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One-Week Costa Rica Itinerary: How to Spend Your Time Visiting

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Editorial Note: Kyle Kroeger recently edited and revised this article following a recent visit to the country. Read more about our editorial approach for more information. We strive to show you all unique images of our authentic personal experiences, which will you find below where possible.

Ah, Costa Rica. A tropical paradise on the Pacific coast. Verdant rainforests, picture-perfect beaches, majestic volcanoes, and unparalleled wildlife – this gorgeous Central America destination may be the closest you’ll ever get to true paradise.

We’ve prepared this 7-day Costa Rica itinerary for travelers who want to get the most out of this Central American country, complete with tips on where to stay and what to eat. Ready to experience the Pura Vida lifestyle? Your journey begins here.

Overview of Costa Rica

In Costa Rica, eco-tourism is thriving. About a quarter of this rugged and rainforested country comprises protected national parks, three of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites—lodged between Nicaragua and Panama, with the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east.

This Central American gem is a treasure trove of biodiversity, home to incredible flora and fauna that’ll make you feel like you’re in pre-historic times. A diverse topography with incredible biodiversity guarantees a spectacle to explore, whether snatching views of the majestic Arenal volcano or freediving into the colorful, coral-studded seas of the Pacific and the Caribbean.

When not gawking over natural sites, there’s still more to experience. For culture vultures, there’s a treasure trove of unique adventures here. An intriguing mix of Spanish colonial influence and indigenous heritage creates a cultural landscape that spills over to the local’s laid-back temperament and traditional food. There are even several ayahuasca retreats in the country.

Itineraries often begin with arrival at San José, the capital city, which serves as a central hub. Opting for eco-friendly lodgings and transportation aligns with the country’s dedication to conservation. The focus on sustainable travel ensures visitors can responsibly indulge in Costa Rica’s natural beauty.

The country’s well-known Pura Vida lifestyle infuses every aspect of the journey. A guide to the wonders of Costa Rica includes jaunts through rainforests, encounters with exotic animals such as sloths and quetzals, and explorations of verdant national parks. Travelers are encouraged to immerse themselves in local traditions and savor the rich cultural heritage.

With designated days for adventure and relaxation, Costa Rica itineraries strike a harmonious balance. A meticulously planned Costa Rica trip lets adventurers enjoy everything from zip-lining and whitewater rafting to serene evenings watching sunsets on the beach.

Planning and Preparation

Travel Documents and Insurance

Before jetting off to Costa Rica, make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after your planned return date. Most travelers won’t need a visa for stays under 90 days, but checking the latest entry requirements specific to your country of origin is wise.

Strongly consider purchasing travel insurance for your trip. We recommend using SafetyWing if you’re a younger traveler or digital nomad and VisitorsCoverage for anyone else. Not only can it cover unforeseen medical expenses, but it may also protect against trip cancellations, lost luggage, and travel delays.

It’s better to be safe than sorry when surrounded by nature and wildlife. Ensure your policy covers activities you plan on enjoying, be it zip-lining through the canopy or surfing at Playa Hermosa.

While Costa Rica’s wildlife is one of its biggest draws, it’s essential to respect animals by observing from a distance. Keep bug spray handy to ward off mosquitoes, especially in rainforest areas. Tap water is generally safe to drink in Costa Rica, but carrying a water bottle with a filter can come in handy in remote areas.

Packing List

Packing for Travel

To do so, start planning and packing the right way. Here’s what we have packed. The first thing to bring in one week of fun and exciting travel in Costa Rica is the presence of mind and preparedness!

Are you ready to see the beauty of the rainforest, beautiful coast, and more hidden gems in Costa Rica? To do so, start planning and packing the right way. Here’s what we packed below. Read our full packing list guide to Costa Rica if you want to know more.

Best Time to Visit

Toucan in a Tree in Costa Rica
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

You can’t create the best itinerary for Costa Rica without knowing the ideal time to visit. Costa Rica enjoys a year-round tropical climate with only two seasons: dry and rainy. The best time to visit is during the dry season, from mid-December to April. This period offers a lot of sunshine and very little rain.

