10 days in Costa Rica itinerary: From beaches to waterfalls and the jungle
We traveled around Costa Rica for almost 2 months. While crossing the entire country, we gathered some amazing tips and experienced a lot. In this guide, we will give you our best 10-day Costa Rica itinerary.
Despite the fact that Costa Rica is not a big country, it is filled with thrilling experiences, amazing wildlife, and friendly people. We learned to surf, walked on deserted beaches, met sloths and parrots, went down a zipline, and so much more.
The best time to visit Costa Rica
Many people dream of visiting Costa Rica, with its lush rainforests and dramatic coastline. But when is the best time to go? The answer depends on what you hope to see or do while you’re there and the kind of weather you prefer.
Thanks to its unique location, the country experiences two distinct seasons: the dry season and the rainy season.
The dry season runs from December to April, and during this time the weather is warm and sunny with very little rainfall. Many of Costa Rica’s attractions are accessible and the weather is relatively stable. However, prices for accommodation and travel are at their highest.
The months of February and March can be quite hot, so if you’re looking to avoid the crowds and enjoy cooler temperatures, this may not be the best time for you to visit.
The rainy season runs from May to November, and during this time the weather is predictably wetter. However, rainfall typically occurs in short bursts throughout the day, so it’s still possible to enjoy plenty of sunshine.
It can be a more challenging time to visit, as some roads may be impassable and some activities may be canceled due to bad weather. You can often find great deals on travel and accommodation during this time.
And since Costa Rica is located near the equator, temperatures are fairly consistent year-round, so you don’t have to worry about extreme heat or cold.
Ultimately, the best time to visit Costa Rica depends on your budget and your preferences. However, no matter when you decide to visit Costa Rica, you’re sure to have an unforgettable experience.
Rent a car for your 10 days Costa Rica itinerary or go by bus?
Most of the time, we traveled by public transport to save on the costs. Although this is an incredibly cheap way to visit Costa Rica on a budget, it is very time-sensitive.
Although this itinerary is possible by bus, we advise you to rent a car if you only have a 10-day trip to Costa Rica. It will save you a lot of time and more options to visit some highlights.
On this route, there are some destinations that are difficult to reach. The roads can be in bad condition (especially during the rainy season). Therefore, we recommend you rent a 4×4, especially during the rainy season.
The best place to rent a car is in San Jose. Try to book as early as possible. Since the Covid crisis, cars have become scarcer and therefore more expensive.
How many days do you need to visit Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is a country that has a lot to offer its visitors. From the lush rainforests to the stunning beaches, there is something for everyone. The question of how many days you need to visit Costa Rica really depends on what you want to see and do. There is no easy answer.
However, with a little planning, it is possible to get a good sense of what the country has to offer in a relatively short amount of time. This is exactly why we wrote this Costa Rica 10 days itinerary for you.
In our opinion, a week or 10 days in Costa Rica is an absolute minimum if you really want to get a taste of Costa Rican culture and natural beauty. A week would be sufficient for a beach or surf vacation. For a real road trip, you’ll need 10 days.
If you want to experience all that the country has to offer, then two or definitely three weeks would be ideal. Those who have more time can explore Costa Rica in greater depth, spending time in the remote corners of the country (such as Corcovado).
This 10-day road trip itinerary in Costa Rica will take you along volcanoes, waterfalls, forests, and pristine beaches. Are you ready to dive in?
Read more: Cool places to stay in Costa Rica
Day 1: San José – La Fortuna
Total driving distance: From San José center to the small town of La Fortuna is 134 km or 83 miles (2h 50).
Depending on the hour of your arrival you can go immediately to La Fortuna or book one night in San José and explore the center of the capital of Costa Rica. Check the last day of this itinerary for 10 days in Costa Rica on what to see in San José and where to stay.
How to plan your day
After you have picked up your 4×4 or regular rental car in San Jose, it’s about 3h driving to La Fortuna. If you want to go by bus, it’s a bit more of a hassle. Check the bus schedule as there are only 2 direct busses to La Fortuna from San José.
La Fortuna is located next to the famous Arenal volcano and is the eco-tourism capital of Costa Rica. If you’re too tired or jetlagged from your flight, we advise you to visit some hot springs.
The area is famous for it. Go to the Tabacon Resort or enjoy the hot springs in your own resort. We stayed at Nayara resorts and they, for example, have their own hot springs.
