Toucan sitting in the trees near La Fortuna, Costa Rica

The Best of Costa Rica Itinerary: 10 days | Costa Rica Trip Planner

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Planning a family trip to Costa Rica can be overwhelming with so many cities to choose from and it’s hard to decide what are the best places to visit in Costa Rica. If you are looking for an itinerary that covers the best of Costa Rica, this Costa Rica 10-day itinerary has you covered. With so many Costa Rica destinations to explore and discover, let this Costa Rica travel guide help you decide where to visit, which adventure activities to try and which accommodations to book. Enjoy your trip at the best Costa Rica vacation spots including Manuel Antonio, Monteverde, and La Fortuna/Arenal.

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Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica - beautiful tropical beach. The perfect location to enjoy a Costa Rica itinerary with kids.
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica – beautiful tropical beach

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Costa Rica Itinerary: 10 days Exploring

Spending 10 days in Costa Rica will allow you to cover the major Costa Rica tourist attractions, while still allowing for plenty of time to linger on the beach, take part in some adventure tourism and visit 3 different regions for a nice mix of beach, mountain, and cloud forest. The itinerary will help you decide where to vacation in Costa Rica and provide alternatives for longer trips.

In this itinerary, we suggest visiting Manuel Antonio in the south, Monteverde in the north and Arenal/La Fortuna in the north-central region near Lake Arenal. Alternately, you could remove Monteverde (it requires a 4×4 rental vehicle) and is best for bird watchers. If you chose to remove Monteverde, I recommend extending your time in Manuel Antonio by one day and increasing your time in La Fortuna by the other two days.

Without further ado, here is the best Costa Rica Itinerary 10 days in Manuel Antonio, Monteverde, and Arenal.

Photo of a Capuchin money sitting on a palm. Best Costa Rica trips for wildlife viewing.

Helpful Planning Tips for Planning your Costa Rica Holidays

Before we start covering the logistics and nitty-gritty of the 10-day Costa Rica itinerary, I wanted to mention the thought process that went into it and why it’s perfect for your Costa Rica travel adventure. This is just a Costa Rica sample itinerary and can be easily modified to fit your needs.

  1. Why plan a 10-day trip to Costa Rica? Costa Rica is diverse and even though it is a smaller country, it takes quite a while to travel from one destination to another. With 10 days, you’ll be able to visit a few different areas, while avoiding excessive time spent in the car. If you have more time, I highly suggest a longer visit. Having two weeks in Costa Rica would allow you to add an additional destination and cover more of the beautiful regions in Costa Rica.
    • Sample Costa Rica 2-week itinerary: 3 nights in Manuel Antonio, 3 nights in Monteverde, 2 nights in Tamarindo, 1 night near Rio Celeste, 4 nights in La Fortuna/Arenal, 1 night near San Jose = 14 days
  2. What if I don’t have 10 days to explore Costa Rica? Shorter trips to Costa Rica are possible, but I’d only pick one location for anything shorten than 5 days, otherwise, you’ll spend too much time driving. Popular locations for a shorter trip include Guanacaste and La Fortuna/Arenal.
  3. How many days in each location? Costa Rica vacations are meant to be fun, but yet give you some time to relax and soak up those days off. It’s hard enough to decide where to go in Costa Rica, but then knowing how many days to spend in each location is also something to consider. I almost always suggest at least 3 nights per location. This allows for two full days to explore and reduces the amount of time transferring between hotels. Especially with kids, multiple transfers can be exhausting and reduces the amount of time to just have fun. My Costa Rica family vacation itinerary leaves plenty of time to play in the pool, linger at lunch and still packs in plenty of Costa Rica adventures.
  4. Having a hard time deciding what to see in Costa Rica? This itinerary will cover a wide variety of landscapes, regions, and activities. If everyone in your group has different interests, this 10-day itinerary should cover them all. From birdwatching, ziplining, wildlife watching, tours, chocolate making, waterfall rappelling and more.
  5. Will this trip work as a Costa Rica family itinerary? Oh yes, we traveled with our five-year-old son and as you’ll see below, there were a ton of activities that he was able to take part in. Costa Rica is extremely kid-friendly with many playgrounds at restaurants, family-friendly accommodations and a wide variety of fun for everyone. So check out the best itinerary for Costa Rica below and see for yourself.

