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Preparing for my Costa Rica adventure, I couldn’t find a Costa Rica itinerary that included everything I wanted to do — so I created my own!
This 10-day Costa Rica itinerary includes adventure and relaxation. It can be modified if you’ve got less time or prefer to enjoy more days at each location. The first few days are jam-packed, but plenty of relaxation is provided after the first few days. The drive times between locations can be long, but they were worth it to my little group and me. You may elect to cut out some of the destinations so that you can enjoy a more leisurely experience concentrating on the areas that interest you. I’ve got some suggestions at the end for modifications. This Costa Rica itinerary was prepared with three adults in mind.
Day 1: Arrival in San Jose
The two largest airports in Costa Rica are located in San Jose and Liberia. Since we didn’t want to backtrack during our travel, we opted to arrive in San Jose and depart Liberia.
We arrived midday, picked up our rental car, and drove straight to our first stop, La Fortuna, the home of the Arenal Volcano and one of the most popular tourist areas. We arrived as evening fell. You can read about our impression of the Arenal Springs Resort & Spa.
Day 2: Arenal Volcano Area
Today’s adventures included trips to the Mistico Hanging Bridges (about a 2-mile hike) followed by zip-lining over the La Fortuna waterfall. The original itinerary included visiting the La Fortuna waterfall, but there were so many steps this day that I could not take one more!
The plan included going to happy hour at the Observatory Lodge to watch the sunset. The bar offers a terrace overlooking the Arenal Volcano. Unfortunately, the rainy season weather did not cooperate, so we ended up skipping it.
We spent a second night at our hotel in La Fortuna, the Arenal Springs Resort, enjoying the hot springs after our day of adventure. The hot springs were a great idea that our muscles needed!
Day 3: Monteverde
After breakfast, we enjoyed the Arenal Volcano area a bit more by visiting the La Fortuna Waterfall. There were many steps (532!) involved in this one, but the La Fortuna waterfall was worth the visit! You can read more about the waterfall if you’re on the fence about whether it’s worth the climb.
As we drove to out of town, the Arenal Volcano peak finally appeared, so we stopped for lunch at the Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa. What a view!
We then drove to Monteverde, in the Cloud Forest, approximately a 3.5-4 hour drive depending on the road you take and traffic.
We enjoyed the Kinkajou Night Walk, recommended by our Airbnb host. This two-hour nature walk permitted us to see the jungle at night when many animals are more active. In addition, Monteverde offers some unique opportunities, such as visiting chocolate and coffee plantations.
PRO TIP: If you’re short on time, choose between Arenal and Monteverde. We found more things that interested us in Arenal, and I now wish I had skipped Monteverde (and saved it for another trip).
Day 4: Punta Islita
During the morning, we enjoyed a bit more of the Cloud Forest before embarking on our drive to Punta Islita.
Why Punta Islita? There are many fabulous beaches in the Nicoya Peninsula. However, Punta Islita was specifically chosen because of the Hotel Punta Islita – a Marriott property that receives excellent reviews. The advantage of this property is that it offered us luxury and a beach — an opportunity to recharge.
Day 5: Punta Islita
Beach day and relaxation at Punta Islita. We started our day with an onsite zip-line experience. Then, after all the adventure, we relaxed by the pool with a swim-up bar. That evening, I took an insect night tour, but we generally took it easy. You can read our thoughts on the Hotel Punta Islita and why we would recommend it again.
PRO TIP: The bioluminescent bay kayaking can only be enjoyed when there is not a full moon. Plan your trip accordingly!
Day 6: Bioluminescent Bay Kayaking
After enjoying breakfast and lunch at the Punta Islita Hotel, we drove from Punta Islita to Paquera. The evening was the highlight of our trip: a night kayak experience on a bioluminescent bay. If you have not had such an experience before, you should try it! The resorts in this area offer many other water activities as well. We were very happy with our tour and guides from Bahia Rica.
PRO TIP: The Isla Chiquita Glamping Hotel in Paquera is a sister property to Hotel Punta Islita. You can arrange for a package and transportation between the two if you don’t want to rent a car.
Day 7: Tamarindo
After a hearty breakfast following last night’s adventures, we began our drive to Tamarindo. We opted for the shortest route, which still took us about three hours.
After checking into the Tamarindo Diria Hotel, we sat around the pool enjoying drinks. I also wanted a massage on the beach – which only cost $30 for 60 minutes (payable in cash). This hotel is located directly on the largest beaches in Costa Rica, stretching for miles.
As fans of small craft breweries, we walked from our hotel to Volcano Brewing, enjoying several pints. The kitchen offered some delicious options too. The atmosphere can be a bit loud since there is a skateboard park inside.
Day 8: Tamarindo
Tamarindo is one of the best beaches in Costa Rica, so enjoy it! Don’t miss the sunset too! We took it easy and enjoyed one of the hotel’s many restaurants.
If this happens to be Saturday, enjoy a walk through the local market, where you’ll find handmade and local items.
Day 9: Tamarindo
Last day of our vacation! Relaxation was the keyword. Take a surfing lesson or rent a boogie board from the hotel – you’re in the right spot for it! Wander the streets looking for any Costa Rica souvenirs you may have missed along the way.
Day 10: Going home!
While we left the Liberia Airport on Day 10, this itinerary is perfect for a 9-day trip. Unfortunately, we only had time to enjoy breakfast before we drove to the airport.
How Would I Change This Costa Rica Itinerary?
The drive times from location to location are much longer than I anticipated when calculating the travel times using Google maps. Therefore, I would forgo visiting Monteverde and spend an extra day in Paquera. Also, while Tamarindo is very popular, I would have preferred a less touristy beach – perhaps Samara.
I would have added a trip to Manuel Antonio for its beautiful beaches if I had more time. If borders had been open, I would also have taken a day trip into Nicaragua from Liberia or Tamarindo. While these make for a long 15-hour day, the city of Granada, Nicaragua, looks impressive. The entire Caribbean coast will have to be its trip in the future!
Check out these other Costa Rica posts:
- 15 Best Things to Know Before Traveling to Costa Rica
- Best Free Apps to Use in Costa Rica
- 10 Best Souvenirs from Costa Rica
- Is the La Fortuna Waterfall Worth the Climb?
- Where to Stay in Costa Rica: Hotel Punta Islita
Have you been to Costa Rica? Tell us your favorite place in the comments!
Annick, The Common Traveler
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What would you want to include on your Costa Rica itinerary? Let me know in a comment below!