day 9: Surf in Santa Teresa
  • 4.10 Day 10: Back To San José
  • 5.1 What to pack

Overlooking Catarata del Toro waterfall in Costa Rica

Overlooking Catarata del Toro waterfall in Costa Rica

Best time to visit Costa Rica

Some travellers look to enjoy the ultimate Costa Rica backpacking route while others prefer to enjoy the luxury of tropical bliss. Either way, your experience will depend largely on the weather.

To make the most of your 10-day trip to Costa Rica , try to plan it during the dry season.

The dry season runs from mid-December to April. This is also the peak tourist season so expect plenty of sunshine and well-established hospitality.

The months of May and November, known as the “green season” will make your trip to Costa Rica more affordable, but you’ll have to prepare for a fair amount of rain.

With this being said, the weather in Costa Rica varies quite a bit depending on the region. The thick forests can get quite humid, while the coastal areas are less so.

Enjoying the clear water of Isla Tortuga

Enjoying the clear water of Isla Tortuga

Getting around Costa Rica

There are several ways to get around this tropical wonderland. If you’re planning a Costa Rica self-guided tour, then it’s best to be prepared by knowing your options.

The public bus is the most affordable way to get from one destination to another. Most routes leave from San José, which means that you’ll be spending at least a few moments in the capital city at some point.

It’s recommended that you book your ticket in advance – especially for mid- to long-distance routes.

Keep in mind that the bus schedule changes frequently (even if you’ve pre-booked) so keep checking the Costa Rica bus timetable before your trip.

For a more comfortable bus experience, you can also book a shuttle bus. These cost approximately five times more than the public bus, but makes up for it with comfort and air-conditioning.

Rainy canoe tours in Tortuguero National Park

Rainy canoe tours in Tortuguero National Park

Driving around Costa Rica makes for quite an experience. If you want to see the beautiful country at your own pace, then renting a car is your best bet. Most of the reputable car rental shops can be found in San José.

I’d definitely recommend that you pay a little bit extra for a 4×4. While the roads are not the worst, there are potholes scattered along various routes and your drive will be significantly more comfortable.

This is especially necessary if visiting during the rainy season, or if you plan to explore more remote areas.

Renting a car is a little bit more of an expensive option, but it gives you freedom and flexibility that money can’t buy.

I was travelling with four friends so renting a car made the most sense for us, both economically and logistically.

Click here to book your Costa Rica car rental!

Sunset surfing in Santa Teresa

Sunset surfing in Santa Teresa

Alternative transport methods

There are other ways of getting around Costa Rica. One of them is to travel by plane . This is the perfect option if you’re short on time and have a bit of budget.

While flying won’t get you to destinations off-the-beaten-track, it can get you close enough, in a shorter amount of time.

If you’re travelling in a large group, and you prefer private transport, then you may want to look into organising a taxi . There are plenty of taxis that are willing to do long-distance trips.

Finally, if you’ve got experience on a motorbike or scooter and hold a valid licence, then you can travel around on two wheels. Renting a motorbike in Costa Rica can be quite an epic adventure.

| READ MORE: THE ULTIMATE COSTA RICA BUCKET LIST |

Top down drone shot of the main beach at Isla Tortuga

Top down drone shot of the main beach at Isla Tortuga

Do you need travel insurance for 10 days in Costa Rica?

After my personal experience spending two nights in a private hospital in Tenerife, and having to pay for it out of pocket (it wasn’t cheap), I always recommend getting travel insurance.

You might not end up needing it, but for a small fee you can travel without worries. Personally, I suggest getting your travel insurance with  Heymondo .

Heymondo offers tailor made travel insurance, providing the best value for money for your specific trip. You can also buy it once you’re already abroad and have forgotten about it before flying (which, if you’re anything like me, is quite likely).

Besides the usual cancellation, medical expenses, luggage coverage and general travel insurance services, Heymondo also has a 24/7 doctor chat and instant assistance through their app.

As a Greta’s Travels reader, you get 5% off your Heymondo travel insurance !

Click here to get your 5% off Heymondo travel insurance!

One of the viewpoints overlooking Catarata del Toro waterfall in Costa Rica

One of the viewpoints overlooking Catarata del Toro waterfall

How to spend 10 days in Costa Rica

With so much to discover, I’d recommend a minimum of 10 days in Costa Rica. This will allow you to tick off the main activities without rushing or running on empty.

This Costa Rica 10-day itinerary is based on my own trip, and it should give you some great ideas for your route.

Day 1: Arrive in San José

Chances are that you’ll land in San José, Costa Rica’s vibrant capital. It’s the perfect place to whet your appetite and make you crave more.

Spending time exploring the city after arriving will give you the cultural and historical context to enjoy the mountains, jungles and beach activities that follow.

San José city centre is full of fantastic museums and restaurants. It even introduces a trendy urban mood to the scene. With limited time in the city, there are a few must-do activities to tick off.

Looking into the crater of Irazu volcano

Looking into the crater of Irazu volcano

The top attractions in the city centre include Costa Rica National Theatre, Pre-Columbian Gold Museum and Costa Rica’s Jade Museum – all of which are located close to one another.

If you have a little bit more time, and energy, at your disposal, then there are several other things to do in San José.

Take the time to pop into a local cafe and try the coffee that has given Costa Rica such a fantastic name, relax in a park and visit one of the many markets.

San José shares great insight into the day-to-day life of urban Costa Rica. You could also join a food and sightseeing combo tour . This is a great way to introduce you to the flavours and attractions of San José.

There’s also a very popular San José City Tour by Night , which allows you to see all the main sights after the sun goes down, and the temperatures cool down a little.

Click here to book your tour to explore San José!

View over San Jose in Costa Rica by night

View over San Jose in Costa Rica by night

Where to stay in San José

During my 1o days in Costa Rica we stayed in two different hostels in San José (one at the start and one at the end of the trip). I have listed them below, together with some accommodation options for other budgets.

Budget: Fauna Hostel – Slightly further away from the city centre, Fauna Hostel is a comfortable and beautiful place to stay for your night in San José. It also has the perks of great views and friendly staff.

Click here to book your stay at Fauna Hostel!

Budget: Finca Escalante – If you prefer to be centrally located, with access to great restaurants and bars, then this is the spot to be. The old building conjures a nostalgic mood and makes for a great place to spend the night.

Check out prices and availability at Finca Escalante here!

Mid-range: Hotel Sura – This quaint boutique hotel is perfect if you want something nice, without breaking the bank.

Click here to book your stay at Hotel Sura in San José!

Luxury: Grand Hotel Costa Rica, Curio Collection by Hilton – With its sleek design and modern furnishing, this hotel is the perfect place to rest after a long travel day to Costa Rica.

Click here to see prices and availability at Grand Hotel Costa Rica!

The view from the rooftop of Fauna Hostel

The view from the rooftop of Fauna Hostel

Day 2: Explore Orosi Valley

Less than 50 kilometres from the hustle and bustle of San José is the tranquil Orosi Valley. Orosi is set along the Reventazón River, surrounded by rolling hills and lush vegetation.

As you drive from San Jose to Orosi you will drive past a sign that says “ Mirador de Orosi ”. Make sure to do a stop here, as the views are simply incredible!

It’s a free park with plenty of benches, picnic tables and water fountains. We were visiting on a cloudy day, but even then we could appreciate just how stunning the landscape in front of us was.

One of the best ways to experience the area is on horseback, of which you’ll find many opportunities. Especially if you book to stay at a “finca” (a farm stay). 

The view from Mirador de Orosi on a cloudy day

The view from Mirador de Orosi on a cloudy day

Another unforgettable activity to enjoy in Orosi Valley is to visit Hacienda Orosi hot springs. Treat yourself to the $45 USD that it costs to enter, and make sure to soak up the incredible views.

The service is also fantastic and you’ll leave feeling relaxed, with a smile on your face.

If you don’t want to sleep in Orosi and change hotels just for one night, and prefer to do a faster pace experience, then you can have a look at doing a combo tour from San José.

For example this Irazu Volcano, Cartago City & Orosi Valley Tour , which, besides Orosi Valley, will take you to explore also the lovely city of Cartago, and the unique crater of Irazu Volcano.

Click here to book your Irazu Volcano & Orosi Valley tour!

Relaxing in the hot thermal pools of Orosi

Relaxing in the hot thermal pools of Orosi

Horse riding in Orosi, Costa Rica

Horse riding in Orosi, Costa Rica

Where to stay in Orosi Valley

While you can explore Orosi on a day trip from San José, I definitely recommend staying overnight, as you can experience a true local “finca”.

We stayed at Finca Agropecuaria Queveri   and loved it. If you want to enjoy a truly local experience, then this is a fantastic choice. The road getting there is a bit of a rough ride, especially if you don’t have a 4×4.

But the building is beautiful, the views over the valley are incredible and the hosts are both hospitable and great cooks. The hosts even organised horse riding with them for $25 USD for a 2 – 3 hour tour.

Click here to book your stay at Finca Agropecuaria Queveri in Orosi!

One of the lounge areas of our finca, with view over the valley of Orosi

One of the lounge areas of our finca, with view over the valley of Orosi

Day 3: Travel to Tortuguero

Once you’ve enjoyed the lush beauty of Orosi Valley, you can hop on a ferry and venture off to Tortuguero. The one-hour ferry ride itself is quite an experience.

Expect to see lots of wildlife on the ride, and don’t be surprised if you come across a few iguanas and crocodiles languishing in the shallows.

I’d recommend booking an early morning ferry ride so that you can enjoy the whole afternoon in Tortuguero (that means setting off from Orosi super early, as it’s a 3 hour drive from Orosi to La Pavona harbour).

Prepare to have your mind blown after arriving in Tortuguero National Park. Depending on your interests, there are a wide variety of awesome tours to pick and choose from.

| READ MORE: BEST TORTUGUERO NATIONAL PARK TOURS |

On the boat from La Pavona enroute to Tortuguero

On the boat from La Pavona enroute to Tortuguero

Views during the ferry enroute to Tortuguero National Park

Views during the ferry enroute to Tortuguero National Park

In Tortuguero National Park you can go zip-lining across the treetops , you can go on a night forest walking tour to spot unique animals, on a sunrise canoe safari and you can even see turtles!

Basically, as long as you like being outdoors and in nature, there’s something to do for everyone! We arrived around lunch time, and kicked off our first day in Tortuguero with a zipline and canopy tour .

Zipping amongst the treetops, looking at the lush nature and rainforest surrounding you, is a pretty unique experience. I’d been zip-lining before, but had never done anything like it.

You’re guaranteed an afternoon of fun, which will also allow you to see the incredible natural landscape of this tropical rainforest up close.

Click here to book your zip-line and canopy tour in Tortuguero National Park!

Zip-lining through the tree tops of Tortuguero National Park

Zip-lining through the tree tops of Tortuguero National Park

Blonde girl walking across a hanging bridge at the top of rainforest treetops in Tortuguero National Park

And then on to some hanging bridges!

After our zip-line experience we went back to our hotel, showered, enjoyed a local dinner in town, and got ready for a jungle night walk !

Many animals in the rainforest only come out at night, so this is the best time to spot them. I highly recommend booking a tour online beforehand , as it’s one of the most popular things to do in Tortuguero.

While the walk we did stayed relatively close to the town, it’s still not something I’d recommend doing alone.

Besides being safer, the local guides know where the animals usually hang out, you’re more likely to spot something with them than alone!

Click here to book your night wildlife spotting jungle walk in Tortuguero!

A chameleon that we saw during our night walking tour in Tortuguero National Park

A chameleon that we saw during our night walking tour in Tortuguero National Park

Where to stay in Tortuguero – independently vs organised tour?

Personally, we organised our own adventures in Tortuguero. We book the ferry, hotel, and then chose our excursions once we arrived there. But I can’t deny it was quite a bit of hassle.

If you want to save yourself the trouble of arranging it all, you can join this 3-day Tortuguero National Park Adventure , which includes accommodation, transfers, activities, and a local guide at all times.

It’s a very complete tour, which includes pretty much all the activities I have outlined in this itinerary. Once you book, you won’t have to worry about a thing!

Click here to see prices and availability for an organised Tortuguero 3-day adventure!

If spending three days in the tropical rainforest seems like a bit much, you can also visit on a day trip from San José . Including breakfast and lunch, it packs all the rainforest sights and activities in one day.

It works well if you don’t have long in Costa Rica, but I personally think you’d spend too much time travelling back and forth from San José, and your time in Tortuguero would feel rushed.

Considering you have ten days in Costa Rica, I think it’s better to spend a few nights in Tortuguero, whether you arrange it independently or with a tour, that’s up to you.

Click here to book your day trip to Tortuguero from San José!

If you choose to arrange your own trip to Tortuguero National Park, I have listed below some cool accommodation options for every budget.

Budget: Hospedaje Meryscar – This budget option is where we stayed during our Costa Rica itinerary. The amenities are rather basic, but the location is fantastic.

Check out prices and availability at Hospedaje Meryscar here!

Mid-range: Tortuguero Casa Pelican – If you want somewhere nice where you can relax at the end of the day, without breaking the bank, this mid-range guest house is the perfect place for you.

Click here to book your stay at Tortuguero Casa Pelican!

Luxury: Mawamba Lodge – If you want to treat yourself, this unique lodge is the place to do so. With its pool, stylish design and amazing outdoors chill out area, it’s the perfect place to relax after a long day in the rainforest.

Don’t miss out, book your stay at Mawamba Lodge in Tortuguero here!

Wandering along the main street of Tortuguero

Wandering along the main street of Tortuguero

Day 4: Early morning canoe in Tortuguero Rainforest

Tortuguero National Park is a beautiful, remote eco-tourism destination that brings you face-to-face with Costa Rica’s wildlife.

Perhaps the biggest selling point in visiting this unique area is that you can enjoy it in a variety of ways – including a canoe trip.

The best canoe tours normally start early in the morning so you can see more animals, much like going on a safari . We did a sunrise canoe tour, and it was well worth the early alarm.

If you visit in the right season, you can even do a turtle tour. This typically runs at different times for different species and you’ll be certain to see individual turtles throughout the year.

Click here to book your canoe tour in Tortuguero National Park!

A small crocodile we spotted during our rainforest canoe tour

A small crocodile we spotted during our rainforest canoe tour

After the early morning wake up for our canoe tour, we had a late brunch, went back to our hotel to chill for a bit, and then ventured out again in the afternoon for a forest walk.

There are several popular walks and viewpoints to choose from, such as the “jaguar trail”, which follows a forest route along the beach. We did part of it and loved the unique combination of forest and sea views.

If you prefer to have a local guide showing you the way and taking you to all the best spots, you can join a Tortuguero National Park day walk tour . That way you know you can’t go wrong!

Click here to book your Tortuguero National Park guided day walk!

Drone shot of Tortuguero National Park, taken from the

Drone shot of Tortuguero National Park, taken from the “jaguar trail”

Day 5: Travel to Sarapiqui

It will be tough to leave Tortuguero, but arriving in the lush, green inland region of Sarapiqui is worth it. The journey is a fairly long one, so I’d recommend setting off as early in the morning as possible.

Head straight to your accommodation once you arrive in Sarapiqui and settle down.

Pick your spot to stay carefully. Ideally, you’d want to be located in an area near the forest, so that you can enjoy a variety of hiking trails.

If you’re not so keen on hiking, accommodation in the forest is still ideal, as you’ll be surrounded by natural beauty. You can go on walks in the jungle, or simply admire it from your hotel room window.

Where to stay in Sarapiqui

Mirador Prendas – Costa Rica is a rugged haven, and Mirador Prendas is the epitome of top-notch accommodation in the Sarapiqui region.

Located in the middle of the forest, the building appears as a treehouse. It takes a bit of time to get there (estimate approximately 1 hour in a 4×4) but the stay is rather magical.

Drone shot of Mirador Prendas - in the middle of the jungle!

Drone shot of Mirador Prendas – in the middle of the jungle!

Day 6: Rafting & Waterfall Chasing

I hope you’re ready for day 6, because it’s going to be a pleasantly packed one! The abundant forests are not the only natural wonder that Sarapiqui is known for.

The area also boasts magnificent waterfalls and opportunities to go whitewater rafting .

You don’t have to be an adventure junkie to enjoy the thrill of a morning rafting experience in Sarapiqui (although it does help if you choose a challenging level).

There are routes available for all levels of difficulty, and all are very fun. We did a level two rafting route.

I was pretty terrified but the rafting company assured me that even little children do that route, and when I saw a group of 70+ year olds in the raft next to ours, I figured I could handle it.

In the moments when the river cruises slowly our rafting instructor pointed out birds, iguanas and other animals that live along the river. It was both a very thrilling and fun experience, which I’m glad I did.

Click here to book your rafting adventure in Sarapiqui!

Rafting with my friends in the Sarapiqui River

Rafting with my friends in the Sarapiqui River

One of the tougher parts of our rafting experience in Costa Rica

One of the tougher parts of our rafting experience in Costa Rica

After rafting it’s time to head to La Fortuna, but with a short detour to see some waterfalls first. Catarata del Toro is the biggest waterfall in Costa Rica, with the Blue Falls of Costa Rica nearby.

Search for “ Catarata del Toro waterfall ” on Google Maps, and head straight there as it’s the start point also to visit the Blue Falls.

They are separate waterfalls but managed by the same park authority. At the time when we visited we weren’t allowed to see the Blue Falls without a local guide.

We figured we might as well go for the combo tour to both waterfalls. There are options for a 2-hour, 4-hour or full-day waterfall tour.

We did the 4-hour combo tour to Catarata del Toro and the main swimming area of the Blue Falls. This cost us $25 USD each, and was worth a lot more.

Hiking to the base of the Catarata del Toro waterfall in Costa Rica

Hiking to the base of the Catarata del Toro waterfall in Costa Rica

All the advice I read online said to visit the waterfalls early in the morning before the crowds, so I was a bit wary of visiting in the afternoon.

However this turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it meant we were the only people at both waterfalls.

We spent two hours swimming in the Blue Falls, and then hiked to Catarata del Toro where we could admire the falls without other tourists around. The waterfalls are very different, but both were incredibly beautiful.

Keep in mind that the waterfalls close at 17:00, so make sure that you plan accordingly.

For us it meant hitting the road as soon as rafting ended and having a quick lunch in the car. After your waterfall tours head to La Fortuna for the night.

Drone shot of the Blue Falls of Costa Rica

Drone shot of the Blue Falls of Costa Rica

Going for a dip in the Blue Falls of Costa Rica

Going for a dip in the Blue Falls of Costa Rica

Where to stay in La Fortuna

In La Fortuna we stayed at Arenal Hostel Resort . This modern and clean hostel has a lovely courtyard with hammocks, as well as a swim-up bar where you can have a few drinks and relax.

Click here to book your stay at Arenal Hostel Resort in La Fortuna!

If hostels aren’t your thing, I have listed below a couple more accommodation options for other budgets.

Mid-range: Casa Luna Hotel & Spa – This lovely hotel is perfect for people who want to treat themselves, without breaking the bank. With its spacious rooms, jungle vibes and pool with view, it has everything you need.

Check out prices and availability at Casa Luna Hotel & Spa here!

Luxury: Volcano Lodge – If budget isn’t an issue, this is the place for you. You have epic views of Arenal Volcano right from poolside, as well as unique and stylish rooms.

Click here to book your stay at Volcano Lodge, Hotel & Thermal Experience!

The courtyard area with hammocks of Arenal Hostel Resort

The courtyard area with hammocks of Arenal Hostel Resort

Day 7: Explore Arenal National Park

Continue your Costa Rica trip itinerary from La Fortuna and explore Arenal National Park. There are so many highlights to see in the area that the toughest part will be deciding how much you can fit in.

The best way to enjoy the northern highland region is to book the ultimate one-day tour , which crams in as many of the key attractions as possible without compromising energy levels.

The beauty of the region lies in the variety of natural spectacle. On one hand, you have volcanos, and on the other, you have majestic waterfalls nestled in lush forests.

This one-day full tour includes highlights such as the lava fields hike around Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna Waterfall, the suspension bridges and the hot springs.

At the hot springs, make sure you don’t put head under the water! It’s one of the Costa Rica travel tips I wish I’d known before visiting, as you can get bacteria in through your nose when underwater.

You couldn’t find a more breathtaking combination if you tried!

Click here to book your Arenal one-day ultimate tour!

Hiking around the base of Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica

Hiking around the base of Arenal Volcano

Day 8: Travel to Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa is a charming beach village on the Nicoya Peninsula. Life is simple in Santa Teresa. The locals and travellers enjoy the surf, agriculture and fishing in the area.

What is less simple is the drive there, which can take 5 to 6 hours – so better to leave early in the morning.

You’ll arrive by afternoon and can spend the rest of the day at one of Santa Teresa’s beautiful beaches. The beaches are known for their long stretches of white sand, warm blue water and palm trees that reach the sky.

Make sure you stay on the beach for sunset – the view as the sun paints the sky various shades of orange and pink is unparalleled.

I loved the vibe in Santa Teresa, and especially so at sunset. The beach wasn’t too busy at first, but everyone flocks down to the sea to watch the sunset, and it makes for an even more magical experience.

Surfing in Santa Teresa Beach at sunset, Costa Rica

Surfing in Santa Teresa Beach at sunset, Costa Rica

Where to stay in Santa Teresa

In Santa Teresa we stayed at Lost Boyz Hostel . This hostel mimics the same chilled, laid back social mood that perpetuates across Santa Teresa. They offer both dorms and private rooms to suit your preference.

If hostels aren’t your thing, here are a few accommodation options for other budgets.

Click here to book your stay at Lost Boyz Hostel!

Mid-range:  Lucero Surf Retreats  – Our friends who didn’t want to stay in a hostel were staying at  Lucero Surf Retreats  and they loved it.

Clean and spacious rooms, as well as a pool where you can relax if you don’t fancy swimming with ocean waves.

Click here to book your stay at Lucero Surf Retreats!

Luxury: SELVA RESORT Ocean View Luxury Villas  –  This resort has private villas with infinity pools that overlook the forest and sea. If you want to treat yourself, Selva Resort is the place to do so.

Click here to book your stay at SELVA RESORT!

Drone shot of Santa Teresa beach

Drone shot of Santa Teresa beach

Day 9: Surf in Santa Teresa

Costa Rica is known for its world-class surfing waves. I’ve been surfing in Fuerteventura , and other places in the world, and I can vouch that Costa Rica’s reputation is deserved.

Of all the places to surf in Costa Rica, Santa Teresa is one of the best. As a popular surfing village, it is well-supplied with lots of board rentals and lessons.

Renting a board for the small price of $10 USD a day is a great way to spend the day in Santa Teresa.

| READ MORE: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SURFING IN SANTA TERESA |

Surfing in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Surfing in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

If the idea of surfing doesn’t appeal to you, then there are other fun water-based activities which will have you making the most of the beautiful Costa Rica coastline.

One great option is to go on a snorkelling trip to Isla Tortuga .

This is a full day trip to a beautiful paradise island. In Isla Tortuga you can expect to see plenty of fish, corals and spend some time relaxing on the beach.

The water is nicer in Isla Tortuga (no ocean surfing waves) but bear in mind there’s a 1 hour speed boat journey to get there.

Santa Teresa is a beautiful beach town and however you decide to spend your hours in the tropical paradise, I know you’ll enjoy every moment.

Isla Tortuga in Costa Rica seen from above

Isla Tortuga seen from above

Day 10: Back To San José

Your 10-day itinerary draws to a close with the journey back to San José. The journey is a long one and so it’s important to prepare accordingly. You can expect about 5 – 6 hours in the car, with a 1.5-hour ferry in between.

The good news is that the route is beautiful and if you have your own car then you can go at your own pace. Obviously, if you plan to fly home the same day, then you need to plan your timing very carefully.

Sunset from the ferry on the way back to San Jose

Sunset from the ferry on the way back to San Jose

Costa Rica travel tips

Roughly a quarter of the country is made up of protected jungle, and the Costa Rica climate can be quite unpredictable. I’ve put together some Costa Rica travel tips to make your trip planning smoother.

Here are a few details to keep in the front of your mind when organising your trip.

Getting around – The terrain can be quite rough in parts of Costa Rica. The best way to get from point A to point B is by car. If given the choice, a 4×4 is preferable.

The whale we spotted while sailing to Isla Tortuga from Montezuma

The whale we spotted while sailing to Isla Tortuga from Montezuma

Climate – The tropical climate in Costa Rica can change dramatically depending on where you are.

For example, you’ll experience a lot of rain in Tortuguero, feel the chill of the mountains in Orosi and bake in the heat on the beaches in Santa Teresa.

Make sure that you pack appropriately so that you’re comfortable at all times.

Prepare finances – The local currency in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican Colon (CRC). At the time I was visiting (February 2020) $1 USD equated to around 560 CRC.

While most places accept credit cards and USD, I’d suggest having a small amount of CRC on you for emergencies.

Surfing in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

What to pack

Comfortable walking shoes  that you don’t mind getting wet or muddy. In rainforest destinations such as Tortuguero you will find shops that rent wellies (waterproof plastic boots) but we couldn’t find any in La Fortuna

Rain poncho  – for most excursions in Tortuguero they will offer you a rain poncho, but for every other moment of the day when you’re out and about on your own you will get very wet without one

International adapter – Costa Rica has the same plugs as the US. Depending on where you’re coming from you might need an adapter, I personally like my international one as I can use it everywhere I go, instead of needing one per destination

One piece swimsuit – for the ladies planning to surf, get yourself a one piece swimsuit! Trust me, you’ll be much more comfortable.

The sea in Costa Rica is warm enough that you don’t need a wetsuit, but that means with a two piece bikini you will probably lose parts of it at every wave

Horse riding in the valley of Orosi

Horse riding in the valley of Orosi

Final thoughts on my Costa Rica travel itinerary

There you have it, the ultimate Costa Rica 10-day itinerary! Costa Rica really is an incredible destination, one that has found a very special place in my heart.

From the long stretches of sandy beaches to the wild jungles and rugged mountains, the country has so much beauty to offer.

If you plan to explore Costa Rica in 10 days, then this itinerary should start you off in the right direction.

Costa Rica is the perfect destination for outdoors and adventure lovers, as well as people searching for a hot tropical holiday. Whatever it is you’re looking for, Costa Rica has something to offer to every type of traveller.

With this trip plan and the many travel resources available, you can look forward to an unforgettable escape in the rustic beauty of Costa Rica.

Enjoyed reading how to spend 10 days in Costa Rica? Pin it!

Collage of Santa Teresa beach, Catarata del Toro waterfall, Isla Tortuga from above and two girls surfing on the beach at sunset with text overlay saying

  • Destinations

Wild Junket

Costa Rica Itinerary: One Week in Costa Rica

One Week in Costa Rica: My Itinerary & Guide 2024

Last Updated on July 16, 2024

Is one week in Costa Rica enough? I’m sharing my detailed Costa Rica itinerary for those who love nature, wildlife and beaches.

Costa Rica is a country that truly has it all: lush rainforests, volcanoes, beaches, unique wildlife (think howler monkeys and sloths), and some of world’s most protected national parks. The Central American nation is literally covered in wild jungles that are so well preserved — it’s definitely one of the few countries in the world that has gotten tourism right.

On our recent trip to Costa Rica, we were blown away by the biodiversity and environmental consciousness across the country. Costa Rica has gone to great lengths to protect its national parks and wildlife reserves. Despite receiving around 1.7 million tourists each year, the country has done such a great job in ensuring that tourism here is sustainable and beneficial to local communities.

For those who are planning a trip to this beautiful country, here is my detailed Costa Rica itinerary with some of the best things to do in Costa Rica in one week.

ONE WEEK IN COSTA RICA ITINERARY

Table of Contents

Where to Stay in San Jose

Enjoy a costa rican casado, hike up volcano arenal, where to stay in la fortuna, take a canopy tour, walk the bogarin trail, soak in a hot spring, wander around in santa elena, go on a walk in the cloud forest, where to stay in monteverde, walk the hanging bridges, take a night walk, surf and turf on tamarindo beach, where to stay in tamarindo, *alternative: drive to manuel antonio national park, wildlife and zipline at diamante, sail into the sunset, travel insurance for costa rica, when to travel costa rica, by transfers, travel costa rica independently or guided tour, enjoy your one-week costa rica trip, one-week costa rica itinerary, itinerary day 1: explore san jose.

Your journey will most likely begin in San Jose, as the international airport is the main gateway into the country. Most people head straight for the mountains or coast as the city itself doesn’t have many interesting attractions. We chose to stay near the airport and relax by the pool at our hotel. Read more on where to stay in Costa Rica !

If you do have the time and want to explore the capital city, I recommend heading to the Museo del Oro Precolombino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum).  Home to more than 1,600 artifacts of  Pre-Columbian gold  from 500 A.D., this museum’s impressive collection is well worth a visit.

It is located under the Plaza de la Cultura, which is home to two other currency-related museums, the National Coin Museum, which has a collection dating back to 1236, and the “Casa de Moneda” that shows the history of minting in Costa Rica.

Luxury:  Hotel Presidente San Jose City Center

Housed in a colorful and eclectic building, this modern hotel stands right in the heart of San Jose, steps from the National Theater and Plaza de la Cultura. It’s the perfect choice for those who want to explore San Jose and be right in the action. You’re literally surrounded by restaurants and shops. Check the latest rates here.

Midrange: Country Inn & Suites by Radisson

Located near the airport, this hotel is a great option for those who are flying in late and just want to stay somewhere comfortable without spending too much. The hotel has an excellent pool and spacious, comfortable rooms great for families. Definitely great value for money! Check the latest rates here.

Budget: Hostel Urbano

A funky and tastefully-designed option for budget travelers and great place to meet other travelers. The modern hostel is big and spacious, with lots of lounging space to socialise. It’s located on a hilltop with nice views of the city but just a 15-minute walk from the National museum. Check the latest rates here.

one week costa rica itinerary

Itinerary Day 2: Volcano Adventures

Next morning, drive out to Arenal Volcano bright and early to avoid the traffic. It’s a three-hour drive and it is considered one of the best road trips in Costa Rica. 

Towering at 1,670m high, the peak of Arenal Volcano is easily one of the most impressive sights of the whole country. It’s also the most popular and expensive area in Costa Rica and can get quite crowded. 

Base yourself in La Fortuna, the main town in the Arenal area backdropped by the volcano. There are plenty of shops, supermarkets and restaurants here. 

You’ll probably arrive at lunch time, so head straight to Tiquicia Restaurant for the best c asado in town. Casado is a typical Central American dish of rice with meat, stewed beans (frijoles), salad and deep-fried plantain. Costa Ricans really take pride in them and Tiquicia is said to have the best casado in town — we can attest to that!

one week in costa rica itinerary - casado in costa rica

There’s no shortage of adventurous things to do in Arenal, from canyoning to ziplining and whitewater rafting. But the first thing I recommend doing is a hike in the national park to see the lava rocks and trails from the big eruption.

There is also a nice viewpoint where you can see both the volcano and lake. Entrance for the national park is $15 for adults. I recommend booking a guided hike to learn more about the flora and fauna of the area.

We booked this 4-hour interpretive hike that included a stop at a hot spring bath, and really enjoyed it.

Luxury: The Springs Resort & Spa at Arenal

The Springs Resort is possibly the most famous hotel in the Arenal area and one of the best places to stay in Costa Rica . It’s an iconic landmark and an established property with its own private hot springs and stunning, unobstructed view of the volcano. You’ll get free access to the hot springs, which on its own already costs close to $100. Check the latest rates here.

Midrange: Arenal Observatory Lodge  

The only hotel actually in the national park with the closet view of the volcano.  Surrounded by 860 private acres of tropical rainforest, the hotel features an on-site bird sanctuary that has around 500 different species of birds. The lodge also has an on-site lake, a swimming pool, a sun terrace and games room. Check the latest rates here.

Budget: Arenal Backpackers Resort 

Located close to the town of La Fortuna, this backpackers resort is fun, spacious and comfortable. There’s a large swimming pool and hammocks everywhere, plus stylish tents with beds that are comfortable and affordable for budget travelers. Food is excellent, plus you get unobstructed views of the volcano from the resort. Check the latest rates here.

one week in costa rica itinerary - the springs resort

Itinerary Day 3: Waterfalls & Hot Springs

The next day, sign up for a zipline tour with Sky Adventures . It’s the adventure park with the best reviews and reputation. (We went to the Sky Adventures in Monteverde but not the one in Arenal.) You’ll be soaring over the tree canopy at 600 feet high, so expect spectacular views of Lake Arenal and Arenal Volcano. 

This combination package (zipline, sky tram and sky walk) costs $120 for adults and $60 for kids.

one week costa rica itinerary - ziplining

If you really want to see sloths in La Fortuna, you have to walk the  Bogarin Trail . It’s right in La Fortuna and an easy walk for all ages to see sloths and birds. The trail used to be all farmland many years ago. When the owner first started restoring the forest, he said there was one sloth. Now there are over 25 and is one of the best places in La Fortuna to see sloths.

one week in costa rica itinerary - two-toed sloth

After a busy and active day, it’s time to relax and wind down at one of the many hot springs dotted around La Fortuna. Many hotels and resorts have their own hot springs with day passes available. Day passes are quite expensive though, priced around $50-100 per adult and $30-50 for kids.

Some of the most well known ones are  the Springs ,  Tabacon , and  Baldi . You can also combine a hot spring visit with a Maleku indigenous experience — check details here!

one week costa rica itinerary - hot springs

Itinerary Day 4: Into the Cloud Forests

Plan an early start once again for the bumpy drive to Monteverde. Even though it looks very close to Arenal on the map, it’s a three-hour drive on steep and unpaved roads.

We highly recommend driving this route only if you have a 4WD (we rented a compact car, and totally regretted that). Our car made it to Monteverde but we wrecked one of the wheels.

If you prefer not to drive, book a transfer from Arenal to Monteverde for $50.

Base yourself in the town of Santa Elena, the only hub in Monteverde. You should be able to arrive here by noon. The town has plenty of charming cafes and vegan restaurants.

I recommend eating at Taco Taco , an authentic Mexican place that serves refreshing drinks and some of the best burritos I’ve ever had. There are also quite a few stores and souvenir shops in town, in case you need to stock up on your supplies.

one week costa rica itinerary - taco taco food

After lunch, it’s time to explore the cloud forests that has made this place famous. The tropical cloud forests are some of the most spectacular places in the world.

As these forests sit from 1500 meters and more above sea level, the vegetation is completely different as the rainforests you’ll find elsewhere in the country.

There are actually three cloud forest reserves in Monteverde:  Monteverde ,  Santa Elena  and  Children’s Eternal Rain Forest . The most popular one is Monteverde, but we chose to go to Santa Elena Reserve .

It’s less crowded, higher in elevation, more mossy and cloudy. We didn’t see a single soul during our walk and we had the sensation of walking through a fairytale! Entrance fee for Santa Elena reserve is $16 for adults and $7 for kids.

one week costa rica itinerary - santa elena reserve

Luxury:  Hotel Aguti Lodge & Reserve

Located right inside a private reserve, this stylish yet rustic hotel is a magical place poised on a hilltop overlooking the clouds forests. There are hiking trails all around the reserve where you’ll find animals like howler monkeys, aguti and the resplendent quetzal. You’ll be able to experience sleeping in the jungle without sacrificing comfort. Check the latest rates here.

Midrange: Monteverde Country Lodge

Located close to the cloud forest of Monteverde, this eco-friendly hotel offers rustic wooden cabin-style rooms surrounded by lush gardens. Guests of Monteverde Country Lodge enjoy free access to facilities at Hotel Poco a Poco, including an indoor pool, gym, hot tub and kids’ club. It’s a great choice for families who want to experience staying in the jungle. Check the latest rates here.

Budget: Casa Campo Verde

We stayed at this family-run lodge just a 10-minute drive from the centre of Santa Elena town. It’s great value for money, plus the view of the cloud forest from the second-floor guest room is fantastic. If you like local comfort food, you’ll love the breakfast and dinner here. Check the latest rates here.

one week in costa rica - costa rica itinerary - hotel aguti

Itinerary Day 5: Go Above the Canopy

It’s time for some more adventure! Start your day with a walk on the hanging bridges of the cloud forest or just hop onto a sky tram with Sky Adventures Monteverde . They have the highest and longest ziplines and hanging bridges. 

The hanging bridges range up to 800 feet long and 2400 feet in altitude. This is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica with kids  since the hanging bridges aren’t too long and give kids the chance to see wildlife easily.

A walk on the bridges, along with ziplining and sky tram, costs US$120 per adult and $60 for kids.

 Book Your Tickets here!

one week costa rica itinerary - hanging bridges in monteverde

If you want to see wildlife, be sure to sign up for a nocturnal hike in the private Curi Cancha Reserve . The hike runs everyday from 5.30 to 7.30pm for $20 per person. Curi Cancha Reserve is said to be the best place to see wildlife in Monteverde. It’s always best to go wildlife watching with a guide as he/she has been trained to spot animals.

Our guide David was knowledgable, fun and excellent in spotting wildlife. He also carried a huge telescope that allowed us to see small insects or illusive birds clearly. Thanks to him, we spotted a giant tarantula, a Lora viper, a rare orange-bellied trogon bird, and a stunning jewel beetle.

one week costa rica itinerary - tarantula

Itinerary Day 6: Hit the Beach

After a few active days, you deserve a break on the beach! Drive west to the Pacific coast of Costa Rica (3 hours).

Tamarindo is probably the most famous beach in Costa Rica and it’s easy to see why once you’re here. It’s home to some of the best swells in the world and the beach is lined with cool bars and restaurants. But it’s called “Tamagringo” for a reason: the beach can get very crowded at peak season. There are plenty of beaches that are much quieter and calmer south of Tamarindo. 

We stayed near Playa Lagartillo , just 30 minutes away. It was absolutely wild and rugged, with very few people even on a public holiday. The nearby Playa Negra was also perfect for those who want some privacy.

Book your surfing lesson here or simply rent a board from the surf shops in Tamarindo and brave the waves. A board rental costs around $20 for 24 hours and surf lessons cost around $50 for 2 hours. Iguana Surf  has the best reviews on TripAdvisor.

one week costa rica itinerary - tamarindo surfing

Luxury: Tamarindo Diria Beach Resort

Located right on the Tamarindo Beach, this four-star resort is a big property with three swimming pools and a range of restaurants. It’s got an excellent location on the beach and steps from shops and restaurants in Tamarindo. This is a great option for those who like to be in the action and still have direct access to the beach. Check the latest rates here.

Midrange: Drift Away Eco Lodge

Drift Away feels like an oasis in the midst of a jungle, with an empty and rugged beach steps away and Tamarindo a 20-minute drive away. We love the eco-friendly ethos of the lodge, which features locally-sourced furniture and natural products in their toiletries.  Read my full review of Drift Away!

Budget: Tee-K Lodge

An excellent value for money, this budget lodge is brand new, beautiful and well-priced, though it’s quite a distance from the beach. It’s suitable for couples or families who have their own car. Rooms are stylish and spacious, with gorgeous earth-colored furnishing. Check the latest rates here.

one week costa rica itinerary - drift away eco lodge

Alternatively, those who haven’t had enough of wildlife might prefer heading to Manuel Antonio National Park instead of Tamarindo. This national park south of San Jose is where the rainforest meets the ocean, and where many of the country’s unique animals live.

If you really want to see a sloth in Costa Rica, this is one of the best places to see them. You can easily hike the national park in one day. There are several trails that lead to beaches and viewpoints and along the way, you can run into monkeys, frogs, snakes, deer and more.

Though wildlife is everywhere in the park, I recommend hiring a guide if you’d like to learn more about the flora and fauna in the area.

one week in costa rica - howler monkey

Itinerary Day 7: Sunset Sailing

Make full use of your last day in Costa Rica by rising early and driving out to Diamante Eco Adventure Park (an hour drive). This is a great spot for those who want to do more ziplining and canopy tours.

We came here because we really wanted to see a sloth and still hadn’t found one. The adventure park is home to the largest animal sanctuary in Costa Rica. Besides three beautiful sloths, there are also lots of toucans, butterflies and jaguars who have been rescued and rehabilitated here.

Book Your Tickets here!

one week in costa rica - costa rica itinerary - sloth sanctuary

To finish off your one-week Costa Rica trip with a bang, book a sunset sailing trip to experience the bay on a catamaran. On the way, you might have the chance to see dolphins, turtles or even whales during the right time of the year.

The catamaran will also make a snorkeling stop at a tranquil bay. Sunsets at Tamarindo are world famous, so you won’t want to miss this! 

costa rica itinerary - sunset sailing tamarindo

Costa Rica Travel Guide

Whether you are traveling Costa Rica for one week or a year, I always recommend having travel insurance. It will cover any incident you may have while traveling, including loss of luggage, flight cancellation or accidents. 

Safety Wing is the most popular travel insurance company for COVID19-coverage. I use their Nomad Insurance plan , which covers COVID-19 as any other illness as long as it was not contracted before your coverage start date. Refer to my travel insurance guide for more details.

The best time to travel Costa Rica is during the dry season: from mid-December to April . This period promises plenty of sunshine and little rain.

We visited Costa Rica in April and we had excellent weather throughout our trip. That said, the dry season is also the most popular (and expensive) time to visit. If you don’t mind getting a little wet, visit between May and November when prices are lower and there are less crowds. During June and July, rain showers pause briefly, and Costa Rica’s forests burst with green foliage. 

Keep in mind that the weather varies by region. In the thick forests of the Caribbean Sea coast and northern regions, expect high humidity and temperatures ranging between the 70s and high 80s year-round. 

one week costa rica itinerary - sunset at tamarindo

How to Get Around Costa Rica

Renting a car is easily the best way to travel around Costa Rica. Having your own wheels lets you travel independently, at your own pace.

However, roads in Costa Rica are in terrible conditions and many are unpaved . We actually wrecked a wheel while driving to Monteverde and had to change the tyre in the forest. Also be aware that there  are plenty of police checks along the way — we heard that the fine for speeding is US$600, so make sure you stay within the speed limit. 

We booked our car rental on Discover Car Hire and paid around US$160 for one week of rental and a baby seat. The car hire company had excellent services and provided transfers in/out to the airport. Our car was a Suzuki Celerio, a very small compact car. We definitely recommend renting a 4WD instead.

Book your Car Rental!

one week costa rica itinerary - break down car

Traveling by bus is the cheapest way to get around Costa Rica. San Jose is the hub for virtually all bus services in the country. Some routes are so popular that it’s wise to book your bus tickets to ensure availability.

Bus schedules change with impressive frequency, so be sure to check in advance.  The main operator is  I nterbus , with comprehensive routes across the country. The similar but slightly more expensive Gray Line  runs direct services between many tourist spots. For example, Grayline and  Interbus  offer shared shuttles from San Jose Airport to Tamarindo for around $50.

If you prefer not to drive or take public transport, it is possible to book shuttles or transfers on GetYourGuide. These door-to-door transfers will pick you up from your hotel and drop you at your next hotel.

For example, this adventure transfer from Arenal to Monteverde will bring you on on a boat and van and provide interesting information along the way. If you’re traveling as a family or in a big group, this private transfer from San Jose to Arenal would be comfortable and convenient.

one week costa rica itinerary - aerial view of manuel antonio

Unlike other parts of Central America, Costa Rica is relatively safe and easy to travel around on your own. We traveled independently with our 4-year-old daughter and didn’t face any difficulty or challenges. It’s incredibly easy to travel Costa Rica with kids and highly recommend it for outdoor-loving family travelers.

What I recommend is traveling on your own and booking day tours especially if you’re not renting a car. Naturalist guides are trained to spot animals and will be able to point them out fast. Here’s a  great wildlife day tour we took in Arenal !

If you’re not confident traveling Costa Rica independently, check out this 9-day Costa Rica adventure tour that’ll bring you to all the areas I mentioned. T his 12-day Hidden Costa Rica trip brings you off the beaten path and on an exciting trek. G Adventures is a Canadian adventure tour operator I’ve worked with many times and can highly recommend!

Costa Rica Itinerary: One Week in Costa Rica

I hope that my one-week Costa Rica itinerary will help you plan your own adventure. If you have more than one week, I’d recommend adding these to your itinerary: Manuel Antonio National Park, Tortuguero, and Puerto Viejo.

Let me know if you have any questions on Costa Rica in the comments field below. Here are more articles on Costa Rica and the surrounding countries:

  • Costa Rica with Kids
  • 18 Cool Things to Do in Monteverde, Costa Rica
  • Where to Stay in Costa Rica
  • Best Things to Do in Costa Rica for Outdoor Lovers
  • Panama with Kids
  • Sailing San Blas Islands in Panama

My 1-Week Belize Itinerary

  • Dominican Republic with Kids
  • 10-Day Dominican Republic Itinerary

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links i.e. I’ll get a small commission when you book anything through my links, at NO extra cost to you. I only recommend companies I have personally used and enjoyed.

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Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is the founder of WildJunket. Originally from Singapore, Nellie has traveled to over 150 countries across 7 continents. As an accomplished travel writer, she has written for BBC Travel, CNN and Rough Guides . She is also the author of five travel books, including the latest Lonely Planet's Mexico guidebook. Read more about her here and follow her on Facebook and Instagram .

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The Comments

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If you really want to see wildlife go south to the Osa also much more affordable.

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hi Tristan, yes we really wanted to go to Osa but we only had one week and there wasn’t enough time to get there! Definitely want to return to Costa Rica in future!

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Costa Rica and all of the wildlife sounds awesome!! This trip sounds like a blast!

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Love this post. Super helpful. Could you please tell how much did this trip cost you and what year did you actually go there? Is it a good idea to go during the Christmas?

hi Fifo, thanks for the comment! We went on the trip in April 2019, just last year. Let me break down the rough cost: we spent around $700 on accommodation, $200 per person on food, $350 on car rental and gas, and $200 per person on activities (cloud forest walk, visit of adventure park etc.). It would definitely be busier and more expensive at Christmas time but if that’s the only time you have to go, then by all means. :) Enjoy your trip and let me know if you have any other questions!

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Hello Nellie, did you flight back home from San Jose?

hi Alla, we flew back from San Jose to Panama City and then home (Amsterdam) from there.

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How long was the drive back to San Jose? Would you want to plan to stay the night before in San Jose?

hi Andres, it’s around a 5-hour drive from Tamarindo to San Jose. Yes I definitely recommend staying the night before in San Jose. We stayed near the airport – there are quite a few affordable options (in my recommendations above). Hope this helps!

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Hi Nellie! Wonderful itinerary. My husband and I are planning a trip to Costa Rica with our 4 year old son later this year. What were your daughters favorite activities while you were there? Was she able to do any of the ziplining?

hi Shayla, thanks for dropping by! My daughter’s favorite activities were probably the night hikes and wildlife centers we visited. She absolutely loved the nocturnal walk we did in Curi Cancha reserve (Monteverde) where the guide pointed out cool animals like tarantula, jewel beetle, and rare insects. She was too small to zipline but she could go on the hanging bridges, and she liked that. She also thought the Diamante Eco Adventure Park was absolutely cool! Have you seen my post about traveling Costa Rica with kids ?

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Jessica Horvat

Hi there! taking this trip exactly but a little worried about long driving times. My kids are older an may not do so well on the bumpy roads from La Arenal to Monteverde. any thoughts?

hi Jessica, thanks for stopping by! The drive from Arenal to Monteverde is around 3 hours and the road isn’t that bumpy. Perhaps you can take regular stops or let them use their devices? This itinerary isn’t too packed, but if you’re worried about long driving times then maybe you can focus just on one or two areas in Costa Rica.

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Hello! I loved your article and all of your suggestions for activities and places to stay! Can I ask about your car rental experience with Discover Car Hire? Did the cost of your car include all of the mandatory car insurance? I have heard some horror stories of being stuck with lots of fees for mandatory car insurance and was wondering if that was the case with Discover?

hi Emily, thanks for dropping by! We always book through Discover Cars, but it’s a car rental search engine (much like Skyscanner but for cars). So basically it depends on which car hire company you choose. We usually get the liability coverage and that’s the basic insurance plan. I don’t recall being charged excessively in Costa Rica. But we did get a flat tire in Monteverde, but Alberto swapped it out for the extra tire and we weren’t charged anything extra. Hope this helps!

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Bridget Michelle

Hey I loved your post! We are planning a trip for a week in March. Would say 4,500 for the three of us would be a good goal? Also I have a 13 year old daughter and suggestions as to what a teen would like to see and do?

hi Bridget, yes I think that’s more than enough for the three of you. Most of the attractions in Costa Rica are in nature. Perhaps your 13 year old would like the adventure parks, hanging treetop walks, and ziplining? There are many of those all over the country.

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Hi, I would like to book the volcano hike tour as well, we have 3 & 5YO. The booking said age under 5 is not allowed. My 3YO is used to hiking, but usually just half a day hike. How intense these activities are? Did your 4YO handled it well? Thanks.

hi, my kid handled it well and the hike wasn’t too long. That said, it’s better to check directly with the tour operator to see if they’ll take your 3-year-old. Otherwise, you could consider booking a private tour?

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Karen Rodriguez

Hi, loved your article and excursion. Our first trip to CR. We want to book a trip in mid April 2022 and have only 8 days, so it’s a choice between Arenal, Monteverde and Manuel Antonio or simply Oso peninsula. My 13 year old daughter would do best where there are guides and enticements to get out and explore. What do you recommend? Thank you.

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I will be solo traveling to Costa Rica for a week during February so this itinerary will be very useful! Could you give me an estimate on how much I would be spending to do most of these activities? FYI I would be staying at hostels bc its cheaper and so I can meet fellow solo travelers.

Thanks in advance!

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Thanks so much for this post – this is the perfect itinerary and so helpful

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William Maxwell

My sixteen year old just told me that the trip I planned using this site was the best. Woo hoo!

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Aww thanks so much! Glad your kid enjoyed the trip!

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Staying at drift away eco lodge in costa rica, we bought a campervan.

Wanderlust Chloe

Two Weeks In Costa Rica: The Ultimate Costa Rica Itinerary

Catarata Del Toro, Costa Rica

From the epic volcanoes at Arenal and zip lining in Monteverde, to the wildlife on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, it’s time for the ultimate two weeks in Costa Rica.

I’ve just returned from my SECOND trip to Costa Rica. While I saw a lot on my first visit in 2014, it definitely left me wanting more! A few weeks ago I received my Costa Rica itinerary and wow did it look AMAZING.

The big attraction? The fact it would take me to places I’d never been before, including Corcovado National Park – one of the world’s top destinations for spotting wildlife.

Toucan

I know a lot of you choose to spend two weeks in Costa Rica, which I would say is the perfect amount of time to get a feel for the country. So I figured the most useful post I could write was a big fat Costa Rica itinerary – combining the best of the best from my two trips.

From the incredible volcanoes close to La Fortuna and the wildlife of Puerto Viejo and Corcovado, to the beaches of the Pacific and Caribbean , beautiful views in Orosi and Naranjo and adventures including zip lining and white water rafting, this really is the best way to spend two weeks in Costa Rica!  

Planning your trip to Costa Rica? Here are a few quick highlights:

List Image

Two Weeks In Costa Rica: The Best Costa Rica Itinerary

To design this Costa Rica itinerary, I’ve selected my top seven places from both of my trips and suggested how many days to spend in each. Obviously, with travel time, you might need a few extra days if you want to see ALL of them, but it’s a good starting point if you’re planning to spend two weeks in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is ALL about nature. While some areas are becoming a little overrun with tourists during high season, there are still plenty of great places that still feel ‘secret’.

I’ve included a nice mix in this Costa Rica itinerary. I think you’d regret it if you don’t visit a few parts that feel truly off the beaten track.  

READ MORE: Wondering what to pack for your trip? Find out in my handy Costa Rica packing guide  or learn more about the country before you get there with 34 fascinating facts about Costa Rica .

Map: two weeks in costa rica.

I’ve marked all the key spots from my Costa Rica itinerary on this handy map…

La Fortuna: 2 Days  

One of my favourite spots on my Costa Rica itinerary! For me, this area really is the best of the best in Costa Rica. The looming 1,670m peak of Arenal Volcano is easily one of the most impressive sights you’ll see in the whole country.

I’d recommend basing yourself in the town of La Fortuna, which has the volcano as its backdrop. There’s a mix of accommodation in the area, from luxurious hotels with private pools, to hostels perfect for backpackers and solo travellers.

Along with adventures around the volcano (including some lovely hot springs close by) don’t miss a trip to La Fortuna waterfall. It’s in a beautiful location in the middle of the jungle, but from the second you start the descent, you’ll hear the sounds of the plummeting weight of water. The waterfall is 65m high, and while the water is cool, you can take a dip if you’re feeling brave!

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

Monteverde: 2 Days

You’ll have heard about Costa Rica’s ‘cloud forests’ and Monteverde is THE place to see some of the country’s most unique scenery. Walk the Sky Walk (six hanging suspension bridges) and you’ll feel first hand what it’s like to be submerged in the low hanging mist and clouds within the lush forest. There’s also the sky tram – gondolas that glide right through the epic scenery.

Skybridge in Monteverde Cloud Forest

If you like adrenaline, spend a day at 100% Aventura Extreme taking on the longest zip lines in Central America, finishing with the Mega Tarzan Swing. The swing is one of the scariest things I’ve done to date as it involves a free fall of 35m, before you swing over 30m from side to side!

The zip lines are a lot of fun, and make a change from the hiking and exploring that you’ll no doubt be including in your Costa Rica two week itinerary 

Ziplining in Monteverde, Costa Rica

Naranjo / Zarcero: 1 Day  

After some of the more extreme activities, I’d recommend a night at Chayote Lodge up in the hills above San Jose. It’s probably not an area that features on many Costa Rica itineraries, but this is one of those special ‘secret’ spots away from the tourists.

For me, San Jose isn’t an amazing city, but you’re likely to visit it as part of your trip, whether that’s to fly in and out of the airport, or to pass through as you venture from one part of the country to another.