Arrival in San Jose Airport

Most flights will arrive into the San Jose airport (Juan Santamaría International Airport), it is often the cheapest airport for international arrivals and San Jose is located in the center of the country, making it a great starting point for your visit. Another option is to fly in the airport close to Liberia, but you’d have to re-arrange this Costa Rica suggested itinerary to make it work.

San Jose Airport Costa Rica. The start of your Costa Rica travel itinerary 10 days.

I highly recommend renting a car from the major rental car agencies at the San Jose airport. Driving in Costa Rica isn’t overly difficult and having a rental car will make it easier to travel around and explore. We’ve rented from various companies and haven’t had great experiences because they add additional coverage that is mandatory in Costa Rica after getting an original quote online.

The only company that gives a reliable quite is Adobe Car Rentals in Costa Rica. They have multiple offices all over Costa Rica if you choose to fly into a different airport or only want a rental car for a portion of your trip. They specialize in Costa Rica tourism with zero hassle and honest quotes when you book online.

Car Rental sign at the airport.

More on Car Rentals at the bottom of the page.

For the following Costa Rica vacation itinerary, I suggest renting a 4 x 4 vehicle. The only time you truly need a 4 x 4 is your visit to the Monteverde region. If you choose to exclude that part of the trip, you will probably be ok with a typical rental.

The Autopista 1 Bernardo Soto near the airport of San Jose, Costa Rica. It's hard to decide in Costa Rica where to go, so this itinerary will help.
The Autopista 1 Bernardo Soto near the airport of San Jose, Costa Rica

Arrival Information (Juan Santamaría International Airport)

I suggest planning your flight to arrive in the morning or mid-afternoon. That will give you enough time to clear customs, collect your baggage and make your way to the rental car companies’ office.

The car rental companies have desks as soon as you exit the airport, but they each have off-site offices. You’ll check-in at the desk and then catch a ride to the off-site location. You’ll complete the required paperwork, sign off on the deposit before receiving your vehicle and hitting the road on the first leg of your Costa Rica road trip.

Make sure you have data on your phone in order to use Waze (NOT google maps) in order to navigate down to the Manuel Antonio area. The drive is relatively easy and will take 2.5-3 hours depending on traffic. You don’t want to visit Costa Rica and waste time by getting lost. 🙂

Phone on the dash of a vehicle with the GPS app Waze running.
MONTREAL, CANADA – FEBRUARY, 2016 – GPS application Waze running on Samsung S5 in a car. Waze is one of the most popular GPS applications.

You’ll need a bit of cash, either US or Colones, for the tolls on your way from San Jose to the Manuel Antonio area. If you pay using US dollars, you’ll get change back in Colons.

Day 1: Manuel Antonio: Catamaran

The start of this itinerary assumes that you’ve reached your destination the night before. We will start with your first full day.

Breakfast: If you choose to stay at Tulemar Bungalows and Villas (highly recommended), enjoy the beautiful views of the jungle and coastline from the Tule Cafe. They serve up a delicious breakfast in the open-air restaurant with fresh fruit smoothies, crepes with Nutella or scrambled eggs.

Recommended Restaurants Manuel Antonio Costa Rica. Tulemar is one of the best family vacation costa rica resorts.

Staying elsewhere? Check out breakfast at Balid’s Fresh Restaurant just outside the entrance to the Manuel Antonio National Park. Try the “Gallo Pinto” for breakfast with eggs and tortillas for the perfect start to your day.

Morning Activity: On your first full day in Costa Rica book a catamaran tour near Manuel Antonio. Head out along the coast to do some snorkeling, slide off the two slides at the back of the boat, keep an eye out for dolphins in the bay and enjoy the beautiful coastline. Lunch is included with freshly caught fish, vegetables and salad for the perfect combo.

