Costa Rica Itinerary: 7-10 Days

So you’ve found yourself with a week of vacation, and you came to the brilliant conclusion that you want to visit the land of Pura Vida. What all can you comfortably fit into a 7-10 day Costa Rica itinerary

Here is the Costa Rica itinerary I suggest after visiting 3 times and spending over 12 weeks here. With just 7-10 days, this shows the variety this country offers! I did this route when my brother visited me while I was studying abroad. It’s aggressive, but manageable!

Here is my itinerary:

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DAY 1The City of San Jose

Since most visitors fly into the SJO airport, this is a good place to start! While this city can provide a somewhat average view of the country as a first impression, it really isn’t so bad. I lived and studied in San Jose when I was in college, and there are plenty of nice areas to explore.
On day one, you can visit the Teatro Nacional, the many wonderful museums (Museo de Jade is a personal favorite), the tourist market, or grab dinner and a churro from a street vendor. | More ideas of things to do in San Jose! Cost Rica itinerary. 
San Jose, Costa Rica Itinerary, Downtown
Beautiful mountains as seen from the National Museum
LODGING: See my San Jose Hotel Recommendations! 

DAY 2- La Fortuna: Arenal Volcano & Hot Springs

Leave San Jose in the morning, and head to this central part of the country. I suggest taking a shuttle from San Jose to La Fortuna, and then checking into a hotel in the town of La Fortuna. You can also take the public bus, but it will take up more time.
Once there, book a guided tour, or visit Arenal Volcano on your own. Then, visit the natural volcanic hot springs for a dip. I’ve been to the thermal spa and resorts at both Baldí and Tabacón, and each were amazing!
If you aren’t staying there as a guest, consider getting a hotel day pass to enjoy the amenities (here is one for Baldi Hot Springs)

Read my post on more things to do in La Fortuna / Arenal

arenal volcano la fortuna costa rica
The view from the base of the mighty Arenal Volcano
LODGING: La Fortuna Hotel Ideas
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DAY 3 – Monteverde Cloud Forest: Santa Elena Town

In the morning, take a shuttle from La Fortuna to Monteverde, the coniferous cloud forest. With narrow, one way, mountain roads and cliff-side views the entire way, it can be a little scary, but all part of the experience!
The base of exploration for Monteverde Cloud Forest is the town of Santa Elena. After exploring town, head to the national park entry and spend the day hiking the trails and walking across the iconic suspended bridges above the forest canopy.
We also did a night-hike tour for some extra wildlife sightseeing. If only for the thrill of being in the jungle at night and seeing lots of giant insects and maybe a sloth, it is worth it!
Monteverde, Hanging Bridge, Costa Rica
Bridge over the forest canopy in the National Park
LODGINGCabinas Vista al Golfo : A rustic place with a gorgeous, sweeping view

DAY 4 – Monteverde: Zip Lining

Since zip-lining or doing a “canopy tour” is a quintessential part of any Costa Rica visit, its best to do it here in Monteverde! The zip-lining here is among the best in the world!
We went with the company Selvatura (I highly recommend!), and did the 3 hour canopy tour. We had SO MUCH FUN even with the rain. The company provides round-trip transport from your hotel too. When we returned to town, we got dinner at a tree-house restaurant.
Monteverde, Zip Lining, Santa Elena, Costa Rica
My brother Matt zipping away!
LODGINGCabinas Vista al Golfo : A rustic place with a gorgeous view

DAY 5 – Manuel Antonio: Quepos Town

We took a shuttle from Monteverde to Quepos, leaving at 8:30am. We arrived to Quepos (the base point for exploring Manuel Antonio National Park) at 2pm. I would advise a shuttle service as it is another long drive (and on a budget, this is the fastest way to do it)!
Spend the afternoon exploring Quepos town, and visit the public beach for a swim. The national park closes early, so I say save it for the next day so you can get the most out of your entry ticket.
Manuel Antonio Beach, Costa Rica
The beach as seen from inside the National Park
LODGING: Hostel Plinio : A tree-house style hostel with great views and a beautiful pool

DAY 6 – Manuel Antonio National Park

This park is crowded and full of visitors, but for good reason! It is pure jungle, and you are almost guaranteed several wildlife sightings. 🦥
We did not hire a naturalist guide (which you will be hounded by near the entry!), and still saw 3 wild sloths, many Capuchin monkeys (babies too!), and several reptiles while walking the trails.
Walk slow, explore, swim in the warm ocean, watch out for thieving raccoons on the beach, 🦝and you’ll have a fantastic time! Costa Rica itinerary
LODGING: Hostel Plinio : A tree-house style hostel with great views and a beautiful pool

DAY 7 – Manuel Antonio National Park

We originally had not scheduled two days here, but we loved it so much we re-arranged our schedule! With this extra day you can explore more of the park, the town, or do various beach activities. There are plenty of companies offering kayaking, surfing lessons, boating, fishing trips, etc. 🏖️
Take a shuttle from Quepos to San Jose late at night (arranged in advance), and you can sleep through the boring drive back without wasting much daylight.
Manuel Antonio, Quepos, Costa Rica Beach
Glorious beaches in the middle of the jungle
LODGING: Hostel Plinio : A tree-house style hostel with great views and a beautiful pool
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DAY 8 – Tortuguero National Park

Leave your San Jose hotel early in the morning, and jump on a van to the Caribbean province of Limón! Because the area where Tortuguero National Park lies is very remote, I recommend using a tour company. You can go it alone, but with limited time this is the best option.
We went with a company that no longer exists, but there are loads of Tortuguero tour options. The journey there is full of  wildlife, and the ride on the tiny boat you take out into the canals towards the park is an unforgettable experience. This is one of my favorite destinations I’ve ever been!

