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 9-10 day Costa Rica itinerary

Here is the itinerary I developed after having visited 3 times and spent over 10 weeks here. With just 7-10 days, this schedule gives you a sample of the variety of experiences this country can offer! This is the itinerary I did when my brother visited me while I was studying abroad. It’s aggressive, but manageable!

Here was our itinerary:

DAY 1The City of San Jose

Since almost all visitors fly into the SJO airport, this is a good place to start! While this city can provide a somewhat dismal view of the country as a first impression, it really isn’t so bad. I actually lived and studied in San Jose for 7 weeks, and there are some nicer areas to explore. Depending on when your flight gets in, you can visit the Teatro Nacional, the many wonderful museums (Museo de Jade is a personal favorite), the lively tourist market, or grab some dinner and a churro from a street vendor. Read on for more ideas of things to do in San Jose! Costa 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. Getting here can be a bit rough, but it is all worth it upon arriving! We did a day-trip here through Viator , but it was too much driving in one day and not enough time at the location. So, I recommend taking a shared shuttle through Easyride CR, and checking into a hotel in the town of La Fortuna. Once there, book a day tour, or visit Arenal Volcano on your own. Then, be sure to 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- Just research what better fits your budget.
Read my detailed post on more things to do in the La Fortuna / Arenal Region
arenal volcano la fortuna costa rica
The view from the base of the mighty Arenal Volcano
LODGING: See my San Jose Hotel Recommendations! 

DAY 3 – Monteverde Cloud Forest: Santa Elena Town

In the morning, take a shuttle from La Fortuna to the coniferous cloud forest of Monteverde. Just a heads up- this drive is not for the faint of heart! With narrow, one way, mountain roads and cliff-side views the entire way, it is certainly a little scary, but all part of the experience. The base of exploration for the Monteverde Cloud Forest is the town of Santa Elena, and after arriving and exploring the town, head to the national park entry and spend the day hiking the beautiful trails and walking across the suspended bridges above the forest canopy. We also chose to do a night-hike tour through our hostel for some extra exotic wildlife sightseeing. If only for the thrill of being in the jungle at night and seeing lots of giant insects, it was 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 place with the best views. We went with the company Selvatura (which I highly recommend!), and did a 3 hour canopy tour ($45US). Despite the rain, we all had a blast, and the company provided round-trip transportation from our hostel. When we returned to town in the afternoon, we had a relaxed evening and got dinner at a tree-house restaurant. This itinerary is pretty aggressive, and by this point you will want the rest!
Monteverde, Zip Lining, Santa Elena, Costa Rica
My brother Matt just zipping away!
LODGINGCabinas Vista al Golfo : A rustic place with a gorgeous, sweeping view

DAY 5 – Manuel Antonio: Quepos Town

 Using the shuttle service from EasyrideCR, we left town at 8:30am and arrived to Quepos (the base point for exploring Manuel Antonio National Park) at 2pm. I would advise this shuttle service as it is another long, treacherous drive (and on a backpackers budget this is the best way to do it)! Spend the afternoon exploring the plethora of restaurants and shops in Quepos, and visit the public beach for a swim. The national park closes early, so I say save it for the following day so you can get the most out of your 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 tourists, 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!), as well as 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 since we loved it so much we re-arranged our schedule- and I am glad we did! With this extra day you can explore additional parts of the park, the town, or participate in various ocean activities. There are plenty of companies offering kayaking, surfing lessons, boating, fishing trips, etc. – the opportunities here are endless! Leave town on a shuttle late at night (this must be arranged in advanced), and you can sleep through the boring drive back to San Jose.
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

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 the Tortuguero National Park lies is extremely remote, and in the middle of a somewhat dangerous region, I would really recommend scheduling a tour company to get you there and back. You can go it alone, but with limited time and flexibility this is the best option. We went with the company Exploradores Outdoors, and had a great experience. The journey there is full of  wildlife, and the ride on the tiny boat you have to take out into the canals towards the park is an unforgettable experience.

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 stunning nearby Poas Volcano, or spending another day in the fascinating and remote Tortuguero National Park.
LODGING: See my San Jose Hotel Recommendations! 


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Costa Rica Itinerary, 7-10 Days, Pura Vida

As always, all reviews and opinions are my own. However, should you choose to book any of the hotels or tours linked above in my Costa Rica itinerary, please know that I will receive a small commission. 


  • Reply billjoehunter February 1, 2015 at 6:55 pm

    I’ve been blogging about Chester and me visiting Costa Rica. We were in Jaco, visiting Manuel Antonio. We’re heading to Monte Verde next.

    • Reply Critic In Transit March 4, 2016 at 6:54 pm

      Sounds like a fun trip. I have to say, i really love the photos used in the article.

  • 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 Sunny M Eaton August 7, 2018 at 10:59 pm

    This is a great list – i appreciate it – i’ve spent a lot of time in Costa Rica and you hit the biggies for a 10 day trip. I disagree, however, about San Jose – i spent awhile there and its actually a fantastic city and not “dismal” at all – you just have to get away from the airport area. There is a great “gastronomy district” with cute bars and restaurants and food festivals. Chinatown is interesting and fun to walk around. And this says nothing of the historic districts and arts neighborhood. Don’t sleep on San Jose. 😉

    • Reply Michelle W. August 20, 2018 at 1:20 pm

      That’s true- perhaps I should use a different word. I spent 7 weeks in a small suburb of San Jose which I really enjoyed, but somehow I never quite found a part of the city that I truly liked beyond a small area or row of streets. It is worth a visit though for tourists, just not too long of a time I’d think.

  • Reply Amy Carnrick August 29, 2018 at 4:33 pm

    Beautiful pictures! Looks like a great trip!

  • 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 Cloyd March 30, 2019 at 10:28 am

    Great information, thank you. For those of us not familiar with the country, a map would have been helpful.

    • Reply Michelle W. July 10, 2019 at 3:51 pm

      Thank you for the suggestion- I’ve just embedded one 🙂

  • 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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