Afternoon Activity: In the afternoon, hit one of the beautiful beaches along the shores. If you are staying at one of the local resorts, you might have your own private beach to enjoy. If not, here are some of our favorites:

  • Espadilla Beach- a free public beach located just outside Manuel Antonio National Park. Secure your belongings and do not leave anything in your car. There are plenty of services that you can enjoy including chair rental, paragliding or boogie boarding.
  • Escondido Beach- located inside Manuel Antonio National Park with beautiful views of the coastline and outlying small islands. It requires an admission fee into the park. Secure your belongings and keep an eye out for monkeys patrolling the beach.
  • Espadilla South Beach- a secondary beach located within Manuel Antonio National Park. It is a bit closer to walk to from the parking area, but also requires an entrance fee.
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica - beautiful tropical beach
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica – beautiful tropical beach

Dinner: Enjoy your first dinner at El Wagon. Known for their wood-fired pizzas and delicious pasta options. They have a fun unique train that you can dine inside or next to. Don’t miss the amazing tres leches cake, you won’t regret it.

Stay: Looking for a place to stay during your visit to Manuel Antonio? I highly recommend Tulemar Resort in Manuel Antonio. It is a beautiful property that has been rated highly in world-class travel publications for its friendly staff, stunning bungalows & villas with ocean views as well as a private beach to enjoy with services. Tulemar is perfect for Costa Rica family vacations with multiple options and larger properties for multigenerational family vacations.

Day 2: Manuel Antonio: National Park and Parasailing

Breakfast: La Baguette is a little bakery located next to the El Avion restaurant and its a perfect place to grab a quick breakfast before you head into Manuel Antonio.

Morning Activity: A visit to the Manuel Antonio region wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Manuel Antonio National Park. Manuel Antonio is one of the top Costa Rica places to visit and it is easy to see why with its abundance of wildlife. Be sure to hire a guide and be at the park by 7 am for the best chance to catch wildlife. We hired a private guide from Manuel Tours. I highly recommend hiring Berny for your tour, he is passionate about the animals inside the park and has worked as a wildlife naturalist around the globe.

Walk along a series of paved paths, dirt trails, and boardwalks through Manuel Antonio National Park and keep your eyes open for sloths, monkeys, birds and other creatures that call this park their home. At the end of your walk, you’ll be delighted with a beautiful sandy beach. Be sure to pack a swimsuit and beach items if you want to linger.

Lunch: Emilio’s Cafe is the perfect spot for reasonably priced dishes ranging from sandwiches, pitas, salads to heartier dishes after fun morning adventures. Enjoy the views from the top of the coastline all the way down to the Pacific Ocean.

Afternoon Activity: Venture back to the beach for some high-flying adventures with parasailing from Aguas Azules. You can read out the full review of our parasailing adventure here. Enjoy a unique view of the Manuel Antonio coastline from 600 feet in the air. After your parasailing adventure, play at the beach or head back to your resort/hotel to play in the pool.

Not sure what to wear parasailing? Click the link to check out my recommendations for parasail friendly clothing.

Looking for a high flying adventure? See why you should book with Aguas Azules for the perfect Costa Rica parasailing adventure flying 600 feet over Manuel Antonio National Park. It is one of the recommended adventure trips Costa Rica.

Dinner: El Avion is a fun and unique restaurant with an old Soviet airplane in which the restaurant is made and built around. Perfect for dinner with amazing sunset views! Be sure to make a reservation if you plan to visit during the busy tourist season.

Looking for a detailed review of the multiple restaurants we recommend? Click the link below for a full write-up.

Stay: Tulemar Resort in Manuel Antonio (Read our full review here).

Day 3: Manuel Antonio: Rainmaker

It’s time to transfer to Monteverde, but not before we add in a few more activities. Be sure to pack up and check out of the hotel either before or after breakfast.

Breakfast: Head to the back patio for a homemade breakfast at El Patio de Café Milagro. Be sure to order a cup of coffee, it is freshly ground and delicious either hot or iced.

Morning Activity: Explore a beautiful, but lesser-known park in the area, Rainmaker. Hire a guide to help you discover poison dart frogs, toucans, and stained-glass butterflies. With a unique story on the acquisition of the land and fewer tourist, Rainmaker is a must-see during your visit to the Manuel Antonio area.

Rainmaker also features hanging bridges, waterfalls and areas to swim, so pack a swimsuit and towel.