While this season is most favorable, you’ll associate with crowds of tourists who all want in on the great weather. Unfortunately, this is also the most expensive time to visit Costa Rica.

If you’re looking for time away from the crowd and cheaper options, you may want to explore the rainier season between May and November if you don’t mind getting wet. During June and July, quenched by the rain, Costa Rica’s forests burst with verdant foliage.

See Related: Free Printable Travel Planner

How to Get Around in Costa Rica

Overall, no matter what type of transportation you choose, be prepared to be on the road a lot. The road infrastructure here is very rugged and features intense terrain. While something may say that it’s 20 miles in distance, that may translate into over an hour’s drive.

On a bus

Bus Station in Costa Rica
© 2011 Manuel A. Aguilar C. / Wikimedia Commons

If you spend just one week in Costa Rica, hopping on the bus is the most affordable way to explore the country. Most of the country’s bus services are in Cota Rica’s capital, San Jose.

Interbus is the nation’s main operator with the most routes. You can also ride with Gray Line (for a slightly more expensive fee) for direct services between tourist spots.

PRO TIP: Bus schedules change frequently, and some routes are so in demand that we highly advise you to book your tickets in advance.

See Related: All-Inclusive Resorts in Costa Rica for Families

By car

Young Woman Driving

We suggest renting a car to explore Costa Rica if you want more convenience. Having your vehicle gives you the freedom to travel at your own pace. Travelers who are planning to take domestic flights have the option to park their rental car at the airport as well.

There are also a plethora of local driving laws to familiarize yourself with. For example, driving faster than 90 mph, regardless of the posted speed limit, will cost you around $467 or get you in jail for three years. Check rental car prices and get the best deal by using RentalCars.com.

PRO TIP: If you plan to rent your car, note that Costa Rica’s roads aren’t in the best condition. Many of the roads you’ll take to popular destinations are actually unpaved, and you’ll encounter a lot of police checks when traveling.

Through transfers

Costa Rica Tour Excursion Bus, Rincon de la Vieja
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

If you’re not too keen on taking the bus or driving by yourself, booking transfers from one location to another on GetYourGuide is possible. Most of these transfers are door-to-door, picking you up from your hotel and taking you to your next hotel. For example, this private transfer can take you from Tamarindo to La Fortuna in a comfortable air-conditioned car.

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Sample Costa Rica Itinerary (1-Week)

Here is an itinerary you’ll want to copy for your trip to Costa Rica.

Day 1: Touchdown San Jose

San Jose

There’s no better place to begin your Costa Rica adventure than in San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital city, which is gritty but endearing. While it only makes sense as the San Jose airport is the country’s largest, making this the best gateway to other Costa Rican destinations.

While most travelers head straight for the beaches or the mountains, we suggest you explore this city first. Apart from taking some much-needed rest from an arduous flight, San Jose is a good location to unearth some of Costa Rica’s historical secrets.

Head straight to the Museo del Oro Procolombino to see more than 1,600 artifacts of pre-Columbian gold from 500 A.D. You’ll find two other currency-related museums near this museum: the Casa de Moneda, which offers a comprehensive history of Costa Rica’s minting, and the National Coin Museum, which boasts a collection that dates back to 1236.

See Related: Simple Ways to Sustainable Travel

Where should you stay in San Jose?

Hotel Presidente
Hotel Presidente

For travelers with discriminating tastes who want to be right smack at the center of the action, you’ll want to stay in the upscale Hotel Presidente San Jose City Center. This modern hotel sits 100 yards from the Plaza de la Cultura and Costa Rica’s National Theater.

Backpackers on a budget may want to spend a night at Studio Hotel Boutique, a hip and modern hostel with spectacular views of San Jose. This is a great place to socialize with fellow travelers, and it’s only a 15-minute walk from the National Museum.

See Related: Best Travel Sandals

Day 2: The Arenal Volcano

Clouds Covering Arenal Volcano with Lake Arenal
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

This one-week Costa Rica itinerary takes you to Arenal Volcano National Park on your second day. Hailed as one of Costa Rica’s most popular sights,  this 1,670m high geothermal wonder last erupted in 2010 and has remained quiet ever since.

