If you are looking for the ideal itinerary for 10 days in Costa Rica, keep reading! We spent 10 days in Costa Rica this summer, and we were able to experience a wide range of activities and sights in this beautiful country! We were looking for a perfect itinerary when we were doing our planning and never quite found it. So, here are our suggestions for a perfect itinerary for your 10 days in Costa Rica.
Before You Go
There are a few important details to take care of before you depart for the land of Pura Vida. Make sure that you have done the following:
Complete the required Costa Rican health pass which requires you to either show proof of vaccination or purchase medical insurance that will cover both your medical expenses and the cost of quarantine if you contract COVID-19 while in Costa Rica. Costa Rican medical facilities are state of the art, so you will not have to worry about the level of care if you need it.
Have a passport that is valid for three months past your entry into Costa Rica. You may also be asked to show proof of a return ticket.
If you are planning to use your credit car for auto insurance, get a letter from them stating your coverages.
Day 1 in Costa Rica
Book your flight into Juan Santamaría Aiport (SJO) to arrive as early as possible in San Jose. This will allow you to collect your rental car and make it to your first destination in La Fortuna. We did not have a long wait at all to clear customs. We have seen a lot of reports that it can take a while on some days. This is another reason to arrive as early in the day as possible.
Rental cars are a hot topic for Costa Rican tourists. You will hear a lot of stories that will make you wonder if you want to drive. We found it to be the absolute best way to see the country. DO use one of the more local rental car companies and ask questions about the insurance fees and total cost.
We went with Wild Rider and found them to be an absolute joy, honest, and reliable. They even provide you with a local cell phone for Waze navigation and making any local calls to hotels, etc. that we needed to make. Waze is by far the most reliable way to navigate the roads in Costa Rica. Our small 4×4 was not fancy by any means. However, It was perfect for our needs, and we worried less about damaging it.
Once you have secured your car, we recommend eating at a local Soda (ask your car rental employee where they go for lunch) before hitting the road to La Fortuna. You will thank us later for this recommendation! The drive to La Fortuna takes about two hours and fifteen minutes. However, it will likely take you longer as you “ooohhh” and “ahhhh” over the beautiful countryside along the way. Be prepared for some smaller roads and lots of random walkers and bicyclists sharing the road with you.
Views and Hot Springs
Head straight to your resort in La Fortuna and enjoy the rest of the afternoon/evening in their hot springs. We chose Arenal Springs Resort, and we were very happy with the accommodations, amenities, and service. You will quickly notice that service in Costa Rica is superior to many places in the world.
Day 2 in Costa Rica
Choose Your Adventure
Enjoy an adventurous day in La Fortuna! There are so many incredible options for adventure and enjoying this beautiful area. We chose to go canyoning with Pure Trek and had a phenomenal experience! We rappelled down 5 different waterfalls (the largest of which was 165 feet tall). However, our guides did an incredible job making sure we felt safe. It truly was the experience of a lifetime that we highly recommend.
If you can take a moderate hike (the worst of the hike is after the last rappel, but it is not that bad), then you can do it! They feed you a great lunch before or after (depending on if you choose a morning or afternoon trip). If you are staying at the Arenal Springs Resort, they are right around the corner. They provide a shuttle bus to pick you up no matter where you are staying in town. You can find all of the details on this experience here. If you have a GoPro, be sure to ask for a helmet with a GoPro mount. We finished our day with a nice soak in our hotel’s hot springs and dinner at the swim-up sushi bar.
If rappelling down waterfalls is not your thing, there are a wide range of other activities to choose from in La Fortuna. For example, you can go whitewater rafting, soak in various hot springs, hike the volcano, visit La Fortuna waterfalls, go on a coffee tour, go ziplining, or walk on hanging bridges. We chose to wait until our next stop to do the last three on that list.
As you can see, La Fortuna could easily be your home base for your entire 10 days in Costa Rica. However, we hope to convince you to venture on to see more of this amazing country.
Day 3 in Costa Rica
Travel to Monteverde
On day 3, make the two-and-a-half-hour scenic drive around Lake Arenal to Monteverde. Part of the drive will be unpaved. However, as long as you are not traveling in the rainy season you should not have too many spots to slow you down.
Lunch and Afternoon Activity
Once you arrive in Monteverde, take the afternoon to get a delicious lunch at Soda el Rancho del Juanita (again, you will thank us later!). Then head over to Don Juan coffee, chocolate, and sugar cane tours for an entertaining and informational hands-on tour. If you’re lucky, you may even see their resident coatis!
Day 4 in Costa Rica
If you stay at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Lodge (which we highly recommend due to the amazing nature on the property and the friendliness of the staff), you may very well wake up to the sounds of howler monkeys. Is there a better way to remember that you are in the jungle?