Rainmaker is on the way out of town, making it a great spot to enjoy before leaving the Manuel Antonio area. Want to read more about what to expect in Rainmaker Park? Click the button below.

Lunch: Let the staff know you’d like lunch prepared before you explore Rainmaker. Two local ladies will cook up one of the best lunches in Costa Rica for a great price!

Afternoon Activity: It’s time to head to Monteverde. You’ll either need a rental car or arrange a private transfer from your hotel in Manuel Antonio to Monteverde. It is about a 3-hour drive. If you are driving a rental car, notable stops include the crocodile river located here. Renting a 4 x 4 is recommended for your visit to Monteverde due to the rough roads, especially in the rainy season.

Car Rental Costa Rica: Car in Costa Rica Countryside
Adventure 4×4 car in the Costa Rica countryside about to cross a bridge.

If you choose to rent a car, I highly recommend hiring one from Adobe. They are a local company in Costa Rica and one of the only companies to include all the mandatory insurances required in Costa Rica. We made the mistake of renting from Hertz and our rental car was twice the cost than we were quoted. It was frustrating. So save yourself the headache and rent from Adobe!

You’ll arrive in Monteverde in about 3.5 hours. It is a relatively easy drive until the last hour when you climb up into the mountains and the roads alternate from dirt to paved. Be sure to complete your drive before nightfalls.

Dinner: Once you’ve checked into your hotel, grab dinner at Restaurante Sabor Tico. It is also located close to a supermarket, perfect if you need to grab supplies.

Vegetarian casados at Restaurante Sabor Tico.

Stay: Depending on your family, consider staying at B&B Casa Batsu. It is a family-run B&B with 4-5 rooms of varying sizes. They include a delicious breakfast for a reasonable price, have free parking and are just outside the main town. My only note of caution is that the floors in the main areas are extremely slippery and no shoes are allowed once inside.

Day 4: Monteverde: Zip Lining, Tree Climbing, Night Hike

Breakfast: If you are staying at Casa Batsu, your breakfast is included. If not, check out Choco Café Don Juan.

Morning Activity: It’s time for some adventure in the trees! That’s right, zip-lining! With so many ziplining companies to chose from, we picked Sky Adventures due to their zip lining braking system and safety record. We also liked the option for the tree climb, as well as the sky tram. Selvatura is another recommended option, but you’ll have to break yourself while zip-lining.

Ziplining is a must for Costa Rica adventure vacations and you can zipline in either Manuel Antonio, Monteverde or La Fortuna. We chose Monteverde since it is where ziplining in Costa Rica originated.

Read more about our experience by clicking the link below.

Lunch: Check out the fun and unique Tree House Restaurant. The restaurant was built around a beautiful ficus tree. They serve up a wonderful array of dishes to please everyone and they are located in the center of town.

Afternoon Activity: Monteverde is known for its cloud forests and you have many options to choose from! Curi Cancha is one option that is great for finding the elusive quetzal bird with its beautiful long colorful tail feathers. It is also a great option for families with shorter trails and open areas to play.

Dinner: Soda Abuela located by the CASEM–Cooperative of Artisans Santa Elena Monteverde is a hidden gem and perfect for a reasonably priced homecooked meal. The restaurant closes at 6 PM, so it will be an early dinner. Be sure to enjoy some shopping in the front store before or after dinner (the store closes at 5 PM)

Night Hike: No trip to Costa Rica would be complete without a night hike to enjoy nocturnal animals that call these forests their own. After hours of researching, Curi Curi was recommended for a night hike due to its wider paths, smaller groups, and ease of finding the animals after darkness falls.

Book your tour through the Curi Cancha website.

Stay: Spend your second night at B&B Casa Batsu.

Day 5: Monteverde: Monteverde Cloud Forest Hike

Breakfast: If you are staying at Casa Batsu, your breakfast is included. If not, check out Stella’s Monteverde for fresh-baked goodies on your way to your morning hike in the Monteverde Cloud Forest.