In the morning, take a three-hour drive to La Fortuna – the main town where you’ll base yourself. Known as the gateway to Arenal Volcano National Park, La Fortuna is one of Costa Rica’s top destinations, regularly flocked to tourists who want to snatch the greatest views of the fabled volcano as well as visit the iconic La Fortuna Waterfall, one of the best waterfalls in Costa Rica.

Once you’re here, explore the various shops, supermarkets, and restaurants. If you’re looking for just one restaurant to try, swing by Tiquicia Restaurant for their locally famous Casado, a Central American delicacy made of stewed beans, meat, salad, rice, and fried plantain.

Hiking for the best views

There are a number of ways to explore Arenal Volcano National Park, from ziplining across the jungle to whitewater rafting, canopy tours, or canyoning. Do note that the Arenal Volcano isn’t accessible to the public, but you may access areas where you can get the best views.

Jungle and Foliage in the Middle of Arenal National Park
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

This live tour guides you through the best experiences in Arenal, including reaching the best panoramic viewpoints in La Fortuna and a relaxing dip in a natural hot spring resort. The tour includes a hot lunch and multiple sightings of wildlife.

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Where should you stay in La Fortuna?

Cloudy Arenal Volcano from The Springs Resort
Staying at The Springs has been one of my favorite accommodation experiences.
(Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers)

As a popular tourist destination, you’ll find multiple lodging options in La Fortuna. For luxurious comforts, spend the night at The Springs Resort & Spa – arguably the region’s most popular hotel.

This accommodation offers guests access to private hot springs and gorgeous unobstructed views of the Arenal Volcano, providing some much-needed relaxation if you include outdoor excursions in your trip itinerary.

Penny-pinchers can stay at Arenal Backpackers Resort, a trendy five-star hostel with private rooms, dorms, and safari tents. The hostel’s open setting makes it a great location to hobnob with fellow adventurers.

See Related: Beaches in Costa Rica to Visit

Day 3: Sloths, Soaking, and Spectacular Views

Sloth Sleeping in a Tree, Costa Rica
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

This one-week Costa Rica itinerary offers an action-packed third day with ziplining, wildlife tripping, and a relaxing dip in a well-known hot spring. Start your day early with a canopy tour for the best views of the Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal.

This zipline canopy tour allows you to soar above rainforest canopies in any of the nine available ziplines with some of the longest cables in Costa Rica.

It also offers breathtaking views of the rainforest from an observation point. If you’re looking for a more wildlife-oriented excursion, walk the Bogarin Trail for sightings of adorable sloths, toucans, parrots, frogs, bats, and caimans.

Travelers looking to rejuvenate after an adventure-filled day will find respite in many of La Fortuna’s hot springs. You’ll find a lot of resorts and hotels with private hot springs in the area, and although day passes for these establishments are expensive, you’ll have the area all to yourself.

See Related: Activities in Costa Rica For Outdoorsy Travelers

Day 4: Exploring Monteverde

Man in a Forest

Get another early start for a ride to Monteverde Cloud Forest. This region extends throughout the slopes of the Cordillera de Tilaran and is studded with farms, nature reserves, and villages.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is the main attraction here to take a tour. Still, you’ll see various other natural sights, from small family farms to the expansive Children’s Eternal Rainforest. The three-hour drive to Monteverde is bumpy, so we suggest getting around with a 4WD.

You’ll stay in Santa Elena, the region’s biggest population center. You can explore the area’s many vegan restaurants and charming cafes if you arrive by noon.

Once you’re done eating to your heart’s content, it’s time to familiarize yourself with the region. Get an authentic farm experience with this tour of a sustainable farm in Monteverde.

You’ll learn about the benefits of sustainable farming, get up close and personal with farm animals, try your hand at milking a cow, and taste delicious Costa Rican cheese and other cuisine.

See Related: Day Trips From San José, Costa Rica

Where should you stay in Monteverde?

