Suggested itineraries in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a revered destination for its sprawling natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. Blessed with over 800 miles of coastline, 121 volcanic formations (with seven actively simmering), and a mind-boggling array of biodiversity packed into its borders, Costa Rica offers an eco-friendly escape like no other. It's one of the most popular countries in Central America and a great place for adrenaline junkies, outdoor lovers and surfers. Planning a holiday to Costa Rica? Make sure to check out our best Costa Rica itineraries.

To enjoy a well-rounded Costa Rica experience, planning your trip around a well-crafted itinerary is key. Here's an overview of some highly recommended Costa Rica itineraries to inspire your journey:

  • 5 days in Costa Rica - Perfect for those who want to experience Costa Rica's stunning scenery and rich cultural attractions in a short period of time.
  • 7 days in Costa Rica - Provides more time to immerse yourself in key experiences such as exploring the colourful wildlife in the Monteverde cloud forest and relaxing on the picturesque beaches of the Pacific coast.
  • 10 days in Costa Rica - An extended itinerary to fully experience a variety of ecosystems, from the volcanic landscapes of Arenal to the lush rainforests of Corcovado, offering ample opportunity for adventures such as ziplining and hiking.
  • 14 days in Costa Rica - This duration allows you to thoroughly explore both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, including visits to famous national parks such as Manuel Antonio and Tortuguero, perfectly combining relaxation and exploration.
  • 3 weeks in Costa Rica - an ideal option for a comprehensive journey through Costa Rica's diverse landscapes and cultural attractions, including the little-visited southern regions and indigenous territories, offering a deep immersion in the country's natural beauty and cultural heritage.

Remember that the success of your trip to Costa Rica depends on your travel preferences matching what this diverse country has to offer in terms of different regions, seasons and attractions.


5 day Costa Rica itinerary

If you're limited on time, a 5-day Costa Rica itinerary allows you to experience a taste of the country's abundant natural beauty and diverse cultures.

  • Day 1 - San Jose: Begin your journey in San José, the vibrant capital city of Costa Rica. Spend the day exploring the museums, markets, and colonial architecture. Don't miss the National Theatre, known for its exquisite interior. Explore the Jade Museum, and Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, and take leisurely strolls around Central Park.
  • Days 2 and 3 - La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano: Head towards La Fortuna next, home to the stunning Arenal Volcano. Dedicate day two to hiking the volcano and exploring the rainforest. Day three can be tranquil; rejuvenate your senses at the Tabacón Hot Springs.
  • Day 4 - Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve: On the fourth day, venture off to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. The reserve boasts an incredible biodiversity of flora and fauna that includes more than 400 species of birds and 100 species of mammals. Walk among the clouds on the hanging bridge, and for the adventurous soul, a thrilling canopy tour is a must. 
  • Day 5 - San Jose: Journey back to San Jose on day five, with your heart full of unforgettable memories and plenty of stories to bring back home.
The Peninsula Papagayo in Guanacaste, Costa Rica © Shutterstock

Guanacaste, Costa Rica © Shutterstock

Arenal volcano in Costa Rica ©Shutterstock

Arenal volcano in Costa Rica ©Shutterstock

7 day Costa Rica itinerary

With a week to spare, embrace a comprehensive experience of Costa Rica's extravagance with this 7-day itinerary.

  • Day 1 - San Jose: Arrive in San José and dedicate your day exploring its energy-filled streets. Visit the Museo Nacional or the artisan market at Mercado Nacional de Artesania.
  • Day 2 and 3 - La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano: Head towards La Fortuna. Spend the second day trekking Arenal Volcano and relishing the panoramic vistas. Spend the next day soaking yourself in the restorative Thermal Hot Springs.
  • Days 4 and 5 - Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve: Witness the riotous biodiversity nestled in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Zipline through canopies, cross the hanging bridge, or hike serene trails.
  • Days 6 and 7 - Manuel Antonio National Park: The last leg takes you to the exquisite beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park. Dive into water activities like snorkeling, stand-up paddleboarding, lounge under the sun or simply book separate tours. Traditional Costa Rican effectively concludes your journey, rejuvenated and inspired. Return to San José for your homeward journey, holding a treasure trove of Costa Rican memories.
espadilla beach and Coastline near the Manuel Antonio national park, Costa Rica © Shutterstock

Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica © Shutterstock

10 day Costa Rica itinerary

With 10 days in Costa Rica, you can explore the country's pristine beaches, verdant jungles, towering volcanoes, and thundering waterfalls.

