A 10 day Costa Rica itinerary will pack in the highlights, although ideally I’d be there much longer. Like, a lifetime. No lie, I left Costa Rica thinking about retiring in Monteverde someday. It’s just that lovely. Until then, I’ll have to rely on my vacation days to stretch enough.
If you’re in a pinch like I was, I think 10 days is a good amount of time to explore Costa Rica. Hell, you could even do 7. You’d have to cut out time in San Jose (which… I think people are missing out on) but it can definitely be done.
The cities we’ll cover in this 10 day itinerary include San Jose, La Fortuna/Arenal, Monteverde and Manuel Antonio. You’ll see everything from beaches, to rainforests, sprawling downtown and everything else in between.
So let’s get to it! Here’s my 10 day Costa Rica itinerary!
Table of Contents
Costa Rica’s currency is the colón. Many places will accept U.S. dollars, but always check first.
To get around in Costa Rica, you have a few options. You can rent a car, but be aware that driving in downtown San Jose is chaotic. Driving between cities is alright, but if you’re not used to handling the occasional gravel/dirt road, you may want to try something else. You can book shared transportation with Interbus, a well-established shuttle company that offers reasonable rates to popular destinations.
Uber is available in some cities, like San Jose, but most tourists will just call a taxi. Taxis in Costa Rica are red with a yellow triangle logo. The only difference are airport taxis, which are orange. Make sure you agree upon the amount, and determine whether they accept colónes or USD.
Costa Rica’s two main airports fly out of San Jose and Liberia. For this guide, we’re going to assume you’re flying into San Jose.
Day 1 & 2: San Jose
I know everyone hates on San Jose, but I loved it! There’s a lot to see and do downtown, so be sure to spend at least an afternoon there. (I spent three days, but for this itinerary, two is plenty).
Once you land, take a day to get to your hotel and get settled. The first day of any trip is all about adjusting to your new location, am I right? No pressure to do anything here.
The next day, I highly recommend taking a half day tour to visit one of the volcanoes nearby. Many tour companies offer trips to either Irazú or Poás. At the time of this writing, Poás is acting a bit dodgy, so your only option may be Irazú. That said, that was my volcano of choice, and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit!
Once the tour was over, I found that I still had lots of time to do some exploring around San Jose. So once you’re back in San Jose, it’s time to give the downtown area some love. The Pre-Colombian Gold Museum, the Jade Museum and the National Museum of Costa Rica are all within walking distance and they’re absolutely fabulous museums!
Odds are, you’ll also be in town during one of the many, many events that San Jose hosts. I got to see the Carnival Parade a couple of days after Christmas. It was a blast.
Day 3, 4 & 5: La Fortuna/Arenal
Getting to La Fortuna takes about 2.5 hours. You can drive, take the Interbus shared transportation, or the local bus. It’ll tack on extra time (it takes about 4 hours), but it’s only $5 and leaves several times a day. Once you’re settled, consider taking a night tour of the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park. This way, you won’t need to rush to get to La Fortuna, and you’ll still be able to fit in a fun activity.
The next day, get up bright and early to get to La Fortuna waterfall. Plan on arriving right when the park opens, so you can avoid the crowds. It’s over 400 steps down to the waterfall, but well worth it. Bring a swimsuit, you can actually swim in the waterfall (even though it’s usually pretty cold).
That afternoon is a great time to check out Arenal Natura Ecological Park. Here, you can view everything from butterflies to crocodiles. I’d opt for the self guided tour, so you can go at your own pace.
Your final day in La Fortuna is best spent living on the edge… literally. That’s right, we’re going zip lining! Book a tour with Sky Arenal and get ready for an adventure. You’ll be able to catch Lake Arenal as you coast by. More on that lake in a bit.
When your adventure is over, relax in the hot springs. Some hotels have man made hot springs on their property, but if not, the Tabacon Hot Springs are a great way to relax after your day of adventure.
Day 6 & 7: Monteverde
Good morning! We’re going to take the scenic route to Monteverde. It’s a bit “extra” but… it’s fun. Again, this is one where a shuttle or car would absolutely be feasible. At most, it should take 3 hours. But today, you oughta splurge, just once.
The Land-Boat-Land transport is popular for a reason. Shared transport will take you to a boat, where you’ll coast across Lake Arenal, taking in picturesque views of the volcano. From there, it’s another shared drive until you reach Monteverde. You’ll be there by lunch.
After you’ve eaten, there are few better ways to fill an afternoon than the El Trapiche Tour. It’s a family run farm that combines coffee, sugar cane and chocolate into one fantastic tour! They’ll even pick you up. It’s a win-win!
The next morning, it’s up bright and early for a jaunt through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve. It’s a demanding hike, but a gorgeous one. At one viewpoint, you’ll be able to clearly see the ocean. You can recharge at their cafe, the food and birdwatching is fantastic.
Spend the afternoon wandering around the downtown area. There’s lots to do! You can visit the Bat Jungle, the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens, the Orchid Gardens and Serpentarium. If you’re real ambitious, you may be able to see all four. But if you only have time for one, I’d recommend the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens. It’s a real treasure.
Day 8, 9 & 10: Manuel Antonio
Today is mostly a travel day. A local bus from Monteverde to the Quepos area is 5.5 hours! This is where I’m gonna plug a rental car or shared transport. It’ll cut it down to 3.5, and the roads this way are fine for driving.
You’ll have a decent amount of time to unpack, eat and get settled. Then, spend the evening on the ocean with a sunset sailing tour. These tours are so neat since they’re basically a three in one; whale watching, sunset sailing and snorkeling. They even serve dinner on the ship and it’s fabulous!
Day 9 is the day we visit Manuel Antonio National Park. It’s a tiny park, but with so much going for it! It’s a great send off for your final full day in Costa Rica. Opt for a morning tour to avoid the crowds. Most tours take about 4 hours.
And then? You’re left with some of the most pristine, beautiful beaches you could ask for. Lounging on the beach, what could be better?
The last day is a bummer, at least it was for me. I didn’t want to leave this beautiful country. So I spent the 2.5 hours from Quepos to San Jose plotting my next trip back. It kept me sane. A local bus is only $8 and will add an extra 30 minutes compared to a car or shared transport.
If you find yourself in the airport with leftover colónes like I did, don’t sweat it. The airport has lots of nice cafes and gift shops so you can grab a little memento of your marvelous adventure.
Until next time, Costa Rica.
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