Ahhh Costa Rica, one of our favorite countries that happens to be one of the most biodiverse places on earth. Costa Rica is a nature lover's dream filled with beautiful wildlife species such as parrots, toucans, monkeys, sloths, and many more. We've crafted this 10 day Costa Rica itinerary to help nature enthusiasts explore some of the most important sights in the country.
As a side note, if you have the ability to visit costa rica for longer, I highly recommend you do it. You could easily spend months exploring this tiny country and not see everything. Also for a more general Costa Rica Guide Click Here.
10 Day Costa Rica Itinerary - Day 1 San Jose to Cahuita
If you're flying an international flight into Costa Rica, you'll likely land at San Jose airport. If you want to save time, you can catch a quick plane ride to Limón airport and pick up a rental car there. Otherwise, grab your rental and start the drive to Cahuita. Even though the country is small, the terrain is quite rough and roads aren't always in the best of shape. It took us around 5 hours to drive to Cahuita from San Jose. We HIGHLY RECOMMEND using the WAZE app for navigation. It's the main app locals use to get around and maps can be downloaded, which you will appreciate when you lose service about a hour outside San Jose.
Cahuita is a very small but quaint town and you will not find any hotels. We stayed in this gorgeous airbnb that was nestled on 2-3 acres of lush rainforest. If you have trouble finding lodging in Cahuita, you will find more options just a bit further south in Puerto Viejo. Depending on how much daylight you have left, we recommend visiting Cahuita National Park or taking a stroll through the town. Cahuita does have several good local restaurants where you can mingle with locals and try some Costa Rican cuisine!
Cahuita National Park is one of our favorites partly because its off the main tourist trail and there are great wildlife viewing opportunities. There are several trails you can take within the park that will allow you to get up close with wildlife such as monkeys and sloths. We also enjoyed seeing the armies of leaf cutter ants carrying their haul. Definitely spend at least a half day checking out everything this park has to offer.
Cahuita National Park
Day 2-3 Puerto Viejo
Aside from Limón, Puerto Viejo is the largest town on Costa Rica's East Coast. It has excellent restaurants, nightlife, and shops; all with an exquisite view of the Caribbean Sea. The beaches here are calm, shallow, warm, and a brilliant shade of turquoise. While in Puerto Viejo be sure to visit Punta Uva Beach, Puerto Viejo Beach, and Playa Chiquita. We HIGHLY recommend taking a horseback riding tour through the jungle and onto the beach. This was definitely a highlight of our entire trip and there's nothing quite like riding a horse through the jungle as your guide points out sloths sleeping in the trees.
Near Punta Uva Beach
Day 4 - Head to La Fortuna
The drive to La Fortuna from the Caribbean coast will take most of the day and we recommend you plan for at least a 6 hour drive from Cahuita. La Fortuna is another small yet quaint Costa Rican town that is a great starting point for several activities in the area. If you have daylight left when you arrive in La Fortuna, we recommend taking some time to explore the small town's shops and restaurants.
Day 5 Arenal Volcano & Falls
Spend a half or full day exploring the Arenal Volcano within Arenal Volcano National Park. Hire a guide out of La Fortuna to show you some of the best spots around the volcano where you can spot wildlife, geothermal pools, and even take a dip at various hot springs. If you finish your tour of the volcano before 2pm, we recommend you check out the stunning Arenal Waterfall. The falls closes at 5pm and you can either hike or ride horseback to the falls, so be sure you allow enough time to get to the waterfall and take a dip. Nothing is more refreshing after a moderate rainforest hike, I promise!
Day 6 - Monteverde Cloud Forest
Costa Rica is home to a handful of amazing cloud forests, which are exactly as they sound - a forest in the clouds. In Monteverde you will discover hundreds of species of flowers including many rare orchids, over 1200 species of amphibians, and dazzling birds such as the Quetzal. Monteverde's protected land stretches over 30,000 acres of lush rainforest and landscapes. Some of the wildlife in Costa Rica's cloud forests is found nowhere else in the world. Within Monteverde, you can hire a guide or do self pace hiking tours. There are plenty of trails to explore.
Monteverde Cloud Forest
Day 7 - Head to Manuel Antonio
From Monteverde, head 4 hours south to the famous town of Manuel Antonio.
Make a stop at Crocodile Bride at the Tarcoles River where you will see (quite literally) hoards of crocodiles sun bathing on the river banks below.
Also make a pit stop at the surf town of Jaco, where you will find a large number of surfers, hippies, and expats living the Costa Rican Pura Vida dream.
Manuel Antonio and its neighboring town of Quepos contain a wonderful selection of restaurants and shops and we recommend you wait to grab dinner at one of the top restaurants when you arrive in Manuel Antonio.
Day 8 Explore Manuel Antonio
Once you start exploring Manuel Antonio, you'll understand why its one of the most popular destination in Costa Rica. Beautiful beaches, hiking, activities, and wildlife galore at every turn. There are a few activities you need to cross off the list:
- Visit Manuel Antonio National Park. One of our favorite parts of this park is at the double beach pictured below.
- Go parasailing. Nothing like seeing Manuel Antonio from the sky as you calmly glide over turquoise water.
- Take a night jungle tour and see all the different night dwelling species, including the famous red-eyed tree frog
Manuel Antonio National Park
Day 9 - Nauyaca Waterfalls
Nauyaca was one of the best highlights from our trip and I strongly encourage everyone visiting Costa Rica to check it out. Nauyaca is a pair of giant waterfalls plunging into an aqua pool. There are two ways to get to the falls: hike or ride in the back of a truck. Unless you are an experience hiker with at least 6 hours to spare, we recommend the latter. Plus, if you take the truck up you get much more time to experience the falls. Bring your swimsuit and take a dip in the refreshing water. Be careful if visiting during rainy season because the flow of water will be quite powerful!
First waterfall at Nauyaca
Last Day of the 10 Day Costa Rica Itinerary - Back to San Jose
Sadly, all good things must come to an end. Be sure to allow enough time to get back to San Jose. It took us roughly 3-4 hours from Manuel Antonio to make it in time for our flight back to Dallas. I hope this 10 day Costa Rica itinerary will help you plan your next trip. If you've been to Costa Rica, Id love to hear if you have any other itinerary suggestions. Drop them in the comments below!
Also, check out our video of our time in Costa Rica!