Costa Rica: Your One-Week Itinerary

Costa Rica might look small on a map, but don’t be fooled, you can’t see everything in just one week. With some careful planning, however, you can still have a vacation of a lifetime that showcases what Costa Rica is all about: nature, adventure, and pura vida. Here’s an itinerary that will give you just that.

Day 1: San José to La Fortuna (Arenal Volcano)

From the San José airport, rent a car, take a shuttle/tour van, or bus it to the town of La Fortuna. Along the way you will traverse rolling green mountains of coffee plantations, cattle fields, and the occasional dense forest. The narrow road winds through small cities and quaint towns. Getting closer to La Fortuna, you’ll start to see the volcano looming in the distance. Once you arrive, settle into your accommodations and take in the view. La Fortuna has a very walkable downtown complete with a charming central park. Explore the streets and shops before you grab dinner at one of the many restaurants.

Tip: If you fly in late, stay near the city of Alajuela which is very close to the airport. Hotel Buena Vista, in the hills nearby, is a great option for those looking for a peaceful escape and panoramic views. Or, if you’re getting in really late, try Hotel Aeropuerto, a more budget-friendly option just minutes from the airport.

 

La Fortuna Downtown | A One-Week Itinerary for Costa Rica
La Fortuna’s downtown and central park.

 

Day 2: Hiking in Arenal National Park

Getting There: Arenal National Park encompasses 29,692 acres but is accessed through one primary ranger station. There is parking available for your rental car, or a taxi can drop you off. The shoestring traveler can take the public bus from the main station in La Fortuna for only a couple of dollars. The bus will drop you off at the main road; it’s about a 20-30 minute walk to the park entrance.

About the Park: The park has easy-to-navigate trails through secondary forest and former lava fields. The trails are mostly flat, so it’s a good option for kids and people with limited mobility. There are four trails in total, some of which intersect. Take the Los Heliconias trail to the lookout for a great view of the volcano and also sweeping views of Lake Arenal. Read our blog on Hiking in Arenal National Park for more details.

Depending on how early you access the park and how many trails you explore, this can be a half-day or full-day expedition. If you are the early type, fill up your afternoon driving around Lake Arenal or explore some of the shops in downtown La Fortuna.

Tip: There are many private trails nearby if you want to keep hiking. Arenal 1968 trail near the park entrance is a bit more challenging, but passes through decades-old former lava fields.

 

Arenal Volcano | A One-Week Itinerary for Costa Rica

 

Day 3: Hanging bridges and relaxing hot springs

Hanging Bridges: You might be a little sore after your hike in the park yesterday, but you’ll want to power through to see Arenal’s Hanging Bridges. Along the trail, there are 16 bridges of varying lengths from eight to 98 meters. The trail and bridges will take you high up in the rainforest canopy, giving you a spectacular view and the chance to spot birds and wildlife less visible from the ground. Make sure to charge up your camera battery for this one.

Hot Springs: After you’re done, it’s time to reward your body with the famous Arenal hot springs. Several are available depending on your budget. Tabacon Resort has a beautiful facility, which you can explore for US $60 a day. For the budget-minded, don’t fret, the springs are naturally occurring so there are some free options as well. Just ask a local to point you in the right direction.

For more information and hotel recommendations, read our post on what to expect in La Fortuna.

 

La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio

Get up early and grab some gallo pinto (the Costa Rican breakfast of champions) because you’ve got a long journey to the Pacific coast ahead. Don’t worry, though, it’s well worth the five to six-hour drive. If you don’t have your own set of wheels, shuttle vans are a good option. Tempted to save some money by taking the public bus? You might want to rethink that. To get a bus to Manuel Antonio, you have to go all the way back to San José, turning a five-hour trip into a 10+ hour trip. Shuttle vans are very affordable, and you won’t lose a whole day of your precious vacation. To save even more time, take a small plane from La Fortuna to Quepos. The views from six to nine-thousand feet up are spectacular and the ride near the windy mountains of San José is an adventure in itself. (Note: As of 2018, domestic carriers have become less reliable, so be sure to research carefully before purchasing tickets)

Tip: Travel days like this are the reason it’s tough to see the whole country in a limited amount of time. Don’t try to accomplish too much in one day. Pair your travel day with a relaxing dinner or a beach chair, that way you’ll be charged up to enjoy your next day. You are on vacation, right?

 

One-Week Itinerary for Costa Rica

 

Day 5: Zip-line adventure and sunset dinner

Zip-line Tour: Arrange a zip-line excursion through your hotel or contact the office directly. These tours will pick you up, give you a ride into the countryside, feed you breakfast or lunch, and outfit you for a great zip-lining adventure.

Visit Quepos: After you’ve flown through the trees, ask the tour operator to drop you off on solid ground in Quepos (the small city next to Manuel Antonio). In Quepos, browse local shops and the outdoor market near the seawall or grab a cup of coffee at one of the many sodas (small restaurants) in town. You can easily catch the bus back to Manuel Antonio when you’re done at the central bus terminal ($0.60).

Dinner: For dinner, ride out to Ronnie’s Place. Ronnie’s Place is located on a narrow peninsula between Quepos and Manuel Antonio. It’s a wonderful restaurant with a spectacular sunset view. Get there early and grab a table outside for the best view. Tip: You might want to take a taxi to Ronnie’s Place; the road is rough and the cocktails are strong.

For more restaurant recommendations in Manuel Antonio, check out our Manuel Antonio Trip Planning guide.

 

One-Week Itinerary for Costa Rica

 

Day 6: Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park is Costa Rica’s most visited park and for good reason. Here you can easily see monkeys, sloths, birds, and butterflies. As an added benefit, there are beautiful beaches for swimming and picnicking. Be sure to get there early, though; not only will you have a better chance to see wildlife, but you will beat the crowds.

After the park, grab lunch at one of the restaurants along the beach, and spend the last full day of your vacation splashing in the waves on Playa Espadilla.

Tip: These adventures may have you hitting the snooze button at 9 a.m., but remember, birds and animals get up with the sun. To increase your wildlife sightings, get some coffee and hit the trail early; you’ll be happy you did.

 

White Faced Monkey | A One-Week Itinerary for Costa Rica
White-faced Capuchin Monkey

 

Day 7: Back to reality

Hopefully your trip was a success and you can reminisce about the wonderful sights, generous people, and extraordinary environment you experienced while you travel back to San José. A one-week vacation surely isn’t enough, so when you book your next trip, make sure you read our blog, Costa Rica: Your Two-Week Itinerary. ¡Pura vida!

Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries Book

Are you back?

What was your favorite part of the trip? Was a week long enough for the relaxing pura vida vibe to set in? We’d love to hear about your experience! Please leave a comment below.

Post by: Jennifer Turnbull-Houde & Matthew Houde

 

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218 Comments

  1. Hi,
    Me and my husband are planning a week’s trip to Costa Rica in December. We were thinking of spending a day in Monteverde (on our way from Arenal to Manuel Antonio). Is it worth visiting?

    1. Hi Ankita, Monteverde is an interesting place to visit because it is the cloud forest and the climate is so much different, but you need more than a day there. It is a little difficult to get to due to rough roads so you would want to devote at least two nights. If you’re only visiting Costa Rica for a week, better to spend your time in Arenal and Manuel Antonio and save Monteverde for another visit.

        1. Hi Renae, Yes, the week between Christmas and New Years is the busiest time of the year in general, especially at the beach towns. A lot of the locals have time off then and many foreigners visit too so hotels are usually completely full. It is a busy time but fun too as it’s very festive. There are places in the mountains and some smaller beach communities that aren’t as bad, but you have to know where to go. Maybe plan your trip for another week if you can. Or if you want, we can help you figure out where might be a little less crowded through our Itinerary Service (more info here).

    2. Hello,
      We are staying for one week in a rented house in Calle Hermosa, Playa Hermosa Puntarenas, Costa Rica.

      Which park would you recommend a day trip to for a couple in their 60s?

  2. Question – you only mentioned one or two hotels when you first arrive. Do you have other recommendations? Even more, if there is a place we should stay for a few days while taking day trips, please enlighten me!!!

    Thanks!!!!

    1. Hi Loni, We recently wrote a whole blog post about good places to stay near SJO airport. Here’s the link: https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/hotels-near-sjo/. For hotels that are good to do day trips from, there’s Hotel Buena Vista, Villas San Ignacio, and Tacacori Ecolodge, which are all fairly close to Poas Volcano and the Doka coffee tour. If you wanted to explore some of the attractions in downtown San Jose like the National Theater or museums, Hotel Aranjuez is a good choice. It’s within walking distance or a short cab to everything but is in a really nice, quiet area of the city.

      1. The hotels you mention are by San Jose. If you want to do the week above, don’t you have to stay in a hotel more centrally located? Also is there a way to squeeze one day on the beach in there?

        Thanks.

        1. Hi Marina, I’m not sure I understand your question. The best way to do the itinerary we have laid out above is to stay at each of the different locations (La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio). It is too far from San Jose to visit these towns on day trips.

  3. This blog was great to read! I’m planning a last minute trip to Costa Rica for a week flying in and out of Liberia. Would you change a week’s itinerary starting from there? Would you add in Playa Hermosa or anywhere else? I’ve just starting researching today and would love to hear your suggestions! Thanks!

    1. Hi Kris, For an itinerary out of Liberia, we would definitely change it up some. We’d still recommend La Fortuna, but would maybe add one of the beaches in Guanacaste like Tamarindo, Playa Grande, Playa Flamingo, Playa Hermosa, or Samara. For more info, you could take a look at our Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries book and modify the Guanacaste Beaches itinerary by adding in La Fortuna or Monteverde if you’d rather see the cloud forest. The book gives more detail about the different beach destinations in Guanacaste (Tamarindo vs. Samara, etc.) and info to help you decide between La Fortuna and Monteverde. We also have more info on our website if you click on the links above.

  4. Hi,
    I have a few questions 🙂
    My boyfriend and I will be in CR in next month (January 2016). We will spend 2 days in La Fortuna (arenal) area, 2 days in Manuel Antonio, and 1 day in San Jose. We will have a rental car.

    1. We really want to try to do a whitewater rafting tour while we are there. Where do you recommend we do that- La Fortuna or Manuel Antonio?

    2. Can we hike in Arenal National Park and Manuel Antonio National Park without a tour guide? Should we pay for a tour or can we just drive ourselves and explore/ hike?

    3. What free hot springs do you recommend in La Fortuna?

    4. We will only be in San Jose 1 day – what are some must-see options we could explore? Do you know of any local breweries that might be neat to check out?

    1. Hi Lidia, Here are some thoughts on your questions.
      (1) For whether to raft in La Fortuna or Manuel Antonio, check out this thread on our website. It was a dry rainy season this past year so rafting still might be better out of La Fortuna, even in Jan.
      (2) You can definitely hike both parks on your own without a guide. Just drive yourselves and then pay admission. If you decide to get a guide, they’re always lined up outside the park entrance in MA and for Arenal Volcano, you could ask your hotel for a recommendation. A guide can be nice to have, at least for your first tours in Costa Rica, because they know a ton about the local flora and fauna.
      (3) The free hot springs are right across the street from the Tabacon Resort. Look for the yellow gate on the right (coming from downtown La Fortuna) and walk along the paved way. Make sure to change into your bathing suit in advance because there are no facilities. More info on what to see and do in La Fortuna here.
      (4) Check out our post, How to Spend 1 or 2 Days in San Jose, Costa Rica, for ideas. The only brewery we can think of that you can visit is Costa Rica Craft Brewing Co., but there’s a little outside San Jose in Ciudad Colon. You could always just go to one of the brew pubs in downtown, like Stiefel Pub.

  5. Hi,
    Me and my husband are planning for Costa Rica trip with my 3 year old daughter end of March 2016. I liked your itinerary a lot. I think i will be following it. Do you think we can do all the things that you have mentioned with a 3 year old? Is Costa Rica kid friendly? I am really worried about mosquitoes (Malaria and dengue to be specific).
    Thanks

    1. Hi Vidhisha, Costa Rica is a great destination for kids and a very popular destination among families. If you follow this itinerary, you should be able to do all of the things we mention, except maybe ziplining, which is better for older kids. We actually have a family-specific itinerary in our Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries book that includes some other things to do with kids in Manuel Antonio and La Fortuna that we don’t include in this more generic itinerary. You can find the book on Amazon here.

      Don’t worry too much about mosquitos. They really aren’t that bad in March because it’s the dry season. Malaria is more or less unheard of here and although there is dengue, it isn’t too common in the towns we included in this itinerary, especially in March. Mosquitos are the worst during the rainy season. Definitely bring some bug spray though just to be on the safe side. We have some recommendations for kinds that work well in our blog post about Packing so be sure to check that out: https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/packing-for-costa-rica/.

    1. Hi Tali, We have a few different recommendations for places to stay in Manuel Antonio in our blog post Manuel Antonio Trip Planning so take a look at that first. If those are booked, just let us know if you need some more ideas. And yes, there is definitely enough to do to spend 4 days (or even more) in MA. We visited for a week when we first came to Costa Rica and never got bored. Not sure if you’ve seen it, but we have a post that gives a few more activities in the area- 7 Off the Beaten Path Things to Do Near Manuel Antonio.

  6. Thank you Jenn and Matt for such a wonderful CR blog! My husband and I will be visiting in January 2016 for a 10day/9 night trip to CR. We will land and head straight to Monteverde for 4 nights. Take the taxi-boat-taxi transfer to Arenal. Arenal for 3 nights. Than white water rafting on Pacuare for 2days/ 1 night. And spend the last night in San Jose, flying out next morning at 1:30.
    Among the places we are visiting, I would love to hear your recommendation for the best coffee plantation/tour. Also, should we zipline in monteverde or arenal? and with which tour company you would recommend.
    Also, should we try to take a day tour to Rio Celeste? Any other places we should squeeze into our itinerary?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Kay, Your itinerary looks good for a 10 day trip. It’ll be a little busy (we wouldn’t try to fit in anything else) but you should still have time to relax and enjoy. The best place for a coffee tour out of the places you’ll be visiting is probably Monteverde. El Cafetal is a smaller, organic grower that we recommend. There’s also Don Juan, which is a bigger, more commercial tour but still really fun. Zip lining is excellent in both Monteverde and Arenal but if we had to pick, we’d go with Monteverde because it’s really cool to zip line through the cloud forest. Rio Celeste is awesome (one of our favorite waterfalls in CR) but if you only have 3 days in Arenal, you might want to stick around there and check out the sights because Rio Celeste is pretty far away and would take an entire day to visit.

