OUR COSTA RICA 10 DAY ITINERARY + ROAD TRIP PLANNER


We spent a total of ten days in Costa Rica, and I can guarantee this won’t be our last time.

Costa Rica is relatively a small country encompassing 51,100 square kilometers. It can roughly be compared to the state of West Virginia in the US or Denmark in Europe. In our Costa Rica 10 day itinerary, were we able to focus on some of our favorite places the country has to offer.

Our 10-day Costa Rica Itinerary allowed us to explore the country’s treasures, focusing on top destinations for fellow adventure enthusiasts. From marveling at Arenal Volcano and unwinding in Tabacon hot springs to traversing Mistico’s hanging bridges in the lush rainforest and swimming in La Fortuna Waterfall, every moment was a thrill.

Costa Rica caters to all travelers, whether it’s witnessing the turquoise waters of Rio Celeste at Tenorio Volcano National Park or catching a wave at Nosara’s renowned beaches. This visit marked our second journey to Costa Rica, where we explored La Fortuna, Bijagua, Rio Celeste, Nosara, and Monteverde.

In addition to the meticulous planning advice we’ve put together, we have included our personal recommendations for activities, accommodations, tours, and stops for each day of the trip. You can choose to follow it precisely or utilize it as a foundation to customize and adjust your own road trip itinerary!







OUR RECOMMENDED COSTA RICA 10-DAY ITINERARY

DAY 01 | Arrive in San Jose – Stay at Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel & Nature Reserve.
DAY 02 | Drive to La Fortuna & Explore Volcan Arenal – Stay at Arenal Observatory Lodge & Trails.
DAY 03 | Visit Mistico Hanging Bridges & Hot Springs – Stay at Arenal Observatory Lodge & Trails.
DAY 04 | Explore Fortuna Waterfall – Drive to Rio Celeste – Stay at Rio Celeste Hideaway Hotel.
DAY 05 | Visit Volcan Tenorio National Park – Stay again at Rio Celeste
DAY 06 | Drive to Nosara – Stay at Tierra Magnifica Boutique Hotel
DAY 07 | Enjoy a Beach Day & Rent an ATV – Stay at The Nomadic Hotel
DAY 08 | Drive to Monteverde & Hike La Tigre Waterfall – Stay at Monteverde Lodge & Gardens by Boena
DAY 09 | Drive to San Jose – Stay at Grano de Oro Hotel
DAY 10 | Drop off Car – Fly Home








COSTA RICA ITINERARY


Our Costa Rica itinerary is meant to help you design every detail to your perfect vacation for your next adventure. This is a curated guide that explores the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, if you are looking for a Caribbean adventure we also have a 7 day travel guide for that coast of Costa Rica as well, including Volcan Poas, Sarapiqui River, Tortuguero and Limon.

DO YOU NEED TO HIRE A CAR?


For this particular itinerary we’ve carefully planned around the convenience of having a rental car at your disposal.  Given that some of the roads are unpaved, having a sturdy vehicle becomes crucial. We strongly suggest a 4×4 rental for exploring Costa Rica by road.

However, if your short on time in Costa Rica and are looking to use only public transportation this is also an option. Public transportation in Costa Rica is not very reliable outside of the main city of San Jose, so we recommend private vans or a private driver for a trustworthy ride.

Read | Renting A Car In Costa Rica, Essential Things You Need to Know | coming soon


SHOULD YOU START IN SAN JOSE OR LIBERIA?


There are two main airports in Costa Rica. The more popular one is situated in the capital, San Jose, which like us, most of you will arrive here. The second airport is located on the Nicoya Peninsula in Liberia.

Both are great options, but we prefer Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose. Depending on what route or destinations in Costa Rica you are most interested in can be a deciding factor on what airport would suit your itinerary best.







THE COSTA RICA ROAD ITINERARY – DAY BY

DAY



DAY 01 – FLY IN TO SAN JOSE


We recommend aiming for an early flight to reach San Jose before noon to avoid rush hour traffic when driving to your first destination. Driving during daylight is much easier on the winding roads.

You can pick the car up from the airport, although most car rental companies will take you to their main office via van service close by where you will pick the car up. Our go to is Alamo. They are always so helpful, and there has never been any hidden fees or extras once we arrive.

Our arrival being early in the morning, we like to get a head start on our road trip and head towards our first destination. However, if you are arriving later in the afternoon anywhere after 3PM we would recommend spending the night in San Jose and starting first thing in the morning the next day.