If you have more time, have a look at day two of this 10 days Costa Rica itinerary. We have listed the best activities for La Fortuna there.
Where to stay in La Fortuna
This budget hotel has a direct view of the Arenal Volcano and Arenal Lake. It is located 6,5 km / 4 miles from the national park and a 25 min drive from the town of La Fortuna. This is the best budget option with a splendid view of the region.
Nayara Tented Camp is located in Arenal National Park. The hotel is part of Nayara Gardens and was chosen as the number 1 hotel in Central America by Travel and Leisure magazine.
Yes, this is probably the best place to spend your night in Arenal. But that comes with a price so be prepared to pay some extra bucks for this once-in-a-lifetime experience!
This luxury resort offers spectacular views of the Arenal volcano and valley. They have 28 hot spring pools, a spa, and a fitness center. They have no less than 5 restaurants, so you’re spoiled for choice. And it’s a fantastic place for families.
Selina is situated in Fortuna, 6 km / 4 miles from La Fortuna Waterfall. It is a 3-star hotel with a restaurant, free parking, and a bar. They have continental breakfast available. Selina is a great place for digital nomads!
Kalambu Hot Springs is 5 km / 3 miles from the accommodation, while the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park is 20 km / 12 miles from the property.
Day 2: La Fortuna (Arenal National Park)
Total driving distance: today you can either stay in the La Fortuna area or make a detour to Rio Celeste, a 60 km / 37 miles (1h) drive.
How to plan your day
Today you have a full day to explore Arenal National Park. In the morning, there will be fewer visitors to the hot springs.
Optionally, you can also make a detour to Rio Celeste, north of the Arenal volcano. This river and waterfall are definitely worth a stop-over.
What to do in La Fortuna
- Hike La Fortuna Waterfall, swim in the river
The La Fortuna Waterfall is one of the most visited waterfalls in Costa Rica. At the base of the waterfall, you can find a jade-colored pool.
But to observe this 70 meters or 200 feet high waterfall, you must pass a path of approximately 530 steps. The La Fortuna Waterfall entrance fee is $18 for adults and $5 for children.
There is a big parking lot with bathrooms, a cafe, and a souvenir store. The parking is free.
It is not possible to swim in the waterfall because the current is too strong. But downstream you can find calmer pools with sandy bottoms.
- Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park
Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park is a Costa Rican rainforest with suspended bridges and zip lines that allow you to tour the jungle canopy.
With 16 different bridges, Mistico is one of the largest suspended bridge parks in the world. The length of the bridges varies from 50-600 meters, and they are all connected by trails that wind through the rainforest.
The park also has several lookout points where you can take in panoramic views of the Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal. Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park is a great place to experience the Costa Rican jungle.
- Hike Arenal 1968 Trail
This is one of the most popular trails in Costa Rica. The trail is named after the year when a devastating volcanic eruption destroyed the town of Arenal. Today, the trail offers breathtaking views of the surrounding jungle and volcanoes.
Hikers of all levels can enjoy the trail, as it can be completed in a few hours. The trailhead is located just outside the town of La Fortuna, making it easy to access.
- Kalambu Hot Springs
Kalambu Hot Springs is one of the most popular tourist attractions in La Fortuna. The hot springs are located in the Arenal Volcano National Park, and they are fed by the waters of the Arenal River.
Visitors can enjoy a variety of different pools, as well as a relaxation area and a restaurant. The Kalambu Hot Springs is open year-round, and they offer a unique opportunity to relax and enjoy the beauty of the Arenal Volcano.
- Rio Celeste Waterfall
The Rio Celeste River or Blue River is located in the Tenorio Volcano National Park and about 1 hour from La Fortuna. If you don’t want to drive yourself, you could also choose to go on a Rio Celeste tour, leaving from La Fortuna.
We recommend arriving at the park in the morning before 9 am. The Rio Celeste hike is 3.7 miles (6 km) in total and takes around 3 hours. The trails can get very muddy but it is possible to rent boots at the entrance.
The trail is a natural path and not handicap-friendly. Swimming is not allowed in the Rio Celeste River, but it is possible to take a dip by the bridge, 1km past the park entrance. It is called Rio Celeste Free Pool in Google Maps.