Monteverde Country Lodge
Monteverde Country Lodge

For families looking for an authentic jungle experience, the Monteverde Country Lodge, situated close to the cloud forest, is a great choice. This lodge boasts rustic cabin-style rooms, lush gardens, an indoor pool, and a hot tub.

Caso Campo Verde is light on the pocket but heavy on the little luxuries. Just a 10-minute drive from Santa Elena, this lodge offers great views of the cloud forest and delicious traditional breakfasts and dinners.

See Related: Best Travel Insurance for Diabetics

Day 5: The Hanging Bridges of Monteverde

Hanging Bridge in Rincon de la Vieja
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

We’re not done with Monteverde just yet. Begin day five with a thrilling walk above Monteverde Cloud Reserve’s hanging bridges – one of the best things to do in Costa Rica. Monteverde Sky Adventures Park is just a 10-minute drive from downtown Monteverde and offers guided tours of the area.

The two-hour hike through the cloud forest will leave you hanging from a series of suspension bridges, offering spectacular views of the forest canopy below. For wildlife, take a night hike at the Curi Cancha Reserve to see various birds, reptiles, and an assemblage of arachnids.

See Related: Travel Backpacks

Day 6: Catch the Waves in Tamarindo

Consistent Waves along the coast of Playa Grande, Tamarindo
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

For the penultimate day, this Costa Rica itinerary offers what all water lovers want – a beach excursion. Just three hours west of Monteverde is Tamarindo, arguably the most famous beach in Costa Rica for its great swells, nightlife, and restaurants.

During the peak season, the beach can get very crowded, so consider this if you’re looking for something more intimate (tip: there are less crowded beaches south of Tamarindo).

Laze by the beach, book a surfing lesson, go deep-sea scuba diving or snorkeling, or do sport fishing for marlin, sailfish, snapper, tuna, or dorado. Once the sun sets, it’s time to party.

Clubs, bars, and lounges offer live music, dance nights, and DJs here. Check out Pacifico Bar for their reggae night, Crazy Monkey for splendid salsa dancing, and El Garito for underground house music.

See Related: What to Do in Las Catalinas

Where should you stay in Tamarindo?

View of Tamarindo Beach from El Capitan Suizo Resort
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

For upscale living, head straight to Tamarindo Diria Beach Resort, a four-star resort with three swimming pools and a variety of restaurants. This hotel offers great access to the beach.

For an eco-friendly option, spend a night at Drift Away Eco Lodge in Playa Avellanas – a 20-minute drive from Tamarindo Beach. Verdant and quiet, this intimate lodge offers only eight rooms and four private villas. This was a must-stop location for our Guanacaste itinerary.

Another great option is the Capitán Suizo Beachfront Boutique Hotel. Read our full review of staying at Capitán Suizo to get a personal perspective on our experience. Just a hint: there were monkeys at our hotel.

See Related: Cheapest Places to Visit in the World

Day 7: Go Sunset Sailing

Gorgeous Sunset on the Beach
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Your last day in Costa Rica should be relaxing, admiring the best views, and just taking in the country’s best. Get an early start for a one-hour drive to Diamante Eco Adventure Park for more chances to zipline and tour the canopy—there is a lot of wildlife here, including toucans, butterflies, jaguars, and sloths.

Once you’re done, it’s finally time to relax. On this sunset tour, go on a sailing adventure on a 24-foot catamaran with a chance to swim and snorkel. Here, you’ll get the chance to spy on turtles, whales, dolphins, and manta rays while enjoying an open bar on board.

General Tips for Travelers

  • Currency: The Costa Rican colón is the local currency, but businesses widely accept US dollars. It is prudent to keep both currencies on hand, ensuring smaller denominations for everyday transactions.
  • Eco-considerations: With ecotourism at its heart, travelers should respect local habitats. Packaging and consumption choices should minimize environmental impact. Choosing accommodations accredited for sustainable practices supports eco-friendly travel.
  • Cultural Etiquette: While exploring this spirited country, respectfully embrace the local “Pura Vida” lifestyle. Learn a few phrases in Spanish, and be willing to engage with the community meaningfully.

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