Once stepping foot in our first hotel Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel & Resort we spent the rest of the day exploring the property, both options have amazing little pathways where you can sight colibris or even rainforest frogs. They both also offer guided night tours which are pretty cool. You get to see all the nocturnal animals including tree frogs, armadillos, anteaters, three and two toed sloths and so much more.

Drive | Pick up rental car at Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose drive 74KM | 1 hour 57 minutes to Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel & Retreat.

Eat | Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel & Resort has an amazing Jungle Q BBQ which is a Costa Rican twist on Texan BBQ and is a must try! They also have El Sendero Restaurant which has wonderful vegan options, we had the squash cream with coconut milk and it was delicious.

Stay | If you are starting your road trip the same day like us, located an hour and half out of San Jose is the luxury stay at Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel & Retreat or for budget travelers La Tigra Rainforest Lodge is amazing.

However, if you are not starting until the next day our favorite options in San Jose are Grano de Oro or Hilton San Jose Sabana. These both have great access to La Sabana Park and Museum of Costa Rican Art and a bunch of restaurants.

Tip | We would recommend bringing an extra layer, or light sweater or jacket. The cloud forests tend to get pretty chilly early in the morning and in the evening.







DAY 02 – HEAD TO LA FORTUNA



Waking up in the middle of the cloud forest in a wood cabin, as we explore the property and feed the new baby calf’s breakfast was the perfect way to jump start the day to our adventure. After a light buffet breakfast which is included in the stay at Villa Blanca we we’re off to our next destination La Fortuna, or better known as El Arenal.

Since La Fortuna can be up to five hours from San Jose depending on traffic, we recommend the first night at Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel & Retreat or La Tigra, which are located pretty much at the half way point. Having good nights rest to start our adventure is key.

La Fortuna, home to the Arenal Volcano is honestly one of our favorite places in Costa Rica and every time we are in Costa Rica it is a must see for us. It never seizes to amaze, time and time again. The weather, no matter rain (expect a lot of rain, rainy season or not) or shine there is always something to do and its just magical being in the lush green rainforest, surrounded by animals and local wildlife.

It is important to note, that depending on the weather and season you are traveling, the Arenal Volcano might not be visible. This happened our first time in Costa Rica, and although disappointing, there is still so much to do here.

Once checking in to Arenal Observatory Lodge & Trails we noticed that the Volcano was visible and decided to go straight to our room, which was a Volcano room view. After enjoying the sights of the impressive Arenal Volcano, since still visible we decided to run off to the Arenal Volcano National Park.

After starting our morning off with a tranquil hike and views at the Arenal Volcano National Park, we went in to town to get some well deserved lunch. We we’re so giddy from finally being able to see the volcano, that even the rain fall in the afternoon was enjoyable.

Drive | Villa Blanca Cloud Forest to Arenal Observatory Lodge & Trails will take 2 1/2 hours – 94.1KM drive.

Eat | Have lunch in La Fortuna center at Organico Fortuna or Rufino’s. We have eaten at both and highly recommend either. Also if you need a pick me up coffee we had the best coffee at Vita Cafe which carries only local brands of coffee from all over Costa Rica.

Stay | This is our second time staying at The Arenal Observatory Lodge & Trails, although it isn’t the most luxurious it definitely has the best view of the Arenal Volcano and was actually once where the scientists of the Smithsonian Institute were lodged while studying the volcano.

If you are looking for more luxurious options the Tabacon Thermal Resort or Nayara Springs should do the trick.

Read | 9 Best Things to Do in La Fortuna








DAY 03 – MISITICO HANGING BRIDGES & HOT SPRINGS



Waking up early is a must if you want to explore without the crowds while in La Fortuna. Staying at a hotel that has breakfast included is ideal, definitely when you are waking up so early in the morning. The breakfast at The Observatory Lodge & Trails is à la carte, and are pretty substantial portions.

Mistico Park is something you just can not miss, there is something so magical about this park. We always get our entrances before hand online. And would definitely recommend getting in the park before 9AM when the tours and crowds start to arrive.




After wandering in the magical Mistico Park, it’s time to take a dip in the hot springs. We absolutely love the Hot Springs at Tabacon. They have a day pass for people who aren’t staying at the hotel. We also highly recommend you purchase these in advance on their website. It is a great way to spend your afternoon after your early morning hike.

Tabacon can include lunch or dinner, at an extra cost. Both times we opted for the lunch and it was delicious and filling. The day pass starts at 10AM, just around the time you will be finishing up with Mistico and closes at 10PM. It’s also good to note that if you keep your bracelet on you can come and go as you please through out the day. Which is perfect if you decided not to include lunch at Tabacon.