- Sloth Sanctuary La Fortuna Tour
The sloth Rescue Center is run by Proyecto Asis. After more than 20 years of caring for wild animals and the opportunity of releasing back to nature many species (including sloths), they are now offering you an educational tour in this sloth sanctuary.
Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes approximately from Monday to Saturday at 8:30 am, 10:30 am & 1:00 pm. The price per person is $25 USD. Kids 5 to 9 years old are $15 USD.
Follow this link to book your ticket in advance.
- Rainforest chocolate tour
When you want to learn more about chocolate and how to harvest, dry, and grind cacao, this rainforest chocolate tour might be something for you. The tour ends with making a traditional chocolate drink.
- Evening Frog Safari
If you want to see the famous frogs of Costa Rica, it’s best to book an evening frog safari and go look for them in the dark with a guide. A fantastic experience!
Day 3: La Fortuna – Monteverde (Cloud Forest)
Total driving distance: today you have a challenging drive of 120 km or 74 miles with sharp turns and some potholes. Please drive during daylight, especially when it’s raining.
If you’re on public transport you can arrange a bus – boat – bus tour. The boat will take you across the lake, which is very scenic and also quicker than by car.
How to plan your day
Monteverde is a small town in Costa Rica, up in the mountains, that is home to the world-famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. In addition to this paradise, there are also several other reserves in the area that are worth exploring.
Besides wildlife spotting, the area is also known for zip-lining and hanging bridges.
Ideally, you visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest early in the morning, the best time for wildlife spotting. Therefore, we advise you to save your visit for the morning of day 4.
After you arrive in Monteverde from La Fortuna, you can explore the town, go ziplining, or visit one of the other parks.
In the evening you can plan a night walk in the Children’s Eternal Rainforest or book another night safari to spot frogs, snakes, and other insects.
What to do in Monteverde
- Visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest and search for the mystical Quetzal
The Monteverde Cloud Forest is world-famous for its stunning biodiversity, and visitors can expect to see an incredible variety of plant and animal life.
There are several ways to explore the reserve, including guided hikes, zip-lining, and horseback riding.
We booked a guided tour with Roy, a very knowledgeable and friendly guide. We were really hoping to see the mystical Quetzal. Without a guide, it’s very hard.
And thanks to Roy, we did! We can highly recommend him! He knew where to look, and how to recognize the songs of all the birds. Plus he gave us tons of information on all the fauna and flora.
Even when you book a guide, you usually still have to buy your tickets for entering the reserve, which is $25 per person. You can buy tickets at the entrance. But, as there is a quota of 200 people at the same time, we advise you to book your ticket online in advance.
You can combine the Monteverde Cloud Forest with a visit to Selvatura Park.
- Selvatura Park
Selvatura Park is a nature and adventure ecological park located in Monteverde.
Selvatura Adventure Park has designed 8 packages for visitors to choose from. Ranging from a full day of adventure to hand-picked activities that best suit your “thrill for nature” level. You can book your package online.
They offer a canopy tour, suspension bridges, a butterfly garden, and even a reptile and amphibian exhibition.
- Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve
The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Costa Rica, after the Monteverde Cloud Forest. The reserve is home to over 200 species of birds, and a wide variety of plant and animal life, including many endangered species.
Visitors to the reserve can explore the forest on foot or by horseback, and there are also several zip lines and suspension bridges that offer panoramic views of the canopy.
The Santa Elena Reserve is a great place to enjoy the natural beauty of Costa Rica and learn about the importance of conservation.
Also, it’s often a bit less crowded than the Monteverde Cloud Forest, so could be a good alternative. Our favorite guide, Roy, also has a tour of the Santa Elena Cloud forest reserve.
- Curi-Cancha Reserve
The Curi-Cancha Reserve is home to some of the rarest animals in Costa Rica and a fantastic alternative in the Monteverde area if you want to avoid the crowds.
With its 5 miles of trails, there is a lot to explore. Our guide Roy also has an amazing guided tour through this reserve.
- Children’s Eternal Rainforest
The Bosque Eterno de Los Niños (BEN) was founded by donations from children in 44 countries and is run by a nonprofit conservation organization.
The unique sights and sounds of the tropical forest at night make a night walk at Bajo del Tigre a “must-do” for any visitor to Monteverde. You need to reserve your ticket.
