Whether you want to explore tropical nature, take in some beach time, or experience some adrenaline pumping adventures, Costa Rica presents so many diverse travel options that it’ll make your head spin. This suggested itinerary covers Costa Rica’s primary travel destinations: Arenal Volcano, Monteverde and Manuel Antonio National Park. There are of course numerous other destinations in the region so you might want to mix and match the suggestions below to create your own itinerary. One week itinerary is tight, but you can certainly do a lot of things in a week-long vacation.
Things to consider before travelling to Costa Rica
1. Language – English is used widely in most areas, especially in hotels, souvenir shops, tour agencies and rent a car companies. Speaking at least some Spanish phrases or attempting to learn is greatly appreciated by the locals. Some helpful phrases are as follows:
Yes = Si
No = No
Please = Por favor
Thank you = Gracias
You’re welcome = De Nada
Good Morning! = ¡Buenos días!
Good Afternoon! = ¡Buenas tardes!
Good night! = ¡Buenas noches!
Goodbye! = ¡Adiós!
2. Money and Currency – The official currency of Spain is the Costa Rican Colón and the currency symbol is ₡. Exchanging money in Costa Rica is easy and follows the same standard to elsewhere in Central America. It’s also good to know that most establishments accept US dollars but it’s recommended to exchange some colónes to pay for buses, taxis and smaller establishments that do not accept USD. The best way to get local currency is to use the ATM and withdraw in colónes to get the best rate.
3. Etiquette – Costa Ricans are generally friendly, easygoing and kind people. Most foreign visitors who come to Costa Rica are pleasantly surprised to know that the locals welcome them wherever they go. There are, of course exceptions, but generally you can expect to be treated well. For a foreign traveller, it is important to know that Costa Ricans stress public harmony and overt conviviality. Any indication of conflict is readily buried and confrontation is frowned upon.
4. Getting around – Taking the bus is the best and cheapest way to get around Costa Rica. Buses are reliable and navigable as they operate on a scheduled timetables and set routes. If you are on a luxury vacation, consider hiring a driver to take you around Costa Rica. This option is expensive but will give you complete control of the trip. Renting a car and driving on your own is not recommended because some roads are tricky to navigate.
5. Where to stay – Costa Rica has a wide range of accommodation options, with something for every level of comfort and budget. Deciding where to stay will be just the beginning of your adventure so make sure to choose regions where you will spend more time. If you are going to follow our suggested itinerary, consider finding a hotel/hostel in San Jose, La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio.
The main airport of Costa Rica is Juan Santamaría International Airport (Spanish: Aeropuerto Internacional Juan Santamaría; IATA: SJO). A round-trip airfare from New York is about 339 USD but there are plenty of last minute deals that can be found around. However, from outside Americas the flights are more than 1000 USD so it mights be a good idea to combine destinations (explore Colombia and fly from/to Bogota for 400 USD) or use points to book your flights.
Day by Day Itinerary No plans for a week? Explore Costa Rica
Day 1: San Jose
Your weeklong adventure in Costa Rica starts today! Schedule a flight that will arrive early in San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital. After check in, minimize your jet lag by spending a lot of time out in the sunlight so your body can adapt to its new surroundings. Wear comfortable walking shoes as you will do a lot of walking for today.
Where to stay in San Jose:
Hotel Grano de Oro San Jose (Calle 30, between avenida 2 y 4, San Jose 1007, Costa Rica)
Hotel Casa Cambranes (Calle 47 | between avenidas 10 & 10A, San Jose 2261/2050, Costa Rica)
Parque del Lago Boutique Hotel ( 50 Meters East Costar Rican Art Museun | Avenue 2nd. Streets 40-42, Paseo Colon, San Jose 624-1007, Costa Rica)
Hilton Garden Inn San Jose la Sabana (Rohrmoser Bouleverd, Sabana Norte | North west side of the National Stadium, San Jose 10109, Costa Rica)
Isla Verde Hotel (200m west of the United States Embassy | Pavas, San Jose 10109, Costa Rica)
Do not force yourself yet to get out of San Jose like most tourists do, because Costa Rica’s vibrant capital offers plenty of things to see and experience. If your flight gets in early enough, head to a nearest restaurant or cafe for a quick breakfast. Then start your walking tour at Plaza de la Cultura and visit Museos del Banco Central de Costa Rica (pre-Columbian gold museum; admission fee is under 4 USD per person). In the afternoon, stroll around the impressive downtown of . Then head for dinner at one the top-rated restaurants in downtown to celebrate your first night in the country.