Ziplining and Hanging Bridges
This is the day for ziplining and walking the hanging bridges at Selvatura Park. They have a variety of packages to choose from, but we chose to do the ziplining and hanging bridges walk. One thing to note is that you actually buy your tickets at a small office on the left side of the road prior to arriving at the parking area for the park. We almost flew right past it. Once inside the park, you will get outfitted for your adventure. Be sure to ask for a helmet with a GoPro mount if you have a GoPro with you!
Other Options in Monteverde
Again, you could spend at least several days of your 10 days in Costa Rica in Monteverde and still find things to discover. Just at Selvatura Park, there was also a butterfly garden and sloth sanctuary. There are lots of night walks to choose from in order to see various nocturnal critters. You could also spend days just hiking in the Cloud Forest.
Travel to Manuel Antonio
The rest of the day will be spent driving to Manuel Antonio. The drive should only be about 3 hours total, but the first part of it is fairly winding (and scenic). You will cross over the famous “Crocodile Bridge” on your way when you cross the Tárcoles River. There is a tourist shop just before the bridge where you can park and walk out onto the bridge. The crocodiles are almost always lounging below. Once you cross the river, you will start to get some glimpses of the coast and will drive right on it at times. There are some pretty special beach views and sunsets awaiting your arrival!
Day 5 in Costa Rica
Manuel Antonio is definitely full of tourists. As a result, there are a wide range of things to do in this area. However, there is one true shining star (and the reason this area has such a big draw) and that is Manuel Antonio National Park.
Manuel Antonio National Park
One of the most beautiful beaches in all of Costa Rica is inside Manuel Antonio National Park. However, this beautiful beach is not the only reason to visit this very popular national park. It is also one of the best places to see a wide range of wildlife!
Important Things to Know
They are very strict about what they allow in the park. The guards will check your bags for food on the way in, so be sure to check the latest rules on the official website. The basic idea is that they don’t allow anything with disposable packing (including disposable water bottles) or more recently any food at all…I.e. if it’s wrapped in something you will throw away it can’t come in. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find a nice concessions area that sells lunch stuff, drinks, and gelato! It’s located near the beaches which was nice.
At least for now, you have to buy a ticket in advance online and pick an entry time. We definitely recommend going earlier in the day in order to avoid potential crowds and to be able to have this beach all to yourself. Although, we never found it to feel too crowded.
Absolutely no drones allowed in the park, even if you don’t plan to use it. We saw one poor guy get turned away with his. Leave it back at your hotel or rental house.
If you are fortunate enough to stay on or near Espadilla Beach, it’s a short walk from there to the park entrance. This will keep you from having to deal with the parking hagglers, which was very nice. We stayed at Buena Vista Beach Villas and had a wonderful stay, but they have since closed.
Do expect to be approached all the way up until the entrance asking if you need a guide. We did not hire a guide as we had already seen a lot of animals, and we didn’t want to be tied to the guide’s time. We didn’t see as many animals in the park as a result though. If you want a guide, we would recommend booking one in advance. There seems to be a wide range of professionalism there.
There is a nice changing area near the beach, so you can definitely bring a dry change of clothes to avoid making the hike out in your wet clothes. We recommend bringing a dry bag though as there is a high likelihood of getting caught in some rain at some point in the day.
The beaches (and animals) are definitely worth the effort to visit. Manuel Antonio Beach is the best combination of scenic and calm for swimming. However, there are several other beaches in the park if you want to avoid the crowds.
Espadilla Beach and Local Restaurants
After spending the day at Manuel Antonio National Park, it is nice to come back to the beautiful Espadilla Norte Beach to enjoy more quiet beach time. The southern end of this 2 km long beach has various restaurants and bars as well as public beach access. The north end (where our hotel was) is more quiet and private. Surf instructors set up along this beach and there are various restaurants and bars with beach views. It’s a great way to end the day. We also really enjoyed going right up the road to El Wagon Pizza for a delicious dinner with a great family-friendly vibe.
Other Options in Manuel Antonio
Again, if you would rather do as little driving as possible and if you don’t mind more tourists and increased prices, you can spend a good portion of your 10 days in Costa Rica in Manuel Antonio. There are a wide range of restaurants as well as a lot of different excursions and possible day trips in the area. We chose to venture farther south to get a more local beach experience and were really glad that we did.
Day 6 in Costa Rica
Travel to Uvita
The drive from Manuel Antonio to Uvita is an easy and interesting one. Much of the drive is through palm farms, and if you like palm trees you will find it captivating to see miles and miles of them. You are also likely to see trailers full of palm kernels that are being harvested for palm oil. These African palm trees were mostly planted in the 1940s after disease destroyed the banana crops of the area. I would love to take a tour of one of these plantations next time we return.
One of the famous spots along this drive is the community of Dominical. It is a famous surf beach and as a result, has a number of hostels within steps of the beach. The surf definitely looked good there, but it was more for experienced surfers than for us. We did find a terrific soda for lunch there though! Café Ensueño was delicious and the portions were enormous (much to the delight of our teenagers)!
