Looking for the best Costa Rica itinerary? You’ve just found it.
After traveling and living in Costa Rica for many months – and visiting the country’s best destinations – I’ve put together this guide to help you plan the Costa Rica trip of your dreams.
From pristine beaches, lush jungles, and secluded surf spots, to towering volcanoes, abundant fauna, cool cloud forests, and breathtaking waterfalls – this Costa Rica itinerary is packed with the very best of Costa Rica.
Ready to wake up to the sounds of howler monkeys? Dip into refreshing waterfall pools? Zip-line through the treetops? Relax on a white-sand beach, Imperial in hand? Watch every incredible sunset? Explore the jungle at night? And savor the freshest seafood?
Whether you have 1 week in Costa Rica, 2 weeks in Costa Rica, or even longer (lucky you!), this Costa Rica itinerary will help you plan your trip, based on your interests and budget.
I’ve included the best things to do in each of the destinations I suggest, how to get from place to place, where to stay, and SO much more.
This is your go-to resource for the tropical trip of a lifetime.
Costa Rica Itinerary Overview
- Days 1 to 3: La Fortuna & the Arenal Volcano
- Days 3 to 5: Monteverde Cloud Forest
- Days 5 to 7: Manuel Antonio National Park & Nauyaca Waterfalls
- Days 7 to 14: Choose a couple of destinations along the Pacific. From Pavones to Santa Teresa and Playa Negra to Nosara, I’ll walk you through all of the best options so you can decide what’s right for you!
- 3 weeks to 1 month: You have time to explore the Pacific and Caribbean coastlines! Tackle all of the destinations in this Costa Rica itinerary that you’re interested in.
Costa Rica Itinerary Map
Feel free to use this table of contents to navigate your way around this Costa Rica itinerary! Or simply read on.
Table of Contents
- Costa Rica Itinerary Overview
- Flying into Costa Rica
- How to Get Around Costa Rica
- 1-Week Costa Rica Itinerary
- Days 1-3: La Fortuna & Arenal Volcano National Park
- Days 3-5: Monteverde Cloud Forest
- Days 5-7: Manuel Antonio National Park & Nauyaca Waterfalls
- 2-Week Costa Rica Itinerary
- Some Advice for Choosing Your Week 2 Destinations
- Pavones: Beyond-Epic Surf, Incredible Nature, Peace & Quiet
- Corcovado National Park: Raw Nature, Abundant Wildlife
- Santa Teresa & Montezuma: Good Surf, Lush Jungles, Party Vibes, Restaurants
- Nosara: Rustic-Luxe Vibes, Nature, Yoga, Boutiques, Restaurants, Decent Surf
- Playa Negra & Playa Avellanas: Great Surf, Rustic, Relaxed
- Tamarindo: Touristy Beach Town, Convenient, Lots to Do
- Papagayo Peninsula: Luxurious Resorts & Stunning Views
- Have Even More Time? Up to 1 Month in Costa Rica
- Essential Packing List for Costa Rica
- Did you know…
- The Best Costa Rica Itinerary for 1 Week, 2 Weeks, 3 Weeks, or 1 Month in Costa Rica
Flying into Costa Rica
Arriving in Costa Rica is easy. When it comes to airports, you have two options:
- San Jose International Airport (Juan Santamaría, SJO)
- Liberia International Airport (Daniel Oduber, LIR)
Which airport is best to fly into depends on three things: the cost, the flight time, and your final destination in Costa Rica.
This is my favorite website to look for the best flights and airfare. Make sure to check both airports to see which gets you to Costa Rica fastest and cheapest.
Which Airport is Better?
The first place you’ll go with this Costa Rica itinerary is La Fortuna!
Sitting at 1 hour and 45 minutes from San Jose, or 2 hours and 45 minutes from Liberia, the 1-hour difference is negligible.
Where your trip ends is the question.
If you plan to finish up your time in Costa Rica on the Caribbean side, or on the central or southern coast of the Pacific, then San Jose is the most convenient.
On the other hand, if you plan to finish up your trip in Guanacaste (on the northern Pacific coast), then you should consider Liberia.
One thing you’ll learn quickly: A 4-hour drive in Costa Rica can easily turn into an 8-hour one. Choosing the closest airport matters when you have the time crunch of a departing airplane. You can also stay at an airport hotel for your last night to be on the safe side.
How to Get Around Costa Rica
How you choose to get around Costa Rica will massively impact how your trip plays out. In my mind, there’s only one way to do it: rent a car. However, I’ve laid out all your options below!
To get around Costa Rica, ideally, you should rent a car. This is the website I use to find the best rental car deals in Costa Rica!
Plus, in each of the destinations below, you’ll want to have a car. That way, getting to whichever beaches, restaurants, etc. you want to visit is cheap and easy!
In Costa Rica, fees for taxis and tuk-tuks, and daily rates for rental scooters and golf carts, can be pretty expensive once you reach your destination.
For a one-week rental car, you can expect to pay anywhere from $50-$500, plus gas and insurance. The best way to find a great deal is to book way in advance – especially if you’re traveling in the high season (late November through April).
Note: You’ll find more car options and much cheaper rates if you pick up and drop off your car in San Jose.
Click here to book your rental car! With free cancellation, you can lock in a great deal now without hesitation.
