Costa Rica, is undeniably the most bio-diverse destination I’ve travelled to. It’s got a little something for everyone. Aptly called “Rich Coast” in Spanish, the country is never more than a stone’s throw away from a national park. Rainforests are scattered around the country, with dazzling waterfalls, mighty volcanoes and man made hanging bridges that leave you in awe of mother nature. The beaches draw surfing enthusiasts from all over the world and the beach towns are laidback with dreamy sunsets. Perfectly flanked between the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, Costa Rica enjoys two distinct climates- the Pacific side sees a dry season from December to April with the wet season between May and November. On the other hand, the Caribbean side, rain is an almost everyday affair, presenting thick, dense and lush rainforests along the continental divide.

Costa Rica’s main destinations

Note: This itinerary assumes you’re commencing from San Jose (SJO) but you could tailor this itinerary to your needs if you’re arriving at Liberia airport.

Overview: SJO > Monteverde > Guanacaste > Manuel Antonio > Corcovado > Uvita >  La Fortuna/ Arenal > Tortuguero > Puerto Viejo > SJO

Day 1 – From San Jose, head over to Monteverde. The drive would last around 3 hours. After checking in, sign up for a wildlife night tour at one of the many reserves that host these tours almost every evening. Tours usually commence at around 5.30pm.

Day 2 – Start early with a hike at Monteverde Cloud Forest or Santa Elena Cloud Forest, both offer a breathtaking scenery of clouds floating above the rainforests. Follow this with a coffee tour. The region is famed for its coffee production. I recommend visiting Café de Monteverde for a detailed 3 hour tour.

Note:  If you do not have time on day 1 for the night tour, plug this in for the end of day 2.

The moss covered paths in Monteverde Cloud Forest

Day 3 – From Monteverde, make your way to the beautiful coastal beach town of Playa Tamarindo in the north west of the country in the Guanacaste province. If you can start early from Monteverde, I recommend visiting Volcan Tenorio National Park which is home to Rio Celeste and its namesake waterfall. The hike can be mildly challenging yet rewarding.

After checking in to your hotel near Tamarindo, head over to the lively night market in the town centre.

Day 4 – From Tamarindo, head down south to the surf towns of Samara and Nosara. The drive is about an hour but we definitely think they’re visiting these towns due to their laidback vibe. Take time to explore the town, surf, or even join a yoga class. If you’re looking to explore nature, there are several reserves around as well.

Day 5 – While staying in Samara or Nosara, visit the Sibu Wildlife Sanctuary. Or if you’d like to try something different, go on an ATV tour. After your day of exploring, head over to the surf town of Santa Teresa where you can stay overnight.

Beach hopping in Guanacaste

Day 6 – On your last day in the region, take a day trip to the town of Montezuma, hike up to the Montezuma waterfall and then make your way to the Cabo Blanco nature reserve. 

Day 7 – Drive over to the renowned national park on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast from Santa Teresa – the Manuel Antonio National Park. The drive is smooth, flat and mostly along coastal roads, which is pretty different from other drives you’ll experience in Costa Rica. Quepos is a great base as there are plenty of accommodation options in and around.

Day 8 – Set aside at least half a day to explore the national park of Manuel Antonio. The park has several trails with diverse wildlife, with all trails leading to the beach. In the afternoon, head to Nauyaca waterfalls for a refreshing escape after all the hiking. Near the waterfalls, is the little beach town of Dominical where you can enjoy a laidback dinner with the sun setting in the background.

The sun setting along the Pacific Coast

Day 9 – Drive down from Quepos to Corcovado in the southern Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica. You will need a 4×4 to access the region as the roads get flooded quite often, especially in the rainy season. Once you’re at Sierpe, you can take a boat to Drake Bay, if you prefer not to drive. You can also access the park from Puerto Jimenez. As Corcovado strictly controls the number of visitors, you will need to book an authorised tour in advance. There are several ranger stations in the park and you will be based around one. Your guide will take you through trails each day.

Day 10 – Spend a full day at Corcovado National Park exploring the park with your guide.

Day 11 – A short drive from Corcovado is yet another beach town – Uvita. Uvita is famous for the Marino Ballena National Park, fondly known as “Whale’s Tail” because of its unique formation at low tide when viewed aerially. On your way to Uvita, stop over at Sierpe to go mangrove kayaking.

Day 12 – Explore Marino Ballena National Park for at least half a day. You will need to research beforehand, as the best time to visit is during low tide.

Marino Ballena National Park at low tide

Day 13 – From Uvita, drive up to La Fortuna/ Arenal.

Day 14 – Start with a hike at the Volcan Arenal National Park – the most popular hike is Arenal 1968. If time allows, squeeze in a chocolate tour in the afternoon. After hiking, go to one of the many hot springs the region is famous for. Personally, I recommend Eco Termales.

Day 15 – In the morning, visit the Mistico Hanging Bridges and traverse the many rope bridges. After this, go on a ziplining tour which is quite a popular activity in La Fortuna. If you’re not keen to do anything adrenaline driven, I would advise going on a chocolate/coffee tour instead, followed by a nocturnal wildlife tour.

One of many hanging bridges in La Fortuna’s parks

Day 16 – Make your way from La Fortuna to the north Caribbean town of Tortuguero. You will then need to embark on a boat ride at La Pavona to get to the national park. The village of Tortuguero has little to offer and most people come here to head to the national park. Once at the park, you can spend the day hiking various trails.

Day 17 – Take a wildlife boat tour in the morning to spot wildlife. Later in the evening, opt for a night time tour if you’re still keen to spot nocturnal wildlife. If you visit during the rainy season, you might witness the baby turtle hatching, which also happens in this area.

Day 18 – Head down south to Caribe Sur (South Caribbean) for an exciting end to your time in Costa Rica. Puerto Viejo is the life and soul of Afro Caribbean culture in Costa Rica and you won’t find another town with its distinctive vibe in the country. Once you arrive into Puerto Viejo, lay back and relax on a beach bar or if you have time, go around exploring the small beach town.

Playa Negra in Puerto Viejo

Day 19 – Start your day with a tour at the Jaguar Rescue Centre followed by a trip to Manzanillo. For the evening, head down to Puerto Pirata tiki bar for an enjoyable sunset.

Day 20 – Sign up for a tour to learn more about the Bribri indigenous community of Costa Rica. The Bribri live in the dense rainforests of the Talamanca region and have their own traditions. It’s definitely a unique experience to immerse yourself into.   Don’t forget to also pack in a visit to my favourite black sand beach – Playa Negra.

Day 21 – Head back to the capital of San Jose for your departure. If you have a full day, I would do a coffee plantation tour and the Poas volcano, or, a day trip to Bajos del Toro where you can hike to the infamous Catarata del Toro. If you just have half a day, visit a museum like the National Museum or the Art Museum, before you bid adieu to this lush country.

The colourful birds at the Jaguar Rescue Centre

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