๐Ÿฆฅย 10 Amazing Days in Costa Rica: 2 Itinerary Options

The blog author staring out into the ocean while standing on jungle's viewing platform.

Costa Rica is a beautiful country and one of the best destinations in Central America.

With ten days in Costa Rica, you have enough time to enjoy the country’s lush nature, diverse wildlife, pristine beaches, and thrilling activities.

I spent two amazing weeks in Costa Rica and here, I share amazing things to do and tips to optimize your trip itinerary. This post covers:

  • ๐Ÿ—“๏ธ Two 10-day optimized itineraries
  • ๐Ÿ“ Best destinations in Costa Rica
  • โญ๏ธ Top attractions in the country
  • ๐Ÿ—บ๏ธ Costa Rica map with key places
  • โœ๏ธ Costa Rica trip planner

Planning a trip? Here’s what to know about Costa Rica.

Disclosure: Lists By Lukiih is readers-supported. If you buy through an affiliate link on this post, I may earn a small commission. Thanks!

7 Essential Tips for Visiting Costa Rica

Before getting into the itineraries, here are practical tips when traveling to Costa Rica.

๐Ÿš™ 1. Determine if you want to drive.

Although many visitors choose to visit the small country through a road trip, Costa Rica is also known for winding and not well-maintained roads.

If you plan to rent a car, be prepared for potholes, one-way bridges, passing (or getting passed), and low cell signal on some main roads. A 4×4 vehicle is highly recommended in some areas.

For all the reasons mentioned, I didnโ€™t get a rental car. If you donโ€™t plan to either, learn about the different ways to get around Costa Rica.

๐Ÿ“ฑ 2. Download WhatsApp.

Almost everyone, including hotel concierges, Airbnb hosts, tour operators, taxi drivers, and others, communicates through WhatsApp (iOS, Android) in Costa Rica.

Make sure to download the app in advance as it is the best way to communicate with locals.

๐Ÿ’ฐ 3. Prepare to budget and tip.

Tourism is Costa Ricaโ€™s biggest industry and main source of income, so itโ€™s not surprising that Costa Rica is one of the most expensive countries to visit in Central America. Hotels are usually $100 USD a night and many activities require an organized guided tour, have an entrance fee, or are best with a tour guide.

Costa Rica also has a tipping culture, so expect to add 5% to 10% to all tours and services.

I share all my travel expenses in this Costa Rica cost breakdown.

๐Ÿ’ต 4. Bring cash (USD is acceptable).

A lot of tourist areas accept credit cards, but youโ€™ll want to bring cash for smaller, local businesses and tipping.

The US dollar is widely accepted in Costa Rica, but expect to receive change in Costa Rican Colรณn and you may not get the best exchange range.

๐Ÿฅญ 5. Eat fruits and look for wildlife.

Costa Rica is a great place to eat fresh fruits, so be sure to stop by fruit stalls or order them at restaurants (ask locals whatโ€™s in season).

Thereโ€™s also wildlife everywhere, so even though youโ€™ll have a higher chance of spotting them with a local guide, you can also find them on your own. Some unique animals you’ll be able to see include howler monkeys, toucans, sloths, and coatis.

A close-up shot of a green and orange bird hiding in the rainforest.
Spotting wildlife in a Costa Rican rainforest.

โ˜€๏ธ 6. Pack bug repellent and sunscreen.

The Costa Rican government has run multiple campaigns to decrease the spread of mosquito-borne illness, but some areas still have a lot of mosquitos. Mosquitoes are present year-round, but it’s worst during the rainy season from May to November.

I tend to get bitten and find that this insect repellent lotion works better than the spray kind (per the CDC: โ€œDEET offers the best protection against mosquito bitesโ€).

Also, Costa Rica is near the equator, so you can sunburn easily. I made sure to bring my face sunscreen to every area I visited.

๐Ÿ˜ตโ€๐Ÿ’ซ 7. Pack motion sickness medication.

Costa Rica has a lot of bumpy and winding roads. If you plan to travel by land and you get motion sickness, bring your medication.

I get car sick and I had to use my medication for almost all my shuttle rides (e.g., from Liberia to Nosara, Nosara to Monteverde, Monteverde to La Fortuna, and La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio).

Learn other practical tips when traveling to Costa Rica.