  • Days 1-2 - San Jose: Begin your trip exploring the cultural hub that is San Jose. Visit the local markets, walk through charming colonial neighborhoods, and relish authentic Costa Rican food.
  • Days 3-4 - Tortuguero National Park: Depart for Tortuguero National Park. Navigate through lagoons and canals bustling with wildlife, and grab the chance to witness sea turtle nesting (July-October).
  • Days 5-6 - La Fortuna: Next, head towards Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna. Spend one day hiking the Arenal and the next easing your muscles in the hot springs enveloped by luscious greenery.
  • Days 7-8 - Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve: Travel to Monteverde, home to the mesmerizing Cloud Forest Reserve. Enjoy canopy walks, discover exotic fauna, and observe the marvelous hummingbird gallery.
  • Days 9-10 - Manuel Antonio National Park: Conclude in Manuel Antonio National Park; enjoy sandy beaches, turquoise waters, and diverse wildlife. From beach activities to forest walks, these two days will be filled with sun and fun.
Bridge in Rainforest - Costa Rica - Monteverde  © Shutterstock

The famous bridge in Monteverde Cloud Forest © Shutterstock

14 day Costa Rica itinerary

With two week Costa Rica itinerary, you can enjoy a leisurely tour of Costa Rica, seeing and experiencing the best it has to offer, including some off-the-beaten-path gems.

  • Day 1-2 - San Jose: Taste the urban life of Costa Rica in San Jose. Explore its architecture, immerse in its vibrant culture, and sample local cuisines.
  • Day 3-4 - Tortuguero National Park: Travel to Tortuguero National Park, a heaven for wildlife enthusiasts. Experience the rich biodiversity of the region from a canoe.
  • Day 5-6 - Puerto Viejo de Talamanca: Head to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, known for its Afro-Caribbean charm, plentiful surfing spots, and beautiful beaches.
  • Day 7-8 - Cahuita National Park: Spend two days in Cahuita National Park. Enjoy snorkeling or diving amidst the coral reefs and casually stroll in its lush coastal rainforest.
  • Day 9 -10 - La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano: Dedicate the next two days to La Fortuna fame. Hike Arenal Volcano, rejuvenate in hot springs, and experience the lush landscapes of this region.
  • Day 11-12 - Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve: Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve waits with its rich biodiversity. Enjoy bird watching, canopy tours, and zip-lining for an adventurous twist.
  • Day 13-14 - Manuel Antonio National Park: Wrap up your 14-day Costa Rica Itinerary at the Manuel Antonio National Park. After a fortnight of enriching Costa Rican exploration, head back to San Jose, ready to bring home a piece of the Pura Vida spirit.
Playa Negra - black beach at Cahuita, Limon - Costa Rica © Shutterstock

Playa Negra at Cahuita, Costa Rica © Shutterstock

21 day ( 3 week) Costa Rica itinerary

With three weeks at your disposal, you can delve deeper into Costa Rica's vibrant ecosystems and cultures. This extensive itinerary paves the way for a more relaxed, thorough exploration of the country's diverse landscapes and fascinating wildlife.

  • Day 1-2 - San Jose: Acquaint yourself with Costa Rica's capital, San Jose, a blend of modern cityscape and rich cultural heritage.
  • Day 3-4 - Tortuguero National Park: Venture into the wilderness of Tortuguero National Park, a wetland teeming with wildlife, including migratory birds and nesting turtles.
  • Day 5-6 - Puerto Viejo de Talamanca: Enjoy sunny beaches, Carribeaban vibes, and pristine rainforests in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.
  • Day 7-8 - Cahuita National Park: Unpack your snorkelling gear in Cahuita National Park, famous for its coral reef and coastal rainforests.
  • Day 9-10 - La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano: Hike the majestic Arenal Volcano, soak in hot springs, and enjoy a nocturnal wildlife tour in La Fortuna.
  • Day 11-13 - Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve: Relish three days in the otherworldly Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, one of the country's most exciting biodiversity hotspots.
  • Day 14-15 - Rincon De La Vieja: Embrace the heat of active volcanoes and enjoy horseback riding or mud baths in Rincon De La Vieja, a geothermal wonderland.
  • Day 16-18 - Nosara: Head southwest to the bohemian beach town of Nosara. Surf pristine waves, enjoy yoga workshops, and savor organic dining experiences.
  • Day 19-21 - Manuel Antonio National Park: End your epic three-week journey in the stunning Manuel Antonio National Park. Swimming, snorkeling, or simply lounging on the beach are ideal ways to wind down. Return to San Jose, reflecting on the countless cherished memories of the journey through the land of 'Pura Vida'.