Sunrise from Chayote Lodge, Naranjo, Costa Rica

The accommodation at Chayote Lodge is stunning, designed around the old coffee receiving stations. The coffee theme continues through the interiors where you’ll find old coffee sacks for wall hangings, a giant coffee bean table and of course, delicious fresh coffee for breakfast!

Yet, however much I love coffee, it’s the views from Chayote Lodge that make me recommend it. Three volcanoes, layers and layers of stunning morning mist and epic sunsets, along with lush gardens filled with more hydrangeas than I’ve ever seen in my life – it’s just gorgeous.

Check availability and latest prices at Chayote Lodge

Chayote Lodge, Naranjo, Costa Rica

No doubt you’ll be visiting a few waterfalls during your two weeks in Costa Rica, and at 90m Catarata Del Toro is one of Costa Rica’s most impressive. While you can see it from just beyond the visitor centre, I’d recommend the trek to the base of it. It’s tiring but worth it, especially once you feel the spray and the force of the water.

Catarata Del Toro, Costa Rica

Also, as the region has coffee at its heart, I’d recommend booking onto an Espiritu Santo Coffee Tour  where you can learn how coffee plants are transformed into the morning cuppa you’re used to. It’s fascinating to see the plants and processes up close. You’ll never look at a cappuccino in the same way again!  

Espiritu Santo Coffee Tour, Naranjo

READ MORE: Top Things To Do In Costa Rica 

Corcovado national park: 3 days.

Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula has been on my bucket list for a while! In terms of wildlife, it’s one of Costa Rica’s top spots, and let’s face it, Costa Rica is one the best country’s in the world for seeing wild animals in their natural habitats.

From whales and turtles, to monkeys, snakes and frogs, there’s SO much to see here, plus it’s also paradise for bird lovers.

It’s not the kind of park to explore alone, so book onto a tour (hotels will be able to recommend local wildlife guides), set your alarm for 4am, and head out early for an experience you’ll never forget.

Ancient trees in Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

Across the day we spotted all four of Costa Rica’s varieties of monkey (squirrel, spider, howler and white-faced capuchin), coatis, agoutis, macaws, Halloween crabs, and learnt all about the park’s impressive trees, sea turtles and more. I loved it! We didn’t see any sloths sadly, but they’re often chilling out in the trees here.

Tree frog

Set in the rainforest, Lapa Rios has 17 wooden bungalows, each with terraces overlooking the ocean. There are no glass windows, only nets, so you’ll fall asleep listening to the howls of the howler monkeys, croaks of frogs and more.

It’s somewhere you’ll feel truly immersed in Costa Rica’s incredible nature, especially when you spot macaws from the breakfast table, monkeys on your terrace, or find a frog on your door (true story!!)

Check availability and latest prices at Lapa Rios

My room at Lapa Rios, Osa Peninsula

If you’re spending two weeks in Costa Rica, I’d recommend around three days in the Corcovado region. As it’s such a remote area to get to, check out the flights that run from San Jose to Puerto Jimenez. Not only will it save you time, but you’ll also be treated to stunning views like these…

Views on the flight from Puerto Jimenez to San Jose, Costa Rica

Orosi: 2 Days

South of San Jose, Orosi is home to rainforests, volcanoes and rivers. It’s also one of Costa Rica’s most historic regions, where you’ll find the oldest Catholic Church still in use in the country.

This is another spot I would say is a little on the secret side. It’s not experiencing the mass tourism of Arenal and Monteverde, and is a great place to escape the crowds if you’re trying to experience the best of Costa Rica in two weeks.

While nearby Tapanti National Park (aka the wettest spot in the country, with rain approx. 360 days a year!) is a beautiful place to go hiking and exploring, I’d recommend taking things up a few notches with an adrenaline-fuelled white water rafting trip down the river.

The river in Orosi

It was my first time rafting, and I was really nervous as I waited by the edge of the river listening to the safety briefing. The guides were enthusiastic and fun, and I started to feel at ease… until I hopped on the raft and we set off!! The water was flowing so fast, and almost immediately we reached one of the trickiest spots on the entire course.

After a thorough soaking, I relaxed into the experience, whooping and screaming as I paddled. I loved it and would say it’s one of my favourite experiences from the trip!

White Water Rafting in Orosi, Costa Rica

Orosi is also a wonderful region for relaxation, with my favourite spot being Hacienda Orosi – a thermal mineral spa with absolutely spectacular views. Up in the hills, with low hanging clouds and several thermal pools, it’s a great place to unwind after lots of outdoor adventures.

Hacienda Orosi, Costa Rica

If you’re looking for somewhere truly unique to stay, I’d recommend Queveri . This eco lodge is located in the mountains overlooking Orosi and has impressive views of Irazu volcano, waterfalls and more. There are plenty of hiking routes nearby, plus wildlife right on the doorstep including pumas, mountain lions, monkeys and coatis!

The owner will treat you like you’re part of the family too. It’s a lovely experience, although I’ll warn you now, it’s a steep and bumpy drive to get there!

Check availability and latest prices at Queveri

Views from Queveri, near Orosi

Puerto Viejo De Talamanca: 3 Days

Then it’s time to head to the Caribbean coast to experience a totally different side to the country. To be honest, rastas and reggae wasn’t something I naturally associated with Costa Rica, but when you’re in Puerto Viejo you’ll feel like you’ve landed on a Caribbean island. 

Expect chilled daytimes and a bit of a party after dark. It’s an area popular with backpackers too, so a great place to base yourself if you’re travelling solo. In fact, this is a must-visit if you’re putting together a Costa Rica backpacking itinerary, as it’s one of the best beach towns in Costa Rica .

I think it’s a great area to round off your two weeks in Costa Rica, as it’s another fab region to spot wildlife. Similar to Corcovado, Cahuita National Park’s rainforest sits right on the beach close to Puerto Viejo.

There you can spot all the animals you’d dream of seeing in Costa Rica including toucans, sloths, monkeys, lizards, iguanas, snakes, giant crickets, leaf cutter ants and more.

Snake in Cahuita, Costa Rica

Another amazing place for wildlife is the  Jaguar Rescue Centre . Nope, it’s not a home for jaguars, but a refuge for sick, unwanted or underdeveloped wild animals.

I love the backstory of this place. It was set up by a couple of biomedical scientists from Europe who moved to Costa Rica for a change of pace. Little did they know, as soon as they moved to the area, locals heard they could help animals and turned up on the doorstep with sick monkeys, owls with broken wings, and blind crocodiles! They decided to set up the rescue centre and it’s been expanding ever since.

Sloth in Costa Rica

When I visited a few years ago I was invited to sit inside one of the monkey enclosures while spider and squirrel monkeys played around. It was also amazing to see sloths up close!

I hope these suggestions help with planning your two weeks in Costa Rica. If you’re visiting for longer, I’d recommend adding in places such as Manuel Antonio National Park, Tortuguero, and some of the country’s beautiful beaches to your Costa Rica itinerary. 

Pura Vida, Costa Rica

Useful Info For Planning A Trip To Costa Rica

Currency: While colones are the local currency in Costa Rica, lots of places will accept US dollars too. If you pay in dollars, you’re likely to receive colones as change. On my recent trip I noticed a lot more places accepted credit cards and contactless payments.

Packing advice: With so many climates and landscapes, you’ll want to plan your packing carefully. I’d recommend reading my Costa Rica packing guide before you go. Lots of extras you might not have thought about.

‘Pura Vida’ is a way of life in Costa Rica! I heard it used as hello / goodbye / thank you. Translating literally as the pure life, but the meaning is more about a good life, a relaxed life and a happy/content life. Slip it into conversation and you’ll certainly impress the locals!

Do you need to speak Spanish to travel around Costa Rica? No, but it will certainly help in more remote areas. As tourism is a huge part of Costa Rica’s economy, lots of guides, drivers and shopkeepers speak English. I’m sure after two weeks in Costa Rica you’ll have a few key Spanish phrases at your fingertips too.

Is Costa Rica safe? I think it’s very safe. Compared to its neighbours, Costa Rica is an extremely peaceful country. It doesn’t even have an army! People are warm, friendly and helpful, plus there’s a huge passion for the country’s nature and landscapes – the Costa Ricans really want to preserve their country, as they know more than anyone else, that it’s a very special place.

Travel: While Costa Rica isn’t a big country to drive around, some of the roads are windy, rugged and bumpy, so what looks like a 2-hour drive, could end up taking 4. If you’re short on time, take a look at internal flights to speed journeys up.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my Costa Rica itinerary and it helps you plan your holiday! Whether you’re spending two weeks in Costa Rica, or several months exploring at a slower pace, have an amazing time, and feel free to comment below if you have any questions!

Big thanks to Visit Costa Rica for inviting me back. You’ll find plenty more info to help you plan your travels on the Visit Costa Rica website. 

Enjoyed this two weeks in Costa Rica blog post? Pin it for later…

2 Weeks In Costa Rica: A Costa Rica Itinerary

Chloe Gunning

With a passion for food, fun and adventure, Chloe is the content creator behind one of the UK's top travel blogs Wanderlust Chloe. From volcano boarding in Nicaragua, to sailing around Sicily and eating her way around Japan, her travels have taken her to some of the coolest spots on the planet. Named Travel Influencer of the Year in 2022, Chloe regularly works with a number of tourism boards, producing inspirational travel content across multiple platforms. Find out more about Chloe here.

14 thoughts on “Two Weeks In Costa Rica: The Ultimate Costa Rica Itinerary”

That toucan is so beautiful! I love all the colors they have on their beaks.

I know Megan – so amazing to see them up close! I loved all the wildlife I saw on this trip!

Costa Rica is one of my bucket list destinations!

These photos are stunning and it looks like you had the best time.

Thanks Jess – I really hope you make it there soon! I loved it!

Hi Chloe! I’m from Costa Rica, actually from Naranjo. I have a friend that is coming over so I was looking for the best places to take him, this helped me a lot. Thank you so much for that amazing content and all the love you are giving to my country. I wish you keep doing what you love, best of wishes. Pura vida ?❤

Thank you for reading Kris! So happy you enjoyed the post. Naranjo was gorgeous – happy memories of being there 🙂

Amazing stuff Chloe, this has helped a bunched! Just out of interest, what time of year did you travel there? I’ve found some pretty cheap flights for the end of June and am aware that it’s the rainy season, but I’ve heard there’s a ‘veranillo’ around then so I might be lucky with the weather. It’s either that or postpone until next year which I don’t want to do 🙁 Thoughts?

Hey Sonny – thank you! I’ve been in November and October before and while on both trips there was some rain, it wasn’t crazy or anything! To be honest with somewhere like CR, the rain is part of what makes the flora and fauna so amazing! I’ve not been at other times of year though, so can’t vouch for those… Have a great trip!

How did you get around the island? Did you rent a car, driver or fly?

Hi Donna – we caught buses and planes across Costa Rica. It’s not an island though!

Amazing itinerary hoping to visit next year and hopefully cross over to panama too! I cannot wait ? xx

Have an amazing time Bethan. It’s such a special place!

Amazing blog! Quick question: Why wasn’t Tamarindo included in this itinerary? Thanks!

Because there are just SO many places, I couldn’t include them all. That’s another great option though if it fits with your route.

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Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : Epic & Realistic Road Trip

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : hanging bridge at Tenorio Volcano National Park

Costa Rica is the land of rainforests, insane wildlife, blue waterfalls and tropical beaches. So, how to see it all with limited time? Here’s a complete 10 day itinerary to Costa Rica for first-timers who wish to see the most wonderful spots, according to locals.

This Costa Rica 10 day itinerary is suitable for all types of travelers, whether you are solo female traveling in Costa Rica or visiting with a group, by car or by bus, with a small or large budget.

We will explain all your best options for you to make the best possible choice, starting with how to get around.

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : girl looking at the summit of Arenal Volcano

Costa Rica stands as one of the most visited countries in Central America . And for good reason: it’s home to some of the most wonderful wildlife and biodiversity in the world.

You can do scuba diving in Costa Rica , but also spot exotic animals like sloths, toucans, jaguars, coatis, tapirs, monkeys, turtles, red-eyed tree frogs…

You can explore its natural wonders as well, among the 6 active volcanoes, 800 miles of coastlines and half the country being made up of rainforests.

Here’s a 10 day itinerary for Costa Rica , followed by all the things I wish I Knew before going to Costa Rica . This is the most complete and up-to-date itinerary and guide that you can find on the web. We know because we’ve read them all before our trip!

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : blue lagoon in the middle of the green lush jungle

Why visit Costa Rica?

Well, it’s not hard: Costa Rica has it all. You can visit the country if you’re a nature explorer, hike enthusiastic, beach seeker or animal lover.

You can either relax and sunbathe on one of the many tropical beaches of the Pacific or Caribbean coast, or go on an adrenaline-fueled zipline roller coaster among the trees.

This Latin America country is very suitable for hikes of all levels. Among the volcanoes, jungles, and waterfalls, you will be simply amazed. Aside from hiking, you can also sleep in one of Costa Rica’s treehouse hotels !

Costa Rica is also one of the favourite destinations of surfers. Spots like Tamarindo or Santa Teresa are world famous for their powerful waves. And who says laid-back atmosphere, says yoga and meditation of all kinds! So, you’re in, right?!

How to get to Costa Rica?

Flight to costa rica.

Flying to Costa Rica is the best option if you don’t come from a nearby country. There are two international airports in Costa Rica : San Jose Airport, also called Juan Santamaria International Airport or SJO, and the Liberia Airport, called the Daniel Oduber International Airport or LIR.

This article is a 10 day itinerary Costa Rica from Liberia and San Jose , the arrival city won’t impact the trip. To find the best deals, you should book on the flight comparator Skyscanner .

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : sunrise view on the plane

Bus to Costa Rica

If you’re travelling on a budget to Costa Rica from a nearby country, an international bus might be your best option. For instance, you can take a bus from Managua in Nicaragua to San Jose in Costa Rica very easily.

The Managua to San Jose journey takes 8 hours and costs around $30 USD. From the other border country, Panama, there are buses running every day from Panama City to San Jose . The journey takes about 15 hours and costs between $20 to $50 USD.

Ferry to Costa Rica

Yes, there are ferries running between the USA and Costa Rica. But it’s more a cruise with stops in the country than an average ferry. If you want to travel by boat in Costa Rica , you should do it inside the country instead!

How to get around in Costa Rica?

Getting from one city to another in Costa Rica can get a bit tricky because of the mountainous landscapes. Here are the best transport options for travelling around the country!

✔️ Here are ALL the simplest ways to go from San Jose to Monteverde or from La Fortuna to Monteverde , depending on your means and time.

Car Rental in Costa Rica

When planning a trip to Costa Rica , you could first think it’s as a relatively small country on the map. But you’d be surprised by the distances between each place! If you feel comfortable driving in Costa Rica , your best option to not lose any time during your trip is to rent a car.

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : road in La Fortuna with Arenal Volcano in the background

Getting a car rental will offer you the freedom to go anywhere at any time and visit more areas. However, you must be at least 18 years old and hold a valid driving license for at least one year. It costs approximately $25 USD a day.

Public buses in Costa Rica

However, if you don’t have your driving license or just don’t feel like driving on your own if you’re solo travelling to Costa Rica , you can get around with the Costa Rica bus system . This is the most affordable way to travel around the country, but also the longest one.

Buses typically range from $1 USD to $20 USD maximum, but most long-distance buses take big detours to go through San José. For instance, most buses from La Fortuna to Santa Teresa will go through San José, which doubles the journey time and wastes a lot of time.

This is also difficult to know which buses to take from one point to another because there’s no website listing all the routes of the various bus companies across the country. Rome2rio definitely helps to plan a trip but it’s not always up to date or reliable.

Your best bet is to always double check with the locals or at the reception of your hotel. They’ll tell you what your best option is, the new bus schedules, where to go… Yes, if you like to plan everything in advance, it’s a bit stressful. But always ask for all your options and if the bus journey is too difficult, keep some money for the shuttle!

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : yellow student bus on the road of Santa Teresa

Shuttles in Costa Rica

Your last option to get around Costa Rica without a car is to use the shuttle transfers all around the country. These are vans with drivers that will get you from A to B, door-to-door, like taxis. Pretty good, innit?

Obviously, it has a cost, but it can be worth it in some situations that we will get more into throughout the article. You can either take a shared shuttle, where the price is per passenger, or a private shuttle, where the price is per van. It can be great if you’re travelling with a group!

Uber in Costa Rica

For shorter distances in relatively touristic areas, you can order an uber drive. It costs less money than the regular red or orange cabs. For instance, a ride from San Jose downtown to San Jose airport will cost $10 USD with an uber and $30 USD with a regular taxi.

Best 10 day itinerary Costa Rica

Even if the country doesn’t look this big on the map, the points of interest are a bit scattered around. The roads are not the fastest ones either. For instance, La Fortuna and Monteverde look very close on the map, right? It’s still a 3-hour drive!

That’s why we recommend only choosing 3 different locations in addition to the airport city (San Jose or Liberia) if you have ten days. So, how to see the rainforests, waterfalls, and beaches at the same time? Here’s the best itinerary you can follow to see all the local spots that make Costa Rica so wonderful to explore.

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : Arenal Volcano reflecting on on the lake

Day 1: San Jose to La Fortuna

As always when arriving in a new country, the first day will not be the funniest: you will have to get out of the airport, go to the first place of the route

, buy what you need and get used to this new country. Here are your different options depending on your arrival time and ability to drive.

Sim card in Costa Rica

When travelling to Costa Rica , you should get a local SIM card in order not to ruin yourself with your home operator roaming abroad. There are 3 phone operators in Costa Rica: Kolbi, Claro and Movistar. The one that has the best coverage is Kolbi as it’s the government’s operator.

But if you arrive in San Jose Airport and need data right away, the more convenient to get is Claro. The Claro shop is located next to baggage claim 5 and is open from 6 AM to 11 PM. It has a plan at 12,500 CRC ($20 USD or 13.8€) that includes 5 GB, unlimited WhatsApp and 700 MB of social media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Waze and Pinterest).

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : sim card and black iphone

Getting a Klaro sim card at the airport will take the stress out of not being able to communicate at your arrival. However, you won’t have data in rural areas with Klaro. If you can wait a bit, we highly recommend getting a Kolbi sim card for the powerful coverage capacities. You can also buy a prepaid SIM card at any phone or computer shops, and even in supermarkets.

San Jose to La Fortuna

Then, you can head from La Fortuna , the first stop of our 10 day itinerary Costa Rica from San Jose . Getting there is quite difficult when you don’t know the country and we have gathered all the possible options to help you. So, here are your four options.

Rent a car at San Jose Airport

As we told you before, the best way to get around Costa Rica is by getting a car. For this particular journey, it really is your best option as travelling between those two cities can get quite tricky depending on your arrival time. Driving from San Jose to La Fortuna will take you around 2 hours and a half.

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : road in La Fortuna with Arenal Volcano in the background

Take public buses

There is only one direct bus per day between San Jose Airport and La Fortuna. If you arrive before its departure time at 8:30am, oh lucky you! It will cost around $5 USD.

However, if like most of us you arrive later in the day and don’t want to rent a car, you have two options. If you’re brave enough or really on a tight budget, you can take 3 to 4 different buses to arrive at La Fortuna, your final destination. You’ll need to change buses in cities like Alajuela , Zarcero or Ciudad Quesada .

San Jose to La Fortuna Shuttle

If you’re not too hyped by the previous option, this is where you can bring out your shuttle joker. As they leave from the airport where most tourists are, they cost around $57 USD but it’s worth your money.

Ask your hotel if they have an airport shuttle or just book one online! The shuttles leave and arrive upstairs near the parking lot when getting out of the airport.

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : shared shuttles on the road

If you can’t find a shuttle and don’t feel like taking the buses on your first day, you can get a taxi at the airport. They offer deals between $100 and $200 USD. If you’re interested, you can contact Roy Briams at +506 8312-5894. Lastly, you can also try Uber, which is usually cheaper!

2 options depending on your arrival time

Mistico hanging bridges.

You still have some energy left and are dying to start your Costa Rican adventures? You can dive straight into it by driving to the Mistico Arenal hanging bridges site. As you can tell by its name, these are mythic hanging bridges over the rainforest. You’ll be walking between the tops of the trees and might spot some cool animals!

The last entrance is at 3.30 PM and the site closes at 4.30 PM. The full trail is 2 miles (3.2 km) long and lasts around 2 hours and a half. There’s a shorter version of 1.1 mile (1.9 km). To do the full tour, it’s ideal to arrive before 2 PM.

The entrance fee of a self-guided tour is $26 USD for adults, $21 USD for 65 and older, $16 USD for teens between 11 and 18 and free for children. It’s very accessible and a perfect activity to add to your Costa Rica itinerary 10 days with family .

La Fortuna Town

You finally made it to the incredible area of the Arenal Volcano! Settle in, explore, get used to the area and discover your hotel. After a long day of travelling, you might want to chill in the swimming pool of your hotel or have a refreshing cocktail.

If you arrive before sunset, you can also explore La Fortuna. There are many restaurants, but also nice shops. If you haven’t booked any tour yet, you might want to do it when arriving at the reception of your hotel as all the tours we did were full.

Where to stay in La Fortuna?

You’ll be staying in La Fortuna for 3 nights, so here are two nice options depending on your budget and way of travelling. If you’re solo travelling or on a budget, there’s a hostel option to make friends. The second option is a bit more expensive, but it might be nice for a family or couple.

Selina La Fortuna

💯 There’s a good chance you’ll stay in a Selina hostel at some point during your trip. There’s one in almost every tourist city in Costa Rica. Selina La Fortuna represents everything we love about hostels: hippie vibes, amazing decoration and amenities, worldwide travellers, and activities!

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : swimming pool, palm trees and vintage care decoration at an hostel

Located in the heart of La Fortuna, it’s perfect for backpackers on a budget wishing to meet other travelers at the welcoming drink, movie night or yoga lesson. Selina also has a restaurant and bar on site, which serves delicious food, and an explore desk where you can book tours and shuttles. A bed in an 8-bed dorm is about $15 USD per night.

San Bosco Inn

💯 Also located in the heart of La Fortuna, San Bosco Inn offers nice private rooms suitable for up to 3 people for $45 USD. They have a double bed and single bed, a bathroom, and a desk area.

The hotel has a swimming pool and gives you free access to the hot springs complex of the Volcano Lodge Hotel, which we’ll talk more about on day 2.

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : view on Arenal Volcano

Day 2: La Fortuna Waterfall, Arenal Volcano Hike and Hot Springs

Ready for your first full day in Costa Rica? Today, we have a lot in store for you because you’ll explore one of the most famous areas in the country. Put your hiking shoes, swimming suit and clothes on and let’s start!

If you have a car, you can do it all on your own and pay the entrance fees with the different spots. If you don’t, we’re not sure you can easily find uber drives between all the destinations so we would recommend visiting it all with a tour.

✔️ We personally chose this full day Arenal tour , which costs $80 USD per person and includes guided visits to the three spots, lunch, and transportation. Here’s the itinerary we followed.

La Fortuna Waterfall

The first spot you should stop at is La Fortuna waterfall, or Catarata Río Fortuna in Spanish. This waterfall in the middle of the jungle is an absolute must do in Arenal. After parking your car, you’ll go through an office where you can pay the entrance fee, $18 USD. You can use the bathroom and changing rooms to put your swimming suit on.

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : tall waterfall in the middle of the jungle seen from far

Then, you will go down the 500 steps on a paved and easy trail. All along the way, there are good spots to take pictures, and a viewpoint right in front of the waterfall downstairs.

You can swim under the waterfall but it’s quite busy, noisy, and slippery. If you want to swim in a quieter place, just take the stairs on the left when you arrive and there’s a nice river coming from the waterfall.

The water is insanely clear and there are lots of pisces called the Machaca. We were told they are from the same family of the Piranha, but vegetarian 😉

Arenal Volcano Hike

After a good swim in the refreshing water of La Fortuna waterfall, you’ll head to the parking lot of the Arenal Volcano trail . This active volcano is the pride of the region and you cannot leave Costa Rica without having seen it.

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : Arenal Volcano Hike Map

Here’s a map of the different trails you can follow. The Arenal Volcano entrance fee is $15 USD per adult and $5 USD per child. It opens every day from 8AM to 4PM.

The one we did with Jungle Tours was the Sendero Perezoso (blue one) and it lasted around 1 hour and 15 minutes. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to walk until the summit of the Arenal Volcano.

However, you’ll get to an awesome spot with an unreal view of the volcano. If you’re lucky with the weather, the Arenal Volcano summit won’t be too shy, and you’ll be able to see it without clouds!

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : Arenal Volcano Summit without clouds

Swim in the green lake in front of Arenal Volcano

On your way back to the parking lot, you can take the small trail called the Peninsula Tarzan Swing . It leads to a human made liana to jump in the water of the lake. It’s a very cool jungle experience that we highly recommend!

If you’re visiting with Jungle Tours , you’ll eat right after this on the picnic tables. If not, you should try to find a restaurant before or after your Arenal Volcano hike to have lunch.

Hot Springs Arenal

Volcano lodge & springs.

Volcano Lodge is a real thermal experience in itself. They built wonderful hot spring pools and waterfalls surrounded by lush tropical gardens. Dive in it to relax and heal from all the hikes you’ve done already. You can even have a drink at the bar in one of the pool and jacuzzi areas, while staying in the hot water.

You can have access to those for free if you stay at San Bosco Inn . If not, those hot springs are not accessible to everyone. If you’re not staying in San Bosco Inn and wish to access the hot springs, a one night stay at Volcano Lodge is around $120 USD.

Free Hot Springs La Fortuna

Last but not least, you must finish your day with a relaxing moment in one of the many Arenal hot springs. The one that most people on a budget go to is the free hot springs of La Fortuna. This natural river with an insanely hot river ranging from 80° to 105°F (28° to 40°C) is part of the Tabacón complex.

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : river with hot water rolling down in the middle of the jungle

That’s where you’ll go with Jungle Tours. When you’re on a tour, your time is limited to one hour but otherwise, you can easily spend hours in the hot and relaxing water.

Just don’t bring any important belongings there because there are lots of tourists who leave their stuff without any surveillance and don’t find them anymore when they come back.

Ecotermales Hot Springs

Eco Termales Spa is another hot spring site that you can access for $44 USD. Its speciality is that these are natural hot springs, compared to others which are human built.

You’ll relax in the 8 intimate pools, ranging from 90° to 106°F (32° to 41°C). There’s also a fresh waterfall and pool if you’re too hot.

Baldi Hot Springs

Baldi Hot Springs claim to be the largest hot springs in the world. Yes, you read that correctly! So, if you have some time off, why not treat yourself with an entrance to such a unique place?

It’s $36 USD per adult and $18 USD for children from 6 to 10 years old. You’ll enjoy not less than 25 thermal pools amidst the tropical rainforest and filled by crystalline waterfalls.

What’s more relaxing than a natural bath in the middle of nature with exotic birds singing all around?

Tabacon Hot Springs Costa Rica

We’re finishing this list of the best hot springs in La Fortuna with the one that you’ve seen all over Instagram: Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa . This large site of natural hot springs will heal your muscles and soul for sure. Discover the wonderful waterfalls and spend time in nature.

Tabacón Hot Springs entrance fee depends on how long you’re staying and if you wish to have lunch, dinner, or both. The cheapest option is the early morning pass with lunch, which costs $70 USD.

One thing is for sure; this experience will improve your well-being and reduce your stress levels.

Day 3: Rio Celeste Waterfall & Tenorio Volcano National Park

Now that you’ve seen most of the Arenal Volcano region, you should take a day trip to Tenorio Volcano National Park to admire the wonderfully blue waterfall and explore a new national park.

We highly suggest that you read our article about Rio Celeste waterfall before going in order to be 100% prepared for this expedition. In a few words, you can either do it on your own or with a tour company, like Seven Tours for $65 USD. Here’s the itinerary we followed with the tour company.

Rio Celeste Waterfall

Rio Celeste Waterfall is an iconic spot in Costa Rica because of its never-seen-before blue water. It’s a 2-hour drive from La Fortuna, you can check out our complete guide for the road directions.

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : blue waterfall in the middle of the jungle forest

Rio Celeste is located inside the Tenorio Volcano National Park. You can access it with a 30-minute walk from the parking lot. You will walk in the middle of a lush green forest until the famous stairs of Rio Celeste.

You’ll need to pay an entrance fee of $12 USD per adult and $5 USD per child from 2 to 12 years old. Yes, it’s very worth your money and you can’t skip this one. Make sure to wear a raincoat and junkie shoes though.

Tenorio Volcano National Park

There are many other wonderful natural spots to visit when exploring Tenorio National Park . After marvelling at Rio Celeste, you should go back to the main platform right after the stairs and continue the hike.

First, you will stop at Laguna Azul , a turquoise blue lagoon in the middle of the rainforest. Then, witness the volcano fumaroles in the water of Borbollones and the insane change of colour at the meeting point of two rivers, called the Teñideros.

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : two rivers meeting creating an insane color change

Bugai Rio Celeste Restaurant & Swim

I bet this hike whetted your appetite? Good news, the next stop of the tour we did was a nice nature restaurant with typical food. It’s called Bugai Rio Celeste Nature & Food and is a bit outside of the touristic paths as it’s a 20-minute drive from the waterfall.

The place is not only worth the drive for the food, but also for the heavenly swimming spot located just next to it. After your lunch, follow the path at the right of the restaurant and have a well-deserved swim in the refreshing river.

After this day of exploration, you’ll drive back to La Fortuna and relax at your hotel. Depending on the hour, you could also relax in one of your favourite hot springs, before heading to another location on the next day.

Day 4: La Fortuna to Monteverde & Wildlife Night Tour

After spending the 3 first days of your 10 day itinerary in Costa Rica in La Fortuna, it’s time to head for new adventures to Monteverde, another wonderful rainforest. The foggy and mystic atmosphere of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve will conquer your heart right away.

La Fortuna to Monteverde Shuttle

The most common way to go from La Fortuna to Monteverde is to take a shuttle. As the lake Arenal is located on the middle of the journey, all the shuttles are actually a “ jeep boat jeep ” combination. You can book it at the desk of your hotel, or directly with the company Aventuras El Lago for $30 USD.

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : boat on a lake with a volcano in the background

Settle in your accommodation

After arriving in Monteverde, either with a shuttle or your own car, we highly suggest that you go check out your accommodation first. The reason behind it is that most Monteverde hotels are something else. It’s a place where you can sleep in a treehouse or just have a wonderful view of the foggy forest.

Tree House Restaurant

Even if you can’t afford to sleep in a treehouse, no worries. Here’s your chance to visit one! The Tree House Restaurante is in the city centre of Santa Elena, the town near the Monteverde Cloud Forest.

It’s a very untypical restaurant that you absolutely must try. It’s not every day that you can eat surrounded by trees! Their food is delicious as well and the staff is very welcoming and helpful. You should go there quite early as the day is not over just yet…

Monteverde Night Walk

Yes, here’s your first night activity! Monteverde is known to be home to some of the best wildlife of Costa Rica. However, the animals can be difficult to spot during the day. By doing a night tour, you’re almost 100% sure to spot some cool wildlife!

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : flashy green snake in the forest by night

Kinkajou Night Walk offers tours for $28 USD where you can spot all the famous animals that make Costa Rica wildlife so special. Among them, we saw a toucan, sloth, frog, flashy green snake, and many others.

Those tours usually last around 2 hours and they pick you up at your hotel or hostel at 5:40PM, 6:45PM or 8:15PM. You can eat before or after the tour, and they will drop you off at your place after the tour as well. It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Where to sleep in Monteverde?

Cabinas eddy b&b.

Cabinas Eddy B&B was one of our top accommodations of the trip. All bedrooms have large windows overlooking the forest. With its large bed of red sheets, its wooden walls and its breathtaking view of the green forest, the atmosphere of this place is truly mystical.

The manager of the place is super nice and helpful. He will try to answer absolutely all your questions and give the best information about the tours you can do in the area. A private room for two people is around $31 USD, including a homemade breakfast (fruits, banana pancake, eggs…).

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : red bed sheets with two big windows on the green foggy forest

Hostel La Suerte

If you’re travelling on a budget, you can also stay at Hostel La Suerte . It’s well located and has a wonderful view on the forest. A bed in an 8-bed dorm costs $20 USD per person, with a delicious typical costa rican breakfast included.

Day 5: Monteverde Hanging Bridges & Ziplining

Do you like thrills or breathtaking landscapes? This second day in Monteverde is made for you! Have a big breakfast, take your raincoat, mosquito repellent, camera and let the adventure begin.

Monteverde Hanging Bridges

If you didn’t have enough time to do the hanging bridges of La Fortuna, now is your chance! Sky Adventures Monteverde Park , part of the Selvatura Park , is $50 USD per adult, $33 USD per student and $28 USD per child. If you want to book in advance, you can secure your spot here .

It’s more expensive than the hanging bridges at La Fortuna, but Monteverde has the longest suspension bridge in all of Costa Rica. A walk on it offers scenic landscapes and great opportunities to meet animals in the trees.

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : monkey meeting in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

However, if this is too expensive for you, you can simply wander in Monteverde town . Your last option would be to choose a less expensive option by visiting Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve for $21 USD. We were told you can see both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts from the top when it’s not too cloudy.

Monteverde Zip Line

Another famous activity that you can do in Monteverde is ziplining among the trees. Several parks offer this activity, but the less touristy and best one is Canopy Extremo . It costs $50 USD per person and includes a pickup and drop off to your hotel.

After eating a typical lunch at Restaurante Cafeteria Reposteria , start your ziplining adventure at Canopy Extremo Park . You will get to zip 10 lines and try out the famous Tarzan Swing. We recommend to book in advance on their Viator page as it can get pretty busy.

You’ll also do a rappel to get down a tree and climb back up to the top, passing inside a hollow tree. Don’t worry, if you’re too scared to do the swing and rappel, you can skip those parts.

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : girl smiling while ziplining in the forest

Don’t forget to put lots of mosquito repellent on before starting the ziplining tour. Wear long sleeves, pants and try to hide every part of your body, especially your ankles. Mosquitos are absolutely crazy there!

Monteverde Souvenirs Shopping

You can end this adrenaline-filled day by wandering in the streets of Santa Elena. It is the perfect place to buy souvenirs or gifts for your loved ones. If you ever need to withdraw money there, go to the banco nacional. The other ones don’t seem to work very well.

Day 6: Monteverde to Santa Teresa

You’ve already explored two rainforests, now it’s time to get to the coast for some sea, sun & relaxation time! Your legs might be hurting a bit from all the hikes you’ve done in the past five days, but don’t worry; Santa Teresa has everything you need to refuel the batteries and relax.

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : Santa Teresa beach and palm trees

How to go from Monteverde to Santa Teresa?

Monteverde to santa teresa shuttle.

Tropical Tours Shuttles offer daily shuttles departing at 8 AM from Monteverde for $62 USD per person. As for every shuttle in Costa Rica, you’ll need to book it early and it won’t leave if it doesn’t have a minimum of four people.

Monteverde to Santa Teresa by bus

If you don’t want to take a shuttle between every destination, we recommend that you save money for this journey and take the public buses. Many travellers take this road so you won’t be alone, and you can definitely share the journey with new friends. Here’s how to do it.

First, you’ll need to take a bus from Santa Elena to Puntarenas in the early morning. You should go to TransMonteverde, the bus stop, one day before the check the hours as they change frequently. It lasts between 2 and 3 hours depending on the traffic and the ticket costs $2.5 USD (1570 CRC).

Go until the last stop of the bus. From there, you will have to walk 30 minutes to the ferry station or take a cab for $2.4 USD (1500 CRC) that you can share with other backpackers.

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : pink sunrise on the road on the green mountains

Then, buy a ferry ticket from Puntarenas to Paquera for $1.3 USD (810 CRC). It lasts between 1h10 and 1h30. In September 2021, the departures were at 7AM, 10AM, 12:30PM, 3PM and 6PM.

When you arrive, a bus will be waiting at the exit of the ferry to drive you from Paquera to Cobano . It lasts 1h30 and costs $2.4 USD (1500 CRC). Lastly, you’ll take one last bus from Cobano to Santa Teresa for 45 minutes and $1.6 USD (1000 CRC).

It might look like a difficult journey with lots of changes, but it really isn’t that bad. It’s really well indicated, full of other travellers and very safe. This whole journey costs $8 USD and you save a lot of money!

Santa Teresa sunset

After surviving this long journey and dropping your bags at your hostel, you should head straight to the beach in time for sunset. Take a cocktail at Nantipa Beach Bar and witness a sunset of a lifetime on the beach in your hammock.

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : sunset on the beach and ocean

Where to stay in Santa Teresa?

Santa Teresa really is all about hostel life and it’s difficult to find a private room for a decent price. However, those three hostels really deliver wonderful amenities and atmospheres.

Salty Enthusiastics

Salty Enthusiastics is the homiest hostel you can find in Santa Teresa. The cute typical houses only have one big female dorm with 7 double beds. Yes, you read that right, you could have a whole double bed to yourself in a hostel!

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : cool hostel with hammocks, chairs, palm trees

Your bed area is also big enough for you to put your big backpack and other stuff in here and there are curtains all around it for more intimacy. The vibe is very chill and there are shared areas to chill and to cook with other guests.

Lost Boiz is quite famous in the area because many worldwide travellers stay there. It has a nice bar, restaurant, and small pool. If you’d like to party or just to meet people, this is ideal.

Selina Santa Teresa North

Here we go again! After Selina La Fortuna, let us introduce you to Selina Santa Teresa North . This pink building is perfectly located, near cool restaurants, shops and bars. It has a nice pool and garden, as well as all the things we already liked about Selina: a bar, restaurant, many activities…

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : pink hostel with a blue swimming pool

Day 7: Santa Teresa beaches or surf

Now that you’re in Santa Teresa, know that this is the perfect town to chill, do nothing and have no plans! However, if you’re bored, here are some activity ideas and nice restaurants.

Santa Teresa surf

Santa Teresa has perfect waves all year long. It’s ideal for intermediate surfers, but it can be a great playground for beginners and confirmed surfers as well. Furthermore, it’s a pretty hidden spot for now so you will be away from the crowds.

You can surf at Playa Hermosa, Playa Santa Teresa or Playa Carmen. If you’re an intermediate or confirmed surfer, you can rent a board for $10/15 USD per day. For beginners, we advise that you take a surf lesson as the waves can get pretty dangerous when we don’t know them. The standard lesson in a group is $49 USD.

The Bakery Santa Teresa

After a good surf session, head to the Bakery at the very beginning of Santa Teresa (from where you arrived). This place serves really good local food and has awesome decoration. If you need cash, take the opportunity to withdraw some because the only two ATMs of Santa Teresa are located there.

Go to the Beach

We warmed you, Santa Teresa is all about chilling on the beach! Enjoy the sun on Playa Santa Teresa or Playa Hermosa. We heard Playa Hermosa is the best for sunsets. If your hostel is too far from it, you could for instance rent a bike to get there.

Day 8: Santa Teresa relaxation

Here we go, a second day of doing nothing and just relaxing in Santa Teresa. This time, you can do a yoga session of your choice and improve your tan and write postcards to your loved ones.

Santa Teresa Yoga

You can find yoga lessons multiple times a day in lots of hostels, like Don Jons or Casa Zen. Usually, these are at around 9AM or 6PM, last one hour and cost $10 USD. Just go to any hostel and ask if they have yoga lessons. Santa Teresa is also a great place to do yoga, or even acro yoga on the beach!

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : acro yoga on the beach in Santa Teresa

Enjoy the Beach

Put your swimming suit on, take a beach towel, sunscreen, and a good book. Now you have the perfect kit to lizard on the beach all afternoon. Don’t forget to hydrate yourself a lot and put sunscreen on because Santa Teresa’s sun can be cruel with the clouds.

End the day off with one of the best places to eat in Santa Teresa : Eat Street. It is a place where 3 or 4 food trucks are gathered with tables in the middle to offer all types of cuisine and satisfy everyone. Many travellers gather here in the evening to have a joyous feast.

Day 9: Day Trip to Montezuma

After 3 days in Santa Teresa, you might’ve heard of its neighbour, Montezuma. On this 9 th day of your Costa Rica 10 day itinerary, you wouldn’t say no to a new waterfall chasing adventure, right?

How to get from Santa Teresa to Montezuma?

Only 16 km away, Montezuma is approximately a 30-minute drive from Santa Teresa. If you have your own rental car, you can easily drive there for a day or even half day trip. If you don’t have your own car, you can either take a cab for $20 USD or take the direct bus which leaves 4 times a day.

Montezuma Waterfall

The Montezuma waterfalls are actually a set of 3 waterfalls from different sizes that you can only access by riverside hiking trails. All along the way, you’ll have plunge pools and scenic views.

Montezuma Top Waterfall

The Top Waterfall is the smallest of the three and is about 5 meters tall. However, this is the best one to swim in because of how deep the natural pool is. If you dare, you can also jump in it from the rock or with the rope swing. We love a good Tarzan style jump!

Montezuma Middle Waterfall

To see the Middle Waterfall, you will have to swim in the pool of the Top Waterfall. Then, a 12 meters waterfall drop will magically appear. This one is already stunning from below so there’s no real need to walk on the incredibly slippery steps to see it from below. Please also note that it’s very dangerous to jump from the top of it!

Montezuma Lower Waterfall

Last but not least, the Lower Waterfall is the biggest one with a 25-meter drop. You can have a refreshing swim in this incredible place, but again, this is not recommended to jump from this one.

After this cool waterfall adventure, head back to Santa Teresa for a last night of partying, eating good food or just chilling with friends.

Day 10: Head back to San Jose or Liberia

Time passed by and the 10 th day of your Costa Rica road trip has already arrived. It’s time to head back to San Jose or Liberia, where your return flight departures from. However, it’s not over just yet!

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : city view with palm trees and a moutain in the background

If you still have one day left because you want to head back to the capital in advance to make sure you catch your flight, or just did the itinerary differently, we have a few surprises for you.

How to get from Santa Teresa to San Jose?

If you don’t have a car, this journey ain’t the easiest one. There’s no direct bus from Santa Teresa to San Jose and it’s very difficult to find accurate information about the different buses and ferries to take.

We were told you have to go in the main street of Santa Teresa (the only one) at 6 AM and wave to the bus for it to take you to Cobano. From there, you’d catch another bus to Paquera to take the Paquera – Puntarenas ferry.

As of September 2021, the departures are at 6 AM, 10 AM, 12:30 PM, 3 PM and 5PM.Then, ask if there’s a direct bus to San Jose or what is the most rapid way to get there.

If you don’t feel like trying the public transport once again, Tropical Tours Shuttles have daily shuttles leaving at 7:30 AM for $41 USD. Try to book it directly on their website a few days before instead of asking your hotel to do it for you not to pay the commission (around $10 USD).

Day trips from San Jose

Here are 3 day trips that you can take by yourself or with a tour from San Jose to have one last costa rican adventure. Those three are very different to fit all kinds of profiles!

Irazu Volcano

Irazu Volcano is an active volcano located in the countryside of the capital, near Cartago and the Orosi Valley. The trail is around 1.3 mile (2 km) and leads you to an impressive volcano crater. However, be aware that the green lake dried up.

Irazu Volcano National Park is open every day and the entrance fee is $15 USD per adult and $5 USD per child from 2 to 12 years old. To get there, you’ll need to drive 1h10 to 1h30 depending on the traffic, or take the daily direct bus from San Jose which costs $4 USD.

🌋 If you don’t have a car, here’s a half day Irazú Volcano National Park tour that includes private transportation from San Jose, an hike to the crater and a visit to the most important church of Costa Rica. It costs $99 USD but is so worth it.

Termales Hacienda Orosi

Hacienda Orosi is one of the best hot springs in Costa Rica . It is a complex of hot water pools built with small rocks, in the middle of a beautiful green valley.

It truly is the perfect place to relax and disconnect from the world one last time in a wonderful nature setting.

You can get there within two hours by two different buses that won’t cost you more than $8 USD. The entrance of the Termales Hacienda Orosi is $35 USD, and the site is open from 9 AM to 5 PM.

Ujarras Ruins

Costa Rica ancient ruins are usually not included in the majority of the tourist circuits. And that’s a shame! Among many other ruins, Ujarras Ruins is one of the oldest archaeological sites of the country. Located in the Orosi Valley, they are reachable by a one hour and a half ride from San José.

Rio Blanco Waterfall

If you didn’t see enough waterfalls yet, here’s your chance to spot a spectacular one. Rio Blanco is located in Guapiles and is not a very touristy site, due to the river crossing to get there.

The hike itself is doable if you don’t mind getting wet and stay careful. The length of the trail is 5 miles (9 km), which will take you between 4 and 6 hours. But as we say, the journey is sometimes as pleasant as the destination.

When you get there, you’ll not only see a majestic waterfall but also a huge cave next to it. This place is a real playground for photographers and nature lovers, even if it is difficult to reach without getting wet.

You must go with a local guide as the trail is quite long and having a good knowledge of the area is important. It’s a one hour and forty minutes drive from San Jose.

San Jose downtown to San Jose Airport

To get to the airport from San Jose downtown, the regular taxis charge around $25 USD while uber drivers only take $10 USD. If you’re not in a hurry, you can also take a bus to Alajuela and then another bus to Juan Santamaria International airport.

Costa Rica Travel Tips

Are 10 days in costa rica enough.

You won’t be able to see all the interesting spots of Costa Rica in 10 days , but you’ll still get a very good glimpse of it. During your Costa Rica 10 day itinerary, you’ll be able to visit at least 3 spots. You can choose between volcanoes, rainforests, waterfalls, beaches… Or choose locations with all those wonderful natural things.

If you’re a hike lover, you can head to one of the volcano/rainforest areas, such as La Fortuna, Monteverde or Rincón de la Vieja National Park . This last one is less known, and you’ll be able to see small active volcano fumaroles with your own eyes!

Lastly, if your goal is to see cool wildlife, the best place to go is Manuel Antonio National Park. If you’re lucky, you can spot wild howler monkeys, scarlet macaws, geckos…

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : white sand Santa Teresa beach

If you’re a beach lover, you can visit Tamarindo, Samara, Santa Teresa, or Jaco on the Pacific Coast, or Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast. The beaches on the Caribbean coast have clear water while the ones on the Pacific coast are better to surf.

Best Time to Visit Costa Rica

Costa Rica has two seasons: the dry season and rain season. The best time to visit Costa Rica is during the dry season, from December to April. You can also visit during the green season, from May to June. It is the transitional phase between the two seasons, when the rains make the forest bloom.

Lots of people travel to Costa Rica in July or August, as it’s a holiday period for many. It’s during the rainy season but it’s doable. It’s all down to luck! Note that the rainiest months are September and October.

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : foggy view on the forest from a big window with red curtains

Is Costa Rica expensive?

Yes, Costa Rica is an expensive country to visit. Most people don’t expect to spend this much money in Costa Rica as it doesn’t match the standards of other central american countries.

The most expensive thing in Costa Rica are tours, because if you don’t have a car, you must visit everything with a tour.

But of course, you can still visit Costa Rica on a budget , with a backpacking style. You can always stay in hostels, which cost around $10 to $20 USD per night in high season. Then, eat at the local restaurants like SODA for the cheapest food, and take the local buses all the time.

10 days in Costa Rica Budget

This Costa Rica 10 day itinerary cost $900 USD per person, mixing hostels and hotels, tours and self-guided visits, as well as shuttles and local buses. To break it down a bit more, $217 on transportation, $230 on tours and activities, $285 on accommodation booked at the last minute and $164 USD on food.

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : powerful waterfall

Travel Insurance Costa Rica

If you’re travelling in times of COVID 19, you’ll need to buy travel insurance for the duration of your stay. In August 2021, it had to include a coverage for medical expenses for covid-19 infection of at least $50000, as well as a minimum coverage of $2000 for accommodation costs in the event of covid-19 infection, trip cancellation and quarantine.

So yes, it’s not easy to find! You should call a well-known travel insurance company in your country and ask them. In France, Assur Travel offers deals that include all the Costa Rica criteria. For a trip to Costa Rica for 13 days, it costs $56 USD. If you ever need to use it, be aware that you should call them before getting into any medical assistance.

Outlets in Costa Rica

Costa Rican power sockets provide a voltage of 110 to 120V and a standard frequency of 60Hz. This is the same voltage as in the United States. However, if you come from Europe for instance, you’ll need an adaptor. It costs around $10 USD.

Money in Costa Rica

That’s always a big question when travelling… Should you pay by card or cash abroad? Well, it all depends on your bank rates! Ask them the rate when withdrawing money or paying in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary : bank notes from many different countries. Photo @ Jason Leung.

In addition to that, we recommend always having cash on you in case you need to take a taxi or pay in a place where they don’t accept the card. The official money in Costa Rica is Colón. They also accept dollars pretty much everywhere.

However, if you don’t come from the United-States, you should withdraw only colones to make sure you can pay everywhere. Do that unless the exchange rate between your money and dollars is much more advantageous than with the colones of course.

Costa Rica packing list

Costa Rica packing list obviously depends on the season when you’re travelling, but here are the most important items that you should bring at all times in case.

  • Passport, PCR test or vaccine certificate, Salud Pass
  • Electronic devices and chargers
  • Summer clothes + raincoat (no, you CAN’T pass this one, especially during rainy season), pullover, big socks, one jean, legging, sport outfit, sneakers and shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty
  • Swimming suit, beach towel and flip flops
  • Toilet bag, shower towel, medicines (including bandages and disinfectant because you will be doing a lot of hiking) and mosquito repellent
  • Snacks and chewing gums for when you won’t get back to your hotel to brush your teeth

Can you drink tap water in Costa Rica?

Yes, it is safe to drink tap water in Costa Rica in the majority of the country. However, ordering a LARQ reusable water bottle could be a great idea while traveling to Costa Rica to drink 100% clean water at all times.

LARQ uses a UV-C light technology that purify water every 30 minutes. It guarantees a clean bottle and access to water at all times, which is a must when visiting a new country.

How to plan a trip to Costa Rica for 10 days: the Wrap Up

As this article is quite long, we summed up the essentials that you must do in this order before leaving for your trip. Here are all the things to do before your Costa Rica trip:

  • Select your favourite Costa Rica spots (because unless you’re staying at least one month, you won’t be able to do it all)
  • Prepare your Costa Rica itinerary
  • Book your flights and accommodation
  • Buy a travel insurance
  • Check if the electrical outlets are the same as those in your country
  • Pack and withdraw a bit of money
  • Buy a local SIM card and a mosquito repellent
  • Board on the plane and have the time of your life

If you’ve made it this far in this Costa Rica 10 day itinerary and guide, it means you’re 100% ready to go! Whether you’re travelling in a group or solo travelling, you’ll have the trip of a lifetime on the land of rainforests. If you’re not sure you can afford the trip yet, check out the 34 ways to travel the world with no money .

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Driving In Costa Rica: Distance And Duration Of Popular Routes

Home » Transportation In Costa Rica » Driving In Costa Rica: Distance And Duration Of Popular Routes

Driving In Costa Rica: Distance And Duration Of Popular Routes

Last updated on July 11th, 2024 at 09:57 am

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Written by Nikki Solano

Get the Costa Rica info you need by browsing our article's TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Why predetermining drive distance and duration in Costa Rica matters

Important notes about our approximate travel times, driving from san jose (the capital city), driving from alajuela, driving from atenas, driving from cahuita, driving from cartago, driving from coco (playas del coco), driving from dominical, driving from flamingo (playa flamingo), driving from golfito, driving from grande (playa grande), driving from hermosa (playa hermosa), driving from jaco, driving from la fortuna / arenal, driving from liberia, driving from limon, driving from manuel antonio / quepos, driving from manzanillo, driving from monteverde / santa elena, driving from montezuma, driving from nosara, driving from the papagayo peninsula, driving from puerto jimenez, driving from puerto viejo de sarapiqui / sarapiqui, driving from puerto viejo de talamanca / puerto viejo, driving from puntarenas, driving from samara, driving from san gerardo de dota, driving from san isidro de el general, driving from san ramon, driving from santa teresa / malpais, driving from siquirres (pacuare river rafting tours), driving from tamarindo, driving from tambor, driving from tortuguero, driving from turrialba, driving from uvita.

Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge

Costa Rica’s diminutive size can be deceiving. Though tiny, you’ll find no shortage of mountains, volcanoes, rivers, valleys, canyons, and cliffside communities here, plus plenty more obstacles for roads and highways to weave around. Rarely are drives conducted on straightaways, which means destinations that appear close to one another on a map may actually be tens or hundreds of kilometers apart (note that Costa Rica uses the metric system). For this reason, trips almost always take longer than you’d expect them to , and that’s not even factoring in potential delays caused by rough road conditions, poor weather, protests or celebratory parades, road construction, and other time-consuming encounters.

While you may not be able to narrow down exact arrival times, it’s important to obtain an approximate duration for each route you intend to travel while in Costa Rica . This information will help you best prepare for your trip. Knowing roughly how many kilometers and how much time separate the destinations you intend to visit can help you determine the following:

  • When you’ll likely need to stop for gasoline
  • When you’ll likely need to stop to stretch or use the bathroom
  • When you may need to stop to eat food along a route (assuming you drive over the lunch hour or the dinner hour)
  • The latest time of day that you should set out on any route in order to ensure you arrive at a destination before dark (6pm; driving after this time is not recommended)
  • Plans for hotel check-ins and check-outs
  • Whether you’ll have enough time in the morning (before setting out on a route) or in the afternoon (after completing a route) to participate in a tour or activity

The average drive times listed below are estimates based on our own travels around Costa Rica. This being said, the duration of Costa Rica routes can be influenced by many factors, so it’s best to assume that your driving experience may be different than ours .