Tips for Driving in Costa Rica
Driving around Costa Rica is pretty easy…
Just be aware that you NEED to book an SUV. Ideally, a 4-wheel drive (4X4) SUV.
Because you will encounter some crazy roads. And you may even have to cross a river or two – especially if you visit during Costa Rica’s rainy season.
In Costa Rica, roads can be riddled with potholes; dirt roads after storms can be very slippery; wildlife may cross the road at any time; and Ticos don’t exactly adhere to the same driving safety guidelines you may be used to!
So in other words: never drive on autopilot, always stay alert!
Personal safety isn’t usually an issue in Costa Rica, but theft can be another story.
It’s a good idea to park only in parking lots with security guards. Most parking lots in tourist areas have a security guard that you’ll have to pay anywhere from $1-5 to watch your car.
Generally, hotels offer secure parking.
Click here to book your Costa Rica rental car! With free cancellation, you can lock in a great deal now without hesitation.
Private shuttles in Costa Rica are very expensive, unless you have a large group to split the cost with.
Shared shuttles are commonly operated from one popular destination to the next, and are pretty affordable.
The best way to find shuttles in Costa Rica is usually to Google your route (i.e. private shuttle from Tamarindo to Liberia airport) and get a few different quotes from the operators that pop up.
Sometimes, there are set routes that you can book online.
This website is a great resource for finding private and shared routes throughout the country.
Also, Ticos use WhatsApp. So it’s usually best to send a couple of WhatsApp messages and see what comes back. Remember, you can (and should) negotiate the price! You can usually shave the cost down 10-20%, especially during Costa Rica’s green season.
Hot tip: If you want the comfort of a private ride, to save money, and don’t mind driving, I have a tip for you! Instead of a shuttle, rent a car for 24 hours. You can pick up your car in one destination and drop it off in another for a small fee.
Rather than paying about $300 for a private shuttle from Playa Negra to San José airport, we recently rented a car for one day for about $90, plus gas!
Click here to book your rental car.
If you’re on an extreme budget, then you can take the bus around Costa Rica.
Though to be perfectly honest, extreme budgets and Costa Rica don’t mix well.
I have never taken a bus in Costa Rica, so I don’t have any personal bus travel tips for you. However, I do know that:
- Taking the bus will be an adventure…!
- The local bus systems are still developing and usually privately owned, and you’ll have to do research on routes and companies for your specific destinations
- You usually can’t book online, you’ll pay in cash when you get on the bus
- Bus rides can be long (way longer than you may expect), hot, and uncomfortable
- Taking local buses is the least safe way to travel the country
- This is a good website to search for bus routes
Renting a car is the best option! Taking shuttles is second-best.
Click here to book your Costa Rica rental car. Make sure to set San José Airport or Liberia Airport as your pick-up/drop-off location!
1-Week Costa Rica Itinerary
If you only have one week in Costa Rica, then you have enough time to experience the best of the best!
You’ll kick off your trip in La Fortuna, Costa Rica’s rainforest adventure capital, in the shadow of the magnificent Arenal Volcano.
From there, you’ll gain elevation until you reach Monteverde Cloud Forest, home to one of the most unique ecosystems on the planet.
And finally, you’ll head for the Pacific coast, to explore one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful beachfront national parks: Manuel Antonio.
Note: Depending on the timing of your flights in and out of Costa Rica, you may want to start your Costa Rica itinerary in Manuel Antonio and finish up in La Fortuna. (The drive to either airport from La Fortuna is shorter.)
Days 1-3: La Fortuna & Arenal Volcano National Park
Welcome to La Fortuna – the adventure capital of Costa Rica.
In my opinion, this little town is a must-include on everyone’s Costa Rica itinerary.
From zip lining through the jungle and relaxing in natural hot springs, to hiking along lava trails, swimming in waterfall pools, and spotting sloths in the wild, adventure awaits! And so do the many animals.
What to Do in La Fortuna
- Explore the hanging bridges (and consider taking a guided wildlife tour) at Místico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park. This is my favorite thing to do in La Fortuna!
- Soak in natural hot springs (there are free hot springs and fancy resort hot springs to choose from)
- Grab lunch at a traditional tico soda like Soda Sabores Lulu
- Go on a chocolate and coffee farm tour
- Hike to the La Fortuna Waterfall
- Go on a kayaking adventure or a safari raft float down the Fortuna River to spot wildlife; SO much fun!
- Go on a sloth-watching tour; La Fortuna is one of the best places to see sloths in the wild… But if you’re not that lucky, you can go on this sloth-watching tour to guarantee yourself a sighting.
- Go zip lining at La Fortuna’s best zip-lining adventure course, Sky Adventures; I’ve done a few different courses around Costa Rica, and I LOVED this zip-line tour.
- Hike in the Arenal Volcano National Park
- There are lots more things to do in La Fortuna! See my guide for all of the details you need to know.
Where to Stay in La Fortuna
- Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa ($$$$): I haven’t stayed here, but I have purchased a day pass to the hot springs – and they were incredible! Next time I go to La Fortuna, this luxury hot springs resort is my top choice for a splurge! Click here to book it.
