10-Day Costa Rica Itinerary from Beaches to Volcanoes

From rainforest to jungle, from beaches to volcanos, Costa Rica has it all. But don’t expect to explore everything Costa Rica has to offer in one visit. The country is the size of West Virginia so if you’ve only got a week at a time to visit, just know you will want to plan on more than one trip.

For those lucky enough to have a few weeks or more, go ahead and see it all in one epic adventure, but if not, you can still see some amazing sights with this 10-day Costa Rica Itinerary, from Beaches to Volcanoes Road Trip.

10-Day Costa Rica Itinerary

This itinerary has got you covered with practical information and the top must-do activities. Get ready to immerse yourself in PURA VIDA! 

Costa Rica Itinerary Highlights

We’ve been traveling to Costa Rica annually for dental work for years, and each time we visit a new destination. The best place to start is almost always San Jose, the capital. There are direct flights to SJO from all over the US, so it’s pretty easy to get to in just a few hours. Only have a week? Check out our 7-day Costa Rica itinerary!

First we head south to Quepos area to check out Costa Rica’s most famous national park and do a bit of fishing. We hit up Jaco and Los Suenos for surf lessons and ziplining. After a few nights at the beach, we drive up to Arenal for volcano views, hot spring baths, waterfalls and spa treatments. Not a bad deal, right?

Getting Around Costa Rica

For this trip, we rented a 4×4 with Vamos Rent-a-Car. They pick you up from the airport and get you settled with a vehicle, a cooler and a GPS since often times you won’t get service out and about. And it’s all included. How cool is that? Their office is in a little complex with hotels and restaurants, so it’s super convenient if your flight schedule requires an overnight in San Jose. 

In previous trips, we used taxis and shuttles to get around. That was fine when we didn’t feel like driving, but the flexibility we got from having a vehicle made it worth it. We saw and did so much more on our own schedule and Costa Rica was very easy to drive in. Check out Vamos Rent-a-Car here

Best Time to Visit Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s weather is typically warm and tropical, with a significant amount of rainfall throughout the year. The rainy season runs from May to November, but don’t let that deter you from traveling to this beautiful country. In fact, many travelers find the green lushness brought on by the rain to be a highlight of their trip.

If you prefer drier weather, the best time to visit is during the dry season, which runs from December to April. This is the ideal time for sun-seekers and those looking to explore the beaches and hiking trails of Costa Rica. 

Sea to Sky: Our 10-Day Costa Rica Itinerary

Day 1: San Jose to Quepos

Note: We start most of our Costa Rica trips near Jaco because that’s where our dentist is, but you can reverse this itinerary based on availability and your schedule.

Depart San Jose! Stop at the famous bridge in Tarcoles to see the enormous crocodiles who congregate beneath. Be extra mindful as this is a high traffic area where many drivers are sightseeing. This is a great spot to grab a bite to eat, a souvenir or two and break up the drive. Croc-viewing is free, as is parking. 

Once you get to Quepos, check into your hotel and decompress by exploring the town. We stayed at Makanda by the Sea, an adults only, trendy boutique overlooking the Pacific Ocean with its own private beach, yoga pavilion and a delicious restaurant. We had a balcony surrounded by jungle and daily monkey sightings by the pool. It was a splurge, but we really enjoyed it!

For a more budget friendly stay, check out these glamping tents in Quepos or Peace of Paradise, more of a B&B style spot.

7 Day Costa Rica Itinerary

Day 2: Manuel Antonio National Park 

Manuel Antonio is Costa Rica’s most popular national park and it’s easy to see why: it’s absolutely gorgeous and the wildlife will blow you away. We went with Efraín Nature Tours, a local company whose founder helped to establish Manuel Antonio as a national park many years ago. We would not have spotted sloths way up in the trees without the help of our guide and his equipment, so keep that in mind. Monkeys are a dime a dozen, but those sloths are tougher to see.

Don’t wait until the last minute to book in high season like we did – oops! A few other Manuel Antonio guides if ours are booked: Jade Tours or Manuel Antonio Nature Tours.

NOTE: Food is not allowed in Manuel Antonio. I know this because I packed enough snacks to keep us alive if we were lost in the jungle for 3 months and had to leave them behind in the tour office. There are food carts and a small cafeteria inside so plan on grabbing lunch (and ice cream!) there.

