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The best of Costa Rica: A 7 day itinerary

We know that travel is especially difficult right now. But alongside the latest COVID-19 travel advice and updates, we want to continue to inspire you with new travel content so that when the world opens its doors again, you'll be ready.

Costa Rica contains 5% of the world’s biodiversity despite its relatively small size. If you only have a week to explore this Central American country, you’ll want to make sure you see all it has to offer with the ultimate Costa Rica itinerary. With Costa Rica opening its border to Americans, this may be a good time to start planning a getaway.

Currently, U.S. citizens are allowed to travel to Costa Rica with proof of medical insurance policy that covers any COVID-19 related treatment. While you may have to undergo a health screening at the port of entry, a negative COVID-19 test nor a quarantine period is required at this time. Before booking or beginning your journey, make sure to check government and local travel regulations and guidelines.

a long suspension bridge in the rainforest to walk across during a 7 day costa rica itinerary

One week in Costa Rica: 7 day itinerary

Magical towns like La Fortuna sit at the base of volcanoes, laid-back beach oases like Tamarindo and Jaco provide ultra-chill getaways, and the national parks of Manuel Antonio and Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve are full of wildlife and adventure. Not sure when to visit? Learn more about the best time to visit Costa Rica.

If you’re able, Costa Rica is an incredible country for renting a car. Roads are predominantly well-paved throughout the country and Costa Rica is the exact kind of place where you’ll appreciate the freedom to stop and explore along the way. Visitor can use their foreign license to drive up until March 2021.

Here’s our ideal Costa Rica Itinerary (7 days) that can be easily adapted for more time at the beach or more time in the jungle. Most of these destinations are well visited so if you don’t want to or can’t rent a car, you’ll find plenty of transportation options available.

Don’t have 7 days? Costa Rica can be done as a cheap weekend getaway as well! Just make sure to be aware of any government and local guidelines with entrance to Costa Rica and return to the United States that will or will not allow for trip shorter than one week.

Fly into San Jose (0-1 night)

Your flight is likely to be cheapest and more direct into San Jose, the buzzing capital of Costa Rica. Car rentals are available at the airport if you want to promptly head out of the city. But if you arrive late, or time allows it, spending a day or night in San Jose is worth it.

If you do stay in San Jose, be sure to enjoy the restaurant scene which is operating at a lower capacity for social distancing.

La Fortuna (2 nights)

The drive from San Jose to La Fortuna, the town at the base of the Arenal Volcano, is about 2.5-3 hours depending on the route you take.

The magical energy is instantly felt by visitors to this peaceful little town. Colors are more vibrant, the clouds hover just above your head, and the towering volcano provides the backdrop to it all.

You’ll want to spend at least two days taking in all the serenity that La Fortuna has to offer. Wake up slowly with a coffee in a hammock before heading to Arenal for a leisurely hike around the volcano. Keep an eye out for the 400-year-old tree and plenty of colorful, tropical birds and flowers. Jaguars, sloths, and vipers are also spotted on occasion in the area.

Insider tip in the volcanic region of Arenal Park: if you see a bunch of cars parked along the side of a road, pull over! Hop out, find the path leading into the jungle, and follow it. Odds are, you’re about to come across some pretty cool (and super free) hot springs. If you want to fork over the cash, many resorts and spas in the region have full hot spring experiences for a price.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve (1-2 Nights)

From La Fortuna, you can head to Monteverde by car in about 3 hours, including on some bumpy roads towards the end.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve is full of astonishing natural beauty. The rainforests of Monteverde Cloud Forest are dripping in ferns, mosses, and lush greenery of all kinds. On a walk through the forests, you’ll see everything from butterflies and orchids, to ocelots and jaguars.

Numerous walking trails wind their way through the different areas of the park. You can even walk a series of dreamy suspension bridges through the clouds, aptly called Sky Walk.

Pacific Coast Beaches (2 nights)

Your Costa Rica itinerary would be incomplete without a stop (or a few stops!) at the beach. Driving from Monteverde to the beaches of Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast will take between 2.5 – 4 hours in most cases.

Backpackers typically flock to the towns of Tamarindo or Jaco on the Pacific Coast. Tamarindo, located on the Nicoya Peninsula, is a super relaxed dirt road town with strong surf. Jaco, on the other hand, is a more energetic city known for its nightlife and daytime adventure activities.

When in Tamarindo, take a short drive to Playa Avellanas, and don’t skip Lola’s beachside restaurant. At Lola’s, you’ll find Adirondack chairs on the sand, fresh seafood, and of course Lolita, the adorable resident pig.

A visit to Jaco during your 7-day itinerary in Costa Rica opens the door to a long list of possible activities. Take a surf lesson, rappel down a waterfall, zip-line, go horseback riding, or hop on an ATV for a tour of the beautiful beaches.

Manuel Antonio National Park (0-2 nights)

The drive from Jaco to Manuel Antonio National Park is just over an hour. From Tamarindo, the drive is around 5 hours but comes complete with stunning scenery along the way. Currently, national parks in Costa Rica are operating at 50%.

Manuel Antonio offers one week visitors to Costa Rica the best of both worlds when it comes to forest and beach. This is the place to go for all your Costa Rica Instagram photo opportunities. It’s also the best place in Costa Rica to visit with the whole family. Tour companies will happily take you out to spot all kinds of wildlife, from the smallest bugs to toucans, monkeys, sloths, and more. White sand beaches within the park provide ample space for soaking up the sun and unwinding in the afternoon.

Nearby, you’ll find everything from hostels to luxury bungalows if you choose to spend a couple of nights in the area.

Costa Rican monkey peeking out from the leaves to see during your 7 day trip

Ready to explore the mind-blowing nature of Costa Rica for yourself? Please be sure to always check local government guidelines before booking travel.

What should I do in Costa Rica for a week?

Explore! La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano, Monteverde Cloud Forest, Manuel Antonio National Park, and the beaches of the Pacific Coast should all be included in a Costa Rican itinerary for 7 days.

How many days should you spend in Costa Rica?

A week is the minimum amount of time you should spend in Costa Rica to experience both the beautiful inland and the coastline. You won’t be lacking for things to do if you spend two or more weeks in Costa Rica.

What can you see in Costa Rica in 5 days?

Five days in Costa Rica will allow you to see the volcanoes, cloud forests, and beaches that are the most popular attractions in Costa Rica.

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This article was last updated on January 18, 2021 at 4:30 pm and it’s possible information has changed since. Please always check official government sources for the latest information and before booking travel.