      1. Thank you for your suggestions! We will plan to visit El Cafetal and do ziplining in Monteverde. We will save Rio Celeste for next time!

        We have one full day free in Monteverde. Would you be so kind as to suggest what other activity we can do that day. We would hate to miss seeing something unique to MV and who knows if we are lucky enough to be able to return to MV. Below is our itinerary:

        Day 1- Arrive Monteverde around 1pm noon. Guided tour through the Monteverde Reserve.
        Day2- Ziplining and a guided Night tour through the Monteverde Reserve.
        Day 3- ???? EMPTY ????
        Day 4- Visit El Cafetal in AM. Depart at 2pm for taxi-boat-taxi transfer to Arenal. Visit a hot springs 6-10 pm.

        Thank you again!

        1. We really liked the hanging bridges at Selvatura so you could do that for part of your free day. Just make sure to get there early because it can get busy. If you need more ideas, we have lots more in our book, Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries. The Best of Costa Rica chapter includes Monteverde and La Fortuna and there are other chapters with activities in Monteverde as well.

          1. Hi Greg, We recently started booking tours for people traveling to Costa Rica so if you would like any help with your Monteverde activities, just let us know. You can send us an email with your trip details and the tours you’re interested in to bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)com and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

          2. Great. Thank you. Just have to narrow down exactly where we want to go and do? Thinking, Arenal>>Monteverde and then a beach for our 9 day trip. My 15 old likes Samara. For rental car, will my google maps on my AT&T phone work or should I get a gps?

          3. Hi Greg, That’s a good itinerary for 9 days. I wouldn’t try to do much more. Samara is a good spot for families and your 15 year old will have plenty to do.

            Google Maps is pretty good here, but sometimes it will try to take you a way that is shorter by distance but actually takes longer because of poor roads (a good example of this is Monteverde, which has a few different ways to get there). It’s fine to use, though, as long as you have your routes figured out in advance. We have a couple of posts that can help you map out your routes: Driving Conditions on Different Routes in CR and Driving to Monteverde.

  7. Hi! My husband and I are going to CR in February for 8 days. We’re super exited and want to try to do a lot. After reading many of the comments here… we might have to cut down our itinerary a bit so we can have resting time.

    This was our tentative schedule for 1 wk:
    SJO -> La Fortuna/Arenal -> Tenorio/Rio Celeste -> Playa Grande/Tamarindo -> Playa Samara -> Montezuma Beach -> Manuel Antonio -> Uvita -> Pacuare River -> SJO

    phew… yes a lot! Our main goals are to explore volcano areas, see waterfalls and hot springs, snorkel, see whales (really hope to!), do white water rafting and if there’s time, chocolate tour.

    How would you recommend us to adjust our itinerary and still get to experience most of what we’re going for?
    Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Daniela, Yes, you definitely need to cut your itinerary down or you’ll spend all of your vacation driving around! One important thing to keep in mind is that it often takes a long time to get from place to place because of road conditions and mountainous terrain. With that in mind, we’d suggest cutting back to 3 destinations so that you have 2-3 days in each place. This will still be a lot but is doable. For what’s on your must-see list, maybe go with La Fortuna (volcanoes, waterfalls, hot springs, chocolate tour, rafting), Uvita/Dominical (whales- make sure to read our post about whale watching; snorkeling, waterfalls), and either Tenorio/Rio Celeste (after La Fortuna) OR Manuel Antonio (before Uvita) OR Pacuare (beginning or end of trip). Hard to know exactly what is best for your third destination without knowing more but we hope that gives you some direction. Good luck planning!

  8. Thanks for the article, the itinerary sounds great! My friend and I are both 17 and we’re hoping to go to CR over March break this year. We’re worried about whether hotels and tour companies will let us book stuff since we’re not 18 yet. Do you know which hotels and tour companies (if any) would let us stay by ourselves? We could have our parents sign waivers and the like before we leave if need be.

    1. Hi Shoshana, We can’t imagine anyone would ask how old you are assuming you both don’t look super young. There aren’t any laws or anything about how old you have to be to travel in CR so we guess it would be up to the discretion of the hotel if they said anything (Don’t worry at all about booking tours). They will ask for your passport, which says your age, so if someone makes an issue of it, it might help to have something from your parents saying you had permission. We really wouldn’t worry about it though; it’s not likely to be an issue.

  9. Hello! We are three girls and we are planning to go to costa rica in february for 5 full days and 5 nights. We would like to visit at least two national parks (Arenal, Monteverde or Manuel Antonio), definetely try zip-lining in one of them and then for two days just relax at some beautiful beach and do snorkeling. Which places would you recommend? It is necessary to rent a car or its comfortable also to use public transport? Thank you very much for your answer. Adela

    1. Hi Adela, With 5 nights, plan on going to just 2 destinations. You could do 3 nights in the La Fortuna area to visit Arenal for the national park and zip lining and the remaining 2 nights in Manuel Antonio for beach time, snorkeling, etc. Public transportation between these places is totally doable but it will take a lot more time because there isn’t a direct bus connecting these towns. To make the most of your 5 days, it probably makes more sense to take a shuttle or rent a car. You could always get something economical like a regular sedan because you don’t four wheel drive to visit these locations. If you rent a car, make sure to check out our rental car discount to save some money.

  10. It is nice to see an up-to-date site with such great advice! My husband and I and our 2 sons (9 and 6) will be flying into Costa Rica for Thanksgiving week (8 days). I read that November is the tail end of the low season for tourism. Are there many American travelers this week making this a busy time? We usually like traveling more low key than touristy areas. We also enjoy a non-rushed vacation but love to be active (hiking, swimming) the entire time. I am interested in nature, beaches, cloud forest and volcano but it seems like a lot. And we have rented a 4-wheel drive SUV. Do you have any suggestions for us? Thanks!!!

    1. Hi Margie, Thanksgiving week is a little busy for the low season but nothing compared to the true high season so it will be a good time for your family to visit. With 8 days if you don’t want to be too rushed, we’d recommend sticking to 2 destinations. If you’re looking for somewhere less touristy, you could check out Dominical/Uvita south of Manuel Antonio for hiking, beautiful beaches, etc. and then spend a couple of days in San Gerardo de Dota to see cloud forest on your way back to the San Jose airport. If you need more ideas, you could check out our book Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries or use our itinerary service.

  11. Hi Jenn and Matt,
    My apologies in advance if you have already answered this question. I originally stumbled across your article Costa Rica in two weeks and was overwhelmed since I would be staying for a week only, and couldn’t decide what attractions to pick. So THANK YOU so much for the Costa Rica in one week itinerary. I am traveling the first week of February with my boyfriend and we plan on renting a 4×4. I am hearing that the roads are not the safest and the street signs are not always visible. Would you suggest making any of the long drives at night or should we limit driving to the daylight hours? For example we would prefer to leave Arenal Volcano around 6pm or 7 pm to head to Manuel Antonio to have the whole next day there, but we are not sure how safe this idea would be? Do you have any suggestions? Thanks in advance for your time.

    1. Hi Elise, We know it’s tough trying to fit in everything you want to do in one week, but don’t recommend driving long distances after dark to save time for the reasons you stated. The roads are often windy and visibility can be poor at night because of fog and rain (this is true of the route between La Fortuna & Manuel Antonio). We avoid driving at night when possible, even on roads we know well, so we always recommend that visitors who aren’t familiar with the terrain stick to driving during the day. Definitely get a GPS through the rental company or use an app on your smartphone with a maps feature too to avoid getting lost, even during the day, because signage isn’t great- the Waze app works really well here.

  12. Hi Jenn & Matt,

    Your blog is wonderful! My boyfriend and I are going to CR next week for Envision Festival and have a few days (we’re leaving the festival late on Sun, 2/28 & our flight leaves on Thurs afternoon) after the festival to explore, but are a little overwhelmed by our options. Which destinations would you recommend for the remainder of our trip? We will be taking public transportation or taxis.

    1. Hi Danielle, That’s cool that you’re coming to Envision. It has been getting very busy around town with people arriving for the festival. With a few days after your time in Uvita, I wouldn’t try and go too far. Public buses are great but it does take a little while to get around. Take a look at: Manuel Antonio (more touristy but still one of our favorite places because it has a lot to do and has great beaches and restaurants); Jaco (developed beach town that’s really fun and has a lot of excellent restaurants); or Montezuma (chill beach town with a bohemian vibe that’s a lot smaller but still has a lot to do like hiking, waterfalls, etc.). MA and Jaco aren’t too far by bus. Montezuma is a little farther- I think you would take a bus to Puntarenas, then the ferry across the gulf, so it would be a longer trip, but you would probably really enjoy it.

  13. You guys are so incredible!! What a helpful article! My husband and I, along with our baby and a few other adult family members will be visiting CR in July (most likely the 15-24th). Planning to fly into Liberia airport. We are trying to keep the budget low while still making the most of our experience. My husband wants to try surfing and we would like to stay on/near a nice beach for part of the time. Otherwise, we are looking for the zip lines, volcanoes, nature, typical amazing CR attractions. My main concern is figuring out where to stay for each leg. We don’t feel comfortable renting a car so something that would be easiest logistically would be ideal. Any suggestions would be so appreciated!!

    1. Hi Andi, If you don’t want to drive, it will probably make the most sense to arrange for a private shuttle since you have a large group. The shared shuttles will cost about the same or maybe more for a large group so you might as well get a private one to get between the airport and your destinations. As for which destinations to pick, places that are more concentrated with hotels, restaurants, and things to do would be easiest so that you don’t need a vehicle. Take a look at our Best Beach Towns in Costa Rica to Visit Without a Car post- Tamarindo would be a good option for beach time/surfing if you’re flying into Liberia. You might also want to look at the Rincon de la Vieja area, which has volcanoes, nature, zip lining, etc. Rincon is a little harder to get around without a car but you could stay at a resort/hotel that would arrange transport for your tours.

  14. Hi there

    My boyfriend and I are planning a trip to Costa Rica this coming Thanksgiving (hoping to spend 8-9 days). I am not sure where we will fly in yet but I am hoping to check out La Fortuna for volcanoes, waterfalls and hot springs and then head somewhere on the Pacific coast for beach time. I’d like to explore somewhere a bit off the beaten path that will still be do-able potentially without a car and have decent weather in late November. I’m completely up in the air and debating between somewhere on northern coast near Taramindo vs Samara vs central coast/Manuel Antonio vs more south with Domincal/Uvita. Any thoughts you have are much appreciated! Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Carla, If you want something more off-the-beaten path, Samara is a good option. It should have decent weather in late Nov. since it’s up on the Nicoya Peninsula, which is typically drier, and is a good option without a car since the main area of town is more concentrated. Manuel Antonio is also good if you don’t have a car. It’s usually more touristy, but won’t be as busy since it won’t be high season yet so that’s another good option. We’re partial to Dominical/Uvita, but it’s definitely better to have a car there so that will help you narrow things down. We have a post about good beach towns to visit without a car that might be helpful too: https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/costa-rica-without-car/. Hope that helps. If it makes you feel better, all of those places are great destinations so you can’t really go wrong!

  15. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    My boyfriend and I (mid-20s) are planning a really last minute vacation to Costa Rica (end of March-beginning of April). We haven’t booked anything yet but it’s looking like an 8 day trip, excluding our travel day back home. So far my proposed itinerary looks something like:

    Days 1-3: Arrive at LIR, stay somewhere in Guanacaste
    Days 4-5: La Fortuna/ Arenal Volcano
    Days 6-7: Manuel Antonio
    Day 8: San Jose
    Day 9: Fly back home from SJO

    He’s been really busy with work for the past year and half, so we haven’t been able to go on a vacation until now. We’re really just hoping to RELAX, eat good food, and enjoy [lots of] drinks at some beautiful beaches. Thank goodness I found your website because you’ve made planning this trip tremendously less confusing! I’m just wondering if it’s any stressful to rent a car to get from area to area or would it be much easier to just sit back in a shuttle? Also, is it worth making a trip to Santa Teresa in addition to or even instead of Manuel Antonio (again, we’re really just trying to relax at the beach and enjoy the scenery… not really trying to do anything adventurous outside of Arenal)?

    Thanks again for your wonderful website! I really appreciate it.

    Best,
    Stephanie

    1. Hi Stephanie, Your itinerary looks good. It’ll be a little busy if you want to relax but not too bad. One idea we had is to head from the airport in Liberia right to Mal Pais and skip another destination in Guanacaste. Mal Pais is a really nice spot for relaxing- it has beautiful beaches, lots of awesome restaurants, and a chill scene. Then you could take the ferry or speedboat to get to Manuel Antonio and end in La Fortuna before flying out of SJO. We usually recommend a car because it gives you more freedom and will also save a lot of time as the shuttles make a lot of stops to drop people off at hotels. Driving between major destinations isn’t too bad- the drive to Mal Pais is more of an adventure because of the dirt roads, but it’s totally fine in a 4×4. We have a whole post on what it’s like to drive here that you might want to check out: https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/driving-costa-rica/.

  16. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    Your site is a huge gift to us planners for our first trip to Costa Rica. Thank you for taking the time to give such detailed info.

    A friend and I are planning our 10 day trip. We get in April 8th and fly into San Jose and out of Liberia. With flights though, its more like 8.5-9 days. 🙂 Here’s what I was thinking and I would love your input. Overall, looking for a relaxing trip but with some hiking and ziplining. On the relaxation front, a beach day and definitely a hot springs spa day. Here’s where my head is now and would love your feedback.