For routes cited below to take less than an hour, give yourself an extra 15 minutes when scheduling your trip. For example, if we suggest that a route takes 45 minutes to drive, assume you’ll arrive at your destination in no less than 30 minutes but likely no more than 1 hour. For routes that take between 1-3 hours to drive, give yourself an extra 30 minutes of buffer time, and for routes that take more than 3 hours to drive, extend that window to 45 minutes to 1 hour.

The average drive times listed below are for travel via direct (non-collective) ground transportation, ideally routes driven in a rental car. Routes traveled via shared shuttle service, private transfer service, and public transportation (i.e., local buses) may take more or less time than our approximations. Domestic flights, which are an alternative form of domestic travel in Costa Rica (see our related blog post Costa Rica Transportation: 15 Ways To Get Around Costa Rica for more transportation options), may also take more or less time than our approximations.

Note that each list below begins with San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital city . Following San Jose, destinations are listed in alphabetical order .

Highway help

If you’re interested in learning about the highways mentioned in our charts, including highway conditions, traffic, tolls, river crossings, 4×4-vehicle requirements, and more, please see the links directly below. Note that clicking on one of the highway links below will open our related blog post Costa Rica Highway Conditions By Route in a new window.

Highway 1 / Highway 2 / Highway 3 / Highway 4 / Highway 6 / Highway 10 / Highway 14 / Highway 17 / Highway 18 / Highway 21 / Highway 27 / Highway 32 / Highway 34 / Highway 36 / Highway 39

Playa Hermosa on the northern Pacific / Guanacaste coast (not Playa Hermosa along the central Pacific coast)

Do you have questions about driving in Costa Rica, want to know the estimated drive times for routes not covered above, or need help deciding where you should make stops along vacation? No problem! When you’re ready, make an appointment here to communicate with me (Nikki) privately and we can discuss these and other topics to get your questions answered fast and your Costa Rica trip poised for success. Pura vida, amigos! 🙂

best travel route costa rica

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Driving In Costa Rica: Distance And Duration Of Popular Routes

Tagged:  costa rica , costa rica travel , costa rica travel tips , driving , tourism , transportation , travel , travel tips

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The comment section of this article has moved! If you have a question or comment about our article above or Costa Rica travel in general, please post it in our Questions and Answers Forum on DIY Costa Rica , our sister website, where you can also access our private Costa Rica recommendations, our Costa Rica Destination Tool, and our Costa Rica Recommendations Map. See you there, amigos! 🙂

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Great information. Thanks for your effort.

Thanks for your visit, Ahs Coach! 🙂

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I’m wondering if you have driving estimates to the Caribbean coast, particularly Puerto Viejo from Manuel Antonio. I’d also like to know if there are resources related to the Caribbean side. Thanks!

Hi Kathleen B Huddle!

Absolutely! The article above includes drive times to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca; here’s a link to the exact place where you can find the info: https://costaricatravelblog.com/costa-rica-driving-distance-duration-for-popular-routes/

We don’t provide drive times between Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and Manuel Antonio because this particular route is a long one that most travelers don’t make, especially in one day. That being said, if you’d like to do it, the drive will be roughly 8 hours, depending on the time of day you make the trip.

As for resources for the Caribbean side of the country, we certainly have these! Since you plan to visit Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, you may want to start with our Puerto Viejo city guide: Must-Know Info About Puerto Viejo Costa Rica And The Southern Caribbean Coast . Additionally, other articles about the Puerto Viejo region can be found here: https://costaricatravelblog.com/category/where-to-go-in-costa-rica/puerto-viejo-de-talamanca/

Pura vida! 🙂

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Hi Nikki! Love subscribing to Pura Vida, eh?

Going to drive from Monteverde/Santa Elena to rafting on Rio Tenorio (self drive and will buy those Tkts through your discount link). Can you tell me driving route and duration for that? After rafting, where should we stay? La Carolina Lodge??

Heading to Playa Potrero the next day. Is Rio Celeste and or Llanos de Cortes on my way, or would I be backtracking?

Also, during week stay at Playa Potrero would liketo rent a boat for a half or full day. The captain can take us out to all kinds of small bays and islands for swimming and snorkeling, including up to the Peninsula de Papagayo. Any boat you’d recommend?

Hey Christopher!

Thanks so much for all of the love! We truly appreciate your interest and preference. 🙂

For the driving route between Monteverde/Santa Elena and Canas (the town nearest to the Tenorio River Rafting Tour meeting place), you have a few options but the most common is to take Road 606 out of downtown Monteverde (Santa Elena center) to the north and follow it all the way until it ends at Road 145. Turn right onto Road 145 and follow it all the way to the town of Tilaran. On the north side of Tilaran, the road forks and you’ll need to veer to the left. After you veer left, you’ll be on Road 142, which will lead you to the town of Canas where you can connect with Costa Rica’s main highway, Highway 1. From there, it’s a short drive up the highway (north) to the rafting tour meeting place. The entire drive takes about 1.5 hours, save for any potential delays such as traffic or poor weather conditions.

For more information about the roads around Monteverde, don’t miss our related blog post Driving To Monteverde: Photos, Road Conditions, Routes, Drive Times, And More!

As for where you should spend the night (you mentioned La Carolina Lodge near Bijagua), this depends entirely on whether you wish to spend time in the Bijagua region, which is (at minimum) a half-hour drive north of the Tenorio River Rafting Tour meeting place (La Carolina Lodge is closer to an hour’s drive north of the Tenorio River Rafting Tour meeting place). If you plan to explore the Bijagua area for a day or two (i.e., if you wish to explore Rio Celeste, which is inside the Tenorio Volcano National Park, or other Bijagua-area attractions), you can certainly head up to the Bijagua region after your rafting tour and spend the night (or a few nights) there. If you don’t plan to spend time exploring Bijagua, though, I’d recommend skipping the drive all the way up there simply to spend one night because you’ll backtrack along the same route the next day when you move on to Potrero.

If you opt not to explore the Bijagua region, and assuming you’re not too tired after rafting, I’d recommend heading to Potrero that same day. The rafting tour typically wraps up in the early afternoon, and since it’s a little less than a two-hour drive from the rafting tour’s meeting place to Potrero, you can complete that drive well before dark.

For the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall, this will be on your way while you travel to Potrero. It’s about a 20-minute drive up the highway from the Tenorio River Rafting Tour meeting place. If you opt to travel up to the Bijagua region to spend a night there after your rafting tour, the drive to the waterfall from Bijagua will take about an hour (or longer, depending on which exact hotel you stay at).

For boat rentals, unfortunately, I don’t have any recommendations for operators based in Potrero but we like Marlin del Rey, who have boats in Tamarindo and Playas del Coco. (They typically offer pick-ups at beach destinations along the coast.) They offer boat charters, but I’m not entirely sure what they offer in terms of custom itineraries to set sites.

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Getting around in Costa Rica

Mara Vorhees

Jul 3, 2024 • 6 min read

Dominical, Costa Rica - An aerial view of a car driving along a dirt road surrounded by water on either side.  © Jordan Siemens / Getty Images

Travel by bus, boat, car or airplane to see more of Costa Rica's lush landscapes Jordan Siemens / Getty Images

Costa Rica packs a world of adventure into a relatively small area. Limited infrastructure means that getting around can be a challenge, but it's also one of the reasons that  Costa Rica  continues to be a wild and wonderful place to explore.

Once you've decided when to go to Costa Rica , you'll need to plan how you're going to get around, carefully considering your budget, your time frame, and your preference for independence. Then, it’s time to embrace the journey and be on your way.

Many people mill around and wait to board the buses parked up at the Gran Terminal del Caribe bus station San José, Costa Rica

Stretch your budget by taking the bus

You can get (almost) anywhere in Costa Rica by bus, as long as you are not in a hurry. And it doesn’t cost much: fares range from US$2 to $20, depending on the distance. The regional bus network is a great transportation option for budget travelers who have time to spare. 

Regional bus lines are run by private companies that often operate out of different bus terminals. That means there’s no centralized source of information, which can be extremely confusing. Useful websites include Visit Costa Rica , The Bus Schedule and Yo Viajo . The schedules change often, though, so the bus terminals are always the most reliable source of scheduling and pricing information.

Tips for taking the bus: When possible, opt for directo over collectivo buses, as the latter stop frequently and take much longer.

Checked bags are generally safe, but keep a close eye on anything you store in the overhead racks, as theft is common.

Ride in comfort on a tourist shuttle

Several companies offer dedicated tourist shuttle services to and from the most popular travel destinations . They’re generally faster and more comfortable, but cost more than regional buses. 

Tourist shuttles are also easier to use, as they have fixed schedules, online booking and door-to-door service in many places. The main companies are EasyRide , Interbus , Monkey Ride and Tropical Tours . Fares range from $50 to $120, depending on the distance.

A man crouches down by the open door of a white camper van; four children are inside

Rent a vehicle for maximum flexibility

There are undeniable drawbacks to renting a vehicle, most notably the expense; but the truth is there are so many places you can’t reach without one. In fact, many of those places require a 4WD vehicle due to poor road conditions and the occasional river crossing. So, if you’re going to spring for a rental, you might as well spring for the 4WD. 

Many major international rental companies have outlets near the San José and Liberia airports, but you’ll often get a better rate through a local agency like Solid , Adobe or Vamos Car Rental .

Costa Rican liability insurance is mandatory for all vehicle rentals. This is a legally required addition to your rental policy. Liability insurance only covers damage to other people and their car or property. 

Most rental agencies require an insurance package that protects the rental vehicle as well. You may be able to avoid buying this from the rental company if you use a credit card that provides comprehensive insurance, but you will still need to purchase the basic liability package.

FAQs about driving in Costa Rica

Do i need a 4wd vehicle .

Maybe, maybe not. You can get to many places in Costa Rica without a 4WD vehicle. But if you’re renting a vehicle because you want to explore off-the-beaten-track destinations , you’re probably going to want 4WD.

Even if you know you can get to a certain town or a certain hotel, you might not be able to reach that hidden beach or trailhead without the extra oomph of 4WD.

A tree-lined road with a diamond-shaped, yellow sign cautioning motorists to slow down for children and wildlife

Is driving in Costa Rica dangerous?

Driving in Costa Rica can be unpredictable because of poor road conditions and other hazards. 

  • Avoid driving at night whenever possible. Driving after dark can be extremely hazardous due to lack of lighting and poor visibility.
  • Be aware of poor road conditions, blind curves and minimal shoulders. Also watch for stopped cars, animals and people on the road. Drive defensively and don’t rush.
  • On two-lane highways, watch for narrow bridges that accommodate only one car at a time. When you see “ Ceda al paso”  on road signs it means you must yield to the oncoming car.
  • Always drive at or below the speed limit, even though cars around you will not.

How do I find my way around Costa Rica?

Both Waze and Google Maps provide reliable navigation. However, be sure to download your routes and maps before you set out, because you’re likely to lose your reception in rural or mountainous areas. Alternatively, rent a wi-fi stick with your vehicle to stay connected.

An aerial view of a ferry docked at Paquera. The water is calm and the shore is heavily forested

Float on a boat to reach Costa Rica’s most remote places

Some of the most wonderful destinations in Costa Rica are difficult – or even impossible – to reach overland. This might just call for a boat ride, which is a pleasant way to travel thanks to cool breezes, interesting scenery and the occasional wildlife sighting along the way.

You can drive to Península de Nicoya , but if you’re headed to the southern tip, consider taking a ferry from Puntarenas to Playa Naranjo (Coonatramar) or Paquera (Naviera Tambor). There’s also a water shuttle that makes the one-hour trip between Jacó and Montezuma , which is the fastest way to travel to and from this corner of the country.

Boats also make the scenic one-hour journey through the rich wetlands between Sierpe and Bahía Drake. Many area lodges include this transportation in their packages. Otherwise you can take the public boat, which runs twice a day in both directions. On the other side of the peninsula, a ferry travels between Golfito and Puerto Jiménez in about 30 minutes.

On the Caribbean side, if you’re not flying, a boat is required to reach Tortuguero , either 1½ hours from La Pavona (departing throughout the day) or three hours from Moín, near Limón (departing in the mornings only). 

A Cessna airplane is standing on an airstrip amid a tropical landscape with rainforest in the background

Take a domestic flight to cover greater distances 

Several domestic airlines including Sansa  (the national airline) and  Green Airways  offer affordable internal flights to popular tourist destinations on small passenger planes. Most of these originate in San José , connecting to destinations such as Bahía Drake, La Fortuna , Liberia , Nosara, Puerto Jiménez, Puerto Limón, Quepos (Manuel Antonio), Tambor and Tortuguero. Internal flights are a practical choice if you want to cover lots of ground when you have limited time. Nevertheless, it's worth considering other transportation options – as well as the environmental cost of flying – before hopping on a plane.

Accessible transportation in Costa Rica 

In recent years, Costa Rica has made some major improvements for disabled travelers, especially at national parks and in the hospitality industry. However, travelers with disabilities will still find it challenging to get around.

Il Viaggio is a travel agency that specializes in custom tours for travelers with mobility requirements and other special needs. If you prefer to go it alone, be sure to do your research and keep in mind the following:

  • City buses in San José are wheelchair accessible and most taxis can accommodate a folding wheelchair in their trunk.
  • Some – but not all – tourist shuttle vans have a wheelchair lift, so inquire about specifics before booking.
  • National airline Sansa can accommodate foldable wheelchairs on domestic flights. However, passengers must be able to board and disembark by themselves.

This article was first published Apr 29, 2021 and updated Jul 3, 2024.

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20 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Costa Rica

01/14/2024 by Emily Becker 10 Comments

This post was written by Emily Becker, a Costa Rica–based freelance writer for BMTM.

Costa Rica is a nature-lover’s paradise. With so many opportunities to hike, zip-line, kayak, and partake in all kinds of outdoor activities, it’s no surprise that ecotourism is so mainstream here. Some travelers are drawn to Costa Rica for the pristine beaches, perfect for relaxing the day away; others are in it for the adrenaline-pumping activities, like white-water rafting. The beauty of this country is that you can do both!

But after over a year of living here and traveling extensively in the country, I realized there were a few things I wish I had known before my first visit in 2022.

These are some tidbits of information, pieces of advice, and general things to know before you travel to Costa Rica, so you can have an awesome time and hopefully not repeat my mistakes and faux pas:

Table of Contents

1. Costa Rica can be very expensive.

Costa Rica travel tips

I anticipated this before my trip, but I was surprised at how expensive it was to travel through Costa Rica, even with prior knowledge that it was pricier than other Latin American countries. Especially in tourist hot spots like Manuel Antonio and La Fortuna , the cost of accommodation , food, and activities was comparable to some cities in the US. It’s pretty tough to find free things to do in Costa Rica, and entrance fees for the national parks start around $15 per day; tours start at $60.

Not all hope is lost for backpackers and budget travelers, though. There are plenty of affordable hostels in Costa Rica, many of which include breakfast and have less expensive tour options. My money-saving advice is to choose affordable lodging but splurge on activities. After all, you’ll likely be spending most of your time outside of your hotel having a blast outdoors anyway!

2. For cheap eats, go to the sodas .

One way to save money while traveling through Costa Rica is to dine in the sodas , i.e., mom-and-pop restaurants. These are always clearly marked as such, and serve up hearty meals that capture the essence of daily Costa Rican cuisine. The most typical plate is called a casado , which includes the traditional gallo pinto (rice and black beans), with some kind of meat or fish and a salad. These usually cost around 4,000-6,000 colones ($8-12 USD) and are filling.

To save money on food, you can also choose a hostel or hotel that includes breakfast and then go to sodas for lunch. Considering that entrees at restaurants in touristy areas can cost $12-20, sodas are a bargain.

-READ NEXT-

How Much Does a Costa Rica Trip Cost?

3. The weather can change in an instant.

Costa Rica travel tips

Sometimes, I still can’t believe how sunny skies can turn into a complete downpour in the blink of an eye. Flash rainstorms are common, especially if you plan to visit Costa Rica during the wet season (May to November). However, this doesn’t have to put a damper on your trip.

Go to Costa Rica prepared for heavy rain, mud, and hot and cold weather. Have at least one pair of waterproof shoes, a rain shell, a waterproof bag, and layers for chilly weather if you go somewhere like Monteverde, where the higher altitude means colder temps. If you plan to spend the day in nature at a national park, always bring your rain gear with you, even if it doesn’t look like it will rain.

4. Renting a car is the way to go…

Having a car can be a game changer in Costa Rica. Many of the places I wanted to visit were either too far (and expensive) to get to via taxis, or there was no public transport available. I met a local in Uvita who told me that having a car isn’t just a luxury, it’s a necessity.

If you want to get to a place before the tour crowds arrive, having a car is the only way to do it. For example, when I visited the La Fortuna waterfall on a tour, I didn’t have the freedom of choosing when to visit, and there were already many people there. We also encountered rain when we arrived, which I could have avoided if I had had a car.

The big downside of renting a car in Costa Rica is the price. I found out that rates start at $80/day. Booking online is a gamble, too, as often tourists are given a much higher rate when they pick up the car than what they were quoted. A rule of thumb: if the quote is less than $80/day, there’s a good chance that there will be hidden fees you’ll have to pay when picking it up.

If you decide to rent a car, do not skimp on insurance. After living here for over a year with my own vehicle, I’ve learned that accidents are prevalent and that driving here can be risky.

5. …but public transportation can be cheap and easy.

Costa Rica travel tips

If you’re alone and traveling on a budget, relying on public transportation to get from place to place in Costa Rica is a great choice most of the time. Although renting a car allows for more flexibility for where you go and when, public transportation is totally doable between cities. Plus, it’s incredibly cheap and easy to navigate.

If you’re starting your journey in San José , you can easily hop on a bus to any of the major touristy areas in the country. For example, to get to Uvita on the Pacific coast, it only cost me about $7 USD, and the 7:30am bus arrived there around 11am, ahead of schedule. However, once I got to Uvita, it was challenging to get from place to place via public transportation, hence why I got stranded at Playa Ventanas ( read about that here ).

Plus, if you get somewhere like La Fortuna, where many of the main attractions are hard to reach without taking a tour, you can rent a car for just a couple of days. I wish I had known this beforehand, as it would have improved my experience there.

6. The national parks are fantastic.

Costa Rica travel tips

Being from the States, I have been spoiled all my life with amazing national parks. Let’s just say, the bar is pretty high. However, Costa Rica’s blew me away with their preservation, accessibility, and overall beauty. From the wild trails through Manuel Antonio to the waterfall in Tenorio Volcano and the Amazon-like canals of Tortuguero, these places are astounding.

Since Costa Rica is home to 6% of the world’s biodiversity, it’s no surprise that the parks are bursting with life. Even though I knew this, it never ceased to amaze me when I saw it with my own eyes.

Since my first trip to Costa Rica in 2022, I have visited Cahuita National Park, Irazú National Park (the Prussia section), and many others. I recommend stopping in any and all parks that are close to your route, as each of them has something different to offer, due to Costa Rica’s numerous microclimates.

7. There are wild animals nearly everywhere.

Costa Rica travel tips

Speaking of Costa Rica’s impressive biodiversity, national parks aren’t the only places to find wild animals. From mischievous monkeys to roadside sloths and the occasional shower-drain scorpion, there seem to be wild animals everywhere here.

I wish I had known how common critters are inside accommodations. After finding a couple of them in my bag, I realized that I needed to keep it zipped at all times. Luckily, I wasn’t stung or bitten by anything, but there were a couple of close calls.

8. …but if you want to see them, hire a guide.

While wild animals are plentiful here, it isn’t always easy to see them without a guide. I’ve been lucky to see sloths on the side of the road and monkeys swinging in the trees outside my hotel window, but if you want to get the most out of the wildlife viewing here, a nature guide is your best bet. Those in Costa Rica are highly trained to spot animals, and they bring binoculars with them to help visitors get the best views.

The difference between when I went to Rio Celeste with a guide and when I went recently without one was huge. The second time around, I thought, “I’ve been here, and I’ve seen so many animals. Of course I’ll see tons this time!” Wrong. The first time I went was far better, because my guide’s expert eye caught sight of animals I would have otherwise missed.

9. The two coasts are very different.

Costa Rica travel tips

Since I have visited both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, I’ve seen how diverse such a small country can be.

For one, the beaches are very different. The Pacific coast has small coves, with rocky cliffs and waves ideal for surfing. The sand is mostly golden and glistens beautifully when the sun sets. I also noticed that it was much more Americanized and more touristy overall, with more expensive restaurants.

The Caribbean coast, on the other hand, has a larger Afro-Latino population and therefore a different cultural landscape than the west coast. Puerto Viejo, for example, is known for its bolder flavors, impromptu dance parties, and reggae music blasting everywhere. If you are excited to dive into Costa Rican culture, the Caribbean side is an ideal place to do it.

10. Addresses aren’t really a thing.

Even in the largest city, San José, addresses (as we know them) don’t exist in Costa Rica. Even on official documents, Costa Ricans give descriptions of their address instead of a number and a street. For example, somebody might describe their address as “a big white house next to the Catholic church.”

This might not be an issue when you travel to Costa Rica, as most taxi drivers know the main landmarks and hotels. However, if you stay in an Airbnb, it can be difficult to describe its location to a driver. In any event, make sure you have an offline map (I use the app maps.me), so you can show your driver where you want to go.

11. Sometimes, tours really are worth the money.

Costa Rica travel tips

I experienced sticker shock when looking at the prices for some of the tours in Costa Rica. After going on a few, though, I realized that some of them were worth it (while others were not).

I recommend booking through GetYourGuide when you can. The platform gives a detailed description of what is included in the tour and what you can expect in terms of how long it will take, what to bring, where you’ll be going, etc.

If you wait to book your tours until you get to your destination, always make sure to do so at the tour office itself. I talked a bit about this in my Costa Rica safety guide , but basically, there are scammers on the street who try to get tourists to book with them.

Overall, the best experience I had on a tour was in Tortuguero . I booked directly with the guide himself, and his expertise, kindness, and quirkiness were what made the experience worthwhile. Plus, booking directly with the guide meant the tour was much more affordable than if it were with a large company.

You won’t find this kind of direct offer everywhere in Costa Rica, but you can look for mom-and-pop tour companies with a more down-to-earth feel.

12. Prepare yourself for tourist traps.

Beyond the abovementioned tour scams, there are quite a few tourist traps throughout Costa Rica. I find this pretty unsurprising, considering how touristy the country is overall.

One is the expensive shuttle services that are not much faster or more reliable than simply taking a public bus. If you are not renting a car, check out the public transportation options before opting for a shuttle. If you are going from San José to pretty much anywhere in Costa Rica, the bus will likely be just as easy. For other routes, like between La Fortuna and Tortuguero, a shuttle is definitely a great option, because public transportation takes twice as long. I use Rome2Rio to get a general idea of public transportation routes, but keep in mind that that it isn’t always 100% accurate.

Other tourist traps in Costa Rica include hokey restaurants with Americanized menus and astronomical prices, and overpriced souvenir shops, which you’ll likely find at the exit of national parks and ecological reserves.

– READ NEXT-

Is Costa Rica Safe? My Take as a Solo Traveler

13. Get to places as soon as they open.

Costa Rica travel tips

Even during the low season, from May to November, there is a steady stream of tourists in Costa Rica. That means the best places get packed in the late morning and early afternoon. If you are like me and enjoy being in nature without too many other people around, make sure to get to your destination first thing in the morning.

The sun rises around 5am during most of the year in Costa Rica, which meant a lot of very early wake-up calls for me. It was worth it, though! I enjoyed visiting the waterfalls, swimming holes, and jungle paths — and even just walking down the street — at this hour. Going to these places early also meant I could spend more time there, just soaking in the beautiful surroundings without any distractions.

Also keep in mind that tour groups tend to arrive at big attractions around the same time. I noticed that sites would get busy around 9 or 10 in the morning, then clear out around noon, then get busy again around 2 or 3 in the afternoon before the park closed at 4pm. The best time to visit busy spots, like the La Fortuna Waterfall or Manuel Antonio National Park, is right when they open (usually 7am) — or during lunchtime if you don’t mind the scorching sun.

14. Make sure to carry enough cash.

Some smaller and more remote places in Costa Rica, like Tortuguero, for example, don’t have ATMs readily available. Considering that some hotels and hostels charge a 2-5% fee to pay for accommodations with a card, having cash on hand is a good idea. Carrying large amounts of cash can be nerve-wracking, sure, but if you spread it out among multiple bags and pockets, you lessen the risk of losing it all in one go.

Also, try to have colones (the local currency) instead of dollars when possible. Although Costa Rica uses dollars, some small restaurants and shops prefer that patrons pay in colones. The value of the dollar has also been steadily decreasing since I moved here in February 2023.

15. San José is worth a couple of days.

Costa Rica travel tips

Too many travelers pass up the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Costa Rica’s capital city, San José . It has a reputation for being a dirty, even dangerous place, with little to do. I disagree with this, and I actually really enjoyed exploring San José at the beginning and end of my trip in 2022. Now, I live just 30 minutes outside of town, and I constantly find new and interesting things to do there.

San José is Costa Rica’s cultural capital. There are beautiful hotels , great museums, a thriving art scene, and some of the country’s best restaurants (like Silvestre!) and bars. I loved visiting the Spirogyra Butterfly Garden, venturing out to the Hacienda La Chimba, and checking out the nearby city of Cartago.

16. Uber is illegal but cheaper than taxis.

In larger cities like San José and even La Fortuna, Uber is available, safer, and even cheaper than taking a taxi. However, it’s technically illegal throughout Costa Rica. It’s common for drivers to ask you to sit in the front seat so as not to raise suspicions that they are driving for Uber. I’ve never had an issue taking Ubers in Costa Rica, though.

Also, considering the point above about addresses, Uber is much easier to use because your driver has your exact location and that of your drop-off point. Otherwise, it can be hard to explain to a taxi driver (especially if you don’t speak Spanish) where you need to go.

17. A little Spanish goes a long way.

Things to Do in San José Costa Rica

I might sound like a broken record on this one, but knowing (at least) a few phrases of Spanish can be a game-changer in Costa Rica. Locals appreciate it when visitors speak Spanish, even if it’s just “hola” or “gracias.” I know my life is significantly easier here because I speak Spanish, and that was also true when I came here for the first time as a backpacker.

If you don’t have any Spanish knowledge before you come, I recommend downloading an offline translator if you need to communicate in a pinch. While many Costa Ricans speak English, there’s no guarantee that your taxi/Uber driver, waiter, etc. will.

18. Costa Rica’s tourism infrastructure is one of the best in the world.

Although having some basic Spanish knowledge is helpful, Costa Rica’s impressive tourism infrastructure makes it one of the easiest places to travel for non-Spanish speakers and first-time international travelers. Companies like Intrepid and G Adventures offer multiday (even multiweek) tours on which everything is meticulously planned. Hotels often offer airport pickup and dropoff, along with many other perks. And nearly 13% of the population works in tourism . That means that there are people willing to help visitors around every corner.

19. Yes, you can drink the tap water.

I lived in Mexico for four years before I moved to Costa Rica, so imagine my surprise (and excitement!) when I learned that you can drink the tap water here. There are exceptions, but there will likely be signs letting you know if you can’t drink it. This is a stellar tip, because you can bring a smaller water bottle with you on hikes or long walks, knowing that there will be places where you can fill it.

20. Tips are usually included in the final price.

In Costa Rica, most restaurants will charge a 10% service fee, which is the same as the tip. If this has been added to your bill, there’s no need to tip. Of course, if you’d like to tip your wait staff, go for it! But it’s certainly not expected.

There are some things that are hard to prepare for before heading to a new place. These tips were all things I either didn’t know or only knew a little bit about before I went for the first time. I hope they help you prepare for your trip, so you can enjoy the magic of Costa Rica.

If you’ve been to Costa Rica, what other helpful tips do you wish you knew before you went?

*Some links in this post are affiliate links for products and services we personally use and love. Any purchase you make through them supports us at no extra cost to you. Thanks so much!

About Emily Becker

Emily Becker is a digital nomad based in Costa Rica. She's been traveling on and off since 2014 and has visited 15 countries—planning to tick many more off her bucket list. In addition to writing for BMTM, she works as a copywriter and project manager.

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cupskill says

08/17/2022 at 12:37 pm

Nice place…….

08/21/2022 at 3:33 pm

Hi Emily: Thanks for these important tips to give us a step up regarding making our Costa Rica trip that much better and how to avoid pitfalls. I have not been to Costa Rica, but one thing that I did not think of doing until you described Costa Rica would be to try the sunrise over the ocean on a Caribbean beach and on the same day see the sunset over the ocean on the Pacific side! Is that doable and/or worth it? 🙂

08/22/2022 at 9:23 am

Hey Gil! Yes, in theory you could drive from one side of the country to the other to see the sunrise & sunset, but I’d guess that it would mean spending the whole day in the car. Maybe not worth it as the sunsets are only vibrant and colorful if the weather conditions are right (ie. not raining). If you try it, let me know how it works out! Sounds like a fun mission. 🙂

RUSTY GREEN says

04/19/2024 at 10:25 pm

WHICH IS THE BEST PLACE TO LIVE COSTA RICA OR PANAMA CANAL.. IM RETIRED MILITARY AND POLICE.. I DO NOT WANT TO LIVE IN THE U.S. IM SOO TIRED OF PAYING MY 2700 DOLLARS HOUSE PAYMENT..AND THE CRIME IS JUST CRAP.. IF YOU HAVE A ANSWER…

Emily Becker says

04/22/2024 at 10:09 am

Hi there! I’ve lived in Costa Rica for about a year (moved in February 2023) and there are a few distinct areas where retirees tend to settle. One is the central valley (near San José, specifically the areas of Santa Ana and Escazú), another is Guanacaste (near Nosara), and another is the mountainous region parallel to the Pacific Coast (Tinamaste). The cost of living here is comparable to some places in the USA, but the quality of life (in my opinion) is much better. Fresh food easily accessible, low crime rates, and stunning nature everywhere in the country. I recommend looking for Facebook groups with retirees in Costa Rica and asking around there. 🙂 Pura vida!

01/31/2023 at 11:32 am

Great info, thank you!

Andrea says

03/10/2023 at 2:06 pm

I am leaving in a week for CR and am solo. I appreciated your articles and found them helpful. Thank you for sharing!!

03/25/2023 at 8:50 am

Thank you for all the tips! I’m traveling with a group of women this October for a woman’s retreat . We will e spending one night in San Juan before heading to our destination (4 hours away)! I’m really thankful for you telling me that Uber is illegal!

03/27/2023 at 3:01 pm

Hi Dee! Uber is technically illegal but it’s totally fine to use in Costa Rica. The driver will just ask you to sit up front. Keep in mind that Uber isn’t widely available and is mostly used in San José and the surrounding areas.

MIGUEL BONILLA says

08/30/2023 at 11:41 pm

Hi Emily, I’m traveling with my kids to Costa Rica on February, what is my best option to get to the fortuna from the airport? And thank you for all your tips. Miguel

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  • Central America
  • The Coolest Road Trips To...

The Coolest Road Trips to Take in Costa Rica

Drive your car right up to the beach and make sure you never miss out on a spectacular sunset

The road is calling your name. Endless paths, surprises and sights to see; windows down, tunes on, and nowhere to be. For the adventurous , wanderlust-driven traveler, a Costa Rican road trip will satiate your soul. There are innumerable destination you can pick for your road trip itinerary and Costa Rica is a relatively easy country to navigate by car. With a little bit of planning, the perfect road trip is just around the corner.

1. arrival in san josé.

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark

A typical dirt road in Santa Teresa beach Nicoya peninsula Costa Rica. Image shot 02/2007. Exact date unknown.

Most major airlines fly into the Juan Sanatamaria International Airport. This is also where you will pick up your rental car. It is highly recommended that you reserve a 4×4 and purchase insurance. Car rentals can be a bit pricey but the benefits will far outweigh the cost.

2. The adventure begins

Arenal Volcano National Park, Costa Rica

While there are points where the road gets a bit curvy, the drive from San José to La Fortuna isn’t too treacherous. This part of Costa Rica is a must-see, especially for nature-lovers and adventure-seekers – and you can visit as part of a small group of culturally curious travellers by joining Culture Trip’s specially curated nine-day Costa Rica trip . Near La Fortuna, you will find the Arenal Volcano National Park , an impressive forest which hosts a great assortment of wildlife and exotic plants. There are fabulous white-water rafting tours, horseback riding trips, hanging bridges, rainforest walks, and for when you’re ready to call it a day, a few different accommodation-options ranging from hostels to five-star boutique hotels and resorts. We recommend you spend at least two full days exploring the area.

3. Venture on

Forest, Hiking Trail

A male hiker looking through binoculars in Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica

4. Head to the coast

Natural Feature

Tourboat anchored at Tamarindo beach, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

After spending time in the sleepy cloud-forests of Monteverde, a few days in Tamarindo will be a welcome change of pace. Tamarindo is a melting pot of cultures from around the world. There are over a 100 different dining options, multiple two for one (drinks) sunset spots on the beach, several yoga studios, incredible boutiques, surf lessons, and all night parties (if that’s your thing). Tamarindo is also an excellent starting point to explore the surrounding beaches, embark on adventure tours, and explore the flora and fauna of the dry forest.

5. Road tripping south

Surf on a sea stack between Santa Teresa and Hermosa beaches, far south Nicoya Peninsula, Santa Teresa, Puntarenas, Costa Rica

There are two different routes from Tamarindo to Santa Teresa. The coastal route should only be taken if you are road tripping during the dry season months . Both routes offer quite splendid scenery. You will also drive through little towns where you can stop for homemade empanadas or a casados at any of the sodas (small restaurants which serve local food) along the way. Santa Teresa has a beautiful bohemian vibe and is a great destination for those looking to surf, hike to waterfalls, do yoga, and or just zen-out and relax in one a picturesque beach setting. There are also a wide variety of accommodation and dining options in Santa Teresa to meet every traveler’s needs.

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6. A journey to where the rainforest meets the sea

Aerial View of Tropical espadilla beach and Coastline near the Manuel Antonio national park, Costa Rica.

7. Loop back around

National Theatre of San Jose; Costa Rica; Central America

The end of the road is coming soon, unless of course you decide to keep venturing on. There is actually a great selection of cafes , restaurants , museums, and boutique hotels in San José for those who want a few extra days in Costa Rica. The surrounding areas of San José also offer some great adventure tours like zip lining, white-water rafting, horseback riding, and hiking. You can also participate in some very informative, and delicious, coffee and chocolate tours.

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15 Dos and Don’ts When Planning A Trip To Costa Rica

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Costa Rica has quickly emerged as the top destination for adventure lovers . If you’re reading this post, it is likely that you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica. To get you started, here are a few things you need to know before traveling to Costa Rica!!

Planning a Trip to Costa Rica Monteverde Travel Tips

This post contains affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you!).

Top Tips For Planning Your Costa Rica Trip

Costa Rica Travel Tips

1| Get Ready To Spend Money

Let’s face the truth: Costa Rica is not cheap. Actually, Costa Rica is  one of the most expensive countries to visit in Central America.

Take gas prices, for example. It costs approx. USD$1.07 a liter, which is 48% more expensive than in the USA and 22% more than in Canada! Tours average around USD$100 per person per day.

Why so expensive? It is probably because of the high prices of importing fuel and goods as well as the heavy import taxes. All these are transferred to the cost of traveling in Costa Rica. So make sure you adjust your travel budget accordingly!

If you’re curious, check out this Costa Rica Travel Costs page detailing how much it costs to visit Costa Rica.

2| Allow More Than One Week In Costa Rica

Costa Rica may look small on the map, but don’t let its small size fool you. There are so many places to see and adventures to be had – from its gorgeous beaches, misty cloud forests, extraordinary wildlife, lush rainforests to active volcanoes. It is impossible to see Costa Rica in merely a week. On our recent trip, we spent 2 weeks in Costa Rica – every day packed with activities – and we still feel we barely scratched the surface!

Our advice is: plan a minimum of 2 weeks in Costa Rica . It is a good amount of time to explore 3-4 places without feeling too rushed. You can add extra days if you want to cover more ground.

best travel route costa rica

[irp posts=”7932″ name=”Two Weeks In Costa Rica: An Action-Packed Itinerary For First-Timers”]

3| Visit During Rainy Season

Most people choose to travel to Costa Rica during the dry season (December-April) so that they can enjoy the nice sunny weather. But that comes with a price – it’s busy and expensive!

Why not visit during the rainy season (May-November) instead? You will run into rain showers, but in return, you’ll be rewarded with thinner crowds, greener landscapes, cooler temperatures and cheaper rates! Also, most tours run year round. Even for whale watching  and turtle nesting tours!

Note:   the weather really depends on what part of Costa Rica you are visiting. For example, when we visited in early November, it rained almost every day in Arenal, but was bright and sunny in Monteverde!

[irp posts=”7763″ name=”Luxury Hotel Near SJO Airport That Won’t Break The Bank”]

Pro tip: pack a light water-resistant rain jacket and bring a waterproof backpack when visiting during the rainy season.

4| Ditch Roaming. Buy A Pre-Paid SIM Card Instead.

Want to stay connected during your trip in Costa Rica? Buy a prepaid SIM card. It is cheap and easy!

You can get one at both SJO and LIR airports. Look for the Kolbi service desk. This mobile carrier is the largest in Costa Rica and has great connectivity around the country. You can buy 500MB data for USD$10 for one week , or 2GB for one month for USD$20.

Planning a Trip to Costa Rica Travel Tips

Pro tip:   2GB should be more than enough to last you 2 weeks in Costa Rica. If you need more, you can top up at any store that has the Kolbi logo on the window. Simply ask for “recarga,” give the staff your phone number, and tell them how much money you want to top up.

5| Forget Google Maps. Download WAZE.

In North America, we rely heavily on Google Maps for navigation. But in Costa Rica, everyone uses WAZE. This free app is similar to Google Maps in searching for the best route. On top of that, it also gives you of real-time traffic updates, including accidents and police warnings!

6| Rent A Car

Typically, we avoid driving in a foreign country. But to maximize our sightseeing time and have the ultimate freedom to go wherever and whenever we would like, we decided to book a car rental. And that was the BEST DECISION we’ve made on our trip.

However, renting a car in Costa Rica can be tricky. We had come across many complaints about hidden fees while doing our research. After sifting through the options, we decided to go with Adobe Rent A Car – largest and most reputable car rental company in Costa Rica!

Planning a Trip to Costa Rica Travel Tips

Why Adobe Rent A Car?

Renting from Adobe is easy and stress-free. They are transparent in their quote.  This means you know exactly how much you will be charged when you pick up the car (no surprises!). There is NO license plate fees, environmental fees, airport fees  or any other “mandatory” fees that other car rental companies make their customer pay. The only mandatory fee is the Liability Insurance (PLI), required by law. More comprehensive insurance like Collision Damage Waivers (LDW) and Total Protection (SPP) are available, but optional.

Another reason we chose Adobe is that they make it possible to enjoy a one-way trip. Our itinerary was arranged in a way that we had to fly into SJO and fly out of LIR. We thought this might be an issue given that our outbound flight was scheduled to leave at 6am (before their office hours). After explaining our situation, the Adobe staff was very accommodating. With more than 16 offices across Costa Rica, they are flexible to have the  car picked up and dropped off at different locations . On the day, the staff waited at the office early in the morning for the drop-off and drove us at the airport!

On top of all that, they have a wide selection of vehicles for hire , all of which are less than 2 years of service !

Our experience with Adobe Rent A Car was exceptional. We highly recommend them to anyone looking to hire a car in Costa Rica!

How’s Driving In Costa Rica?

→ Driving in Alajuela & San Jose: Traffic is terrible during the daytime. Pay attention to unpredictable and reckless drivers. Watch out for motorbikes.  

→ From Alajuela to Arenal: Hilly at times, but roads are well paved with a few potholes here and there. Try not to drive at night as there is no street light.  

→ From Arenal to Monteverde: Make sure you drive a 4×4 vehicle. The last 1/3 of the drive turns into pothole-ridden dirt and gravel roads. The roads in Santa Elena town are paved though.

→ From San Jose to Liberia/Guanacaste:  The main Route 1 is generally well-paved. In between Canas and Liberia, there is a 4-to-6 lane highway. Other parts are 2 lanes.

7| Book Domestic Flights If Short On Time

Flying within Costa Rica is expensive, but if you’re short on time (or don’t want to drive), domestic flights may be a sensible option.

Costa Rica has 2 local airlines: Sansa Airlines and Nature Air . They fly out to as many as 13 different destinations within the country , and it generally takes 30-45 minutes! Both airlines use small propeller planes that can hold between 12-19 passengers only .

Planning a Trip to Costa Rica Travel Tips

We flew with Nature Air once from LIB to SJO and it took us only 50 mins. Even though we spent a total of USD$300 on the tickets, it was money well spent to skip the 4 hours of driving back on the same route. Plus, Nature Air has large windows, giving us an unobstructed view of Costa Rica’s lush mountains, beaches, and volcanoes from above!

Planning a Trip to Costa Rica Travel Tips

One important thing to note is the small luggage allowance per person . At check-in, if your baggage exceeds their size and weight restriction for carry-on (and they are VERY strict about it), you will need to pay extra to have it checked.

8| No Need To Exchange Colones Beforehand

US dollars are widely accepted in Costa Rica, especially at hotels, restaurants, and tour agencies. Even at local supermarkets! So there is absolutely no need to exchange Costa Rican Colones in advance.

If you need Colones, go to the banks for the best exchange rates. Or, pay in USD at restaurants or supermarkets and get the change back in Colones.

Pro tip: Keep some coins for the tolls if you plan to drive. We encountered a toll booth when driving from San Jose to Alajuela.

9| Tipping Is Not Required

It is not customary to leave a tip. At restaurants, a 10% service charge is included in your bill. Tour guides, drivers, housekeepers usually do not expect an additional tip for their service.

10| Tap Water Is Safe To Drink

Yes, it is perfectly safe to drink tap water!

11| No Spanish? No Problem.

English is widely used in most tourist destinations. Having said that, it is always useful to know some Spanish, especially if you want to eat at a soda (local diner).

The Spanish phrase you will hear a lot in Costa Rica is:  Pura Vida. It means “pure life,” but it is commonly used to mean hello, goodbye, and everything’s great. Remember that!

12| Follow The Experts: Join Guided Naturalist Tours

It is true that you can go on self-guided hikes and tours at many places. But you will see so much more than expected if you join the experts on guided tours.

At the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park , we joined the specialist on a walk who pointed out a variety of bird species, animals and insects along the way. If we visited on our own, we wouldn’t have spotted ourselves and gotten these amazing pictures and videos of them!

Planning a Trip to Costa Rica Arenal Travel Tips

Although guided naturalist tours are a bit more expensive, they will leave you an unforgettable memory!

Note: many of these tours include hotel pick-up and drop-off so there’s no need to worry about transportation.

[irp posts=”7864″ name=”The Adventurer’s Guide: 16 Unforgettable Things To Do In Costa Rica”]

13| Order Seafood, But Know That Shrimps Are Expensive

Costa Rica has plenty of fresh seafood, but do you know that shrimps are very very expensive?

Fishing techniques such as trawling kill turtles and destroy coral. So, to protect the marine resources, the government has put a halt to the use of trawler nets to catch shrimp and other unselective and destructive fisheries. That is why shrimps are expensive in Costa Rica.

But not to worry, there are so many other delicious seafood available for us to enjoy at inexpensive prices!

14| Don’t Miss Out On Local Healthy Snacks

Make a trip to a local supermarket and you’ll realize  Ticos (Costa Ricans) love cassava chips, yuca chips and plantain chips . They are addictingly delicious! You can find a variety of them on the shelves, sold under the brands PRO and Soldanza.

Toasted corn snacks by Jacks Picaronas are popular among the locals as well.

Coffee aficionados, check out Cafe Britt . This brand is known for their coffee and gourmet chocolates. The chocolate covered coffee beans, dark chocolate covered pineapple, and dark chocolate with creamy nut filling are a few of our favorites!

15| Go Beach Hopping? Keep In Mind That…

One of the fun things to do in Costa Rica is going beach-hopping. However, the beaches may seem close to each other on the map, but are actually far to drive to.

This is because there is no actual “road” connecting the beaches so you can’t really drive along the coast. You will have to drive out of the beach town and go back to the main road first before you can head towards the next beach community.

You may find some people attempting to drive their car onto the sandy pathways leading up to the beaches. Don’t do that. We have seen cars got stuck there and people had to push them from behind.

Pro tip: Instead of driving, rent an ATV. That is the fastest way to beach hop!

We hope you find these tips helpful for your Costa Rica trip planning. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them below!

Costa Rica Trip Planning Resources

✓ Best Luxury Hotels:   The Springs , Hotel Belmar , Andaz | Compare reviews on TripAdvisor ✓ Flights + Hotels + Rental Car Bundle:   Search on Expedia

Planning a trip to Costa Rica? Here are the top travel tips and useful info you need to know before traveling to Costa Rica!

Disclaimer: This post is written in partnership with Adobe Rent A Car .   As always, all opinions on For Two, Please are my own and I only recommend brands that I 100% stand behind.

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60 comments leave a comment ».

These are all great tips! Costa Rica is such a beautiful country, and there’s so much to do and see. I’m glad you talk about the driving here. We actually hired a local driver because the roads were so bad – or non-existent – that we felt much safer with him doing the driving! Plus, he took us to some amazing little restaurants that we would never have known about otherwise!

Hi Lois, i’m traveling there next week. I’m afraid to drive but not have much money either to spend on taxis. how much was the cost of the driver that you hired?

Hi Lois Can you tell Me the name of the restaurant a that the driver took you?

Great article! Visited the Pacific Coast last summer and it was great during rainy season, especially since it wasn’t too crowded. It is true that in less than 2 weeks you can’t visit the whole country. I would disagree with your point 11 though, if you stick to touristy places, yes they speak English but if you visit off the beaten path places they definitely don’t and as in all of Latin America, you pay more and will be treated more like a tourist if you don’t speak Spanish. That being said English levels are higher in Costa Rica than in the rest of Central America. Renting a car is obviously a great idea but also a lot more expensive and a bit burdensome. Happy travels!

Are you saying WAZE works better than Google Maps? That is incredible. I know google maps is not as dependable when you move out of urban areas in India so I can imagine it may not be so accurate in Costa Rica. I like places where people do not expect a tip from you. I find tipping culture very demeaning. It is like throwing change on people. There are more respectful ways of saying Thank you.

I had no idea about the tipping and tap water! My former student has been traveling through Costa Rica and it’s been wonderful to see her photos of the beaches and animals. It may be one of the more expensive countries in Latin America, but it’s sure worth it!

Oh wow I didn’t know Costa Rica is so beautiful during the rainy season. The green is so lush and gorgeous! I always agree it’s better to travel during off season to enjoy a different kind of beauty!

Getting an expert local guide was probably the best thing we did in Costa Rica. Our guide took us to the top of Arenal Volcano and then the magic happened. He showed us insects, plants, and trees that we never would have noticed. With his knowledge and enthusiasm, he showed us all kinds of medicines, secrets, and mysteries of the forest. We realized that our two hour hike wasn’t even close to long enough for everything that we were seeing.

Wow, so many great tips and very useful for my trip planning to this amazing central American countries – thanks a lot for covering aspects, like: transportation, food, and pre-paid sim card. I should bookmark this when I am about to fly there! @ knycx.journeying

These are some great tips. They have really made me rethink some of my plans for Costa Rica as I was planning to visit for a week. I like the idea of hiring a car but good to know what to look out for 

I loved this article. I had never been to Costa Rica and would love to visit it in 2018. I really loved your advice of planning for a minimum of 2 weeks in Costa Rica. That is what I usually do. You can’t enjoy a place in FF mode. And, I love rains so I am definitely going to follow your advice.

Havent been to Costa Rica yet but these are some great tips which I will take on board.

Fabulous tips – we LOVE Costa Rica! I’ve been three times now and it’s the most incredible country! But yes, it’s definitely not cheap, and the mass tourism from the US will keep it that way. And you should definitely allow for upwards of a week – there’s SO much to see and do!

I love love love the wet season, so am totally behind you there – we’re big wildlife fans, and photography enthusiasts, and the landscapes always look so lush for photos, with the rain bringing out more wildlife 🙂

Fantastic post and very useful tips. I’m hoping Central America, and especially Costa Rica, will feature in my travel plans in 2019 so this post will be extremely useful. I like your suggestion to visit in the rainy season – ‘bad’ weather has never really bothered me / stopped me doing anything, so it’ll definitely be nice to avoid ridiculous costs and crowds.

I have only visited Costa Rica as a cruise port. I would love to go back. Thanks for the tips on rental cars. High prices, no tipping, and roads full of bad drivers will remind us of home (Auckland). Lots of really useful tips here, and I will remember to check out cassava chips and plantains (two favourites of mine). I will come back to this page before we plan a visit.

Super tips. and the great tip on tipping not expected too 🙂 Never been to that part of the world yet. but I have read so much about Costa Rica that I need to seriously plan. Happy New Year!

Thanks for the recommendations. I live part-time in neighboring Boquete and we are hoping to take a Costa Rica road trip this year. The prepaid phone card is the #1 thing I always tell people visiting Panama, too. Great tips- especially the road conditions in each of those areas. Thanks for that.

Wow great list of tips for CR. Like the fact that you recommend people to buy a local sim card. Many travelers still dont seem to get this and are always so dependent on WiFi signal. Also no need to change Colones before your trip. Those travelers with a big stash of money always make me wonder why the hell they did this! 🙂

Costa Rica is really beautiful and we would love visiting it during the rainy season. But your first pointer of being ready to spend money left me rethinking on spending two weeks there. Great pictures and tips.

Costa Rica is an absolute delight from all the numerous accounts of travelers that I have read. Costa Rica is definitely high on our bucket list, we would love to get there ASAP. These are some great tips and are sure to stand us in good stead when we get there.

Such great tips. Certainly, didn’t know tips were not required and that the water was safe to drink. Costa Rica has been on my bucket list for a long time. Especially to see the unique and lush landscape. Waze also works better in Ecuador and other countries in Latin America. Really hope I can visit Costa Rica soon. Pinning this for later 😀

These are wonderful suggestions for all travelers. Costa Rica has fast risen on the global tourist map and on many traveler’s bucket list. It’s good that you talked about WAZE as an alternative to Google Maps. I’ll keep Adobe Rent a Car in mind when i plan my trip to Costa Rica.

Ohh Costa Rica! The main reason for why I havent visited Costa Rica before is how expensive it is! But I guess by reading your post going during the rain season a trip to Costa Rica doesn’t have to cost that much! I knew that there are many american tourist  ut I am surprise that we can use american dollar there. I love seafood but I am quite glad to hear that the goverment is trying to protect the sea life! Thanks for this post and hopefully I will get to Costa Rica soon!

These tips are fantastic and also make me want to head to Costa Rica. I also love the aerial picture you have from the plane.

Looks like you explored the in and out of Costa Rica as your guide is detailed for anyone going there. I think I read somewhere about soemoen swearing by WAVE over Google, so not surprised you mentioned it again. I never expected Costa Rica to be expensive though, the name looks affordable. I agree with you, going on a gudied tour is the best way to explore another environment especially the ones that boasts of rich natural landscape such as Costa Rica. Good tips you have here. Anyone heading over to Costa Rica will surely find this useful.

Costa Rica reminds me so much of my home country, Trinidad and Tobago. It’s so lush and the birds look similar! I didn’t know it was so expensive though so I better start saving up!

I’m dying to get to Costa Rica, and I’m surprised to hear that it’s expensive. I always just think of Central America as super cheap. What would you say a budget day would cost? I would LOVE to visit in rainy season when the landscapes are extra lush, so that’s an amazing perk that it’s cheaper then as well! Great tips! 

Your photos are awesome, I have always wanted to visit Costa Rica! I had no idea it was so expensive, I will definitely make sure I take your tips into consideration while I plan my trip! Grabbing a SIM card is an awesome idea to cut back on roaming costs, and renting a car would be awesome while I am there!

Great tips for travel in Costa Rica! The money one definitely sticks out, lol–we knew it would expensive, but after coming from Nicaragua, the sticker shock was significant. We also rented a car, and agree it makes the country so much more accessible. You pay a price for that, though–it’s expensive and a headache to drive, as I’m sure you guys saw! We may look into Adobe Rent a Car next time.

Inspiring Guide! I spent a few weeks in Costa Rica back in 2014! It’s true what you say about WAZE it works so well. I also concur with you about visiting during the wet season. What I did was visit right at the end of dry season. That way I got the best of both worlds 🙂

This makes us so excited for Costa Rica! it’s like a trend for Canadians to go and feel like have been missing out not going! For sure will go for more than a 2 week!!

Great tips…especially about traveling in monsoon to escape the crowd -m less crowd and greener landscapes…what more can one ask for 🙂

Also, I had no idea about this app waze…thanks for sharing 🙂

Minimum of 2 weeks? Wow! As you say, one just doesn’t think of such a long stay in the tiny place. Good to know that Costa Rica has so much to offer. I’d definitely take the guided nature tour. The view from the sky are splendid.

Nice reading about all the tips for planning a trip to costa rica. I can’t agree more with your choices.

Pingback: The Adventurer's Guide: 16 Unforgettable Things To Do In Costa Rica | For Two, Please

nice post thanks for sharing n keep it up

Pingback: Two Weeks In Costa Rica: An Action-Packed Itinerary For First-Timers | For Two, Please

this post really amazing.

Excellent in every way. Thinking of including this beautiful country in my next travel plans. Thanks.

I am looking to go to the Osa Peninsula but have never been to Costa Rica. I will be staying at a new Place called Osa Falls Resort. It will be completed soon and it’s on the Osa Peninsula. Any do’s and don’t?

Hey! I have not been to the Osa Peninsula actually. Sorry, I can’t help answer your question.

Thank you for sharing amazing tips. Very well organized pictures and content.

Thank you, very informative post! I completely agree, one week is nowhere near enough time to fully enjoy they beauty of Costa Rica. Went two years ago for a week and came back the next year. Make sure to research and plan before going to make the most with your time over there. Amazing place!