- Tifakara Boutique Hotel & Birding Oasis ($$$): I’ve stayed here twice and love it! They offer a free night frog tour (which is awesome!), the hospitality is so friendly, and the volcano views from the pool area are fab. Plus, breakfast is included. Click here to book it.
- Noah’s Forest Hotel by Tifakara ($$$): A beautiful hotel that weaves nature’s magic into every element of your stay. The riverside bungalows – featuring private jacuzzis – are so dreamy! Click here to book it.
- Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa ($$): A budget-friendly option with amazing views of the Arenal Volcano, hiking trails, and a bird sanctuary. Click here to book it.
How to Get to La Fortuna
Wondering how do you get from the airport to La Fortuna? Here are the details.
From San Jose Airport
In your rental car, you can follow this Google Maps route. This route has tolls, which you can pay in colones or with your credit card. Make sure to check for traffic issues or closures before you head out. Click here to book your rental car.
From Liberia Airport
In your rental car, you can follow this Google Maps route. There aren’t any tolls on this route – but check for traffic issues or closures before you go. There is an alternative (albeit longer) route available. Click here to book your rental car.
Days 3-5: Monteverde Cloud Forest
Your 4th and 5th days in Costa Rica were made for Monteverde Cloud Forest.
Only 1% of the world’s forests are cloud forests. So Monteverde is a very special place to appreciate nature’s splendor.
While in Monteverde Cloud Forest, you’ll go on guided nature walks, in the daytime and at night! You’ll see all kinds of flora and fauna that you can’t find anywhere else in the world.
Oh, and if you don’t leave Monteverde as a bird-lover, I’ll be surprised. The birds here are stunning. Their vibrant colors will leave you in awe – and their songs fill your soul with happiness.
Even if you don’t see much wildlife (this is always a possibility!), the abundance of incredible trees and beautiful forest flowers in Monteverde will blow your mind.
Hot tip: It can get cold up in the cloud forest! A rain jacket and a puffy jacket will serve you well here.
What to Do in Monteverde Cloud Forest
- Go on a small-group guided nature walk in Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. This is the exact tour we went on. Our guide was awesome – an absolute pro at bird calls and spotting wildlife. We learned so much about the forest ecosystem on this tour. Click here to book your small-group tour. Alternatively, you can go on a private tour.
- Stay longer in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve to explore the many trails on your own (after your guided tour). The hike up to the “La Ventana” viewpoint over the Continental Divide is a must!
- Watch the sunset at Mirador San Luis or Mirador Valle Escondido.
- If you don’t have time in La Fortuna, go zip-lining through the treetops of Monteverde! Go on this Extreme Adventure Canopy Tour.
- Go on a guided night walking tour in the Monteverde Wildlife Refuge. Exploring the jungle by flashlight is such a cool, creepy, and unique experience. We saw so many amazing birds as the sun went down (motmots, owls, and woodpeckers!), nocturnal animals (like snakes, frogs, and tarantulas) in the dark, plus sleeping animals and birds! Click here to book your guided night walking tour.
- Eat traditional food at Soda La Amistad
- Enjoy some local craft beer at Monteverde Brewing Company
- The Curi-Cancha Reserve is home to some of the most beautiful birds in the world, including the Resplendent Quetzal. If you’re specifically into birds, go on this birdwatching tour to see them and learn about this unique ecosystem.
- If you don’t have time in La Fortuna, you can go on this Coffee, Chocolate & Sugar Cane Tour in Monteverde.
- If you have even more time, visit the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. This is the other spectacular (and less-visited!) reserve in Monteverde.
Where to Stay in Monteverde Cloud Forest
- Koora Monteverde ($$$): Luxurious bungalows perched high in the cloud forest, offering the most stunning views from gigantic floor-to-ceiling windows. So dreamy! Click here to book it.
- Chira Glamping Monteverde ($$$): If you want an unforgettable experience in Monteverde’s majestic nature, this is your place. Click here to book it.
- Camino Verde B&B ($$): We stayed here, and it was apparent why it’s the most popular place in town! Our room was super comfortable – and a bottle of wine awaited us (Happy birthday to my boyfriend!). In the evenings, the entire hotel became enveloped by clouds. What an experience. The included breakfast was not so spectacular, though. Click here to book it.
How to Get to Monteverde
If you don’t have a rental car, then you can take the scenic van-boat-van route. First, you’ll take a shuttle to the shores of Lake Arenal, boat across it, and then catch another shuttle to your Monteverde hotel. This option takes an extra hour, maybe longer.
Otherwise, simply take the shorter land route.
Days 5-7: Manuel Antonio National Park & Nauyaca Waterfalls
Manuel Antonio will be the third and final destination in your one-week Costa Rica itinerary.
I was blown away by the stunning nature and pristine beaches in and around Manuel Antonio. You will be too!
For example: On our first morning, we were enjoying some gallo pinto (traditional Tico breakfast) over the incredible views at El Avion when we saw two yellow-throated toucans soaring through the trees below us. And when we left, about 10 scarlet macaw parrots were twittering in the tree above our rental car!
In Manuel Antonio, you’ll visit the spectacular Manuel Antonio National Park; where jungle hiking trails filled with wildlife meet stunning beaches.
You’ll visit some other beautiful beaches, savor succulent seafood, and visit Costa Rica’s most beautiful waterfall: Nauyaca Waterfalls.