    Day 1: Fly in from San Jose. Arrive at 3:30pm. (Stay in Alajuela overnight)
    Day 2: Drive to Manuel Antonio. (Nature park, sightsee).
    Day 3: Manuel Antonio day/night. (Beach day and enjoy the city)
    Day 4: Drive to La Fortuna. (Hike to see Fortuna waterfall)
    Day 5: La Fortuna day/night. Hiking around Arenal volcano. Hot springs afternoon.
    Day 6: La Fortuna day/night. Arenal ziplining.
    Day 7: Debating on making this a Monteverde day. Cloud forest. Is this too far away from La Fortuna to make this an overnight stay or can we drive from our stay in La Fortuna? Is Monteverde a must do, or with La Fortuna/Arenal it is skippable?
    Day 8: You mentioned both Samara and Mal Pais in threads above. I’m thinking of choosing one of these as a final stop before we leave out of Liberia. Are either worth two days or should I extend one of the stops before this by another day?
    Day 9: Samara or Mal Pais day/night
    Day 10: Fly out of Liberia at 4pm.

    1. Hi Ryan, We wish there was more time because you seem like the perfect candidate for our itinerary review service. Since your trip is coming up fast, we’ll give you a couple of ideas here. We’d recommend doing either Monteverde or Samara/Mal Pais for your 3rd destination because you only have 10 days. Otherwise, you’ll be driving around too much. Any of the three destinations is doable and it really depends on if you want more beach time or to see the cloud forest, which is very different from Arenal/La Fortuna. If you decide on Monteverde, you would want a minimum of 2 nights because it is a long drive. If you decide on beach time instead, Mal Pais is a long drive from La Fortuna and Liberia so Samara might make more sense. Good luck with the rest of your planning!

  17. Hi. Love all your great suggestions. Hoping you can give us a recommendation, too. We have similar into S.J. out of Liberia, but only a week. Timing is last week of May – first week of June, so rainy season. General itineraries considering are: (a) SJ to Arenal to Monteverde to a Guanacaste beach; or (b) SJ to Manuel Antonio park and beach, then Monteverde and Arenal and out of Liberia. Family of 4 with teen boys. Ideally would see volcanoes, see the cloud forest, do a canopy tour, maybe swim in a waterfall hole, relax on beaches with nice beachfront hotel or condo in area safe for body surfing or beginner surfing but not so protected it is without waves. Not super interested in driving or walking to a beach, especially one without beach chairs and towels and bathrooms. Probably would rent our own 4WD. Not sure what’s best in this season itinerary wise or what’s a great beach spot for us to hang for at least 2 beach days. Want to minimize drive time, too, unless it’s for a can’t miss.

    1. Hi Kerr, Don’t go with option b because you won’t have enough time in one week. You would be backtracking going from Arenal and then back to Liberia after and driving a lot. Option a will be very busy with 3 stops since it takes some time to get from Arenal to Monteverde. For what you want to do, you could skip La Fortuna and just head right to Monteverde. Arenal Volcano might be clouded over that time of year anyway. Guanacaste is the best place for the type of beach experience you want- it has more places to stay right on the beach (not so much in Manuel Antonio). Guanacaste and Monteverde are both good places in late May (Monteverde will be rainy but it’s the cloud forest so it’s all part of the experience).

  18. So helpful! Thank you, Jenn and Matt. We will rule out Manuel Antonio and consider Monteverde without Arenal — good thought, especially since we could maybe pop over to see Poas volcano near San Jose if we wanted to see a volcano. A follow-up question for you: what about staying one night near airport and then flying from San Jose to Puerto Jimenez in the morning for 3-4 nights at an ecolodge in Cabo Matapalo and then fly back to San Jose for drive to Monteverde and then get to Liberia? Would that ecolodge in Cabo Matapalo be a rainy jungle experience that would make me want to do a beach afterward, or would I be glad to do Monteverde afterward? Or is Oso Penninsula horrible in early June?

    1. Hi again Kerry, It sounds like you might need more in-depth help. If you do, definitely check out our Itinerary Help page. We offer services where we could get it all straightened out for you. If you do decide to stay near the airport, you might want to read our post with recommendations for good places to stay, including one option that’s not too far from Poas.

  19. Hi there, this link has been very helpful. We are planning a trip in January for just my husband and I. This will be our first trip to Costa Rica. Rafting on the Pacuare River is my number one on the list. We are flying in and out of Liberia and would like to see the Arenal Volcano and do some hiking and stay at the hot springs but would also like to have a couple days at a beautiful beach and do some snorkeling and kayaking. I wanted to go to Monteverde as well but after reading this thread and doing some research I see that we may not have the time. With all the driving do you suggest renting a 4 wheel drive? and what beach do you suggest for us and what order? thanks!!!

    1. Hi Kat, Whether you need 4×4 really depends on exactly where you end up going so that’s a hard question to answer without knowing if Monteverde is still in the mix and which beach you’re going to. Costa Rica has tons of awesome beaches to choose from, all with a different feel in terms of how developed they are, activities available, etc. We have a post that you should check out about beaches. It’s actually about the best beaches to visit without a car but will be a good starting place for getting a feel for the different options. Here’s the link. It’s possible to fit in almost everything you want in a week as long as you’re strategic. If you want more detailed help with the logistics, we offer trip planning services. There’s more info here. Good luck with the planning!

  20. hi guys sounds like you guys smashed it!
    me and my partner were thinking about Costa Rica this coming Christmas & New Year’s – we are in our mid 20s, energetic and like both adventure (wildlife, sports, etc) and chilling on a beach.
    We are thinking 8-10 days, do you have a recommended schedule or general ideas for us? one thing we would love to do is hire a 4×4 and drive around for sure! any help would be appreciated, if easier to talk offline can do this also. thank you!

    1. Hi Ravi, That’s awesome that you’re thinking about a trip to CR this December/Jan. There are tons of different options for an 8-10 day adventure/beach trip. One thing to keep in mind is that it will be very busy in Costa Rica that time of year because of the holidays (this is the peak travel season). So if you want to avoid the crowds, it is best to avoid the most popular destinations like Manuel Antonio, Tamarindo, Jaco, etc. We have several different suggested itineraries in our book, Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries, including one adventure itinerary, so that would be a good place to start. Or if you would like more customized help, contact us through our Itinerary Services page and we can get started. Either way, don’t wait too long to make your bookings. Hotels book up fast for this time of year.

  21. Hi guys. I’ve found so much helpful information in your posts. We are coming in June, rainy season. Do you recommend a 4 wheel drive vehicle or will any car do? Just to give you an idea of where we’ll be driving….SJO to Marriott Los Suenos, Manuel Antonio, Arenal Volcano, Jaco.

    On our initial drive from SJO to the Marriott Los Suenos, are there any places we just have to stop and see? Any recommendations on a place to stop for lunch on the route or to stop and buy provisions.

    1. Hi Laurie, 4×4 is always nice to have in Costa Rica if you want to do some exploring but you don’t need it for those destinations (unless you’re staying somewhere in Arenal that requires it- a few of the hotels there do). Make sure to check out our rental car discount as you’re shopping around. We get a discount for our clients through one of the major companies in Costa Rica. Here’s the link: https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/costa-rica-rental-car-discount/

      Coming from San Jose to Los Suenos, there are some big fruit stands off the highway where you could stop for some local fruit. When you get closer to Los Suenos, there’s also the Tarcoles River bridge known for its huge crocodiles.

      There aren’t a ton of good lunch spots on the way, but Pelican Restaurant is on Playa Herradura when you get there. For provisions, Jimmy T’s right at Los Suenos has stuff or the big Auto Mercado grocery store that you’ll pass on the way to the resort.

  22. So glad I stumbled upon this website! I was feeling overwhelmed with the options and this has definitely provided some direction. My friend and I are traveling into SJO Late July/early August and will be spending about 7 nights in CR. We are using Marriott points for 5 nights of the stay, so we have narrowed the beach options down to Punta Islita, Guanacaste, or Jaco. For the first two nights we are thinking either La Fortuna OR Manuel Antonio area, then spend the rest of the time at whichever beach resort we choose. We are planning on renting a car, so day trips (including excursions like zip lining) from these locations would be doable.

    Do you have any opinions on what the best combination of these options might be ? If we were to stay in Jaco (which is more centrally located from SJO), would day trips to the Manuel Antonio area be doable if we wanted? I think we are leaning toward Jaco to limit the driving but a little worried that the town is too touristy. However, if we do La Fortuna for a couple nights and take day trips, maybe that will balance out?

    Thanks in advance for any advice you can provide!

    1. Hi Katie, Punta Islita and Guanacaste are quite far from San Jose. You could take a small plane to save time, otherwise we would say definitely do Jaco. Jaco is touristy but there are more off-the-beaten path things to do in the area since you’ll have a car. Read our Jaco post for ideas. Manuel Antonio is about 1.5 hrs from Jaco so you can easily do day trips if you want. Keep in mind that it is pretty touristy too (we still love it just not during certain times of year like Christmas when it’s really busy). We have activity suggestions in our Manuel Antonio Trip Planning post and our Off-the-Beaten Path Manuel Antonio post. With a week, that would be our suggestion unless you can up La Fortuna to 3 nights. Hope that helps, we know it is overwhelming with all the choices!

  23. Looking for some itinerary planning tips! My husband and I are planning a trip to Costa Rica for summer of 2017. Our son will be about 1.5 years old at that time. Would love if you had any suggestions on how to spread out our time and see as much as possible with a little one with us. Monteverde looks amazing! Appreciate any tips you may have!

    1. Hi Kelly, Congrats on your upcoming trip! CR is a great place for little kids. We have a 7 month old and it is getting more and more fun to travel with him. First off, you should read our Traveling with a Baby in Costa Rica and Baby Packing List posts. There are some good tips in there for what to expect at hotels/restaurants, what to wear at the beach/pool/hiking, etc.

      For itinerary ideas, we’re going to be coming out with family travel posts in this near future. You might want to subscribe to our blog (click here to sign up for free) so that you get an email with our weekly posts. In the meantime, we have a family itinerary in our guidebook, Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries, that might give you some ideas. That has recommendations for destinations that are good for little ones (aren’t too far away from eachother to limit driving; has kid-friendly places to stay and things to do, etc.). Monteverde isn’t one of the places we suggest, but it is also a great one for kids. We just came out with a hotel guide for Monteverde and will have a complete destination guide our shortly, so keep an eye out!

  24. Hi!
    This was a wonderful read and a big help. I’m planning my first trip (ever) to Costa Rica, for 6 1/2 days in November. I know its going to be really tight and we will have to make sacrifices on everything we want to see.
    I know this is extremely variable, but do you have a recommendation for a ‘bare essentials’ daily budget? Public transport, cheap (but safe, we’re not picky in the slightest) accommodation and food?
    Thank you for this wonderful resource!

    1. Hi Linda, In general, you can expect to spend around $75 a day if you stay at a budget hotel, eat mostly at sodas (local restaurants serving typical Costa Rican food), and take the public bus. More popular destinations may be a little more. We have a whole guide on what to expect for the different categories like lodging, etc. that you should check out too: Cost of Traveling in Costa Rica. Hope that helps you figure out what to budget!

  25. Hi Jenn & Matt! Thank you so much for sharing your experience in Costa Rica. My boyfriend and I are planning a trip there to Central America for next spring but we might only be in Costa Rica for 4-5 days. Do you have any suggestions for some must-see stops for us? Or maybe some things you would cut out of this itinerary to make it work for a shorter trip?
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Riana, With 4-5 days, maybe prioritize if you want to do the beach or mountains based on where else you’ll be visiting in Central America. For beaches (a highlight in CR), you could go to Manuel Antonio like we suggest in this post and then if you have time spend a night or two near Poas Volcano before flying out of San Jose to get in a little time in the mountains. For mountains, you could go to La Fortuna for the volcano and hot springs, then maybe hit up the Rio Celeste Waterfall (beautiful bright blue waterfall) or the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Lots of choices but those are some ideas to get you started.

  26. Hi Jenn and Matt,
    Thanks for all your really helpful tips! I have used your website so much in all of my planning.
    I was looking for some tips on visiting coffee farms in Costa Rica and if you had any favourites? We are arriving early November and staying two night in San Jose before heading to Manuel Antonio.
    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Laura, We really liked the El Toledo coffee tour in Atenas. It’s very authentic and takes place at the family’s farm – beautiful setting, in the rural mountains. They are really passionate about organic coffee farming and you get to see the entire process of how coffee is made from bean to cup. That wouldn’t be too far off the highway for you guys on your way to Manuel Antonio. There’s also the Cafe Britt tour near San Jose. This one is more commercial but great too. They do a coffee-tasting demonstration and there’s a fun theatrical element that covers the history of the coffee industry in Costa Rica. It isn’t a working farm (they get their coffee from co-ops all around CR), but they do have a small coffee field you can walk through.

  27. Hi Jenn and Matt, last year I set out to see at least 5 countries a year. I’ve seen 3 so far and Costa Rica is next for me, but until now, I have been unable to find resources that would really help me plan. I am grateful to find your blog and use it for my October trip.

    I always try to see as much as I can in every country I visit, so I am going to try your itinerary for 2 days each in San Jose, Manuel Antonio, Arenal and perhaps Samara.

    Thank You!

    1. Hi Candice, That’s a really cool goal to see that many countries in one year, good for you. And that’s great that you are finding our site helpful for your planning. We’re always happy to hear that. Make sure to check out our new Samara guide if you haven’t already. We just revisited so the info is all really current. Hope you have a wonderful visit in October!

  28. Hi Jenn, my friend and I are planning a trip to Costa Rica 8/21-8/28. We are flying into San Jose. We will make a stop in Jaco, at some point, to visit another friend. Other than that, our schedule is open and we are in the process of making an itinerary. We are both adventurous backpackers who are okay with hostels. We want to make the most of this trip so I was wondering if you had some suggestions of places to go along the way. We want to do lots of hiking, a zip line, snorkel one day and see some beautiful waterfalls and hot springs. We are huge nature freaks and love the sights so that is the most important thing we are looking for. Thanks for the help!

    1. Hi Lexie, Sorry we weren’t able to get back to you in time for your trip. It usually takes us about a week or so to catch up on comments. Hope you figured out a good itinerary and are loving Costa Rica!

      1. Sorry Jenn! We are leaving September 21-28 🙂 my mistake, I still have time for some suggestions! Thank you! P.S. we also like hostels so we are open to suggestions on any good ones!

