Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Our New Travel Guide

Our new book, Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries, just hit the virtual shelves and a paperback version will be coming soon. We are beyond excited and have been waiting for this moment since we began researching and writing almost a year and a half ago. For those planning a visit to Costa Rica, we hope it will be a great resource and make trip planning fast and easy. In this post, we’ll tell you a little bit about the book and give you a behind-the-scenes look at how it came about.

Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries Book | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

How It All Started

It wasn’t our original intention to become travel planners, or to write a guidebook, but shortly after moving to Costa Rica in July 2013, people began to contact us through our website for help.

Luckily, before moving, we had already vacationed in many of Costa Rica’s top destinations and knew quite a bit about the country. But to add to our knowledge base, after making the move, we immediately started traveling all around Costa Rica. We ended up living in eight towns in 16 months. We didn’t come to Costa Rica intending to be so nomadic, but somehow stumbled across house sitting right before we moved and nothing has been the same since.

Since that first house sit in the Southern Zone, we’ve had five others, along with a couple of rentals, which have brought us to all different parts of the country. By staying for a month or more at a time, we’ve been able to really get to know each area, exploring hidden beaches and secret waterfalls, all while getting the local’s perspective. We found ourselves taking copious notes, photos, and video of just about everything we did. Even a simple trip to the beach or a hike in a national park included a notebook, pen, and armfuls of camera equipment. As we learned more and more about the country, the idea to put it all together into a book just made sense.

 

Waterfall in Grecia | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
Jenn taking some video of a waterfall in Grecia

About the Book

Costa Rica attracts many different kinds of travelers, but after over a year of helping people with trip planning, we’ve discovered many similarities. From the hundreds of emails we’ve gotten and dozens of itineraries we’ve designed, we’ve seen a lot of recurring questions:

What destinations are the best for … families, seeing wildlife, beaches, etc.?

 

What are the best things to see and do? Do you have any local secrets to share?

 

Should I go to X town first or should I start my trip in Y? I don’t want to backtrack. What order makes the most sense?

 

What’s the best way to get around? Are the roads to Z really that bad?

These commonly asked questions became the framework for Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries. Through any one of the ten, easy-to-follow itineraries, you can get all the answers and plan your entire trip.

 

Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

 

Our main goal for the book was to keep things simple. We know how overwhelmed people can get while planning. Although guidebooks usually have tons of valuable information within their 500-plus pages, finding what you need can be daunting. To make it easy, we get right to the point. We provide the best order for each itinerary, pairing destinations that make sense, and include a simple map to show where you’ll be visiting. We then give an overview of each destination, its layout and available amenities, so that you know what to expect.

Once you know where you’re going, we tell you what to do. We highlight the must-see activity in each destination and give you a robust list of other activities unique to the area. We also incorporate many local insights and tips to give you an insider’s perspective. To further ease the process, more information about activities is provided in an Activities Guide at the end of the book. Here, you’ll find detailed information like hours, prices, website links, etc.

 

Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries Sample | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
A look inside the book. View a full sample on Amazon.

 

Similar to the Activities Guide, each itinerary links to a Transportation Guide. This guide will really help with your transportation questions. It gives the main transportation options that most people visiting Costa Rica use (rental car, shuttle van, and small plane), and gives you the information you need to decide which is right for you. Estimated drive times, general road conditions, costs, and trip times are all provided. Importantly, we also give you some essential tips, like when a 4×4 vehicle is required or if you’re better off taking a small plane because a destination is more remote.

We’re Here to Help

Hopefully you’ll be able to plan your dream vacation to Costa Rica with one of the itineraries in the book, and all you’ll have left to do is arrange hotels and transportation. If you do end up having a question or two as you plan, we’re here to help. Unlike those big guidebook companies, our full-time job is our website and helping people like you plan their vacations.

To make it easy, we’ve set up a Forum. Whether you’re just looking for a hotel recommendation or need more detail about something in the book, just ask a question in our Forum and we’ll get back to you right away. We’re also adding hotel recommendations to many of our Destination articles and have even teamed up with a car rental company to get a special discount for our readers (Click here to learn more.).