Awesome post. This place seems to be very interesting and full of fun. I would love to add it it my bucket list and now can’t wait to explore it. Your tips are also very helpful. Keep sharing such interesting and informative posts.

Cool post! The trip to Costa Rica is really a wonderful experience. I am really interested in traveling too 🙂 Thanks again !

I travelled a lot and have seen so many places but this will be my first time in Costa Rica. I found your post so useful for me. Many thanks for sharing all the information and tips.

If you are flying in to the airport during business hours you can buy up to six bottles of liquor or wine at the duty free store just before you clear customs. Liquor is just as expensive or more expensive in the grocery store than it is at home. There is also a 13% sales tax on almost everything along with a 10% service tax on all restraunt meals which makes it 23% added on to all restraunt meals.If you are using a foreign credit card most credit cards will charge items in colones and use the bank daily exchange rate to change them to US$ and then convert the Us dollar to your country’s currency. This can amount up to an extra 10% just on credit card and exchange rates. ATM s are available in most popular tourist towns but are usually limited to a maximum of 200$ per day. If you carry Us dollars that are accepted everywhere . If menus are priced in $ you will get dollar for dollar but if the menu is in colones most restraunt only give you 500 colones per $ when the posted bank rate just hit 600 colones. If you don’t rent a car(short term approx100$ day with full insurance)interbus and or grey line bus will pick you up from your hotel and deliver you to your next hotelat a very reasonable rate I would not go anywhere in CR pre-christmas or at Easter vacation very very expensive. The best times to go are June July, November. If you are driving beware of all the crazy motorcyclists everywhere. Enjoy your stay it is more than worth it to see this country at least once

There are great tips and good posts to travel in Costa Rica.

thanks for the information

Thank you for sharing this information. It was very useful and interesting.

Interesting place. I am glad that my family has planned a trip to Costa Rica next week as it’s so much fun and I am sure our trip will be full of excitement and enjoyment. I would love to share your post with my dad and relatives so that we can see each and every attraction there. Keep posting such wonderful places attractions.

I am sure that these are gonna help out soo nicely.

An additional note on driving, bridges in CR require the drivers attention. To save money, bridges on most roads reduce lanes.  A two lane road will choke down to one lane. There is signage in Spanish to let you know which direction has right of way. Even on the multi-lane highway, bridges choke down to one lane. It is an unusual experience.

I love to visit Costa Rica. Very helpful post for me. Great informations. Thanks!!!!

These are great tips! This definitely wants me to go and visit Costa Rica. Think that is is really helpful that you suggested to buy a sim card. Also, I didn’t realise that it was going to be expensive. This has been very helpful for my future planning.

Would love to visit Costa Rica. More beautiful is the way you have captured it.

This is great tips! This definitely wants me to go and visit Costa Rica. Thanks for sharing your information.

Costa Rica is an amazing place for nature, birds and wildlife lovers, the small country has so much to offer from tropical rain forests, cloud forests, volcanic mountains, so many variety of birds, wildlife, beautiful beaches!

Great post!

Words cannot explain the love can feel when connecting with the Pura Vida vibe of Costa Rica. A very magical and special place that should be a bucket list item for everyone.

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Two Weeks in Costa Rica

Travel and Moving Blog

Costa Rica: Your 2-Week Itinerary

  • Jenn and Matt
  • Itineraries , Trip Planning

374 Comments

Last Updated: June 16, 2020

If you have two weeks to spend in Costa Rica—congratulations! Two weeks is plenty of time to get a taste of what this small Central American country has to offer. To get the most out of your vacation, there are a couple of things to keep in mind when planning your itinerary. First, don’t be fooled by how close destinations appear on a map. Costa Rica may be only the size of West Virginia/Switzerland but getting from one place to the next can take a full day due to poor road conditions, traffic, and mountainous terrain. Second, expect to make a stop in San José when going from one place to another. San José is a major transportation hub and connections on the public bus and shuttles are often made here even if it’s out of the way. If you rent a car, you may still have to pass back through the Central Valley to avoid certain mountain ranges.

The two-week itinerary below aims to show the best of Costa Rica while keeping travel times to a minimum. We suggest three destinations in an order that will let you experience beautiful mountains, beaches, and lush jungle, without spending too much time on the road.

2 Week Itinerary for Costa Rica | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

Day 1: Arrive at San José International (SJO) airport. Stay overnight in the San José area.

Flights generally start arriving mid-day at SJO, so by the time you get through customs, immigration, and get your luggage (about one hour), it is already early afternoon. After a long day of travel, we recommend staying overnight in the San José area and getting an early start the next day.

Tip: Stay in Alajuela, which is actually closer to the international airport than San José. Hotel Buena Vista , in the surrounding hills, is a great option for those looking for a peaceful escape and panoramic views. Or, if you’d like something closer to the airport, try   Hotel La Rosa de America , a charming hotel with typical Costa Rican decor and friendly staff.

For more lodging recommendations, read our post Best Hotels Near SJO Airport .

Days 2-4: Retreat to the Highlands and visit Costa Rica’s famous Arenal Volcano.

The La Fortuna area is a great place to start your Costa Rica vacation. An unhurried downtown provides visitors with just enough convenience while surrounding plantations and mountain villages give a glimpse into the simple Tico lifestyle. A low rumble felt from the snoozing Arenal Volcano will be sure to wake your senses, but if you need more, try some of the many adrenaline-pumping activities available right outside town like zip lining, waterfall rappelling, or white-water rafting.

Getting There

Renting a car is a great option for this part of your trip. It’s less than a three-hour drive from San José and the rolling green mountains you maneuver will have you pulling over for plenty of amazing photo ops. Before getting behind the wheel though, know that driving in Costa Rica can be an adventure in itself. Roads and highways are steep and curvy, and the locals seem to forget their laid-back nature when driving.

If you decide to rent a car, check out this special discount for our readers to save 10-25%.   

If you’d rather leave the driving to the pros, you could opt for a private or shared shuttle van service. These vans are very popular and also reliable. We describe how each type works and how to book one in our post Shuttles in Costa Rica .  

Finally, if you’re looking to save some cash, take the direct bus from San José to La Fortuna (4-5 hours) for about $5 .

Arenal Volcano National Park

Arenal is one of Costa Rica’s five active volcanoes. In its heyday, it spewed bright orange lava on a near daily basis. Although Arenal’s activity has slowed considerably since 2010, it is still a spectacular sight. At over 1,633 meters (5,358 feet) tall, this perfectly conical shaped volcano towers behind the town of La Fortuna. For the best view, hit the trails within Arenal Volcano National Park. For more information on planning your visit, read our post  on hiking the park.

Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna | 2 Week Itinerary for Costa Rica

La Fortuna Waterfall

Just outside town, you’ll find a stunning waterfall that plummets 70 meters (230 feet) into a deep pool, perfect for swimming. The falls are accessible via a 15-minute hike down a steep set of stairs or by horseback or ATV. Be sure to bring your swimsuit for a refreshing dip in the cool waters. Admission is $18.

Hot Springs

After a day of hiking, reward yourself with a relaxing soak in one of the area’s naturally occurring mineral hot springs. You can make a day of it by visiting a resort like Tabacon or EcoTermales , or ask a local where to find the free springs that flow in the area.

F or more information and hotel recommendations, read our post on what to expect in   La Fortuna . 

Days 5-9: Head south to the beautiful beaches of Manuel Antonio.

Manuel Antonio has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world—and that’s not just our opinion. Playa Espadilla has been so named by countless publications and was most recently ranked the best beach in Central America by TripAdvisor. But this area offers travelers more than only a great beach. With a plethora of hotels, restaurants , and bars catering to all budgets, and nature at your doorstep, it’s no wonder Manuel Antonio is one of Costa Rica’s top tourism destinations.

The gorgeous Manuel Antonio Beach | 2 Week Itinerary for Costa Rica

This is one trip where we do not recommend taking the public bus. Because there is no direct bus from La Fortuna to Quepos/Manuel Antonio, you would have to go through San José first, turning a five-hour trip into a 10-hour trip. Instead, opt for a shuttle or rent a car. Note that a rental car would also come in handy for day trips around the Manuel Antonio area.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Spend the morning exploring the many trails to see white-faced monkeys, sloths, and other jungle creatures in this picturesque park. For the afternoon, enjoy a picnic lunch at Playa Manuel Antonio, a beautiful cove off the main trail. This park is perfect for families because it has fairly flat terrain and easy-to-spot wildlife. For more specific information about the park, read our full   post .

White-faced Monkeys in Manuel Antonio | 2 Week Itinerary for Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio is a great jumping off point for tours. There are a number of operators in the area where you can book all kinds of activities, including ATV, zip lining, white-water rafting, mangrove tours, kayaking, parasailing, jet skiing, sportfishing, catamaran cruises , and surfing. Check out our Manuel Antonio Activities Guide for more ideas. 

Day Trip to the Wild Southern Zone

The whale marine park, marino ballena.

About an hour down the coast is the Costa Ballena region, where lush rainforest meets the sea. In the quiet town of Playa Uvita lies one of Costa Rica’s only marine national parks. Here, you’ll find another beautiful beach and the famous whale tail , a naturally occurring sandbar formed by converging ocean currents.

Nauyaca Waterfalls

Another stunning sight in this area is the Nauyaca Waterfalls. This two-tiered waterfall is one of the most beautiful cascades in all of Costa Rica. You can access it by hiking or on horseback. Read our full post for more details.

F or more information and hotel and restaurant recommendations, read our post on Manuel Antonio Trip Planning . 

Days 10-12: End your trip with adventure and relaxation in Drake Bay.

By this point in your trip, Costa Rica’s pura vida attitude will have set in. You’ll feel more relaxed and be ready to experience Drake Bay in all of its glory. Located in the dense jungle of the Osa Peninsula, Drake Bay is a nature lover’s playground. Here you can find some of Costa Rica’s most rare species like Baird’s tapir, white-lipped peccaries, and if you’re lucky, even big cats.

Drake Bay is also the perfect retreat for those of you looking to unplug and unwind. The village consists of only a handful of hotels, lodges, and camps, and with very few restaurants in town, most accommodations provide everything you need, including meals.

Be sure to bring a flashlight as street lighting is novel in this village that only recently became electrified.

A Two Week Itinerary for Costa Rica - Drake Bay

With few roads going in and out of Drake Bay, access is limited. While you can technically drive there during some parts of the year, it is not recommended due to multiple river crossings and rugged terrain. The good news is that you really don’t need a car in Drake Bay and there are much easier ways to get there.

An affordable and fun option is to take a boat taxi up the Sierpe River. If you book lodging in advance, your lodge will probably make the arrangements for you. The ride lasts about an hour and is a tour in itself through miles of mangrove. Grab it at Las Vegas or La Perla, two restaurants in the small riverside town of Sierpe. 

Hiking in Corcovado National Park

Corcovado is the largest lowland rainforest remaining on the Pacific coast. Its climate can be best described as intensely hot and soupy. While hiking under such extreme conditions should not be taken lightly, there is no substitute to the park’s biological richness.

For the serious trekker, extend your vacation with a multi-day backpacking excursion, entering the park at San Pedrillo Ranger Station and exiting at La Leona Ranger Station (37 km/23 miles). Or if you’d rather skip the days of hiking and see the park in a single day, arrange a boat tour to Sirena Ranger Station, the area of the park with the most visible wildlife. Read our blog post   for more information.

Snorkeling or Diving at Caño Island

Caño Island is one of the best places in Costa Rica for diving and snorkeling. Along the reefs around the island, you can see pufferfish, turtles, huge schools of jack fish, and even white-tip reef sharks. The waters around Caño are notably rich in marine life so be sure to keep your eyes peeled to and from the mainland for dolphins and even whales, which come to the area to breed.

Hike to Playa San Josecito

For a long day hike, check out San Josecito Beach . The trail from Drake Bay, which follows the coast, offers scenic vistas and a chance to see wildlife like Scarlet Macaws, toucans, and all four types of monkeys that live in Costa Rica. Be sure to bring your snorkel gear as this beach has some of the best onshore snorkeling we’ve seen in Costa Rica.

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan | 2 Week Itinerary for Costa Rica

For more information about visiting Drake Bay, including details on how to get there and hotel recommendations, read our post Drake Bay: Costa Rica Unplugged . 

Day 13: Head back to San José.

To make your international flight out of Costa Rica, you’ll probably need to head back to the San José area the day before. You can take a boat taxi back to Sierpe, then catch either the public bus or a shuttle. The public bus for San José leaves from the nearby town of Palmar Norte. The ride from Palmar Norte is about six hours, giving you a total trip time of eight hours. 

Shuttles are a faster option and are available for pick up right from the boat docks in Sierpe. Be sure to plan in advance because boat taxi service is limited.

Note that as of 2018, we no longer recommend domestic small planes in Costa Rica due to service and reliability problems.

Day 14: Head home.

Hopefully through this two-week itinerary you’ve enjoyed your stay in Costa Rica and have some fond memories to take back home. Two weeks is certainly enough time to get a sense of what Costa Rica is all about, but there’s plenty more to see if you’re already ready for another visit. We know what that’s like. After our first week-long trip in 2007, we were hooked, scoping out other areas of the country to explore on the plane ride home. Watch out Costa Rica lovers, because now, we live here!

Have questions about this itinerary? Leave us a comment below.

Looking for more info to help plan your trip check out these posts: .

  • Driving in Costa Rica: What to Know Before You Go – Aren’t sure if driving is right for you? It can seem scary at first, but renting a car is by far the best way to explore the country. These tips will help get you ready to cruise on down the road.  
  • Cost of Traveling in Costa Rica –  Costa Rica is a little more expensive than some other Central American countries. This post will give you a general sense of how much things cost, including hotels, restaurants, transportation, and tours.  
  • Best Hotels Near SJO Airport – If you are flying in and out of San Jose, you might need to stay the night. Check out our picks for the best places close to the airport. 
  • Packing List – Your trip might be months away but bookmark this list of some things you don’t want to forget.
  • Custom Itinerary Trip Planning Service – Let us help create the perfect itinerary for your family/group. We work with you every step of the way and even take care of all the bookings for you. 

First of all, thank you for all your insightful posts! Great blog 🙂 I noticed you guys hardly mention the Nicoyo Penisula. My fiance and I wanted to drive over to the west side beaches (by Tamarindo), down through Samara Bay, and last to Montezuma. But then we read about how bad the roads can be to get there and realized it’s probably better to plan a day trip to the peninsula. Plus we only have a week to work with. Is that what you guys have found to be true? Thanks! 🙂

Emily, glad you are enjoying our posts. We have spent most of our time on the Central Pacific coast so that’s why our blog is geared towards that area. But, we’re heading to Playa Grande in March so there will be more posts about the Nicoya in the near future! Your reluctance about driving to the southern Nicoya is right on. The roads are definitely rougher and it takes longer to get around. With only a week, you’d be better off spending your time on the northern Nicoya, exploring the Tamarindo area and checking out all the small towns in between there and Samara. Hope you enjoy CR!

Thank you for the insightful guide. I’m interested in visiting in visiting Manuel Antonio, Arenal and the East/Caribbean side, do you think thats all possible in two weeks? What spots on the Caribbean side do you recommend? Thanks in advanced!

Hi Exsenet, 3 destinations is fine to do in two weeks without being too rushed. To avoid too much driving, we would pick one destination on the Caribbean coast. We are partial to the southern Caribbean. Cahuita if you’re looking for something quieter, or Puerto Viejo if you want more going on.

Is it necessary to make reservations for the Water Taxi from Sierpe to Drake Bay? I can’t find a website to do that!

Are there buses from Domincal to Drake Bay?

Hi Peggy, Usually your hotel in Drake will tell you which boat to get on so coordinate with them before your trip. In general, though, you don’t need reservations, just show up at one of the restaurants where boats leave from a little in advance and get tickets then. There’s more info on boat times, etc. in our post Drake Bay: Costa Rica Unplugged .

There are buses from Dominical to Drake but you need to do a couple of transfers. You go to Palmar Norte first and then grab another bus from there to Sierpe (there’s no bus direct to Drake), or you can take an inexpensive cab ride the rest of the way from Palmar to Sierpe. Here’s a good website for figuring it out: http://www.thebusschedule.com/cr/index.php .

Hello, my boyfriend and I have been following your itinerary, thanks for the very useful information, we are loving it! One question though…we have rented a car to drive from La Fortuna down to Manuel Antonio, and we plan to drive from Manuel Antonio along the coast to eventually pick up the boat from Sierpe to Drake, however, the furthest we can drop off our rental car is Uvita, do you have any suggestions on how we can get from Uvita to Sierpe? Thanks so much, Claire

Hi Claire, Check with the rental company to see if they will pick up the car from you in Sierpe. Some do, including the company that we work with , Adobe. That would be the easiest. Otherwise you could take a shuttle and we would be happy to help you organize that with a reputable company that makes this trip. Just reply to this thread if you’re interested and we will send you an email.

Hi, doing something similar, is there a place to park our car while we go from sierpe to drake, and then pick it up on our way back to the airport?

Hi Ethan, Yes, there are secure parking lots in Sierpe. Read our Drake Bay post for more information.

Hi, do you sort out itineraries for people? We are going to Costs Rica and trying to arrange bespoke tour but the prices are high.

Think we need some help organising

Hi Ross, Yes, we offer a couple of different kinds of vacation planning services. If you already have a good idea of where you would like to visit, we have an itinerary review service where we review your existing itinerary to make sure it makes sense (order of destinations, destinations selected, time in each place, etc.). If you aren’t sure where you should go, we have a more in-depth customized itinerary service. In this one, we help you pick destinations based on your interests, recommend hotels, activities, and restaurants, and also help with transportation. It is a la carte in that we give you a bunch of different options based on your budget and then you make the bookings you want, which makes it a lot easier to stay on a budget. We charge a flat fee for our services. There’s more info on our Itinerary Help page. Let us know if you’re interested.

Hello! Thanks a lot for this very helpful site and all your advices! I am going to Costa Rica for 2 weeks (13 full days actually) at the end of August. My boyfriend and I would like to explore the most we can, and I was thinking to start with 3 days in Arenal area to see the volcano, waterfall and ziplining. Then, go to the west coast for 4/5 days at the beach while heading south to finally reach the Corcovado park (we know this one requires at least 3 days). Do you think this is a reasonable plan? I have a couple of questions if you guys can help: – Do you think is doable and reasonable to go to nicoya peninsula from arenal and then to uvita/dominical and drake bay? (in 5 days) – we were thinking of staying in La Fortuna the first 3 nights, how easy is from there visit monteverde park? Thank you very much!

Hi Eleonora, That itinerary will have you driving quite a bit but it isn’t too bad since you have stops built in. For your time on the Nicoya, you might want to pick a beach town that is relatively easy to access like Samara or the Tamarindo area to lessen the time in the car (Samara will get you closer to Uvita/Dominical). 5 days is reasonable if you don’t mind being on the go, as it’ll give you 2 nights in each place.

Monteverde can’t be done on a day trip from La Fortuna because the roads getting there are pretty bad. It’s about 3-4 hrs each way so best done if you have at least a couple of nights. We have a post about driving to Monteverde if you want more info. All in all, though, nice itinerary. Hope you have a good trip!

Hey Jen and Matt,

I was reading your blog and am interested in your opinion about flying into LIR airport? We are spending 4 nights in tamarindo and 3 nights in Arenal. LIR is much closer than SJO, but just wanted to get some advice. TIA

Hi Jackie, Yes, LIR Airport would be a better option for you since you’re traveling to Tamarindo. LIR is much closer than SJO for destinations in Guanacaste. It’s a nice airport too and smaller so sometimes faster.

This 2-week itinerary is SO helpful and a great starting point! Thanks so much for putting this together. For such a small island, it is surprisingly hard to decide where to spend your time. If you could replace Drake’s Bay with one other destination, what would it be for a 2 week trip? We’re going the first week of June.

Hi Angela, Thanks for your comment. Costa Rica is a small country but as we say, it’s hard to explore the whole thing in just two weeks. For your alternative destination, it really depends on what activities you’re looking for. Sometimes just within a short drive, you can almost feel like you’re in a different world. If you’d like more help with your itinerary, just use our contact form and we’ll give you a quote. Thanks a lot! -Matt & Jenn

Hello, thank you for your helpful posts and comments. I was wondering if you made it to to the Nicoya Peninsula yet…I’m debating to come down form Monte Verde to Nicoya and stay in the Curu Reserve and visit Tortuga Island as i hear great things about it. Heading to CR Mid April. Will Semana Santa week be extremely busy for travel and accommodations? Also have you heard if the volcano /Arenal Park is partially closed? A friend said they know someone who was there last month and said it’s been partially closed and wondering if should skip this part of our itinerary out. thanks again for your wonderful website!

Hi Carla, we’re on the Nicoya now and have been doing a lot of exploring so we can definitely help. I think it’ll be easiest to answer your specific questions by email so check your mail. – Jenn

Thanks for the great insight! Do you think it is reasonable to do a two-week trip (with car rental) that includes both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts (Guanacaste area)? Based on the map and driving distances it seems reasonable but is hard to know forsure without understanding the road conditions and topography! Thanks!

Hi Jennifer, it’s totally possible to do both the Caribbean and the Pacific in two weeks. The ride from the Caribbean to San Jose is mountainous but all highway (highway 32). Just make sure to plan your route or get GPS because it’s very easy to get lost in San Jose. Sometimes they close the main highway near San Jose to the Pacific coast in one direction for construction on weekends (usually around 2pm) so keep that in mind too. We had to go a very roundabout way home once. Then from San Jose, you’ll take highway 27 (nicely paved and fast) to the Interamericana, which is also paved but they are doing construction between Canas and Liberia which can slow things down so keep that in mind. It’ll be a long day of driving but you could always stop somewhere in between to overnight. Have a great trip!

This itinerary was very helpful. We just got back from our vacation of two weeks and had a slight variation. We went from La Fortuna to Puteranus. Then took a ferry to Montezuma. We loved it here and stayed a few days exploring. We even got scuba diving certified with Padi with a wonderful trainer named Maria. We also rented an ATV one day and explored the Nicoya Peninsula. It is fun to cross rivers with the right vehicle, especially after watching how the locals do it! After 5 days in the Nicoya Peninsula, we took a ferry from Montezuma to Jaco and made our way to Manuel Antonio. We didn’t have time to do Drake Bay or make it over to the Caribbean side of the country. Next time!

Christy, that sounds like a great itinerary. Taking the ferry is a good time saver and the ride across the Gulf is really pretty. We love Montezuma too, such a fun little town with so many great restaurants. Cool that you got your scuba certification. That’s been on our list for a while. We’re planning on spending a few days in the S. Nicoya in a couple months- maybe we’ll find Maria then! Definitely come back to check out the Osa & Caribbean. There’s nowhere like the Osa to see wildlife, and the Caribbean has a totally different feel from the Pacific side. Thanks for sharing!

Hi Christy, I think I’m going to do a very similar itinerary to you. Did you book your scuba diving course with Maria in advance? I’ve searched online but can’t seem to find anywhere in Montezuma offering PADI courses (although it sounds like the sort out of town where you book stuff spontaneously when you’re there!). Thanks in advance

Hi, This is so helpful! We are an older couple planning our honeymoon (second marriages) for April 2015. Has anyone calculated the average expense for the above two-week itinerary at a mid-range lodging level, with car rentals? We just need an estimate to know whether this idea is realistic. Thanks!

Hi Suzanne, there are a lot of factors to consider like time of year, what type of car etc. For a mid-range hotel (Avg $100/night) and a typical small 4×4 SUV (I did a quick 14 day quote with our special discount from Adobe for $715 give or take with mandatory insurance), you could probably calculate $2115 for just lodging and car. This of course doesn’t factor in meals or activities as those will be very personalized to each traveler. Hope this helps you get started, congratulations on your wedding!

Thanks so much for your great blog! We are doing an impromptu trip in December 2014- so really excited. We will be there for 2 weeks (13 full days and 1/2 day for travel). We want to surely do Arenal and areas close by there and Manuel Antonio. We want to have some good beach time, is Tamarindo area better for beaches than Drake Bay? Also, we were thinking of first getting in beach time- since we will be frozen coming in from North of America, so we want to start at Manuel Antonio, then head to Arenal National Park and then Tamarindo area and see all the little towns and beaches there. Is that doable? Thanks much!

Hi Priya, that sounds like a good itinerary for what you want to do. You can definitely start in Manuel Antonio and then go to La Fortuna and Tamarindo from there. Tamarindo is better for beaches than Drake Bay. Drake Bay does have some gorgeous beaches but you go there more for the nature/wildlife. Tamarindo sounds more like what you’re looking for and there are tons of great beaches up and down the coast. If you’re still looking for hotels, we have destination guides that have some recommendations: Manuel Antonio , Tamarindo , and La Fortuna . Let us know if you have any more questions as you plan. We can help with rental cars too if you need one.

Hi Jenn, Matt,

I would like to asked you, how safe is it for a senior, to travel alone in Costa Rica. I would like to travel probably next year. Please, can you give me some advise, plus I would like to stay 2 weeks and where it would be the safest for me. Thank you. Hope to see you one day. Gigi

Hi Gigi, Costa Rica is very safe in general. You have to use the usual precautions like you would anywhere in the world but it’s great destination for older solo travelers. We have a friend in her late 60s who solo traveled here for several months and really enjoyed it. You might be interested in her blog: http://altecockertravels.weebly.com/ . As for where to go, all the places we include in this post are good options, as are Monteverde (more info here ) if you’d like to see the cloud forest and Tortuguero (more info here ), which is a great place to see wildlife. These towns are all popular tourist destinations so there will be plenty of people around, which might be nice since you’ll be traveling solo.

I am curious why you do not mention Montenegro in your 2 week itinerary. Nearby Santa Elena Park has also been recommended by some. Thanks, Also from Boston area escaping winter

Hi Carolyn, the cloud forests of Monteverde and Santa Elena are great places to visit, but we don’t include them here so that people aren’t bouncing around between places too much and have time to relax. If you wanted to spend more time in the mountains and see the cloud forest, you could easily add it for a more active vacation or swap it out for one of the other destinations.

Hi Jenn & Matt, I’m very happy to have found your blog – great info! Planning a trip to Costa Rica is more daunting than I anticipated! I love your 2 week itinerary and want to visit most of what you suggest but I have a few questions: 1)would it be ill advised to do it in reverse, starting in Manuel Antonio and heading up to Arenal & Monteverde; and 2) is a car necessary to get around La Fortuna, Monteverde (to visit waterfall, volcano, etc and to go to restaurants) – we are staying at Nayara Springs – if we choose not to get a car, will getting around be an issue (ease, cost, etc.)? We were thinking: renting a car from and to San Jose to head south to MA and flying (from San Jose) to Fortuna – Thanks!

Hi Sonia, it definitely makes sense to do the itinerary in reverse too and start in Manuel Antonio. A car would be nice to have for La Fortuna and Monteverde as things are more spread out (and Nayara Springs is outside town), but you could rely on taxis to get around as well depending on what you want to do. The cost and ease will really depend on the specific activities and if you want to explore on your own or through organized tours. If you decide to get a car, we can help and probably save you some money through our discount . We’ll message you with more info about the last part of your question.

Hi. We are a family of 4 (with two middle school kids) planning a trip for December 2015 over Christmas/New Years; between 10-12 days in Costa Rica including traveling to and from days. I really want to explore the best of Costa Rica. We are a “beach family” but feel Costa Rica has so much more to offer so we can sacrifice somewhat on beaches. I dont want to spend to much time traveling from one end of CR to the other. What would be a decent itinerary for our stay? thanks!

Hi Ally, aside from this itinerary, honestly, the best resource is our new itinerary book, Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries . If you guys are a beach family but want to do some exploring to see what Costa Rica has to offer, you could check out: (1) the Best of Costa Rica chapter , which is similar to the itinerary we provide in this post but adds on a visit to the cloud forest; and (2) the Family chapter , which goes to a chill beach town in central Guanacaste with lots of activities and another cool beach town on the Central Pacific Coast, but also includes some time to see the mountains and volcanoes. We designed the Family itinerary specifically so that you wouldn’t be spending too much time in the car. The e-book is $3.99 on Amazon – not a bad price for all the info it has! Best of luck planning and let us know if you have any more questions.

Hi, Thank you so much for your website and your book which we purchased and are pouring over. This is our first time visiting Costa Rica and we will have about 2 weeks to travel after Christmas 2015. We are starting our trip in Cahuita for 5 nights but have so many other things that we would like to see including Monteverde and the Arenal volcano. From Cahuita, where would you suggest that we go? We were thinking of landing in San Jose and spending our first and last nights there. Thanks!

Hi Wendy, That sounds like a great itinerary. It probably makes the most sense to go from Cahuita to Arenal first because it’s closer, and Arenal and Monteverde are about the same distance from San Jose for your return. There are some nice nature reserves on the drive from Cahuita to Arenal in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui too that you might want to check out if you need a break from being in the car. Tirimbina Biological Reserve has some nice walking trails and a really long hanging bridge over the river. It’s a nice place to stop for a couple of hours.

Hi there, Came across your website and wonder if you can comment on my 11day/10nights itinerary, arriving to SJO and spend the night around the airport, shuttle to Arenal for 3 nights for the volcano and the parks…cross the Arenal lake to Monteverde for 3 nights for some canopy, zip-lining fun, and enjoying some relaxing time towards the end of the trip at nice beaches and learning to surf in Tamarindo for 3 nights, flying out of Liberia…nothing booked yet but the trip will be late April…much appreciated… P.S. I had Manuel Antonio on the itinerary before but decided to leave it…or should I squeeze that back in?? Much appreciated!!

Hi Godfrey, that sounds like a very reasonable itinerary. You’ll see a good mix of the country and won’t be running around too much. Three destinations for 11 days is ideal- I wouldn’t try to fit in any more. Manuel Antonio would be a good addition for wildlife, but if you’re set on Tamarindo, MA is too out of the way. There’s lots of wildlife to see in the Arenal area (and in Monteverde too if you know where to look) so you can get it in there.

Hello everyone: I agree with some of the postings here, no mention the North Pacific coast, Guanacaste, but I understand why, at diference to Manuel Antonio or other beaches in that area there is nothing to do in Guanacaste more than stay in a expensive hotel, sometimes they offer a bananna boat or lancha tour, but nothing besides laying on the beach. Food is almost in every place international things, nothing particular costarican, white sand beaches you can find them in Mexico or other countries and islands, also long long drive. The nicest part of Guanacaste actually is Rincon de la Vieja volcano, a national park, adventure trips and tours and thermal waters, something really diferent from what we see always. This is a really good blog, in other itineraries I have seen as a must see for sure Monteverde, Manuel Antonio and Tortuguero but not recomended for many days, since you see all in three days mazimum, Corcovado is nice but hard to reach and you must stay few days there to make the trip worth it.

Thanks for your comments, Mark. This is just one sample itinerary to give first time visitors a place to start. We have several more itineraries in our new book, many of which go to Guanacaste and some of the other places you mentioned. If you’re interested, check it out here: Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries

Oh my goodness! Thank you! Your itinerary and suggestions for transportation are so helpful! My fiance and I will be traveling to Costa Rica for a 2 week long honeymoon in Aug. 2015. We are a little concerned about it being the rainy season. We have heard we should avoid Drake Bay during that time, do you agree? Right now we are hoping to do 4 locations: Tortuguero, Arenal, Monteverde and Uvita. Does that seem manageable? We are concerned about transportation to and from Tortuguero, but it sounds like an incredible place for viewing wildlife. We are hoping to have a mix of nature, wildlife, relaxing, adventures and beach time. We are also hoping to stay in a variety of types of lodging, some more rustic (tree house or ranch) and at least one place with a honeymoon suite and a view. Not sure which locations lend themselves more to each type of lodging. I am heading to Amazon right now to check out your books. THANK YOU SO MUCH! 🙂

Hi Nicole, Congrats on your marriage and upcoming honeymoon! August can be a bit rainy in Costa Rica, but you will definitely have some nice days as well. Everything is nice and green and as long as you’re flexible with your plans, it’s a great time to visit. We do recommend avoiding Drake Bay during that time of year though because it is usually the rainiest.

Those four locations should be very manageable in two weeks, and they all offer a variety of lodging. A great treehouse lodge that you might want to check out is Hidden Canopy Treehouses in Monteverde. Accommodations in Monteverde tend to be more rustic but Hidden Canopy has some really nice treehouses. Uvita has a nice selection of higher end lodging- definitely get something in the mountains so you have a nice ocean view. A few ideas are Kura Design Villas , Tiki Villas , Terrazas de Ballena , and Oxygen Jungle Villas .

You’ll probably want a car at least for your time in Uvita- be sure to take a look at our rental car discount if you haven’t already. Arranging transportation to Tortuguero isn’t too difficult so don’t worry. We just got back from a trip there and will have a blog post coming out about it so stay tuned. If you Subscribe to our website, you’ll get a notification by email. Good luck planning!

We are looking at doing 14 days in November- and I’m considering the following itinerary with a rental car. Day 1-3: Treehouse Hotel and Rafting, Days 3-5: Sky Adventures in Arenal, ATV riding, La Fortuna Waterfall and Hot Springs (I’ve done days 1-5 before and loved every minute of it, but here is where I need help-) Day 5-13- do you think that the ferry from Puntarenas would be a good way to get in some scuba diving? Tortuga Island? Maybe stay a night or two in Jaco and have time to make it to the Carribbean side (which I’ve never been to) or is that a bit ambitious?

Tortuga Island is supposed to have some good diving. If you wanted to save time, you could go straight from La Fortuna to Jaco and skip the ferry from Puntarenas to S. Nicoya- day trips go to Tortuga Isl. from Jaco. Cano Island to the south also has really good diving. You can visit from Uvita/Dominical on the Costa Ballena or from Drake Bay a little farther south. Heading south might make more sense for the rest of your trip rather than going to the Caribbean side, which is quite far from Jaco. If you did really want to see the Caribbean, we’d recommend heading there first then going to La Fortuna and Jaco.

Your blog and book was very helpful in getting me started on my CR trip. I just got back from a 2 week solo trip and a few of your points were spot on. I stayed in Alajuela (Maleku Hostel) just 5 minutes from the airport. I met a backpacker at the airport who didn’t have a room and had planned to “just go into San Jose and try to find one” at 9 at night and all of his stuff on his back. I was able to talk him out of that with the advice you had about staying in Alajuela.

The next morning, Adobe delivered a Suzuki Jimny to the hostel. When I left Alajuela, I took advantage of the fact that Poas Volcano was roughly on the way to La Fortuna. I also had read about Rio Celeste somewhere in your posts or book and the directions you had worked very well. What a great find and hike. I was worried about hiking alone initially but it was not a problem at all. One note regarding your directions and the GPS – after the bridge where you make that left onto the non paved road, my GPS was trying to get me to turn back around and go back out to the main road (the longer way?). I just kept following your directions and it was fine but the GPS was telling me to turn around around the entire way up to and even upon arrival at Rio Celeste parking.

In the end, I switched the itinerary up from your book a little bit and ended up doing La Fortuna > Monteverde > Tamarindo > Santa Teresa > Manuel Antonio. Not sure if you guys covered this anywhere but knowing that the ferry was available in Paquera to take cars across the gulf of Nicoya really opened up a lot of options since I didn’t have to drive the whole way up and around the gulf.

Thanks so much for the blog and all. It was really helpful in getting my trip planned and I enjoyed myself quite a bit there. Although the 4×4 rental was expensive, I can’t think of a better way to do it. I will likely be back!

Hi Jon, Great to hear that our resources here on the website and our Top 10 CR Itineraries book helped you plan. Also awesome that you were able to help out another traveler at the airport with some of our tips. Your itinerary sounds really fun, those are all great places and the way you put them together makes a lot of sense. 4×4 is definitely the way to go for those locations. The ferry is a beautiful and smart way to get across the Gulf of Nicoya and we cover how in our book’s transportation guide (surfing chapter), maybe that is where you saw it. Anyway glad that everything worked out and that you’ll be back for another adventure sometime in the future. Pura Vida!

Hey! Your blog is amazing- so firstly thank you! I wonder if you can help, I’m planning a 2 week trip to CR End August to Mid Sept. I’m a complete wildlife lover, but also a beach bum… but I’m severely arachnophobic and am slightly wary of this trip.

I was originally planning on following your itinerary pretty much to the word, but by posts above it seems Drake Bay may be one to avoid? Any other recommendations on awesome beaches but also chance to see wildlife?

Also- how bad will the spiders be? I struggle because I travel a lot, and I love nature and wildlife, I love the idea of camping out in the jungle in a little treehouse, but then I remember the spiders and get nervous at even the thought of it. Any places to avoid? Or am I over hyping it in my head? Thanks again guys- so helpful!

Yikes! Drake Bay probably isn’t the best place for an arachnophobe since it’s in the middle of the jungle, but don’t worry, there are lots of other (safer) places to visit:) You could swap out Drake for Montezuma on the S. Nicoya Peninsula or just go farther down the coast to Uvita/Dominical after your time in Manuel Antonio. Montezuma is a super chill beach town with miles of sand and lots of wildlife and Uvita/Dominical is a little more jungly and also has tons of opportunity for hiking and wildlife and secluded beaches. We have a post on Uvita/Dominical The Costa Ballena: Uvita, Dominical, and Ojochal . We’d recommend maybe skipping the treehouse style lodging and going with something more airtight (with AC) everywhere you go because of the bugs. Spiders aren’t too terribly bad here but we do see them. Try not to worry too much though- we have a friend who is super scared of spiders and she lives here so you’ll be fine for a couple of weeks. Have a great trip!

Hi Matt and Jen, Thanks a lot for this super useful itinerary!

My boyfriend and I are going to Costa Rica in two weeks; we are staying one night by the airport in San Jose, then a week in Arenal and a week in Manuel Antonio. We are thinking of getting the Interbus to Arenal and to Manuel Antonio, and possibly the plane back from Manuel Antonio to San Jose.

How far in advance should we book this transport? Our concern is that the weather forecast at the moment looks really stormy, so we’re wary of booking the small plane and then it being cancelled due to bad weather. At this time of year would it be safer for us to get the bus instead of the plane from MA to San Jose?

Hi Isabelle, If you book a flight for early in the day, you should be fine. This time of year we’re still early on in the rainy season. We have mostly sunny mornings and if it rains, it’s usually in the afternoon. Weather forecasts are seldom right here so don’t worry about what it says! So you could go ahead and book now if you want to guarantee your seats. You could also wait until you arrive but it’s still a fairly busy time of year in Manuel Antonio so the flights could sell out. Have a great trip!

Thank you so much for this brilliant blog! My boyfriend and I are thinking of travelling to CR for the last two weeks of August. I was hoping to do something similar to your itinerary. I’m thinking of heading to La Fortuna and then Monteverde and ending on a beach somewhere, but there is just so much choice. 🙂 I was wondering if you could tell me what the weather might be like at the end of August? I’m aware it’s rainy season but don’t know much more than that or what impact that my have on choice of locations. We’d like to end somewhere to relax but we are both adventure types so looking for somewhere we can soak up a some CR culture and do some water based activities (snorkeling, beginner surf, kayaking, dolphin spotting?) neither of us are particularly fantastic off land so we are seeking calm water rather than brilliant surf. I’m currently torn between somewhere on the Nicoya Peninsula or Manuel Antonio. Then again I’m also drawn by the hot springs, mud baths and waterfalls near Playa Hermosa in the north. You can maybe tell I’m a person who needs to take your advice of limiting what I want to do within two weeks! What would your thoughts be given the time of year? Thank you in advance for your wisdom. Ann-Marie

Hi Ann-Marie, The weather in August can be hard to predict but generally you will have nice sunny days in the morning and rain in the afternoon and evening. You’ll also probably have some days with little to no rain and others with rain most of the day so it’s good to be flexible with your plans. In general, Guanacaste and the Nicoya Peninsula are drier compared to other areas of the country. Since you’re interested in water activities, you might like Tamarindo (see our article here ) or Playa Avellanas just to the south, which is less touristy. Samara would be another good choice because the water is calmer and it’s a smaller town. Playa Hermosa is nice for water sport too but know that the hot springs, mud baths, and waterfalls are quite far inland and actually about the same distance from Tamarindo. If you want help picking out your third destination, we do offer itinerary services and could figure out a place with the activities you want to do and some culture, and also not too far from your other destinations and the airport. There’s more info on our Itinerary Help page .

Hi, My name is Arturo. I live in Houston. I read your Itinerary and it sounds excellent. I am planning to take 2 weeks in 2016 and explore Costa Rica. Do you still recommend the same Itinerary or do you have any other suggestions? One more questions when is the best time to travel to Costa Rica? thanks a lot.. Enjoy Life, Arturo

Hi Arturo, Yes, we definitely still recommend this itinerary. For other options you might want to check out our book, Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries . As for when to come, many people travel here during the dry season, which coincides with the North American winter. This is when it is the hottest and when we have the least rain. But if you don’t mind getting a little wet once and a while, the months of May-August are really nice too since everything is nice and green. September-November is generally the most rainy so if it is your first time, you may want to avoid those months. Hope this helps!

Hi Jenn and Matt, Thanks for the great info. My wife and I would like to do this or something very like it, end of March’16 start of April. Would you have any idea what the small plane costs would be and would a guide/driver be useful at each base (if so, how much?). We are late 50’s and my wife gets car sick so no very long drives and no buses. Thanks again.

Hi Gary, For the destinations included in this itinerary, small plane flights range from $50-$150 per person depending how far you book in advance. NatureAir has some low cost fares (their Locos fare) if you can get them. Private drivers are expensive in Costa Rica so your best bet for getting around locally once you get to a destination is probably to rent a car or take cabs/arrange tours where transportation is included. Renting a car would be our pick because it’s nice to have the freedom to go on your own schedule. Plus some places, like La Fortuna, are more spread out so it’s harder to get around without a car. There are more nuisances (like how you don’t need any transportation once you get to Drake Bay) and it’s a little complicated to answer your question without going into a lot of detail. We do cover all the different options for getting around for this itinerary in our Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries book so you can find more info in there. We also have separate posts on each of these destinations: La Fortuna , Manuel Antonio , and Drake Bay . Finally, if you want more customized assistance, we could design an itinerary for the whole trip that will cover hotels, transportation, and activities. There’s more info on our Itinerary Services page . Let us know if you’re interested.

I love your blog! Thanks a lot! My brother and I are planning a CR two week venture Nov 2015. Although we actually have only 10 days in CR since we’d like to get to Bocas Del Toros for the remaining 3 or 4 days, we’d like to make the most of the activities and beaches in CR. We’re thinking of renting a car in the airport, going to Arenal, Monte Verde cloud forest, going down the beaches to Manuel Antonio, and then ( the tricky part), we’d like to return the car either in MA or back in the airport and to take a local flight to Bocas Del Toros, Panama for 3 days. My question is, can we return the car in MA and take a flight from there to Bocas or should we pass with the car on the ferry to cross towards San Jose to return the car there and take the flight from there? What’s the best option? Also, do you think squeezing Tortuegro in the beginning of the trip is way too much? Thanks a lot!!!!

Hi Gilat, First off, we wouldn’t recommend trying to add Tortuguero to the beginning of the trip if you only have 10 days. Better to stick with Arenal, Monteverde, and Manuel Antonio so that you have a few days in each place. Plus, since it’ll be the rainy season, it’s good to build in some flexibility in case roads are slower and some of your activities get washed out because of rain. For what to do with the car, you’ll have to go back to San Jose anyway because that’s where small plane flights for the Bocas leave from so it’s probably better to drive. Manuel Antonio is only about 2.5 hours from the airport anyway so not bad (the ferry goes to a different place- it connects the Nicoya Peninsula to Puntarenas, not where you’re going). The other option is to take 2 separate flights, one from Quepos to San Jose and another from San Jose to Bocas, but this will cost a lot more, plus you’ll have to pay a fee for dropping the car off at a different location than you picked up. Hope that helps. One other thing- We get a discount through one of the rental car companies here, Adobe. They’re having great deals for Nov. so if you haven’t checked it out yet, here’s a link with more info: https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/costa-rica-rental-car-discount/

This is a great post. A girlfriend and I are planning a 10-day trip in January. We are hoping to see a volcano and visit waterfalls, but also want to spend the majority of our time on the beach (pacific side) – soaking up sun, learning to surf, and enjoying some nightlife (we are in our mid-twenties). We are thinking of flying into Liberia and home from San Jose – would this be ideal? Places we’re looking at include Tamarindo, Malpais, Montezuma and Manuel Antonio. Any guidance would be appreciated!

Hi Elle, If you can find flights that aren’t too expensive that have you flying into SJO and out of LIR, that would definitely make sense given your itinerary. Liberia is only an hour from Tamarindo and then you could head south from there to Mal Pais and Montezuma, before taking the ferry and going to Manuel Antonio (which is only about 2.5 hours from SJO airport- much closer than Liberia). Your itinerary sounds good given what you want to do; we think you’ll really like those destinations. The only thing is that trying to fit 4 places in is a bit aggressive since travel time between some towns is substantial (e.g. Tama to Mal Pais). Any chance you can add a couple days so that you have 3 days in each? That would make for a much more enjoyable trip. Have a great time!

Thank you for all of your recommendations! Your blog has been beyond helpful for the planning of our (honeymoon) trip next month (Nov 2015). We will be arriving around the new moon, and were considering Ostional Beach for an arribadas. Would you have any recommendations about this area? We will be there for 2 weeks and are considering Ostional Beach, La Fortuna, and Manuel for our stay. We are very outdoorsy (Colorado hiking and camping type) so we are looking for some adventure and nature. I would greatly appreciate your input on Ostional Beach area (if any). Thank you in advance as well for what we have taken from this blog.

Hi Brittney, Congrats on your marriage! Your itinerary sounds good for a two-week trip. La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio are good for adventure and nature, and shouldn’t be too busy in November either. As for Ostional, it’s a very small town- there’s not much there really except the beach so unless you’re looking for some quiet, we’d recommend staying in Nosara. Nosara is just to the south and has a lot of choices for restaurants and things to do. Then you can visit Ostional on a day trip to (hopefully) see an arribada. Here’s a link to a blog post we wrote about Nosara with lots of details on the area, hotel and restaurant recommendations, etc. Hope you have a great honeymoon!

Thank you so much for taking the time to get back to me! I will read this over today. Do you think Tortugero (rather than Nosara and Ostional) would be a better fit for turtle watching?

Since you’re visiting in November, Ostional is a much better choice because arribadas keep going there until December. Prime green turtle watching season will already be over in Tortuguero.

Hi Jenn & Matt,

Love your blog! Myself and my boyfriend are off to Costa Rica in a matter of days! We’re planning to keep to your two week itinerary. I was just wondering if you would suggest any changes/ other recommendations to the itinerary due to the thunder storm weather forecast for our time there.

Thanks so much!

Our plans are pretty flexible so open to change. Do you think drake bay should be missed if the weather is this rainy?

Hi Camilla, We’re coming out of the rainy season now but Drake Bay is one of the wettest areas of the country so if you wanted to be safe you could skip it. You could always check out the Dominical/Uvita area instead, which has a lot of rainforest/wildlife like Drake Bay but isn’t quite as rainy. It’s about 45 min. south of Manuel Antonio so you could easily add it on to the end of your trip. We have a couple blog posts with more info: The Costa Ballena: Uvita, Dominical, and Ojochal and 7 Things to Do in Dominical

Hi, Thank you so much for the itinerary. It is unbelievably helpful. I’m thinking about going to costa rica this winter. It’s a peak season but this is our only chance. We’re thinking on taking the public transport all the way from San Jose-La Fortuna-Puerto Limon-Drake Bay. Do you think it possible? Is there any bus that are scheduled during the night so we can save some time on the journey?

Hi Amira, taking the bus is definitely possible but you will find that a lot of them don’t run too much at night. There are afternoon buses between some of the larger destinations, which arrive later at night but honestly we wouldn’t recommend doing that. Riding the bus is generally very safe but some bus stations can be a little sketchy after dark. Better to get on first thing in the morning and arrive at your next destination later in the day. As for putting together the whole itinerary, those destinations are very spread out and would be best for at least a two week trip. Additionally, Puerto Limon doesn’t have a lot to offer tourists and you would be better heading south to Cahuita/ Puerto Viejo or north to Tortuguero if visiting the Caribbean. Hope this starts you in the right direction.

Hello Jenn and Matt, Thank you so much for publishing this fantastic blog! My tour was canceled last minute … I leave in five days. I cried, borrowed a lonely planet guide, then cried some more. Normally LP is a backpackers best friend, however it was not especially helpful and made the notion of traveling solo seem very overwhelming. I found your blog this morning and 6 hours later I have a two week itinerary reserved complete with hotels and shuttle tickets. I purchased your book on Amazon and will use it to make the most of each location. THANK YOU for providing honest, useful, and relevant information. Also, your hotel recommendations are spot on! You saved my trip! Thank you, Jen

Wow, that sounds super stressful about your tour being canceled last minute. Glad our website could help. Didn’t realize Lonely Planet was so down on solo travel here. It is definitely possible and people do it all the time. You’ll have a great time!

Hi Matt&Jenn!

I just wanted to say a big THANK YOU for the car rental discount. We used it yesterday towards our trip on Jan 26th thru Feb 9th – two whole weeks in Costa Rica! Everytime I book a trip, I try to find a way to pay cheaper than the average bear. I got a hell of a deal on flights, used Airbnb on some accomadations, used Orbitz with Ebates on others, and now your coupon for the car rental! I only have accomadations booked for the first 4 nights, and I am working off of your 2-week Costa Rica itinerary, so thanks for that as well! You guys are really helping me out! Can’t wait to see what Costa Rica has to offer!

Awesome Ashley. Glad to help. Have a great trip!

Hi Jenn and Matt, I agree with everyone here that your site is super informative and useful and easy to use. Nice work!

My boyfriend and I are heading to CR in a month. We fly into Liberia, though, and plan to rent a car. We’ve gotten some advice from those who live and have been there and our plans are sort of defined but still also up in the air.

We are flying in at midday Sunday, renting a 4X4, and staying at a hotel at the base of Rincon de la Vieja (Hotel Borninquen). We will relax there and maybe venture out that afternoon for a bit of sightseeing / food, etc.

The park is closed Mondays, so Monday will be a day of relaxation on the beaches, such as Playa Hermosa or maybe Tamarindo.

Tuesday we will head to Rincon de la Vieja.

Wednesday we plan to drive down to the Mal Pais/Santa Teresa area and spend our time there until Saturday morning, at which point we will drive back closer to Liberia, spend our last night in that area and fly home the next day.

Our hopes are to be on the beach, get some serious physical activity in like hiking, horseback riding, maybe zipline or kayak, etc., and we hope to do some running. He is marathon-training!

Does this sound doable? Do you have any recommendations on great beaches as we make our way down to Mal Pais, or great beaches for our first full day?

Thank you so much!

Hi Cheryl, Your itinerary sounds good. The only thing to think about is the distance from Rincon to the beach. It’s about 1.5 to 2 hours to Tamarindo, Playa Hermosa, and some of the other beaches so you’ll want to make sure to leave enough time to get there and back before dark (we don’t recommend driving long distances after dark). As for which beach to visit from Rincon, Tamarindo is a good surfing beach and has a lot to do withing walking distance (great restaurants, souvenir shops, etc.). We have a whole post about it here . Another option for somewhere quieter but still fun is Playa Avellanas just south of Tamarindo. That’s another surfing beach and it has a great beach bar right on the sand (more info here ). On the drive down to Mal Pais, there won’t be any beaches to stop at because you should take the inland route (the coastal route via Nosara, Samara, etc. takes much longer- if you haven’t seen it yet, look at our post on Mal Pais for directions) but you could visit Montezuma beach on the way or on a day trip from Mal Pais. It’s a chill little beach town with some awesome waterfalls, horseback riding, etc.

I can’t begin to thank you enough for providing such a helpful website. No nonsense, just great info. Much appreciated! Also how you provide links to the products, which answers so many questions! Well done!!

Happy to help, Steven!

This article is very helpful to give an idea where to start. We are planning a 2 weeks in beginning of February; We want to rent a car for all the 2 weeks; is there a problem to drive to Drake Bay? We are looking for hotels with a budget of up to $100; should we do advanced reservations or look for when we get there. Thank you

Hi Henry, You can drive to Drake Bay but it’s not recommended because the terrain is really rough and there are some river crossings. Your best bet is to leave the car in Sierpe and take the boat taxi or fly on a small plane. There is secure parking in Sierpe (town where the boat taxi leaves) if you decide to do that. There are also a couple of companies that will pick up the car in Sierpe but none have offices there. Toyota Rent a Car is one of them. We’ve found, though, when looking for clients that it’s often cheaper to keep the car the whole time and leave it parked if you use our rental car discount through Adobe Rent a Car than to go with one of the other companies that does pick ups in Sierpe. We have more info on getting to Drake Bay (about boat shuttle, cost to park, etc.) in our post Drake Bay: Costa Rica Unplugged .

As for booking hotels, we highly recommend booking in advance if you want to stay somewhere nice. You can always find something last minute but it might not be that great and it could take a while to find something. February is the high season so the major tourist destinations will be very busy. At a minimum, make sure to do advanced reservations for Drake Bay because lodging there is very limited.

Thanks for your book and website. Both are very helpful. We are going to follow your 2-week Best of Costa Rica itinerary from the book almost exactly when we visit in February. I do have a few questions. You suggest taking the Water Taxi to Drake Bay and then flying back to SJO. So we are renting a car…where do we drop off a car? If we drop off in Manuel Antonio, what is the best way to get to Sierpe?

Hi Peggy, Thanks for checking out our book! There are a couple of rental companies that will let you drop off in Sierpe (Toyota Rent a Car; National), but we’ve found these companies to generally be more expensive so make sure to compare the price with the one you would get through Adobe if you use our rental car discount . If you end up going with Adobe and drop off in Manuel Antonio/Quepos (they don’t do drop offs in Sierpe), you can take a cab/private driver to Sierpe (there isn’t a reliable shuttle that does this route that we know of). We know a guy that does it for around $140 and can help with those arrangements if you want, just let us know.