          1. Hi Lexie, In that case, I think you guys would really like the Southern Nicoya Peninsula. There are a couple of cute little beach towns that are great for backpackers and draw a lot of young people – Montezuma and Santa Teresa. They’re both easy to get to by bus from San Jose and then you can take the speedboat straight to Jaco after. Off-the-beaten-path feeling but with great restaurants, beaches, zip-lining, waterfalls (in Montezuma), etc. You can read our posts about each of them here – Montezuma: A Bohemian Beach Town and Road Trip to Mal Pais. Montezuma has some hostels right in town; a good one is Downtown Montezuma Hostel. Santa Teresa has quite a few too. One we know of that people really like is Hostel Dos Monos.

            A really cool hostel in Jaco that you should check out is Room 2 Board. It’s new, very modern, close to the beach, and has a rooftop that you can access. Hope you and your friends have an awesome trip!

  29. Hello! This blog is amazing! My husband and I plan on staying a week in CR. 2 day in San Jose and 5 in LaFortuna. Im concerned about late November’s weather. I keep reading different things.

    Please help!

    1. Hi Ty and Lindsey, The weather in Costa Rica is confusing because it differs so much depending on where you are in the country so that’s part of the reason you’re reading conflicting information. Late November is a transition period throughout much of the country, from rainy to dry season. It differs by year, but San Jose will likely have nice mornings with some rain in the afternoon or evening. La Fortuna has slightly different weather and will probably be a mix of sun and rain with maybe a little more rain. It usually just rains for a couple of hours at a time though so try not to worry. We have more info in our Weather in Costa Rica post and Why You Should Visit Costa Rica in the Rainy Season post (lots of good info in the comments too).

  30. Hi, I enjoyed reading your blog.
    My friend and I are going to Costa Rica in the end of October. We will Spend 5 full days there. The package we got is for a hotel in San Jose and we are getting a rental car. We think that we would like to go Zip Lining, see a Volcano, Cloud Forest, and at least a nice beach area. We are also open to other suggestions.
    Our challenge is that we don’t have the luxury of driving someplace far and staying in that area since our hotel is already part of our package and in San Jose.
    Would you be able to suggest a doable itinerary for 4/5 days keeping in mind that we are staying at a resort near San Jose Airport. We don’t really want to drive 6 hours to a beach and then have to turn around and drive back.
    We do want to see as much of Costa Rica as we can though. Your suggestions on any other adventures are welcome and appreciated.
    Also do you have any advise on driving in the area with the rental car, weather and what essentials to pack?

    thanks!!

    1. Hi Ann, With 5 days and San Jose as your home base, you could check out Poas Volcano (click to follow links) and head to Jaco for zip lining and the beach. Jaco is only about 1.5 hrs from SJ so a good option. It doesn’t have the prettiest beach in the country but is a fun spot with a lot of good restaurants and there are other gorgeous beaches nearby, since you’ll have a car (e.g. Playa Blanca). Cloud forest is tougher to do on a day trip. San Gerardo de Dota isn’t too terribly far but you can’t drive the road back at night because it’s extremely mountainous and gets clouded in. There are also some good coffee tours around San Jose if you’re interested in that.

      For info on the rest of your questions, here are some links to other posts:
      Driving in Costa Rica
      Weather in Costa Rica; Why You Should Visit Costa Rica in the Rainy Season (read comments for what to expect)
      General Packing Tips; Packing Your Day Pack

  31. Hi, thank you so much for taking your time to answer all of these post! I’ve learned so much on your page alone:) Can you please help us if you have a chance? This is our first time to Costa Rica. We are coming at the end of March. We got really good flights from Southwest. We didn’t know at the time there are two airports, but got a really good deal flying into Liberia. My boyfriend and I are late 30’s and we are taking our 20 year old daughter and her friend. My boyfriend surfs so we would like to stay near a beach. We have read that Tamarindo is a good spot. In looking at hotels, we have found that it is cheaper to rent a villa or home. Do you think this is a good idea or would you recommend a hotel? After reading your post, it looks like another great place to visit would be Arenal. We will be there for 5 full days because we fly in late on a Sunday and fly back home early the following Saturday. We are also up to any suggestions on places to go as we are really easy going, love adventure, would like to go out a little and have some drinks, surf, hang out at beach, see the volcanoes, zipline, see wildlife and maybe go rafting (beginner). We have also heard a day trip to Nicaragua is really cool. Not sure we have the time though. Also, we plan to rent a car. Thank you so much in advance for your help!!!

    1. Hi Heather, Getting a vacation rental instead of staying in a hotel is definitely a good idea. A lot of times, it’s cheaper than a hotel for families and groups. You’ll also have more space and be able to cook in if you want. Tamarindo and Arenal are both good options for the kinds of things you want to do and make sense for five days flying in and out of Liberia. You’ll get surfing, beach, restaurants/nightlife in Tamarindo, and wildlife, volcanoes, and your adventure activities in Arenal. You can read our posts on each destination for some more info: La Fortuna; Tamarindo.

      I wouldn’t try to fit in a visit to Nicaragua. It’s still a couple of hours away and more with the border-crossing process so best saved for another trip. Costa Rica will keep your five days plenty full. Hope that helps, you were already on the right track 🙂 Also, when you’re ready to book a rental car, make sure to check out our discount. There’s more info here.

  32. Hi – I’ve been reading all the blog posts and finding some great information but I’m still a bit overwhelmed and confused about planning our first trip to Costa Rica. We are 2 couples in our early sixties. We’re looking for mostly for nature, wildlife, beautiful scenery and nice beaches that are not crowded or commercial. We only have a week, in January, so keeping it to one or two locations probably makes the most sense. We don’t really want to rent a car, due to the expense, (and scary stories!), but it’s a possibility. Do you have any suggestions? We prefer not to be in a place with strips of fast food restaurants. The Sodas you describe sound great to us. Thanks so much.

    1. Hi cinderellen, January is high season so you will want to be strategic picking your destinations if you want beach towns that aren’t too busy or touristy. A couple of ideas for you are Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste (more info here) and Nosara. Nosara is popular but it is very spread out so you can always find privacy. Both of those destinations have nice beaches and beautiful scenery and nature/wildlife. If you had a car, you would have a lot more choices, like Dominical/Uvita to the south. You can get a good overview of the different destinations in Costa Rica in our Destinations Summary Guide. We could also help design a custom itinerary for your group to really give you some good guidance on the best fit based on your interests. There’s more info about our itinerary service here. Let us know if you’re interested and we can tell you more about how we’d help.

  33. Showing search results for “I have a week to spend in CR in spring. I am choosing between Arenal and Monteverde. I read Arenal volcano is asleep now, so no lava flows and ashes to see. And I don’t really care to look at it as a mountain, I have seen Everest closer than that 🙂 And as far as tropical forest, ziplining and animals – Monteverde is the same or better. What is your opinion?”

    1. Hi Inga, Both have all of those things, but Monteverde is in the cloud forest so it is much cooler and often cloud covered. You can see a lot of wildlife by visiting the parks and reserves in either place too, but it can be harder to spot things in Monteverde because of the heavy mist. If you hire a guide, though, you can see a lot as this area is very biodiverse. The zip lining is also fantastic in both towns. We would recommend reading our separate posts about these destinations to help you decide if you’re still not sure: Monteverde- A Forest in the Clouds and La Fortuna– What to Expect. Good luck with the planning!

  34. Hello Jenn & Matt (e-Bostonians) from Nalini (a current Bostonian):

    Stumbled across your amazing blog while trying to gather information & plan my family’s (my husband and I and our two adult children) Costa Rica vacation next March. We’ll be in CR for 10 days (though Day 1 and 10 are really set aside for arrival into San Jose and departure out of Liberia). So in total, 8 full days (9 nights). Here is a high level itinerary I have put together:

    Day 1: arrive into SJ (around 3 pm); pick up our rental car; stay the night
    Day 2: drive up to Arenal & spend the night there
    Day 3 & 4: continue to explore the area and activities around Arenal
    Day 5: drive out to Monteverde
    Day 6: Spend in Monteverde
    Day 7: Drive out to the coast
    Day 8 & 9: explore parts of the western coast & beaches
    Day 10: Drive out in the morning to the airport in Liberia to drop off the rental car and catch a noon flight back home.

    My questions:
    – Does the above itinerary look reasonable (in terms of driving time, things to do in each place..)? Any modifications, additions that you can suggest?
    – I was tempted to add Manuel Antonio to the itinerary but wondering if that would make the trip too tight and harried instead of taking things at a leisurely pace? And if I did add MA, I am assuming that I would need at least one entire day/two nights there; this means, I would have to cut short the time elsewhere.
    – Regarding the coastal towns/beaches, any preference between Samara, Conchal, Tamarindo or some place that is even better ?

    Whatever suggestions you can make will be highly helpful. In the meantime, I will start reviewing other information on this blog to get ideas for things to do in Arenal, Monteverde, coast.

    Thanks

    1. Hi Nalini, Always great to hear from a fellow Bostonian! Big picture, your itinerary looks good given where you’re flying in and out of and the amount of time you have. If you like, since you have a good draft going, we can review your entire itinerary to make sure it makes sense, suggest things you won’t want to miss based on your interests, give local tips, etc. through our itinerary review service (more info here).

      On a high level, here are some thoughts on your questions. Your instincts are right about not trying to fit Manuel Antonio. It probably doesn’t make sense because you’re flying out of Liberia. Better to focus your time on the beaches of Guanacaste. As for which beach area, Samara will have things to do for your adult children. It’s nice too because it’s small and most things are very close together so you could split up for a bit if you wanted. Tamarindo is another good option. It’s a little bigger and will be busier in March. (Follow the links for more info.) Hope that helps. Let us know if you’d like any more help through our itinerary service.

      1. Hi Jenn & Matt:

        First — my apologies for my tardiness in acknowledging your reply. I was out of the country and with limited internet access. Returned last night; it will probably take me a few days to re-orient myself back to my CR planning!

        Your validation of my high level itinerary was very encouraging. Let me read through your blog for ideas, recommendations regarding the places I am planning to visit. I have also got a number of recos from friends who have visited CR. I think between the blog and friends’ recos, I should be fine. However, if I have any specific questions or would like more extensive help in finalizing my itinerary, I will definitely reach out to you.

        Regards,
        Nalini

  35. Hi Jenn & Matt: Okay first, why is this site so awesome and 2nd…why didn’t I find it sooner!!! I have been obsessing for the past 3 1/2 weeks on a last minute, budget costa rica tour itinerary. I’ve got my ticket and I’ll be staying for 10 days from Nov. 22 – December 2.

    i’m planning a 6-day adventure tour: 2 days in Monteverde (extremo canopy tour & hiking); 4 days in La Fortuna/Arenal (volcano hike/hotsprings, cano negro safari & optional canyoneering). I’ve dropped a couple tour activities and added the 4th day to get in a visit to the nearby wildlife rescue and to go spelunking at venado caves). I’m trying to figure out what’s the next move – I’m considering San Manuel Antonio because I heard about a herbal plant medicine tour I’m desperate to attend about 35 minutes north of Quepos in Londres (though the eco farm/tour operators haven’t responded to my inquiry yet). Wondering if SMA is worth the last 3 days of my trip. I’m planning to stay in Quepos and take the bus to save on costs.

    Though I’m not really a beach person (swimming, tanning & snorkeling are blah to me and I don’t really need a boating or sailing trip), I do LOVE and live for jet skiing, and I’m obsessed with wildlife (hence the sanctuary trip), so I’d love to see dolphins and whales while jetskiing (though I hear the whale chances are slim this time of year). I’ve only found 1 or 2 jet ski tours and they’re pricey.) The only thing I found that might be a better idea is the 10-in-1 SMA adventure tour that includes canyoneering (instead of paying to canyoneer in Arenal, I can get 10 activities for nearly the same price) .

    QUESTIONS:

    – I’m wondering if there’s a better option: is my desire to go on an herbal tour and jet ski may reason enought to go to SMA (which i hear is much pricier than other areas in CR)?

    – do you know of any amazing herbal/plant medicine tours in CR?

    – Any better, perhaps, cheaper suggestions (than SMA) for those last 3 days of my trip?

    – if I don’t speak Spanish (no a couple phrases, have a translation app and a pocket spanish travelbook) is it wise to try to use the bus system in SMA?

    – does Uber work all over CR?

    – my flight arrives at San Jose Int’l at 1pm. My tour departs the next morning before 7am. Should I stay in San Jose or Alajuela (what’s the most affordable option considering transportation, I’m willing to do hostels)? If I have to go through baggage claim, customs and fumble my English-speaking self through a spanish-speaking airport, is it even feasible to do any sightseeing or touring within distance (SJ, Poas, LaPaz) if I likely won’t get out of the airport until 3pm or later (I hear it gets dark here by 5:30pm).

    I know that’s a lot of questions. But I sure hope to hear from you and am anxious to hear any suggestions you can provide. Thank you soooo soooo much!

    1. Hi Kenda, I wish we had time to answer all your questions but there are only two of us and we have a lot more questions from other people so I’ll focus on the Manuel Antonio part and give quick tips on the rest. You are totally on the right track though anyway. If jet skiing, wildlife, and an herbal medicine tour are your main interests, Manuel Antonio is a great destination. I think Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast has some type of medicinal plant tour, but that is quite far if you have only a few days. There aren’t too many places in Costa Rica that have jet skiing either. Northern Guanacaste does but that isn’t convenient if you’re flying out of San Jose. I don’t think you’ll find MA too over-the-top expensive compared to the other places you’re visiting either. It will still be low season when you’re here so look for deals. You will be fine using the bus there with limited Spanish. Lots of tourists use it and the drivers are used to it.

      Uber is fairly new to CR and is only in San Jose.

      Alajuela has good options for inexpensive places to overnight. Check out our SJO Hotel Guide for recs (the comments give more options). You won’t have time to do a tour but you could walk around downtown Alajuela- it’s really cute. Have a great trip!

  36. Your blog is so helpful! We plan to rent a house near Atenas for the week between Christmas and New Years… yes, it is very busy then. But that’s when we could come visit CR. So, we plan to just jump into the crowds! We are staying at the house for the whole week, but would like to plan day trips. So far, I have one day at La Fortuna, one day to zipline in Tajo Alto, and then on day to go south to Manuel Antonio. I’m thinking a day in San Jose in the middle – so we don’t have to drive so far. Tips to make the best of our stay? We have two boys – ages 10 and 17. Thanks!

    1. Hi Karen, We just got back from another visit to Atenas and loved it. We’ll actually be coming out with a destination guide to town in the coming weeks so you might want to subscribe to our blog (it’s free, just visit our homepage) or check back before your trip.