Day 2: Arenal Volcano
On your second day, hire a driver and head to La Fortuna to see Arenal Volcano. For budget travelers, three direct buses depart daily from San Jose to La Fortuna and travel time approximately takes 4 hours. Once you arrive, settle into your preferred accommodation and take in the view. La Fortuna has a very lovely downtown and has a mixed urban-rural feel. On this day, you may explore the streets and shops or you may also try thermal hot springs such as in Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort.
Where to stay in La Fortuna:
Hotel Rancho Cerro Azul (600 meters west from the road entrance to La Fortuna Waterfall, La Fortuna de San Carlos, Arenal Volcano National Park, Costa Rica)
Hotel Lomas del Volcan (La Fortuna de San Carlos, Arenal Volcano National Park, Costa Rica)
Arenal Manoa Hotel & Spa (Head northwest on Route 142, La Fortuna de San Carlos, Arenal Volcano National Park 21007, Costa Rica)
Day 3: Arenal Volcano
Take a half-day or full day trip in Arenal National Park. Arenal National Park covers an area of 29,692 acres and has easy-to-navigate trails making it a good option for children and people with limited mobility. First time travelers, however, are advised to join a group tour so you can get familiarized with the four trails in the National Park. If you are feeling a little bit adventurous, you may try white-water rafting, mountain biking and horse back riding. After a day of adventure, it’s time to relax at the hot springs! For dinner, try one of the Sodas, small diners specializing in typical Costa Rican food for a few thousand colones (1,000 colones is approximately 2 USD ).
Day 4: Monteverde
For today, you may opt to go to Monteverde from La Fortuna. The most popular and fastest way to get Monteverde is via the van/boat/van service and travel time is approximately 3 hours. If you are doing a day trip, you have to consider the first trip which is at 8:30 am to Monteverde and the last trip going back to La Fortuna is at 2:30 pm.
A day trip may not be worth the effort considering time and comfort, so it is recommended to spend at least two days in Monteverde. After check-in to your hotel, you may explore some attractions in Monteverde such as the Hummingbird Gallery, Monteverde Serpentarium, Butterfly Garden, Orchid Garden and Frog Pond of Monteverde.
Where to stay in Monteverde:
Hotel El Bosque (first right after Restaurant Tramonti, 60109, Costa Rica)
Sunset Hotel Monteverde (Santa Elena, Costa Rica)
Hotel Jardines de Monteverde (Cerro Plano | 350 meters northeast of Cerro Plano Public School, 00506, Costa Rica)
Hotel Villa Verde (1.5 miles from Reserve, Costa Rica)
Day 5: Monteverde
On your 5th day, start early and join a guided tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. As the name suggest, Monteverde Cloud Forest is way up in the mountains, you will experience walking through the clouds thousands of feet above sea level. Aside from the amazing bird watching and nature hikes opportunities, you may also try canopy zip-lines.
Day 6: Manuel Antonio National Park
On day 6, hit the road early and head to Manuel Antonio National Park. Be sure to travel as early as possible so you can settle right away in your preferred accommodation before you take in some sights. Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most diverse national parks in the world. This park boasts lush tropical forests, pristine beaches, lagoons and mangroves. Because it is well-protected, there is a great possibility of sighting a white-faced and howler monkey, iguanas and tow or three toed sloths.
Day 7: San Jose
Your final day in Costa Rica can be spent on last-minute shopping and seeing those San Jose attractions that you haven’t yet had time for. Fly back to the capital in time to connect with your departing flight back home. Fit in one last amazing lunch or dinner in the town before you go to the airport.
Have you been to Costa Rica? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.