Drive | Its a 30 minute – 14.2KM drive from the hotel to Mistico Park | From Mistico to Tabacon it will only be around 15 minutes away – 8.9KM drive and then a 20 minute | 11.5KM drive back to the hotel.

Eat | As we mentioned above Tabacon includes a lunch for an extra fee. But if you are interested in eating somewhere in La Fortuna, we can highly recommend grabbing lunch at Organico Fortuna or Don Ruffino. They are both located 15 minutes from Tabacon.

Stay | Enjoy a second night at The Arenal Observatory Lodge & Trails.

Tip | If you decide not to indulge in a Tabacon day pass, there is a public entrance to natural hot springs a couple of meters from Tabacon. The entrance is kind of hidden off the road, but anyone around can guide you.

Read | Everything you need to know Mistico Park & A Short Guide to Tabacon Hot Springs | coming soon





DAY 04 – LA FORTUNA WATERFALL – RIO CELESTE



A cold dip in the La Fortuna waterfall first thing in the morning sure is one way to wake up. This 75M waterfall is definitely a sight to see. Our visit to El Arenal, wouldn’t be complete without exploring it. La Fortuna Waterfall is so refreshing, the water is cold but swimming is allowed so definitely bring your swim suit. It is nestled in the rainforest, and the hike took around 2 hours total.

Getting there first thing in the morning allowed us to beat the crowds. We had the waterfall to ourselves for a good 20 minutes. If you don’t buy your tickets in advance on the official website, you can expect to wait on a pretty long line. So we recommend buying them here – La Fortuna Waterfall tickets.

To reach La Fortuna Waterfall be prepared for a good leg day as for the waterfall is at the bottom of little over 500 steps.





After our morning dip, we headed off to Rio Celeste Hideaway Hotel. Once we arrived it wasn’t time to check in, but we dropped our bags off with reception and explored the grounds, and got lunch at the hotel restaurant Kantala. With 80 acres of rainforest reserve at our fingertips including private trails, exclusive swimming areas, and hanging bridges there was never a dull moment.

Drive | Arenal Observatory Hotel to La Fortuna Waterfall is 24.3KM | 30 minutes total so leaving early is a must | After you will find yourself an hour and a half from the Hideaway Hotel in Rio Celeste or Bijagua or 73.1KM.

Eat | After enjoying a light breakfast at the hotel, we recommend if you can to get lunch at the Rio Celeste Hideaway Hotel restaurant. The quesadilla on the lunch menu was to die for, and definitely hit the spot after 1000 steps up and down.

Stay | There is an array of accommodations at Rio Celeste, but for those luxury travelers we’d recommend Rio Celeste Hideaway Hotel especially if it’s only for one night, the grounds themselves are incredible. For travelers on a budget try Sueño Río Celeste Boutique B&B or Finca La Amistad Cacao Lodge.

Read | The Ultimate Guide on How to Visit La Fortuna Waterfall | coming soon








DAY 05 – PARQUE NACIONAL VOLCAN TENORIO



Breakfast is included at the Hideaway Hotel and was from 7AM-11AM, so we decided to get breakfast before visiting Rio Celeste. The Parque Nacional Volcan Tenorio opens at 8AM and you guessed it, getting there early is key if you want to beat the crowds. We purchased our tickets online on the official governments website for the National Park, and selected the earliest entry time.

It is important to note that there is no parking at Parque Nacional Volcan Tenorio, but there were designated parking lots steps from the park with tour guides who charge you for a spot. For $4USD or $2000 Colones this was the only place anywhere near the Volcan Tenorio to park, so remember to bring cash.

Located in the Guanacaste Volcanic Mountain Range, Parque Nacional Volcan Tenorio is best known for Celeste Waterfall. This waterfall has enchanting blue colored water, however does not allow any swimming. The whole hike lasted around 2 to 3 hours for us to explore the whole National Park. Again be ready for another leg day, this time with 250 stairs down to the Celeste Waterfall and 250 back up it was definitely a work out.

The Tenorio Volcano National Park had everything from hanging bridges, natural hot springs and wildlife while hiking. Rio Celeste is definitely worth a visit on your Costa Rica itinerary.





Once we were all wrapped up with the National Park, we booked a tubing adventure in Rio Celeste. They offered a 1PM or 3PM tour which was perfect for that afternoon heat. We had a blast, and the water is so refreshing and crazy blue. Another option would be to visit the Tapir Valley Nature Reserve, which is open until 5PM.