Morning Activity: You’ll want to maximize your time exploring the Monteverde Cloud Forest, so be sure to get an early start. If you are an avid birdwatcher, you can arrange an early morning guided tour (highly recommended). If you’ve done a few guided tours already, feel free to explore this 810-acre park on your own. Keep your eyes open for the two-toed sloths (thicker coat to deal with the climate) as well as dozens of birds that call this cloud forest their home. If you want a nice laminated animal guide, check out this one from Amazon.

Serious bird watchers will want more extensive guides. Click the links below to purchase some of our favorites on Amazon.

Lunch: After your morning exploring the Monteverde Cloud Forest, it’s time for a delicious lunch at Café Colibri which is located steps from the park entrance.

Afternoon Activity: You have a few options for the afternoon. You can either check out another zip-lining company, take a or do some more hiking at another cloud forest.

Dinner: At least one dinner must be at Taco Taco, the place is amazing! Soft tortillas, Costa Rican slaw, spicy salsa (or not if you aren’t a fan) and homemade guacamole, you’ll be happy you dined here, I promise. Check out the recommended restaurants in Monteverde by clicking the button below.

Stay: Enjoy your last night sitting outside on the porch at B&B Casa Batsu watching the birds and hummingbirds.

Alternate Option: If you plan on visiting for 2 weeks in Costa Rica, I recommend a side trip to Tamarindo during turtle hatching season (March – October). It’s another chance to enjoy the western coast of Costa Rica and it pairs well with this suggested itinerary.

Day 6: Monteverde to Arenal: Waterfalls Galore

Breakfast: Get up early for a quick breakfast either at the B&B or elsewhere in town. You’ll need to be packed up and ready to leave by 7 AM to pack in all of today’s adventures.

Morning Activity: It’s another transfer day. This time we are headed from Monteverde to La Fortuna/Arenal. However, there is plenty of adventure packed into today! La Fortuna is one of the best places to vacation in Costa Rica, so we’ve saved the best for last.

After you’ve packed up your luggage, it’s time to head to Viento Fresco Waterfall. It is about an hour’s drive down the road and a great stopping point. Plan for a 1-2-hour visit depending on your hiking ability and the amount of time you spend at the multiple viewpoints.

Viento Fresco features four stunning waterfalls tucked into the jungle. Pack your swimsuits and towels if you plan to swim. There are quite a few stairs down to the fourth waterfall, so bring a carrier if you are traveling with small children.

Planning on visiting Viento Fresco? Don’t miss my in-depth guide and what to expect along the hike below.

Lunch: Pizzaria Tzunami is located in the town just down the road from the entrance to Viento Fresco and is the perfect place to grab a quick meal. Alternately, you can wait until you reach Rio Celeste and grab some empanadas before hitting the next hike.

Afternoon Activity: Head down the road for another stop at Rio Celeste Waterfall & blue river. It’s like something you’ve never seen! A chemical reaction causes turquoise blue water to cascade over the cliffside in a spectacular waterfall. Best of all, you can see the precise location where the reaction occurs. Plan to spend 2-3 hours here and you must arrive by 2 PM.

See more photos and check out my guide to hiking Rio Celeste below.

After your visit, you’ll have another 1.5-hour drive to La Fortuna/Arenal, be sure to pack dry shoes, you’ll need them after exploring Rio Celeste.

Dinner: Once you’ve checked into your hotel, head into town for some sushi at Kappa Sushi.

Stay: For families, I recommend staying at Hotel El Silencio Del Campo. Couples looking for privacy would prefer Nayara Gardens (we loved our stay in 2014) and if you want to splurge, then Tabacon Thermal Resort and Spa (one of the few with natural thermal springs) or The Springs Resort would be a great bet. A Costa Rica getaway should include plenty of time to relax in the thermal pools!

Day 7: Hanging Bridges, Lava Flows and Hot Springs

Breakfast: If you choose to stay at Hotel El Silencio Del Campo, your breakfast will be included. The majority of hotels include either paid or complimentary breakfast. If you have other accommodations, check out Soda La Hormiga for a scrumptious breakfast to start your day.

Morning Activity: Today features the best of the La Fortuna/Arenal area. These top sights are why everyone comes to this area. Start your morning off with a hike at the Mistico Hanging Bridges. Decide whether or not you want to hire a guide. Plan to spend 1-2 hours hiking over these famous bridges and watching the various wildlife.