Photo Credit: Matt Curtin (my brother!)

DAY 9 – Tortuguero National Park

 Wrap up your hiking, boating, and wildlife sighting and begin the drive back towards the big city. Once back in San Jose, relax, and eat some casado with a side of Imperial beer for the final time.
LODGING: See my San Jose Hotel Recommendations! 

DAY 10- Airport – Adios to Costa Rica

Head to the airport, and back home. If you leave on Day 11 – I would recommend extending the trip by taking a cultural day-trip out of the San Jose area, perhaps to visit the impressive nearby Poas Volcano, or spending another day in Tortuguero National Park.
LODGING: See my San Jose Hotel Recommendations! 


More helpful links:

♥ Get yourself some travel insurance– honestly, don’t go abroad without it!
♥ Book your Costa Rica hotels
♥ Find organized Costa Rica day trips or tours
♥ Browse my Amazon storefront to see my favorite travel products
♥ Discover my favorite beach towns in Costa Rica
♥ Why I say Costa Rica is the perfect study abroad destination
♥ Follow me on Instagram, and send me a DM with any questions!

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Costa Rica Itinerary, 7-10 Days, Pura Vida


  • Reply Katrina November 7, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    Great tips! I’ve got my trip almost completely planned, and it was very reassuring to see it matches a lot of what you recommend. Thanks!!

  • Reply Lori August 13, 2016 at 10:11 am

    Yikes! Very ambitious! We did Manuel Antonio, Monteverde and Arenal in 12 days and felt rushed. I’d recommend 3 days in each area and a day for travel – keeping in mind travel time to get to each is 3-4 hours. Such a great country!

    • Reply Michelle W. August 15, 2016 at 10:21 am

      Yes it definitely would have been better if we had more time in each of the destinations! I had already been in Costa Rica for 60 days before my friends came to meet me, so while I had plenty of time I think my friends were a bit rushed- but I just wanted them to get a little taste of all the amazing things it has to offer 🙂

  • Reply Michael Barron April 22, 2018 at 10:34 pm

    Great suggestions about Costa Rica. Been wanting to go ever since my kid spent two week a decade ago,

    • Reply Michelle W. April 24, 2018 at 8:36 pm

      You really should go if you get the chance! Very safe place to visit, beautiful nature, friendly people, delicious food, the list goes on 🙂

  • Reply Ashly Shwaluk September 10, 2018 at 11:24 am

    Hi! I am planning a 10 day Honeymoon in Costa Rica from Nov 26 – Dec 5! I have a similar proposed itinerary… I was wondering if you went to Puerto Viejo? I am thinking of heading there instead of Tortuguero National Park -I would love to hear your experience there and why you may choose one location over another.

  • Reply Sarai February 15, 2019 at 11:43 am

    Great itinerary! Thinking about going for spring break and this sounds great! How much does this itinerary cost about? (Taking shuttle buses and cheaper priced hotels or hostels)

    • Reply Michelle W. February 17, 2019 at 8:17 pm

      Hi Sarai- I’ll send you an email! Can you let me know what it is?

      • Reply Stephanie March 26, 2019 at 6:21 pm

        Hey Michelle, could you also let me know how much this all cost (trying to do it on more of a budget)

  • Reply Sally August 17, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    If you could go to Tortuguero or Corcovado National Park (along with Arenal Volcano, Monteverde, and Manuel Antonio) – which would you choose and why?

    • Reply Michelle W. August 18, 2019 at 5:31 pm

      Hi Sally- It’s hard to say because they are all so great! I have not been to Corcovado, but I know Tortuguero does not disappoint- so much amazing natural baeuty!

  • Reply Silvan August 26, 2019 at 2:21 pm

    Hey Michelle,
    very nice tips 🙂 Friends and i also will travel around 10-12 days in Costa Rica and nearly have the same spots like you recommended. We will arrive from Nicaragua and start our journey in Liberia. We are thinking about renting a car for 8-9 days? Would you recommend this or is everything also good accessible by bus? Heard Costa Rica is a lot more expensive than Nicaragua. Car would cost per person around 15 dollar a day.

    Thank you very much in advance

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  • Reply francesca cini January 18, 2024 at 12:43 pm

    I am planning to go this spring with my 10 yo. the itinerary looks fab.
    Do you recommend renting a car? does this speed up the full experience?
    thank you

    • Reply Michelle W. January 19, 2024 at 12:46 am

      Hi Francesca! I’ve not personally rented a car for Costa Rica, but I do know the roads are overall very nice and it would likely be a fairly stress-free experience to rent a car, and yes I think would allow more time and freedom at the destinations!

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