Costa Rica Itineraries

Below are two different itineraries for Costa Rica, covering distinct destinations with varying activities and atmospheres.

These Costa Rica itineraries are the improved version of my amazing trip. Iโ€™ve included some of my actual timestamps, so you can plan and sequence activities efficiently.

The Costa Rica trip planner below has a one-week itinerary prefilled that you can modify to fit your needs.

10-Day Costa Rica Itinerary (Option 1)

Here’s a great way to spend ten days in Costa Rica if you want to see three of the most popular destinations.

This itinerary minimizes transportation time by focusing on the central region of Costa Rica and takes you through three distinct areas:

  • Monteverde to see the world-famous cloud forests
  • La Fortuna to experience quintessential Costa Rica activities
  • Manuel Antonio to visit one of the best tropical beaches with white sand

For this itinerary, it’s best to fly into and out of the San Josรฉ airport.

La Fortuna (4 days)
Day 1

โœˆ๏ธ Arrive at San Jose airport (morning)
๐Ÿš— Travel to La Fortuna (early afternoon)
โ™จ๏ธ Settle down and enjoy a hot spring (4โ€“9 pm)
Day 2๐Ÿซ Go on a coffee and chocolate tour (10 amโ€“12:30 pm)
๐ŸŒ‹ Horseback ride around Arenal Volcano (1โ€“4:30 pm)
Day 3๐ŸŒณ Visit the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges (7:30โ€“11:30 am)
๐Ÿ’ง Visit La Fortuna Waterfall (1โ€“2 pm)
๐Ÿšก Go up the La Fortuna sky tram (2:30โ€“4 pm)
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Explore La Fortuna town (5โ€“7 pm)
Day 4๐Ÿƒ Zip line over La Fortuna (7:30โ€“10:30 am)
๐ŸŒŠ Raft in a whitewater river (11 amโ€“4 pm)
โ™จ๏ธ Enjoy another hot spring or rope swing at El Salto (5โ€“7 pm)
Monteverde (2 days)
Day 5๐Ÿš— Travel to Monteverde (morning)
๐Ÿฆ‹ Visit the Monteverde Butterfly Garde (afternoon)
๐Ÿฆ‡ Go on a wildlife refuge night walk (7:30โ€“10 pm)
Day 6โ˜๏ธ Explore the Monteverde Cloud Forest (7:30โ€“11 am)
๐Ÿฆฅ Visit the sloth sanctuary (1โ€“2 pm)
๐ŸŒณ Zip line over a cloud forest (2:30โ€“5 pm)
Manuel Antonio (3 days)
Day 7๐Ÿš™ Travel to Manuel Antonio (morning)
๐Ÿ–๏ธ Relax or snorkel at Playa Biesanz (2โ€“4 pm)
โ˜€๏ธ Catch the sunset at El Aviรณn (6โ€“7:30 pm)
Day 8๐Ÿ’ Hike and beach at Manuel Antonio National Park (9:30 amโ€“4 pm)
โ˜€๏ธ Catch the sunset at Espandilla Beach (6โ€“7:30 pm)
Day 9๐Ÿ„๐Ÿปโ€โ™€๏ธ Do a day trip to Jaco or Nauyaca Waterfall (all day)
Day 10โœˆ๏ธ Travel to the San Jose airport and fly home (all day)

10-Day Costa Rica Itinerary (Option 2)

Below is another excellent way to spend 10 days in Costa Rica.

This itinerary requires a bit more transportation time and takes you to a more remote beach town with a very tranquil vibe. It covers:

  • Monteverde to see the world-famous cloud forests
  • La Fortuna to experience quintessential Costa Rica activities
  • Nosara to visit a top surfing and yoga beach town known for its well-minded vibe and vivid sunsets

For this itinerary, it’s best to fly into the San Josรฉ airport and fly out of the Liberia airport.

