pacific beach vibes itinerary
Get a taste for all the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica has to offer in a short amount of time
One of our favorite things to do in Costa Rica is to explore all the unique Pacific coastal towns. Every town here has its own vibe with different activities, restaurants, and overall feel. This 3 weeks Costa Rica itinerary is perfect for all of you that want to experience surf lessons, oceanfront restaurants, stand up paddle boarding, relaxing on picturesque beaches and more!
We created this itinerary because one of the most common questions we get asked is if we can help you all plan your vacation. Although we are more than happy to help, we just don’t have the time to help every single one of your plan your trip to paradise. By following our route and suggestions you will get the perfect overview of the Costa Rica Pacific coast.
Airport Area (day 1) → Uvita (day 2, 3, 4) → Manuel Antonio (day 5,6) → Jaco (day 7) → Montezuma (day 8, 9, 10) → Samara (day 11, 12, 13) → Nosara (day 14)→ Tamarindo (day 15, 16, 17)→ Playas del Coco → (day 18, 19) → Airport Area (day 20) → Leave paradise (day 21)
This three weeks in Costa Rica tour needs to be done with rental car. A lot of the activities listed here are a bit off the beaten path. It will be difficult for you to get to them without a car. Also, this Costa Rica itinerary involves traveling to multiple locations. Having a car makes transportation easier and ends up being more affordable in the long run.
For this itinerary, we suggest renting a car with 4 wheel drive. The roads around Montezuma, Samara, and Nosara are not paved. If you opt to not get four-wheel drive, at least rent an SUV so you have some clearance.
We have partnered with our favorite rental car company in Costa Rica, Adobe, to give you a 10% discount, free extra drivers, a free cell phone to use, free roof racks, and more! We love how honest and transparent Adobe is in a country where other rental car companies are not always the most reliable.
You can find out more and grab your discount here.
If you need more info about directions we have a full post about how to get around.
Yeay! You’ve arrived in Costa Rica! Now you need to figure out, “what’s next?” First off, you should probably read our guide to landing in San Jose. This will tell you all you need to know about going through Customs, exchanging money, getting your rental car etc.
Once exit the airport, take the shuttle to Adobe, and pick up your rental car, it is time to have something fun. We suggest either checking out Irazu volcano (here’s our complete guide) or checking out the Britt coffee tour.
If your flight gets in early in the day you’ll have time to explore Irazu and the surrounding area. If you get in around midday we suggest doing the Britt coffee tour. If you arrive in the evening it’s best to grab some dinner and rest up before your drive to La Fortuna in the morning. For some great dinner spots check out our Alajuela (airport area) guide.
We suggest spending the night near the airport. The airport is actually closer to Alajuela than downtown San Jose. We have a guide to Alajuela with hotel suggestions here.
After breakfast, it is time to head out to Uvita. Yeay! The drive will take you about four hours if the traffic is not bad near the airport. Keep in mind that there are tolls at the start of your drive. You can pay in colones or dollars. If you don’t have colones we suggest paying with a $10 bill. They will give you colones for change at the toll. This will be enough money for the rest of the tolls on the drive.
Once you arrive in Uvita and check into your hotel it is time to first arrange your kayak tour for tomorrow. Head towards the beach and stop at Uvita 360. They do a mangrove kayaking tour at low tide for $55 per person for a three-hour tour. I know, it is not cheap, but the tour includes informative guides, fruits, and water. Plus, how cool is it that you can kayak through mangroves and see tons of wildlife? Anyway, it is best to book your tour the day before. They only do the mangrove tour at high tide when the water level is higher.
After stopping at Uvita 360 it’s time to grab some lunch and check out the coolest waterfall experience you will ever have. You can check out our Uvita guide for food suggestions, but we personally recommend Los Laurales. The food is amazing and the owners are the sweetest. Plus, it is a two-minute drive from the waterfall you are going to.
After lunch at Los Laurales drive a bit further along the street and you will see cars parked on the right side of the road. Pull your car off (make sure you leave nothing of value in your car because there is nobody watching them) and go to the little wooden stand. For about $2 you can purchase entry to the waterfall. If you need directions to get here just type in “Uvita waterfall” into your GPS and it will come up.
The path to the waterfall is fairly easy. It will only take you about five minutes to get there. When you arrive you will see a waterfall with people sliding down it. It’s so cool!
I suggest you try it, especially if you are traveling during rainy season when there is more water. I didn’t do it because I was not feeling the best that day, but Thomas slid down the Uvita waterfall twice. If you try it, let us know how it was.
If you want to swim in a more quiet spot you can walk back towards the way you came and hop in one of the Uvita waterfall pools there.
There is supposedly another waterfall you can drive to not too far from there through a bamboo forest, but we could not find it. If you go to Los Laurales for lunch you should ask them about it. I bet they can direct you where to go. We found the bamboo forest but got a bit lost after that.