Mistico Hanging Bridges La Fortuna, Costa Rica map of the trails.

Want to see a list of all the best activities in La Fortuna/Arenal, check out the link below.

Lunch: Located just down the road is the Rest. El Novillus Del Arenal. It is an open-air pavilion serving up homemade local food.

Afternoon Activity: Hike the lava flow trails of 1968. Explore the changing landscape from the last major eruption from the Arenal Volcano. It is an easy trail, but you can hire a guide if you want to learn more about the volcano and its geological forces.

Be sure to save time after the hike to enjoy the thermal pools at your hotel or purchase a pass for one of the local resorts offering thermal pools. Want to read about more of our favorite activities in La Fortuna/Arenal, click the button below.

View of a waterfall at the hot springs in Costa Rica. It is one of the top recommendations for things to do in Arenal, Costa Rica.

Dinner: Head into town for dinner at Restaurante Tierra Mía, the steak and grilled fish are quite popular.

Stay: Enjoy your second night at Hotel El Silencio Del Campo, the thermal pools are open late for your enjoyment.

Day 8: Canyoning, Waterfalls and Chocolate Tour

Breakfast: If you choose to stay at Hotel El Silencio Del Campo, your breakfast will be included. The majority of hotels include either paid or complimentary breakfast. If you have other accommodations, check out My Coffee La Fortuna for a good cup of coffee and large portions for breakfast.

Morning Activity: Throw on your quick-dry clothes and get harnessed up for some adventure! This morning is all about canyoning. Rappel down four different waterfalls and you descend down into a valley. Pure Trek Canyoning will make sure you’ve got all the appropriate safety gear and will make sure you enjoy your tour. Lunch is included, which is much needed after all the energy you’ll exert. This is a must if you like adventure and was one of our favorite Costa Rica activities in La Fortuna.

Want to read more about what to expect on the tour, check out my guide to waterfall rappelling with Pure Trek using the link below.

Afternoon Activity: Time to take it easy on a tour to learn how chocolate is produced. Great fun for the entire family! Pick a cacao seed, crush the seeds into a paste and mix with sugar and water to make your own chocolate drink. Hands-on fun for everyone. Read more about what you can expect during a chocolate tour by clicking the link below.

Freshly ground cocoa powder in a woman's hand.

Dinner: Enjoy your final night in La Fortuna with dinner at Restaurante Don Rufino. The rich flavors and professional food preparation will leave a lasting impression at this fine dining establishment.

Stay: Sleep well during your last night at Hotel El Silencio Del Campo.

Day 9: Animal Sanctuary, La Paz Waterfall

Breakfast: If you choose to stay at Hotel El Silencio Del Campo, your breakfast will be included. The majority of hotels include either paid or complimentary breakfast. If you have other accommodations, check out Rain Forest for coffee, breakfast burritos, and delectable desserts.

Morning Activity: Pack your bags and head over to Proyecto Asis to help support an animal sanctuary. Proyecto Asis is one of a few animal sanctuaries that are dedicated to helping injured wildlife and giving an appropriate home to animals that were once owned as pets. You can either book a regular tour or add in some volunteering. If you do the tour and volunteer option, you’ll help prepare food for the animals and feed them during your visit. It’s a great way to give back.

Lunch: A quick drive from Proyecto Asis, you’ll find Restaurante Koko. The menu is extensive with options ranging from sushi, local favorites, and grilled items.

Afternoon Activity: Arrive just before check-in to the Peace Lodge. This was a bit of a splurge for us and we wished we had stayed two nights to enjoy all the amenities.

After check-in, you have a few options on how to spend the remaining part of your day. La Paz Waterfall is stunning and easy to reach from the Peace Lodge. If you are staying at the hotel for your final night, your visit is included in your stay. You’ll also be able to visit with various animals that call the Peace Lodge their home (due to injuries). In addition, there is a butterfly house and a fishing pond. 

La Paz Waterfall located near the Peace Lodge in Costa Rica

Dinner: The Peace Lodge offers a few dining options to choose from. After a full day, you might elect for room service to enjoy the beautiful room.