La Fortuna (3 days)
Day 1โœˆ๏ธ Arrive at San Jose airport (morning)
๐Ÿš— Travel to La Fortuna (early afternoon)
โ™จ๏ธ Settle down and enjoy a hot spring (4โ€“9 pm)
Day 2๐Ÿซ Go on a coffee and chocolate tour (10 amโ€“12:30 pm)
๐ŸŒ‹ Horseback ride around Arenal Volcano (1โ€“4:30 pm)
Day 3 ๐ŸŒณ Visit Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges (7:30โ€“11:30 am)
๐Ÿ’ง Visit La Fortuna Waterfall (1โ€“2 pm)
๐Ÿšก Go up the La Fortuna sky tram (2:30โ€“4 pm)
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Explore La Fortuna town (5โ€“7 pm)
Monteverde (2 days)
Day 4๐Ÿš— Travel to Monteverde (morning)
๐Ÿฆ‹ Visit the Monteverde Butterfly Garden (afternoon)
๐Ÿฆ‡ Go on a wildlife refuge night walk (7:30โ€“10 pm)
Day 5โ˜๏ธ Explore the Monteverde Cloud Forest (7:30โ€“11 am)
๐Ÿฆฅ Visit the sloth sanctuary (1โ€“2 pm)
๐ŸŒณ Zip line over a cloud forest (2:30โ€“5 pm)
Nosara (4 days)
Day 6๐Ÿš— Travel to Nosara (afternoon)
๐ŸŒค๏ธ Sunset at Guiones Beach (5:30โ€“6:45 pm)
๐ŸŽต Live music and dinner at Beach Dog Cafe (7โ€“8:30 pm)
Day 7๐Ÿ„๐Ÿป Take surf lessons (7:30โ€“9 am)
๐Ÿšฒ Bike and explore Nosaraโ€™s town (11 amโ€“1:30 pm)
๐Ÿง˜๐Ÿป Talk a walk-in yoga class (2:30โ€“3:30 pm)
๐ŸŒ™ Dinner and sunset at La Luna (5:30โ€“7:30 pm)
Day 8๐Ÿ„๐Ÿป Take surf lessons (7:30โ€“9 am)
๐Ÿ๏ธ Go on an ATV ride tour (10 amโ€“3 pm)
โ›… Catch the sea turtles at Ostional Beach
(4โ€“6 pm)
๐Ÿ  Dinner and vibes at Harmony Cafe (7โ€“8 pm)
Day 9๐Ÿ„๐Ÿป Take surf lessons (7:30โ€“9 am)
๐Ÿง˜๐Ÿป Do an outdoor walk-in yoga (9:30โ€“10:30 am)
๐Ÿ’†๐Ÿปโ€โ™€๏ธ Get an outdoor massage (11 amโ€“12 pm)
๐Ÿ–๏ธ Spend the afternoon relaxing at the beach (afternoon)
Day 10โœˆ๏ธ Travel to Liberia airport and fly home (all day)

Should You Visit San Josรฉ?

With both 10-day itineraries above, you could also spend some time in the capital city, San Josรฉ. However, based on my experience and the recommendation of several other travelers, it’s not worth visiting San Josรฉ unless you want to be in a big city.

Costa Rica is unique for its wildlife and outdoor sceneries. With ten days, I recommend maximizing your time in other areas of the country.

With More Time: 12 to 14-Day Itinerary for Costa Rica

If you have an extra two or four days in Costa Rica, you can visit four regions instead of three. This is more similar to what I did during my two-week trip.

With 12 to 14 days in Costa Rica, you can visit the western and central regions of the country during your first visit.

A great two-week itinerary in Costa Rica can look like this:

DaysDestinations
Days 1-4Nosara
Days 5-6Monteverde
Days 7-10La Fortuna
Days 11-14Manuel Antonio
(Maybe spend a bit of time in San Josรฉ)

For a more off-the-beaten-path experience or during your second visit, you can head east to the Caribbean coast and visit amazing places like Tortuguero National Park. You can also head south to check out Corcovado National Park. Both the eastern and southern regions are harder to get to, but are great for nature lovers.

Costa Rica Map

This Costa Rica map has all the recommended places mentioned in this post.

4 Amazing Areas To Visit in Costa Rica

Here are four destinations in Costa Rica that have different atmospheres and experiences for a complete trip.

These are some of Costa Rica’s top destinations featuring a mix of breathtaking volcanoes, authentic food, and beautiful beaches.

1. La Fortuna

La Fortuna is one of Costa Rica’s most visited destinations. It’s known for classic Costa Rica activities and its main attraction is the active volcano in Arenal National Park that heats the many surrounding hot springs.