In the future, we’ll bring you even more resources, but for now, we’re heading to the beach. With all this writing, we’ve lost our tan. Don’t worry though, we’ll bring our notebook and camera along too.

Click to Buy or Preview on Amazon: E-Book, $3.99; Paperback, $11.95

Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries Banner | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

We hope you enjoy the book! Leave us a comment below, or better yet, post your review of the book on Amazon to help spread the word.

 

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43 Comments

  1. Love the itineraries! It seems to always be the biggest question. This country is small but getting around takes longer than it initially looks on a map. Your book is a valuable resource and a perfect companion to other travel related books.

    Congratulations on a job well done!

    1. Thank you, Nadine, for the kind words. That’s what we always tell people too. It can be a hard lesson to learn that you can’t see everything in just one vacation. Makes for a good excuse to keep coming back though. Pura vida!

  2. Just ordered the paperback! After reading you blog and all the posts I got hooked. Looking forward to reading it and to our upcoming vacation!

  3. Ok, call me crazy but I’m about to plan and book a trip to Costa Rica for my family of 6. I just ordered your book and hope it helps. My biggest obstacle is always finding lodging for 6.

    1. Hi Maria, Thanks for buying our book! Getting lodging for 6 can be tough but it’s definitely doable. We’ve found when looking for clients that lots of hotels in CR have family rooms, and you might consider looking into vacation rentals. Good luck!

  4. Looking for an itinerary that includes Tortuguero. One question Since our goal is to see nesting turtles is there a destination other than Tortuguero that we can get this experience

  5. We are thinking of flying in to San Jose and heading up to Arenal area, I love the look El Silencio del Campo resort. Although it does look pricey. Then we would head to Montverde on route to the coast. We have found 2 potential areas, although we are open to suggestions for a different location too: 1 south of Jaco-Esterillos Este: Encantada Ocean Cottages and also Uvita:Shelter from the Storm. Would you recommend one over the other or somewhere else? Is it possible to do a day trip to Manuel Antonio from either place? Any tips would be appreciated.

    1. Hi Jamie, Hotel El Silenco del Campo is a really nice, family-run lodge so it might be worth the splurge. Esterillos Este and Uvita are both good options for some time at the beach. They are smaller beach town, and from either one, you could easily do a day trip to Manuel Antonio. Esterillos is really small but also not far from the busy beach town of Jaco where you will find many restaurants and things to do. We haven’t stayed at Encantada Ocean Cottages before, but the location is great if you want to be right on the beach. Uvita is beautiful too. It is farther south in a more rural area where the rainforest is more lush and there is a lot of wildlife. We have been to Shelter from the Storm. It’s also a great option. The owners are very friendly and the individual villas are really cute and comfortable. It’s in the hills so farther from the beach if that is important to you. We have more info about the Uvita area in this post. Hope that helps you narrow your search!

  6. Ok. Thanks. For our 2 week trip over Dec-Jan 17/18, we are set on going to Arenal and Monteverde. But then it gets confusing. We want to do the beach and national parks. It is hard to decide between heading to the Guanacaste coastline or down to Domincal/Uvita area. For our first time, is there one coastal area that you would suggest over the other? We love beaching, but also exploring, wildlife, hiking and national parks. #somanydecisions

    1. I would decide based on if you want lush rainforest, hiking close by, a lot of wildlife, quieter surrounds, waterfalls (Dominical) vs. beautiful beaches with more options for swimming, more amenities/restaurants, and easier to get around without a car (Guanacaste). It is a tough call!