Hot tip: The main reason for coming here is to explore Manuel Antonio National Park. It’s CLOSED on Tuesdays, so plan your Costa Rica itinerary accordingly!
What to Do in Manuel Antonio
- Go on a guided tour of Manuel Antonio National Park. This is the exact tour we did, and it was incredible! We saw SO much wildlife (from sloths to deer to owls to capuchins to snakes) thanks to our guide’s well-trained eye. We even saw squirrel monkeys, which is very rare! My advice? Book the very first tour, starting around 7 AM, to avoid crowds and see the most possible wildlife. Click here to book it.
- Spend the day hiking and hanging out at Playa Manuel Antonio inside of the national park (after your guided tour)
- Hang out at the Arenas Del Mar Beachfront & Rainforest Resort beachfront restaurant all day long (even if you’re not a guest), sipping beachy cocktails
- Hang out at Biesanz Beach‘s calm and sandy bay. Go first thing in the morning to have the place to yourself! Rent a kayak from the beach shack (for about $20/hour) and explore the rocky coastline.
- Stroll on the main beach, Espadilla Beach, at sunset
- Take a guided day trip to the breathtaking Nauyaca Waterfalls, or drive yourself there (it’s a 45-minute drive, one way). This will be one of the best experiences of your entire trip! Click here to book it.
- Enjoy the incredible rainforest view over a traditional meal at El Avion
- This is a little random, but… Savor some of the BEST falafel of your life (seriously) at Falafel Bar. They make their tahini fresh, in-house.
Where to Stay in Manuel Antonio
The main town near Manuel Antonio is called Quepos. This is NOT where I recommend you stay.
There are plenty of splurge-worthy beachfront resorts to choose from, too!
Here are the best places to stay in Manuel Antonio:
- Makanda by the Sea – Adults Only ($$$$): A stunning boutique 5-star resort that you will never forget. Really… It’s that good. Incredible rainforest-to-sea views, infinity pools, plush guest suites, and jungle-chic design are a few reasons why! Click here to book it.
- Arenas Del Mar Beachfront & Rainforest Resort ($$$): A beautiful beachfront resort with a private beach and jungle walking trails. The perfect beachside stay in paradise! Click here to book it.
- Tulemar Resort ($$$): In 2019 and 2022, this hotel was ranked the #1 hotel in the world on TripAdvisor. Nestled into 33 acres of private jungle, you can choose between luxurious casas or beachy bungalows and soak up the epic Pacific Ocean views. Click here to book it.
- Riverside Villas ($$): Cute, budget-friendly villas set in lush nature, close to the secret El Salto Waterfall trailhead. Click here to book it.
- Glamping Tomaselli ($): Glamorous camping? Why not? Converted storage containers with outdoor showers and geodesic domes featuring jungle views keep nature at the forefront of your Manuel Antonio experience. A little rustic – but that’s Costa Rica. We stayed here, and while it wasn’t my favorite, the outdoor shower was pretty awesome. Next time, I’d splurge on a stay at Makanda by the Sea.
How to Get to Manuel Antonio
If you’re driving to Manuel Antonio, you can follow this Google Maps route.
2-Week Costa Rica Itinerary
Planning on spending two weeks in Costa Rica? Lucky you!
With two weeks in Costa Rica, you should follow the 1-week itinerary above. Then, it’ll be time to explore more of the Pacific side of the country.
While I think that La Fortuna, Monteverde Cloud Forest, and Manuel Antonio are non-negotiable destinations for your first week in Costa Rica, your second week in Costa Rica is up to you!
So, would you rather…
- Take it slow in a rustic beach village?
- Surf the country’s best waves? (Or learn how to surf?)
- See more animals and explore more of Costa Rica’s incredible rainforests and national parks?
- Dine at fabulous restaurants, shop, and do some yoga?
- All of the above?
There are a lot of potential options, so I’m going to lay out the best ones to choose from. Then, you can decide based on your interests!
Some Advice for Choosing Your Week 2 Destinations
If I were you, I’d choose just one or two destinations from the list below to add to your Costa Rica travel itinerary.
It takes a long time to drive just about anywhere in Costa Rica, and you don’t want to spend your whole vacation in transit.
Each of the destinations below could take up one week on their own (with plenty of chill beach time included).
But also, 3 or 4 days in each destination would suffice, if you want to split up your last week into two.
You could choose three destinations, providing that they’re all quite close to each other… You just wouldn’t have time to explore each one in depth.
Working our way from SOUTH TO NORTH, here are your best options for your second week in Costa Rica:
Pavones: Beyond-Epic Surf, Incredible Nature, Peace & Quiet
Pavones is located way down south, near the border with Panama.
We planned to visit on our most recent 3-month trip, but sadly, those plans fell through! My boyfriend is dying to visit though, so we’ll get there next time.
If you’re a surfer, then this spot needs no introduction (and requires an unnegotiable inclusion in your Costa Rica itinerary).
This wave is the longest left in the world!
Costa Rica gets pretty consistent swell year-round, but if you visit between April to October you’re almost guaranteed to score some of the best crowd-less waves of your life.
And if you don’t surf, then simply move along to the next destination on this Costa Rica itinerary!