The blog author leaning in a quiet pool with a bridge and lush trees in the background.
Relaxing in one of La Fortuna’s many hot springs.

๐ŸŒŸ Top Attractions in La Fortuna

The small town of La Fortuna features many attractions and activities, including:

  • The famous Arenal Volcano National Park, which you can take a horseback riding tour around
  • The multiple suspension bridges at Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges
  • Whitewater rafting with class I to IV rapids
  • Chocolate and coffee tours
  • The swimming and walking area around La Fortuna Waterfall
  • The stunning Rio Celeste with an intense blue color

Here are La Fortuna’s top attractions and how to plan a trip there.

Two people riding horses with a covered volcano in the background.
Touring around the Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna.

๐Ÿ“ Getting to La Fortuna

Located in the Northern Highlands of Costa Rica, La Fortuna is two and a half hours away from the countryโ€™s two international airports in Liberia and San Josรฉ.

You can get to La Fortuna by rental car, shuttle, taxi, bus, or domestic flight (the town has a small airport).

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ How Long To Spend in La Fortuna

Youโ€™ll want to spend at least three days in La Fortuna. That’ll give you enough time to enjoy walking around the town, going on two tours of your choice, and visiting a hot spring.

I spent a week in La Fortuna, which I enjoyed, but would recommend a maximum of five days for most people if they have limited time in Costa Rica.

๐Ÿ€ My Take on La Fortuna

La Fortuna was my favorite place to visit during my trip to Costa Rica because of how many activities it offered, how pedestrian-friendly the town area was, and how well it integrates locals and tourists in a small town.

One of the best things about La Fortuna is the abundance of delicious and affordable local food.

2. Monteverde

Monteverde, which translates to Green Mountain, is famous for its cloud forests and cooler climate.

Cloud forests are tropical rainforests with a persistent cloud cover at the canopy level, giving the forest a mystical look.

The blog author hanging on a zipline overlooking a misty rainforest.
Ziplining through one of Monteverde’s cloud forests.

๐ŸŒŸ Top Attractions in Monteverde

Monteverde’s main attractions and activities include:

  • The cloud forests, which are Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, and Bosque Eterno de los Niรฑos
  • Zip lining over a cloud forest
  • Visiting a sloth sanctuary
  • Visiting the butterfly garden, bat jungle, and frog pond

Here are Monteverde’s top attractions and how to plan a trip there.

๐Ÿ“ Getting to Monteverde

Sitting at 4,600+ feet above sea level on a mountain range, Monteverde is two and a half hours away from both countriesโ€™ international airports in Liberia and San Josรฉ.

Monteverde is known to be much colder and rainier (sometimes dipping into high 50 ยฐF when everywhere else is above 70 ยฐF). Make sure to pack some light warm layers and a light rain jacket or rain poncho.

You can get to Monteverde by rental car, shuttle, taxi, or bus. Monteverde does not have a nearby airport.

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ How Long To Spend in Monteverde

Most people recommend spending two to three days in Monteverde. I spent two days there and I thought that was a sufficient time to do a lot of the big attractions.

๐Ÿ€ My Take on Monteverde

Monteverde offers a lot of the same activities as La Fortuna, so its primary uniqueness is the three mystical-looking cloud forests that warrant a visit.

Zip lining over the cloud forest was one of the most magical experiences I had in Costa Rica and Monteverde offers the longest zip line in the country that’s about a mile long.

3. Nosara

Nosara is a beach town known for its world-renowned surf and yoga culture, beautiful beaches with stunning sunsets, and an international community of local Ticos, expats, and digital nomads.

It’s the perfect place for a relaxing and tranquil beach vacation that’s a bit more remote.

Silhouettes of a man carrying a surfboard against a sunset dipping into the ocean.
One of Nosara’s many vivid sunsets.

๐ŸŒŸ Top Attractions in Nosara

Nosara’s top activities include:

  • Taking surfing and yoga lessons from world-renowned practitioners
  • Catching the vivid sunsets
  • Seeing the famous Olive Ridley sea turtlesโ€™ arrival
  • Enjoying the town’s relaxed and tranquil atmosphere
  • Riding an ATV through the nearby mountains and waterfalls

An alternative to Nosara is Santa Teresa, a beach town further south on the peninsula, that’s also known for surfing, but has a more backpacker-friendly environment.