Where to stay in Monteverde
Most hotels are located in Santa Elena, close to Monteverde.
This lovely pension is located in the center of Santa Elena. It’s a budget-friendly option, the rooms are small but nice. You have the possibility to use the kitchen and enjoy the welcoming atmosphere.
From here you can take the bus to the Cloud Forest. They can also arrange tours for you.
This hotel is located only 15 min from the entrance of the park. It is inspired by a rustic “Tica house” design and is family-owned. Tours and packages can be arranged by the staff.
This one is a bit more expensive but the best option for adventurers and explorers that love nature and wish to live this experience in a small mountain lodge. They offer local traditional rustic cabins.
They are located inside the only forest in the heart of Santa Elena but still close to the center of town.
Day 4: Monteverde – Tamarindo (Playa Flamingo)
Total driving distance: it is about 168 km or 104 miles (3h15) drive to Tamarindo (Playa Flamingo). On the way, you pass the city of Liberia.
How to plan your day
After your early morning visit to the Monteverde Cloud Forest, you can say goodbye to the rainforest! It is time to head to the coast en explore the beaches at the Pacific Coast.
First, we head to Playa Flamingo, which is one of the most beautiful beaches in the country. The best way to spend your day here is to relax on the beach.
If you’re looking for some activities you can do horseback riding or an ATV tour. Close to Playa Flamingo, you can find Conchal beach, another gorgeous beach consisting of white crushed seashells.
We spend the night in Tamarindo, a 30 min drive from Playa Flamingo. Tamarindo used to be a small fishing village but is now a popular beach destination in Costa Rica.
Although it can be very crowded, it’s still a lovely place to visit. And one of the best spots in Costa Rica to practice your surfing skills.
In the evening we suggest a sunset sailing tour.
What to do in Tamarindo
In the town of Tamarindo, there is a lot to see and do. Either stay at the beach or choose for a little more adventure.
You could go horseback riding. It is a great way to see the scenery and get some exercise while enjoying the fresh air. Make sure to choose a company that treats its animals well.
Surfing is another extremely popular activity in Tamarindo and the waves here are some of the best in Costa Rica. Both beginners and more experienced surfers can give it a go here. There are many surfing companies to choose from. Some even offer complete camps with accommodation.
If you’re really in for a thrill, you can go on an ATV tour along the beaches and inland.
Sunset sailing is another must-do while in Tamarindo as it is a beautiful way to see the coastline and watch the sunset.
- Palo Verde National park (you can do this on your way to Tamarindo)
Palo Verde National Park is home to many different species of animals and plants and it is definitely worth a visit. It’s one of the best examples of a tropical dry forest.
The park is home to many birds. In the wet season (April – November), migrating birds visit the park. In the dry season (December – March/April), the Rio Tempisque river dries out and the trees lose their leaves. If you want to see wildlife then, you have a big chance around the water pools.
Where to stay in Tamarindo
As Tamarindo is so popular, accommodations can fill up quickly. If you want to find an affordable place or stay in one of the nicest hotels, book well in advance.
This budget-friendly property is 150m from Tamarindo beach and has a beautiful tropic garden with some cute bungalows. Every bungalow has its own patio with a hammock.
This property is only a 6-minute walk from the beach. It is located in Tamarindo, 1.1 km (less than a mile) from Grande Beach. They provide accommodation with an outdoor swimming pool, free private parking, and a garden. Continental breakfast is included.
This oceanfront resort is located at Flamingo Beach (30 min from Tamarindo). You can relax by the sparkling outdoor pool and sip a cocktail at the swim-up pool bar.
Take in a spectacular sunset over the ocean while enjoying the international cuisine infused with Costa Rican flavors in one of their three restaurants.
It’s a good choice if you want some more luxury or want your kids to have an amazing time!
Day 5: Tamarindo – Montezuma
Total driving distance: the drive from Tamarindo to Montezuma is about 182 km or 113 miles and will take you about 3 hours.
How to plan your day
Montezuma is a small beach town located in the south of the Nicoya Peninsula. This area of the country is very remote and the roads are rough but luckily improving. A 4×4 car could make things easier, especially in the rainy season.
On your way to Montezuma, you can visit the Diria National Park. In the park, there are three trails. This park is not spectacular but still worth a visit.