What to Do in Pavones
- Surf, surf, and surf some more
- Hang out at the beach
- Enjoy the nature, peace, and quiet
Where to Stay in Pavones
- Tiskita Jungle Lodge ($$$): This eco-lodge, perched right on the edge of lush jungle, is pure magic. Book in advance, Tiskita Jungle Lodge sells out! And note, there is no air conditioning – just the ocean breeze from your beachfront bungalow. Click here to book it.
- Pavones Point ($$): Beautiful multi-bedroom holiday homes to host up to 8 people. Click here to book it.
- Kanoa Lodge ($): A brand new jungle lodge with ocean views and a pool. From air conditioning to wifi, you’ll have all the comforts of home in paradise. Click here to book it.
Corcovado National Park: Raw Nature, Abundant Wildlife
Want to get off the beaten path? And see Costa Rica’s wildest, most abundant display of flora and fauna?
Visiting Corcovado National Park, on the Osa Peninsula, is the way to do it.
Corcovado National Park is home to lagoons, marshes, rivers, mangroves, wet rainforests, sandy beaches, and even low-altitude cloud forests. In other words, it is the most spectacular and biodiverse region in Costa Rica.
While in the park, you may be lucky enough to see ocelots and pumas; leatherback, olive ridley, and green turtles; and howler, spider, squirrel, and white-faced capuchin monkeys…
You can also see Baird’s tapirs, great tinamou birds, silky anteaters (so cute!), poison dart frogs, bushmaster snakes (the deadliest snake in the Americas), coatis, and SO many more.
6,000+ species of insects, 360+ birds, 140+ mammals, 110+ amphibians and reptiles, and 40+ types of freshwater fish live in Corcovado.
Unlike the other national parks listed in this Costa Rica itinerary, you can’t enter Corcovado National Park without an official certified guide and a permit. (Your tour operator can get the permit for you.)
The most common way to get to the park is to first make your way to Drake Bay. From there, you can join a tour.
- Note #1: You need to have a high level of fitness to experience this national park. Long days of hiking through difficult terrain in hot and humid weather are on the agenda! You also need to be comfortable enough with being uncomfortable for a day or two. It’ll be worth it!
- Note #2: You also absolutely need to come prepared. Make sure to wear waterproof hiking boots and hiking socks! Bring a good hiking pack, eco-friendly bug spray, water shoes, a hat, a dry bag (for your camera, etc.), a swimsuit, and rain gear just in case.
How to Experience Corcovado National Park
The best way to experience Corcovado National Park is on an overnight tour.
You’ve come all this way, so you should soak in this incredible place as much as possible!
This two-day tour in Corcovado National Park will be the adventure of a lifetime.
On this tour from Drake Bay, you’ll boat to Sirena Station. You’ll explore the trails, spotting tons of wildlife, like monkeys, agoutis, coatis, and beautiful birds. Next is a boat ride to San Pedrillo – the wildest area of the park. You’ll hike to San Pedrillo Waterfall for lunch. You’ll explore the magical trails, looking for top predators. That night, you’ll sleep in a hostel in the park.
Waking up early, you’ll trek through dense jungle, spotting and/or listening to wildlife all the way, until you reach Los Planes. From there, a 4X4 will take you back to Drake Bay. Sounds magical, doesn’t it? Click here to book your two-day adventure.
If you only have the time (or tolerance) for one day, then consider this full-day Corcovado adventure tour departing from Drake Bay instead.
Where to Stay in Drake Bay
Before and after your adventure in Corcovado National Park, plan to spend the night in Drake Bay. All of these options have air conditioning!La Fortuna & Arenal Volcano National Park
- Drake Bay Greenleaf ($$$): The most luxurious option around, perfect to decompress after a taxing couple of days in Corcovado National Park! Click here to book it.
- Sunset Lodge ($$): Ocean views, a pool, and a rustic jungle atmosphere. Click here to book it.
- Hotel Gitana Corcovado ($): A super cute and budget-friendly option set on a secluded beach. Click here to book it.
Santa Teresa & Montezuma: Good Surf, Lush Jungles, Party Vibes, Restaurants
Santa Teresa is such a pura vida vibe!
The incredibly green jungles, abundant wildlife, dusty dirt roads, boutique hotels, chic restaurants, lively bars, jungle raves, unspoiled beaches, surf breaks, and endless things to do make Santa Teresa a destination for everyone.
If you’re an advanced surfer, you’ll love it. But if you want to learn, there are also beginner breaks and surf lessons available.
The beaches are stunning. The nature is next level.
And there are so many great restaurants and bars.
Plus, the town of Montezuma is just 40 minutes away. It’s quieter, more authentic, and affordable. I LOVED Montezuma. (And prefer it over Santa Teresa.) It’s
My favorite adventure in the area was renting an ATV to explore the beaches, jungles and towns from Santa Teresa to Montezuma. My boyfriend’s favorite part was the surf.
NOTE: The best way to get to Santa Teresa (located on the bottom of the Nicoya Peninsula) is to take the car ferry from Puntarenas.
What to Do in Santa Teresa & Montezuma
- Surf the many breaks in and around Santa Teresa – or take a surf lesson if you’re a beginner. Click here to book your surf lesson.