Hey guys…. fair play to you for running a blog like this for the benefit of other travellers; it’s very kind. Me and my partner are travelling in Nov this year. I’ve scared myself off Drake bay due to it being the rainy season… my biggest question is would MA be ok in Nov?

Also can you drive between la fortuna and monteverde? Google is taking me right round the lake?

Overall I’m thinking (option without a rental car) monteverde, then montezuma by shuttle/ferry, then speed boat to Jaco and shuttle to MA? Is that too ambitious and would we be stupid for not going to la fortuna?

Thanks Jeremy

Hi Jeremy, Manuel Antonio in November shouldn’t be too bad. It’s the end of the rainy season and is actually one of the best times of year to visit there since it’s not that busy. If you want more info about what the weather is like during different times of year, check out our Weather post .

The way Google is taking you from La Fortuna to Monteverde is right- you go right around Lake Arenal. It’s a windy but flat, paved road until after you get around the lake in Tilaran where it soon turns to rough dirt (4×4 required).

That’s a good itinerary if you’re not renting a car and the order makes sense. Not sure how long you’re going for, but it’s reasonable to do those 4 locations in 2 weeks considering travel time. Adding La Fortuna as a 5th destination would probably be too much unless you have more time and is best saved for another trip. The places you’re going are a good mix of mountains/cloud forest and beach time, but if you wanted more mountain time, you could swap out Jaco or MA for La Fortuna. All depends on the type of experience you’re looking for. If you want more info on La Fortuna, we have a whole separate post about it here .

Hi Jenn & Matt. My husband and I are visiting CR for 2 weeks at the end of April/beginning of May. We have provisionally planned 1 night Alajuela, 2 nights Tortuguera, 3 nights La Fortuna, 3 nights Manuel Antonio, 3 nights Drake Bay, 2 nights San Gerardo de Dota. Do you think this will be too much travelling. I am also now worried about a previous comment I read regarding the spiders at Drake Bay. I am not very keen on either spiders or snakes. do you think it would be best to go somewhere else? Thanks in advance for your help and advice.

Hi Pat and Chris, That sounds like a reasonable itinerary. You’ll be moving around a lot, but shouldn’t be too rushed. The one suggestion we might make is to add a night in Drake Bay. Most people say that even 3 nights isn’t enough time there because they loved it so much. I wouldn’t worry too much about spiders, unless you have a serious phobia, as it sounded with the previous commenter. You’ll see spiders once in a while in Drake, especially in the rainforest, but if you pick accommodations that are more closed off, you should be fine. Avoid cabin-style lodging without A/C because it’s easier for the bugs to sneak in.

Thank you for this great blog! It has been really helpful when planning our upcoming trip. We will be following your 2 week itinerary for our family trip to Costa Rica in June. It will be the first trip of this kind with our kids in tow (ages 7 and 9). I would love some advice about getting to Sierpe from Quepos though. I noticed the boat leaves Sierpe at 11:00 am for Drake. Should we plan on staying in Sierpe the night before to assure we make the boat on time or can we reasonably get there from Quepos on the same day? If we stay in Sierpe, do you have any suggestions for accommodations?

Hi Alison, You don’t need to stay overnight as long as you leave fairly early. It takes about 2 hours from Quepos to Sierpe, but it’s a good idea to allow a little extra time. We usually recommend leaving 3 hours before the boat leaves. You can just sit at one of the small restaurants on the river in Sierpe if you get there early- gorgeous view!

Hi Jenn and Matt. We’re planning on 2 weeks in CR starting in Liberia (end of June). We have a rental car and are looking for suggestions on where to go and what to see without doing too much backtracking. Volcan Arenal is one of the places we’d like to see and parts of the coast are high on the list ( even though we’re not huge beach people). Thanks for your thoughts and advice.

Hi Glen, We’re working on a sample itinerary starting from Liberia so that will be coming out soon on our website. In the meantime, here are some ideas: With two weeks, aim to visit 3-4 destinations so that you’re not driving around too much. If La Fortuna/Arenal is on your list, you could easily head to the Rio Celeste after (awesome waterfall, charming rural area), then Monteverde (cloud forest), and then end the trip with 4-5 days in Guanacaste at the beach- either in Northern Guanacaste ( Tamarindo , Playa Flamingo, Playa Hermosa)–this area is more developed–or Central Guanacaste/S. Nicoya Peninsula ( Nosara , Samara, Montezuma or Mal Pais ). Hope that gives you some ideas to start. We have a couple of itineraries from Liberia in our Top 10 Itineraries book and you can learn more about the different destinations in there too.

Thanks so much for this! I was just wondering your thoughts on fitting in a visit to the Sloth Sanctuary in Limon. We will definitely be going there (a life long dream!), but I’ve noticed that a lot of the places mentioned are on the other side from Limon. Any suggestions for a 11-14 day trip? Thanks!

Hi Natalie, In this itinerary, we focus on the Pacific coast and northern highlands/mountains, but the Caribbean definitely has a lot to offer too. In our Itineraries book , we have a wildlife itinerary that you might like. It has some overlap with this itinerary. It goes to Puerto Viejo near the Sloth Sanctuary (really fun destination), Tortuguero also on the Caribbean, and a couple of destinations on the Pacific side (Manuel Antonio and Drake Bay). In 14 days, it’s definitely doable; with 11, you might have to cut one destination. Another idea is to do the Caribbean side and then to spend some time near Poas Volcano so that you’re not too far from San Jose. We suggest this in our Itineraries book too, along with a visit to the Bocas islands in Panama if you have 2 weeks. You can find our book on Amazon or we have lots of info on our website about these different places on the Destinations page.

Thanks so much for the tips! I was also just wondering if these would be decent places to go given that we’ll be going in June and it’s the rainy season. This is where we’re most stuck! We’d like some beach time but understand it’s on the opposite side from Limon.

Don’t worry too much about the weather for a June trip. June is still early in the rainy season on the Pacific side, so anywhere on that coast will be nice. Expect sunny mornings and scattered rain/storms in the afternoon and evening. The Caribbean has completely different weather patterns. It gets rain fairly consistently year round, and June usually sees a moderate amount of rain but it’s still pleasant (Remember that it’s the tropics so it’s a nice warm rain that’s keeping the rainforest green). You might also be interested in our Weather post, which has detailed info on the weather in different regions and what to expect during the rainy season.

Hi! I was wondering if you could give me any information on Tinamaste. I am a Vegan naturalist into organic/sustainable living and have been told that Tinamaste is the right place for me! I am 51 and retired looking to relocate from a hectic life in Los Angeles to reconnect with Mother Nature and enjoy healthy air! I would really appreciate any input you might have. BTW, I have never been to Costa Rica but it has been my lifelong dream!!! Thank you!

Hi Sara, Tinamaste sure does sound like the right place for you. It’s a small community in the mountains, about a half hour from the beach town of Dominical. A lot of the locals are Costa Rican but there’s a big expat community too, many who are into sustainable living. There are several permaculture farms in the area, yoga studios, acupuncture events, and there’s a fantastic organic farmers market on Tuesday mornings where you can get produce and lots of other homemade products (a lot of vegan stuff, teas, etc.). You should definitely come visit if you’re thinking about moving. Not sure how far along you are in your research, but we have a lot of basic info in our FAQs About Moving to Costa Rica post.

Hi, I’m planning a two weeks trip to costa rica ( mostly by myself for now) . I wanted to know what to do, where to go, is it safe to be there alone? Your itinerary is very helpful but I would need help to organize all of this since I do not know the region at all. I really want to see the tropical forests, water falls, do a bit of hiking, sight seeing and mostly see the wilderness in the jungles. Hope you can help!!!!

Hi Sonia, We can definitely help you figure out the logistics of your trip. We offer a couple of different itinerary services and can build you a custom itinerary that will give you all the info you need to book accommodations and activities. We also help with transportation and give restaurant recommendations and any local tips that are helpful based on where you’ll be visiting. There’s more info on our Itinerary Help page. Let us know if you’re interested.

Hi, I am planning a last minute trip, and definitely need help. It’s a mother-daughter trip, daughter is 16. We like adventure, jungle, beach, some time off the beaten track, and some time with wi-fi – for the daughter!! A couple days in a place that offers yoga and paddle boarding. Zip lining, waterfalls, maybe rafting, a tree house, good food, a day of scuba. Dates would be June 15th-25th. I would love suggestions, and then someone to pull it all together for us. Domestic air travel is fine, and I don’t mind some driving, whatever works best logistically. Thank you!!

Hi Elizabeth, We’ll email you now with more info so that we can get started on an itinerary. Thanks!

Hi, Thanks for the info here! I am planning a trip for end of July/ beginning August. Just under 2 weeks, planning to see Poas volcano, then head to Arenal and Monteverde/Elena.

For final week, I am torn between heading toward Cahuita or exploring around Manuel Antonio. We would really like some easy snorkeling- traveling with a 5 y.o. Do you have thoughts on that? Would like to check out Cahuita as it seems cheaper, a bit less developed- but concerned visibility may not be good late July/early August.

Also would love to fit in Rincon de la Vieja but that may be too much…

Also, should we generally expect to pay for a 5 yo (for hotel room occupancy, ect?)

Thank you! Lynn

Hi Lynn, Early August is typically pretty rainy on the Caribbean side so snorkeling in Cahuita will be hit or miss. You never know though, if you have a day or two without rain, it would be fine. Cahuita has that nice reef and there’s also pretty easy snorkeling right offshore at Playa Punta Uva just to the south in Puerto Viejo . We really like Cahuita and it is cheaper and a lot less developed than Manuel Antonio. We have an article about our visit here if you haven’t seen it. Manuel Antonio is great too, but a lot different. If snorkeling is one of your main objectives it might not be the best place because visibility is usually just okay. There are catamaran tours that include snorkeling, though; it’s just not the focus of the tour. Some of the boats have a slide too, which your 5 year old might like.

We wouldn’t try to fit Rincon since it’s so far away from your other destinations.

From what we’ve seen helping our itinerary clients, whether hotels charge for young kids really depends. Some start charging around age 5 or 6 and some do not. If they do charge, it’ll be something like $10-20 a day. If you use booking.com for your reservations, you can see if a hotel charges very easily. There’s info about it in the Good to Know section towards the bottom when you’re looking at a hotel. That’s what we always use to book hotels when traveling here.

thank you for your response! Where do you think the best bet for snorkeling would be in early august?

Probably Cano Island near Drake Bay. It’s off the coast so conditions are usually pretty good. We loved snorkeling there on a trip a couple of years back. We have more info about it in our post Drake Bay: Costa Rica Unplugged .

Hi Jenn and Matt I got your books and am getting excited about our 2 week trip at the end of this month! I have a couple questions about transportation. Since we are traveling from San Jose to Arenal, Monteverde and Manuel Antonio would it be cheaper to rent a car or do the shuttle? We are traveling with a 6 and 9 yr old. Also, we are spending 3 full days in Arenal area and were planning on going to Monteverde for a couple days for a total of 7 days with travel. Do you think we should scratch Monteverde bc it is more of the same? My family loves to go to the beach and I am afraid we are staying too long inland. Thanks for your help!

Hi Ann-Maree, For a family of four, renting a car usually works out to be about the same price as taking a shuttle. Since it is low season, you’ll get lower rates on a rental but shuttle costs stay the same year-round. Shared shuttles between those destinations are around $50-60pp or $800+ for the 4 legs of your trip. A 4×4 rental in the low season, which you’ll need for the drive to Monteverde, is around $850 for a mid-size SUV. I did a quick search for dates towards the end of the month and Adobe, the company we get a discount through, has a lot of its 4×4 SUVs reserved already. If you still need something, check out our rental car discount page , and if there isn’t a car available, we might be able to help you figure something out.

As for if you should scratch Monteverde, it is a really unique destination. It’s the cloud forest so a lot different than Arenal and a great place for younger kids with lots of kid-friendly activities.

Hi guys, I just wanted to say all of you posts have been super helpful. Thank you! I thought I’ d run my tentative plans by you and get your feedback. We arrive in Liberia at 5 AM and plan to rent a car and drive to La Fortuna stopping by Rio Celeste on the way. We’ ll then stay two nights in La Fortuna and want to do the hanging bridges, La Fortuna waterfall, hike in Arenal and the chocolate tour. Then will head to Marino Bellena with a stop by Poas and the waterfall you mention in your post. We were only going to stay that night in Marino Bellena to check out the whale tail beach and drive to Sierpe the next morning to catch the boat to Drakes bay. We’ll have six nights in Drakes bay before we fly to San Jose to catch our flight home. Solid car rental has agreed to let us drop our car off in Sierpe. My concern is will we have enough time that third day to get from La Fortuna to Marina Bellena in time to spend a couple of hours at the beach before dark if we stop at the Poas waterfall? We do plan to start our days early, around 6 AM to make the most of each day. Also one last question, we are traveling March 24 through April 3, do you know of any place near where we will be that we can see sea turtles nesting or hatching? Thanks Again, Amy

Hi Amy, That is a pretty ambitious itinerary (especially the first part). It is probably technically possible to do many of those things, but you will be rushing and may not have much, if any, time to spend at each attraction. On your question about Poas, we would suggest either an overnight in that area or cutting Poas and the waterfall (I think you’re talking about Catarata del Toro ?) and heading straight to the Costa Ballena. If you’re thinking of going up over the mountain to get from Poas to the coast via Highway 2, keep in mind that you don’t want to drive that after dark because it’s really mountainous, windy, and often has poor visibility because it gets clouded in. Even if you went the coastal route via Highway 34, you still wouldn’t have time to do all that and spend a couple of hours enjoying the beach, unfortunately. Can’t think of anywhere with turtle watching near these areas – it is usually better during rainy season. If you’re interested, we could help you figure out realistic drive times so that you can fit in as much as possible and know you’ll have time to do everything you want through our Itinerary Review service. Contact us through our Itinerary page if you’re interested. Otherwise, good luck with the planning!

thank you so much for this itinerary it has been a lot of help for planning our trip. Is there any places you would recommend for young people to go? I am going to Costa Rica in November with three buddies and we are looking to use your itinerary as a reference for our two weeks in Costa.

Hi Ryan, Jaco and Tamarindo both have a lot going on, lots of things to do, good nightlife, etc. Santa Teresa and Montezuma on the S Nicoya are smaller and more remote but have a cool scene and draw a lot of young people. Click through to the links to learn more about the different places or you could read our Destinations Summary Guide to figure out the best fit. That boils everything down and links to our full articles on each place once you find somewhere you are interested in. November will be slower in CR so go with more popular places so it isn’t dead.

Hi There! My boyfriend and I are going to CR in a month, and still have a few things to book. We are there for 2 weeks. We are going to Tamarindo for the first 3 days, then La Fortuna for the next 3 days. We have to book accomodation and our itinerary for the rest of the time. We would like to see Santa Teresa, Manuel Antonio, Monteverde for Ziplining, Punteneras , Jaco too but I am stuck on where we should book hotel for the remaining week? I also want to find this infamous Maria for massages in Play Hermosa! Is this a bit too ambitious? We have a rental car for the 2 weeks but we also don’t want to be driving everyday all day. Is there anything that we can skip? We have surfing booked, Tabacon hot springs, I want to see Rio Celeste and have some amazing food! Any recommendations would be much appreciated.

Hi Kristen, All of those places are good options and won’t be too busy in a month. We would recommend adding 2 or max 3 to Tamarindo and La Fortuna if you don’t want to drive too much. Monteverde is a really unique destination because of the cloud forest and has good food options too. It also fits well within your existing itinerary. We have several posts on Monteverde: Monteverde Destination Guide ; Driving to Monteverde ; Monteverde Hotel Guide .

If you’re flying out of Liberia, Santa Teresa is easier for your next destination. Jaco and Manuel Antonio are farther away but good options if you fly out of San Jose (Jaco has great restaurants too). Hope that helps. Wish we had more time before your trip to help you through an itinerary review!

Hi Jenn and Matt, thanks so much for the reply. Great information on your blog, it’s really helping me plan smarter. I see you mention mosquitoe borne illnesses; something I didn’t really research before booking our flights! I’m paranoid about getting sick but how much do I need to worry about dengue or catching anything else ? Should I be using bug spray 24/7? I likely will panic when I see a single mosquitoe bite. How is the health care there ? I was told to only go to “Seima” hospitals if necessary.

Hi Kristen, Try not to worry and just enjoy your trip. It will still be rainy season so you should definitely wear repellent when you’re outside and follow the precautions in our Mosquitoes post (long pants when hiking; no open air accommodations, etc.), but you are unlikely to get anything during a short trip, especially if you’re careful.

Health care is decent here. It varies depending where you are in the country, but your hotel will be able to help you find an urgent care clinic in the unlikely event that you need one. The local clinics are fine for routine issues, but for anything serious we prefer going private (CIMA, Clinica Bíblica, etc.). You might want to get travel insurance for peace of mind, but really, try not to worry too much 🙂 You’re going to have a great time!

Where is the best scuba diving in Costa Rica?

Hi MaryAlice, The best diving in Costa Rica is at Cocos Island, but few people go there because it’s really far off the coast and thousands of dollars to dive/get there by boat. Cano Island near Drake Bay on the Southern Pacific Coast is a good alternative, though. This is a protected island far offshore (so visibility is usually really good) with several different dive sites and a huge diversity of marine life, including white-tip reef sharks, sting rays, manta rays, turtles, dolphins, etc. The Catalina and Bat Islands up off the Northern Pacific Coast near the Papagayo Peninsula and Playa Hermosa are supposed to be great too for seeing bull sharks, manta rays, etc. Hope that gives you some ideas.

Hi Jenn and Matt!

My boyfriend and I booked a last minute trip to Costa Rica from October 16-27. I LOVE this itinerary, and would love to follow it but little did we know that October is the rainy season. Do you think this itinerary is still achievable at this time of year? If not, do you have any alternative suggestions? Are the beaches on the Caribbean side worth seeing? We don’t mind rain, but don’t want to be stuck inside all day. If we do visit the Pacific what beach area is best for this time of year?

As you can see we are really struggling with where to go (Pacific and Monteverde vs Caribbean). We are afraid we will miss out on what Costa Rica has to offer (jungle, volcanoes, ect), unless we can get all of that on the dry side and avoid the rain.

We are flying into San Jose and will have a rental car. We are also completely flexible with our destinations. Any suggestion you have will be greatly appreciated!

Hi Carissa, This itinerary is totally doable for October, but maybe skip Drake Bay because it will likely be very rainy there. La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio will have some rain but shouldn’t be too bad. The Caribbean side does have some gorgeous beaches and it’s actually a great time of year to visit that area of the country since October is one of the driest months. We love the Southern Caribbean, either Cahuita (charming small town with a really nice national park with a lot of wildlife) and Puerto Viejo (a little bigger with great restaurants and activities like the Jaguar Rescue Center, chocolate tours, etc.). Puerto Viejo also has one of our favorite beaches in Costa Rica, Playa Punta Uva. Follow the links for more info.

So maybe replace Drake with the Caribbean side and then pick two more destinations, MA and La Fortuna would be good ones like we said, or you could do MA and Monteverde. Monteverde is a really unique destination because of the cloud forest, but it will be rainy. La Fortuna generally has better weather this time of year. Hope that helps give you some ideas!

Hi Jenn and Matt, This blog is so great and full of information. We have done a fair bit of travelling (on our own or with just one child) but this trip we’re bringing 3! This blog is like Lonely Planet + Google + Trip Advisor combined, from people who clearly care about other travellers, so thank you. We are travelling after Christmas this year with 3 kids, one is 10 and two will be 6 when we go. We are doing 3 nights near Playa Grande, 3 in Monteverde and 5 in Dominical. It seems our long travel day is right in the middle of our trip so it’s perfect and we can take our time. I especially appreciate your video of the roads to Monteverde. Thanks for all the information – your website has great graphics too so it’s really easy to navigate.

Hi Claire, That is so kind of you to say, thank you. Your itinerary sounds great and I think your family is going to have a lot of fun. Those areas are all really beautiful and each has a unique feel so you’ll be able to see how different the country is. There’s also a lot to do with kids, especially in Monteverde. Hope you have a wonderful trip!

Hi, I just stumbled upon your site and I like it! I have done a fair amount of research and yet have questions/concerns, probably because I like it all to be perfect 🙂 We are doing a 12 day trip from 12/17 -12/29.

12/17: Arriving in SJO and staying the night at Marriott in Alajuela. 12/18: Poa Volcano/coffee tour/la paz and staying again in Marriott. 12/19: Shuttle to Arenal and staying the night 12/20: Arenal Volcano history tour (can you suggest other options please?) 12/21: Taxi boat to Monte Verde and stay the night 12/22: Selvatura Bridges, butterfly and humming bird gardens 12/23: Guide tour to curi-cancha reserve 12/24: Shuttle to Manuel Antonio and stay the night (not sure if it’s worth for just one day?) 12/25: Manuel Antonio to Drake Bay via Siepre and stay in Casa Drake lodge for 3 nights. 12/26: Day hike to Corcovado (how to book a night stay in Sirena station?) We have a tour booked from Casa Drake Lodge. How can we be sure the guide is good? They said they use Drake bay tours company that I know nothing about. Also, we want to enter the park from Sirena as that’s the best route I am told. 12/27: Do you recommend another hike or do Cano Island? We have snorkeled etc. in many carribean destinations. Is CR good for this or should we stick to another hike? If so, where please? 12/28: Return to SJ via shuttle….

Please let us know if any of this makes sense or is it repititive? All suggestions are welcome and thanks again in advance! You are indeed living a dream life! 12/27:

Hi Rupa, You have a lot of good ideas in there. I think you have more questions than we can help with here though. Something that might really benefit you is our itinerary review service. We could look at your whole itinerary and see if it makes sense, answer your questions, etc. Here’s a link to our page with more info. There are some parts of the draft that you might want to rethink, like staying only one night in places and also how busy certain towns will be because of the holidays – those are the types of thing we could help with.

We could also just help you with tours offline if you like once you have finalized the itinerary. We know of a great guide who does tours to Sirena and can help you figure out something different for La Fortuna if you decide to go there and also with a possible Cano Island tour (which is totally worth it). Just send us an email at bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)com and we can get started.

I am totally in love with your blog! It’s so informative and helpful during our preparation to see CR in mid November so thank you very much! We have 2 weeks and a bit and we are planning to go to La Fortuna for 3-4 days, Monteverde 2-3 days, potentially Montezuma and finish off at MA as you mentioned that this is a great place for more sightseeing. We love nature, beautiful landscapes and off beaten tracks (I am currently reading your blog about the off beated track near M|A) so if you think we should add another location(s) in to our flexible itinerary, please advise. We would truly appreciate your knowledge. Also, we are trying to give ourselves some space for change, if necessary, so we don’t want to book accommodation for the whole duration of our trip. Is it a good idea? Can we find wifi or internet shop ion CR very easily? Would you recommend home stay in CR? Thank you in advance for all your help 😉

Hi Kasia, Those places sound great for what you’re interested in and they shouldn’t be too busy in November either. The one suggestion I have is to take a look at the Uvita/Dominical area . It’s great for nature lovers and is very off the beaten path.

Most hotels have Wifi but a lot of times it’s not in the room and you have to go to a common area. And home stays are great and a fun way to get to know the culture. The locals are super nice!

You should be fine not booking all your accommodation since that time of year is less busy. You just might want to reserve something for the time around Thanksgiving in the US if you’re here for that. Otherwise you might not get your first choice for hotels but something will be available (we used to travel the same way here before we had a baby).

Hi There! My boyfriend and I have ten days in Costa Rica mid-to-late December and want to focus on Manuel Antonio and Corcovado, so basically your itinerary minus Arenal. Do you have transportation recommendations regarding how to do that loop? We were going to rent a car and go to Manuel Antonio first, then to Drake and back to San Jose but it sounds like driving that loop may be difficult. Thoughts on how to do both those things while minimizing travel days? We have the means to fly as well, if need be.

Hi Molly, If you want to minimize travel time, your best option is to rent a car for the San Jose to Manuel Antonio portion, then drive the car to Sierpe, drop it off, and take the boat taxi to Drake Bay. We don’t recommend driving to Drake because of river crossings, plus you won’t need a car when you get there. Then you can take a small plane flight from the airstrip in Drake to San Jose after. A couple of the rental car companies, including the one we work with, Adobe, will meet you in Sierpe to pick up the car for a small fee. They come from their Uvita office. Here’s the link to our rental car page with more info on our discount through Adobe and how to book. For more info on taking the boat to Sierpe, check out our Drake Bay post. Hope that helps with your question and you and your boyfriend have a great trip!

Wow, this is awesome. I just stumbled upon your site and came across my itinerary…LOL. Except for the end of the trip we’re heading into Baru to stay at the Waterfall Villas. My better half is quite excited for the yoga in Manuel and Baru. We are both really excited for the whale watching and turtle night tours if there are any in this area. Any suggestions?

Hi Justin, From your earlier comment, I gather that you’re visiting sometime in January. There are some turtles that nest along the beaches south of Manuel Antonio (near Baru and at Playa Tortuga), but nesting season will have passed by then. I’ve seen news of recent hatchlings but I’m not sure there will be any more this year. Rainy season is better for seeing turtles. This area of the country doesn’t have much for turtle watching tours anyway; they are more common up the coast (Playa Ostional and Playa Grande) and in Tortuguero on the Caribbean side. Something to save for another trip!

i was hoping for some advice on my potential activity plan for my 12 day Costa trip. I will be going in February.

Day 1 – Fly into San Jose and stay the night.

Day 2 – Early start to Arenal. not sure what the best thing to do this day is. i was thinking an early afternoon ATV ride and then a possible rainforest night walk. need to pick a company.

Day 3 – Mistico Hanging Bridges walk right around opening. later in the afternoon do the Sky-River Drift Tour (tubing a river). or vice versa whatever is easier for scheduling.

Day 4 – Rio Celeste full day tour.

Day 5 – La Fortuna waterfall right at opening to avoid crowds. Hike trails in the National Park. thinking of doing the trails at the observatory lodge. I also want to check out the free hot springs one day. I am staying at a hotel with their own.

Day 6 – boat/van transfer to Monteverde early. visit Selvatura Adventure Park. walk hanging bridges and see butterfly gardens. maybe zip line, deciding when we are there. then later, do a night walk with the guide from the hotel.

Day 7 – Guided hike in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve early. Find ficus tree you can climb inside? later on in the afternoon do a coffee tour. i also want to explore around hotel grounds and maybe see the cheese place.

Day 8 – Head to Manuel Antonio (private transfer) thinking of just hanging at a beach when i arrive. i think that would best. we are staying at hotel coste verde. can i surf this day?? i am having trouble picking and deciding when to do activities at this location.

Day 9 – Manuel Antonio National park hiking, probably no guide. surfing later on?

Day 10 – Damas Island Kayaking in the AM. or surf this day.

Day 11 – Rainmaker park. guided hike worth it? lunch. or spend my entire last day seeing nauyaca falls? not sure if its worth using my last day.

Day 12 – Begin heading home.

Hi Caitlin, You are on the right track with your itinerary. You have a lot of specific questions, though, so I think they are better suited for our itinerary service. If you’re interested in that, we could help with all your questions and concerns and recommend which tour operators and transportation companies to use. We can also make all the arrangements for you without charging an extra fee. Here’s a link to our itinerary help page with more info.

A couple of tips for now that might help you out: 1) Maybe consider a different destination if you’re interested in surfing because conditions aren’t great in Manuel Antonio. You can surf on the northern end of the main beach but there are much better choices to the south. 2) I’m fairly sure there’s no ficus tree you can climb in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve itself, but in our Monteverde post, we give directions for one we know of. Hope that gives you some direction. Let us know if you would like any more help!

I love the idea of seeing three different kinds of scenery. We are thinking of seeing Monteverde, San Jose area and not sure on what beach to see on our 14 day stay in CR. We would love your ideas on the beach scene as well as things to do at each location and lodging. We are a family of 6.

Hi Kathy, There are a lot of different options for beach towns in Costa Rica so it really depends on what you’re looking for. You could start by reading our Destinations Summary Guide , which gives a quick overview of all the places in the country that we cover on our website. That post also links to our full articles on each town, where we give detailed recommendations for hotels and things to do.

If you would prefer more customized help, we also offer itinerary services. Through this service, we could help you figure out your third destination and make sure the other two areas you have in mind are a good fit. We also help with transportation and activities, and recommended some good restaurants. There’s more info on our Itinerary Help page.

Hi there! I bought your itineraries e-book because this blog was so helpful. We are planning on traveling to Costa Rica next Christmas with our 2 kids who will be 7 and 5. For the 2 week family itinerary I read you recommend Nosara and Manuel Antonio beaches. I see that MA is clearly a highlight in Costa Rica but I’m concerned about how crowded it would be at Christmastime. Do you think it’s worth it to head over there then, or to stay around Nosara for longer instead? Thanks!

Hi Michelle, Thanks for buying our book! Both Manuel Antonio and Nosara will be busy over the holidays. If you stay outside of Playa Guiones, you might not feel it quite as much but it will still feel crowded at the beach, at restaurants, etc. Most of the beach towns in CR get this way over the holidays because a lot of tourists come for vacation and the locals get time off. Families from San Jose come and set up shop for the week in tents or at hotels. There are some smaller beach towns that don’t see as much traffic, though, and the mountains aren’t as busy. You’re smart to start planning now so that you’ll have your picks for places to stay. Good luck with the planning!

Thanks for the reply! I’ve been reading a lot of good things about Samara for kids. Do you think that is likely to be just as crowded as Nosara during Christmas break?

Samara is another good spot for kids, but I do think it will be as crowded. The beach there is long though and there are other beaches nearby that might be less busy.

Your itinerary has been extremely helpful. Thank you so much!

We are travelling to Costa rica from 16 Feb to 4 March.

16 we are driving to poas volcano are and staying there for 1 night.

17-19 at arenal volcano

19-20 in rio celeste

20-23 in monteverde

23 – 26 in Manuel Antonio

We then intend to travel to drake bay however I was wondering if there are any other nice beaches we can travel to after Manuel Antonio and before drake bay.

Is there anything else you would recommend that we have missed ?

Hi Sapna, That looks like a well thought out itinerary. I wouldn’t change much. The pace will be fast at the beginning with only one night in Poas then two in Arenal and one in Rio Celeste, but that is doable given drive times. Arenal does have a lot of things to do so maybe consider adding a night there.

For a great beach town between Manuel Antonio and Drake, you could look at the Costa Ballena area of Dominical and Uvita. This is a beautiful area of the country with lush green mountains and secluded beaches. A lot of the hotels are located in the hills and have great views and a lot of wildlife. Here is a link to our article about it. That would be a good option too because it is just south of MA and will get you closer to the boat in Sierpe.

Hi there-I really appreciate all the information you have written about CR, it a great resource! But after all my research, I am still struggling with an itinerary. I am hoping you provide some direction. We are traveling to CR for the first time and are non touristy, off the beaten path type from Idaho. We will be flying in to San Jose in March/April and renting a car. We really enjoy beaches and snorkeling. I would like to visit Puerto Viejo on the caribbean side for part of the trip if the weather conditions are favorable. Can you please recommend an area to stay on the pacific side that has good snorkeling opportunities and nice beaches/hiking? Thank you in advance for your help!

Hi Brenda, The Pacific Coast isn’t known for snorkeling as visibility isn’t always the best and many of the beaches have bigger waves. There are a few good spots, though. Isla Tortuga near Montezuma has pretty good snorkeling and there is a good hike near Montezuma too. You can read our Montezuma Destination Guide for more info. The best snorkeling on the Pacific side is at Cano Island near Drake Bay . This is really far south and remotely located but it is also possible to take a day trip there from Uvita on the Costa Ballena. The Costa Ballena also has really good hiking through thick lush jungle with a lot of wildlife. Hope that helps to narrow your search!

We are a family of 6 (kids 9, 11, 15, 18) traveling to Costa Rica end of May beginning of June for 13 nights. We fly into Liberia. Our current plan is 8 nights in Samara, 4 nights in Arenal, and then the last night in San Jose before flying out. My sister just returned from Manuel Antonio and loved it. Are we missing out if we don’t try to include it?

Maybe 6 nights in Samara, 3-4 nights in Arenal, 3-4 nights in Manuel Antonio? Our flight home is in the late afternoon, so it looks like it would be no problem getting from Manuel Antonio to the airport on the same day. My only concern with this is whether or not it has us driving too much? Thank you!

Hi Melissa, Manuel Antonio does have a different feel from Samara so it would be worth the effort to go if you would like to see it. It is tropical rainforest as opposed to tropical dry forest so is a lot more lush and green. It’s also a lot easier to see wildlife in MA. I don’t think that adding it would be too much driving either. Your draft schedule has quite a bit of time in each place snd none of the driving distances are crazy. End of May is also a great time to visit MA because it is less busy.

Thank you for your reply.

We have decided to spend one night in Uvita. Is three full days in Drake Bay enough time ? We want to go to Corcovado- is a day trip (or two day trips) enough to see everything? We also plan to go to cano islands for snorkeling. Can we stay one night in the rainforest or is that not necessary as we can take day trips?

Yes, three nights is enough time to see all the highlights in Drake Bay. Most people do one day trip to Corcovado, to Sirena Ranger Station . If you want to spend more time there you could do an overnight but we wouldn’t recommend both unless you go to San Pedrillo Station (less common) for the day trip because overnights are st Sirena. Overnighting is a nice experience because you get to enjoy the park when there are fewer people there and during prime wildlife watching times like early morning and dusk.

Is there any cheap area inbetween Arenal and Montevideo to stay from which I can drive to rio celeste area within 30 minutes or less ? Thanks

Hi Suzzie, There really isn’t anywhere unfortunately. If you stayed near Nuevo Arenal, which looks like a good option, the road you would need to take to the Rio Celeste is really bad and slow. You’re better off driving the good road from La Fortuna to Rio Celeste (Route 4) staying overnight, and then continuing on to Monteverde.

This is such a great and informative site! I’ve been looking everywhere and love the way you have put this all together. Thank you!

My husband and I are planning to fly into San Jose on March 19th. Stay at La Rosa – looks great and then we love your ideas in this post about La Fortuna area then heading to Manuel Antonio area. With 5 kids (leaving them home but three in post-secondary:) we are trying to do this ‘on the cheap’ by flying on points, renting a car (yes, we will check out your discount) and then going the airbnb or other route for most of our stay.

Thinking on the 20th of heading to La Fortuna area to take in one site (hot springs?) then 2 more sites (volcano/ waterfall?) the next day then heading out on Wednesday the 22nd to head to our rental (yet to be found) and lay on a beach for a week – or sleep – with small outings when in the mood.

Question – I’ve check your recommended budget hotels for the nights of 20 and 21 in La Fortuna and they are booked. Do you have other suggestions? Also does this itinerary (first part anyways) sound doable?

Thanks so much for your knowledgeable advice!

Hi Judy, Glad our website has been helpful with your planning! Your itinerary sounds very manageable. Your time in La Fortuna is a little short but fine if you only have a few things there you want to do.

For hotels, we just finished up a couple of itineraries for people going to La Fortuna in March and found accommodations to be already very booked up so I’m not surprised those two aren’t unavailable. Here are some more options for budget – hope one of them works well for you!

Selvita Lodge : Great option for cabins on road to La Fortuna Waterfall. This is a quieter area but still not far from restaurants/town. The rooms are simple but comfortable with AC and hot water. Owners are locals and are super friendly and helpful.

Arenal Green : Another option for cabins on road to the waterfall. Family run with cute and rustic wooden bungalows.

Hotel Bijagua : Just outside downtown and close to several restaurants, a grocery store, etc. Simple but clean, comfortable rooms surrounded by gardens. Has a kitchen that guests can use and a nice pool area.

Hi, We are a family of 4 (2 adults and 2 kids aged 12 and 15). We are going to be in CR for 10 full days. We will be flying in and out of San Jose. Right now the plan is go directly to Arenal when we land (because we get in very early) and stay in Arenal for 3 days. Then we would go to Tamarindo. Here is where I am not sure what to do. Would it be reasonable to to Tamarindo for 3 days, then go to Manuel Antonio for 3 days? Or is that too ambitious? Alernativley, we were also playing with the idea of Nicoya for 2 nights after Tamarindo for 4 nights and not going to MA. I am not sure what Nicoya has to offer though. The last night we will be staying in a hotel near there airport. (We are planning on renting a car). Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Hi Alka, The Arenal-Tamarindo-Manuel Antonio itinerary makes sense. MA is a long drive from Tamarindo, but doable, and going there will get you closer to San Jose for your flight out. MA also has a different feel and would show you another part of the country. It is also a good destination with kids that age as there is a lot to do. The Nicoya Peninsula (towns of Montezuma and Mal País ) offers off the beaten path beach towns. They are more remote and it is quite a long drive to get there and then get back to San Jose after, though you could take a ferry for part of the trip to SJ. Without knowing more about your interests, we would probably recommend option 1 because it is easier.

Be sure to check out our rental car discount as you are shopping around.

Hello, I will be in Costa Rica for 2 weeks in July and renting a 4×4. I am thinking 4 nights around Arenal (with a day trip to Tenorio) or vice versa. Which version is better? Then, a week at Playa Samara and 3 nights in Monteverde and 1 in San Jose so we can catch an early morning flight back home. Does this plan sound feasible and not too much driving? I would really like to go to the Southern tip of Nicoya, too, but I don’t think that will be reasonable this time around. Thank you!

Hi Lila, 4 nights in La Fortuna with a day trip to Tenorio makes sense because there is a lot to do in La Fortuna. Tenorio is a great spot too though, especially if you would like to experience some of Costa Rica’s smaller, more authentic towns. An overnight there might be nice before heading to Samara.

The rest of the itinerary sounds good and I don’t think you will be in the car too much. Adding the S. Nicoya would probably be too much, though, unless you cut a few nights off Samara and then take the ferry back to San Jose to save time.

Thank you very much for your guidance. I appreciate it!

Thanks for all of your super helpful info! We will be in CR for a month this April/may with two kids ages 3 and 5. Our plan is to land in San Jose, rent a car, spend the first 5 nights in Puerto Viejo, Manuel Antonio for about 4 nights, la fortuna 4 nights, Monteverde 3 nights, Tamarindo 3 nights, Samara 7 nights, San jose 2 nights and fly home. Anything you recommend we add or subtract given that we will be on a leisurely pace but traveling with very young children?

Hi Sarah, That itinerary sounds really good overall if you are traveling with young children. The only change I would make is adding a stop somewhere in between Puerto Viejo and Manuel Antonio because that is a very long drive. It’s always longer than whatever it says on Google because of traffic around San Jose and on the highway to the Caribbean coast. You could do an overnight somewhere near San Jose to break up the drive. Atenas is nice and conveniently located right off the highway. It is really scenic, with rolling mountains and coffee fields. Atenas also has a wildlife center nearby that your kids would love. Our Atenas post has more info about that. Otherwise, looks great!

We are travelling to CR end of June this year and have planned the following itinerary. Do you think it’s going to be ok at that time of the year? We have a driver booked but worried about the roads/weather etc. San Jose for 2 nights – Tortuguero for 2 nigthts – La Fortuna for 5 nights – Four Seasons Papagayo Penninsula for 5 nights then driving back to San Jose for flight back. What are your thoughts? Your site is super helpful by the way and I particularly like the packing list!

Hi Dawn, End of June is still fairly early in the rainy season so the weather shouldn’t be too bad. You can read our Weather post for more detailed info. Because rain could interfere with your plans on some days, we usually recommend that people spend a little extra time in each place, but it looks like you have already built that into the itinerary, which is great. Roads should be fine too – unless there is an unlikely extreme weather event, you don’t have to worry about the roads washing out, etc. until much later in the rainy season. Have a great trip!

Hi there. Thank you for a great start on what we should be thinking about. We will be in CR for exactly 2 weeks but in and out of Liberia. What would you recommend starting out from that airport? We arrive at 6am (yikes)!

Hi Eileen, La Fortuna and Monteverde are popular inland destinations not too far from Liberia. For the beach, Guanacaste (Tamarindo, Flamingo, Playa Hermosa, and Nosara and Samara to the south) are the closest options. If you wanted to go more off the beaten path, Bijagua/Rio Celeste is beautiful and we will be coming out with a destination guide to this area soon. For all the other places, you can read our Destinations Summary Guide to figure out where might be a good fit for your group.

Thanks so much for the reply! You guys really do provide excellent information and a lot of it. We are referencing the website a lot and will probably sign up for DIY also. With landing in Liberia early morning (6am), would it be easy to get a shuttle/taxi/bus to the playa flamingo/tamarinds area? Would you say a visit to San Jose is a “must do”? We are trying to get a bit of everything on our trip – culture, rainforest, volcano, beach – without too few days in too many stops…

It will not be hard to get a shuttle, but you should arrange one in advance. If you would like a private shuttle, we know of a reliable company. The cost is around $90. I think there are shared shuttles too that are cheaper, but not sure how early they run.

San Jose is a great place to experience the culture since that is where the majority of the population lives and there are a lot of great museums, theaters, etc. But, if you are flying in and out of Liberia, it really isn’t practical. For cultural stops around Guanacaste, there’s Guatil pottery. You could also walk around the city of Liberia (downtown near the park), which has a very local feel, historic distric, and lots of local restaurants. If you do go to Monteverde, a small coffee tour is another way to experience the culture, or there are some smaller chocolate tours in La Fortuna/Arenal. We have a whole chapter in our Itineraries book (available on Amazon ) that suggests where to go for an authentic experience in Costa Rica. It is more for travel based out of San Jose airport, but does cover Liberia, and may give you more ideas for your trip. It also has a chapter that covers Guanacaste Beaches.

Hi! We (2 couples- I am 58 the rest are early 60s) are travelling to Costa Rica for the very first time in two weeks! I found your website which helped us realize that we couldn’t do everything in 10 full days! Our friends are veteran travelers and we are tagging along. We arrive in San Jose on Feb23 and have booked a hotel near the airport. We will have a vehicle for the entire trip. We have also booked all accommodation except for 2 nights. From San Jose: Feb24-26 (check in-check out) Quepos

Feb26-27 ?????

Feb28-Mar2 Monteverde

Mar2-Mar5 La Fortuna

Mar5 San Jose

Mar6 Fly home

So, between Quepos and Monteverde, we were thinking about doing day trip(s) to some islands in the peninsula or to the peninsula. If we stay in the Punta Arenas area, do you have any recommendations? Isla San Lucas piqued our interest as well as Tortuga Islands. Are we able to visit these two places on our own and do we have to book a tour? Or would you suggest visiting Montezuma instead? Or should we stay in Jaco and do the trips from there? Night life is not an issue, lol! Of your list of popular activities in San Jose, which would you recommend for our last day there? Thanks!!

Also, do you recommend we book something from home for those 2 nights or will we be able to find something when we arrive?

Thanks again!

You don’t have to book something in advance, but if you don’t, there will be a lot less to choose from and it will be more of a scramble. February is high season when most hotels, especially the good ones, fill up.

Hi May, I think I would just stay in Jaco and do day trips from there. Montezuma is probably too far for only two nights, since you will be going to Monteverde after. You could stay outside the main area of town in Jaco, where it is quieter and more scenic. Hotel Pumilio comes to mind and our Jaco post has some more ideas for lodging. We don’t know much about visiting Isla San Lucas, but yes, you would need a tour. Same for Isla Tortuga (you can take a catamaran cruise there out of Jaco). Puntarenas is more of a port city, not really a tourist destination.

Our post How to Spend 1 or 2 Days in San Jose gives our top things to do. All the museums we listed are great and it really depends on your specific interests, but my personal favorite is probably the Gold Museum. We also recently visited the Central Market and loved it.

Love your website. It is very helpful. Our family of six, 2 adults and 4 children ages 8-12, are traveling to Costa Rica for 2 weeks in June. We are planning on spending a few nights in La Fortuna at the beginning of our trip, and ending our trip in San Jose in a tree house for a few nights. Would you recommend spending the six nights in the middle of the trip at Tamarindo or MA? We love being outside, exploring nature and swimming at the beach.

Hi Abby, If you are ending your trip near San Jose, Manuel Antonio makes more sense because Tamarindo is a much longer drive. Manuel Antonio also sounds like it would work well for the types of things your family is interested in. It has beautiful nature, rainforest, wildlife, and beaches. The main beach has waves so you would have to watch the kids, but there are also calmer coves nearby. We actually included Manuel Antonio (and La Fortuna) as a recommended destination for our Family itinerary in our book Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries so you could look there for ideas.

Hi – we are a couple with a 14 year old daughter. We are planning to reach San Jose on Mar 5 around 1 pm, pick a car from airport and drive to Arenal area where we have booked Royal Corin hotel. As of now we have booked it for full period of stay- till March 9 when we plan to leave and stay overnight in San Jose before leaving early morning of Mar 10. I am now wondering if we can better utilize our short stay by either visiting sthg apart from Arenal area on March 8/9 – or taking day trips from there. We do not want to drive too much either- but at the same time not rue later on that we did not utilize our Costa Rica trip well. As of now the plan is to cover Proyecto Asis, La Fortuna Waterfall, Hanging bridges and do one day trip to Tropical Paradise Black Cano. Me and my wife are less athletic – but my daughter is more adventurous – so she may do some activities. I will appreciate any suggestions you can provide us on better planning our trip.

Hi Amitabh, Since you only have three full days in La Fortuna due to overnights near the airport, we would recommend going with your initial plan and staying in Fortuna the whole time. There is plenty to do in that area and adding anywhere else would result in too much driving. If you did want to see another area, you could take a day trip to the Rio Celeste Waterfall . This is within driving distance from your hotel and would show you another part of the country. Keep in mind, though, that it is a couple of hours away so would be a full day excursion.

Hey! Wow this blog, and the comments/responses on this post are so informative! My husband and myself are coming on our honeymoon the last week of May-Jun 4th for 10 days – we are so excited! We’re flying into San Jose and were thinking of starting out with some adventure/hiking/touring in Arenal Area, possibly a day trip to Monteverde, and then ending somewhere beachy/relaxing. Would love to get a coffee and/or chocolate tour somewhere in there as well 🙂 My question is – we want to see as much as possible in our 10 days. Do you have a recommendation for another destination between these 2? Secondly, I was planning on going to Manuel Antonio to end off our trip, as the beach there looks incredible, as well as the National Park, but I’m worried that it’ll be wetter than, say, Tamarindo. Would you recommend staying further up north for our beach portion, because it’s May/the beginning of June? We’d love to sunbathe, dive, and do some water sports – this whole “rainy season” has got me a bit nervous. Thanks!

Hi Kayla, We don’t recommend Monteverde as a day trip from La Fortuna because it’s really far away due to bad roads. There’s also a lot to do there so we would recommend a couple of nights. You can read our Monteverde post here . With 10 days, I wouldn’t do more than 3 destinations even if you want to be busy and see a lot. If you wanted to check out somewhere other than Monteverde, Bijagua and the Rio Celeste Waterfall are amazing.

Tamarindo is typically drier than Manuel Antonio, but MA still shouldn’t be that bad end of May. That’s very early in the rainy season so go wherever you think is a better fit. MA is also much closer to San Jose airport than Tamarindo. Good luck with the rest of your planning and hope you have an amazing honeymoon!

Thanks for the response! Ok, we won’t attempt a day trip to Monteverde, and I’ll check out those other 2 locations! I think we’ll do Manuel Antonio over Tamarindo – it looks beautiful and closer to the airport is a plus. We were thinking of doing Isla Tortuga, or maybe the Uvita area as our third destination. Do you have an opinion on which is more worth seeing/will have better weather? Uvita looks like a fun town/beautiful waterfalls, and Isla Tortuga looks gorgeous and with great diving/snorkeling, so we’re torn.

We’re partial to Uvita. The waterfalls and beaches there are gorgeous. You can also do diving out of Uvita. It’s longer trip by boat, but Cano Island is totally doable on a day trip and has some of the best diving in the country. We know of a good tour operator out of Uvita and can help organize that for you if/when you get to that point. Isla Tortuga is nice too. You would stay in either Montezuma or the Jaco area to access it. Jaco is closer to the airport but it’s a lot more developed so depends on the experience you’re looking for. Montezuma is a fun town, but more remote and doesn’t work quite as well for your loop if you do La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio.

Thank you! I will ask my partner what he thinks 🙂 If we decide to stay in Uvita, how do we contact you about the tour operator? Lastly, would it be totally crazy to go to Puerto Viejo for 3 days/2 nights? We ruled it out initially because of the weather, but the more I look into it, the more incredible it looks – would love to be able to see another part of the Costa Rican culture. Thanks again for all the helpful information!

You can email us at bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)com.

Puerto Viejo is an awesome spot. It depends on what you pick for your other places how doable it is. It would work with La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio, but would be too out of the way if you wanted to go to Uvita.

Thank you! I looked into it a bit and I think we’ll go! Thanks for all the advice!!! Will definitely recommend your website to anyone looking into CR! We can’t wait!

What a great help reading this blog has been! We have just over 3 weeks in Costa Rica booked for August and are struggling to figure out what order to visit the places we are interested in. We’d love to see a mix of the Caribbean and Pacific in our time (hopefully 3 weeks is enough…)- would you recommend a particular order first ? Some key stops we would like to squeeze in include Tortuguero(hopefully to see some turtles), Pacuare River, Cahiuti, Drakes Bay, Manuel Antonio and Arenal Volcano. Although having read this post have noticed Drakes Bay may not be so good during August…although we don’t mind a little(lot) rain!

Hi Hannah, 3 weeks is plenty of time to see both coasts. We would recommend starting in Tortuguero because it’s easiest to visit from San Jose, then going to Cahuita, doing the Pacuare, and then hitting Arenal, Manuel Antonio, and Drake Bay. You could fly back to San Jose after to save time. Personally I’d rather end my trip in Drake, but if you reversed it, a fun way to get from Arenal to the Caribbean side is a rafting trip on the Pacuare. They pick you up in Arenal, you raft, and then they drop you off on the Caribbean coast (most tours go to Puerto Viejo but I’m sure Cahuita can be arranged as well).

So glad to discover your blog with helpful hints. Months ago we booked approximately 10 days in Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste for early May (just a few weeks away). We have a rental car and would like to drive down to Manuel Antonio, spend a night there, and then visit the park early the next morning, and drive back that evening. It’s such a long drive. Is there somewhere mid way you’d recommend for making a visit during the day on the way down? We enjoy light hiking and seeing wildlife. Or a different beach view than what we’ll be seeing in Guanacaste would be nice, too. We’re not coffee or beer drinkers so no interest in those tours. Is there somewhere else that would be nice for a later pit stop on the way back after hiking Manuel Antonio? Or would you recommend spending two nights in that area or one night a little further back up the coast?

Hi Diana, That is a really far drive so we would recommend spending two nights in Manuel Antonio to make it worthwhile. Even though it’s far, it will be nice for you to see a different area of the country. Manuel Antonio will be a lot greener than Guanacaste that time of year. As for stops, you will have to be careful since you will have your bags with you. But a couple of ideas are a riverboat tour on the Tarcoles River to see crocodiles or stopping in Jaco for lunch. There isn’t much located more centrally between Hermosa and Manuel Antonio, unfortunately. For the way back, there’s also Las Pumas Rescue Center and Llanos de Cortes Waterfall .

Hi Matt and Jenn, I am a friend of some of the folks you house sat for years ago and she led me to your books (just purchased) and website! Awesome info! Thank you so much! My husband 4 year old son and I are planning a trip to Costa Rica next Feb for approximately 2 months. My husband traveled along the Pacific side years ago and we are definitely interested in staying along the coast especially the Caribbean side. My husband is currently looking at buying a westfalia camper van for sale in Jaco but we are feeling torn over having a home to stay in vs the convenience of a camper van. And obviously the 4 year old factors in to this decision 🙂 we had initially looked at renting a home in Tamarindo for 2 months but I am concerned that we have never been and what if we like another area better? What do you think? Also we do not speak great Spanish but are up for an adventure! What are your thoughts? Thank you so much for your time and I look forward to reading your books!!!! Take care, Carrie 🙂

Hi Carrie, That’s so cool that you know someone who we house sat for. Small world! Great that your family is coming to CR for an extended visit. Personally, I wouldn’t want to live in a camper here, mostly because of the heat, but I can see why the convenience would be appealing. One thing I would be somewhat concerned about is safety since all of your belongings will be inside, making you a target. If you decide to go for it, make sure the vehicle has CR license plates. Vehicles that don’t are only allowed in the country for 90 days before you have to pay registration and import duties, which are extremely expensive and can double the price.

As for a location, I would say that it’s a risk to rent in one place for the whole two months if you’ve never been there. Tamarindo will be very hot and dry that time of year and this surprises a lot of people. Maybe find a few different places and get your traveling in that way? If you weren’t coming in February when it’s busy, I’d say to wait to book most of your lodging until you get here, but that’s a risk since places could be full. For what it’s worth, if it were me, I would probably arrange some of our stays and leave some open. Hope that helps with your questions!

Hi, We love the itinerary, but would love to visit Nicaragua at the same time. Is this possible to drive? We have two young kids.

Hi MJ, It is possible, but you would need to cut some of the destinations if you have only two weeks. Drake Bay/the Osa is very far away. Maybe if you took a small plane flight, it would be possible. You can fly into Nicaragua too, which would save time, but if you wanted to drive, you would want a different itinerary that took you in the northern part of the country (Guanacaste, etc.).

What a great blog, really helpful!!

My boyfriend and I are coming to Costa Rica for the first time this August – so excited! We are planning to hire a car for the first section of the holiday.