Plate of ceviche, a glass of red wine in front of a gas fireplace. The Peace Lodge in Costa Rica best places to visit.

Stay: Book a night at the Peace Lodge to enjoy one night near San Jose before your flight home the following morning. After staying one night, we wished we had booked two nights, so something to consider.

Day 10: Flight Home

Breakfast: The Peace Lodge has a few options, including a breakfast buffet.

Depending on when your flight leaves, you can explore more of the Peace Lodge property, take part in their animal interactions or linger over coffee on your outdoor patio.

Be sure to allow at least an hour to return to the airport and additional time if you plan to return your rental car. It is an easy drive from the Peace Lodge to the airport.

Final Thoughts on the Itinerary

As you can see with the 10-day Costa Rican itinerary above, you’ll be able to cover some ground and see some of the major highlights of the country. If you have more time, I suggest adding additional days, especially in La Fortuna/Arenal. There are so many activities, trails to explore and thermal pools to laze in.

If you have multiple weeks to travel, consider spending a few days in the capital of San Jose, before heading south to spend a week in Manuel Antonio. Then head north for three days in Monteverde, four days in Tamarindo, four days in the Guanacaste region and then a final week in La Fortuna/Arenal for a total of 28 days total.

Car Rental or Private Shuttles

How should you get around between the multiple locations within Costa Rica? With the itinerary above, you’d be best with a private car rental. As I mentioned before, I highly recommend booking a car rental with Adobe Costa Rica. They are quite popular in Costa Rica and offer you a quote that is closest to the actual cost of a car rental. They have multiple offices if you decide to rent a car in a certain town and then use private shuttle services for the longer drives.

If you’d like to use private shuttles for your family, check out the company Transportation in Costa Rica. For example, a private shuttle service from the San Jose Aiport to Manuel Antonio will cost $170 for the vehicle (6 person max) and you can request child seats.

Shuttle vans parked under a covering.
  • Costa Rica is beautiful, lush, tropical and full of natural beauty. That also means that it rains, even during the “dry season”. Bringing a packable rain jacket is a must for everyone in the entire family. Choose either a packable rain jacket, a fashionable raincoat (for those Instagram photos) or a poncho for your trip. Check out our favorite gear via the links.
  • Along with the lush jungles and sandy beaches, you’ll want to defend yourself against the bugs as well as the harsh sun. Check out our favorite bug spray (great packable size) and reef-safe sunscreen.
  • The proper footwear goes a long way during your daily hikes, waterfall rappeling, crossing hanging bridges and playing in and near the water. You’ll want a range of footwear including closed-toed hiking shoes, beach flip flops, and water shoes. Check out our recommendations for water shoes.
  • Ready to pack your daypack with all the wildlife viewing essentials? You’ll want a decent camera (check out this great starter pack) to capture the animals, a tripod for ease of use, GoPro for water adventures (catamaran, waterfall rappelling) and binoculars. In addition, consider wildlife guide to identifying animals when you are venturing on the trails on your own. Speaking of daypacks, here is our recommendation with a rain cover.
  • Traveling to Costa Rica with Kids? Our son loved his laminated wildlife guide, child-sized binoculars, Costa Rica activity book, and kids’ travel journal. Click the links to see the products on Amazon.
  • Finally, want to read more about Costa Rica? I know I haven’t been able to cover everything, so check out our favorite travel guides.