        1. Hi Lindsey, It depends on where you’re going. It’s about 3.5 hours to Jaco on the Central Pacific so doable in one day and 4 hours to the Tamarindo area in Guanacaste on the NW Pacific Coast. Northern Guanacaste (Playa Hermosa, Playas del Coco) is actually a little closer at around 3 hrs. The Southern Pacific (Dominical, Uvita) is farther south so you could do an overnight in Jaco if you wanted to go there. There aren’t many places to overnight on the drive from Arenal to Guanacaste, unless you took a slight detour to the Miravalles Volcano area or Rincon de la Vieja. These areas have hot springs, mud baths, volcanic vents, etc. We are coming out with an article all about the Miravalles area soon so subscribe to our website if you want to learn more. Here’s the link to subscribe. It’s free.

  7. Hi Jenn and Matt,
    We booked our flights and are arriving into San Jose at night (9:10pm). Can you provide any feedback on where to stay and how to go about getting a car the next day? I read some great things about the Pura Vita Hotel. They say that they will even arrange to have the car delivered to the hotel in the am through Toyota. Do you have any knowledge on this?

    1. Hi Jaime, We haven’t stayed at Pura Vida Hotel before, but it looks like a good option for an overnight near the airport. We actually have a guide to our favorite hotels near SJO on our website, which you can find here. There are some in there in more scenic locations but that are still not far from the airport.

      Many rental car companies will deliver a car to your hotel for free so don’t pick a hotel or car company based on that. The company that we get a discount through, Adobe, provides this service as well as long as your hotel isn’t too far from the airport (I believe it is 12 miles). Here’s a link to our rental car page so you can see what rates are available for your dates. Hope that helps with your questions!

  8. Hi, I am loving your website- trying to plan a 2-3 week trip for my family of six (kids ages 4-11) plus my mom and aunt (both in their 60s). Definitely planning on using VRBO but feeling overwhelmed trying to decide where to have our “home base”. I just bought your guidebook on Amazon and I can’t wait to look at your suggested itineraries. Thanks so much for the resource!

    1. Hi Molly, Thanks for getting our book! You will see our Family itinerary recommends Nosara for families. Samara is good too and has a calmer beach for swimming. Both of those places have a lot of options for vacation rentals. Since you have quite a bit of time, you might consider a second destination. Jaco or Manuel Antonio are more good beach options, and La Fortuna and Monteverde are both family-friendly towns if you want to see the highlands. Good luck with the planning!

  9. Your 2 week itinerary above is what I want, but unfortunately I only have 9 nights. Is it possible to do Drake Bay, Manuel Antonio, Arenal, and Monteverde in only 9 nights? No flying either due to budget constraints (there are 4 of us). I suspect I need to cut one. Drake Bay is the outlier in terms of distance, but I REALLY want to visit the Osa Peninsula (planning to do the boat to Sirena Station). Perhaps I need 2 trips – one for southern sites and one for northern. What to do, what to do . . .

    1. Hi JP, Yeah, it’s not really possible to do all four in nine nights. If you really want to go to the Osa, though, you should. You could do 3-3-3 in Arenal, Manuel Antonio, and end in Drake Bay. It’s a long drive back to SJ after, but doable, and might be worth it if this is what you want to do. After Drake, you can pick up a rental car to drive back to SJ. Some companies, including the one we work with (more info here), will deliver a car to the boat docks in Sierpe.

  10. Hi there,

    Do you have any itineraries that start at the Liberia airport and end at the airport in San Jose (or can you suggest one)? We will be there for a total of eight nights and trying to figure out the best way to plan a trip that includes time at beaches, but also out in nature. At the moment we’re thinking Guanacaste > Arenal > Manuel Antonio. Debating whether or not we should also add in Monteverde, or end in a different beach area than Manuel Antonio.

    1. Hi Michele, The Eco-Trekking one-week itinerary can be done from either airport and you could add some time in Guanacaste to include the beach. You could also do the Best of Costa Rica itinerary starting at LIR and ending at SJO, or the Family itinerary, but reverse it so that you start at the beach in Nosara and end in La Fortuna. With only 8 nights, we would recommend limiting yourself to three destinations max due to drive times between destinations.