Our initial thoughts were:

Arrive in San Jose La Fortuna – 2 nights Montezuma – 3 nights Manual Antonio – 2 nights Drake Bay – 2 nights San Jose – 1 night (to drop off car) Tortuguero – 2 nights Puerto Viejo – 1 night (for pick up to Bocas del Toro) Bocas del Toro – 5 nights

Does this sound reasonable or should we think about changing anything?

Any comments would be greatly appreciated!!

Thanks in advance,

Hi Caitlin, We don’t do this type of detailed review through comments, it’s more of something we would do through our Itinerary Service . Taking a quick look, it seems like you’re trying to fit in too many places. 8 destinations in 18 days is a lot because it often takes a long time to get between destinations due to mountainous terrain. Taking small planes would help to save time for some destinations, but you should try to cut things down. Our Itineraries book has ten different itineraries that we put together based on travel time between destinations so that you’re still seeing a lot but not running around too much. We even have one that goes to the Bocas, so maybe take a look at that.

My boyfriend and I are planning a trip to Costa Rica for 3 weeks in July! We will be landing in San Jose and will be travelling to La Fortuna for 3 days after that. From there we are hoping to travel down the west coast (we already have a place booked in Santa Teresa for four nights in the middle of our trip). We would love to go to places with some great surfing, beaches, hiking and rainforests/jungle. We have heard wonderful things about so many places but do not want to spread ourselves too thin. One place we would love to go to however is Utiva. Do you have any suggestions on places to stay over the span of 3 weeks (La Fortuna, Santa Teresa and Utiva-hopefully would be included), best ways to travel, and any spots to stop along the way to break up travels as we do not want to have to go from one place directly to the other? Thanks so much!!

Hi Kailey, There are so many choices for places to go, your best bet is probably to start with our guidebook, Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries . We have a whole chapter on surfing, and from what you have said, you will probably find the Best of Costa Rica itinerary and Eco-Trekking itineraries to be appealing. Uvita is in the Eco-Trekking chapter and we highly recommend this area for rainforest, wildlife, and beautiful beaches. Three weeks is a great amount of time to spend – you will be able to piece together an itinerary from the book and it has some good tips on getting around, etc.

Hi! Thank you so much for your blog, it is amazing! My husband and I are planning our honeymoon in Costa Rica for September, and I understand that September is the rainy season on the pacific side of CR, and that it is more rainy in the south pacific than in the north pacific.

Do you recommend traveling northwest like you mentioned in your honeymoon blog to Guanacaste (because of the rain)? Or is this itinerary ok for that time of year? We want to see a lot of rain forests (maybe even sleep in a cool hotel that is in one if it is possible?) and also spend a few days relaxing on the beach in a resort.

Thank you so much for you help!!

Hi Lily, This itinerary is one of the better options for September with the exception of Drake Bay. Drake is best avoided during the rainiest times of year. La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio are both good options though. Guanacaste is fine too if you’re looking at one of the resorts there. Although it is generally drier the farther NW you go, I’m not sure this is true for September. If you look at the data (see charts in our Weather post), Guanacaste actually receives slightly more rain than Puntarenas Province so if you like the sound of this itinerary (minus Drake Bay), then go for that. Just know that it will be a little rainy wherever you go – unless you’re interested in the Caribbean coast (Cahuita or Puerto Viejo ), where September is one of its least rainy times. Hope that helps!

Hi we have max 2 weeks to come to CR, including flying from UK and want to also visit the Panama Canal. Prime reason for trip is to experience the jungle and hope to see jaguar /panthers and hummingbirds. We love coffee so looking for any visits in the Central Valley and how best to get there from San Jose. I hear wildlife spotting is good in Corcovado NP? Are all the cloud forests north of San Jose? Does Osa Peninsula have white sandy beaches /coves, instead of us needing to go to Manuel Antonio? We also like long walks, canoe/kayaking/rafting and snorkeling. Will also spend a day or so doing culture in San Jose. Phew! That’s a lot of info. Oh yes, we can travel late June into mid July, or late August to early September and November into early December. Any thoughts greatly appreciated.

Hi Karen, That’s a great list of wants for your trip, but a lot to cover in a comment. If you would like help planning the Costa Rica portion of your trip, we could assist with everything through our itinerary service . To give you some guidance, either the June/July or November/December dates would be best since rainy season peaks in September. The Osa is excellent for wildlife (see our Drake Bay post), but know that spotting a jaguar or other big cat in the wild is extremely rare. The cloud forests are in Monteverde or the lesser known town of San Gerardo de Dota . You can see lots of hummingbirds in both of these places too. Good luck with the planning and let us know if you would like more help.

As said a hundred times before – great site, loads of useful info for the first-timer.

We are landing in CR in two weeks time from the UK with our two daughters (10 and 13). Just wanted to check in that my planned itinerary isn’t crazy and going the wrong way around. We’re coming for two weeks, hiring a 4×4 for the entire time.

First night booked local to SJ following your advice and hotel recommendation (thanks). Current plan is a 2/3 nights either Arenal or Miravalles for hot springs, a bit of exploring and maybe zip lines. We then need to head over to Cahuita as we are going to the Sloth Sanctuary over near Limon for a night halfway through our trip. Is it possible to make it in a day driving to the east coast? Any good waterfalls or places if interest on the way, or best to do a one night layover somewhere midway?

After a few nights around Cahuita, snorkelling, beaches, national parks, we were then keen to head over to Manuel Antonio for most of the rest of the trip. Again, probably need a one-night stop on the way back over.

So ……….. does that sound about okay, or are we going to be on the road too much? Other option is straight to east coast, then head back over a bit earlier and do Volcano on way to MA.

Any advice much appreciated on which sounds the least crazy way to do this, and anywhere good between SJ and East coast to stop at. Can’t wait to come and explore”

Hi Toby, That’s a reasonable itinerary. You will be driving quite a bit but it’s not too much for two weeks. It will allow you to see a lot of the country. You can drive from La Fortuna to the Caribbean side in one day. We have done it and I think it took us about 5.5-6 hours. It is longer from Miravalles because you would have to go through San Jose and sit in traffic. You would need an overnight for that. The Braulio Carrillo area is a good option- look at Casa Rio Blanco B&B .

The drive from Cahuita to Manuel Antonio after will be long, again due to traffic around San Jose. Somewhere like Atenas or Grecia would make sense for a stopover.

Hi, I love your itinerary, it sounds just like the sort of thing we want to do. I just want to check if it’ll be appropriate for a holiday in September? We love the outdoors and will definitely include Arsenal Volcano. We really hope to see lots of animals and birds too though and I know it’s rainy season for most of Costa Rica. It’s our honeymoon so we want it to be a special holiday. Any advice will be very gratefully received!

Hi Laura, The itinerary is practical for September except for the portion in Drake Bay. It may be quite rainy there in September so we would recommend swapping that out for somewhere else. September is said to be one of the best times of year to see Arenal Volcano so keep La Fortuna, and Manuel Antonio will be a good option as well. It will rain in MA but usually it isn’t too bad. If you can get over to the Caribbean side ( Puerto Viejo or Cahuita), this region typically has the driest weather in September so that would be your best bet for a third destination. It is possible in two weeks as well, with La Fortuna and MA as your other destinations.

Thank you so much. I really appreciate the advice. One last question, my husband would like to know if you’d recommend Michael Antonio over Tortuego? Thanks again!

Hi Laura, Tortuguero is a lot different than Manuel Antonio. It’s a very small village that doesn’t have a lot going on, but it’s a great destination for wildlife and is good for turtle watching in September. It does take more time to get to (unless you fly), though, so that is a consideration. We would recommend reading our Tortuguero post for more information.

hi there! first of all, your website is absolutely great and so much helpful! I’m planning on going to cr on the end of September for two weeks by myself. i was wondering either to book the hotels in advance or book them along the way… any recommendations?

Hi Liel, It won’t be busy in September so you could definitely wait to book things when you get here. We used to travel like that when we visited, but now that we have a child, we like a little more order and to have things planned out 🙂 But, for you, as a solo traveler in September, it would be totally fine to wait if you would rather do that.

Hello – thank you, in advance, for the gift of a reply.

My partner is doing a YTT at Anamaya outside Montezuma until 9/16 (am). I am flying into SJO on the 15th, & we are planning to meet up for 12 days. We’d like to spend some time in San Jose, visit Arenal area & the rest of our time on beaches on the Nicoya Peninsula. Our question: do you think it’s better for him to meet me in SJO or for me to fly to Tambor & meet him there? He needs to be back in Montezuma by 10/1, so one of us needs to find the other on one leg of the trip.

Hi DJ, You could do it a few different ways, but if you want to spend some time in San Jose, you could have him meet you there first. Then you could do San Jose, go to Arenal after, and end with beach time on the Nicoya Peninsula, before he goes back to Montezuma. It’s harder to get from the Montezuma area to La Fortuna so that probably makes the most sense.

Hey! This was awesome help! My girlfriend and I followed this itinerary to the best of our ability and it did not disappoint. Feel free to check out my youtube channel to see our travel video! Thanks Jenn and Matt!

Hi there! WOW- I love this blog and how detailed and helpful it is. Thank you for putting this all together. My boyfriend and I are planning on visiting Costa Rica for a short 3-4 night trip during the last week of October. We’re flying into San Jose and planning on renting a car (with your discount- thanks!). After reading your guide and trying to plan a pretty short trip out of it, it seems maybe just heading towards Manuel Antonio may be our best bet to experience a variety of beaches, jungles, and wildlife. Is this what you would do if you only had 3-4 nights? Beaches, jungles, and wildlife would be our priority, so Manuel Antonio sounds pretty great. BUT if you have a better idea for a short, wide-variety trip, that’d be wonderful.

Thanks again for the incredible blog! I highly appreciate it.

Hi Leah, Manuel Antonio would be a good option with 3-4 nights or you could look at Jaco , which is a little closer to San Jose. Jaco can be busier but October is low season so it will be slower. The forest there will also be very nice and green this time of year so you would get your beach-jungle experience. The wildlife is better in Manuel Antonio, but there is decent wildlife around Jaco too. You can see Scarlet Macaws anywhere and other wildlife like monkeys if you stay outside town (one idea that comes to mind is Hotel Pumilio . Both MA and Jaco have excellent dining options.

Hey Jenn and Matt…..

I know this is so last minute, But thats who I am and what I like to do. And sometimes the best adventures are made in last minute fashion.

Well my name is Ruben and today is Sept 18th. Im literally thinking about flying out to Costa Rica – TONIGHT!

But the only thing stopping me is that I am being told that it is the rainy season out there right now. And while the rain won’t stop me from having a great time, what will is the fact that things will be closed and I won’t get to see much? I mean if my goal is to find waterfalls to swim in, find some beaches to lay out on, and meet people at hostels! Are there many things to do during rainy season as well? are there parts that aren’t rainy?

So do you recommend I jump on a flight or just stay home? LOL I don’t know what to do. Help! LOL

I know I know, last minute…..

Thanks in advanced.

Hi Jen and Matt, I just found your blog and your 2 week itinerary suggestion and I am so excited!! I planned it so close to your suggestions. I wanted to ask a question about our plan. 1) should we do a rafting trip near Arenal or Manuel Antonio in December? We have more time in Manuel Antonio so I was thinking the 3/4 day or full day Savergre. Have you done this trip on the Savegre?

Hi Nicole, You could go rafting out of either place and have a great experience, but if you have more time in MA, just do it there. The Savegre is a really fun river- it’s Class II-III so the rapids aren’t too crazy but it’s still thrilling at times. The Savegre trips usually include a visit to a waterfall too. The one caveat is that at the end of the dry season (March/April), water levels can be pretty low so it’s not as much of an adventure. Other than that though, it’s an awesome tour!

Hi Guys, We are heading to Costa Rica this Christmas for our honeymoon. We are spending the first few days at the Secrets Resort Papaguyo. Then we need to get to Santa Thersa beach. It is my understanding that these locations are about 4 hours apart. Do you have any recommendations as to how to safely and cost-effectively travel from the resort to the Airbnb? We then need to get to the Liberia airport from Santa Theresa beach at the end of the trip. We are considering renting an SUV, but I know my husband is reluctant to drive as he is afraid he will get us lost. Do you think we will wish we had a car at Santa Theresa beach area (banana beach)? Are there any sights near papagayo or Santa Thersa that we should check out? Thanks

Hi Rachel, Plan on a little more time than that because the roads on the Southern Nicoya Peninsula are rough dirt and slow at times. If you’re uncomfortable driving, you could take a shuttle van. You don’t really need a car for where you’ll be in Santa Teresa as there is a lot within walking distance. If you do decide you want wheels, you could rent a quad, which is a much better way to get around the bumpy roads there.

As for sights, there isn’t much in the immediate vicinity of Secrets, but you could take a day trip to Playa Hermosa , Tamarindo , or Playa Conchal (one of the most beautiful beaches in the area). For activities near Santa Teresa, check out our Mal País post .

hi Jenn and Matt

I am mother to 3 girls aged 19,18 and12 and we are looking to go on a self drive 2 week trip to costa rica next August. Would the above 2 week itinerary be our best option? We love wildlife, nature, activities, and experiencing local culture and getting off the beaten track. Also do you get involved in helping with booking etc? Not sure how I came across you but looking for some help and guidance thank you 🙂

Hi Annabel, This itinerary would work, but keep in mind that driving to Drake Bay is not recommended. Most people take a boat taxi from Sierpe (it is possible to drop off a rental car here, though) or fly on a small plane. Drake Bay is an excellent destination for wildlife/nature/local culture, but it is a rainier area, especially the closer you get to September. You could look at our book, Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries , for other ideas. That has 10 two-week itineraries to choose from. We do offer a booking service for our itinerary clients and would be happy to help you come up with the perfect customized itinerary for you and your girls. Here is the page on our website with more information and how to contact us.

Hi love your blog very interesting. I have a question we are going on the 15 of January for 14 days like to know how much does it cost to aren’t a car thanks

Hi Lynn, You can use the widget on our rental car discount page to see what the prices are for your dates. Make sure to figure out if you will need a 4×4 because that will make a big difference.

How are the crowds at the end of February (after presidents holiday) This will be my first solo trip. I’d like to come and explore and not be bound by reservations for specific dates in certain cities/towns. Would I have a hard time finding a place to stay without them? I’m pretty flexible but my Spanish is very limited. I wanted to do something new and exciting for my 50th birthday. Thanks for your info. I’m just starting to plan my trip and it’s all been so helpful. Ready to get out of the USA for a bit. I need nature. Lol.

Hi Michele, Late February is high season but you should still be able to find decent places to stay if you want some flexibility. When we used to backpack around Costa Rica, we almost always didn’t make reservations. Sometimes we would have to go to several hotels before finding one with vacancy but we always found something. The most popular places will be full but it sounds like you’re flexible and up for some adventure so will probably be fine. A couple of places where I wouldn’t go without advanced reservations are Drake Bay and Tortuguero because they are more difficult to access. Hope you have a great trip!

Hello Jenn and Matt! Thank you for all your wealth of information on Costa Rica! We are arriving at the SJO airport about 1:30 on Saturday Feb 24th. Do you think we would be ok driving right to Monteverde? We have 2 nights to explore the area before we head south. I’ve read that it could take up to 4 hours to get to Monteverde and we’re trying to avoid driving at night!! Thank you so much! I love your website and books!! Debbie Creekmore

Hi Debbie, It usually takes about 1.5-2 hrs to get through the airport and pick up a rental car so it will be close. The drive to Monteverde is about 3 hrs from SJO Airport so that has you arriving around 6 or 6:30 pm. It gets dark in Costa Rica at 5:45. The last part of the drive on Route 606 is the worst (see our Driving to Monteverde post) so your safest option would be to stay overnight near the airport or somewhere on the way like Atenas and get an early start the next day.

Hi Jenn & Matt, What a wealth of information you both have been able to put together to share with everyone. My wife and I have just booked our flights to Liberia, Feb 4th thru 17th (flight times were better than San Jose for us) and have begun the process of determining our itinerary. So far, we have booked a few days in the Arenal Volcano area (per your suggestion to begin our trip). We are going to stay at the Observatory Lodge and Spa, it looks like a decent place and being inside the park looks like it may have some advantages. I understand it is a distance from town but I’m thinking that we can immerse ourselves in the park for a couple days and then head into town for some other activities. I’m wrestling with where we should head from there for days 4 thru 6, maybe Monteverde (would that be too similar to Arenal area)? Ultimately, we’re thinking of spending the last 5 days in the Samara area and then head back up to Libera for flight home. Any thoughts on where to go & do on days 4 thru 6 somewhere between Arenal and Samara? Also, any recommendations on where to stay first night in Liberia, something clean and comfortable? We get in at 2:30 and had thought about driving to Arenal area that afternoon but not sure how long it will take to get rental vehicle (which are planning to have for entire trip) and didn’t want to be driving after dark. It will also be Super Bowl Sunday so we wouldn’t mind watching some of that, any good pubs around Liberia that would have game on? We are already getting excited about our trip, it is a little overwhelming but your site has been a huge help.

thanks for any suggestions. Steve

Hi Steve, Monteverde would be a very good option for nights 4-6. It’s a good destination for 2 nights and isn’t too similar to La Fortuna to be redundant. Monteverde is famous for its cloud forest so the climate will be cooler there, which is very unique for Costa Rica. Another option is Bijagua , which is near the beautiful Rio Celeste Waterfall . That’s a charming town that is also a good place to spend a couple of nights.

The Hilton Garden Inn is a good option for your overnight near the airport. They will probably have the game on or you could head the city of Liberia. That’s a locals’ town but there is probably an expat hangout that would have it on. We agree that it’s best not to try to drive to La Fortuna your first day. You would most likely be driving in the dark and we don’t recommend that, especially for the stretch around Lake Arenal.

It seems like your planning is coming along. Best of luck finishing it up and hope you have a great trip!

Hi Matt In 2 weeks me and wife arriving in CR,runing away from Canadian Winter.Landing in Liberia,destination Playa Hermosa.Relatively close from airport Liberia.But our departure back home ,month later will be from SJO and that a big difference in distance from Playa Hermosa.The question is ,what wii be best way to get to SJ airport,How many options we will have there.renting car inPlaya Hermosa and leaving inSJ is possible? Somehow when Travel Agent get us a tickets ,we overlook that.Too late to change,This time we do not have plans to explore the contry ,stay in one place and enjoy the weather and exploring posibilities spending whole winter next time if health permits

Hi Joe, Not sure if you are still needing help with this, but yes, picking up a rental car near Liberia and dropping it off near SJO Airport is an option. Most companies just charge a fee for a different pick up and drop off location. We get a discount through Adobe Rent a Car if you want to take a look at that. That will be the fastest option. Otherwise, you could take a shuttle (shared or private vans are available) or see if one of the small plane companies has a flight from Tamarindo or Liberia to SJO that would work for you.

Hi! My husband and I have been planning our honeymoon and will be in Costa Rica the end of January for 11 days (January 23rd-Febuarary 2nd). So far we are staying in La Fortuna for 3 nights and then Tamarindo for 3 nights. Curious if you have a suggestion of where to go after Tamarindo. We’d ideally like to experience two more places. We’re flying out of Liberia, so somewhere we could fly from back to Liberia for relatively inexpensively or drive back to in a decent amount of time would be awesome. We don’t fly out until the evening of the 11th day so we’ll still have that whole day.

Your site has been SO, SO helpful in planning our honeymoon! Thank you so much!

Hi Heather, With your last 6 nights, one destination could be Playa Samara . This is a smaller beachtown so has a different feel from Tamarindo. It has a cute downtown area with lots of restaurants, adjacent to the beach. It is back tracking a bit but Bijagua (for the Rio Celeste Waterfall) is also a great choice and a reasonable drive to Liberia. The Miravalles Volcano area is also nearby – it’s very off-the-beaten path but has a nice resort there.

Hi! Myself and my boyfriend are travelling to Costa Rica in April and couldn’t be more excited – your itinerary has been really useful and we are pretty much following most of it. We plan to head to Arenal for a couple of nights, head to Manuel Antonio for 3 or 4 days, complete a 3 day hike in Corcovado and finish with some relaxing in Drake Bay before heading back to San Jose.

We really want to fit in some surfing, we are both beginners and really enjoy it – are we able to do this in Manuel Antonio? Also is it best to stay in Manuel Antonio or one of the towns nearby? We are looking for that relaxing town with a few bars and restaurants in order to chill before our big hike in Corcovado

Hi Louise, That sounds like a fantastic plan for your trip. You can surf out of Manuel Antonio. The northern end of the beach is a good place for beginners, and there are companies that offer lessons. We recommend staying right in Manuel Antonio so that you’re close to all the restaurants and shops along the main road. Quepos is the alternative. It’s a small locals’ city next door but isn’t as scenic (it’s good to go for the cultural aspects but is mostly a place to do errands if you live here). Keep in mind that some hotels and vacation rentals say that they are in Quepos, but they are really in Manuel Antonio geographically.

Wow! What a fantastic resource for planning a trip to Costa Rica. My husband and I are looking at planning a two week trip in May. We would be bringing our 18 month old daughter so we would like to stick to two main destinations that would give us a chance to enjoy the beach and the rain forests/wildlife. Would you have recommendations for this? I also really enjoy snorkeling and scuba diving so I’m not sure if this would change your suggestions at all?

Hi Stephanie, We have a Family chapter in our book, Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries , so have a look at that. For snorkeling and diving, that is tougher because the best place for this in Costa Rica– Drake Bay –is hard to get to (only accessible by boat or plane) and not recommended with a baby. One good option for this, though, is Puerto Viejo de Talamanca . It has one of the only places with decent snorkeling right offshore (if conditions are right), and has some beaches with calmer water for your daughter (Playa Cocles has a great spot with tidepools, in particular). This would give you the beach/rainforest experience as well. Hope that gives you some direction!

is there a time of year to avoid mosquitoes? is there much difference in mosquitoes in different seasons? is in between christmas and new years too busy to enjoy the sites? thank you

Hi Danny, Rainy season (May to November) is generally worse for mosquitoes. You should read our post all about this topic here . Christmas and New Years is the busiest time of year, but if you plan your trip strategically to avoid the most popular destinations/activities, you can still have a great time. Recently we heard from several people who were here over the 2017 holidays and they talked about how the crowds didn’t bother them.

Hi! My fiancé and I used your trip itinerary for our vacation here, so first of all thank you for the information as it has made our planning much easier. We are currently in our last night at La Fortuna and then driving to Manuel Antonio for 5 nights and then to Drake Bay to close things out. Question for you in regards to the current weather…it has been somewhat nonstop rain in La Fortuna, and from what we can see in the outlook on The Weather Channel Manuel Antonio and Drake Bay seem like we may be in for more of the same? We weren’t sure if the outlook is accurate, or if it is likely to be a stray rain in between a lot of sun. Since it sounds like you reside in the South Pacific thought you may be able to provide some more context on what we can expect. We will make the most of it either way, but would ideally like to have some sun time in the next part of the trip. Thanks!

Hi Taylor, Not sure if you are still here or not, but generally, the forecasts for Costa Rica are completely wrong because of the methods they use, which monitor cloud cover more than precipitation. That said, it has been very rainy this year compared to normal Januarys. We have heard that it is because of a weather pattern called La Nina. Not sure about the truth of that but it has been a lot harder to dry our clothes outside lately! We live near Dominical but the weather varies a lot even a half-hour away so hopefully you’ve had some good days in Manuel Antonio and Drake Bay.

Thanks for the reply! We actually just got back into the US late last night and had great weather overall while in Manuel Antonio and Drake. A little on/off rain in the evenings, but always Sunny in the mornings and early afternoons. I was figuring your sentiment on not being able to trust the forecasts down there, but was just a little disheartening to be in down pours in La Fortuna and see only rain in the forecast everywhere else we were going. Overall we loved your itinerary and had a wonderful time. Can’t wait to come back!

Hi, thank you so much for this helpful webpage! Me and my boyfriend are planning our trip at the beginning of April. We will have 11 full days plus 2 for flying in and out. We want to visit Arenal area and the Caribbean side. Do you think it would be too much if we included Manuel Antonio to our trip? Do you think that Manuel Antonio is a better place to visit than Puerto Viejo area? Thank you!

Hi Jana, It’s hard to compare if Puerto Viejo or Manuel Antonio would be better for you and your boyfriend without knowing more about your interests. We recommend reading through our destination articles on the specific towns (links above). But, either way, you could do all three towns with 11 days without being too rushed. We would recommend the order of Puerto Viejo –> Arenal –> Manuel Antonio.

Hi Jen and Matt, first of all thanks a lot for this great website, such wonderful informations! I’m super excited as we’re going to CR for 2weeks with my partner and our 1year old son Thisbe February, yeah! We have an idea of where we want to go and see but need to know if it’s all possible in terms of timing. We will be arriving in the evening on a Friday in SAN Jose so planning on staying 2 nights with visiting the city on day1 and have a feel of the country. Would like to leave early morning on Sunday to head to La Fortuna, spend the night there and go to Monteverde/Santa Elena on the Monday for 2nights. We’re not sure yet if we will be renting from SAN Jose which seems to be the best option to don’t waste any time. How long would it take to drive from SJ to La Fortuna and then to Monteverde and back? We then will head south to the OSA Peninsula where we have an accommodation booked from the Wednesday TIL Sunday. We will probably rent a car to get down there and have some free movement on the remote Peninsula. Sunday heading back to SJ I guess and we would like to try to make it to the Caribbean coast but not sure what would be easiest to do in2days? We’re flying back on the Friday morning from SJ so have to be there on Thursday night. Do you think our itinerary makes sense or would that be too much rushing? Also should we really consider driving ourselves? We usually like budget travelling and take local buses but now with our little one it’s different and we don’t want to miss out on great things if buses take too long. Thanks for your insights! Pauline

Hi Pauline, That’s probably too many places to try to fit into 2 weeks, espacially with a 1 year old. Drives times between some of those places is quite long. If you want to do La Fortuna, we would recommend more than one night there. If you’re thinking it’s on the way to Monteverde like many people do, it’s really not so either do more time in LF or skip it and go straight to Monteverde. For a sense of drive times, you can read our Road Conditions post. For the Osa, that is a beautiful area, but you can’t drive everywhere there so it depends on where you’re going if you should rent a car. If you’re going to Drake Bay, we don’t recommend a car, but it is fine for Puerto Jimenez. After Osa, somewhere on the way back to San Jose would make more sense than trying to go all the way to the Caribbean side. One idea is San Gerardo de Dota . Hope that helps you narrow things! You should definitely read our post about traveling with a baby in CR if you haven’t already.

I am going to be doing a 2 week trip next month and am trying to figure out what would be the best itinerary without renting a car at all or at least not for the whole trip. I was hoping to maybe see the Arenal Volcano and then do some beach time maybe in Montezuma but am open to other suggestions. Are there a couple of spots that you’d recommend that are easy to get to (i.e. without a car) or should I really just plan on a renting a car the whole time?

Hi Brittany, You can do the Arenal area without a car if you stay in the downtown. One good option is Hotel Monte Real , which is walking distance to town but in a quiet location. Activities are farther out but you can take the bus or a taxi, or even rent a car locally once you arrive. Montezuma is a great option for a beach town without a car. You could also look at our post Best Beach Towns Without a Car for more ideas. If you wanted to see the cloud forest, Monteverde is a good option if you stay near downtown Santa Elena.

Hi Jenn and Matt: We’ve been combing your website for ideas and guidance and finding it so useful—thanks so much for this amazing insider info! We are planning a 16-day trip to Costa Rica for the first half of July traveling on a dream trip with our 16-year-old and 18-year-old. Tickets are booked: Arriving in SJ in the evening and leaving from Liberia early in the morning. We’ve discovered from your site that we’re going to be there during the rainy season. Knowing this in advance, we will pack accordingly. However, our goal is to experience a variety of destinations and landscapes together while minimizing the odds that our entire vacation (our first in 5 years…) will be a washout! For that reason, we’d initially planned on visiting the Osa Peninsula as suggested in your 2-week itinerary, but it seems like rainfall is highest in that region during the month we’ll be there. Instead, we’re now considering 3 nights in La Fortuna, 3 in Monteverde, 3 in Manuel Antonio and we would like to visit a final destination that’s not quite as touristy but still offers things that would interest teens—maybe Santa Teresa. Would truly appreciate your input: is that going to give us a wide variety of things to see and do with our teens (interested in hiking, snorkelling, surf lessons, ziplines, kayaking, etc.)? Is 4 destinations too ambitious in 16 days? Will Santa Teresa add a different experience to the trip than the others we’d be having in the 3 other locations? If we’d be better off switching locations due to time of year/length of trip/age of our kids, would love to hear your thoughts on that. Thanks so much!

Hi Trish, If you really want to go to the Osa Peninsula, you should. While the Southern Pacific is the rainiest region of the country, July is still early on in the rainy season. Not sure if you have heard this before but the country typically experiences a mini summer in early July where the rain lets up and the sun comes out more. The locals have their vacation that time of year to take advantage. Adding Osa would really round out your itinerary too, in terms of seeing a variety of landscapes and doing different activities. Some of the best snorkeling in Costa Rica is at Cano Islsnd near Drake Bay. Drake also has hiking, kayaking, tons of wildlife, and gorgeous beaches. Santa Teresa is nice too and would show you the tropical dry forest but to us it doesn’t compare to the Osa. Hope that helps!

Jenn and Matt: Thanks so much for the great descriptions and advice on your website. I’ve spent alot of time reading alot of your tips. I want to go to CR for 3 months to “see it all!”, but unforunately, I think we will only have 7-9 days. I’ve been attempting to plan our 1st ever CR trip (myself, wife, and 11-year old son). We’re adventurous and wanted mountain/rainforest/hiking, wildlife, low-key and remote “eco-lodge” experiences, possibly an overnight raft-in/raft-out trip, ziplines, and a day on the beach somewhere towards the end — without breaking the bank. I think to be mobile, we’re going to have to rent a car. I don’t speak spanish (french and italian but no spanish) so I hope that’s OK. We’re flying our of either Boston or Hartford (we live in Vermont) into SJO (nothing booked yet) around Apr. 17/18, departing Apr. 26 and I’m trying to figure out how to make the most of our short time for our 1st ever trip there. I don’t want the watered-down touristy experience of Costa Rica. I want to see the real country, eat real CR food, culture etc. We’re pretty well-traveled, and usually I do all the planning myself.

Just wondering what your thoughts are on the feasibility (and order) of some of the things I’ve hit upon that look interesting, and what order they should be done, and whether you have any other alternative suggestions

– Rara Avis Eco-Lodge – the horse-back in and remoteness seems to be very much what I was looking for in experiencing CR, plus the food apparently they prepare is authentic (not like in a touristy resort restaurants) – overnight cave hike at Casa de Piedra – Diamante Falls – Rio Tropicale overnight rafting trip – Arenal Observatory or Arenal Resort & Spa (uncertain yet) – somewhere on the coast

Somewhere along the way, we want to do some ziplining, night time jungle walks. We’d like a chance to see howlers and other monkeys, sloths, toucans, etc. So possibly a stop at Manuel Antonia.

But, if you have ANY other ideas as replacements, and what’s close, or what’s a tourist trap, any advice would be appreciated!

The Osa and Drake Bay and Sierpe areas looks SO awesome too, but we just don’t have the time (or money) to make that happen yet. We’re trying to keep this relatively affordable as well. There’s a ton of tour operators I’ve found (like PWT) that offer to book everything including tranfers, all hotels etc., but I’ve never gone through an operator like that before, and the prices look a bit higher than maybe what I can plan myself.

Hi Shawn, I think we’ve been talking to you through email about your trip. Glad we were able to help you book the Diamante Waterfall tour. That’s truly a unique experience, and one of our favorites!

Hi Jenn and Matt,

My husband and I have rented a house in Tamarindo for 2 weeks in February 2019. We are flying into Liberia and renting a car to take us to our rental property. We are active retirees in our 60’s and our daughter will be joining us for the last week. Could you give us some ideas about which places are within an easy drive of Tamarindo that we should see? I know that my daughter really wants to try ziplining. Any other pointers or suggestions for us would be greatly appreciated. I have just begun my research and was excited to find your website. Thanks so much!!

Hi Kathie, You should definitely check out Playa Conchal , just north of Tamarindo. That’s a gorgeous beach with sand made of tiny crushed shells. It’s nice for swimming. Zip lining is available at a few different places in the area so you won’t have a problem with that. Sunset catamaran cruises are another nice tour. Some good day trips are Llanos de Cortez Waterfall and Rincon de la Vieja for hiking and volcanic features. You can get some more ideas using our Map . Have a great trip!

Hi Jenn and Matt –

This website is full of incredibly helpful information – thank you! We are a family of five (kids will be 13, 10, and 4) planning to travel to Costa Rica in August. Our vision right now is to fly into San Jose and head to La Fortuna for 5-6 nights and then head to Manuel Antonia for a few nights before flying back out of San Jose (We’d stay in a hotel near the airport the night before we fly out.). Our kids tend to do well on road trips, but because of the road conditions there, I’d like to get your opinion on this itinerary and how best to get around. Is there another stop we should add so we don’t miss anything special? Do you think we should we rent a car or just use shuttles? I’m mainly wondering what the road and drive is like from La Fortuna to MA. Thanks in advance for your help!

Hi Rachel, If you’re comfortable driving, we usually recommend that for families since it gives you more freedom to go at your own pace. If you’re spending a lot of time in just a couple of destinations, it’s good too because you can go places easily on day trips. La Fortuna is more spread out so having a car is nice, and there are some great day trips to the south of Manuel Antonio that you need a car for. You can read more specific details about the routes you’ll take in our Road Conditions post, but those are not bad drives as long as you do them in the day time- really beautiful scenery too! Be sure to check out our Rental Car Discount if you do rent a car.

Thanks for all the great info. If we plan to use a rental car to get to Manuel Antonio what would be our next best route to get to Drake Bay? I see we could drop off the rental in Uvita but not sure how to get from Uvita to Sierpe?

Hi Sam, Through the company that we work with and get a discount through (Adobe Rent a Car), you can drop off the car in Sierpe. They will come from their nearest office (Uvita) to collect the car and do the paperwork. When you make the reservation, select Uvita for drop off and write in the notes that you would like the drop off to be the Sierpe docks. There is a charge for having different pick up and drop off locations (around $40). Depending on how long you’ll be in Drake, it might be worth it to keep the car parked in Sierpe so that you have it for after (unless you are planning on flying). Shuttles from Sierpe to San Jose are expensive (around $350).

You mentioned that getting to Quepos area from Arenal is a bit long and suggested opting for “a shuttle, rent a car, or take a small plane.” My trip itinerary actually has me going from Quepos to Arenal. Any specific suggestions for shuttles, one way car rentals, small planes would be appreciated.

Hi Amelia, Nice to hear from you again. Yes, it’s about 4.5 hours from Quepos to La Fortuna. We are not recommending small planes for this trip right now for a number of reasons, including that the airstrip in Quepos is currently closed for expansion so flights are being cancelled a lot. Your best options are renting a car (see our discount through Adobe Rent a Car or taking a shuttle). There is a fee for one-way rentals, but a car is nice to have because it gives you the freedom to stop and go as you please. It’s also nice to have a car in La Fortuna, which is more spread out. For shuttles, you have two options- shared, which are cheaper, run on set schedules, and take longer because they make stops for other passengers, or private shuttles. Private shuttles will pick you up at whatever time you choose, are for only your group, and include some time to stop along the way to see a quick attraction (e.g. Tarcoles River Bridge), get a snack, etc. Shared shuttles are around $45 per adult for this trip and private is around $290 for up to 5 people. If you would like help reserving transportation, just reply to this thread and we can send you an email. Thanks!

So glad that we ran across your blog. Unfortunately I found it after securing our lodging in two areas. We are flying into Liberia and then heading south to Tamarindo area for a few days. We then plan to head back north and go north of Liberia to Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park area. Any info you can give us on road conditions in those areas, must eat at places, safety in those areas, etc… would be helpful. I saw your link for renting a car and plan to use your link to rent a car for the week that we will be there. We will be traveling with our 16 month old grandson also so any helpful tips in that area would be awesome also.

Hi Cecelia, Those are also good spots to visit. For recommendations for Tamarindo, you can read our post about the town here . In Rincon, you should check out the national park . Many of the resorts there have fun onsite activities like horseback riding, zip lining, hot springs, and mud baths. If you have time, Llanos de Cortez Waterfall is also in the area and gorgeous. For safety, Tamarindo does have some petty theft. You can read our Safety post for tips on how to start safe.

Finally, we have a whole article about traveling with a baby , now that we have a child of our own, so be sure to check that out. Thanks for renting your car through our site . You will want a car with higher clearance (4×4 is best) for Rincon. Car seats are free when you book through us too. Hope your family has a great trip!

Great blog, Jenn and Matt! Super helpful. Question : I’m planning a 2-week trip to CR arriving on July 7th (SJO) with my wife and two active boys (10,12). I bought your book and got some ideas for an itinerary that seems to make sense below. Do I need to make any adjustments due to the weather/time of year? or add or subtract days at a particular location?

Taking red-eye and arriving early to SJO (July 7)…head to La Fortuna straight away for 3 nights On day 4 head to Monteverde for 3 nights Then off to Manuel Antonio for 4 nights, then 3 nights in Drake Bay, Last night in Alajuela, back to US on noon flight from SJO (July 21)

Thanks in advance!

Hi Peter, Thanks for getting our book! That looks like a great itinerary. Those destinations offer a lot for kids your age. The breakdown of days makes sense too.

July is rainy season but the country normally experiences a “mini summer” in early to mid July where the rains lessen quite a bit. So your trip could very well fall during that time. You still could have some rain in Drake Bay but we wouldn’t swap it for another destination if you want to go there. It’s still beautiful and you can do a lot even if it rains. Hope your family has a great trip! Let us know if you need any help making arrangements for tours. We know of some great activities for active kids in those towns and would be happy to help you with the bookings. Just email us at bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)com for more information.

Hi Jenn and Matt, We booked a trip with our little one to Costa Rica this coming July, she will be just over 9 months old. My husband and I were very excited as we travelled to Costa Rica a few years back and have been just waiting on a chance to return. However we have become a bit doubtful that we are doing the right thing as the more we read, the more we realize that with rainy season the mosquito count is greater and therefore a greater chance of our baby contracting a disease. We also had a consultation with a doctor regarding immunization and she made us feel a bit guilty to bring her at this time. As you live in Costa Rica I think you are my best chance at understanding what I can expect during rainy season with a baby and would love if you can tell me how it really is? Also how do you protect your baby, are you constantly having to use a mosquito net and other methods even during the day/at the beach. Right now I am worrying and overthinking it, we are considering not going, but we do know that kids live in Costa Rica so must be manageable. Also apart from scheduled immunization would you consider other vaccines, early measles vaccine and Hep A have been recommended by the doctor. Sorry for the long message but would appreciate your thoughts.

Hi Maria, The odds of anyone in your family contracting a mosquito-borne disease while you are here for a short trip is very low, especially if you take precautions to avoid bites. I think to know that already, though. Like you said, kids live here, women get pregnant, etc. and they are fine 99% of the time. The best defense to avoiding bites is to stay in a hotel/vacation rental that is completely sealed so that bugs can’t get inside (no open air rooms, look for good screens or AC). When you’re outside, put your baby in lightweight long pants and use repellent on exposed skin if you think you need to. That’s what we do with our son in rainy season. Pants are good because they keep the bugs off without having to lather up in repellent. If you can find something with tightly woven fabric, that’s the best for preventing bites. If you haven’t already seen them, check out our posts on Mosquitoes in Costa Rica , Clothing to Prevent Mosquito Bites , and Traveling with a Baby In Costa Rica . I’m sorry your doctor made you feel that way but try not to worry!

Hi Jenn and Matt! First of, thanks for your great website, tips and information! I’ll definitely book the car through you, and follow lots of recommendations, so thank you!!! I’ll be traveling to CR from the 22 of July with my boyfriend and my 5 year old son. We live in the south of chile, so we have volcanoes, lots of green and forests, but a looong winter, really cold and rainy… It is my son’s first travel out of Chile, so I want him to experience different stuff, and specially, things we dont have around here… so I’d like to focus on beaches (here the water is freezing even in the summer) and wildlife. My boyfriend loves outdoor activities, and I want to see it all, but dont want to be so many hours in the car, so my itinerary has come down to basically montezuma (3) and santa teresa (3)… Until yesterday, my plan was: Arrive to San José and start driving south towards Uvita, by the mountains… spend the night on the road in the middle of the way… next morning arrive to Uvita and stay there for a night or 2. Then drive up north through the coast, spend 2 night in Manuel Antonio. After that take the ferry and spend 3 nights in Montezuma or Santa Teresa and then head back… If we spare an extra night would like to go to Monteverde, but I was reading is hard to get there to go for just a night… That was it until yesterday… Then I read some awful comments on Manuel Antonio being packed with turists and compared to Disneyland or Luna Park :/ So kind of took that out (but Im not sure coz I also read amazing comments! Its weird!) Then Uvita was kind of far, without Manuel Antonio in between, and also more rainy in the season I’ll be there… so took I read Montezuma and Sta Teresa, though they are close, the vibe is different and they both offer lots of things to do, so maybe I was thinking just spending more days over there, that way we save long roadtrips (boring for my kid), and can move around there… If I’d to this… would you recommend me to take the ferry both times? (I mean to get there and get back?) Or I was thinking maybe less days in the peninsula and give manuel antonio a chance, and then take the ferry in jacó to montezuma (is it possible? or just water taxi from there? because our idea is to rent a car) The more I read, the more confused I am :O Best regards, M.

Hi Maria, If you want to limit the amount of driving, we’d probably skip Uvita since it’s farther from San Jose and the other places you want to visit. Manuel Antonio can be busy during certain times of year like Christmas, New Years, and early on in high season (Jan/Feb), but late July usually isn’t too bad. There will be other tourists around of course, but it doesn’t feel congested then and definitely not like Disneyland 🙂 Manuel Antonio has a lot to do, nice beaches, and a lot of wildlife that your son will really like. It’s easy to see monkeys, sloths, etc. right around town and you can see even more in the national park.

If you’ll have a car, you’ll need to take the Puntarenas Ferry to get to the Nicoya Peninsula because you can’t take a car on the boat taxi that leaves form Jaco (it’s just a small boat). The drive to Puntarenas isn’t bad, though. Then you can hit Montezuma and Santa Teresa , which we think you will really like based on what you’ve said you’re looking for. Be sure to check out our Rental Car Discount for the car. We get 10% off, a free second driver, and free booster seats if your son needs one. Hope your family has a great trip!

Hi! My husband and I just book flights to Costa Rica in July for 15 days. Your 2 week itinerary sounds perfect for what we are looking at getting out of the trip. The one place we want to visit that wasn’t mentioned is the Monteverde Cloud Forest reserve. Just wondering where in the itinerary would be the best place to add it in to help keep travel times to a minimum, and the best mode of transportation for that duration of the trip. Thanks!

Hi Larissa, You should check out our book Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries . The Best of Costa Rica chapter adds in Monteverde as a destination in between La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio. It will help with transportation too, since each chapter has a transportation itinerary.

First, thanks for all the great info – so helpful! We (wife and three kids 18-24) are planning a trip June 18th for 7-10 days for Drake Bay and looking at taking boat ride up Rio Sorrow to get there. What would be the best jump off point on Rio to do that? Does rain season cause complications for this approach? Final question, would you recommend flying into San Jose and driving to jump off point for boat?

Hi Brian, Our Drake Bay post covers how to get to Drake on the boat taxi from Sierpe so be sure to check that out. Your best option in the rainy season is to take the 11:30 am boat since rain is more likely in the afternoon. Yes, San Jose is the closest airport. It will be hard to make it in time for the 11:30 boat so most people stay for a night or two somewhere along the way like Manuel Antonio . Then get an early start the next morning. You can rent a car and leave it parked in Sierpe while you’re in Drake inexpensively. Be sure to check out our rental car discount if you do rent a vehicle.

Hi Jenn and Matt! We will be traveling to CR on July 22nd to august 4th, with 2 kids ( 5 and 9); as we don’t have driving license, would you recommend to stay 3-4 days first on Cahuita and then move to Monteverde in the same day? We’d like to take part of this itinerary you mention, maybe avoiding the southest Corcovado. Kids are very confortable by buses. Thank you

Hi Sara, With 12 nights and younger kids, we would recommend doing 3 destinations max. Then you’ll have about 4 nights in each place or slightly less depending on your flight times and if you need airport stays. Cahuita to Monteverde in one day is probably too ambitious. It’s a 7+ hour drive (in a car) because you’re going from one side of the country to the other and the drive to Monteverde is slow due to rough roads. Shuttles would be a similar duration and the public bus would be much longer. You could do Cahuita to La Fortuna much easier in a day. Then from there, Manuel Antonio would make a good loop. Yes, we’d avoid Drake Bay so that you’re not driving around too much.

This is so helpful. Thank you. We just decided last night to spend 14 days in Costa Rica next March, having changed our minds from Colombia. I may hit you up with one or two questions as we start to plan our trip proper, if you don’t mind. But as a starting point this is great. Thanks so much.

Hi, My husband and I are thinking of going to Costa Rica for the Christmas holiday, for two weeks. We are empty nesters, ages 58 and 67. My question is, considering we are seniors, what is the best way to see Costa Rica, inexpensively? Where should we start our trip and end our trip, to get the most out of seeing the area in two week period? My husband can’t really do any hiking. Can you give us a suggested itinerary of where to stay, what activities to do, whether to rent a car or not, tours and tour guides to take us around; all on a budget? Thank you, Rose and Bill Greenman

Hi Rose, The best resource for you is our book, Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries. That has ten different itineraries that you can choose from. A lot of it will depend on if you want to drive or not. Affordable shared shuttles connect major destinations but not some smaller ones. Here’s the link to our book on Amazon. Otherwise, we could help you in a more personalized way through our Customized Itinerary Service .

Thanks so much for all the great info about Costa Rica! We bought your book “Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries” and it’s been really helpful in planning our trip this December with our two children, 11 and 13. We’re arriving in San Jose on the Dec. 19th and, right now, have a flight back from Guanacaste on the Jan 3rd. We could change the flight if needed since we booked with points, and have been considering changing it to fly out of San Jose. We have a bunch of Marriott points that we want to use at the JW Marriott Guanacaste, so plan on staying there over Christmas (from Dec 22-26). Our itinerary looks like this right now: Arrive early in the morning in San Jose (stay overnight), Drive to Arenal/La Fortuna and stay 20-22 Drive to Guanacaste and stay from 20-27 Drive to Samara and stay 27 to 29 ?? from 29 to 3rd (leave from Guanacaste or San Jose?) I think that’s a lot of driving, but wanted to get your opinion. I’ve been reading through this blog post, also, and Manuel Antonio and Drake Bay also sound amazing, as well as the Santa Elena Cloud Cover. I was hoping you could give us a little direction on if this sounds too busy and if there’s another location you’d recommend for the last part of our trip.

Thanks so much! Sandy and Devin

Hi Sandy and Devin, Glad that our book has been helpful! You’re off to a great start with the planning. What you have makes a lot of sense. Some suggestions- we’d recommend adding a night in Samara and taking off one night in your last destination. Two nights is a little too rushed. For the 4th destination, you could try somewhere that will be different from everywhere else you will have been. Bijagua is a good option and you could keep your flight out of Liberia. It’s backtracking a bit from Samara, but not too bad. Check out our post about Bijagua but it has the beautiful Rio Celeste Waterfall and is smaller so won’t feel as crowded as some other destinations. Manuel Antonio is great too but will be really congested from the 30th to 3rd. Drake Bay is too out of the way for the itinerary you have planned. Another option is the Rio Perdido resort near Miravalles Volcano . It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere but is a beautiful spot and the resort has plenty to do on site. Monteverde is an option too, but it’s quite far from both airports. Hope that helps!

Hello Jenn and Matt! Thanks for all the great info! We just committed to 10 days in CR (January) and are super excited. Family of four (7 and 11 yr old kids). We chose to fly into Liberia. We intended on beach time in Guanacaste (Nosara likely), but the family is split and are trying to figure out rainforest (monteverde) and Volcano options. Also, everyone is excited about a chocolate tour… We are open to driving (rental car), but would also be ok with shuttle. Any info would be helpful for a 10 day itinerary incorporating beach/rainforest/chocolate – keeping kids in mind. Thank you so much!

Hi Cody, You could get some good ideas from our book, Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries . The Family chapter actually goes to Nosara and La Fortuna, which has a couple of great options for chocolate tours. La Fortuna has rainforest too. With ten days, we’d focus on 2 or a max of 3 destinations. Nosara, Monteverde, and La Fortuna could work with that amount of time. Hope that helps!

Great blog and site! It’s easy to read and makes me feel very comfortable with the decision to visit CR! I will be volunteering in San Jose for a week starting 09/10, and then staying for another week for vacation (possibly longer). I saw the 2 week guide, but was wondering if you could provide general information on areas to visit within one week, without a car. Its too late for your planning services, so hoping for a little guidance. I prefer a nice beach town (activities, good food, and culture) and also a place with lots of greenery, hiking, exploring! Thank you!

Hi Kalendra, I think we’re a little late since your trip is coming up in a few days. If you’re still looking for information for what to do after your time volunteering, you could take a look at our post Best Beach Towns to Visit Without a Car . That has some good options for seeing rainforest, hiking, culture, etc.

Hi Matt and Jenn, We are traveling to CR for 2 weeks (Nov 24 – Dec 8th) arriving in Liberia and traveling back home from San Jose. We are traveling with our 2 kids age 9 and 6 and my brother and his wife. Can you suggest some areas to stay in. We’d prefer adventures at the beginning of the trip and narrowing it down to beaches and relaxing towards the latter half of the trip. Any tips and advice would be great! Your website is fabulous!!

Hi Sharleen, There are tons of choices and it really depends on your group’s specific interests. You could get some ideas with our Destinations Summary Guide or our book, Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries , has a lot of different options for a 2-week trip.

Love the site – so informative though from a quick glance at the 2 week itinerary and comments I can’t seem to see much mention of Tortuguero. Planning on a 2 week visit next July/ August and would be good to get your views on the practicalities of including this in the plan ( I guess at the expense of Drake and osa)

Hi Graham, With 2 weeks, we usually recommend just one remote destination so this sample itinerary goes to Drake Bay, which we prefer personally. If you’d rather visit Tortuguero, that’s a great choice too, especially in July/August since that’s green sea turtle nesting season. Our book Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries actually has a 2-week itinerary (the Wildlife itinerary) that includes Tortuguero so you could check that out.

Love all your information. We are fly into San Jose in January and spending the night. Then we are going to Arenal for two nights than to Puerto Vieja. We only have 9 days total. Do we need a 4×4 for these drives. The rafting to the Caribbean sounded exciting but we are in our 60’s and have never done it but love water(not surfing) What do you suggest?

Hi Linda, You won’t need 4×4 for those drives unless you plan on doing some exploring in the Arenal area (e.g. to Rio Celeste Waterfall). The main roads are all paved and in good condition.

The rafting trip that gets you from Arenal to Puerto Viejo along the Sarapiqui River is a really fun way to travel. We work with a company that will let you do either the Class III-IV portion of the river or the easier Class II-III. We’ve done the Class II-III trip ourselves and it was a lot of fun. It was Jenn’s first time rafting and she loved it and wasn’t too scared. Let us know if you’d like us to send you more information about the company we go through.

Such a great website. Thank you! It has helped so much with my planning. The hard part is choosing what to do! I have finally decided on this itinerary over Christmas, although slightly condensed into 11 days.

Wanted to ask – how frequent/reliable is public transport on Christmas Day itself? I’m travelling alone so don’t feel comfortable driving and will be on a budget. I will be making the journey from MA to Osa Peninsula on Christmas Day as I have a Corcovado tour on the 26th. Should I try to arrive in Osa a day earlier? I know there’s a few connections that I’d need from MA (bus to Quepos, bus to Golfito, ferry to Puerto Jimenez) so just concerned it might be a bit painful on Christmas Day! My tour through Corcovado National Park will then take me to Drake Bay which I will then head back to SJO from.

Thanks, Yvonne

Hi Yvonne, Buses generally run as normal on Christmas Day because the locals rely heavily on them to get around. But since you have a lot of connections to get from MA to Puerto Jimenez, we’d recommend making the trip the day before just in case you run into any glitches with timing the transfers.

Hi there, so enjoying reading this. Best blog I’ve found and will buy the book too. But I have several specific questions since it seems like you’ve updated your information and recommendations over the years (esp about the small planes). My family of 5 w teenage children is headed to CR in August for two weeks. We are spending the second week without good friends who live in Flamingo Beach. Right now, we are flying into San Jose and want to spend a week experiencing the more adventurous parts of CR, hiking, zip lining, rafting, and seeing the unique ecology and wildlife since the second week will be getting r and r at the beach. We are physically hearty but do not love spending hours and hours of vacation days in the car. My thought was to spend 3-4 days is Manuel Antonio and then where? Would love Osa but it seems too far and driving or flying back to SJ and then getting all the way over to Flamingos Beach feels too complicated. I had thought we should go from Manuel Antonio to 3/4 days in Arenal and Monteverde, but our friends said they were tourist traps and to steer clear. Would really love your advice here. We have never been to CR and maybe a touristy destination is ok, or maybe there’s a better coupling with Manuel Antonio for first week before heading to Flamingo? Welcome any suggestions or help with itinerary. Thank you.

Hi Ashley, If you don’t want to spend a lot of time in the car, La Fortuna and Monteverde are probably your best options. They are more touristy, but they are popular for a reason since they have a lot of awesome activities, including all the ones on your list. I wouldn’t say they are tourist traps by any means. If you stay outside the main area of La Fortuna, you will be surrounded by rainforest and there are plenty of smaller hotels that won’t feel too busy, especially in August. I wouldn’t recommend the Osa or Caribbean coast due to travel time because they are so far from Playa Flamingo. Hope that helps give you some direction!