- Have a few craft beers and delicious pub food at Kooks Smokehouse & Bar. Their daily 2-for-1 happy hour is very generous!
- Go on this incredible bioluminescent kayak tour after dark in Paquera Bay. Such a cool experience. Click here to book it.
- Enjoy the delicious food and cocktails and amazing atmosphere at Katana Asian Cuisine
- Go out on the town; start your night with cocktails at Somos Cafe
- Rent ATVs for a day to explore the area; cruise to the beaches around Santa Teresa and ride along the jungle mountain roads through Malpais, Cabuya, and Cedros until you reach Montezuma
- Have a craft beer and a burger at Butterfly Brewing Co. (in Montezuma)
- Stop by the Montezuma Beach Market on Saturday (in Montezuma)
- Go on a snorkeling trip to Isla Tortuga to snorkel on a volcanic reef! You’ll see beautiful tropical marine life including spotted eagle rays, angelfish, moray eels, and needlefish. Click here to book your snorkeling trip.
Where to Stay in Santa Teresa & Montezuma
Choose to stay in Santa Teresa, in Montezuma, or split your time up half and half.
Here are the best places to stay!
- Hotel Nantipa – A Tico Beach Experience ($$$)
- Vista del Alma Boutique – Adults Only ($$$)
- Blue Mist Hotel – Adults Only ($$)
- Somos ($)
Nosara: Rustic-Luxe Vibes, Nature, Yoga, Boutiques, Restaurants, Decent Surf
Nosara has been an ex-pat surf and yoga hub for decades, so don’t expect to find a super traditional Tico experience here. It’s a little Westernized… but not overly so.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Nosara, on vacation and living there as a digital nomad. And I like it a lot.
Particularly because we always stay at the Tierra Magnifica Boutique Hotel, whose lush jungle views (from your shower!) stretch all the way to Playa Guiones. It’s SO beautiful.
But also because of its chilled-out vibes, great restaurants, beautiful beaches, and yoga studios.
What to Do in Nosara
- Surf the beach break at Playa Guiones or take a surf lesson
- Kayak or safari float through the mangroves on the Río Nosara
- Go for an early morning nature walk in the Nosara Biological Reserve
- Savor sunset dinners at La Luna and Coyol
- Do yoga at one of Nosara’s many yoga studios
- Go on an ATV tour to a waterfall
- Go on a sunset horseback riding adventure
- See sea turtles laying eggs and/or hatching at Ostional National Wildlife Refuge
- Dine at all of the best restaurants in Nosara
READ MORE: 15 Epic Things to Do in Nosara, Costa Rica
Where to Stay in Nosara
- Tierra Magnifica ($$$): I’ve stayed at this beautiful boutique hotel twice and I cannot recommend it enough! Click here to book your stay at Tierra Magnifica.
- Harmony Hotel ($$$): A lush jungle oasis, complete with a beautiful pool, organic juice and smoothie bar, delicious restaurant, peaceful vibe, and one of Nosara’s best yoga studios. You will love this hotel. Click here to book it.
- The Gilded Iguana Surf Hotel ($$$): A short walk from Playa Guiones, and all of Nosara’s best restaurants, bars, and shops, the Gilded Iguana has the prime location – and a surf club with surfboard rentals, beach chairs, etc. for guests! Click here to book it.
- The Nomadic Hotel ($$): The beachy boho-chic vibes at The Nomadic are everything. I love their yoga shala and peaceful little pool area. Click here to book it.
Playa Negra & Playa Avellanas: Great Surf, Rustic, Relaxed
Playa Negra and Playa Avellanas are located within a ten-minute drive of each other. So even though each place is distinctive, you can easily fully experience each village no matter which one you choose as your base.
For this Costa Rica itinerary, I’m lumping them into one section.
I’ve been to this area of Costa Rica on three separate trips, and have spent many months here. We keep coming back for the relaxed and rustic beach vibes, beautiful beaches, great surf, epic Costa Rican coffee, and a handful of truly great restaurants.
If you want to get a little off the beaten path, surf, and chill out – with the convenience of being just 40 minutes from Tamarindo and 1.5 hours from the Liberia airport – come here.
What to Do in Playa Negra & Playa Avellanas
- Savor a freshly roasted Costa Rican coffee and gallo pinto at Corazón Surf Café (Playa Negra)
- Surf the reef break at Playa Negra (as seen in the surf film Endless Summer II)
- Surf the beach breaks at Playa Avellanas (or take some lessons!)
- Walk through the mangroves from Cabinas Las Olas to Playa Avellanas
- Visit the Sunday Night Market at Playa Negra’s skatepark
- Take a drive down Easy Street to Playa Blanca
- Take a yoga class in the beachfront palapa at Hotel Playa Negra
Where to Stay in Playa Negra & Playa Avellanas
- J.W. Marriott Guanacaste Resort & Spa ($$$$): A luxury beachfront resort nestled into the rustic Guanacaste jungle… The best of both worlds. Click here to book it.
- SoulShine Hotel & Restaurant ($$): This little family-friendly hotel features cute individual bungalows, a pool area, and an Israeli café. I love the falafel here! This hotel is a 5-minute drive from Playa Avellanas. Click here to book it.