      Staying in Atenas when it will be busy at the beach makes sense. Many of your day trips will involve a lot of driving but it sounds like you are okay with that. Just so you know your options, Playa Blanca and Mantus and Playa Esterillos are all very pretty beaches that are closer than Manuel Antonio. For things near San Jose, there’s Poas Volcano and an awesome waterfall called Catarata del Toro. We’d also recommend a coffee tour in Atenas since that area is one of the biggest producers in the country. Hope that gives you some ideas and your family has a great trip!

  37. Hi,

    I stumbled across your blog and it is sooo helpful. My boyfriend and I are making a trip out to Costa Rica on Feb 10, 2017 – Feb 17, 2017 (6 full days trip excluding flying in and out of Costa Rica). Our first stop (Feb 11) would be to stay a day in San Jose to check out the Central Market. From San Jose, we would drive up to The Springs Resort at La Fortuna, we are spending 3 nights there, checking in on 2/11 and checking out on 2/15. Then from La Fortuna, we would drive to Manuel Antonio. Our initial plan is to stop by Monteverde on the way to Manuel Antonio, however, from reading your blog, it might not be a good idea. We are planning on doing a 3-5 hr tour at Monteverde Cloud Forest, finishing up the tour at around 4pm and then drive to Manual Antonio. Do you recommend this? Or should we just drop Monteverde? Also, what restaurants do you recommend in La Fortuna that is close by to The Springs Resort? We are planning on staying at Issimo Suites Boutique Hotel & Spa in Manual Antonio, any good restaurants that you recommend that is nearby? Thank you so much!!

    1. Hi Rachel, Yes, you don’t want to be driving at night to Manuel Antonio so we would recommend skipping Monteverde. The Springs is a little outside town so you will have to drive back to the main road for restaurants or to downtown La Fortuna. It isn’t a bad drive but better to have your own car. For good places to eat in Manuel Antonio, we just came out with a comprehensive restaurant guide so definitely check that out. There are a ton of excellent options. A short drive from Issimo are Emilio’s, Café Milagro, the Falafel Bar, and Barba Roja. Hope you and your boyfriend have a wonderful trip!

  38. Hi jenn n mat
    Thanks for your wonderful tips. We are visiting CR for 7 days. Now we are at panama and will get to san jose airport on dec 19 night. We are a family ith 2 girls ages 4 and 1 years.
    We are planning 2 days in la fortuna 1 arneal and 1 hot springs and then we dont know yet. We seek your advice 1) which is better option with children manual antonio or monteverde if we can spen only one day in each. 2) And how many days need ed in san jose? 3) where we can find better family friendly coffee tour? Near manuel antonio ir san jose? Thank you in advance fir your answers. It would be very hepful since we are short in time and coming in a busy timing..
    Nasreen

    1. Hi Nasreen, Manuel Antonio and Monteverde are both good for children but are very different. MA offers the beach, wildlife, and a lot of activities. Monteverde is the cloud forest so is much cooler. It also has a lot of wildlife and things to do. We would recommend a minimum of two nights in either place because of the drive time from La Fortuna. There aren’t any coffee tours near Manuel Antonio. Monteverde had some good ones though and San Jose too (Cafe Britt tour, etc.). Hope that helps you figure out your plans!

  39. Hi Jenn and Matt!

    We’re so excited for our first real trip to CR in May. We’re starting to nail down some accommodations and looking for feedback. We’re getting in to San Jose around noon and renting a car, heading first to La Fortuna. I’d love to get in about an hour of driving so the second day is really easy.

    We’ll then have 3 nights in La Fortuna, 2 nights in Monteverde, 3 nights in MA, and one last night in San Jose because of an early flight out.

    Any suggestions for a good spot for the first night that’s roughly an hour toward Arenal?

  40. We are going to Costa Rica in March 2017 with our 2 kids (ages 7 and 10). We are staying in Arenal for 4 nights and we are deciding 2 or 3 nights in Monte Verde and 2 or 3 nights in Guanacaste. Are we better off doing 2 or 3 nights in Monte Verde OR 2 or 3 nights in Guanacaste? We only have 9 nights.

    Lastly, where do you suggest staying in Guanacaste?

    1. Hi Lisa, Either would be great, it just depends on your priorities. If you want more time at the beach, spend the three nights in Guanacaste. Monteverde does have a ton of activities for kids that age and unless your family really loves the beach, I would say that it’s easier to entertain kids there. Read our Monteverde post if you haven’t already. As for where to stay in Guanacaste, Playa Hermosa is a good spot for families because the waves are smaller, and Plays Conchal too. Hope that helps you decide!

      1. When we go to Monte Verde and guanacaste, how do you choose what your company to use to go on this trips (zip lining, rafting, hiking, tours, etc)?

        What are your recommendations on where to stay in the beaches you mentioned?

        Thank you
        Lisa

  41. Hi Jenn & Matt, Love your story and your blog!
    Will be visiting for 6 days. Would like to do volcano/zip lining 1-2 days and the remainder on the beach.
    Flying into Liberia airport.
    Would you recommend staying 1-2 nights in La Fortuna or the Arenal Volcano Lake area for ziplining, canpoy tours, nature stuff 🙂

    We were then thinking of heading to Tamarindo beach for our last 3 nights to relax. No car. Will need to arrange service.
    Thanks so much!
    Thoughts?

    1. Hi Barbara, That’s a good plan for in and out of Liberia in 6 days. La Fortuna is a great place for the volcano and to go zip lining and enjoy nature. We would recommend two nights there because of the drive time. Tamarindo is good for your time at the beach too if you’re looking for a more developed town with a lot of restaurants and amenities. It’s also a good spot if you won’t have a car and is close to Liberia Airport, making for an easy trip out. You mentioned needing to make transportation arrangements. If you are planning to hire a private shuttle and would like a recommendation, let us know!

      1. Absolutely, I’ll take a shuttle recommendation! If I can help you out in any way with a referral happy to do so!

        Thanks for your response! Greatly appreciated!!

  42. Hello thanks for this post it’s very helpful! I would like your opinion on the trip I’m planning in March mostly want to make sure it makes sense lol.
    I’m planning to fly into Liberia and go to Tamarindo stay 2 nights there go diving and surfing. Then go to Lafortuna for 2 nights see the waterfall, visit hot springs and go zip-lining. Then go from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonia for one night. Then fly out of San Jose. I’m planning to fly in Fri 03/10 and stay until Fri 03/17 and will be taking buses around the country. Do you think my itinerary makes logical sense (should I stay in certain places longer or shorter) do you have any tips?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Iman, If you are planning to take the bus, you will want to spend more time in each destination. It takes a lot longer to get around by public bus because the routes are often not direct so it can take an entire day to get somewhere. With 7 seven days, we would recommend no more than two destinations. Here is a link to a website that can help you get a sense of bus travel times. If you travelled by shared shuttle instead, you might be able to fit in more.

      1. Thanks for the advice. Are there busses that are not public like do hotels/hostels or private tour companies have buses that can take you to another location? I guess we should alter the trip to go to Tamardino, La Fortuna then depart from San Jose. Would going to Manuel Antonia from La Fortuna take up a lot of time?

        1. Yes, you can take a shuttle van to save time. A couple of the bigger shared shuttle companies are Interbus and Grayline. Tamarindo and La Fortuna only would be very manageable. You could add Manuel Antonio after La Fortuna if you decided to take shuttles instead of the bus (this is a common route) and don’t mind spending a decent amount of time in the car. It’s about five hours but a little more in a shuttle, which stops to drop people off at hotels.

          1. Thanks for all your help! Since we only have 7 days I think we will cut out Tamarindo and stay at Manual Antonio or La Fortuna longer. Which location has better beaches La Fortuna or Tamarindo? Do you have any specific beaches you recommend we are looking to do lots of activities at the beach (surfing, ATV’s etc.)

    1. Hi Lisa, Lots of people enjoy Coco Beach/Playas del Coco because it has a decent selection of restaurants/bars, amenities, and stuff going on. It is also popular among people interested in sport fishing. The beaches right around town aren’t as beautiful as some others in the area, but it is not a long drive to more scenic ones. As for where to stay, there are a ton of options and it really depends on your budget and what you are looking for.

  43. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    I’m so glad to have stumbled upon your site. There’s so much wonderful information here.

    My wife and I are planning week long trip to CR in March (13-21) . We were planning the following itinerary:

    Day 1 La Fortuna
    Day 2 Lake Arenal
    Day 3 Lake Arenal
    Day 4 Quepos/ Manuel Antonio
    Day 5 Quepos/ Manuel Antonio
    Day 6 Quepos/ Manuel Antonio
    Day 7 San Jose

    Do you think it’s worth spending two nights around Lake Arenal or should we spend three nights in La Fortuna?

    Would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks.

    1. Hi Sanjiv, We would probably pick one place to spend the three nights so that we wouldn’t be moving around as much. Both are great spots. La Fortuna is closer to restaurants and amenities, and Lake Arenal is quieter and more rural feeling. Depending on where you are looking along the lake you can still be fairly close to La Fortuna, but as you get closer to Nuevo Arenal, it is more of a drive and less convenient if you want to do a lot around Arenal/Fortuna. Most people stay either in La Fortuna or along the road just outside town that leads to the lake.

  44. Hello guys, I am planning a week long visit to CR with my 2 adults kids and hope you can help me with some advice.
    I am not sure we want to rent a car there, can we get by with public transportation or will we miss too much?
    We do not want to plan too much so we can enjoy the trip. The plan is 3-4 days on a beach and the rest to see some volcano, hanging bridges and maybe cloud forest.
    Can you recommend the best area of CR to stay so we can stay in one place and take day trips when we are not on the beach?
    We would like to stay on the beach, we enjoy amazing beaches that are not too crowded… Too much to ask?…
    Thanks so much!
    Tal

    1. Hi Tal, Getting around using public transportation takes a lot of time unfortunately. Your idea of staying in one place and doing day trips from there makes sense. Maybe stay at one of the beaches near Liberia airport (Playa Grande, Tamarindo or Avellanas?) and then you can do day trips from there. Arenal Volcano is quite far but you could go to Rincon de la Vieja. Taking the bus would be time consuming but you could rent a car for the day or arrange a tour that includes transportation. Another idea is to stay in two destinations, maybe the beach and either La Fortuna or Monteverde Cloud Forest, since these are very far to do as day trips. Follow the links for more info and good luck with the rest of your planning!

  45. Hey y’all. This is an awesome itinerary. My husband and I plan on visiting Costa Rica the beginning of November. I already did research on the areas that I would potentially visit. This itinerary had the two main areas that I had planned. The question that I have is pertaining to LGBT travel. Being from Alabama, I find it important to know how safe we can travel to potential destinations. Is there any feedback that y’all can give on this topic? Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Luis, I think you will find Costa Rica to have a fairly tolerant culture. That’s not to say that there is total acceptance, but the locals are very respectful and welcoming. We have had gay friends visit and they absolutely loved it here. You might already know this, but one of the places you’ll be visiting, Manuel Antonio, is actually a really popular destination for LGBT travelers and there’s a hotel that caters specifically to gays and lesbians. Hope that puts your mind at ease and you and your husband have a great trip!

  46. Hi Jenn and Matt. I’m so glad that I found your site. My daughter is doing a semester abroad, staying outside of San Jose in the town of San Ramon. I’m going to fly in and stay April 8th to April 15th. We’re thinking of renting a car and choosing 2 or 3 areas to explore. We both enjoy local history, food, sightseeing, hiking, and the occasional beach. We’ll be driving and staying at hotels along the way. Which areas would you suggest that would start from San Jose and return to San Jose at the end of the week.

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Nathan, Most of Costa Rica’s historical sites are in San Jose (museums, cathedrals, etc.), but there are some other spots. Guayabo National Monument near Turrialba is one. You have a lot of choices for an itinerary for the things you’re interested in. We’d suggest reading our Destinations Summary Guide or checking out our Itineraries book. Our book has ten different one week itineraries organized by interest (e.g., Wildlife, authentic travel, Best of). You can find the book here. Hope you and your daughter have a great trip!

  47. Love your website and all of your helpful info! When referring to shuttles and other forms of non-public transportation (because I got the impression for the questions here that buses are not convenient), I’m wondering how readily available they are. Do I need to arrange for them in advance or are they more like the US taxi system where drivers are waiting at popular tourist destinations? I hope to explore Costa Rica with my daughter in July, but I’d like to avoid renting a car and would prefer to use other means of transportation if possible. Thanks for your help!

    1. Hi Lisa, If you don’t want to rent a car, shuttles or flying on a small plane are the best ways to get between destinations. And if you there’s two of you, shared shuttles would be the most economical over private ones, unless you prefer more personalized service. Then for shorter local trips once you’re in a destination, you can use taxis.

      Shuttles need to be booked in advance because they can fill up. When you’re at that point in your planning, let us know if you would like help making the arrangements. We work with one of the major companies in Costa Rica and can get you 10% off if you book multiple trips. There’s more info on our Costa Rica Discounts page.

  48. Hello, thank you for the useful article.I’m solo 35 year old traveler, and i need your advise for my trip to CR April 7-12. Day 1: I will arrive to SJO at 1pm and go to La Fortuna, spend a night there and on Day 2hike, volcano, water falls and hot springs.Day 3 drive to : Manuel Antonio.Day 4 Spend a day in Manuel Antonio.Day 5Dominical,Uvita. Day 6 Drive to SJO, be there by noon, flight home. second option:SJO drive to Puntaneras, try to catch a ferry, go to Paquera forbioluminescent kayak tour.day 2 drive to ManuelAntonio , Dominical, Uvita and home. I really want to experience thst kayak tour, but want to see Arenal area too.

    1. Hi Dalia, Both options are probably too fast paced for five days given drive times between destinations. For starters, I would skip Dominical because it’s too long of a drive back to San José. If you really want to see do the bioluminescent kayak tour and see Arenal, why not just do those two destinations? If you have extra time, you could spend a night in Montezuma after Paquera to make the long trip down to the Nicoya Peninsula worthwhile.