FAQ: Important Questions for the best Costa Rica vacation

  1. What is the Costa Rica Currency?
    • Costa Rica uses Colones. The current conversion rate is $1 = 565.66 colones. US dollars are also accepted at most places of business, but you’ll get a better exchange rate if you pay in Colones. I suggest using a debit card at the atm when you arrive as this is the safest and best way to get the local currency.
  2. What are some of the most popular places to visit in Costa Rica?
    • There are so many amazing Costa Rica tourist attractions that it is often hard to narrow down your choices! There are a few areas that are popular for visitors: Manuel Antonio, La Fortuna/Arenal, Jaco, and Monteverde. I’ve included three of these locations in my Costa Rica travel itinerary, but it would be easy to change the order or add additional locations depending on the amount of time you have while visiting. I’ve included links to my top activities for each area.
  3. What is the best place to vacation in Costa Rica? That’s a tough question because Costa Rica is a beautiful country and full of various landscapes and vacation styles. If you prefer an all-inclusive, check out the Guanacaste region. If you want to surf and help to release baby turtles, check out Tamarindo. Prefer to travel off the beaten path? Head to Tortuguero or Puerto Viejo.
  4. Anything I should know before planning a trip to Costa Rica?
    • Costa Rica is beautiful year-round. We are frequent visitors with trips in both the dry and the rainy season. Both have their pros and cons.
      • Dry Season: fewer periods of rain, but higher pricing especially during holidays.
      • Wet Season: Discounted pricing, but the likelihood of rain and some companies only offer morning tours in some locations.
    • Be prepared for travel between locations to take longer than you think. Even though two cities are only a few miles apart, it can take longer than expected due to poor road conditions, including dirt roads with potholes.
      • We like renting a car, but if you are nervous driving in a foreign country, look into shuttle services, which can be quite affordable.
  5. How much is a trip to Costa Rica?
    • There are so many considerations to factor into the overall cost of a trip to Costa Rica, but I’ll share a breakdown of what our 10-day trip to Costa Rica cost.
      • Tulemar in Manuel Antonio: $528.75 (buy two nights, get one free promotion)
      • Casa Batsu B&B in Monteverde: $345.78 (breakfast included)
      • Hotel El Silencio del Campo in Arenal: $ 553.51 (breakfast included)
      • Peace Lodge near the airport: $368.66
      • Rental car: Quoted $382.20 with Hertz, but it was closer to $700 when we picked up the vehicle.
      • Activities: 2 adults (for an average cost): $1,110.
        • Manuel Antonio: Catamaran: $75/pp, Private Tour of Manuel Antonio National Park: $89/pp, Rainmaker Park: $20/pp, Parasailing: $140/double.
        • Monteverde: Sky Adventures: $242.06 (tree climbing, ziplining, sky tram), Curci Cancha Night Hike: $15/pp, Entrance Fee to Monteverde Cloud Forest: $20/pp, Curi Cancha Entrance Fee: $15/pp.
        • Arenal: Pure Trek Canyoning: $105/pp, Rainforest Chocolate Tour: $26/pp, Mistico Hanging Bridges Entrance Fee: $24/pp. Volcano Entrance Fee: $15/pp.
      • Food: $100 per day x 10 days = $1,000 total
      • Total Cost for the 10-day trip to Costa Rica: $4,606.76
    • This is just an average Costa Rica vacation cost. Hotel preference can make a huge impact, as well as the cost of activities. We elected to use guides in the national parks and take part in more expensive activities such as a catamaran cruise, zip-lining, and canyoning. Costa Rica features many wonderful Airbnb and Hostel options for budget travelers.
  6. Any recommendations for visiting Costa Rica on a budget?
    • Costa Rica is full of budget-friendly options including Airbnb, hostels and couch surfing. There are inexpensive or free alternatives to many of the paid activities, including a thermal river in La Fortuna, free beaches, hiking trails, and wildlife watching. Visiting in the off-season is one of the best ways to save money.
  7. Do you have any suggestions for a Costa Rica travel guide?
    • If you are looking for more resources on where to travel in Costa Rica and tips on how to plan a trip to Costa Rica, check out our favorite guides to Costa Rica.
  8. Where can I learn more about Costa Rica?
    • Check out our favorite books to learn more about wildlife and diversity in Costa Rica.
    • Have kids? We helped our son prepare for the trip with these fun animal guides, books, travel journals, and jungle activity book. Perfect for exploring the national parks and talking about the diversity of plant life.
Little boy wearing a grey and red shirt and blue shorts holding a wildlife guide in Costa Rica.

I created this travel blog to help other families to explore the world with their kid. I hope this itinerary has given you some great Costa Rica vacation ideas for your upcoming trip. Feel free to reach out with any questions about this Costa Rica trip itinerary, the first consult is free. I’m happy to provide more sample Costa Rica itinerary idea and Costa Rica travel advice after multiple trips to the country.

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