  11. Jenn and Matt,
    We are headed to CR on Christmas and will right away head to the Arenal area. Not sure exactly how we’ll do things, but I’m wondering if there are any cool huts/tents, treehouse stays that you could recommend. You know, something other than the norm Hostel/bnb/hotel. Any ideas? We wouldn’t want this for the entire trip, but several days in an area could be nice.

    Thanks

    1. Hi Doug, The Tree House Hotel is near La Fortuna and really popular. Heliconia Nature Lodge also has a few treehouses and cool bungalows backed by rainforest. Heliconia is unique because it’s located in a very small town but is still a reasonable drive to Fortuna (about 25 min). Those are all that come to mind for something really unique but you could see if our La Fortuna Hotel Guide gives you any more ideas

  12. If I want to go to CR for 10 days, should I start with your 7 day itinerary and add; or start with your 14 itinerary and subtract?

    1. You should use our 7 day and add a destination that appeals to you and makes sense logistically. That could be Monteverde like in the 14 day itinerary or somewhere else like Jaco, Samara, etc. It also depends on which airport you fly in and out of.

    2. Would you please provide me with the contact information for the tour guide you went out with and recommend for Arenal Volcano National Park tour? Thank you. Michael Finifter

  13. Hi Jenn & Matt, I bought your book and used it to plan a two week holiday over Christmas & New Years. It was our first trip to Costa Rica and until I bought your book I really had no idea where to start. We followed the Best of Costa Rica itinerary and it was perfect! We were traveling with our two college age kids and we all loved the trip. I was nervous that things maybe too congested at peak season but a lot of the hikes we took in La Fortuna, Moneteverde and Drake Bay we really did not see that many people which was great! At Manuel Antonio Jan 2nd the park was very busy and a number of the trails were closed but that was really our only negative experience with heavy crowds and had we followed your advice and gotten to the park at opening time we probably could have avoided the rush. We rented a car using your coupon through Adobe and they were great, no issues with the car and no extra changes when we brought it back. We can’t wait to go back to Costa Rica and try new places, although we would also be happy to just go back again to the same places as we really enjoyed them all. Thank you!

    1. Hi Emma, That is great to hear that your family had such a good trip and you didn’t feel the crowds too much. It’s always great to get feedback from people after their visit. Thank you so much for letting us know. If you have any time, it would be amazing if you could write a review of our book on Amazon. That would help us out a lot and help others thinking of using our guide.

      Hope your family gets back to CR soon. Pura vida!

  14. Hi there. We will be traveling to CR for about 10-14 days (still trying to figure it all out, will depend on what we decide we want to see while there) in Feb. or March 2019. It’ll be two adults, and one 4 1/2 year old. Our plan is to fly into San Jose, overnight there, head up to Arenal, spend a few nights, then down to Monteverde for another couple of nights. After that it’s to Manuel Antonio for the remainder of our trip, before back to San Jose to fly home. We will be renting a vehicle. Which book would you recommend I purchase to see your family itinerary? Would the same book have options for all the locations we’re planning to check out?

    1. Hi Jen, Our Our Top 10 Itineraries book has the Family itinerary. That itinerary does go to La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio so should be helpful with your planning and to familiarize yourself with the different activity options in those towns. The third destination is different, but we do cover Monteverde in a few other chapters, including the Best of Costa Rica chapter. For where to stay near the airport, you can find recommendations in our post Best Hotels Near SJO. Hope that helps and you enjoy our book if you decide to use it.

  15. Hi Jen,
    We are headed to CR in January 2019. It will be my husband and I, along with our two kids and their spouses (mid-to late 20s). We will be there for 8 days / 7 nights. We plan to fly into LIR, arriving around 1 p.m. and taking a private shuttle that afternoon to LaFortuna. We want to go to the Arenal National Park, Arenal Lake, LaFortuna waterfall, and take a day tour to Rio Celeste. I am also hoping to make it to Tamarindo to go to a couple of the beaches, and then head down to Manuel Antonio. Is this doable in the 8 days? Does it make more since to fly in/out of SJO? I have read some concerns that SJO experiences more delays, longer lines, etc. than LIR. We will likely be utilizing private shuttle transfers between each town, and the must do’s are Arenal and “rain forest”. Thank you for the wonderful resources!