After arriving in Montezuma you can enjoy the beach or visit the gorgeous waterfall (20 min).
You’ll love this place because it is less crowded and more remote than the rest of the places we’ll visit during this 10 days in Costa Rica itinerary.
What to do in Montezuma
- Montezuma Waterfall
This is probably the most popular activity in Montezuma. The waterfall is located just south of town. The waterfalls are a set of three cascades, the largest waterfall is almost 80 feet or 24 meters tall.
It is also possible to swim in the other two. Here you can find a nice article about how to visit the Montezuma waterfalls.
- Playa Montezuma
Expect an undeveloped coastline with a tropical jungle, kilometers long, and partially rocky beach. Look out for wildlife such as iguanas and capuchin monkeys. Protect your lunch!
- Playa Grande
If you keep walking north at Playa Montezuma (45min) you will find Playa Grande. This is a beautiful beach and it is also perfect for surfing. Along the way, it is possible to see wildlife.
- Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve
If you like hiking we suggest you visit the Reserva Natural Absoluta Cabo Blanco. There is a 2-mile long (3 km) trail that crosses a ridge and drops down to Playa Banco on the tip of the Nicoya Penisula.
The visitor’s entrance to Cabo Blanco is on the east side of the Peninsula near Cabuya, south of Montezuma.
- Snorkeling at Tortuga Island
You can visit Isla Tortuga (Tortuga Island) by boat, it is only one hour away and a very popular tour from Montezuma. It has a white sand beach and is great for snorkeling. On your way to the island, it is possible to spot dolphins, turtles, or other marine life.
- Isla de Cabuya
When it is low tide you can walk to this tiny island. It is located south of Montezuma. On Isla de Cabuya you can find a cemetery. Walk past the graveyards as this is a unique spiritual experience. Be sure to check the tides, you don’t want to get stuck on this mysterious island…
Where to stay in Montezuma
- Montezuma Pacific Hotel: this quiet friendly budget hotel is located in “downtown” Montezuma.
- Amor de Mar is right next to the Montezuma River, a few miles from the Cabo Blanco National Park. They have 9 rooms and 2 villas. This is a more luxury option.
- Casitas Sollevante and Casa Frangipani is set on the Montezuma Hills, 800 m from the town center. The Casitas Sollevante features an outdoor swimming pool and hot tub. They have accommodation with terraces and breathtaking Pacific Ocean views.
Day 6: Montezuma – Jaco
Total driving distance: 166 km or 103 miles, with the ferry from Paquera to Puntarenas (75 min) as an extra.
How to plan your day
First, you need to drive about 1 hour to the ferry dock in Paquera. You can reserve your tickets online. From there you can take the boat to Puntarenas. The crossing takes about 75 minutes. Along the way, you will see pelicans, rays, and if you are lucky dolphins.
When you have arrived in Puntarenas, you drive south towards Jaco. Along the way, you will come across the famous Crocodile Bridge. There you can see the crocodiles on the bank of the Tarcoles River.
Along the way to Jaco, you drive past the Carara National Park, which is the northernmost Pacific coastal rain forest in Costa Rica. The park has some nice hiking trails.
After visiting the park you arrive in Jaco, one of the best places to learn surfing. You will find a lot of cafes and restaurants here. We had an excellent pizza in Rioasis Pizzeria on the main street. Time to go out and do a little dance. Be careful of your belongings though.
Jaco is a very touristy coastal city and some might find it too artificial. We have to admit, it doesn’t feel like an authentic Costa Rican experience. If you’re here for surfing or some nightlife, you’re in the right spot.
If you want a more authentic experience, you could skip Jaco, move Manuel Antonio up and go to Uvita on your last day.
Where to stay in Jaco
The hotel is located close to the beach. Each unit has air conditioning with a fully equipped kitchen, and a patio overlooking the pool and the ocean. There is a surf school that sets up shop right in the area.
The bungalows are located a bit north of town but the view you get is unbelievable. You can use bikes to go to the beach or go surfing. Red macaws pass by regularly.
If you have some more days, you can take one of their surf camps. We dud and we can highly recommend it!
The Selina Jaco hotel is also beachfront, they have private rooms with wifi and shared workspaces. It is within walking distance of the town center and a great spot for digital nomads.
This beachfront hotel is located on the very south of the beach. They have an onsite restaurant with good seafood. The rooms have either an oceanfront or rainforest view.