      1. thank you kindly for your reply, after doing some research I dropped bioluminescent kayak tour (d/t full moon and low visibility). So far Im planning Arenal area (7th evening, full day on the 8th and 9th morning)) and drive to Manuel Antonio 2 days). No plans after. Any suggestions in between or for the end of the trip?
        Thank you again!

        1. Hi Dalia, Looking back at your original comment, I think we’re too late since you’re already in Costa Rica. Our apologies, we were traveling for two weeks so weren’t as fast with comments. Hope you figured everything out and had a great trip.

  49. Hello, thanks a bunch for putting this site together, it’s been really informative. I’m planning a last-minute trip with a friend of mine to fly into San Jose May 4th, and depart from San Jose May 10th… so we’re looking at a total of 6 nights in CR. We’re both in our early 20’s and looking for an adventure on a budget, with some relaxing on the side. It may be worth noting that we’re the type that prefers to explore on our own rather than to have a structured tour. So far, our plan is to head to La Fortuna from San Jose. We’re unsure of how many nights we will spend in La Fortuna, but we would like to explore the Arenal area. Next, we’d like to make our way to Manuel Antonio. I’m a little concerned about the distance but I plan to arrange for a shuttle to save time. Given the short amount of our stay, do you think it’d be wise to limit our travels between these two key areas (Arenal/Fortuna and Manuel Antonio)? Also, do you have any recommendations of where to go from La Fortuna… maybe an alternative to Manuel Antonio, such as Monteverde? We’re interested in anything related to hiking, wildlife, beaches, etc. Thanks again, and I apologize if similar questions have already been asked!

    1. Hi Craig, With only 6 nights, you’re on the right track thinking you should limit yourselves to two destinations. La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio are both a good fit for what you’re looking for. You could also look at Jaco in place of MA. It’s a lively beach town that is closer to the airport, has a lot of adventure activities, and draws a lot of people your age. We have a post about it with more info here. Monteverde is a great spot too, but I would say it’s better to see the beach than another inland destination.

      We work with one of the major shuttle companies in Costa Rica so let us know if you would like help arranging your shuttles. If you book more than one trip through us, we can get you 10% off. Check out our Costa Rica Discounts page for more.

      1. Thank you so much for the quick response. At this point, we are gravitating towards Manuel Antonio/Jaco and have sort of put the idea of La Fortuna aside since it’s a bit out of the way. We also are considering an alternative plan of flying into Liberia and heading towards Tamarindo. Based on your experience, does one area generally have nicer weather early in May? I know it’s ultimately just luck of the draw but we’d like to make sure we’re going to the right spot this time of year.

        1. Northern Guanacaste is the driest area of the country. So Tamarindo may not have even received its first rains yet. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, as many visitors are disappointed that the forest doesn’t feel very tropical this time of year. Just something to keep in mind. Jaco and Manuel Antonio will get a little rain but will be greener. You can read our Weather post for more info.

  50. Hi Jenn and Matt,
    I stumbled on your website today and love your story! I’m a single mom of 3 young adult children (18, 20, 23) and we are planning our trip to CR for June 3-10. Will we need to worry about a lot of rain at that time of year? We are flying in and out of SJO and were planning to visit Jaco and Arenal. Should we consider Manuel Antonio instead of Jaco? The kids love high adventure so want zip lining, rappelling, ATVs, with some hiking and beach time thrown in. Appreciate any advice you have!

    1. Hi Allyson, June is still early in the rainy season so you will have some nice weather, don’t worry. Usually it rains mostly in the afternoon or evening that time of year and in bursts (not all day). La Fortuna’s weather is harder to predict but you should still have some sun. We have visited in June before and got to see the volcano.

      Jaco or Manuel Antonio would work because both have all of those adventure activities. I would decide based on the feel you want. Jaco is more developed and busy. Manuel Antonio has a lot of tourist amenities but doesn’t feel quite as big. MA also has prettier beaches in our opinion and lusher jungle, though Jaco will be plenty green in June. Follow the links for more about each place.

      Hope that helps with your planning! If you would like recommendations on tour companies to use for those excursions, we know of some good options and can help if you would like. We are also a travel agency and often make tour bookings for people. Just reply to this thread if you’re interested.

  51. Hi jenn and Matt,
    Fist want to say you guys put together a super site! Very well done and super informative. My wife and I are going for the first time to Costa for 7.5 days May 23 (arrive 12 at night) leave May 31 (12:30 in the afternoon) and I just have a couple questions. We suffer from severe FOMO (fear of missing out) and trying to pick where we should go for such a short trip is getting hard hahah. We are a couple of Yoga teachers/YouTubers who enjoy all things outdoors and love surfing, rock climbing and all around exploring. Normally we travel in Asia so touristy areas don’t bother us (actually we enjoy meeting other backpackers) and we do like to get our party on if it’s around (We’re 35 going on 25) but also do appreciate the serenity of a secluded beach and nature. Wow this may be a long post, so onto the questions. We arrive very late, around 12 at night and would like to know if you recommend just getting a place by the airport and leave in the morning? We also never rented cars when backpacking but see that it may benefit hugely in Costa so we are planning on doing it, and I see your page on rentals so thank you. For destinations we were first looking at the caribbean side ,Puerto Viejo, but now think that might be to far away from everything else so we are looking at maybe starting in Mal Pais for some surfing and yoga, but are unsure if that will separate use again from everything else (hahah serious FOMO kicking in). If you were going to start in Mal Pais for a seven day adventure what would you recommend? Oh and I really would love to see some sloths and monkeys. Thanks in advance and again cheers on your site.

    1. Hi Martyn, I hear you, there are a ton of choices for places to go. You’re right that a rental car will give you the most flexibility. The bus is great but it takes a lot longer so you wouldn’t be able to see as much. Since you fly in very late, we do recommend overnighting near the airport (read our Best SJO Airport Hotels post for recommendations). Mal País is a good first stop based on your interests, and you could stop and see Montezuma on the other side of the peninsula as well. From there, assuming you fly out of San Jose, you could take the ferry to check out the Central Pacific Coast. Jaco or Playa Hermosa (awesome surfing) is close or for monkeys and more wildlife there’s Manuel Antonio. Hope that gives you some ideas. Have a great trip!

  52. Hi Jenn & Matt, thank you for all the wonderful information! I’m planning a trip to CR (our first time) with my adult daughter on May 27th thru June 4th and strongly considering your suggested 1-week in CR itinerary.
    Would you suggest anything different on that itinerary based on our time of travel and rainy season?
    Where would be the best place to incorporate one of the waterfalls with swimming?
    It is necessary to make hotel reservations prior to travel for each of the stops?

    1. Hi Lily, This itinerary would still work in late May/early June. Both of these destinations will likely experience some rain but most years aren’t be too bad. If you wanted to be safe, you could go to one of the beach towns in Guanacaste instead of Manuel Antonio (Tamarindo, Playa Hermosa, etc.). This region is the driest area of the country and receives its first rains last.

      For waterfalls with the original itinerary, you could check out La Fortuna Waterfall and the Nauyaca, about 45 min. south of Manuel Antonio.

      We do recommend making hotel reservations in advance as popular destinations tend to book up quickly.

  53. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    I’m planning a trip for 11 people for a first time visit to CR from July 29 – Aug. 5, arriving from Los Angeles. We are interested in going to Tortuguero, Arenal or Monteverde, and a beach (Cahuita or Guanacaste or MA or??) Is this feasible for a week, basically 2 nights at each of the 3 places, with possibly a night near airport at beginning or end of trip? I haven’t booked flights yet because trying to narrow down what places we will be visiting; therefore, I can do roundtrip to San Jose or go out of Liberia one way if need be.

    One itinerary is Tortuguero-Cahuita-La Fortuna.

    Or am I better off sticking with just two spots. Tortuguero and ??

    Really want to maximize our time there as it’s unlikely we will return to Costa Rica. Thanks in advance for you help. Love the blog!

    1. Hi Roma, We usually recommend a maximum of two destinations in one week, but if you do that (your option 2), you won’t get to experience the beach as much. Tortuguero has beaches but they aren’t as scenic and good for swimming as Cahuita and some other places. For option 1, two nights in each is possible but would be very rushed for La Fortuna since it is a far drive from Cahuita. If you could add a night so that you had three nights in La Fortuna, that would be much better. Maybe you could find a small plane flight that leaves La Fortuna in the morning the day you leave so that you could avoid an overnight near the airport?

      1. Thank you. I think we need to abandon our lofty to goals to try to fit too much in one week. Seems like picking two destinations are best, as you suggested. Seems like from everything I’ve read, La Fortuna and Manuel Antontio are the spots to hit for a first time visit.

  54. Hello Jean and Matt,

    Thank you for your wonderful blog.
    We are arriving on San Jose on May 19th and leaving on 29th with a 7 year old kid and a 1.5 year old kid. Here is the itinerary we have planned:
    Day 1, 2 and 3 at Arenal
    Day 4 and 5 at MonteVerde
    Day 6, 7, 8 at Manual Antonio
    Day 9 at San Jose

    What do you think ? Hope the above places are kid friendly.

    Thanks,
    Srivatsan

    1. Hi Srivatsan, That looks like a great itinerary. You won’t be rushing around too much. We would suggest leaving La Fortuna fairly early in the morning to get to Monteverde so that you have a decent amount of time to experience the cloud forest.

      Yes, those destinations are all very kid-friendly. You can find activity recommendations in each of our destination posts for those places (follow links above). Or, for family-specific ideas, we have two of your three destinations covered in the Family chapter of our book, Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries.

  55. Hello Jen and Matt:

    We are in initial stages of planning our trip and are contemplating whether to visit Costa Rica in middle of August this year for a week. We are a family of four with two young kids (10 years and 6 years old) How is weather during August? Does it rain every day? If so, does it usually rain for entire day or typically during only certain times of the day? Are most of the tourist attractions open in August? Is it recommended to travel to Costa Rica during August? We will be traveling from Southern New England and hence are looking for a warm and dry place with lots of nature and beaches with warm water and good surf. We really liked your one week Costa Rica itinerary and will follow it if we travel to Costa Rica.

    Thanking you in advance for your guidance in this regard.

  56. Hi Jenn and Matt;

    We are travelling to Costa Rica the second week of August, unfortunately only have about eight days to spend. We are interested in jungles and beaches, and are torn between Drake’s Bay on the Pacific or Manzanillo on the Caribbean coast. Not enough time to do both. Is there enough of a weather difference to tip the scale towards one or the other? I’ve heard that the Pacific is a lot rainier this time of year.

    1. Hi Mark, The Caribbean coast will be starting to dry out (Sept. is one of the driest months typically), but it could still be rainy since that region receives a lot of rain year-round. Mid August is rainy season on the Pacific coast, but usually it isn’t too bad yet in most locations. Drake Bay is, though, one of the rainiest places because it’s so far south. The weather changes year to year, but based on previous years, you would be better off in Manzanillo or somewhere farther north on the Pacific Coast. Our Weather post has some charts with data that might be helpful.

  57. Love this site! Using lots of your ideas for my trip in August with my 3 early 20s daughters. We are visiting Tortuguero, Aernal, and Manuel Antonio. We are looking for an incredible zip lining experience – with those three places in mind places, what would be your recomendation? We would also like to do a half day white water trip with level 2-3 rapids – any suggestions? We will be driving. Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Jill, Both Arenal and Manuel Antonio have really great zip lining and rafting (Class II-III) so either would work. I wouldn’t pick one over the other, so maybe base it on the other activities you want to do in each place and where you will have more time. If you would like help choosing a tour operator and making a booking, we work with some awesome (and safe) companies in both of those areas. Just reply to this message and we can send you more info about the choices and our booking service (it’s free).

  58. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    you guys are awesome for the info you put out, especially taking the time to respond to each post individually.

    We plan on coming in August with our 4 month old newborn, we’ll carry him around on our baby carrier, we def want to hike and see the spectacular nature and volcanoes. We’re doing it on a low budget, will rent car, in/out 7 days, and we can either fly in/out from sjo or in lir out sjo.

    What would you recommend?

    1. Hi Zeke, Since your baby is so young, you can pretty much go anywhere. We have traveled the country extensively with our son ever since he was three months old. If you want some specific family-friendly options, we have a whole chapter for family travel in our Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries book. You should also definitely read our Traveling with a Baby post so that you know more of what to expect. The baby carrier will be your best friend when you’re here! Hope your family has a great trip.

  59. Hi Jenn and Matt
    your posts are so informative. We are looking well ahead to travel in 2018 for 9/10 days with boys 15, 13 and 10. We ‘d like to see nature so thought Tortuguero then on to Arenal to experience white water rafting. Husband also keen to try fishing for Tarpon? We are on a limited budget and flying from UK so contemplating going via USA. Monteverde sounds lovely but so remote thought this could use up too much time. What would you suggest are the must dos for a unique experience? We like to be off the main tourist routes and happy to self drive a rental car with budget / simple accommodation. Thanks 🙂

  60. Hi Jenn and Matt!

    I had been planning almost this exact itinerary when I stumbled upon your incredible blog! The only difference was that I had been hoping to see Manuel Antonio in 1/2 a day- my parents don’t love lying on the beach, so we wanted to tour the park and take a peak at the ocean. Then we wanted to drive to Monteverde in the afternoon and spend a full day there before driving to Arenal the following day. Do you think this is do-able? This leaves us with 1.5 days in Arenal.

    Thank you so much!!

    Julie

    1. Hi Julie, I am confused about your itinerary but will try my best to help. We don’t recommend trying to do Manuel Antonio in a half day due to drive times. If you want to see the coast, a much closer option is the Jaco area. We’d recommend an overnight there before heading inland to make it worthwhile. You could stay somewhere in the surrounding hills where there’s more wildlife like Pumilio Hotel. Hope that helps with your question!

  61. Hi Jenn and Matt Sorry if this is answered answered already heading to costa rica in august for 8 nights . definitely want to do arenal volcano monteverde and then 3/4 nights at beach, Should i fly into sjo spend 4 nights (day trip to monteverde0 then head to manuel antonio and fly home from sjo or head to guanacaste and fly home from Liberia. Also wondering if should split arenal into 3 nights arenal and 2 monteverde then head to beach. Leaning toward guanacaste so final day closer to airport??? which way is less time shuttling from one destination to next. Love this site. thanks amazing Janet

    1. Hi Janet, The last option is best. 3 nights in La Fortuna, 2 nights in Monteverde (definitely do 2 nights because an overnight is too rushed with drive times), then the last 3 either in Manuel Antonio (flying out of SJO) or Guanacaste (flying out of Liberia). The beaches of northern Guanacaste (Tamarindo, Flamingo, Brasilito, Playas del Coco, Playa Hermosa) closest to the airport at about 1-1.5 hrs, but Manuel Antonio is still only about 2.5 hrs from SJO so also a good option if that appeals to you more.