We can’t stress enough how much we recommend eating at local sodas during your 10 days in Costa Rica. Soda does not refer to a carbonated beverage in this case. It is the name given to local restaurants. The prices are incredibly reasonable, and the food is amazing! We found that using Google maps to search “soda near me” would help us find them. Then, we just always looked for the one closest to us with the best reviews. We loved every one of our meals!
Uvita Like a Local
After checking into your lodging, head over to Playa Hermosa to watch the locals surf and just enjoy a beautiful sunset. Parking is free, under the trees, and you will find families picnicking and just enjoying the beautiful views.
Day 7 in Costa Rica
We had a lot of highlight moments in Costa Rica, but this outing is one of the top ones! There are only two different access points to get to Nauyaca Falls.
One is through the office of the Don Lulo family. They offer a couple of ways to access the falls. You can hike 12 km roundtrip for a $10 entry fee. You can take a 4X4 shuttle for $32 or a 4X4 tour that includes lunch for $80. Finally, you can take a horseback tour for $80.
The other option (the one we chose) is to drive to Nauyaca Waterfall Nature Park. Their staff will greet you with fresh juice, some family games while you wait, and bathrooms. For $30 (or $20 for children ages 3-12), they will take you by 4×4 trolley to a trailhead that is a pretty short hike down to the waterfalls and additional trails. It is a short hike but a fairly steep one. So, make sure everyone in your party can handle a lot of stairs. At the trailhead, there is a wonderful shelter with swings and tables that would be perfect for a picnic lunch. There are bathrooms there as well. The shuttle returns to pick you up once you are done.
Nauyaca Waterfall is absolutely gorgeous, and it is also a great place to swim and cool off in perfect temperature water. It would not be difficult to enjoy being here most of the day.
Day 8 in Costa Rica
If you have heard of the “Whale Tail” beach, Uvita is where you will find it. Uvita Beach is part of Parque Nacional Marino Ballena, so there is a nominal entry fee. The fee is $6 for non-Costa Rican residents. You must go to one of four ranger stations, called sectors, to buy your ticket before entering one of the many areas to access the beach. This part was a little tricky at first as the roads in this area can easily get washed out with rain.
Sector Uvita is the closest to the whale tail portion and the strip of town with some great little restaurants and shops. As a result, it is also busier than Sector Colonia where you are likely to have the beach entirely to yourself. You can still walk to the whale tail from here, but it is a bit of a walk. Be sure to check tide charts, as you can only reach the whale tail during low tide. Parking areas near the beach will typically charge 4-5,000 colones. Be sure to have some cash to pay the locals who run the parking areas and keep an eye on your car.
One other important thing to note is that you should be careful about sitting under the palm trees on this beach. Evidently, getting hit in the head by a coconut is a real potential danger here.
We had planned to take surfing lessons on this afternoon, but a rainstorm came up suddenly around lunchtime. So, we ended up getting a great lunch in the little village area of Uvita and then went back and relaxed at our hotel.
Day 9 in Costa Rica
We spent the morning of our last full day in Costa Rica getting out of our comfort zone and taking surfing lessons from Surfing Uvita. Surf lessons were one of the bucket list things we wanted to do as a family on this trip. We had sought out Uvita specifically for this. It is touted as one of the easiest places to learn to surf in the world. We felt like it definitely lived up to the hype! Julian and our other instructor were so incredibly kind and patient. They made sure that all four of us were able to be successful and actually catch waves.
The beach at Uvita truly was a beginner’s dream. The waves were big enough to surf. It was a sandy beach with almost no rocks, etc. to hurt you. The waves were not overwhelming or too difficult to navigate. It truly was an incredible experience, and we all left pretty exhausted and extremely happy.
Surfing Uvita has some semi-private showers right by the beach. We were able to quickly rinse and wash the saltwater off as well as put on some dry clothes for our travel back to the San Jose area. It was not a fancy shower by any means, but it definitely got the job done. We were grateful to be able to travel clean and in dry clothes.
Travel Back to Alajuela
It is about a 3-hour drive from Uvita back to Alajuela. We chose to spend the last night of our 10 days in Costa Rica at a resort, Xandari, in order to just relax for the evening. Unfortunately, it ended up being a rainy afternoon/evening. So, we did not get to enjoy all that the resort had to offer. We did have a wonderful meal and really enjoyed the view of the valley the next morning!
Day 10 in Costa Rica
We checked out of our resort early on the morning of our 10th day in Costa Rica in order to give ourselves plenty of time to get our COVID tests, return our car and make it through security. There is a bus right at departures that takes you 5 minutes away to a very efficient testing center. The costs of the tests were $135, and we had to make our appointment prior to that day. It was an easy process though. There now seem to be a lot more options, including the self-administered tests that are proctored over your computer. It seems to depend on which airline you are flying as to which are the best options. The link above lists the various current options.
Once through security, we picked up a few more souvenirs (mostly coffee) from the duty-free shop, grabbed a quick breakfast, and boarded our flight home. It was an incredible 10 days in Costa Rica, and we cannot wait to return one day!