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Ultimate Costa Rica Itinerary | 4 Incredible Cities You Must Visit in Costa Rica
If you are looking for the ultimate Costa Rica Itinerary, this post is perfect for you! Costa Rica is full of sun, animals, waterfalls, and tons of adventure.
If you are planning on visiting Costa Rica, you are likely planning endlessly to get everything ready for the trip. I love planning a trip and finding the best itinerary for our destination. This is our ultimate Costa Rica itinerary.
We visited for 2 weeks and traveled to four different cities around the country getting the best of the country. We visited coffee farms, beaches, volcanoes, and of course, zip-lined and surfed!
This post is all about the ultimate Costa Rica itinerary.
Ultimate Costa Rica Itinerary:
Days 1-3: San Jose
Recommended: 2 nights
You will likely fly into and out of the international airport in San Jose, Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO). It’s located about 30 minutes outside of town.
For your first two nights, we recommend staying near the airport as many of the things to do near San Jose were closer to the airport.
Best things to do in San Jose:
La Paz Waterfall
This is the tallest waterfall in Costa Rica is about an hour and a half drive from the airport area. It stands at 240 m tall and is absolutely stunning. They open at 7:00 am and you should definitely get there early as it is a fairly popular waterfall and fills up quickly.
Just a note, they (along with most things in Costa Rica) are closed on Sundays.
Coffee Plantation Tour
Costa Rica has some of the best coffee in the world. At least that’s what Pope Francis claims. But really, it was some of the best coffee we have ever had. With their rolling hills and lush greenery, visiting a coffee plantation is definitely a must.
You get to see the entire process of how coffee is made. You will even get to pick some coffee beans yourselves and of course, there is a tasting at the end.
We visited the Starbucks-owned Hacienda Alsacia Coffee Plantation and were in shock by how beautiful their property was. They had a cafe overlooking the valley and a waterfall. It really was gorgeous and we could have sat there all day.
We recommend booking a tour around 3 or 4 in the afternoon to stay out of the heat of midday and catch the sunset as you sip coffee after your tour. They also had meals, beer, and wine.
Drive the Countryside
Since our day of exploring the nearby area of San Jose was a Sunday, we were greeted by many closed operations. In the end, we weren’t able to do much of anything that day but did drive a lot. It was our first day driving around and we were in awe of just how beautiful Costa Rica is. Every corner we rounded we would oh and aw.
We even found this gorgeous waterfall just on the side of the road as we were driving. It was a magical day of just sticking our hands out the windows and listening to some good music. It was a drive that was good for the soul.
Day 4-7: La Fortuna
Recommended: 3 nights
Next up is La Fortuna. La Fortuna is located in the northern part of the country and was about a 3-hour drive for us from just outside San Jose. This is where many of the beautiful locations you have seen on Instagram or Pinterest will be, including Arenal Volcano and the hot springs!
Staying in town is the best option so you are within walking distance to the nice park and plenty of restaurants. For everything you will want to visit, it will be about a twenty to thirty-minute drive.
Things to do in La Fortuna:
La Fortuna Waterfall
This waterfall requires a bit of a climb down and even though it is all paved, it is 500 steps! The waterfall is totally worth it though! The water is cool and clear and you can jump in and swim in the river that flows from the waterfall, making it perfect for a hot Costa Rican day!
Just know that you have to climb up the 500 steps on the way out so give yourself some time! The best time to go is just at opening or before closing to basically have the whole place to yourselves. Most of the tours come in the early afternoon so try your best to avoid that!
Natural Hot Springs
All over La Fortuna, there are natural hot springs heated by thermal activity from Arenal Volcano! How cool is that?
Most of the hot springs are located within resorts. They maintain the hot springs and do require a charge. There are so many different options where most allow for all-day access and have multiple pools and restaurants. Some of the resorts even allow your entrance fee to be used as credit at the restaurant or have combo deals for dinner and drinks.
The most popular and Instagram-worthy hot springs are at the Tabacon Resort. These look like natural hot springs with the rock formations they use. A more budget-friendly option is to visit the Los Lagos Resort and Spa. However, they do just look like pools but the water is pumped up from natural sources.
Last tip for hot springs: go later in the evening because it is pretty hot during the day and the hot springs are as warm or warmer than a hot tub. So, not exactly refreshing in the middle of a hot day. At night it is a bit cooler and much more welcoming. And there is so much more wildlife at night!