  62. Hi,

    Thanks for the amazing tips and itineraries. My husband and I plan to visit costa rica in August 2017 for 7 days. We are considering to include tortuguero,lapaz waterfall, arenal and monteverde. What do you suggest?

    Thanks again

    1. Hi Natasha, That is probably one too many destinations for 7 days. We would keep Tortuguero because August is turtle-watching season. Then we would suggest eliminating one of the other three stops. Not sure what exactly you are most interested in, but Monteverde is the most difficult/time consuming location to access so that is one option. The Tortuguero-La Paz-Arenal loop would work in 7 days.

  63. Hello! So thankful to find your page! We are flying into San Jose airport arriving around 6pm 9/20. We have a total of 7 nights, but the last night we need to stay near the airport given our flight time (6am). My husband wants to drive at least an hour the first day (he is used to international driving) so that we can get out of San Jose and shorten our drive time the next day. Problem is, we don’t know which direction to go! La Fortuna looks amazing, and we thought we may drive to a cloud forest location the first night on our way to La Fortuna (another website listed Los Angeles Cloud Forest, Bajos Del Toro Cloud Forest or La Paz Waterfall as good ideas?). We thought possibly 1-2 nights here, then on to La Fortuna for 2 nights. After this we would have 1-2 night more, and not sure where to go from here? Seems to far to go to Manuel Antonio for just 1 or 2 nights. In a completely different direction, I found today the idea of going to Punta Arenas the first night and then on a ferry to the Montezuma area. Again this looks wonderful but not sure if we’d spend all 5 nights in this area or try to get in another city? Given it’s late September, I’m also a bit worried about weather and was wondering if you’d stick more inland or try to get to beaches (Montezuma, Santa Teresa etc..). Appreciate any tips!

    1. Hi Beth, We don’t recommend driving long distances at night in Costa Rica because the roads tend to be not well lit and many are narrow, curvy, and mountainous. Sunset is around 5:30 pm here so it will be well after dark when you arrive. If you want to get some driving in anyway, we would recommend overnighting somewhere off of Highway 27 (like the town of Atenas) because that’s a major road and is well lit. This would get you closer to Manuel Antonio too. The road to Bajos del Toro and La Paz is not good for driving at night. Then you could do Manuel Antonio first, before heading to La Fortuna. I would avoid the southern Nicoya Peninsula in September because these are really small towns and they tend to shut down somewhat in the low season. Manuel Antonio will still have a little bit going on.

  64. please give me an itinerary for a 2 weeks stay..we will be staying in
    alajuela and after that i dont know where else is nice to go? maybe museums or tourists destinations we are 5 adults..we are flying on the 15th of September…thank you very much

  65. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    We are two brother 28 and 24 adrenaline junkies.

    We will be arriving to Costa Rica the first week of October, for a complete 9 days.

    What places would you recommend?, We wanted to do Canopy zip line, water Rafting, Waterfall Rappel and maybe scuba diving and any other activity that involves adrenaline. We are both in shape and ready to rock and roll.

    1. Hi Erik, If you are adrenaline junkies, you should check out the Adventure chapter of our guidebook, Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries. We made that itinerary for people like you and your brother! It covers zip lining, rappelling, rafting, etc. Diving conditions probably won’t be great when you are here since it will be rainy season. Otherwise, you should be able to get in everything that you want.

  66. Your website is such an amazing tool for planning a Costa Rica vacation! My husband and I are looking to visit Costa Rica for the first time in February. Our plan had always been to fly into SJO, spend 3 nights in La Fortuna/Arenal, travel to Samara for 3 nights and fly out of LIR. However, I have found much better flight options if we travel to and from Liberia (rather than SJO). From the research I’ve done, it seems like LIR to Arenal is about 0.5 hours longer and a slightly more “rough” drive…what is your experience? Is it worth the extra money to fly into SJO?

    1. Hi Amy, Definitely fly in and out of Liberia if prices are cheaper. The drive to La Fortuna from LIR isn’t any worse than from SJO really. From SJO, you will still fight traffic out of the city and have to go on the narrow, curvy road from San Ramon. From LIR, you will take Highway 1, which is a modern highway, to Canas, where you will take Route 142 to Tilaran (easy drive). Be sure to stay on 142 to go towards Tilaran and don’t take the shortcut that Google Maps suggests. The portion of the drive around Lake Arenal can be very curvy at times but it’s all paved and not horrible. Just don’t try it at night. Hope that helps. Definitely go with the LIR flight option if the price/time is better for you.

  67. I am planning a trip to Costa Rica with a buddy of mine. We would like to spend a week in CR ensuring we balance outdoor (hiking, kayaking, rafting, etc.) with beach and Foodie activities. We are planning the trip for the end of November 2017. The itinerary above is pretty comprehensive, I was hoping you could give me a sense of cost and just let me know what the MUST-DOs are.

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Jonathan, The cost will vary widely depending on the kinds of hotels you want to stay in, how many tours you do, etc. But you will be traveling in the low season when prices are a little lower. You can read our Cost of Travel post to get a better idea.

      For must-dos, read the detailed destination for posts that we have about each of the two destinations (links above). But definitely go rafting because the rivers will be really full from rainy season (either location would be good for this) and take advantage of some of the great hikes around Fortuna like Cerro Chato and the Rio Celeste Waterfall if you’ll have a car. If you need helping picking out tour companies, we can book most tours throughout the country. Just email us at bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)com with what you’d like to do and we can help. We don’t charge extra for this. Hope you and your friend have a great trip!

  68. Hello Jenn and Matt you have a great blog. We are planning our first trip to Costa Rica and your blog is helping a lot in planning. We are planning our trip in Feb and we are planning to attend the Envision Festival in Uvita. We will be spending 4 days at festival but have 5 days before the festival to see some of the country. We have 2 kids, one is 2 and half year and other 1 year. Which place will be better for us to spend time La Fortuna or somewhere along the coast near Uvita. Or you think we can plan it in a way to see all. We are planning to rent a car.
    Also at the Envision festival we were thinking about camping but some ppl said it is really hot and humid so not to do it. What are your suggestions for that as there is no real close place to stay near the festival. Thanks

    1. Hi Anshul, La Fortuna would be the more interesting choice because it would show you another area of the country. It’s also a good destination for families. You will be able to see the coast near Uvita while you’re at the festival. It is definitely hot and humid at Envision since it’s in an open field right st sea level. A lot of people prefer to stay off site so that they can take a break from it when they want to. There are accommodations nearby in Dominical, Playa Hermosa, and Uvita (see our Costa Ballena post for recommendations). Be sure to book in advance because hotels will fill up.

  69. Hello!
    I am headed to Costa Rica for a girls trip for 4 days in January. We are flying into SJO and driving a van to Esterillos where we rented a house. We wanted to do some surf lessons and we are doing an excursion one day. My friend and I are staying for the following week and we want to do it on the cheap. We were thinking about finding 2 locations in driving distance or if we go back to SJO with the group to fly somewhere is costa rica to stay for a couple of days. Surf lessons, hiking, casual environments are ideal and we will probably be booking airbnb. We dont want to jump around too much. Any recommendations to go from Esterillos? Should we get a ride to a bus stop and take a bus north or south ( that’s really the biggest question) We want to live locally and see nature without seeing too many tourists.(even though we are!)

    Also with the girls trip where is the best place to buy alcohol and food we can bring to the house?

    1. Hi Anna, You might like Dominical on the Southern Pacific Coast for your second week. That’s a chill surf town that can be done on a budget and you could take the bus from Esterillos to get there. It also has a lot of hiking nearby and nature. Another idea is Montezuma or Santa Teresa but these are a little harder to get to but still accessible by bus. Take a look at each of our Destination posts for those towns (links above) for more information.

      There will be lots of options for places to buy alcohol, but the cheapest is the duty free at the airport. Hope you guys have a great trip!

  70. So glad I stumbled onto your blog, I am just starting my plans for a quick Mon-Sun CR trip Dec 18th, with my two adventurous teen’s (13/16yo) arriving SJO. After reading your Iternary, it seems we should head up to Arenal. then to Quepos? I am wondering how to arrange transportation from SJO to Arenal, Quepos then back to SJO and the time it takes to travel between each location (for planning purposes). Also, do you recommend hostiles or what other form of inexpensive housing that will be well positioned for us as we will be without our own transportation. Looking for as much physical adventures as possible, we are not really the relaxing type of girls….. 🙂 Thanks a bunch!!

  71. HI Jenn and Matt, it seems I was able to answer some of my own questions above. I have a Hostel for Fortuna and they have paid shuttle service from SJO. 2 other questions, where do you recommend rafting (IV’s) Fortuna or in the Quepos/Manuel Antonio area? Also, best bet for transportation from Fortuna to Quepos or Manuel Antonio…. thank you!

    1. Hi Cresta, Since your trip is coming up soon, we are probably too late to answer your questions. Sometimes it takes us a couple of weeks to respond because we receive a lot of comments. Hope you are ready for your trip and you and your kids have a great time!

  72. Hello Matt and Jen, Great blog that you have, lots of good information here. We are planning our first trip to Costa Rica and will be there for 9 days. We are coming there for the Envision Festival in Uvita, but have 4 days before the festival to see some other places. We were planning to camp at festival, is that a good idea or is it too hot for kids even during the night. Also do you think this 1 week itinerary will be doable in this time duration. We have 2 kids with us 2 and half year and 1 year old. Can we visit both the volcano and the national park during this time. Thanks for helping.

    1. Hi Anshul, With 4 days, we would pick only one destination so that you’re not moving around too much, especially with young kids. La Fortuna/Arenal would show you another area of the country so that is a good option. Manuel Antonio isn’t far from Envision actually so you could stop there for the day sometime too. It does get very hot down at the festival so most people would probably say it’s not great for little kids. Better to stay somewhere else and just visit the festival during the day.

  73. Hello Jenn and Matt,

    I will be traveling to CR after years of anticipation for a January wedding in Jaco. Following the wedding we will have Sunday-Thursday to enjoy the country, essentially 4 days with a morning flight. We will be spending some time on the beach before the wedding, but not a lot it seems. I was initially very aggressive and thought that would be enough time to do 2 days in MA and then another 2 days in Arenal, but lately I feel that seems overly stressful and unrealistic. I typically like to enjoy the country I am visiting, rather than force too much. I have also been tempted to just stay in Jaco and take day trips to other areas before spending our last night in San Jose for airport convenience. Do you have any suggestions of tips for either option? TIA

    1. Hi Debbie, We would recommend picking one other town as a base for your four free days and not splitting it 2 and 2, which would be too rushed. Either Manuel Antonio or La Fortuna are good options because there is a lot to do in both. La Fortuna will show you a different area of the country, but of course, it doesn’t have the beach. Doing day trips out of Jaco is tough because there isn’t a ton close by for day trips except for Manuel Antonio and a few smaller towns (La Fortuna and Monteverde are quite far- 2 and 4 hours each way, respectively).

  74. Your blog and itinerary suggestions are awesome! I am about to book our plane tickets 🙂 3/27/17 land @ 1pm – 4/4/17 take off 11:30am (8 nights). Quick question…

    Would there be a benefit to flying into Liberia LIB to visit Arenal and depart from San Jose SJO after Manuel Antonio?

    1. Hi Steven, La Fortuna is about the same distance from LIR and SJO so either airport for your inbound flight would work. For outbound, SJO is the better choice for after Manuel Antonio. If you could get a flight leaving a little later than 11:30, you could leave MA same day and avoid an overnight near the airport (it’s about a 3 hr drive and you should get to the airport 2 hrs early).

  75. Your blog has proven invaluable to me in the last 24 hrs since we bought our tickets. Your story is really inspiring as well!

    With a 4pm arrival is it possible to get to an area like La Fortuna on our arrival day? If I assume it takes an hour or so to clear customs/get a car, we’d only have an hour of light before dark.

    I’m just trying to get all of the travel done in one day. Thx.

    1. Hi Eric, Unfortunately. you won’t have enough time to get to La Fortuna before dark if your flight arrives at 4 pm. This is a drive, in particular, that we don’t recommend after dark because the road is curvy, mountainous, narrow, and not well lit. Better to stay near the airport and get an early start the next day. We’d recommend staying near SJO in Alajuela and not San Jose, so that you are closer to Fortuna for the next day. You can read our recommendations for airport hotels here.

  76. So happy I stumbled onto your site, I’ve been stressing over trying to plan a Costa Rica trip for the past 2 weeks spending hours upon hours searching and trying to decide where to go. Saw your 1 week itinerary and all of a sudden it seemed perfect for our first trip to Costa Rica! Flights are booked and we’re ready to go. Question is – we’re looking at renting a car since it’s seems pretty inexpensive and I think will make things easier. Will we need an SUV for getting between SJO/Fortuna/MA/SJO? Or is a regular car ok? Thanks! I’m sure I’ll be spending a lot more time on your site between now and our trip.

    1. Hi Alida, No, you don’t need an SUV or 4×4 for the roads between any of those destinations. You won’t need it for almost everywhere locally in La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio, unless you go more off-the-beaten path. Some examples where 4×4 and higher clearance are necessary are the Rio Celeste near Fortuna or Los Campesinos near Manuel Antonio. Otherwise a regular sedan will be fine or a 2 wd SUV if you want more space. Be sure to check out our Rental Car Discount as you’re researching your options. Have a great trip!

  77. Thank you for this website. All of your information is well-written and I’ve been pouring through it.

    We’ll be visiting CR in June, flying into San Jose. We fly in late Friday night and fly out 1 week later on Friday afternoon. I’m considering splitting time between Arenal and Manuel Antonio. However, we would really like to see the bioluminescent beaches in Nicoya Peninsula. Would it make sense to dedicate a day/night for this driving between Arenal and MA?