Nosara Beach ©Shutterstock

How to plan your Costa Rica travel itinerary

Planning your Costa Rica travel itinerary involves several key steps to ensure an unforgettable adventure, with weather playing a crucial role. First of all, decide on the length of your trip: Costa Rica offers a variety of experiences whether you have 5 days or 3 weeks. Think about what interests you most: wildlife, hiking, beaches or culture. 

Choose regions according to those interests. For short trips, focus on one area and for longer stays, explore a mix of places like the cloud forests of Monteverde, the Caribbean vibe of Puerto Viejo, and bustling San Jose. 

Pay attention to weather conditions (more on this later): the dry season is ideal for beach visits and hiking, while the wet season is ideal for lush landscapes and fewer people. Among other things, book accommodation and trips around the country in advance, especially during peak seasons, to maximise your experience.


Playa Tamarindo, Costa Rica © Shutterstock

How many days do you need in Costa Rica?

The number of days required for a trip to Costa Rica depends largely on your interests and the pace at which you want to travel. A short visit of 5-7 days is ideal for exploring a specific region, such as the Central Valley or the Nicoya Peninsula, allowing you to combine relaxation and adventure without feeling rushed. 

If you can spare 10-14 days, you'll have the opportunity to experience more diverse nature, from cloud forests and volcanoes to tropical beaches covering several distinct areas of the country. 

If, on the other hand, you'd like to take a deep dive into everything Costa Rica has to offer, including little-visited sites and local culture, consider extending your stay to three weeks. This length of time is ideal for thoroughly exploring both popular attractions and hidden gems, ensuring a rich and fulfilling travelling experience.

Getting around during your Costa Rica trip

Getting around Costa Rica can be convenient and flexible, as there are several travel options to suit different preferences and budgets:

  • Rent a car: Renting a car provides the most flexibility and is ideal if you prefer to travel at your own pace or off the beaten path. Choose a 4x4 vehicle to get around the country's varied terrain, from well-paved motorways to rugged mountain roads.
  • Buses: For budget travellers, buses are a reliable and economical choice. Costa Rica has an extensive bus network that connects major cities and tourist destinations, although it's worth noting that buses can be slower and less convenient to access remote areas.
  • Domestic flights: To save time travelling long distances, take advantage of domestic flights. Local airlines quickly connect major regions like San Jose to the Guanacaste coast, offering scenic views of the landscapes below.
  • Taxis and ridesharing: In urban areas and tourist centres, taxis and ride-sharing services are convenient options for short trips. Make sure the taxis are licensed and negotiate the fare in advance to avoid surprises.

Road Conditions

While major routes are paved, you'll encounter many unpaved roads, particularly in more remote areas. We recommend renting a 4WD car for comfort and safety, especially if you plan to venture off the beaten path.

Police Checks

While driving in Costa Rica, be aware of speed limits as there are frequent police controls and hefty fines for speeding.


Sunset at Arenal Volcano © Shutterstock

When's the best time to visit Costa Rica?

The best time to visit Costa Rica varies depending on what you're looking for in your travel experience.

  • Mid-December to April - Dry Season: This is the peak tourist season in Costa Rica due to the abundant sunshine and little to no rain. The weather is warm, the skies are clear, and the landscape is lush and green. However, it's also the most popular and expensive time to visit.
  • May to November - Rainy Season: If you don't mind getting a little wet, the low season offers its own charm, lower prices, and fewer crowds. During June and July, the rain showers pause briefly, and Costa Rica's forests burst with green foliage.
  • Shoulder Seasons: You can also try the shoulder seasons (early to mid-November and mid to late April) to score great deals for accommodation. Remember that visiting during the peak season (January-March) will most likely coincide with crowded tourist spots due to the comfortable climatic conditions.