Adventurous family of four (kids age 11) planing to travel to CR for the first time in late summer (July/Aug) for 12-14 days. Airports have not been chosen but I think we would like to visit Arenal and Monteverde. For the coastal/beach portion of our trip I am undecided between somewhere in Guanacaste egion/Nicoya peninsula versus Manuel Antonio. Plan to do most of our adventures/excursions while in Arenal and Monteverde, For nice beaches, a nice hotel or vrbo rental with pool (close to ocean), near a vibrant walkable town with a good vibe, unique shops and good restaurants should we wrap-up our trip in Guanacaste or Manuel Antonio? I do plan on renting a car to drive between destinations

Hi Scott, Guanacaste has more options for hotels and vacation rentals that are within walking distance to the beach. In Manuel Antonio, most are set on the hill so about a 5-10 min. drive away. Guanacaste is typically busier but shouldn’t be too bad in late July/early August. Hope that helps!

Is there anything you can share about Cabuya? We will be staying at Los Carcoles mid-February for about three weeks. This is close to Montezuma and in the province of Puntarenas.

Thank you Mary

Hi Mary, Cabuya is a small, charming town near Montezuma on the southern Nicoya Peninsula. Our Montezuma article should help with things to see and do in the area.

Hi – thanks for a great blog. We a family of five going to CR 16 days in July. We have the option of a round trip from San Jose or flying in to Liberia and out of San Jose. No two option is slightly more expensive. The bucket list yoga, surf, waterfalls, rainforest, Atv, volcanos and diving. Will we get better sights up north and maybe save some driving? Is it less crowded up there or same all over? Where is the best place for seeing turtles and finding a nice boattrip? What would you recommend?

Hi Kim, The advantage of flying into Liberia is that it gets you closer to Guanacaste, if you wanted to go there. This area is more developed in general but does have some things on your list like yoga and surfing. For seeing turtles, your best option is Playa Ostional near Nosara in Guanacaste or Tortuguero on the northern Caribbean coast. You could do either option for airports really. I think I’d recommend figuring out exactly where you want to go first and then committing to the plane tickets.

Hi, many thanks for this great blog. We are planning a 10-11 day trip in mid-August with two yound children (3 and 7 years old). We will be staying one week in Manuel Antonio after landing in SJO and are looking to visit another spot in addition to Manuel Antonio for a 3 day stop. Given the time of the year, we will skip the drake bay suggested in your itinerary. I was thinking of traveling to Arenal from Manuel Antonio but am concerned about the rain as I read that it is much more heavy rain than on in Manuel Antonio in August. Travelling to the Nicoya peninsula using the ferry looks very attractive (especially Nosara and Samara) but I am concerned that it is two much roads for the kids. What do you think? Where would be the most attractive for us to travel from Manuel Antonio to end our trip before returning home? Also, do you recommend that we rent a car to move around Manuel Antonio for day trips? I the 4X4 needed there and to drive to Arenal? Thanks in advance for your help!

Hi Celine, The weather in the Arenal area doesn’t follow the typical patterns so August is usually less rainy so that’s a good option if it appeals to you. It is a great destination with young children. Samara would be another good choice – we often recommend it to families because the ocean is calmer and it’s convenient to get around since the town is set up near the beach. It’s not too much of a drive from Manuel Antonio to Samara and then on to San Jose. We did it with our son when he was a baby. For a car, you don’t necessarily need one for Manuel Antonio since there is a lot to do there and tours usually include transportation, but it can be more convenient with young kids because of car seats (tour companies do not usually provide them since they are not required to by law). You don’t need a 4×4 to travel to Arenal unless you’re planning on exploring on back roads. Hope that helps!

Thank you Jenn and Matt for taking the time to respond. Your recommendations are highly appreciated. And thank you for this great blog. I definitely intend to purchase your book.

Really enjoyed reading your blog, great advice so thank you! My boyfriend and I are considering a 2 week trip to Costa Rica next year, please could you let me know when is the best time of year to avoid rain? We are thinking perhaps December.. do you know what the weather is like at this time?

Also, do you have any idea of a rough budget for 2 weeks in Costa Rica excluding flights, but including medium range accommodation, car rental, all other costs etc?

Many thanks,

Hi Katie, The most reliable weather is during dry season, December to end of April. Most of the country receives little rainfall during those months. You can get more detailed info in our post Best Times to Visit .

To help you budget, you can read our post Cost of Traveling in Costa Rica . Lots of detailed information in there.

Jenn and Matt, wow thanks! We went to Costa Rica 23 years ago on our honeymoon and now we are taking our 12, and 16 year old there in June. the trip is 14days(but that includes the flight in and out days, so really 12 vacay days). I knew we wanted to do Arenal and Manuel Antonio again but debating on the third location so your blog was perfect. Only concern is that its rainy season, would you still choose Corcovado as the third location in rainy season? Or opt for a different one? We are looking forward to the hot springs in Arenal/the waterfall La fortuna /I loved the idea of the water taxi to Corcovado. My daughter loves to study animals, so I thought a rehabilitation center/area with lots of wildlife would be great. I’ll definitely check out the car rental through you and the itinerary book, and if you have tours to suggest we would love to use your services.

Hi Gretchen, How fun to do a return trip 20 years later! We think you will find that a lot has changed but some things will be the same, like how nice the locals are.

June is early in the rainy season so we think it would be totally fine to still do Drake Bay and Corcovado. If your daughter is into animals, Corcovado is a must. We have a lot of ideas for tours for your family. We know of some great options for wildlife rehab centers in La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio and have some other things in mind that would be good with a 12 and 16 year old. If you’d like help choosing and booking tours, please contact us through our Tour Booking Service page ( LINK ). Thanks!

Hello and thank you for this great blog, we’ve read lots of it. We made our itinerary (2 adults + 9y & 13y) as: Arenal/Fortuna 3 nights, Monteverde 3 nights, Manuel Antonio 4 nights, Puerto Jimenez 5 nights. Is that too much time in Osa or M.Antonio? Thank you again!!

Hi Antonine, There’s a lot to do in Manuel Antonio so 4 nights is fine, but 5 nights is a lot in Puerto Jimenez , given the activities available. Maybe take a night off and add it to La Fortuna.

Thank you, just coming back from the trip. We did (family of 4, 9y old and 13 y old): . 1 night in Alejua upon arrival . 3 nights Fortuna . 3 nights Monteverde . 3 nights Manuel Antonio . 4 nights Puerto Jimenez . 1 night close to Los Quetzales . 1 night San Jose to catch a very early flight overall I would not change a thing except the precise location in Fortuna (we stayed just south close to the waterfall, should have stayed west close to volcano).

Rented the large Montero 4×4 and so glad I did. The car they gave me initially was bad, I requested another one, that one had electronics issues, and finally the 3rd car worked, but wasted a precious 4 hrs. Adobe was nice about it but watch that the car condition is not to the standards we have in the US. Btw driving in San Jose is quite an experience – would compare that to driving in Boston or in Paris, you just have to be an aggressive driver and be 100% focused on the road, eg watch for those driving against (happens in California too just be on your guard). The pavement condition is overall very good – better than in San Francisco! – but the markings are not good and watch for those 4ft gutters at night. Also be mindful that you can drive for hours without gas stations so be more conservative than at home to fill up your tank.

Overall people are very nice, cell signal is everywhere (again compared to California coverage you’ll be amazed how better costa rica is), tap water won’t make you sick, there are restrooms available everywhere, stores stay open late. The cost of things is quite high (about 30% less than San Francisco, and equivalent to Texas more or less). As a reference an espresso will be about $2 ($1.75-$2.50), diners for 4 was about $55, lunch $35 – food is delicious although we quickly got fed up with the ‘typico’ meals. We slept for about $80-$110 a night for about *** hotels with breakfast. Nothing super fancy but clean, AC, pool, with parking, etc. I used airline points for our arrival and departure nights in San Jose to save money from the kids accounts as points never quite are enough for flights when you want them 😉

Overall this was an outstanding vacation that I would recommend to anyone. Our trip was for those who want to explore and not a ‘do nothing’ vacation.

Thanks again for your website that helped us plan and set our expectations!

Hello. great suggestions. We will be spending our fist week in CR over Xmas week at the Osa Verde Conservation center in the Corcovado/matapalo biological corridor with my extended family. We will fly in and out of Puerto Jiminez. I then plan to spend 10-14 days with my 18 & 20 yeasr olds and my husband. I am interested in white water rafting in Saraquipi and visiting Tortuguera and the caribbean cost and then arenal/fortuna. do you think that is too much to cover. I was planning to skip Manuel Antonio since it will be crowded over xmas break. How would you suggest we do it all? thanks, Audrey

Hi Audrey, If your plan is to fly back to San Jose after Puerto Jimenez, that will work well for visiting the Caribbean coast. Then you could head to Sarapiqui, Tortuguero, and end on the southern Caribbean. This would work well with 10-14 days because it’s all Caribbean focused. Let us know if you’d like any help booking your tours. We know of a great operator in Sarapiqui for rafting.

Hi. We are thinking of doing a family trip in January to Costa Rica. We have been looking at the Uvita/Dominical area. Is that area safe for families and would you recommend it? We don’t speak Spanish and we have kids from 17-10 years of age. We are wanting both jungle and beach experiences without a lot of driving. We would love to hike, river raft, snorkel, and have beach time. It seems like that area has a little of all the activities we are wanting but I’ve read some reviews about it being unsafe. Any info would be great!

Hi Nicole, The Uvita area is wonderful and it does have all those activities you mention. It’s great for jungle and beach and feels super lush even in January. Unfortunately, there have been some incidents of crime there lately, but we still consider it fairly safe if you follow the usual precautions (see our Safety post here). Mainly, we don’t recommend visiting isolated beaches, and if you get a vacation rental, make sure it has decent security and always lock it up. Hope that helps!

Two weeks in Costa Rice Jun/July 2020. I have been considering this exact itinerary – Arenal, Manual Antonio, Drake Bay. Picked Jun/July because our 12yo kids will be out school and we can travel longer. Flying in and out of SJO. Renting a car. Do you recommend starting this itinerary in Arenal or can it be done staring in Drake Bay too? I have heard rumors of two week break or slow down in the rain in mid- July. Should we go then or does it not really matter versus traveling at the end of Jun or early July

Hi John, There is often a “mini summer”/veranito in early July, but it’s the weather, so you never know of course. If you can arrange it so that you are in Drake Bay during those first two weeks of July, that would maximize your odds for good weather. It’s fine to start the itinerary there and work backwards. You will just have the long drive at the beginning but could break it up with an overnight somewhere on the way like Dominical/Uvita to see another area.

I have read both your books and am seriously considering I am considering Costa Rica for an early April 2020 trip. We like hiking, seeing wildlife, short to half-day boat cruises, and beaches or hot springs for 2-3 hour visits later in the day when sun is less strong. We are not interested in zip-lining, white water, etc. I’m struggling with including a variety since this might be our only trip to CR vs leaving enough time to appreciate each area. We will be 68 and 70 by the trip, healthy and reasonably active. Will drive or use private transport, will get guides at least one day in MA and probably also Arenal area.

Plan 1: 1 night near San Jose CR airport, following long flight from SF Bay Area OR if arrive early enough head straight to first destination. 4 nights La Fortuna/Arenal 4 nights Manuel Antonio 1 night likely needed near San Jose airport before departure

Plan 2: 1 night near San Jose CR airport, following long flight from SF Bay Area 3 nights La Fortuna/Arenal 2 nights Monte Verde (to spend one day on a cloud forest tour, probably Santa Elena, and any other activities that fit) 3 nights Manuel Antonio 1 night likely needed near San Jose airport before departure, or if not, add to MA

Plan 3: Other suggested visit of same length to less touristed sites that still allow for diverse ecosystems.

Thanks for your insight.

Hi Barbara, It looks like the main difference between the itineraries is Monteverde. Monteverde has some nice hikes and the chance to see interesting birds and plants, but if you didn’t include it, you would have more time in each town to appreciate the area. It’s hard for us to say whether you should include it, or whether you should go to some other lesser known areas, without knowing more about your specific preferences. If you’d like, we could work with you to design a custom itinerary. Here’s the link to our page about that service. Thanks!

Hi Jenn and Matt, we are planning a 7-8 day trip to costa rica with our 2 and half year old. Is it safe to travel with toddler in costa rica?

Hi Karuna, Absolutely! We live here with our 3.5 year old and 4 month old. You should check out our posts Family Travel in Costa Rica and Traveling with a Baby in Costa Rica .

thank you, your website is proving invaluable. We are planning next summer with kids age 15 and 11. We are tied to uk summer holidays so will be late july/ august for 2 weeks. We will fly into SJO, Eldest is desperate to see turtles so was thinking Torteugo for a couple of nights , then Arenal area for 4 nights then beach. have been recommended to go as north as possible to get the best weather, but most of the ‘tours’ / agents have you going to Manual Antonia. Certainly a lot easier to get back to the airport in San Jose but concerned it will be 3-4 days in the rain. Alternatively could break trip back from north west coast to SJO with a night in Monteverde, but not sure 1 night is sufficient to do it justice.

Hi Clare, Guanacaste is good in late July/August but so is Manuel Antonio. Manuel Antonio usually doesn’t get too rainy until mid August or sometimes later, so you should go to whichever place is more appealing. We wouldn’t recommend a stopover in Monteverde if you choose Guanacaste because like you said, one night isn’t really enough time. It’s not a horrible drive to do all at once anyway, just plan on an overnight before your flight. We also offer a custom itinerary service where we could provide more in depth help. Hope that helps!

Hello Jane and Matt..Thanks for replying. We are travelling through a travel company (since we dont have time to do the planning 🙁 ) they are suggesting bajos del toro(2 nights), rio celeste(3 nights) and playa hermosa(2 nights). we love wild life and bird watching and hitting beach to keep my toddler happy..what do you think about the itinerary?

Hi Karuna, That isn’t the itinerary we’d suggest when traveling with little ones but it’s hard for us to say without knowing more about what exactly you’re interested in. Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste is a good beach with kids. But for the other destinations, I think we’d recommend somewhere with more kid-friendly hikes and nature opportunities. We also offer a custom itinerary service and are a travel agency so let us know if you’d like us to help with the planning. Thanks!

Firstly, your website is amazing! secondly, I am planning a 17 day trip and after a lot of research was thinking SJO > Manuel Antonio > Arenal > Tamarindo > SJO Would it be quicker / better to do this in a different order? Thanks so much in advance.

Hi Steph, That order works fine. The only downside of the itinerary is that Tamarindo is a little far from San Jose. If you could fly out of Liberia instead, you’d be driving a lot less.

Hi Guys, your site is a lifesaver! We are a 2 adults and 2 kids aged 6 and 8 and we’ll be travelling in CR for just over 3 weeks in March/April 2020. We’ve worked out an itinerary but we’re hoping that we are not trying to squeeze too much in. We will be driving (using your discount code!).

Does this sound reasonable:

1 night San Jose (our flight arrives in the evening) 3 nights Manzanillo 3 nights Tortuguero 3 nights Uvita 4 nights Drake Bay 3 nights Manuel Antonio 3 nights Monteverde 4 nights La Fortuna 2 nights Sarapiqui

Any particular highlights you would recommend or changes to this route? Thanks Vinny

Hi Vinny, Thanks for renting a car through our site! Your itinerary looks good but we’d recommend a reordering. This is assuming you’re also flying out of SJO.

Uvita is too far from Tortuguero to make it one day with the boat ride, so you would need a stop over or to rearrange your destinations. You could do: San Jose to Manzanillo/Puerto Viejo to Tortuguero to Sarapiqui to La Fortuna to Monteverde to Uvita (this is a longer drive but there are some good stops on the wasy to break it up) to Drake Bay and end in Manuel Antonio. There are probably other permutations but that order would prevent really long drives and doesn’t cut out anything. Hope that helps!

Hi Jenn and Matt, loving your blog so far as I’m starting to get intrigued about the idea of going to Costa Rica in the Spring! Have some cheap tickets in my sights for end of April & beginning of May (about 25/4 – 9/5) – from what you guys have posted it seems like a good balance between avoiding the crowds, getting enough sun, but also getting the jungle green with some rain, right? Just wondering on this itinerary – would you say it’s suitable for a solo traveler in his mid-20s? Doable by buses and shuttles without renting a car? If any, which parts would you swap out with that in mind? Does it make sense perhaps to stay in San Juan for a night extra for the going out scene? Secondly, any additions/changes you can think of for fluent Spanish speakers who want to get an authentic experience if possible? Lastly, and this is perhaps a larger worry than the rest: It seems like a lot of the fun stuff there is to do in CR (tours of natural parks, ziplining, diving, etc.) is great for groups but harder/pricier to do individually – do you think there’s enough of a solo traveler scene that I’d be able to group up with people ad-hoc for these experiences? Thanks so much and keep up the good work, best of luck!

Hi Adam, This itinerary would be a good option for traveling solo and taking the bus or shared shuttles. Getting from Manuel Antonio to Drake Bay is a little tricky but there is both a bus and shuttle option from MA to Sierpe and then you’d take the boat from Sierpe to Drake Bay. You could add a stop in the Dominical/Uvita area before Drake Bay for something more authentic/off-the-beaten path. Dominical gets a lot of solo travelers. San Jose does have some fun bars so you could add on a night there and stay in downtown if you wanted. End of April is a good time to come for all the reasons you said and some things will be cheaper.

For tours, you can still do the same things as long as the tour is opened, meaning the operator has enough people signed up already on the day you want to do it. This doesn’t take much as most tours have a 2 person minimum so then you would just pay the regular per person rate.

Hope that helps! Best of luck with the rest of your planning.

Thanks so much! Super helpful! I’ll check out your guide books as well 🙂

Hi Matt and Jenn

We have come across your very helpful website – we have booked flights to CR for next February for 2 weeks.

I cannot find any mention of seeing crocodiles on the Tarcoles river – what are your views on this ?

many thanks

Mark and Bridget Steward (UK)

Hi Mark and Bridget, Yes, we definitely recommend stopping at the Tarcoles River to see the giant crocs that live below. You can also take a boat ride to see them closer up from the town of Tarcoles. We’ve done this tour and loved it. Here’s a link to our post about it. They also have secure parking so you can do it on the way to a destination.

Hello, My wife and I will be going to Costa Rica for 9 nights in late February. We are planning on staying in Arenal and Manuel Antonio for 4 nights each. Do you guys think we should stay in Arenal and Manuel Antonio for 3-4 nights and spend 1-2 nights in Monteverde? Thank you!

Hi Max, Yes, that’s a good break up of time with 9 days. We’d recommend two nights in Monteverde to make the drive there worthwhile.

Just love San Josecito beach!

Love your blog! We have 9 full days in CR (flying in and out of SJO). We have 2 teen boys. Was thinking of doing Manuel Antonio (is 3 nights enough), then Arenal (4 nights) and 2 nights at the Peace Lodge. Do you have any thoughts on the Peace Lodge? Would that be a good place to stay, or should we check out another spot? Also, would we be able to drive from Peace Lodge to SJO at 5 am? Our flight leaves at 8 am. Wasn’t sure if that was cutting it too close. Would love to hear any recommendations you have. This is our first trip out of the country and we are very excited!

Hi Kelli, That sounds like a good itinerary with 2 teen boys. 3 nights in Manuel Antonio is enough time. The Peace Lodge is a great spot – it’s higher altitude so the environment is interesting and will be different from the other places you will be visiting. If you have extra time after you do the Waterfall Gardens , you could visit the nearby Catarata del Toro (waterfall).

If your flight leaves at 8 am, you should aim to be at the airport by 5 am (current recommendations call for arriving 3 hours in advance) so we’d recommend staying somewhere closer to the airport for that last night, or taking a shuttle.

Feel free to contact us through our Tour Booking Service page if you’d like help arranging some fun adventures. We also have an Activities Guide to Manuel Antonio . Hope your family has a great trip!

Thanks for such a great website. Have you reviewed any of the language schools in Costa Rica? We are coming for two weeks with kids in high and middle school, and we hoped to spend one week learning Spanish in one of the schools. It’s hard to figure out the quality of the school (without breaking the bank) combined with a good location/area for a family to stay for the first half of the trip. Any thoughts?

Hi Chris, We haven’t reviewed language schools in Costa Rica but can recommend Intercultura in Samara and Personalized Spanish in San Jose, based on reviews from friends. Samara would put you at the beach, which would be nice for a family trip. Hope that helps!

Hi, I am trying to plan a 2 week trip from the UK with my family (10, 6 & 3) and wonder what changes to the above itinerary you would suggest? We are pretty adventurous and active. Any help much appreciated.

Hi Daniel, This is a great itinerary for an active, adventurous family since you can do high adrenaline activities like whitewater rafting, waterfall rappelling, ATV, jungle hikes, zip lining, etc. from Manuel Antonio and La Fortuna . You could also add Monteverde since there is a lot to do there with kids those ages – lots of great wildlife exhibits, hanging bridges, etc.

Hi Jenn and Matt What a helpful blog this is, thanks a lot for this!

We are a Belgian family of 4 travelling to CR over Xmas with our 2 boys of 8 and 10 yrs old. We love the outdoors and some good adventure, and our youngest has had CR on his wishlist for a while so he’s very excited about our upcoming trip.

We will have 16 full days to spend, not counting the days of arrival and departure (arriving 17 December and flying it on 3 January).

Our plan would be to base ourselves in 3 hubs from where to explore the area: 1. La Fortuna (5 nights) 2. Manuel Antonio (5 nights) 3 Drake Bay (4 nights) Then back to San José (2 nights)

We intend to hire a car for our trip. However am trying to figure out the best way to organise the last part, from Manuel Antonio to Drake Bay and then back to San José.

One option is to leave the car parked in Sierpe and then drive back to San José but am wondering whether that’s not going to be too long a day of travel. Another option could be to drop off the car (do rental companies allow that without adding a ridiculous amount to the rental fee?) and then fly back to San José. Flying however doesn’t seem to be recommended?

What would be your advice? Any further advice on the above itinerary would be great!

Hi Fem, Glad our site has been helpful! That looks like a really good plan. It will show you a nice mix of the country and won’t be too rushed.

Yes, we don’t recommend small planes right now for reliability reasons. It is a long drive back to San Jose from Sierpe, but it’s not horrible. That’s what we usually recommend for people. You can take the early morning boat taxi from Drake and get back to Sierpe before 9 am to pick up your rental car and get on the road. There are some good stops you can do to break up the drive. You could stop for lunch on the beach either in Playa Hermosa just south of Jaco or on Playa Herradura at a restaurant called El Pelicano. Some of the Playa Hermosa restaurants are right on the sand, so it’s a really nice break. Those are right off the highway too.

In case you haven’t seen it, here’s a link to our rental car discount page. We work with a great company here and our readers get 10% off their rates, plus other things like a free second driver and booster seats if you need any for your boys. Hope that helps and that you all have a wonderful trip! Costa Rica is great for kids!

Thanks for the reply. When checking the link to Adobe it seems there is no discount applied (I don’t see the “Welcome to two weeks in Costa Rica” either). Checked with the usual rates and they’re the same. Any suggestions on how to make this work?

Thanks for bringing this to our attention. We tested the widget on our page and it is working fine on desktop but not mobile. We think that Adobe must have done an update to their mobile site and that caused a problem. We have contacted them and it should be resolved soon. In the meantime, it should work for you on desktop. If you have any problems, please email us at info(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)com. We could always get a manual quote for you if needed. Very sorry for the inconvenience.

Good afternoon I’m interested in moving to Costa Rica do you have any suggestions on how to make that move? Buy or rent a home also purchase a vehicle… any suggestions we did a 10 day vacation a few years back and we loved it.

Hi Eddie, We have tons of information on moving to Costa Rica in our Life in CR section: https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/life-in-costa-rica/

You could start with our article on FAQs About Moving to Costa Rica ( https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/faqs-moving-to-costa-rica/ ) and go from there. Best of luck with your plans!

So, Matt and Jenn,

I’m really excited about finding this blog. My wife and I are actually thinking about moving down there in two years. I’m hoping your blog will steer us in the right direction. Any info you or your readers can share with us would be greatly appreciated. Our primary wants in location is close proximity to water, the view! We’d also like to have some of the usual amenities like grocery shopping, medical facilities, some restaurants, and bars. I think we’d like to be on the Pacific side, but that’s not an absolute must. Any places with the above in mind, suggest away. Looking forward to reading more on this site.

Dave and Kim Westberg Seabrook Island, SC

Hi Dave and Kim, We have lots of info on our site about moving to Costa Rica. Definitely peruse our Life in CR section ( https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/family-travel/ ) when you have some time.

For where you may want to land, the central Pacific coast ( https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/central-pacific-coast-regional-snapshot/ ) might be a good option. The different towns in that region are 1-2.5 hours to San José for medical facilities. This area is also good for restaurants and shopping. There are lots of beach towns with nice ocean views too!

Hope that helps. Feel free to reach out through our Video Chat Service ( https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/video-chat-service/ ) if you want to talk more specifics. Best of luck with your plans!

Hi Jenn and Matt:

I just ran across your website and blog yesterday. We are a family of 8 ( 2 adults and 6 kids, aged 6-15). We were supposed to be in Costa Rica last year, but got postponed 2x due to covid issues. Our trip is with an ecotourism company. This year, we had hoped to finally go in late March/early April; however, we keep debating if it’s really safe and what the potential would be for us to get stuck in CR due to the pandemic issues, if we were to travel. In reading your website, it still looks like CR is very safe right now with minimal issues. The 2 different trips that we could choose from are the Osa Peninsula (Alajuela, Savegre Region and Uvita stops) or Arenal, Monteverde, Manuel Antonio stops. Would either one be any better, safer than the other and/or better for kids our age? We would have guides with us the entire time. And is everyone wearing masks in those areas or mainly inside only (which we would prefer) vs trying to hike in a hot, humid mask. Thanks in advance. Just trying to decide if we should postpone the trip again until later 2021 or try and do it now and it’s really hard to get a “true” read on the situation since most folks aren’t actually in CR right now.

Hi Lisa, The first itinerary doesn’t have the exact destinations, just cantons/counties. But if you’re going to major tourist destinations outside the San José area, which it sounds like you are, it should be fine. The tour company should make sure they are using operators who are following the Covid protocols. But you should ask them if you haven’t already.

If you’d like to talk further about what it’s like here right now, you could reach out to us through our Video Chat Service ( https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/video-chat-service/ ) so we could talk one on one. We do know where most of the cases are concentrated so could guide you on that, though, of course, it’s a constantly changing situation so it could be somewhat different by the time of your trip. We could also talk about which trip itinerary would be better for your family based on your interests. Hope that helps!

On mask wearing, most people are not hiking in masks. They aren’t required outdoors almost everywhere, except at the entrance to a national park and other areas of congregation.

Your website has been so helpful! We are planning a trip to Costa Rica the end of end of May, early June for 12 days. We are a big group of three families with 12 kids 6-17 (most are 10+). I know we want to spend 3-5 days in La Fortuna doing zip lines, white water rafting, canyoneering/rappelling and hot springs, but I’m really torn with where else to go. (Also considering a day trip to Rio Celeste.)

We’d like to spend a day or two playing on the beach and (trying) to surf, but we want to see lots of animals and not spend too much of our precious time driving. I’m debating whether we head south to Jaco for beach/surfing and then to Manuel Antonio or do we head over to Guanacaste? I’m also super intrigued by the Osa Peninsula and would love to visit there for two nights/one day but I’m really worried it would use up too much time driving.

Would you recommend SJO to Quepos/Manuel Antonio then to Osa Peninsula, then back up to Jaco, then on to La Fortuna? Or should we skip Osa Peninsula this trip and focus on Manuel Antonio/Quepos/Jaco? Also, how do the beaches in Guanacaste compare to Jaco?

Lastly, we’re also interested in stopping at the La Paz Waterfalls and Peace Lodge animal sanctuary. Is that a place you’d recommend? Can that be done as a day trip or do we need to stay overnight nearby? Or is there another animal sanctuary that you’d recommend where we can be sure to see some animals up close?

Hi Stacy, We just responded to your questions together on our Family Itinerary post. Thanks!

Thanks for having such a great site full of info. We have three teens (2 boys and a girl) and have been to the Tamarindo and Arenal areas as a family several years ago so we want to do something different this time. We’re now flying into SJ for 10 days and are thinking about doing a one day rafting trip on the Pacuare River followed by 3-4 days at Manuel Antonio and 3-4 days near Uvita. We’re looking for a little bit of jungle/adventure, thus the rafting, and a good amount of beach time with waterfalls, snorkeling (Cano Island), a day or two of deep sea fishing. Do you think this itinerary would fit the bill? I’ve debated if we should spend a few days on the Caribbean side (Puerto Viejo area) after rafting and then just go to Manuel Antonio. But I think you had some good things to say about Uvita. Thanks.

Hi Robby, Yes, that itinerary seems like it would be a good fit for your family based on what you’ve said. You will get waterfalls (lots), beach time, and jungle in Uvita and can do Caño Island from there. In Manuel Antonio, you can go sport fishing and do any adventure tours you want. It would be easier to do Uvita after Manuel Antonio since it’s close by rather than going to the Caribbean coast, which is farther away. Sounds like a good plan! Feel free to reach out through our tour booking service ( https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/tour-booking-service/ ) if you’d like help arranging your activities. Hope your family has a great trip!

Hello Jenn and Matt – Thanks for your informative blog! We are planning 14 days in the Osa Peninsula February 2022. Fly into San Jose, then same day fly into Puerto Jimenez and arrive at night. 7 nights in Jimenez. Then drive 4WD to Drake for 6 nights. Drive back to Jimenez and fly out to San Jose. We’re planning beach and jungle activities. Does 7 nights in Jimenez and 6 nights in Drake sound reasonable and good? We’d rather not move around a lot, but am not sure about number of days in just two places. Thank you.

Hi Steve, That’s a lot of time on the Osa Peninsula. It is beautiful and quiet, if that’s what you’re looking for. But there isn’t a ton to do other than beaches and hiking, so that would be too much time for many people. If you’re looking for an “unplugging” type experience, then it may be just right. Hope that helps!

Hello! We are a family of 4 traveling in CR for 12 days. We can’t decide if we should do Manuel Antonio + Arenal, or try to fit Monteverde in there too. It seems that all of the activities that were once only offered at MV are now offered at Arenal (coffee/chocolate tours, hanging bridges, etc). So it makes the trek to MV seem… pointless? I like the idea of fewer travel days and more time at each destination (I don’t think we’ll have a hard time filling up our days at Arenal). But if MV offers something truly unique, I don’t want to miss it. And I don’t want to be “bored” of MA or Arenal. What are your thoughts in 2022? Thanks so much!!

Hi Brittany, Yes, we do think you could skip Monteverde if you’re not sure you want to go there and you want to limit the number of destinations you go to. You’re totally right that you can do a lot of the same things in Arenal now that you can do in Monteverde, so the main draw of Monteverde now is experiencing the cloud forest. It is really unique but don’t feel like you have to fit it in. It would make the trip more rushed since it takes a while to get to Monteverde. Hope that helps!

Thanks so far for sharing all your insights on Costa Rica with us, your site has been very useful. My wife and I planning a two week trip in which we intend to largely follow the itinerary you’ve described. San Jose to Fortuna (4 nights), to Manuel Antonio (4 nights) and then Drake Bay (4 nights).

I see in your itinerary you spend a few days more in Manuel Antonio than in Drake Bay. Is there more to see or do there than in Drake Bay? Would you recommend we shift one day from Drake Bay and tack it on to Manuel Antonio instead?

Am I correct in understanding that the roads from San Jose, to La Fortuna, to Manuel Antonio are all pretty good, and doable in a humble little 2WD car? Also, if I understand, transportwise to Drake Bay the most affordable/efficient thing to do is to drive to Sierpe, park the rental car there to take the water taxi to Drake Bay, and then head back to Sierpe at the end and pick up the car to drive to San José? I’m not particularly wild of paying for 3 days of car rental to have it sit in a parking lot in another city, but I don’t immediately see a better approach considering the shuttle costs from Sierpe to San José. Or is there a way to avoid this that I’m not seeing?

Thanks in advance, best regards,

Hi Tom, Manuel Antonio does have a lot more to do than Drake Bay so that’s why we recommend spending more time there. But if the relaxing environment of Drake Bay appeals to you, we think it would be fine to leave your itinerary as is.

Your understanding of the roads is right on. You can get a regular sedan for the drives between those destinations. You would only need a 4×4 for exploring on back roads. Yes, it’s easiest to just park the car in Sierpe, even if it means paying for the extra days. When you add the extra cost of dropping off the car in Sierpe and having to take a shuttle back to San José after, it’s still cheaper to keep the car the whole time and drive yourselves back to San José. Hope you and your wife have a great trip!

This itinerary is so awesome! We are planning our 2-week trip starting may 14 and I was wondering what kind of car you’d recommend to rent if we are following this itinerary. Planning to leave it in Sierpe, but can we get away with a little/cheap 2WD car for the rest?

Hi Jason, Yes, You can just do a regular sedan for this itinerary as long as you’re not planning on too much exploring on back roads. All major roads between destinations and most smaller local roads are all paved. Hope you have a great trip!

Thank you for this website, amazing info!

I’m planning on doing a version of this itinerary from Apr 2nd to 16th relying on public transit and I’m wondering about two things:

1) Are there any celebrations or parades worth seeing on Juan Santamaria Day on April 11th? And if so would they be in Alajuela or where?

2) How much does Easter factor into this? Will be closed even in touristy areas, and if so on what days? What about shuttles, buses, and such, should I expect those to be disrupted? And if so, will there be more or less disruption in Drake Bay since it’s fairly remote?

Thanks so much, Adam

Hi Adam, Glad our site has been helpful!

We’re not sure if there will be anything going on for Juan Santamaria Day, but if there is, it would be in the San Jose area most likely.

Easter is a really busy time but just about everything for visitors will be open, including tours and restaurants. Some buses may be on a holiday schedule. They will be busy so it’s best to buy tickets a couple of days in advance for longer trips. The main things that are closed are banks and government offices.

One main disruption is that they reverse the highway going back to San Jose to alleviate traffic coming from the beach back to the capital. This is usually the Saturday and Sunday around Easter. Highway 27 closes going south/west so they can open all lanes towards the city.

Hope you have a good trip!

Hi! I am coming to Costa Rica for 7-9 days, with no car. I always try to avoid touristic places. I am interested in nature, animals or diving. I don’t want to rush, I prefer enjoying the nature. I would like to have a 1-2 day trekking during the day and night in the jungle for animal watching (Bosque Eterno de Los Ninos – do you think it is the right place to do that?can you recommend me local trekking services?), Arenal Volcano and then Tortuguero or San Manuel Antonio (beaches and parks). What would be the right order? I will be grateful for your help

Hi Izabela, We don’t know of any multiday treks in Children’s Eternal Rainforest so can’t help you there, unfortunately. Have you looked at Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula? That is where we usually recommend for more than one day of hiking and seeing wildlife. It has amazing biodiversity and is very off-the-beaten path so it sounds like you would like it. Fitting in Corcovado in 7-9 days is a little tough since it’s so remote and would change your itinerary but it may be worth it. If you did that, we would do either Arenal or Manuel Antonio, but not both. Arenal would show you a different region. Hope that helps!

Hi! Your site is full of amazing informations, thank you!! I saw you made a note that as of 2018 you no longer recommend local flights, is that still the case for 2022? We were thinking of getting a flight from Drake Bay or Puerto Jimenez back to San Jose at the end of our trip… also, how many dya do you recommend for La Fortuna area if we’re not in a rush and have some time? We want to go there from San Jose, then down to Uvita area, then to Drake Bay and possibly Puerto Jimenez. We have 4 weeks for this itinerary. Thank you!!

Hi Katherine, Yes, we are still not recommending flights for safety and reliability reasons.

You could easily spend a whole week in La Fortuna and not run out of things to do. There are things right in the area and you could also to day trips. One excellent one is to the Rio Celeste near Bijagua.

Hello fellow travelers! I am planning a 3 week trip in January to Costa Rica. I am thinking about the following itinerary: Puerto Viejo Talamanca 5 days, Arenal (3), Monteverde (3), Manuel Antonio (3), OSA (6). Questions: 1. Would you recommend exploring 2 different locations in OSA (ex. Drake & Puerto Jimenez or Matapalo)? Why or why not? If I wanted to do this, would you recommend as a second location P.J. or Matapalo? 2. I am up in the air about Manuel Antonio, what would I see there that I would not see other places? Would you recommend staying in Arenal and Monteverde and Manuel Antonio or are they quite similar? Thank you so much for sharing such great information and personal insight!

Hi Catrina, We would pick just one location on the Osa Peninsula to avoid too much travel. You have a lot of destinations that are fairly spread out with three weeks already, so we wouldn’t add on separate destinations in the Osa. It’s not easy to get from Drake Bay (which would be our first pick for a destination on the Osa) to the other side of the peninsula.

Manuel Antonio has a lot of visible wildlife and many restaurants. Travel there is convenient and relaxing, which can be a nice way to break up the trip before heading down to the remote Osa. It will be busy in January so maybe not the best spot if you would prefer to avoid the crowds. You could also look at Uvita/Dominical to the south if you want something quieter. It’s more spread out and rural but has a lot of wildlife around and still a good selection of restaurants.

Hi! My boyfriend and I just booked our first trip to Costa Rica. We will be arriving end of March for 14 nights so quite last minute.

Please could you review and advise on our itinerary, we are keen to know how many days to spend in each place! So far we are considering… Arrive San Jose Next day travel to Tortuguero From there La Fortuna Next Monteverde Unsure where next?? Beach preferable! Maybe Dominical or Uvita. Heard Manuel Antonio is super busy, however you recommend it a lot so torn! Final night San Jose

Do we need to book activities and transfers now or can we do it when there? Thanks so much

Hi Ellena, Your itinerary looks good. We’d do: 3 nights Tortuguero 3-4 nights La Fortuna 3 nights Monteverde 3-4 nights Dominical/Uvita. Manuel Antonio will be busy then so we would go south to Domi/Uvita if that’s the vibe you’d prefer.

Definitely book transfers now and any activities you know you want to do. The good tour operators do fill up during high season.

Love your website! Apologies if you’ve answered this question before. We are hoping to travel to Costa Rica with our sons in July. Our eldest has an allergy to nuts and sesame seeds. Trying to figure out, outside of San Jose, how near we would be to 24 hour emergency health care should we need it (clearly hoping we won’t!) We’d be hoping to travel to La Fortuna, Monteverde and Manuel Antonio (would love to get to Drake Bay for Cano island snorkelling but think this may be too remote?) Do you know where I could find this information out? If we decide to come would love to use your services to book some tours. Many thanks, Karen

Hi Karen, Most major tourist destinations have private medical clinics with 24 hour emergency services. You will find this in La Fortuna, Monteverde, and Quepos near Manuel Antonio. Drake Bay is very remote like you said and does not have a clinic so we would probably skip it to be safe. These are smaller clinics that would help triage you and send you to a private hospital if needed. The private hospitals are in San Jose (the Liberia area has some too but you won’t be visiting that area it sounds like). I hope that helps!

Our family is traveling to C.R. for 12 days in July and we are considering staying in La Fortuna for a few days, Playa San Miguel (Sand Dollar Cove) for a few days, and then taking the ferry to make our way to Miguel Antonio. Is this too much to fit into 12 days? Is the driving required going to monopolize our time?

Hi Bonnie, That itinerary is doable with 12 days but does involve quite a bit of driving. It’s about 4.5 hours from La Fortuna to Playa San Miguel, then 5.5 hours from San Miguel to Manuel Antonio. It’s actually faster not to take the ferry in this case. If you really want to do it, I think it’s fine. Just be sure to leave early on your travel days so you’re not rushed.

J&M, Thank you for such an insightful website. We booked our stay in La Fortuna based on your recommendations. Where would you recommend staying in Manuel Antonio? Any favorite hotels or resorts?

Hi Ben, We have a whole post on hotel recommendations in Manuel Antonio .

Hello! We are last minute planning (April 1 😬) our 2 week trip to CR. So far we have La Fortuna 2 nights, Monteverde 3 nights, then we want to somehow get to the Corcovado Park (while hoping to do a Manual Antonio hike/tour).

As much as we’d like to do an overnight in Corcovado, we have a 5 year old so it might not be in the cards. Advice?

We will be using shuttles for the first week, but then hoping to pick up a rental in Manual for the 2nd week. Do you think we could use Uvita or Dominical as a hub to go to Manual and Corcovado or do you suggest a couple nights here and there?

Is there anything you’d scrap? Apologies if these questions have been answered in the string above.

Hi Amy, I think we are too late getting back to you at this point but please let us know if you still need any help.

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Costa Rica Travel Information

Driving from San Jose to La Fortuna and Vice Versa: Routes, Road Conditions and Places to See Along the Way

January 31, 2024 By Sammi 152 Comments

One of the most popular routes for visitors to Costa Rica is from San Jose to La Fortuna . Although driving in Costa Rica may seem scary (you have probably already read some horror stories), many of the routes and destinations are easy to get to with good roads and this is one of them. The worst part of this route will be getting out of San Jose but once you’re out of the chaotic capital city, it’s smooth sailing from there.

Here is our guide to driving from San Jose to La Fortuna and vice versa.

Don’t forget to check out our Costa Rica car rental discount! There are affiliate links in this post.

How Far is La Fortuna from San Jose?

The distance between San Jose and La Fortuna is about 130 kilometers or 80 miles. The distance between San Jose International Airport and La Fortuna is about 115 km or 72 miles (remember the San Jose Airport is not in San Jose, it’s in Alajuela).

The drive time from San Jose to La Fortuna is about 3.5 hours depending on how much traffic there is in San Jose.

There are a couple of toll boths you need to go through leaving San Jose. They are small amounts, like 200-800 Costa Rican colones (20 cents to $1.50 USD). You can pay in Costa Rican colones, credit card or small bills USD.

San Jose to La Fortuna Route

There are 2 ways from San Jose to La Fortuna: by way of Naranjo and Ciudad Quesada and by way of San Ramon. You can take either way but the San Ramon route is the shortest and is the one I’ll be going over in this article. It is the most direct.

Road Conditions

The San Jose to La Fortuna road conditions are in good shape. You’ll start off on the highway and then it goes through several small towns with all paved roads. It does get a bit curvy at one point though so I do recommend going slow.

Driving from San Jose to La Fortuna

You can perfectly drive a sedan for San Jose to La Fortuna, no 4×4 necessary.

Driving Directions for San Jose to La Fortuna

If you have Waze, I highly recommend using that as your GPS. Since Waze chooses the shortest route most of the time, it will automatically pick the San Ramon route but make sure to check before you hit let’s go.

From San Jose, you need to get onto the Panamerican highway to Puntarenas and exit at “San Ramon” on the right. Depending on traffic, it could take around 1.5 hours. You will pass Palmares right before the exit.

After you turn onto the San Ramon route, you will drive through the town. There are plenty of signs so follow the signs to La Fortuna and continue onto Route 702.

When you are on Route 702 and out of San Ramon, it is a very straight forward drive. Just continue on the road and you will see signs for La Fortuna and Arenal. You’ll pass small towns of Angeles Sur, La Tigra, Santa Clara and Chachagua. This is the part that gets fairly windy and from there, it’ll take around 2 hours until you reach La Fortuna.

La Fortuna to San Jose Route Video

Here is a video of us driving from Arenal to San Jose via San Ramon. I included all of the turns and clips of most of the towns.

You will head east from the park in La Fortuna past La Fortuna Backpackers Resort and drive towards Chachagua. It’s very straight forward and there are signs the entire way.

Can I Drive to La Fortuna at Night?

Even though the roads are paved, it is recommended not to drive from San Jose to La Fortuna late at night because it gets very curvy and the signs are very difficult to see in the dark. Even if you have a GPS or Waze, it is recommended not to as there is a section of this road that gets extremely foggy and can be rainy. There are a couple points during this route where there is nothing around so you don’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere in case something happens.

It gets dark at 6 PM every day in Costa Rica so if your flight gets in late, I recommend staying the night in San Jose and leaving early the next morning for Arenal.

Any Points of Interest Along the Way?

If you are leaving San Jose early in the morning and have all day for this drive, here are some interesting places to stop along the way from San Jose to La Fortuna.

Many people like to stop at La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature P ark up in Vara Blanca. It’s about halfway between San Jose and La Fortuna and a really nice stop. This park has 5 waterfalls and an animal sanctuary, great for families. Get 7% off the La Paz park here!

If you’re interested in coffee, San Jose has some of the best coffee tours in Costa Rica . You can do a morning tour at Doka Coffee Estate or Hacienda Alsacia – Starbucks Coffee Farm and then head to La Fortuna after the tour.

For restaurants, we like to stop in San Ramon because it is the biggest town on this route so they have more options. You can stop at Aroma’s Cafe, La Choza de Doña Emilce or Chepes Restaurante. If you’re in a rush, San Ramon also has a mall with fast food.

Driving from Guanacaste? (Liberia, Tamarindo, Playas del Coco, etc.) Check out our guide to driving to Arenal from Guanacaste!

Alternative Routes

A fun alternative route is to do San Jose – Bajos del Toro – La Fortuna. In Bajos del Toro, you can stop by the many amazing waterfalls in the area. The easiest one to see (shortest hike) and most “wow” one is Catarata del Toro. 

If you decide to do this route, it is recommended to have a 4wd or a high car like a Hyundai Creta instead of a sedan, especially in rainy season.

You can also stop at Sarchi, a small town famous for woodwork. It’s a great place to get souvenirs and see a small local town. If you go to Sarchi, you can also do a coffee tour at Espiritu Santo Coffee Tour.

Curious about other routes for your trip? Read our Costa Rica road conditions post for more information.

Driving from Tamarindo to Playas del Coco or Diamante Eco Adventure Park? Check our post about Route 911 Monkey Trail to avoid rivers and drive safely.

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  • First time to Costa Rica? Read our First Time in Costa Rica guide.
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Costa Rica Bucket List: 17 Top Places & Must-Do Experiences

By Author Jurga

Posted on Last updated: April 30, 2024

Costa Rica Bucket List: 17 Top Places & Must-Do Experiences

Planning a trip to Costa Rica and wondering what are the top places to visit and best experiences not to miss on your first visit? In this guide, we share some of the  must-dos in Costa Rica that should be on your bucket list . Find out!

Costa Rica is one of the most unique destinations in Central America. The country is best known for its natural wonders and wildlife, but it also boasts a wide variety of amazing experiences for all types of travelers.

From misty cloud forests, majestic waterfalls, and impressive volcanos, to sandy beaches, geothermal springs, and an array of adventurous activities, Costa Rica is surprisingly diverse. Whether you want to explore lush rainforests, hope to see some exotic wildlife, soar above the canopy on ziplines, or simply relax amidst breathtaking landscapes, Costa Rica offers all of this and so much more.

But where to go and what to do in Costa Rica if you have limited time and want to experience the VERY BEST that the country of Pura Vida has to offer?

Rather than overwhelming you with 129 things to do in Costa Rica, in this guide, we only focus on top places and most special experiences that are absolute must-do for first-time visitors. These are all experiences that make it worth traveling to Costa Rica even if you are coming from the other side of the world as we were.

This list is based on our extensive research, personal experience, and what we feel is worth your time and money the most. We listed our family’s absolute favorites at the top.

I hope that this list will help you narrow down your Costa Rica bucket list so that it’s actually doable in one short trip while at the same time giving you a chance to experience all kinds of different facets of this beautiful country. Find out!

READ ALSO: Costa Rica Itinerary for 2 Weeks

Traditional oxcart (carreta) in Costa Rica

These are the best things to do in Costa Rica:

1. Zipline Canopy Tours

Zip-lining above the forest canopy should be at the top of any list of the best things to do in Costa Rica. When I asked my family to rank their favorite experiences from our recent trip, everyone indicated zip-lining in their top-2 (without knowing what others chose). I was actually quite hesitant to do ziplining at first, but I gathered all my courage and I am so glad I did – it was amazing!

There are many places in Costa Rica where you can find ziplining experiences, but there is a big difference between simply ziplining and canopy tours.

By far the best place for ziplining in Costa Rica is Monteverde . Here, you can experience the true meaning of canopy tours that not only give you the thrills of ziplining itself but also allow you to enjoy the most spectacular scenery. As you soar above treetops, you can enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the beautiful surroundings. You might even find yourself flying through the clouds here. It’s such a unique experience!

Good to know: There are several places where you can go zip-lining in Monteverde. If you are simply looking for the best-value zipline experience, check out 100% Aventura (this is the tour we took and highly recommend). It includes the longest zip line, Superman experiences, and a Tarzan swing (most other places charge extra for these).

If you want an all-in experience including zip lining, hanging bridges, and more, check out all the different options offered by Selvatura Park .

The second best location for zip lining in Costa Rica is the La Fortuna – Arenal area . Also here, there are quite a few options . One of the best places with great views is Sky Adventures Park .

Zip lining in Monteverde - best things to do in Costa Rica

2. El Tigre Waterfalls

El Tigre Waterfalls is my personal favorite of all the places we visited in Costa Rica. The whole family, including the kids, listed it in their top-3 so I guess that says it all. If your trip brings you to Monteverde and you can spare a couple of hours, don’t miss this beautiful place!

Located on private land, El Tigre boasts a series of waterfalls (4 big ones and 4-6 smaller ones) that can be reached by hiking through a forest. Along the way, you also pass several hanging bridges. In addition, they also offer a Zipline Bike experience and a local lunch (the views from the restaurant are phenomenal!).

The hike to the waterfalls is mostly downhill with some up-and-down sections. It takes about 2-2.5 hours and the trail can be muddy and slippery, so it’s not a simple walk in the park. That said, it should be doable for most people (wear good shoes!). Plus, you can save yourself the uphill hike by taking a horse or a 4×4 ride at the end of the hike.

The price of the experience depends on what exactly you opt to do and you can book it via their website or on Viator . You can upgrade to Zipline Biking on the spot if you feel like it.

Good to know: Just like most roads around Monteverde, the road to get to El Tigre is quite steep and bumpy and you will need a 4WD vehicle to get here. If you book this experience via Viator, most tours usually include a transfer from Monteverde hotels.

TIP: We recommend the all-in experience that includes the waterfalls hike, a horseback ride, and lunch at their beautiful restaurant (+ hotel pick-up/drop-off).

El Tigre Waterfalls in Monteverde - top places in Costa Rica

3. Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast is the most popular national park in the country and for a good reason. This small park has several stunning beaches and an easily accessible rainforest with a surprisingly wide variety of wildlife.

If you want to spot wildlife in Costa Rica without too much effort, this is the place to be!

You can expect to see capuchin monkeys, sloths, iguanas, howler monkeys, and all kinds of colorful birds. With some more luck, you will likely see many more animals, some of which you may have never even heard of.

Good to know: Due to its popularity, Manuel Antonio National Park is sometimes dismissed by repeat visitors to Costa Rica as too touristy and overrated, but don’t let this put you off. There is truly no better place in Costa Rica where you can see so many wild animals with so little effort. The park is easy to reach, the pathways and boardwalks make it simple to explore, and there is an abundance of wildlife.

PRO TIP: Entry tickets are sold via the official national parks’ website SINAC and have to be booked well in advance. In addition, we highly recommend visiting here with a local guide . You will miss 90% of the animals if you go on your own! We booked this private tour and it was great.

Important! No matter which tour/guide you book, you still need to reserve the park tickets yourself. Also, we highly recommend visiting first thing in the morning – that way, you will avoid the crowds and will likely see more animals too.

LEARN MORE: Tips & Tricks for Visiting Manuel Antonio National Park

Capuchin monkeys in Manuel Antonio National Park Costa Rica

4. Hot Springs of La Fortuna

La Fortuna area around Arenal Volcano is known for its natural geothermal hot springs . The entire area here is dotted with thermal pools. Many hotels have hot springs and they are usually beautifully set up in a rainforest with the volcano as a backdrop (if you are lucky to visit when it’s not hiding in the clouds).

If you love soaking in the hot geothermal waters, you may want to consider booking an accommodation that has some hot springs on site (e.g. the luxury thermal resorts like Tabacón or Baldi , mid-range resorts like Los Lagos or Chachagua Rainforest Hotel , or budget-friendly options like Relax Thermalitas , to mention just a few). Most of the hotels also offer day passes, so you can also check out different hot springs every day.

While it’s usually so warm in Costa Rica that the idea of jumping in a hot pool might not sound too appealing, the Arenal area is often quite cloudy/rainy making hot springs really enjoyable. Plus, most places have pools with different water temperatures for you to choose from.

La Fortuna hot springs - must do in Costa Rica

5. La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park

La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park is located about 1-hour drive north of San Jose and about a 1.5-hour drive from La Fortuna. This makes it a very popular destination for day trips from the capital city or a great sightseeing stop when driving to/from La Fortuna.

We didn’t expect much and only stopped here because we had a few hours to fill before heading to the airport from La Fortuna. But wow, if there is one place in Costa Rica that exceeded all our expectations, it’s the La Paz Waterfall Gardens.

This park is like the best of Costa Rica all in one. Set in the rainforest high up in the mountains, the park boasts stunning views and gives you access to a series of impressive waterfalls. But there are so many reasons to visit here that the waterfalls are just a cherry on the cake. You can enjoy beautiful gardens and see all kinds of (rescued) animals and birds that are not always easy to spot in the wild.

We came here at the end of our trip, after seeing lots of wildlife in national parks and forests all over Costa Rica, so we thought we would be hard to impress. But the way this park is built and the animal encounters they have exceeded all our expectations. We could walk between sloths and toucans, see dozens of hummingbirds, snakes, frogs, and stand eye-in-eye with leopards and pumas. It’s not the same as seeing animals in the wild, but it’s also not a zoo.

La Paz gardens are well-maintained and manicured and not something you can compare to a wild nature destination, but it’s so well done that even the biggest skeptics will be impressed. I would have never thought I would say this, but it’s definitely one of the top places to visit in Costa Rica. Even our teenagers who were not thrilled about us stopping here quickly changed their minds and afterward ranked this place in their top 5!