    1. Hi Ricardo, The Nicoya Peninsula is out of the way if you want to spend your time in La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio. It isn’t practical in 7 days but if you really want to see it, you could switch out Manuel Antonio for somewhere closer like Herradura or Jaco. Then your loop would be San José to LF to Nicoya to Herradura/Jaco. It’s still a lot of driving but more manageable.

      1. Jenn and Matt, thanks for the response. I agree with your assessment. We don’t want to “waste” 2 precious days driving for over 4 hours. We’ve pretty much settled on heading to LF for a couple of days, then to Paquera for the aforementioned bioluminescent beach, then hanging out at a nearby Nicoya beach like Montezuma for a couple of days before heading back to San Jose.

        One concern I have is that the bio beach thing in Paquera is not as highly touted as other CR experiences. Have you done this? Is it as amazing as the small number of reviews say?

        Also, how difficult is it to drive around the southern part of the NP? Are the roads paved?

        Thanks again!

        1. We haven’t done the bioluminescent tour yet, but it looks really cool. I guess just make sure that conditions are good for it all the time and specifically when you will be visiting. Because other than Montezuma and Santa Teresa, which are farther, there’s not much to do in this area.

          The roads are a mix of pavement and dirt. We recommend a 4×4 at all times of year but people do it in a 4×2. You can read our Road Conditions post for more information about your specific route.

  78. Hi. Your website is great with valuable information. I have a trip to Costa Rica on July with my family (my wife and 2 of my daughters 9 & 17 years). We will arrive at San Jose on July 4 @ 4pm until July 10 that we leave Costa Rica @ 11:29 am. Some friends recommended La Fortuna & Monteverde. You recommended in the website Manuel Antonio National Park. Can you recommend me an itinerary for my trip?

    1. Hi Crisanto, With six days, you’ll want to pick only two destinations to visit. La Fortuna and Monteverde are great choices, which will show you a volcano, hot springs, and the cloud forest. But if you want to see the beach, you should switch one for a beach town. Jaco or Manuel Antonio are good options, a reasonable distance from La Fortuna and Monteverde as well as San José Airport for after. Both have a lot to do but Jaco is more built up. Follow the links we gave above for more specific information about the two towns. You could also look at Esterillos near Jaco, which is a smaller more laid back beach town.

  79. Do you think this is doable in 8 nights – Tortuguero, Arenal, Monteverde, and Manuel Antonio, basically two nights each area over Christmas holidays? Assuming we arrive mid-morning in San Jose and head straight to Tortuguero.

    1. Hi Sheryl, With 8 nights, we’d recommend 2 or 3 destinations max. Travel times between those places is considerable so you won’t have time to enjoy yourself if you try to fit in all of them. If you cut Tortuguero, you’d be saving a lot of time. It’s not turtle season in December so you could get the wildlife experience at your other destinations.

      1. Thanks for the advice! We settled with Arenal, Monteverde, and Manuel Antonio. Do you think we should scratch one night in San Jose as well and just head straight to La Fortuna? We arrive in the morning. I appreciate your input as always. We’re so glad we’re finally going!

        1. Yes, if you can get to La Fortuna the same day you get here, that will give you more time. If you’re renting a car, make sure to leave San Jose by 3 pm or so in order to avoid driving after dark. If your flight gets in later, you could always take a shuttle, then rent a car once you get to La Fortuna (here’s a link to our Shuttle Booking page if you need that).

  80. Hey Jenn and Matt, came across your super helpful post. We plan to visit CR during Christmas/New Year and would like to get your thoughts on our itinerary (need to work from home for 3 days so need to log in during daytime).

    25th – Land in SJO at 8 am and head to MonteVerde

    26th to 28th – WFH (Stay in Monte Verde) and explore some night tours/activities
    29th/30th day – Day activities/ziplining/treks etc in Monte Verde

    30th evening leave for La Fortuna and night at La Fortuna
    31st/1st – Volcano/Rainforest/Thermal Springs/Handging bridges at Arenal

    2nd morning leave for Manual Antonio and night at Manual Antonio
    3rd/4th/5th morning – Explore Manual Antonio/rainforest/wildlife etc

    5th evening – Manual Antonio to San Jose and stay overnight close to ariport
    6th morning – Return flight at 8am

    Do you think this is too tight or are we good ? Also, we plan to move around in shared shuttles, would that be fine ?

    1. Hi Aakarshit, That itinerary looks good. It’s not too rushed. One thing to think about is double checking the schedule for shared shuttles. It’s fine to travel at night if you’re planning to take shared shuttles, but typically these run during the day time so you’ll just want to make sure they will be operating before you finalize your plans. Shared shuttles do service those destinations so that shouldn’t be an issue. If you’d like, we offer a 10% discount through one of the shared shuttle companies. Check out our Discounts page for more info. Otherwise, if you really prefer leaving at night, you could arrange private shuttles. Those have a custom pick up time. We can help arrange those too.

      1. Thank you Jenn & Matt for the response. We plan to take afternoon (1/2pm schedules) shuttles that get us to our destinations in the evening. Here are our transport plans –
        1. SJO to Monte Verde – Shared Shuttle (Will checkout your link when booking)
        2. Monte Verde to La Fontana – Use the shared Jeep-Boat-Jeep service. Do you have a discount link for this one too ? The cheapest one that I see is $22 (https://www.monteverdecostarica.info/monteverde-services/JeepBoatJeep.htm)
        3. La Fontana to Manuel Antonio – Use shared shuttles (Will checkout your link when booking)
        4. Manuel Antonio to SJO – Use the govt Connecto bus from Quepos to SJO

        We would like to minimise our transportation costs. Do you think this sounds like the right balance between costs and comfort ?

        1. Yes, those transportation options are fine given the number of nights you’ll be spending in each town. The jeep-boat-jeep company we use is $32 pp so if you have found something cheaper that’s still reliable, go with that.

  81. Hi Sheryl,

    Firstly thanks for posting useful information for trip to Costa Rica for travelers. We are a family of 4 (2 toddlers 2 & 4 years respectively). We are planning to visit Costa Rica from December 23rd ’18 to 1st Jan ’19. Our fight tickets are booked.

    Inspired by your 8 days itinerary with minor modification, I would like you feedback on the itinerary below –
    12/23 – Arrive at San Jose around 10:00 PM (overnight stay at San Jose)
    12/24 – San Jose attractions then drive to La Fortuna around 6:00PM (3:00 Hours Drive)
    12/25 – La Fortuna / Arenal Volcano
    12/26 – La Fortuna / Arenal Volcano – Leave for Monteverde around 6:00PM (3.00 Hours Drive)
    12/27 – Monteverde Rain Forest and other activities
    12/28 – Monteverde area then leave for Jaco . Manuel Antonia around 3:00PM (5-6 Hours Drive)
    12/29 – Jaco / Manuel Antonia
    12/30 – All day at Manuel Antonia, leave for San Jose around 8:00PM
    12/31 – All day San Jose attractions
    1/1 – Fly to New York

    Please advise is the above itinerary is double. Our kids are hyper active and love to travel. We have undertaken similar trips to Mexico and Canada this year.

    Keep up the good work!

    Cheers
    RD

  82. Hello Jenn and Matt, I am blessed to have just found your Blog. My husband and I, along with my daughter and her husband, have the good fortune to be spending a week on a plantation, ( we received this at a charity auction) in your country beginning October 18, 2018. The downside is that we are located in Sarchi, and are not sure how far we can venture out and see as much as possible. We really aren’t as excited to see beach, as we are to see as much wildlife and flora as possible. Ziplining, volcanos, waterfalls are all pluses. We are all hikers as well. Rafting is also a possibility.

    Can you make some suggestions? Also, should we rent a car or hire a driver? I have had recommendations for both.

    Thank you so much. As I am researching, I am getting a little down thinking we really don’t have much time to see everything.

    Thank you for your wonderful blog.

      1. Yes you did. Thank you. I’m sorry for the duplication. I have spent the day on your website, have booked our car through you and changed our first night hotel based on your recommendations. Also filled out the Tour form and am anxiously awaiting the PayPal invoice and your recommendations. Thank you so much.

  83. Hi Matt & Jenn,
    Love your blog & book! We are arriving the 10/27 for a week. Originally planned on staying in Guanacaste & doing a few day trips. Then I came upon your helpful blog/book. We have the luxury of going in & out different airports. If we arrive in SJO at 10am we could reasonably make it to La Fortuna before sundown. Stay a couple nights & then go to Guanacaste for the remainder of our trip (flying home from LIR). Is this an easy drive? Or are we be better off going from SJO to Manual Antonio & then Guanacaste? We primarily looking to relax at the beaches, do easy hikes, horseback ride, see rainforests, possibly zip line, see waterfalls (your typical tourist stuff). Nothing too strenuous & we don’t want to switch hotels more than once. What would be the most logical route to take with with routes on paved roads?

    1. Hi Karen, Thanks for getting our book and for your kind words! Apologies for getting back to your comment so late. We have been very busy lately trip planning for people. If you still have an outstanding question, please let us know and we’ll do our best to get back to you ASAP.

  84. I’m thinking about planning a one week trip to CR in December for my husband and I. We love the outdoors, hike, kayak, swim, etc. Could we get by without renting a car to do your above itinerary? If so, which shuttle service do you recommend? We might stay an extra day or so to visit the Monteverde Cloud forest. So I think I have a good idea based on your article of our itinerary but confused on transportation.

  85. Hello Jenn and Matt,
    I have really enjoyed reading your blog and was hoping for your advice.
    We are flying into Liberia and will be in Playa Conchal for 2 days before driving to Los Suenos for 3 nights (will make a day trip to Manuel Antonio Park). Then we head back to Playa Conchal for our last 2 nights before flying back out of Liberia. Between Los Suenos and Playa Conchal we have 1 extra night and trying to figure out if it is feasible to go to La Fortuna or Monteverde? If so, which one would you recommend?

  86. Hi:

    We are a couple in our late 50s. We have full 8 days in Costa Rica arriving in late April — (not including the day of arrival or departure). We love nature on a relaxed pace. We plan on renting a car but would like to do a guided tour out of Fortuna to Monteverde and then drive from Fortuna to Manuel Antonio. So basically, SJO to Fortuna, two day guided tour to Monte Verde, drive to Manuel Antonio and fly out of SJO. What are your thoughts? Can we leave our car in Fortuna and take a two day guided tour to Monteverde and back? Is a 4×4 recommended in April — since we are not planning on driving to Monteverde? Thank you.

    1. Hi Monica, I’m not sure your visit to Monteverde needs to be guided. If you are worried about the drive, there are other ways to get there like the Van-Boat-Van transfer across the lake or a private shuttle. Then you could shuttle on to Manuel Antonio after and pickup another car there if you wanted one. You shouldn’t need 4×4 for La Fortuna or Manuel Antonio unless you plan on exploring on back roads. Hope that helps!

  87. Hi Jenn and Matt.

    I am so happy I came across your website. It is offering so much needed information i have been looking for.

    Myself along with 7 other female friends are planning a trip for late April. We found a beautiful air BNB that happened to be in Montezuma so this is where most of our trip will be spent. I saw your article but was wondering if their are any specific activities you would recommend for us.

    We arrive into San Jose in the afternoon and by recommendation will spend a night in San Jose and leave for Montezuma in the morning. Was told not to attempt navigating the terrain on that side for the first time at night. So also looking for activities we may be able to do that evening. It seems like museums etc may not be an option due to the time we arrive. I also think we arrive on a holiday. (19th of April).

    Any tips and recommendations are welcomed please.

    1. Hi Mykeeva, We can’t think of any additional activities that would be good for your group other than what we have in our Montezuma article.

      For something to do in San Jose, yes, the 19th is Good Friday so a national holiday. You won’t have much time if you don’t get in until the afternoon so I think I’d suggest just a nice dinner somewhere. A good option in the city is La Terraza. We have some more ideas in our San Jose post.

  88. I am planning our first family trip from San Diego to CR April 5-13 with our 8 and 12 year old. We want to avoid the drive from Arenal to Manuel Antonio (just too much time in car/shuttle for us) so I am planning to save Arenal for our 2nd trip. Tentative plan is to fly in/out of San Jose and go straight to Manuel Antonio for 3-4 days for (1) Nauyaca Waterfalls, (2) Park and Beach, and (3) catamaran snorkel cruise. (we want to zipline but after reading your post I am thinking it would be better to wait to zip to the upper Montezuma waterfalls).
    Questions:
    1. Is it OK to drive at night from San Jose Airport to Manuel Antonio?
    2. Based on our activities, do you have a family friendly resort you would especially recommend?

    Then, we want to do our last 3-4 days on the Nicoya Peninsula for (1) tortuga island day snorkel trip (2) hike lower montezuma and maybe zip line tour the upper falls if hike is too hard for kids, (3) free day/quads on beach or snorkel another beach….
    Questions:
    1. Is our best travel option the ferry or is water taxi more direct and fun? I dont know if we can pack light enough for the water taxi. Do you know weight limits on luggage?
    2. On the Nicoya Peninsula, what town do you recommend we stay in so have best access to our activities?

    General Question: Based on this trip plan, do you think we need a car? We would like to have one but I dont know how we would get it to or leave it when we go to Nicoya Peninsula. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Ruby, We don’t recommend driving long distances after dark so we would stay overnight near the airport then get an early start the next day. You can see our recommended airport hotels here. For a family friendly resort in Manuel Antonio, we have some ideas in our Manuel Antonio Trip Planning post. Costa Verde is a good one.

      We’d recommend a rental car if you want to do a day trip to the Nauyaca Waterfalls but you could always just rent one for the day. Otherwise, you don’t necessarily need a car for where you are going.

      For getting to the Nicoya Peninsula, you can either take the ferry or the water taxi is more direct and fun. I don’t think they are too strict with baggage limits as long as you don’t have an unusual amount. We’d go with Montezuma as a home base on the Nicoya since it will be closer to activities.

      Please

  89. Hello guys,

    I am planning a week trip to Costa Rica with my kids (teenagers).

    If we go by the itinerary that you have suggested, how many hotels (and days/hotel) and what locations do we have to book to cover all your recommended destinations?

    Thanks,

  90. This is so helpful, thank you!! I also read your post about traveling with children which was extremely helpful. Our baby will be 9 months when we go, so not sure the drive from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio will be worth it? Are there any decent beaches a tad closer? Thanks so much!

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