Day 7: Jaco
Total driving distance: today we stay in Jaco to refuel, surf, and enjoy the beach
How to plan your day
You can spend all day long learning how to surf and relax on the beach. If you rather explore nature, you can head to the Carara National Park or even Manuel Antonio National Park (1h15).
Another great option is to go to Herradura Beach (only 15 min) to go SUP’ing or do a horseback ride at the Bijagual Waterfall.
If you want to watch the real boys catch some of the biggest waves in Costa Rica, head over to Playa Hermosa. If you like sportfishing you can go out to the sea to catch your own fish.
What to do in Jaco
- Carara National Park (33 km or 20 miles north of Jaco)
The Carara National Park is first of all a birdwatcher’s paradise. In the Carara National Park, you can find two hiking trails. The Laguna Meandrica trail (4,5 km or 2.7 miles) parallels the Rio Grande de Tarcoles (Tarcoles River). The shorter Araceas trail (1 km or 0,6 miles) is a loop that starts and ends at the main ranger station (Quebrada Bonita).
You will find some local guides at the entrance who can show you the two-toed sloth, agouti, armadillo, and monkeys. Carara National park is also a favorite among bird watchers because the endangered scarlet macaw can be found here.
Watch out from August to October, the trails near the river may be impassable because of flooding.
The price of admission is $10 per person, the park has a ranger station with restrooms.
Jaco beach is a top surfing destination. The beach is 3 km or 1,5 miles long and has shoulder-to-head high waves. It is the perfect spot for beginners to learn how to surf as the waves are strong and consistent but not too powerful. The best time is from April to October.
We spent some days with Surf Synergy and absolutely loved it! They offer complete packages for beginners, intermediate or experienced surfers. You’ll be immersed in general surf knowledge, pool paddling & duck diving, breathing exercises, good nutrition, and dry land simulation. After each lesson in the ocean, you get a personalized video analysis.
You can check their website to see which package would fit you best. This is only possible when you have a little more time to spend in Jaco.
- Bijagual Waterfall (Horseback Ride)
The Bijagual Waterfall is one of the main attractions in Jaco. It is very popular to experience the waterfall on a guided horseback riding tour. You can do a combo with ziplining.
- Herradura Beach (SUP)
Herradura Beach is a 20-minute drive away. This is a beautiful beach with calm waters. It is ideal for swimming or paddling with the sup. One of the most popular resorts in the area is located here, Los Suenos Marriott. It is famous for its marina and golf course.
If you like sport fishing, Jaco is the place to look for the sailfish. You can find them all year round. The Marriott Marina is the launching point for a number of charter boats.
Day 8: Jaco – Quepos (Manuel Antonio)
Total driving distance: it’s about 1h30 driving from Jaco to Manuel Antonio National Park.
Quepos is known as the main gateway to the Manual Antonio National Park. It is located 20min from the entrance of the park. You can choose to stay in town or closer to the park. If you are traveling on a budget, we suggest Quepos.
How to plan your day
After you leave Jaco, you’ll pass Playa Hermosa. This beach is famous for surfing, but for the experienced ones. Some of the biggest waves of Costa Rica can be found here.
You can stop and have a look at the professionals before heading south. After that, drive straight to Quepos, a harbor town close by the park. The town of Quepos is very tourist-friendly and has restaurants, banks, and a post office.
There are some stunning beaches in close proximity to Quepos. You could visit for example Playa Espadilla or go to Biesanz Bay which is considered one of the most beautiful ocean views on the Pacific Coast.
For the more adventurous there are two rivers near Quepos where you can go white water rafting.
We suggest that you visit the Manuel Antonio National Park early in the morning the next day to avoid the crowds and the heat.
What to do around Quepos – Manuel Antonio
- Seeing the sunset on the Paseo del Mar, Quepos
If you’re staying in Quepos (as we did), enjoy your dinner in one of the many restaurants and walk over to the Paseo del Mar to enjoy the sunset between the locals.
- Playa Espadilla
The beaches in Manual Antonio are beautiful, but you need to pay entrance to visit them. Playa Espedilla is a little further from Quepos but the most famous ‘free’ one in the area.