Eat | While breakfast is included at the hotel, we decided on having lunch pool side before our tubing adventure in Rio Celeste. For dinner out try Restaurante La Amistad or Restaurante Tapirus Paradise.

Stay | Relax and enjoy one more night at the beautiful Rio Celeste Hideaway Hotel.

Read | Visiting Tenorio Volcano National Park, A Complete Guide | coming soon










DAY 06 – CATCH A SUNSET – TIERRA MAGNIFICA



Our last morning in Rio Celeste Hideaway Hotel, and it’s bittersweet. We woke up early feeling extremely relaxed and had breakfast with the birds and coati’s. Then we ventured on to our next destination. From here we traveled the longest distance on the road trip itinerary, from Bijagua to Nosara.



Away from the rainforest now over to the sunny beaches. We left at 9AM, but leaving anytime around or before 12PM will be optimal to arrive just in time to enjoy the sunset. We do recommend leaving as early as possible though, taking in to mind that the main road from Liberia Airport until Nosara is pretty adventurous to say the least. You can expect decent roads for about a quarter of the ride, and the rest is a bumpy ride on dirt roads with winding curves.

Once arriving in Nosara, we chose to try out two different hotels for our two nights here. Our first hotel being Tierra Magnifica which covers stunning valley and ocean views. This hotel also offers access for guests to the Guilded Iguana’s Surf Club, located in Playa Guiones. Where we were given access to lockers and changing areas, you also will be able to rent surf boards or take a class. They also have a juice bar for a post-surf refreshment.

Drive | Hideaway Hotel in Rio Celeste or Bijagua make a pit stop for lunch at La Choza de Laurel 94.8KM | half way to Tierra Magnifica Hotel in Nosara 114KM | 4 hours and 22 minutes.

Eat | If you are hungry you can make a pit stop at La Choza de Laurel or Little Lucha for tacos near Liberia airport. Arriving Nosara, we decided to have dinner at Las Huacas restaurant at the hotel, but Il Basilico is another great alternative.

Stay | For views stay at Tierra Magnifica Boutique Hotel, but if you are looking to be in the center of it all you can’t go wrong with The Nomadic Hotel or The Gilded Iguana.

Read | Best Nosara Travel Guide & Our Top Nosara Restaurants, A Short Guide on Where to Eat & Drink









DAY 07 – ENJOY A BEACH HOPPING DAY



A well deserved relaxing beach day is what’s on the menu today, and we couldn’t be more excited. Taking a dip in the Pacific ocean, cooling off and sun bathing is always an essential part of any vacation.

After our delicious breakfast at Las Huacas, we switched over to The Nomadic Hotel for our second night in Nosara. Which is walking distance to the beach and in the center of it all.

Having the ATV today will make all the sense in the world. The beaches are all accessed by unpaved and pretty bumpy roads. Get ready to get dirty, even if it’s not raining dirt will be flying everywhere. But it’s definitely all part of the Nosara laid back lifestyle.




We headed downtown, and arrived at The Nomadic Hotel where our room was ready early which made it easy for us to store the luggage. Sadly we didn’t have time to make it to San Juanillo Beach this time, but we have heard that this is the best swimming beach near Nosara. If you have the time, it is around 45 minutes each way but everyone says it is worth it.

We happily ended up walking the NCA paths, stopping in local shops and ended up getting a pick me up juice at Go Juice which was so refreshing we went again the next day. Organico grocery store was top notch, we got pre made food here for our picnic at the beach. They also have a bakery right across the street with coffee and daily baked pastries.

All the beaches are still very much virgin, so no palapas or beach loungers were in sight. Be prepared as the sun was blazing hot, as well as the sand and there definitely were no clouds or shade close by. We also decided to stop by Perozah which is a cute little beach restaurant on Garza Beach. They have a full tapas menu which are great to share, they were all delicious.








Guiones Beach has a secret access we found out about by one of the locals. As you drive from Nosara towards Garza, you will see a big sign that says “Tico Massage” with a sandy road. You will access the road and at you will end up at another side of Guiones Beach. This end is much less crowded, we had the beach pretty much to ourselves.

For a perfect end to the day, we ran off to La Luna for a sunset dinner. We had made a reservation in advance for 5:30PM. Timing was perfect, we got there a little early and were seated right away.