- Hotel Playa Negra ($$): Playa Negra’s beachfront hotel looks out over one of the country’s best surf breaks! The hotel’s beachy bungalows are super cute; but only the “suite” bungalows have air conditioning. Click here to book it.
- Cafe Playa Negra Hotel ($$): This boho-chic hotel is located in the town, about a 10-minute walk from Playa Negra. Click here to book it.
Tamarindo: Touristy Beach Town, Convenient, Lots to Do
If you want a tropical Costa Rican beach vacation, with the convenience and comforts you’re used to at home, then Tamarindo is for you.
There are abundant luxury hotels and resorts, restaurants, bars, cafés, boutique shops, surf breaks, and things to do in Tamarindo. Plus, there are all sorts of day trip adventures you can book from this area – like this Rincón de la Vieja Volcano adventure.
Tamarindo was the first place I visited in Costa Rica 10+ years ago. And since it’s just 40 minutes north of where we usually stay long-term (Playa Negra), I’ve spent a bit of time here.
So you know: Tamarindo’s beaches and tropical dry forests are beautiful. But the town is very touristy; and in high season, it gets extremely busy. You won’t find much of an authentic Costa Rican experience here. But you will get convenience, ease, and endless fun. Plus, Liberia airport is just 1.5 hours away.
What to Do in Tamarindo
- Hang out at Playa Tamarindo and Playa Grande
- Embark on this adventure combo tour which takes you to the foot of the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano for a fun day of zip-lining, river tubing, horseback riding, and soaking in hot springs; I included this tour in my very first Costa Rica travel itinerary and it was an absolute blast! Click here to book it.
- Take a surf lesson
- Shop at the many locally owned boutiques around town
- Hop in your rental car and explore the beaches down south: Playa Avellanas, Playa Negra (stop for a coffee and lunch at Corazón Surf Café!), Playa Blanca, Marbella, and San Juanillo are all easily within reach.
- Go on this estuary boat safari in Las Baulas National Park where you’ll hopefully see crocodiles, howler monkeys, all kinds of birds, and more.
- Go on this sailing adventure along Guanacaste’s beautiful coastline, looking for marine life like whales, dolphins, and turtles. You’ll anchor in a cove to swim, snorkel, SUP, or kayak along the way. Click here to book it.
- Get a massage on the beach
- Have a craft beer at Volcano Brewing
- Go on an ATV beach adventure
- Eat at the food court El Mercadito de Tamarindo Food and Cocktail Market. I love the arepa stall!
- Go to the Tamarindo Night Market on Thursday night
- Party at one of the many bars and nightclubs
Where to Stay in Tamarindo
- Ocho Artisan Bungalows ($$$)
- Jardin del Eden Boutique Hotel ($$$)
- Sueño del Mar Beachfront Hotel ($$)
- La Ramona Charming Hotel ($$)
Papagayo Peninsula: Luxurious Resorts & Stunning Views
I recently stayed at the Costa Rica Four Seasons up on the Papagayo Peninsula. And honestly, it was awesome.
If your Costa Rica itinerary requires a luxurious beach resort stay, then head straight to the Papagayo Peninsula. Ready to relax to the max, enjoy some of the country’s most spectacular views, and eat and drink well?
From white-sand beaches and sparkling turquoise waters to lush mountainous jungles, the nature in this area could not be more stunning!
Simply choose a beachfront resort (hint: stay at Costa Rica Four Seasons if you can swing it), and you’re in for a fabulous time.
Plus, if you want to surf, Witch’s Rock (one of Costa Rica’s top surf spots) is nearby. My boyfriend went on a day trip there via private boat from the beach at the Four Seasons (which was stupidly expensive, by the way; definitely arrange this outside of whichever hotel you stay at).
To fill your time, you can: hang at the beach, jet-ski, surf at Witch’s Rock (advanced surfers only), paddle board, snorkel, horseback ride, hike, bike, kayak, zip-line. And drink delicious craft beers from Papagayo Brewing Co. Pura vida!
Where to Stay in the Papagayo Peninsula
- Four Seasons Costa Rica ($$$$$)
- Secrets Papagayo Costa Rica (All-Inclusive, Adults Only) ($$$$)
- Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo ($$$$)
- El Mangroove Papagayo, Autograph Collection ($$$)
- Planet Hollywood Costa Rica (All-Inclusive) ($$$)
Have Even More Time? Up to 1 Month in Costa Rica
How much time in Costa Rica is too much? I’ve yet to discover the limit…
If you have more than two weeks in Costa Rica, this section is for you!
3 Weeks in Costa Rica
Planning a 3-week Costa Rica Itinerary?
If you have three weeks in Costa Rica, then you have time to include almost all of the destinations above in your Costa Rica travel itinerary.
Pick and choose which destinations suit your interests!
1 Month in Costa Rica
If you have one month in Costa Rica, you’ll have time to make the cross-country drive to the Caribbean coast! Talk about the best Costa Rica itinerary ever!
I haven’t made it to the Caribbean side yet. But when I do, here are the three must-visit Caribbean destinations on my radar.
Tortuguero National Park
Tortuguero National Park is one of Costa Rica’s most distinctive and exhilarating destinations – a breathtaking blend of tropical rainforests, mangrove forests, and coastal beaches.