It has two parts. Playa Espadilla Norte is free but can be quite crowded during the day. The southern part (Playa Espadilla Sur) is located within the National Park and you need to pay admission to get there. It is wonderful and remains very quiet without many tourists.
- Catamaran tour
The Quepos Marina opened in 2014 and can accommodate as many as 200 boats. Many fun catamaran trips depart from here. You can choose for example to book a sunset cruise or a one-day cruise.
- White water rafting
There are two rivers in town. The Savegre River has Class II and III rapids. These are great as rafting introductions for families while you still can enjoy the scenery. Check out this Savegre White-water rafting Tour.
On the other hand, there is the Naranjo River which has III and IV rapids. These are more for advanced rafters.
Where to stay in Quepos – Manuel Antonio National Park
- Serenity Boutique Hotel (Quepos): this budget boutique hotel is located in the center of Quepos, only 200m from the bus stop to the Manuel Antonio National Park.
We stayed here and think it has great value for its money. They have 14 lovely rooms with air conditioning and a great swimming pool.
- Santa Juana Lodge & Nature Reserve: this rural lodge is located 60 minutes from the park. The lodges are beautifully located and overlook the panoramic pacific coastline of Manuel Antonio.
- Hotel Costa Verde: located 5km or 3 miles from Quepos, overlooking the Manuel Antonio National Park with 3 cliff-side pools, sundecks, … it is perfect for families, groups, or couples. They even have a wedding platform!
- Gaia Hotel and Reserve (Manuel Antonio National Park): this luxury boutique hotel is for adults only. It is located on Manuel Antonio beach. Extra is the luxury spa with 6 treatment rooms.
Day 9: Manuel Antonio
Total driving distance: It is quite easy to leave your car in Quepos and take the bus from the Quepos bus station. It is also possible to park your car close to the park.
Manuel Antonio is one of the most accessible and popular national parks in Costa Rica. This means you won’t be alone. Come early to avoid some of the crowds.
If you have more time in Costa Rica, you’ll find some of the other national parks (such as Cahuita NP or Corcovado NP) to be more authentic and easier to spot wildlife. However, we still believe you should stop at Manuel Antonio.
How to plan your day
Keep in mind that the park is closed on Tuesdays! Opening hours are from 7 am to 4 pm (the beaches close at 3 pm). You can buy your tickets online, they cost $18 for adults, and children 12 and up pay $6.
You can hire an officially certified tour guide who will accompany you through the park. They await you at the entrance of the park. Ask for their official license. Or you could book a tour online upfront.
The park is perfect to explore by yourself. All the trails are clearly signposted. However, as it is sometimes hard to spot animals, we booked a guide. They have a telescope so you can see the animals close and get photos through the telescope.
For optimal animal spotting, we advise you to come early in the morning. We booked the guide during the morning hours and spent the rest of the day exploring the park on our own.
How to visit the Manuel Antonio National Park
In the park, there are a lot of trails. They are all well marked so you certainly can’t get lost in the jungle. Our favorite was the loop you can make from Playa Manuel Antonio.
For many visitors, Manuel Antonio’s stunning beaches are the main attraction. After passing through the entrance and following a wide path you arrive at Playa Manuel Antonio.
If you want to escape the crowds, come here early or immediately after your guided tour. We spent some time at the beach and then explored the rest of the park. Don’t forget your towel and bathing suit!
In the middle of the park, you can find a cafeteria with sandwiches, drinks, and of course, souvenirs. A bit overpriced but knowing that this is the most popular park in Costa Rica, it sounds logical. Please don’t feed the animals.
Another tip is that you need to stay away from the Manchineel trees. The flowers, leaves, and bark are highly toxic, causing blisters and burns. They are marked with caution signs or a red flag.
Keep in mind that you’re not allowed to bring any type of food. Only sodas and water are permitted.
Day 10: Manuel Antonio – San José
Total driving distance: 174 km or 110 miles, about 2u30 of driving. Follow the route along Parrita, Jaco, and Orotina. Google could suggest you take the 301 which is shorter (108km or 67miles) but this road takes longer (3h) and is more challenging.
How to plan your day
Depending on the time of your return flight, you may still be able to visit San José.
Some people say there is not much to see in San José, but we disagree. It is not the most beautiful town, but still worth a visit and a great opportunity to soak up some Costa Rican vibes.