Good to know: Count at least 2 hours for a visit, 3 if you also want to have lunch here. You can book entry tickets in advance on Viator , but we were able to visit just like that. Just like all the attractions and tours in Costa Rica, a visit here is not cheap (and was the main reason we were hesitant if it was worth it). But it is worth it way more than many other places/tours which we did during our 2-week trip.

PRO TIP: If you have a night or two free in your itinerary, consider staying at the Peace Lodge here. This hotel is amazing and guests get free access to the gardens.

Toucan in Costa Rica

6. River Tubing in Rio Celeste

If you are looking for more adventurous things to do in Costa Rica, then you cannot go wrong with river tubing ! The best place to do this is at Rio Celeste (famous for its azure-blue waters and a stunning waterfall – more info about it further below).

River tubing in Rio Celeste is so much fun and the waters are indeed as blue as in the pictures. The river is quite calm and has a combination of more adventurous sections with river rapids but also calmer waters where you just float. There are also several opportunities to go swimming, including over-the-water rope swings that our kids just couldn’t get enough of.

Often, you can also see all kinds of animals on tubing tours. For example, we saw a sloth and tons of monkeys as well as many birds.

Good to know: River tubing is adventurous, but not scary and the river isn’t deep at all. It’s an activity that the whole family can enjoy. A lot will also depend on the water levels when you visit. Also, if you float on your own, you will always go faster and spin more than when you hold on to each others’ tubes and float as a small group. So you can make it more or less adventurous based on your comfort level.

TIP: Book river tubing in advance (even if just a few hours before) because there are no ‘offices’ by the river where you can walk in and book on the spot. In most cases, they will drive you to the river and back to your car at the end of the tour. We did this highly-rated tubing tour and really enjoyed it.

River tubing in Rio Celeste - top experiences in Costa Rica

7. Nauyaca Waterfalls

Whether you are looking for impressive waterfalls or just like the idea of swimming and jumping off cliffs (be careful though!), don’t miss Nauyaca Waterfalls in southwestern Costa Rica. This stunning waterfall is located close to the Quepos area (Manuel Antonio National Park) and is therefore easy to include in any trip itinerary.

Just to be clear, there is no shortage of waterfalls in Costa Rica and you will be spoiled with the choice of which ones to visit. However, there is just something special that makes Nauyaca Waterfalls one of the best places to see in Costa Rica, so don’t miss this one!

I have a friend who calls Costa Rica her second home and spends several weeks there every year and she keeps on telling me that Nauyaca Waterfalls is her absolute favorite spot in the country. So if you visit just one waterfall, make it this one.

We visited Nauyaca Waterfalls at the end of the dry season after weeks and weeks with no rain and the falls were still impressive. I have seen pictures of them during the rainy season and it’s even more spectacular.

Good to know: There are several waterfalls here – the upper one is more scenic, and the lower one is better suited for swimming. Don’t forget to take your swimwear. Water shoes are recommended as well.

The waterfalls can be reached by hiking or you can opt to travel by horse or a 4×4 shuttle (reservations recommended, especially for horse riding – see the official site for more info). The hike is about 2.5 miles (4 km) one way and the trail is quite hilly with little shade. It’s more expensive to take a 4×4 but believe me, it’s worth it.

TIP: Avoid weekends and arrive early in the morning if you want to enjoy the swim without too many other people around. If you don’t have a car, you can easily visit the waterfalls with tours or private transfers .

Kids jumping off the cliffs at Nauyaca Waterfalls in Costa Rica

8. Hanging Bridges in Monteverde Cloud Forest

Monteverde Cloud Forest is one of the most unique places in Costa Rica. Some of our absolute favorite activities (ziplining at #1 and El Tigre Waterfalls at #2) can be found here. But there is more!

No visit to Monteverde would be complete without visiting the actual cloud forest and walking through the clouds (or at least at treetop level if you are exceptionally lucky with the weather).

The ‘official’ place to visit is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve , with hiking trails, birds and wildlife, etc. But it’s not always well organized, can get crowded, and often has a long wait. Plus, if you want to see some wildlife, it’s best to visit with a guide , and this park only has one hanging bridge.

Alternatively, you can also opt to visit other – private – reserves in the same area. That’s what we chose to do.

After spending hours and hours researching the best spots to enjoy the scenery in Monteverde, we were left with two final choices: Treetopia (previously Sky Adventures) and Selvatura . They both also offer zip-lining experiences and more, or you can just opt to do the treetop walk and enjoy the scenery. Based on recommendations from the locals that I found in different online forums and Facebook groups, we chose Selvatura.

This park borders the cloud forest and is located higher up than most others. Their treetop walk also has 8 hanging bridges and the scenery is spectacular. I can’t compare it to others from personal experience, but I can definitely say that it didn’t disappoint! More than that – we LOVED the hanging bridges of Selvatura! Ziplining also looked amazing here, so if your time in Monteverde is limited, just book a combo deal and do everything in one place.

Good to know: No matter which hanging bridges you decide to visit, most roads around Monteverde are really bad and you need a 4×4. If you don’t have a car, you can easily book tours that include transfers.

READ ALSO: Best Things to Do in Monteverde

Selvatura hanging bridges in Monteverde Cloud Forest Costa Rica

9. Rafting in La Fortuna

La Fortuna is often called the Adventure Capital of Costa Rica and one of the most popular adrenaline-rushing experiences here is rafting . In fact, if you want to go rafting in Costa Rica, there is no better place to do that than in La Fortuna!

There are two main rivers for rafting in La Fortuna: Balsa and Sarapiqui. Sarapiqui is wilder (including class 4 rafting), whereas Balsa has two sections – the lower one with class 2-3 rafting and the upper one with a bit more adventurous 3-4 class rafting. So you can easily find a rafting experience that you are comfortable with.

Here are some of the best La Fortuna rafting tours for different levels:

  • If you are looking for the ultimate adrenaline-rushing white water rafting experience, opt for a class 4 Sarapiqui rafting tour (ages 14+).
  • If you want a fun rafting trip without too many challenges and steep drops, then choose a class 2-3 rafting tour on the Balsa River . It’s also suitable for families (ages 6+). We recently did this rafting tour and the whole family (including 13-15 year-olds) enjoyed it. The first part was wild and fun and the second one was more relaxing with tons of wildlife sightings from the boat.
  • If you are not sure which rafting option to choose, then opt for the class 3-4 rafting on the Upper Balsa (ages 8+). It’s more adventurous than Class 2-3 but not as extreme as Sarapiqui Class 4.

READ ALSO: Best Things to Do in La Fortuna

Rafting in La Fortuna - must do in Costa Rica

10. Ballena National Marine Park in Uvita

Uvita is a small beach town located about 1 hour drive south of the famous Manuel Antonio National Park. It is best known as home to the Ballena National Marine Park and its Whale’s Tail Beach (which looks like the tail of a whale from above).

The best thing to do here is simply to walk on the beach and enjoy the views. In season, you might get lucky to see whales in the sea (+- December to March and July to November). There are also some crocodiles, caimans, and water birds at the river mouths (don’t go swimming here!) and all kinds of wildlife in the rainforest.

The scenery at Playa Uvita is stunning, the beaches are gorgeous, and you can also go swimming if you like. Just be careful with your belongings as some cheeky monkeys (or people) can run away with them.

Good to know: Contrary to most other popular national parks in Costa Rica, Marino Ballena doesn’t require reservations (but there is a small entry fee). What you can see/do will also depend on how high the tide is. Either way, prepare to walk through some water, so it’s best to wear sandals.

TIP: While you can easily visit Uvita from Quepos (Manuel Antonio), we recommend staying here for a few days. The town has such a nice authentic vibe and it’s also a great base for excursions to some of the best places in Costa Rica (see the next two points!).

Sunset at Ballena National Marine Park in Uvita Costa Rica

11. Corcovado National Park

Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula is the best place in Costa Rica to see wildlife. This park is home to 3% of the world’s biodiversity, which means that 3 out of 100 animal species worldwide can be found in this rather compact area.

If you want to see some truly unique animals in Costa Rica, then Corcovado should be very high on your bucket list!

So why is this unique and untouched place not at the top of our list of the best things to do in Costa Rica, you might wonder…

It’s mainly because of its more remote location, far away from the most popular tourist destinations. Furthermore, it’s not simple to get here so it requires more time to visit.

If you are only going to Corcovado for a day as we did, the journey takes about as much time as sightseeing. Plus, you only get to see a tiny part of the park. So if you have more time, plan a longer stay in this area! I promise you, it will be worth it! Even with just a few hours in a park, we saw a tapir, several different species of monkeys, a group of coatis, and tons of other wildlife that we didn’t see anywhere else during the trip.

Good to know: We had limited time in our itinerary so we visited Corcovado on a day tour from Uvita/Sierpe . A better way to do this would be by staying in Drake’s Bay for a few days and taking day tours from there ( like this one ), or by booking a multi-day tour to this stunning area.

There are also overnight stays possible inside the park itself, if you don’t mind a rather basic shared accommodation and want a real rainforest experience.

Coati in Corcovado National Park Costa Rica

12. Rio Celeste Waterfall

Rio Celeste Waterfall is one of the most picturesque waterfalls in Costa Rica. It’s not that much the waterfall itself that attracts the attention, but the bright turquoise color of the water in the river.

This remarkable river and the waterfall are the main attractions of the Tenorio Volcano National Park in Guanacaste Province in the northern part of the country. In addition, you might spot some wildlife here, but it’s not comparable to the species you get to see at Corcovado or Manuel Antonio.

TIP: Combine a visit to Rio Celeste Waterfall with the earlier-mentioned river tubing. If you prefer something less adventurous, there are also sloth tours and night tours in the area.

Good to know: If you don’t have a car, you can easily visit Rio Celeste with day tours from La Fortuna . However, most of these tours do not include tubing.

Rio Celeste Waterfall in Costa Rica

13. Snorkeling at Caño Island

Caño Island is one of the best places to go snorkeling in Costa Rica. If you want to see colorful fish, sea turtles, stingrays, and maybe even small sharks, this is the place to be. On the way to the island, you may also get lucky to spot some dolphins and – in season – also whales.

Just like the nearby Corcovado National Park, Caño Island is located quite remotely and requires some extra effort to get to. The two places are rather close to each other, so many people visit here from Drake’s Bay , or as part of multi-day tours that combine the two .

We visited Cano Island on this day tour from Uvita . It’s quite a long boat ride to get there, but snorkeling itself was impressive enough to make up for it. The kids loved snorkeling with sea turtles!

Snorkeling with sea turtles at Cano Island in Costa Rica

14. Night Tours

There is one more thing that you really have to do in Costa Rica at least once and that’s taking a night tour . Many animals are nocturnal and are only active in the dark, so it’s difficult to see most of them on day tours.

Think of the famous Red-eyed tree frog (and most other frogs), snakes, and scorpions, but also mammals such as tapirs, agoutis, opossums, armadillos, or kinkajous…

There are many places where you can do night tours, all over Costa Rica. What you get to see will highly depend on where you take a tour and you will find different types of animals at lower elevations than in the mountains.

We booked this night tour in Monteverde and saw some animals we had never seen before – kinkajous, opossums, golden beetles, spiders, certain types of frogs, and many others I don’t remember the names of.

Good to know: If you want to see the iconic Costa Rica red-eyed tree frog (awake), then book a night tour in the Manuel Antonio area or around La Fortuna .

Red-eyed frog on a night tour in Costa Rica

15. Volcanos

Costa Rica is home to quite a few volcanos, including 6 active and over 60 dormant ones. So you may want to add a visit to a volcano to your list of things to do.

The most famous volcano in Costa Rica is undoubtedly Arenal . However, it’s often hiding in the clouds and we were told that only about 25% of visitors actually get to see it in its full glory. Furthermore, there are no roads to get to the crater or such, just a few hiking trails over lava fields.

If you want to see a volcano crater without too much effort, then you can visit either Poás Volcano or Irazú Volcano . In both cases, you can drive all the way to the top and the walk to the crater itself is just a few minutes.

Both – Poas and Irazu Volcanos are just about 1-hour drive from San José, which makes it quite simple to add a visit to one or both of them to any Costa Rica itinerary. However, they are located in different regions quite far from each other, so you will have to plan separate trips if you want to see them both. Whether it’s actually worth going to both, depends on your interests and overall itinerary.

Good to know: For both volcano craters, you have to reserve timed entry slots via the SINAC website: here for the Poas Volcano and here – for Irazu . Alternatively, you can also visit the volcanos with guided day tours from San Jose, in which case, they will take care of the tickets.

Keep in mind that temperatures here can be a lot cooler than at lower elevations, so – depending on the weather forecast – you may need to wear a sweater or even long pants and a jacket.

READ ALSO: Costa Rica Packing Essentials

Irazu Volcano in Costa Rica

16. Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park  is another place that should be on your Costa Rica bucket list, especially if you are visiting in late summer – early fall. This is the prime green sea turtles nesting season and the beaches of Tortuguero are a great place to see them.

July and August are the prime months for turtles, but Tortuguero National Park is well worth a visit at any time of the year. Its remote location accessible only by boat means that nature here is still unspoiled so you can expect to see lots of wildlife.

Here, you can find a big variety of birds and frogs, but also different types of monkeys and sloths, iguanas, and even jaguars.

Good to know: Getting to Tortuguero National Park requires some effort since you can’t just drive to it. On the other hand, it’s not too far from San Jose and you can even visit on a day tour . However, just like in Corcovado, the better way to visit would be by taking a multi-day trip and staying a night or two in the area.

Turtle in Tortuguero National Park - top places in Costa Rica

17. Coffee & Chocolate Tours

And finally, no list of the best things to do in Costa Rica would be complete without mentioning chocolate and coffee tours . After all, this is where cacao trees and coffee beans grow.

If you want to learn more about coffee – from growing to harvesting and roasting or discover the secrets of really good chocolate, then it’s well worth visiting one of the plantations that organize guided tours. It’s a deliciously immersive experience that also gives you a chance to discover some local culture.

Good to know: There are many places in Costa Rica where you can find coffee and/or chocolate tours, so it’s easy to find one that fits your plans. La Fortuna area is a good place for chocolate tours and Hacienda Doka near San Jose is one of the best places to do a coffee tour.

We did this 3-in-1 coffee, chocolate, and sugar cane tour in Monteverde and it was quite interesting (and delicious ;)).

Chocolate tour in Costa Rica

So, this sums up our list of must-dos in Costa Rica. As you can see, the country has a lot to offer!

From wildlife spotting in the rainforest, swimming in breathtaking waterfalls, or soaking in relaxing hot springs to adventurous activities such as ziplining, river tubing, or rafting, there are so many amazing places to visit and things to do in Costa Rica!

Good to know: In this article, we only focus on the VERY BEST places and things to do in Costa Rica. Even so, you will need at least 10-12 days to do all of this in a somewhat relaxing way. If you are in a hurry, you could do it all a bit faster as well, but remember that Costa Rica is the land of Pura Vida! So if your trip is shorter, you may want to visit fewer places and explore them deeper rather than trying to see ‘everything’.

If you are wondering how to plan a trip so that you can cover most of these top spots and activities in Costa Rica, take a look at our recommended itinerary for first-time visitors via the link below!

If you found this post helpful, don’t forget to bookmark it and share it with your friends. Are you on Pinterest? Pin these images!

Best things to do in Costa Rica

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Worldly Adventurer

Costa Rica Unveiled: The 15 Best Places to Visit for First-Timers in 2024

By Author Steph Dyson

Posted on Last updated: 30th January 2024

Few countries in the world can compare with Costa Rica. Hosting an abundance of tropical rainforests, picture-perfect beaches, and an incredible abundance of wildlife, this is a truly remarkable country and one that’s increasingly popular with adventure travelers. 

Best of all, Costa Rica is consistently ranked as the safest place in Latin America according to the Global Peace Index . Home to six percent of the world’s biodiversity and with 28 percent of its land protected – one of the largest numbers in the world – Costa Rica’s green credentials are nothing short of remarkable.

It’s this unspoiled nature, combined with its consistently excellent surf, active volcanoes, and accessible hiking trails that are behind the country’s appeal. 

And that’s even before we mention the incredibly welcoming local people. Known as Ticos, Costa Ricans are known for their cheerful approach to life, aka “pura vida” (pure life). Their hospitality and friendliness are second to none. 

But where in this vast country should you go on your first trip to Costa Rica? It was hard to whittle the destinations down, but this list comes from the month I spent exploring the far reaches of the country – and discovering the very best it has to offer. 

Scenic view of Arenal Volcano in central Costa Rica at sunrise - one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica

So, whether you’re looking for culture, to summit an active volcano, or to encounter some of Central America’s rarest wildlife, here’s my guide to the best places to visit in Costa Rica. 

Click to navigate this article:

1. San José

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: San José serves as the economic heart of Costa Rica and, while it doesn’t quite have the same cultural richness as other capitals such as Buenos Aires, Santiago, or Lima, it’s an introduction to the country’s history and urban life.

You’ll likely have at least a day in the Costa Rican capital before heading out into the backcountry. With just over 340,000 residents, San José is decidedly low-key, but there’s still plenty to do here.

Start with the capital’s handful of worthwhile museums, including the indigenous gold at the Museo de Oro Precolombino , before heading to the brilliant Museo del Jade , which houses the largest collection of jade in the Americas. 

A panoramic view of one of the busiest streets in downtown San Jose, Costa Rica.

There’s nothing quite like a Central American market for a shock to the senses, so take a wander around the Central Market and try a traditional Costa Rican breakfast or lunch of gallo pinto (red and white beans with scrambled eggs) in one of the many traditional sodas (family-run restaurants) that dot the city. 

Alternatively, head to Sikwa Restaurante , which is considered Costa Rica’s best , for a fancy take on indigenous recipes.

Where to stay in San José

I stayed in a handful of different hotels in the capital, and found the best were the family-run B&Bs, such as Casa 69 San José ($78 USD double), or, if you’ve got a bigger budget and fancy pool access, Studio Hotel Boutique ($118 USD double). 

How to get to San José

Fly into Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO), located just outside San José, and take an Uber (around $11.5 USD; 20 mins) or shuttle ride ($1 USD; 35 mins) into the city. Uber is very safe and inexpensive in the city.

2. The Osa Peninsula

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: When it comes to flora and fauna, nowhere on the planet compares with the Osa Peninsula; it’s home to a remarkable 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity . Your chance of spotting some pretty rare wildlife is exceptionally high here, making it easily one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica. 

Corcovado National Park (Parque Nacional Corcovado) lies at the very heart of the Osa Peninsula and is the place to spot everything from four species of monkeys to puma, tapir, sloths, and other rare beasts.

Hiking trails crisscross its 424 square kilometers (161 sq miles), allowing you to wander through thick jungle with the calls of toucans and spider monkeys interspersed with the roar of the waves beyond.

The remotest part of the park is Sirena Ranger Station – although, as it’s only accessible by a lengthy hiking trail or one-hour boat journey, you’ll pay a pretty penny to get there. 

best travel route costa rica

Dolphin and whale watching tours are also popular activities to do from the Osa Peninsula. I headed out on a boat to the Isla del Caño Biological Reserve (Isla del Caño Reserva Biológica), a tiny island whose protected waters are lined with coral and teeming with phosphorescent fish, dolphins, and leatherback turtles. 

Hotels in the far south of the peninsula are another brilliant option for both wildlife and relaxation.

El Remanso , a luxury lodge with outstanding sea views, beautiful cabins with plunge pools, and exceptional food, was surrounded by its own slice of preserved rainforest, and I actually saw more wildlife there than in the national park itself. 

best travel route costa rica

If you’re after a relaxed but wildlife-filled trip, this is one of the best vacation spots in Costa Rica.

Where to stay in the Osa Peninsula

The most affordable means of visiting Corcovado National Park is staying in one of the many hostels and hotels in nearby Drake Bay, which lies a short drive north of the park. However, if you’ve got the cash, consider a few nights at SCP Corcovado ($1,025 USD double all-inclusive, two-night minimum), a plush hotel that sits right on the park’s boundaries and far from any other habitation – allowing for direct contact with some pretty surprising wildlife, including tapirs and the hotel’s resident puma family. 

However, by far my favorite hotel of the entire trip was El Remanso Rainforest Lodge ($800 USD double, all-inclusive, two-night minimum) in the far south of the Osa Peninsula. Not only did I see all four monkey species found here – howlers, white-faced capuchin, spider, and squirrel – but I spotted an armadillo, collared anteater, and, potentially, a kinkajou. It was a truly magical place. 

How to get to the Osa Peninsula

To reach the north of the peninsula, I traveled overland from Uvita and then by motorboat from Sierpe through the mangroves. However, the most scenic way is by aircraft from San José to either Drake Bay airport or Puerto Jiménez if you’re staying in the south of the peninsula. The views of the peninsula from above are truly breathtaking.

3. Monteverde

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: Monteverde’s cloud forests are just that: forests embraced by thick clouds. Rich in flora and fauna – such as the iconic resplendent quetzal – the area is both cooler (and wetter) than other parts of Costa Rica but still absolutely magical. 

best travel route costa rica

The star attraction in this region is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (Reserva Biológica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde), a tract of primary cloud forest with hiking trails, viewpoints, canopy tours, and hanging bridges.

The appeal lies, like much of Costa Rica, in the fact it’s crammed full of a stupendous amount of flora and fauna: 3,000 plant species, 100 types of mammal, and over 400 species of bird. Because it’s considered one of the best places to go in Costa Rica, the reserve does get packed with tourists.

I highly recommend instead the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve (Reserva Bosque Nuboso Santa Elena) for a quieter hiking experience through the magical cloud forest.

best travel route costa rica

Both reserves, and the new Curi-Cancha Reserve (Reserva Curi-Cancha), are good places to spot the resplendent quetzal, an iconic – and magnificent – Costa Rican bird. 

best travel route costa rica

Where to stay in Monteverde

Santa Elena is home to the lion’s share of lodgings and is a short drive from all of the reserves. I stayed at Cloud Forest Lodge ($332 USD double) however, I found the downstairs suites overpriced and dingy, although the views from the restaurant and bar across the forest were spectacular.

Instead, l would highly recommend Hidden Canopy Treehouses ($329 USD double), a boutique hotel whose six treehouses sit high up in the treetops for direct views of the surrounding wildlife. The hospitality is second to none, too.   

How to get to Monteverde

To reach Santa Elena, the road from San José is in poor condition and extremely windy but still passable. Many tourists take a shuttle from the capital city, but, if you’re traveling in a couple or group, a hire car is a more affordable option. Alternatively, you can fly into the nearby Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport, just outside of Liberia in Guanacaste (45 mins), and take a shuttle or car to Santa Elen

4. The Pacuare River

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: Carving its way through a steep canyon fringed with primary rainforest, the Pacuare River is considered one of the best places on the planet for white water rafting and feels far deliciously from civilization.

While it’s possible to spend just a day whitewater rafting down the Pacuare River, this magical slice of jungle and tumbling water merits more of your time.

best travel route costa rica

Get a 10% discount off a trip to the Pacuare River

Rios Lodge is one of the leading eco lodges along the Pacuare River and has helped drive the sustainability efforts that have protected the surrounding jungle.

The team of rafting guides are brilliant, the views from bedrooms across the river mesmorizing, and the food some of the best I ate in Costa Rica.

They’re offering a 10% discount on the price of the lodge for all Worldly Adventurer readers. Just use the code wa10 when booking.

Practically all of the lodges on the Pacuare River can only be reached and left by one means: rafting and it’s something you should definitely add to your list of Costa Rica vacation activities.  

But it’s a thrill to bounce through Class I to V rapids as the raft takes you past astoundingly beautiful scenery as monkeys and kingfishers watch from above and otters plunge in the water below.

best travel route costa rica

Once in a lodge here, you can enjoy everything from tubing to day hikes to waterfalls, enjoying the lodge’s incredible zipline, which passes across the river eight times with stupendous views as you speed through the treetops, or just listening to the roar of the river as you kick back in a hammock.

The Pacuare River is not just an adrenaline-pumping adventure but also an opportunity to witness a slice of absolute heaven in one of Costa Rica’s wildest corners.

best travel route costa rica

Where to stay at the Pacuare River

I stayed at Rios Lodge (from $925 USD double all-inclusive for two nights; $50 USD pp dorm per night), a beautiful hotel that has historically been a pioneer in conservation in the region. Fully powered by green energy and working to reforest cleared land in the locality, this lodge sits right on the river, and the roar of the water will sing you to sleep at night. The food is brilliant, the rooms comfortable, and the staff outstanding, with additional activities including ziplining, tubing, waterfall hikes, and swimming in their natural rock pool. Fancy a 10% discount off your stay at Rios Lodge? Just use the code wa10 when booking.

How to get to the Pacuare River

Tour companies will pick you up from San José to the Pacuare River launch point, which lies a few miles north of most lodges. 

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: Located on Costa Rica’s South Pacific coast, Uvita is renowned for its white sand beaches, and proximity to Marino Ballena National Park, a feeding and breeding spot for migrating humpback whales.

Whether you’re a water baby or want to catch sight of some marine wildlife from a boat, the town of Uvita is the perfect place to kick back for a couple of days and tops my list of the best towns to visit in Costa Rica for first-timers. 

Marino Ballena National Park (Parque Nacional Marino Ballena) covers more than 5,200 hectares (13,000 acres) of ocean and 14 kilometers (9 miles) of coastline and is where you hike to remote beaches, snorkel amongst rainbow-colored coral reefs, and motorboat through mangrove forests.

At low tide, take a wander to the “Whale’s Tail”, a sandbar in the shape of – yup, you’ve guessed it – a whale’s tail, although it’s most visible from the hotels in the hills above Uvita. 

best travel route costa rica

This is definitely one of the best areas to stay a few days in Costa Rica to sunbathe and swim, however, the real appeal for me was the opportunity to go whale watching.

Humpback whales flock to these waters between mid-July and the end of October; in a two-hour boat tour, we saw six groups of female whales with their offspring, plus bottlenosed dolphins, and hawksbill and olive ridley turtles. 

The nearby town of Dominical is a great day trip from Uvita, where you’ll find surfing and paddleboarding, plus a hike to the stunning Nauyaca Waterfalls.

best travel route costa rica

Where to stay in Uvita

I stayed at the beautiful Oxygen Jungle Villas ($530 USD double), a four-star hotel built into the foothills above Uvita. Their spacious cabins are extremely comfortable (and the aircon was welcome!), while the view of the ocean and watery sunsets from the restaurant and pool are divine. The food was some of the best I ate in Costa Rica, too. 

There are plenty more affordable options, however, including the boutique Uvita Paradise ($140 USD double), which is just a stone’s throw from Playa Colonia and the Whale’s Tail.

How to get to Uvita

From San José, the quickest way to get here is by hire car or a tourist shuttle bus south along the Pacific Coast (approximately 4-5 hours). Alternatively, the local bus takes seven hours, and includes a toilet and snack break). Public transport can be one of the cheapest ways to get around Costa Rica, however, a rental car will give you a lot more flexibility.

If driving, consider stopping at Crocodile Bridge , about 1.5 hours from San Jose on Ruta 34 where you might spot – yes, you’ve guessed it – crocodiles in the river below!

6. Tortuguero National Park

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: Tortuguero National Park lies on the Caribbean coast, and, while the sweltering heat takes a while to get used to, this remote Costa Rican enclave is one of the best places to see green sea turtles. It’s definitely one of the best places to visit on Costa Rica’s Caribbean side for wildlife.

The vast Tortuguero National Park (Parque Nacional Tortuguero), which protects over 1,270 square kilometers (490 sq miles), is one of the most important nesting sites in the world for leatherback, hawksbill, and green sea turtles.

Between March and May and July and October, you can watch them pull themselves up the beach and lay some 80 eggs each into the sand. Keep an eye out for jaguars here, too; they’re easiest to spot in this area because of their love of turtle meat!

best travel route costa rica

Planning a visit outside of these months? Don’t worry, between September and October, you can witness the eggs hatching. 

The park’s extensive canal system is also worth exploring, with motorboat and kayak tours the best means to encounter multiple species of monkeys, sloths, and birds such as scarlet macaws and toucans.

Where to stay in Tortuguero National Park

I stayed in Mawamba Lodge , whose wooden cabins have much-needed fans and hammock-slung terraces; a swimming pool and daily wildlife spotting tours around the grounds are an added bonus. We saw scarlet macaws flying above the pool and two porcupines in a tree in the gardens.

How to get to Tortuguero National Park

The fastest way to reach Tortuguero is a domestic flight from San José to Tortuguero Airport (25 mins). Alternatively, many of the lodges will include overland transportation from San José to La Pavona (2.5 hours), from where you’ll board their boat to Tortuguero.

best travel route costa rica

7. Laguna de Arenal

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: The picturesque Arenal Lake, on whose shores lie the perfectly conical Volcán Arenal, is a pretty, low-key part of Costa Rica, where you’ll get a great introduction to the country’s volcanic background and find adventure and relaxation in spades. 

The area around the regional capital, La Fortuna, is packed with activities. The most popular is hitting the hiking trails in Volcán Arenal National Park (Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal), where you’ll pass through the rugged lava flows from the volcano’s 1992 eruption. 

best travel route costa rica

Whitewater rafting, kayaking, and ziplining are popular too. For tired limbs, the geothermal energy from the volcano (which is considered active but hasn’t erupted since 2010) has given birth to underground thermal rivers that feed mineral-rich hot springs.

You’ll find plenty in the surrounding area – many with direct views of the volcano looming in the distance.    

best travel route costa rica

Where to stay in Laguna de Arenal

I stayed at the wonderful Rancho Margot ($335 USD double, minimum two nights, all-inclusive), a fully self-sufficient, carbon-neutral eco-resort, with cute bungalows and spring-fed swimming pools set within its extensive organic gardens. You could easily spend days here without even leaving the lodges’ grounds, with paid activities including kayaking, horseback riding, and cheese or soap-making workshops available to guests.  

How to get to Laguna de Arenal

Drive or take a shuttle from San José to La Fortuna (around 3.5 hours), the gateway to Arenal. 

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: Nosara, situated on the Guanacaste coast, is a laid-back surf town known for its picture-perfect beaches, consistent surf, and yoga retreats. Unlike other popular surfing spots on the Pacific coast, it’s not rammed with tourists, either.  

This sleepy, secluded town offers the perfect blend of active water sports and relaxation, without the same mass tourism of better-known towns such as Tamarindo further north. I found it ones of the most beautiful parts of Costa Rica that I visited on my one-month trip.

best travel route costa rica

Start with a surfing class on Playa Guiones and release tired limbs with a yoga class at one of the many wellness centers in the town.

If you’re not overwhelmed by the sticky heat, go for a wander through the trails of the Nosara Biological Reserve (Reserva Biológico Nosara) on the north edge of town, where you can spot howler monkeys and even ospreys and peregrine falcons in its mangrove swamps. 

best travel route costa rica

Further north, the Ostional Wildlife Refuge (Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Ostional) sees the mass nesting of olive ridley turtles between July and December – although they only clamber onto the shore to lay eggs during the week before the full moon. 

Where to stay in Nosara

Accommodation in Nosara is pricey, and you’ll be lucky to get a double room cheaper than $200 USD a night. I stayed at Nosara Beach Hotel ($335 USD double, which has ostentatious architecture and a prime location on the headland above both Playa Guinoes and Playa Pelada. 

I found it a little overpriced, so instead would recommend Hotel Boutique Lagarta Lodge ($424 USD double), which controls access to the Nosara Biological Reserve and whose restaurant, bedrooms, and pools have pretty views across Playa Nosara .

A more affordable option is Green Sanctuary Hotel ($130 USD double), which isn’t as slick as other options, nor ocean views, but has a welcome pool and is only a ten-minute walk to the beach. 

How to get to Nosara

To get here, you’ll need a high clearance vehicle (a 4WD isn’t necessary), which you can pick up from Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport, a short flight from San José (45 mins). Alternatively, catch a shuttle from the airport, or fly directly into Nosara Airport from San José (45 mins)

9. Manuel Antonio National Park

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: Situated on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the country’s top destinations, thanks to its spectacular beaches and ample access to wildlife. 

Protecting both picture-postcard beaches, mangroves, and rainforest, Manuel Antonio (Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio) packs a lot into what is Costa Rica’s smallest national park. If you’re not a big trekker, you’ll find short hiking trails here that are still a brilliant place to spot ample wildlife. 

A tropical beach set against the backdrop of the Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica - a must visit for first-timers to the country.

Three species of monkey – white-faced capuchin, howler, and the squirrel monkey (which is hard to see in Costa Rica) – call this protected area home, while everything from two- and three-toed sloths to agoutis, pelicans, and kingfishers are abundant here.

Visit early to avoid the crowds and ensure you’re one of the 1,200 people allowed into the park each day. 

Once you’ve explored the rainforest, the park’s beautiful beaches are a good place to relax or jump in the water; beware, not all are suitable for swimming. Playa Manuel Antonio is the safest. 

Where to stay for the Manuel Antonio National Park

The small town of Quepos is the best base for the park, with a selection of small boutique hotels and hostels that are significantly more affordable than those in Manuel Antonio village. If you’re looking for slick bedrooms and balconies looking out into the forest, consider the semi-affordable Hotel Plaza Yara ($200 USD double); for homespun charm, head to the family-run Casas Guaney ($90 USD double), which has extremely helpful owners and is a short drive from the town. 

How to get to the Manuel Antonio National Park

Fly into Quepos La Managua Airport (30 mins) or take a shuttle or drive from San Jose (approximately 2-3 hours) to Quepos. You can reach the park by public bus or tour.

10. Volcán Poás

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: One of Costa Rica’s most accessible – and active – volcanoes, Volcán Poás is an easy day trip from San José and a unique opportunity to view one of the largest volcanic craters in the world. Undoubtedly, it’s one of the coolest places in Costa Rica.

Almost continually active, Volcán Poás offers a stark landscape of ash and lava from previous eruptions. The most striking features are its three craters, two of which are filled with pretty turquoise water – although, be warned, it’s acidic and the fumes are toxic sulfurous gases. 

The acid lake found in the crater of the Volcán Poás in Costa Rica. Hiking to the top of the crater is an easy day trip from San José, and is a must-do for visitors to Costa Rica.

Hike to the edge of the active crater, which is bubbling and smoking, before taking on another of the short trails that wind through the cloud forest, both of which rank among the best experiences in Costa Rica.

Keep your eyes peeled for the resplendent quetzal, in all its feathery glory, and the flitting, endemic Poás volcano hummingbird.  

Where to stay and how to get to the Volcán Poás

It’s best to stay in San José and take either a tour or drive up to the volcano (approximately 1.5 hours). Bear in mind you’ll need to book here in advance to arrange your visit and the park occasionally closes due to volcanic activity, so check ahead.

11. Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, a beach town on the Caribbean coast, has become a popular hangout for backpackers and surfers, thanks to its dynamic nightlife, pretty, palm-fringed beaches, and some of the best waves in the country. It also has access to an indigenous reserve, where you can learn about the Bribrí culture. 

Surfing is one of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca’s biggest draws, thanks to La Salsa Brava, a beginner-friendly wave that’s at its best between December and March. More challenging swells are within reach for expert surfers. 

People at the beach in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca in Costa Rica. Located along the Caribbean coast, it's one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica.

Nearby, Playa Chiquita boasts a white sand beach and is the place to kick back and relax. The clear Caribbean waters surrounding this beach are also home to colorful coral reefs and diverse marine life, making them an appealing place for a spot of snorkeling or diving. 

At Punta Uva, you can also enjoy calm waters perfect for swimming. If you want a place to relax, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is probably the best place in Costa Rica for a chilled vacation.

The town’s culinary scene is also unique, having been influenced by the Afro-Caribbean flavors of the local culture. Savor local delicacies like rice and beans, jerk chicken, and fresh seafood at the numerous beachfront restaurants, and don’t miss the chocolate, made from locally-grown cacao. 

If you’re looking for culture, the nearby KéköLdi Indigenous Reserve (Reserva Indígena KéköLdi), which protects the lands of the Bribrí indigenous people, can also be visited with a local guide. As part of a tour, you’ll learn about their customs, explore the rainforest, and have a chance to buy local crafts. 

Where to stay in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

Bedrooms are spacious and it’s unusual to find a pool at this price point, but La Tica y La Gata ($86 USD double) punches above its weight when it comes to services and hospitality. It’s a short walk from the main town and the beach, ensuring a restful sleep.

How to get to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

From San José, travelers can take a direct bus or rent a car for the approximately 4-5 hour journey to Puerto Viejo. Alternatively, a domestic flight to Limon (40 mins) followed by a 1.5-hour bus or taxi ride provides another convenient option.

12. Rincón de la Vieja National Park

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: With some of the best hiking in the country, Rincón de Vieja National Park in the northwest is a protected area with brilliant infrastructure, steaming hot springs, a smoking volcano, and plenty of wildlife. 

Rincón de Vieja, the park’s namesake volcano, is one of the country’s most active, and the steep, 8-kilometer (5-mile) hike up to its summit is the park’s star attraction. 

A waterfall at the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano National Park, one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica.

From the top, you can observe the stunning turquoise waters of the volcano’s crater lake, Lago los Jilgueros, as well as panoramas of Lago de Nicaragua across the border on a clear day.

Those preferring to go on two wheels will discover the endless mountain biking possibilities here, too. 

Hot springs and the beautiful La Cangreja Waterfalls can also be visited, while nearby lodges lead horseback riding tours into some of the park’s lesser-visited areas. 

Where to stay in Rincón de la Vieja National Park

Las Pailas ranger station is the best entry point into the park, so opt for a nearby lodge, such as the high-end Borinquen Mountain Resort ($243 USD double), which sits on the fringes of the volcano and has villas, a brilliant restaurant, thermal pools, and a swimming pool. Liberia has more affordable accommodations. 

How to get to Rincón de la Vieja National Park

From Liberia International Airport, it’s a roughly 1.5-hour drive to Las Pailas, the entrance to Rincon de Vieja National Park. Transfers from many of the hotels in Liberia if you don’t have a hire car. 

13. Santa Teresa

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: Bohemian Santa Teresa might be past the days of being an overlooked little town, but it’s worth all the hype. Join the backpackers and glitzy celebrities who come to the south of the Nicoya Peninsula to surf, swim, and party. 

Santa Teresa is renowned for its consistent waves, with its long sweeping beaches an ideal place for beginners to learn how to surf. Many schools offer lessons for all skill levels, with Playa Carmen the best break for newbies. 

The sweeping coastline of Santa Teresa - a town known for its beaches and nightlife

You can also join yoga classes on the beach or at one of the town’s many wellness retreats, with Santa Teresa’s serene surroundings creating the perfect environment for rejuvenation. Sunbathing, swimming, or just watching as the sun slips into the ocean at dusk are other chilled pastimes. Santa Teresa is another of the best relaxed vacation spots in Costa Rica.

Alternatively, head to Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve (Reserva Natural Absoluta Cabo Blanco), the country’s oldest protected area. This tropical forest is interspersed with trails, picturesque beaches, and plenty of wildlife, including monkeys, deer, and collared peccary. 

At night, jump into the town’s acclaimed nightlife, where you’ll find international DJs and plenty of time to party. 

Where to stay in Santa Teresa

There’s everything from surf camps, to hostels, and high-end luxury in Santa Teresa, meaning plenty of choice and making it one of the cheaper places to visit in Costa Rica. Only a small handful of hotels can properly call themselves beachfront, which is why Casa Cecilia ($160 USD double) is such good value for money. Rooms are a little basic but it’s far enough from the center to be peaceful and close enough for wandering in of an evening. 

How to get to Santa Teresa

To get here, don’t miss the picturesque passenger and car ferry from Puntarenas on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast to Paquera in the southern Nicoya Peninsula (70 mins). From here, head southwest by car or shuttle to Santa Teresa. Alternatively, domestic flights from San José to Tambor (30 min) followed by a short drive are another option. 

14. Caño Negro National Wildlife Refug e

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: Sitting right on the border with Nicaragua, Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge is a pristine wetland teeming with biodiversity, including a staggering number of birds, making it the ultimate spot for seeing Costa Rica’s incredible endemic avian species. 

Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge (Caño Negro Refugio Nacional de Via Silvestre) is a paradise for bird watchers. The reserve is home to well over 400 migratory and resident bird species, including large storks, cormorants, and multiple types of heron, plus rarer species including the beautiful pink-hued roseate spoonbill.

Reptiles are also out in numbers, with caimans, iguanas, and swimming snakes possible to see, whether you want to or not!

A Boat Billed Heron, found in the trees of the Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge. Home to over 400 species of birds, the Refuge is one of the best places to visit when in Costa Rica.

The best way to explore the refuge is with a tour, and, depending on the time of year, the experience will be vastly different.

Between December and April, you’ll be walking along the dried riverbed of the Río Frío; outside of these months, you’ll putter across the reserve by motorboat as the river floods its banks to become a 1,980-acre (3 sq-mile) lagoon. 

Where to stay in Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge

Caño Negro has some surprisingly good accommodations, including Hotel de Campo Caño Negro ($111 USD double). You can book trips directly from the hotel, which has a beautiful garden and a farm-to-table restaurant. 

How to get to Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge

The easiest way to visit the park is as part of an organized tour departing from La Fortuna, a 2.5-hour drive south of the reserve. Alternatively, you can travel by car to reach Caño Negro village or Los Chiles, both of which are gateways to Cano Negro and from where you can organize a tour.

15. Heredia

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: This extension of San José’s urban sprawl promises great views of the capital from its lofty location, plus organic coffee tours and wildlife. 

Most of the capital’s appeal actually lies outside of the city and basing yourself for a couple of days in the hills above is a great way to relax at the start or the end of your trip.

One of the best places to stay is Finca Santa Rosa , an organic coffee farm and family-run boutique hotel that has been pioneering sustainable and regenerative tourism in Costa Rica for over 30 years.

Their 12 hectares (30 acres) of land are cultivated according to permaculture principles and it’s well worth doing a tour of their estate followed by a coffee cupping. You’ll realize how little you ever knew about coffee!  

best travel route costa rica

Wildlife watching is a possibility here, too. If you’re worried about not seeing some of Costa Rica’s signature wildlife, then a trip to the nearby Toucan Rescue Ranch can ensure you get up close and personal with sloths, spider monkeys, and even rare oncillas, then this is your place. 

Where to stay in Heredia

While there are plenty of hotels within San José, I much preferred staying in Finca Rosa Blanca . Its whimsical architecture characterized by sweeping towers and nature-infused decor, the hotel’s 13 rooms are packed to the rafters with the owner’s artwork and all have astounding views across the capital. I stayed in the Rosa Blanca, whose bed sits in a tower with 180-degree windows, and, boy, was it worth it! 

How to get to Heredia

Heredia is a short Uber right from San José, that shouldn’t cost more than around $10 USD. 

Ready to start planning your trip to Latin America? Find inspiration on the best countries to visit in South America , discover the best places to visit in South America , plan your trip with seven of my favorite South America travel itineraries and head to the other end of the region, Patagonia. You can explore the best places to visit in Patagonia and uncover how to get to Patagonia .

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8 Tips for Traveling to Costa Rica

best travel route costa rica

Considering Costa Rica for your next international adventure? Our expert travel planning team has come up with some helpful tips for travel. Below, you’ll find eight different tips to guide you as you start the planning process, ranging from what to pack to what types of activities you can expect on your trip. 

Browse ACIS Tours to Costa Rica

1. Plan Around the Costa Rican Seasons

One important thing to know about Costa Rica is that there are two main seasons, one of them being the dry season and the other being the rainy season. The dry season usually takes place in December all the way to April, and the rainy season falls from May to November. 

Now, your initial instinct might be to avoid the rainy season (Because who wants that on vacation?) but there are some joys that you can only find during that time of year. For example, if seeing sea turtles hatching is at the very top of your list, you will only experience this event during the rainy season. Plus, costs are generally lower during the rainy season, which is great for cost-conscious travelers. 

Tour of the Cloud Forest in Monteverde

2. Know the Currency 

The Costa Rican currency is known as the Colón. Named after Christopher Columbus, who in Spanish is called Cristóbal Colón, the ₡ symbol appears in front of any pricing. Don’t become confused, though: It is different from the American cent symbol! 

We suggest that you are prepared for your initial arrival and have some Colónes on you before departing, so make sure you exchange some cash in the United States. If you forget to do this, there should be ATMs at the airport once you land. 

A few fun facts about the Colón: You may hear the phrase teja being used. This means roof tile in Spanish and it is equivalent to 100 Colónes. Another fact is that the 1,000 Colónes note is called un rojo which means red in Spanish. Another thing you may not know is that the 5,000 Colónes note is called tucán (toucan), because it used to feature an image of a toucan. Now it has been replaced by a monkey. 

Monkey in Costa Rica

3. Pack for Adventure

Costa Rica is all about outdoor adventures, so your packing list will be different than for a trip to the museums of Europe. As you are thinking about packing for your trip, make sure you don’t forget comfortable shoes, quick drying clothes, and most importantly a reusable water bottle. You want to be able to refill during high intensity activities and it’s a much more sustainable way to travel.  

It is suggested that you pack at least two pairs of comfortable shoes because when one walks a lot in the same shoes, especially across varied terrain, it quickly becomes uncomfortable. Therefore, being able to alternate shoes will make the treks easier on you.  

Students in the airport on the way to Costa Rica

4. Prepare for Nature’s Playground

When in Costa Rica, there are a few must-see natural attractions. One is Arenal Volcano National Park. Known for the active volcano which gives the park its name, Arenal has plenty of hiking opportunities. As you walk, be on the lookout for wildlife such as tree frogs, jaguars and monkeys.The park is also known for its hot springs, so bring your bathing suit!

Another must-see natural attraction is Manuel Antonio National Park. This park is a beautiful combination of the rainforest, white sand beaches and even coral reefs. This national park is known for its wildlife diversity and tropical plants. You might even see three toothed sloths and the endangered white faced capuchin monkeys. 

Students looking at Arenal volcano

5. Savor Local Flavors 

When talking about travel, we can’t forget about the food. Costa Rica has a few traditional dishes that you will want to be sure to try. One is Gallo Pinto, which has a rice and beans base, and is traditionally served at breakfast alongside eggs. It also includes peppers, onions, and spices (usually cilantro). Gallo Pinto is an important part of the cultures and identities of both Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Another great local dish is casado , a typical lunch plate. This staple is made up of white rice, black or red beans, cooked vegetables, and a salad. Then you get your choice of chicken, beef, fish or eggs. This dish usually comes with a side of plantains. The term casado may have come from when customers at a restaurant asked to be treated as casados (married) since married men often had these meals at home. 

ACIS students eating at a Costa Rican buffet

6. Learn to Surf 

With beautiful beaches and plenty of waves, Costa Rica is known as a surfer’s paradise and beloved for its big surfing culture. It is a very popular surfing spot due to it being located right next to the equator. If you want to learn how to surf, there are a few beaches that offer beginner friendly surfing lessons such as the Playa Tamarindo and the Playa Conchal beaches. On an ACIS Tour such as the Sámara Beach Language Study, a surfing lesson is included as part of your itinerary!

Surfing lesson with ACIS in Samara Beach

7. Mind the Volcano es

Doesn’t going up close to a volcano sound cool? In Costa Rica, it’s possible! Some active volcanoes offer a once-in-a-lifetime view because they are surrounded by walking trails that are easily accessible. Arenal, for example, is one of the active volcanoes with walking trails. One of the most popular is called Las Coladas. This trail winds through a dense forest and brings you to a volcano viewpoint and a cooled lava field.

As great as it is to see a volcano up close, though, you should always remember to put safety first. If you decide to go to any active volcano locations, make sure to check the volcanic activity ahead of time and always be mindful of geothermal activity as you’re hiking. 

Arenal volcano in Costa Rica

8. Embrace the Pura Vida 

One thing that the Costa Ricans live by is the phrase pura vida, or pure life. This is a lifestyle, a feeling, and a perspective that captures how Costa Ricans admire life’s simple features and how they find joy in the little things. Pura Vida encourages people to appreciate life and live in the moment with a positive mindset, so when you travel to Costa Rica, embrace the motto to the max!

As a leader in educational travel, ACIS differentiates itself through carefully planning centrally located hotels, dedicated program consultants, and unique experiences that help teachers meet their classroom goals. Choose ACIS for an international student trip to Costa Rica that focuses on quality, customization and the most inclusions possible.

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Sofia Collina

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This Lush Hike Is Known As Costa Rica's Best With Enchanting Bright Blue Waterfall Views

W hether you're planning a family trip to Costa Rica or doing a bit of exploring before heading to Cocos Island National Park for an epic, multi-day dive with the sharks , there's a spot in the northern part of the country beckoning for your attention. About 1.5 hours from the popular tourist attractions in Costa Rica of La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano, Tenorio Volcano National Park invites hikers, wanderers, and animal watchers to explore.

There are many ways to enjoy the park, and the main one is to engage in a stunning forest hike that leads you to the striking blue hues of the Rio Celeste. Along the hike, you can explore features unique to the region like the mesmerizing Rio Celeste waterfall, Laguna Azul, a suspended bridge, and the bubbling sulphuric pools at Los Borbollones. Note that swimming is not allowed inside the park, but there are nearby locations where you can take a dip.

Pro tip: It's best to visit the Tenorio Volcano National Park during the dry season. Although a rainy-season visit to Costa Rica is great for the budget and reduced crowds , this particular hike can become muddy and dangerous when wet.

Read more: 25 Gorgeous Islands For Vacationing That Won't Break The Bank

Hike Through The Lush Jungle On The Rio Celeste Trail

Costa Rican jungles are a web of tropical foliage and exotic animals. The Rio Celeste trail offers both, with lush surroundings that are home to innumerable species. Keep your eyes peeled while you follow the Lago Las Dantas Trail, which traverses 3.5 miles through the forest and back. Along the way, you'll witness the remarkable blue lagoon (Laguna Azul) and an area known for its natural hot springs. You can't get in, but you can watch the volcanic gasses bubble to the surface. 

Further down the trail, you'll find a series of manmade bridges that take you to a spot where you'll watch nature perform a magic trick. This is where two waterways merge, resulting in the bright blue color the Rio Celeste is known for. Then, of course, there is the 98-foot Rio Celeste Waterfall in all her glory.

You don't want to be one of those travelers who complain about not seeing a sloth on their Costa Rican vacation , so while you can explore on your own, if you sign up for a tour, a guide can help you find the slow-moving creatures. A guide can also tell you more about the region and help you locate snakes, monkeys, frogs, tapirs, exotic birds, and signs of jaguar, puma, and ocelot who call this area home. If you do go it alone, note that you'll need a car as there is no public transportation in the area.

Other Things To Do In Tenorio Volcano National Park

While most people who visit Tenorio Volcano National Park enter through the main entrance, known as El Pílon, there is a lesser-known entrance at the Heliconias Ecolodge Community Project. Starting from this location, visitors can hike through the trees via hanging bridges. Of course, this area is one of several volcanic areas in Costa Rica, so you'll also find yourself gazing at the 6,000-foot-high Tenorio Volcano.

If you have any energy left once you've completed your hiking, you can explore some of the other adventure options available on, around, and above the Rio Celeste River. Tour companies offer river tubing or horseback riding. You can also hit the zip-lining circuit or take a guided tour of the Bijagua trail, where you're likely to see sloths and other wildlife. Visitors can also swim in areas outside the park or spend the day capturing the perfect photography shots.

Note that visitor numbers are restricted at Tenorio Volcano National Park, so you'll want to arrive early in the day. It's open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., but you must enter before 2 p.m. The cost is $12 USD.

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Read the original article on Islands .

Rio Celeste

COMMENTS

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    1| Get Ready To Spend Money. Let's face the truth: Costa Rica is not cheap. Actually, Costa Rica is one of the most expensive countries to visit in Central America. Take gas prices, for example. It costs approx. USD$1.07 a liter, which is 48% more expensive than in the USA and 22% more than in Canada!

  20. Costa Rica: Your 2-Week Itinerary

    The two-week itinerary below aims to show the best of Costa Rica while keeping travel times to a minimum. We suggest three destinations in an order that will let you experience beautiful mountains, beaches, and lush jungle, without spending too much time on the road. Day 1: Arrive at San José International (SJO) airport.

  21. Driving from San Jose to La Fortuna: Routes, Roads and Stops

    The distance between San Jose and La Fortuna is about 130 kilometers or 80 miles. The distance between San Jose International Airport and La Fortuna is about 115 km or 72 miles (remember the San Jose Airport is not in San Jose, it's in Alajuela). The drive time from San Jose to La Fortuna is about 3.5 hours depending on how much traffic there ...

  22. Costa Rica Bucket List: 17 Top Places & Must-Do Experiences

    These are the best things to do in Costa Rica: 1. Zipline Canopy Tours. Zip-lining above the forest canopy should be at the top of any list of the best things to do in Costa Rica.When I asked my family to rank their favorite experiences from our recent trip, everyone indicated zip-lining in their top-2 (without knowing what others chose).

  23. The 15 Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica for First-Timers

    10. Volcán Poás. Why it's great for first-timers: One of Costa Rica's most accessible - and active - volcanoes, Volcán Poás is an easy day trip from San José and a unique opportunity to view one of the largest volcanic craters in the world. Undoubtedly, it's one of the coolest places in Costa Rica.

  24. 8 Tips for Traveling to Costa Rica

    Costa Rica has a few traditional dishes that you will want to be sure to try. One is Gallo Pinto, which has a rice and beans base, and is traditionally served at breakfast alongside eggs. It also includes peppers, onions, and spices (usually cilantro). Gallo Pinto is an important part of the cultures and identities of both Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

  25. This Lush Hike Is Known As Costa Rica's Best With Enchanting ...

    Pro tip: It's best to visit the Tenorio Volcano National Park during the dry season. Although a rainy-season visit to Costa Rica is great for the budget and reduced crowds, this particular hike ...