๐Ÿ“ Getting to Nosara

Located in the Nicoya peninsula, Nosara is 80 miles south of the closest international airport, Guanacaste Airport in Liberia.

You can get to Nosara by car rental, shuttle, taxi, bus, or plane (the town has a small airport).

The road leading to Nosara is winding and has a lot of potholes, so it’s a good idea to be well-prepared if you are driving yourself.

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ How Long To Spend in Nosara

Youโ€™ll want to spend at least three days to make the trip to Nosara worth it.

Many visitors who want to commit to a longer surf or yoga course or focus on relaxing stay a week or longer.

๐Ÿ€ My Take on Nosara

Thanks to its wellness-minded vibe, beautiful beaches, and vivid sunsets, Nosara was the most relaxing area I visited during my trip to Costa Rica.

Nosara is not the most convenient location to get to, so I recommend only going if you can afford three days to a week there (many people stay much longer).

Here are Nosara’s top attractions and how to plan a trip there.

4. Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio is a coastal village known for its white sand beaches and lush jungles. It ranks as one of Costa Rica’s most popular beach towns.

Compared to Nosara, Manuel Antonio has a much more crowded and touristy atmosphere combined with your typical relaxed beach vibe.

The blog author laying down inside a tide pool part of an ocean surrounded by jungle.
Enjoying a tide pool inside the Manuel Antonio National Park.

๐ŸŒŸ Top Attractions in Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio’s top attractions and activities include:

  • Visiting the Manuel Antonio National Park, which features well-maintained trails, wildlife, and beautiful white-sand beaches
  • Catching the sunsets at restaurants (e.g., El Avion) and beaches (e.g., Espadilla Beach)
  • Snorkeling in the warm waters of tropical beaches surrounded by beautiful scenery (e.g., Biesanz Beach)

๐Ÿ“ Getting to Manuel Antonio

Located on the Pacific coast, Manuel Antonio is 104 miles south (about a three-hour drive by car) of San Josรฉ’s international airport.

You can get to Manuel Antonio by rental car, shuttle, taxi, bus, or plane. The road to Manuel Antonio is mostly flat, so it’s an easy drive if you’re doing it on your own.

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ How Long To Spend in Manuel Antonio

Two to three days is a good amount of time to spend in Manuel Antonio. You can add one to two more days if you want to do day trips or tours to nearby beach towns like Jaco.

๐Ÿ€ My Take on Manuel Antonio

While this was my least favorite area out of the four destinations I visited in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio has no doubt some of the best beaches I have seen.

This area is also much easier to get to from San Josรฉ compared to Nosara, so itโ€™s a great option if you donโ€™t want to travel far for a quintessential beach town.

Costa Rica Trip Planner

To make your travel planning easier, download the trip planner below and use it as a starting point. The planner has country-specific travel information, an itinerary, a packing list, and a map with key places pinned.

The trip planner is built on Notion, which I use for all my travel planning (I genuinely love this tool). If you don’t have Notion, creating an account is free.

Three Notion template screenshots are shown: travel information, itinerary, and map + packing list templates.
Preview of Costa Rica trip planner.

If you have any questions or thoughts, feel free to leave a comment below.

Lists by Lukiih is Readers-Supported

If you find my travel tips helpful, say thanks with a bubble tea๐Ÿง‹!

2 Comments

  1. Ramses Gonzalez

    Planning a trip to Costa Rica in June and your blog has been very helpful. What hotels do you recommend for Itinerary Option 1? Thank you.

    1. Lukiih

      Hi Ramses, happy to hear you’ve found my travel guides helpful. I list the hotels I stayed at in La Fortuna and Monteverde here: https://listsbylukiih.com/costa-rica-trip-cost-breakdown/#accommodation-cost

      For La Fortuna, I would recommend staying within walking distance of the small town. I stayed about a mile outside of it, and preferred staying closer to town because not doing so made things less convenient.

      For Monteverde, I really liked the hotel I stayed in. It had a gorgeous view.

      For Manuel Antonio, I stayed at an Airbnb within walking distance to the Manuel Antonio National Park, and that was fairly convenient to get to the town and beach.

      Enjoy your trip!

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