TIP: Watch out for iguanas! There are several species here and while they aren’t usually aggressive, they will get ya if you almost step on one like I did.

Other Manuel Antonio Tours You Might Like: 

Day 3: Fishing, Boating or Zip-lining in Quepos 

Today is a great day to explore the coast! We started our day at Marina Pez Vela, where we met up with a fishing charter for a full day on the water. We weren’t wowed by the fishing charter we selected, so I won’t recommend them here, but there are lots of options to choose from. You will need to get a $20 fishing license, and that can be purchased at the marina before your boat departs.

Rick did get his first roosterfish so it was a successful trip! Check out Marina Pez Vela Villas if you want to stay right in the marina. The Wide Mouth Frog hostel is within walking distance and is a great budget friendly option.

If fishing isn’t your thing but you do want to get out on the water, check out this catamaran tour of Manuel Antonio, which includes snacks and drinks, snorkeling/swimming and wildlife spotting.

If the water is rough, head inland to Central America’s longest zipline!

Day 4: Quepos to Jaco to Los Sueños

Have a traditional Costa Rican breakfast of gallo pinto at your hotel. Seriously, I dream about this stuff when I’m back home!

It’s an easy drive from Quepos up to Jaco, so cruise on up in the morning so you can grab lunch along Jaco’s main street. There’s no shortage of delicious options in almost every style of cuisine. 

Jaco is situated on the Pacific coast and has everything a beach lover’s heart could desire: world-class surfing and lots of sunshine. Whether you’re looking to relax and recharge, or you’re seeking a bit of an adventure, Jaco has you covered. Jaco is friendly and has a bustling atmosphere. Jaco is a famous spot for surfing lessons due to the long, rolling waves.

Either stay in Jaco or head to Los Sueños just north to stay at either a vacation rental or at the Marriott Los Sueños. We love their enormous resort pool overlooking Herradura Bay and checking out the yachts and million-dollar fishing boats in the marina. This is a great spot for kids and it’s pet friendly. 

Day 5: Adventures in Los Sueños 

The Los Sueños in Costa Rica is a paradise for adventure-seekers. Nature enthusiasts will love the hiking and horseback riding trails that lead to breathtaking vistas of the rainforest and Carara National Park, while adrenaline junkies will find their fix with ocean view zip-lining and ATV tours. 

Afterward, we like to head back to the Marriott Los Sueños for dinner and a late night swim in the beautifully lit pool area. There’s also a swim-up bar, hey!

Day 6: Los Sueños to La Fortuna 

Have breakfast at Hacienda Kitchen, the Marriott’s sumptuous breakfast buffet and pack up the car. Plan to stop at the grocery store on the corner to stock up on drinks and snacks. Good thing Vamos Rent-a-Car provides a cooler!

This is the longest drive of the itinerary, clocking in at about 3-4 hours for 90 miles. In Costa Rica, the main thing to remember is drive times are an approximation because roads and traffic are highly variable. It’s an easy enough drive, but there are some winding roads and blind corners, so make sure to pay attention. If you get stuck behind a slow-moving vehicle, remember PURA VIDA. 

There are some excellent stops on this drive including the Nectandra Cloud Forest Reserve, a great alternative if you don’t have time to make it to Monteverde.

TIP: Holidays tend to lead to traffic jams in Costa Rica, so plan ahead to ensure you aren’t doing the majority of your driving when everyone else is. (Ex: the Sunday of a long weekend will be slow going on the way back to San Jose!)

10 Day COsta Rica Itinerary

Reward yourself for the excellent driving and sooth any tense muscles with a dip in the volcanic hot springs baths all over the area. Many hotels have their own or you can snag a day pass to some of the upscale ones. We recently stayed at Nayara Gardens, one of three hotels in one large complex in La Fortuna. I loved that if you stay at one, you have access to the restaurants, pools and hot springs at the other two – Nayara Tented Camp and Nayara Springs. There’s an incredible view of Arenal from an infinity pool at the top of the resort. We booked a villa room with our own plunge pool, a gorgeous outdoor shower and a wraparound balcony with hammocks. It was absolutely worth the splurge. The service was great. I loved how secluded it felt even though it’s a pretty big property. We saw sloths and toucans just hanging around at the pool. If you’re thinking about booking, I say do it. I’m really glad we did.

There are many, many accommodation options to choose from in the Arenal region, so I recommend deciding on a budget and a general vibe and going from there. Check out more options on where to stay near Arenal volcano.