The biodiversity within this park is impressive, but the main reason to go is to see turtles!
Tortuguero National Park is the most important nesting ground in the Western Hemisphere for the endangered green sea turtle. Giant leatherback, hawksbill, and loggerhead turtles also nest on the beaches of Tortuguero.
During your visit, on Tortuguero’s moonlit beaches, you may see turtles laying eggs, babies hatching, or both! This is a magical experience you’ll never forget!
Cahuita National Park
Cahuita National Park is another gem on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. The park is home to a stunningly diverse range of flora and fauna, making it a haven for wildlife spotting. (But so is every other place on this list…)
So why else should you visit? To snorkel!
Apparently, snorkeling on the Cahuita Coral Reef (only accessible by boat) in the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean Sea is an awesome experience.
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (or simply, Puerto Viejo) is a charming coastal town tucked away in the southeastern corner of Costa Rica.
Known for its laid-back atmosphere, stunning natural beauty, and vibrant indigenous, Afro-Caribbean, and Rastafarian cultures, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca offers a unique blend of authentic experiences that sets it apart from other Costa Rica destinations.
Some say this is the best place in all of Costa Rica. I want to go here so badly; I’m definitely including Puerto Viejo de Talamanca in my next Costa Rica itinerary!
Essential Packing List for Costa Rica
What would a Costa Rica itinerary be without a packing list?
When you visit Costa Rica, there are quite a few non-negotiable items to pack!
Here’s a little Amazon shopping list, for your convenience!
- Eco-Friendly & Organic Bug Repellent: Because mosquitos and sandflies in Costa Rica are no joke!
- Reef-Safe & Water-Resistant Mineral Sunscreen: This is the best sunscreen I’ve ever come across. Reef-safe and all-natural for the win!
- Reef-Safe Surf Mud Sunscreen: To protect your face and neck in the surf. A must!
- Manduka EKO Superlite Travel Yoga Mat: Costa Rica is yoga country! This super lightweight, grippy yoga mat will be your constant companion. I love this yoga mat and bring it everywhere.
- GRAYL GeoPress Water Purifier Bottle: A prerequisite for any adventurous trip, so you can drink any water, any time. This is one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. An actual lifesaver.
- Earth Pak Waterproof Dry Bag: This is the ultimate Costa Rica rainforest adventure item. Going kayaking or rafting? Hiking and it starts to downpour? No worries.
- Quick-Dry Turkish Beach Towel: A must, for obvious reasons; these towels are compact, quick-dry, soft, aesthetically pleasing, and come with a travel bag.
- GearTOP Bucket Hat: My favorite breathable, full-coverage hat for nature adventures in the sun.
- Merrell Waterproof Hiking Boots: Planning to do some serious hiking in Costa Rica’s amazing national parks? These are my favorite hiking boots, for life.
Travel Insurance in Costa Rica
This is the most important section in this entire Costa Rica itinerary.
This is one of the most wild countries on the planet… where anything can happen. Traveling here is not without risks, so it’s VERY important that you understand that and take it seriously.
Safety Risks of Traveling in Costa Rica
I know someone (by two degrees of separation) who was recently paralyzed by a falling tree branch while hiking during her one-week family holiday in Costa Rica. She didn’t have travel insurance. Her family had to raise over $100,000 USD on GoFundMe to pay for a medically-staffed flight back to the United States.
In Costa Rica, tree branches fall onto cars, homes, and people more often than you’d think… My boyfriend and I had a very close call in the Místico Hanging Bridges Park.
There are highly dangerous snakes, scorpions, spiders, and other insects in Costa Rica. And there are equally dangerous mammals and marine animals, like crocodiles and bull sharks.
Severe food poisoning and mosquito-borne viruses (like Dengue) are also possible.
Car or scooter accidents can happen too; driving is always an adventure in Costa Rica. Two crazy dogs chased me and my boyfriend on our scooter, trying to bite our legs, until we eventually crashed and wrecked our bike…
Hopefully, none of these things will happen to you! And they probably won’t.
But you have to understand that there are a lot more risks than you may be used to at home.
In the case of an incident, you will be so grateful that you took out a travel insurance policy.
Choose a travel insurance policy that covers medical and dental emergencies and emergency medical evacuation, as well as things like travel delays, trip interruptions, and lost checked luggage.
This is the travel insurance I currently have. It’s very affordable, so there’s no excuse not to have it.
Did you know…
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The Best Costa Rica Itinerary for 1 Week, 2 Weeks, 3 Weeks, or 1 Month in Costa Rica
From the beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park to walking on hanging bridges in the treetops with Arenal Volcano in full view… the beauty of Costa Rica is sure to take your breath away.
From the abundant birdlife in Monteverde to the hot springs of La Fortuna to the lush jungles on the Pacific Coast to the sea turtles of Tortuguero, Costa Rica’s nature really is unparalleled.
With this Costa Rica itinerary, you’ll experience it all.
You’re in for an adventure of a lifetime.
Adopt Costa Rica’s pura vida spirit along the way, and never forget it for the rest of your days!
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Over to you! Are you planning your dream Costa Rica itinerary? Do you have questions about traveling to Costa Rica? Have you been before? Did I miss one of your favorite destinations or activities? Comment below!
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