    1. Hi Rachel, With 7 nights, you would be better off doing only 2 destinations due to drive times between those towns. If you really wanted to try to fit in all 3, taking private shuttles would speed things up so that’s good that you were already planning on that. It would also cut driving time to fly into LIR then out of SJO. Then your loop would be LIR to La Fortuna to Tamarindo to MA to SJO. Manuel Antonio is far from Liberia so better to fly out of SJO, which is only 2.5 hours away. LIR is a smaller airport so it can be faster, but SJO usually isn’t that bad unless you’ll be there during peak season right around New Years. Another option that is even more efficient is LIR to Tamarindo to La Fortuna to MA. Tamarindo is only about 1 hour from LIR so it would save you driving back and forth from LIR to La Fortuna and then La Fortuna back the same direction to Tamarindo. Hope that helps! When you get to the booking stage, we’d love to help with your private shuttle and tour reservations. See our Private Shuttle page and Tour Bookings page for more information.

  16. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    We’re planning a trip to CR in December, and wondered if you might comment on a few things. We are very fit and really like to hike, stay in a nice place with good food, and don’t want to spend a lot of time in the car. We were thinking overall about 8-10ish days. We’re not interested in zip line, horseback riding, waterfalls, etc. We thought Nayara in the La Fortuna area sounded nice, and we could go on day trips to Cano Negro and Tenorio NP as well as see whats around there. We considered that area for about 5 days. Then we also thought about the Guanacaste area for 3 or 4 days, but Rincon NP and Palo and Santa Rosa don’t sound like they have enough trails of significant lengths. And places like Hacienda Gauchipelin or Borinquen sound very mediocre. Are we better off just staying in the La Fortuna area? Any thoughts you have would be helpful? Thank you.

    1. Hi William, The Nayara in La Fortuna is very nice. 5 days there might be a day or so too much, though, given the number of hikes in the area, unless you’re okay with spending some time relaxing at the resort. We’d skip Guanacaste/Rincon if hiking is your main goal, because as you said, there’s not a ton of different hiking options there. You might enjoy the Southern Pacific Coast around Dominical. There are some nice hikes here because you can access hikes along the coast as well as in the mountains near Chirripo. Our book Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries has a chapter about the different options around La Fortuna and Dominical. See the Eco-trekking itinerary. It’s a bit of a drive between Fortuna and Dominical but you could break it up with an overnight along the way, maybe near Jaco.

  17. Hi Jenn and Matt, just bought your book. We are a family of four that would like to visit for a week around 22 Dec. We were hoping to avoid moving from place to place, and find a single location we could settle into, and then take day trips to see the jungle, beaches, do some activities, etc. Is there a town or location in Costa Rica that would be good for this – stay in one place for the seven days but be able to visit lots of places within convenient driving distance? From your book, I’m thinking La Fortuna? Or do you think we would get bored, and still really recommend moving after a few days to Manuel Antonio?
    Thanks much,
    Bill

    1. Hi Bill, Thanks for getting our book. It’s hard to have one central location in Costa Rica if you want to visit other regions. La Fortuna probably has the most activities of any town in the country, but it’s farther to places like Manuel Antonio, Tamarindo, Monteverde, etc. But if you’re fine with just doing things in La Fortuna, there’s more than enough to do there in a week. Two destinations might be better if you really want to see other areas, though, like the beach.

  18. Hi there,

    We’re a family of four, kids aged (6 years and 16 months). We’re traveling to SJO, staying in SJO from Nov 8-10. Going to Finca Luna Nueva Lodge from 10th-16th. And then staying in SJO the afternoon of 16th and leaving on the 17th morning.

    I’m attending a work related workshop at the Lodge but would like to do something with the family on the days we’re in SJO. Could you possibly help with some recommendations on things to do? Places to eat etc?

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