Hanging bridges have become quite popular all over Costa Rica. We visited the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park and spent the whole morning there! They open really early for sunrise so we recommend getting there as early as you can, both to beat the heat and the crowds, and catch an amazing sunrise.
There is so much wildlife in these parks that you can catch toucans, sloths, monkeys, and much more. Some bird watchers pointed out these giant beautiful butterflies to us as we were passing by, too. Be sure to keep your eye out!
The views are stunning and it is really peaceful to take a walk through nature like this. We loved the waterfalls and the adrenaline rush of walking over a hanging bridge over 90 meters high!
Arenal National Park
Lastly, the centerpiece of La Fortuna. The reason everyone is flocking to the area to visit, Arenal National Park. Costa Rica is full of national parks as part of their initiative to be a fully green country. This one, however, houses the incredible Arenal Volcano.
Towering 5,400+ feet high, it is visible from nearly everywhere in La Fortuna. Finding some of the best views of it was part of the fun. While we didn’t go into the National Park, we loved driving all around the area and seeing how many different viewpoints we could get of the beautiful volcano.
Day 7-9: Monteverde
Recommended: 2 nights
Monteverde is high up on the mountain and a 3-hour drive from La Fortuna. It is common for many travelers to do these two areas back to back. This small town located at 4,300 feet in elevation is the gateway to the beautiful cloud forest. Which means it’s high up and it’s cold!
We weren’t exactly prepared for the cold but it’s around 55ºF in February. While we were there it was also extremely windy and rainy so make sure you have layers and a rain jacket if this is on your list!
Things to do in Monteverde:
Monteverde Cloud Forest
The star of the show in Monteverde is their Cloud Forest Preserve. Cloud forests are evergreen forests at high elevations that are covered in a constant cloud cover. Think: super foggy, mystical cloud cover. And only 1% of the world’s woodland areas are considered cloud forests, so definitely worth checking out!
And it is pretty epic actually. Since you are actually IN the clouds, you are constantly just covered in a mist but they have beautiful hiking trails and it makes for some fairy-tale-like photos.
Days 9-12: Manuel Antonio
Recommended: 3 nights
Off to the next spot, Manuel Antonio. This drive from Monteverde was BEAUTIFUL! It took us 4 hours but took us through beautiful mountainsides, farmlands, and right down the coast.
It is conveniently located near San Jose, so perfect for our road trip timeline. And the best part, it has beaches! We couldn’t come to Costa Rica without visiting their world-class beaches.
Things to do in Manuel Antonio
Surf at Espadilla Beach
We honestly could have stayed in Manuel Antonio for weeks (we’re beach people, what can we say?). This beach was the reason why. We knew we wanted to learn to surf while we were in Costa Rica but definitely had to find a beach that would allow us to maybe catch a wave but definitely survive.
Luckily, Espadilla Beach was only a few minutes down the road from town and had perfect beginner waves. We rented our surfboards for a half-day from our hotel and drove down to the beach. Parking lots are available everywhere and we paid $5 for the entire day with front row access.
We watched a YouTube video to teach ourselves how to surf the night before and just kept practicing until we caught a wave! It was a blast and a perfect bucket list day!
Manual Antonio National Park
Manual Antonio National Park is located just a few minutes outside of town and is chock-full of animals! They are the most bio-diverse national park in Costa Rica even though they are the smallest. If you have yet to see a sloth, toucan, or agouti this is the place to find it!
Longest Zipline in Central America
No trip to Costa Rica is complete without an adrenaline-pumping zip line. We opted for a tour with El Santuario Canopy Adventure in Manuel Antonio because they are home to the longest zip line in Central America! It clocks in at 4,300 feet long (8/10 of a mile!) with the most incredible views!
To top it off we were able to go on 10 zip lines, more hanging bridges, and got a delicious local lunch! We highly recommend this company for your zipline tour!
Sunset over the Pacific
As with everywhere in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio is rather hilly. This makes for perfect views over the Pacific Ocean and some insane sunsets. There are plenty of hotels and restaurants that are up on the hill that overlook this insane view. We went to El Avion for Nate’s birthday and were treated to a gorgeous view and some delicious food.
Days 12-14: San Jose
Recommended: 2 nights
We never like to rush to the airport from hours away so we usually book a night close to the airport the night before. There is also so much to do downtown San Jose. Like any normal big city in Central America, you will find plenty of good food, markets, and lots of good people watching.