La Luna restaurant is located right on Playa Pelada, so we headed down to the beach and soaked in the last bit of sunlight of the day. Sitting back and enjoying a beautiful sunset over the ocean with a cocktail in hand, what better way to end the day. Whatever you do try their pizzas, it was probably one of the best pizzas we’ve had in a while. The beef carpaccio was also delicious!






Drive | Tierra Magnifica Hotel 9KM to The Nomadic Hotel | 10 min walking to Guiones beach | 7.4KM ATV to Perozah for lunch | 14 min by ATV | After you will find yourself going back to 7.2KM to The Nomadic Hotel to get ready for dinner | 8 min by ATV to La Luna restaurant | Playa Pelada.

Eat | Eggs benedict for breakfast at Tierra Magnifica’s restaurant Las Huacas with a view. For lunch we stopped at Organico for a pre-made meal to pic nic on the beach of our choice or try Perozah at Garza Beach. Top it off with a sunset dinner at La Luna at Playa Pelada.

Stay | Our second night we stayed at The Nomadic Hotel but The Gilded Iguana
is also a wonderful option.

Read | The Best Beaches In Nosara, Costa Rica | Coming soon








DAY 08 – OFF TO MONTEVERDE



Starting our way this morning heading towards San Jose, our last stop on this Costa Rica itinerary is Monteverde Cloud Forest. Getting to Monteverde included turns and winds up mountains with mist and fog making the ride even more adventurous.

We arrived at 10AM to Monteverde Lodge & Gardens by Böëna and checked in to the hotel early so we could drop our luggage off and be on our way to our last hike of the trip. El Tigre Waterfall is a moderate to advanced hike and was around four to five hours total, taking our time and taking dips in the water as we went.

After a tiring but definitely enjoyable hike we had lunch at their panoramic view restaurant. El Tigre was definitely the most difficult and strenuous hike we did in Costa Rica. If you are not up for it, zip lining at Sky Adventures Monteverde is a great alternative, where you will get to enjoy the rain forest from a different perspective.

A romantic dinner to wrap up our trip while watching the sunset is always best done at San Lucas Treetop Dining Experience. It’s a nine course tasting menu which took us on a journey of food from all over Costa Rica, and they use only local ingredients. We also saw sloths up in the trees here while dinning, which was a cherry on top.






Drive | The Nomadic Hotel to Monteverde Lodge & Gardens by Böëna is 154KM | around three hours and 21 minutes ride through the winding mountains.

Eat | For lunch try Stella’s Monteverde or if hiking El Tigre Waterfall their panoramic restaurant is a great option. Have a romantic dinner & culinary experience at San Lucas Treetop Dining Experience or if tired after the hike El Jardin restaurant at Monteverde Lodge & Gardens by Böëna is perfection.

Stay | You can’t go wrong with the toucanet suite at Monteverde Lodge & Gardens by Böëna. We were lucky enough to have toucans visit right outside our window in the morning. The restaurant is also really good, but a little on the pricey side.








DAY 09 – BACK WHERE WE STARTED, SAN JOSE



We opted to stay the night in San Jose since we had an early flight the next day, however you can decide to stay one more night in Monteverde and drive from to San Jose the same day of your departure depending on your flight time.

Once arriving San Jose, we definitely felt the transition in to the hustle and bustle of the city with traffic and honking horns. Although back in the city, San Jose still has so much to offer.

Venturing off to the Jade Museum or the Pre-Colombian Gold Museum, while enjoying a stroll in the city brought us back to reality. It’s like it was all a dream. Last but not least a stop by the local artisans market for local and authentique gifts for loved ones back home.

Drive | Check out at Monteverde Lodge & Gardens by Böëna and head towards San Jose for about 139KM | two hours and 45 minutes which is best to leave early to beat the afternoon rush hours. Arrive at Grano de Oro hotel for you last stay.

Eat | For dinner El Novillo Alegre Sabana is a great option. Some other great options in the area are Restaurante Machu Picchu, Le Bistrot de Paris & Soda Tapia San José.

Stay | Grano de Oro or Hilton San Jose Sabana both are conveniently located 20 minutes from the airport give or take depending on traffic. They are both located in a safe neighborhood of San Jose, near La Sabana Park and the National Stadium of Costa Rica.




KEEP ON EXPLORING

Renting A Car In Costa Rica, Essential Things You Need to Know
9 Best Things to Do in La Fortuna
Everything you need to know Mistico Park
The Ultimate Guide on How to Visit La Fortuna Waterfall
Best Nosara Travel Guide






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