What to do in San Jose
- Explore the Jade Museum
This museum houses the most pre-Columbian Jade in the world. It holds a large collection of archeology, art, ethnography, and numismatics treasures. The Jade Museum is located in a building of post-modern design in the center of San José.
A visit takes about 2h and will cost $15 for adults, and $13 for kids under 12. Kids below 5 get free admission.
- Explore the National Museum
The National Museum of Costa Rica used to be a fortress. It is here that former president Jose Figueres Ferres made an end to the national army. They have a small butterfly garden before you enter the museum. In the museum itself, you can learn more about the history of Costa Rica.
The museum is closed on Monday. The entrance fee is $11 and is free for minors under 12 years of age. More info about the museum can be found on their website.
- Tour the National Theater
Take a tour to learn about the theater and admire the stunning architecture. The entrance fee is $10, and reservations are required. You can buy tickets for performances here.
- Visit the San José Central Market
This is the place where you can go souvenir shopping and try traditional food. If you’re looking to buy coffee or other Costa Rican products this is the best spot. It’s cheaper than in the regular souvenir shops and you get a nice vibe as well.
There are many restaurants in the market. Soda Tapia is one of them and has been in the market for over 100 years!
Where to stay in San José
- In the Wind Hostel and guesthouse: the hostel is located about 3 km (2 miles) outside the city center but is the best one of the best budget options in San Jose and also where we stayed. Every morning the Canadian manager cooks delicious pancakes for breakfast.
- Hotel Casa Roland: our favorite place to stay overnight is in San Jose. The building is nicely decorated and the rooms and apartments are big. Every morning you get a delicious breakfast served in the lobby. Perfect for families.
- Sheraton San Jose: if you’re looking for some luxury, this is your place to go. It is located outside the center of San Jose and close to the airport.
- Holiday Inn Express Airport San Jose: located next to the airport and perfect if you have an early flight.
Extra day: Uvita – Marino Ballena National Park
Do you have an extra day to spare? Don’t want to visit Jaco? Or would you rather not go surfing? Then Uvita and the Marino Ballena National park are your way to go.
Uvita is a nice little town with a very friendly vibe. Bahia, even smaller, is a local village right next to the National Park. And it has one of the most beautiful beaches along the Pacific coast, in our opinion.
It is also the favorite place of humpback whales and dolphins (from July to October). Inside the park, you can visit the tómbolo (whale tail).
Things to do in Uvita – Marino Ballena National Park
- Visit the Marino Ballena National Park (Whale Tail)
This park is the favorite place of humpback whales and several types of dolphins. Every year (July to October) they come here to carry out their reproductive cycle. The park has a rocky and sandy formation that resembles the tail of a whale.
Inside the Marino Ballena National Park, you can visit the whale tail (check the low tide) and enjoy the beaches. The sunset on the beach is fantastic. You can buy tickets in advance or at the entrance. Tickets cost $6 for adults, and children under 11y are free.
- El Pavon Waterfall
This unique waterfall is about 25 min drive from Uvita. It is surrounded by jungle and has natural swimming pools in front of the waterfall and down the river. You don’t need to hike as it is easily accessible. The entrance is free.
- Surfing trip to Dominical
Dominical is only 15min away from Uvita. It is a hippie surfer town and a great place for surfing. The vibe is very laid back. It is possible to rent your own surfboard or take some lessons.
Where to stay in Uvita
You can stay in the main town center of Uvita or closer to the beach in Bahia. Keep in mind that you need to pay for entrance to the park if you want to spend some time on the beach.
- Karandi Hostel (Bahia): we stayed at this amazing hostel in Bahia. The national park is within walking distance. The place has a great garden, a common kitchen, and a lovely vibe.
- Cabinas Bahía Uvita – Marino Ballena National Park Lodge: another great option in Bahia, only 4 minutes away from the beach.
- Whale Tail Hotel: located in Uvita, this lovely place has a swimming pool and BBQ and is great for families too.
- La Cusinga Lodge: the fantastic views over the ocean of this accommodation will blow you away and is reason enough to come here.
More tips about Uvita and the Marino National Ballena park can be found in our article “Things to do in Uvita“
That’s a wrap! We hope you enjoyed our 10-day itinerary of Costa Rica. If you have any questions, suggestions, or remarks, please let us know in the comments.
Interactive map with stops, places of interest, and hotels
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