Keep in mind that the weather varies by region. In the thick forests of the Caribbean Sea coast and northern regions, expect high humidity and temperatures ranging between the 70s and high 80s year-round.

Best places to add to your travel Costa Rica itinerary 

The Valle Central and the highlands

Costa Rica’s Valle Central (“Central Valley”) and the surrounding highlands form the cultural and geographical fulcrum of the country. Rising between 3000 and 4000m, this wide-hipped inter-mountain plateau is often referred to as the Meseta Central or “Central Tableland”. 

It has a patchwork-quilt beauty, especially when lit up by the early morning sun, with staggered green coffee terraces set in sharp contrast to the blue-black summits of the nearby mountains. Many of these are volcanoes – the Valle Central is edged by a chain of volcanic peaks, running from Poás in the north to Turrialba in the east – and their volatile nature can sometimes give the region an air of unease.

Limón Province and the Caribbean coast

The Caribbean coast forms part of the huge, sparsely populated Limón Province, which sweeps south in an arc from Nicaragua to Panama. Hemmed into the north by dense jungles and swampy waterways, to the west by the mighty Cordillera Central and to the south by the even wider girth of the Cordillera Talamanca, Limón can feel like a lost, remote place. 

The region features just a handful of really good beaches, mostly along the gorgeous stretch of shore south of the backpacker enclave of Puerto Viejo – other than that, it’s mostly a battered, shark-patrolled coast, littered with driftwood.

The best time to visit Cost Rica, beach in Cape Uvita

Sun rising over the Playa Blanca beach in Peninsula Papagayo © Shutterstock

Guanacaste Province

For the majority of the Tico population, the province of Guanacaste, hemmed in by the mountains of the Cordillera de Guanacaste to the east and the Pacific to the west, and bordered on the north by Nicaragua, is a land apart. Guanacastecos still sometimes refer to Valle Central inhabitants as “Cartagos”, an archaic term dating back to the eighteenth century when Cartago was Costa Rica’s capital. 

Little tangible remains of the dance, music and folklore that made the region distinct, but there is undeniably something special about the place. The landscape is some of the prettiest you’ll see in the country, especially in the wet season, when wide-open spaces, stretching from the ocean across savannah grasses to the brooding humps of volcanoes, are awash in earth tones, blues, yellows and mauves

The Zona Sur

Costa Rica’s Zona Sur (southern zone) is the country’s least-known area, both for Ticos and for visitors, though tourism is increasing at a steady pace. It’s a geographically diverse region encompassing the high mountain peaks of the Cordillera de Talamanca at its northern edge, the agricultural heartland of the Valle de El General, the river-cut lowlands of the Valle de Diquís around Palmar and the coffee-growing Valle de Coto Brus, near the border with Panama. 

The coast provides much of the allure, as elsewhere in the country, with wonderful beaches and pristine diving opportunities culminating at remote Isla del Caño.

Hermosa Bay in Guanacaste Costa Rica © Shutterstock

Hermosa Bay in Guanacaste Costa Rica © Shutterstock

Do you need a visa to enter Costa Rica?

Visiting Costa Rica as a tourist for under 90 days? You don’t need a visa — entry to Costa Rica is allowed for tourists from all countries.

To enter Costa Rica as a tourist, you need a valid passport, plus proof of your intent to exit the country before your entry stamp expires, which is usually within 90 days.

Note that your country of origin determines how long you can stay in Costa Rica as a tourist. Note also that while granting stays of up to 90 days is standard, immigration officials determine the duration of your stay.

In some cases, the official might also ask that you provide evidence of economic solvency for your stay in Costa Rica.

Check the Costa Rica tourist board site and the official Costa Rica government website for details.

  • UK citizens: British nationals don’t need a visa to enter Costa Rica. Rather, you can stay as a tourist visitor for up to 90 days, subject to fulfilling the requirements outlined above.
  • US citizens: As for UK nationals, US nationals don’t need a visa to Costa Rica for visits up to 90 days, and the same requirements apply. That is to say, you need a passport that’s valid for a minimum of one day from the day you enter Costa Rica. You also need evidence of onward travel, or a return ticket within the 90-day period.
Andy Turner

written by
Andy Turner

updated 19.04.2024

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