Day 7: Arenal Activities 

There’s so much to do in La Fortuna, the town town east of Arenal Volcano National Park, which of course is home to the captivating Arenal Volcano, breathtaking waterfalls and a variety of thrilling activities. Most tour operators and tourist services can be found in La Fortuna, the gateway to Arenal Volcano National Park.

At this point in the itinerary I recommend assessing your energy and deciding if you want to go hard and cram more activities in, or maybe spend a day soaking in the hot springs and getting a massage at your resort. There’s no judgment here – all vacation activities are valid!

I wanted to try something I’d never done before on this trip, so we booked Pure Trek’s Canyoning and Waterfall Rappelling adventure. It was LEGIT. Not for anyone with a fear of heights as you absolutely do step backward off multiple cliffs. I’m not scared of heights but my heart was racing! It was a blast though and I felt so accomplished afterward.

If you want to get out there and hit it hard, I recommend combining three adventurous activities in one tour: a hike to Arenal Volcano, visit to the Hanging Bridges and exploring La Fortuna Waterfall. This full-day tour from La Fortuna includes hiking and swimming amidst Costa Rica’s beautiful natural scenery. If you’ve never done an ATV Tour, Arenal is a perfect place for your first experience. Same for white water rafting! There are a variety of rivers nearby from mild to wild so you can choose your own adventure. Hotel pickup and drop-off is included in many of these tours.

Day 8: Arenal National Park

You’ve probably seen Costa Rica’s iconic volcano on a postcard, and by this time in your trip, hopefully the clouds will have cleared enough to give you a view of Arenal’s peak. Currently dormant, it’s just a matter of time before Arenal awakens once more. With its proximity to the charming town of La Fortuna and the national park, Arenal presents the ideal introduction to the natural wonders of Costa Rica. 

TIP: Look out for bullet ants! I did not know about these wicked critters until one both stung me and bit me at the same time. It was then I found out that bullet ants have the most painful sting of any insect in the world. NOT AWESOME. Trust me: this is not an experience you want to add to your Costa Rica itinerary. Always look where you put your hand BEFORE you do it!

Spend a half day on a guided hike of the Arenal Volcano learning the history of the volcano from its first eruption in 1968. It’s a moderate 1.5 km to the viewpoint, with magnificent views of the Green Lagoon and Lake Arenal. Along the way you’ll see the wildlife including toucans, monkeys and snakes.

Day 9: Drive back to San Jose

If you have time, I recommend one last hot spring soak or even a massage to get you ready for your drive back to San Jose. Depending on traffic, time of day and where you’re staying in the city, it could take anywhere from 2.5-4 hours to get there.

It’s a great day to explore San Jose! There’s rich culture and history to be found in the vibrant city center. After all that wilderness and wildlife, coming back to a trendy urban atmosphere adds a unique touch to this 10-day Costa Rica itinerary. If you have time and energy left, squeeze in the Spirogyra Butterfly Garden in Barrio Amón or the Simón Bolivar Botanical Garden & Zoo right next door.

Afterwards, make your way to either Mercado Borbón or Mercado Central to explore the diverse selection of fruits and vegetables. These bustling markets are not only perfect for picking up a delicious and affordable lunch, but they also provide an authentic glimpse into the local city life of Costa Rica.

San Jose Tours You Might Like:

In San Jose, we like to stay near the airport for convenience. Here are some options!

Day 10: Head home

It’s time to buy any last minute souvenirs, pack your bags and drop your rental car back at the Vamos office. Their free shuttle will take you to SJO to catch your flight. Easy peasy!

WHEW! As you can tell, this is a jam-packed itinerary, designed to get the most out of just 7-10 days in Costa Rica. If you have a bit more time, I recommend slowing down and spending extra nights at each stop to really soak it in and experience Pura Vida. Or consider adding on a side trip to the Osa Peninsula or Tortuguero National Park.

So there you have it: a comprehensive but efficient 10-day Costa Rica itinerary. From activities in stunning nature to cultural immersion and exploration, you’ll be able to cover a lot of ground and take away more meaningful experiences from your trip. Whether you stay on the tourist trail or opt for a more off the beaten path route, you’ll never be bored thanks to the many attractions available throughout the country. 

Are you planning a trip to Costa Rica soon? What do you think of this 10-day Costa Rica itinerary? Tell me in the comments!

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