If you find it, we’d love if you let it know where it is and how your experience was so we can pass that info on to other travelers.
After your waterfall adventure, we suggest relaxing at the beach and watching the sunset. We like to buy a few beers at one of the grocery stores (there is one right in the center of town) and having a sunset drink on the beach.
In the evening you can grab dinner at one of our suggested places in our Uvita Guide. A good option is the Flutterby House if you want a cool vibe, decent food, cocktails, and craft beer.
Hopefully, you were able to figure out a good time to go mangrove kayaking with Uvita 360. This day works out perfectly because you can only go kayaking at high tide and you can only see the whales tale at low tide.
To get to the Marino Ballena National Park you can park at the parking lot next to Uvita 360 and walk down the beach to the park entrance. After paying admission you can walk on to the beach and walk out on to the whales tail.
In case you are wondering what I’m even talking about, on the beach in Uvita (Marino Ballena National Park) you can walk out to a point during low tide that looks like the tail of a whale. If you have a drone, you can get an amazingly cool picture from above the whale’s tail. Just make sure to get back from the whale’s tale before the tide comes in and you get stranded.
After your adventures kayaking and exploring the whales tail we suggest relaxing. You can grab dinner at one of our suggested places. Just keep in mind, tomorrow’s hike will be intense so we suggest not going too crazy tonight.
After breakfast, it’s time to head to Nauyaca waterfall in nearby Dominical. We have a full guide to visiting the waterfall here.
After visiting Nauyaca we suggest checking out Dominical. You drive by the entrance to the downtown area when heading back to Uvita, so it is definitely worth stopping.
We suggest getting lunch at one of our suggested places in our Dominical guide. In all honesty, the food in Dominical is so good that we have a hard time picking one place for you to go.
After lunch, we suggest walking down to the Dominical beach and checking out the artists selling stuff. Usually, the entire road next to the beach is filled with artists. You can buy anything from clothes to jewelry, to artwork. Just be warned, it is difficult to leave without buying something.
You can then spend some time enjoying Dominical beach before heading back to Uvita.
You will likely be really tired from this day, so we suggest just chilling tonight. If you want a nice dinner Sabor Espanol has great Spanish food.
After breakfast, we suggest relaxing on the beach a bit more before heading to Manuel Antonio. It will only take you about 1.5 hours to drive to Manuel Antonio. You probably won’t be able to check in to your next hotel until a bit later in the day.
When you arrive in Manuel Antonio you should check into your hotel and drop your stuff off before heading to the beach. If it is too early to check in you can ask if there is a place where you can safely store your belongings in the hotel. Costa Rica is pretty safe but petty crimes can be a problem sometimes. It’s best to never leave your belongings in the car unattended for more than a few minutes. After dropping your stuff off it’s time to grab lunch and head to our favorite beach in Manuel Antonio called Playa Biesanz.
As you turn onto the road for Playa Biesanz you will see a restaurant on the corner called Falafel Bar. This place is really cute and has some of the best falafel I’ve ever eaten. You could also wait until you get to Playa Biesanz to get lunch. There are tons of locals selling things such as ceviche and barbeque on the beach. Although I’ve never actually eaten on Playa Biesanz I can tell you the barbeque smells amazing!
There is no a sign when you arrive at Playa Biesanz, but you will see cars lined up along the road as well as a parking attendant. If you get to a hotel called the Parador, you’ve gone too far. Just backtrack about thirty seconds down the road. Pay the parking attendant his fee for watching your car. It is about $4. The parking attendant will direct you to the path to the beach.
As you walk down to the beach look up in the trees, Every time we’ve visited there have been howler monkeys chilling out in the trees.
Playa Biesanz is not the most beautiful beach, but we like it because it is not filled with tourists, has a cool local feel, and the water is extremely calm. The locals working on the beach will rent anything you could ever want. We suggest doing some sea kayaking. They have very nice tandem kayaks which we were able to rent last time for $15 for one and a half hours. We also suggest bringing your own snorkel mask from home if you have one (Thomas recently bought this full faced mask and he loves it). Playa Biesanz is a great place to swim out and see some fishies. If you want to just relax there are people renting out lounge chairs as well.
In the late afternoon head back to your hotel and get ready for dinner. We try to typically eat around 5pm when we are in Manuel Antonio because there are so many great restaurants with wonderful sunset views. You can check out our guide to Manuel Antonio some good options, but our favorite sunset dinner spot is called Ronny’s Place. It’s good to make a reservation here ahead of time.
Note: Make sure to bring bug spray with you to dinner. The second the sun goes down it tends to get really buggy.
After a nice dinner, we suggest just relaxing at your hotel or grabbing a cocktail at El Avion. El Avion is a restaurant located in an old cargo plane. We think the food is just average, but the bar part of the restaurant is actually located in the plane. It’s a great spot to grab an evening drink.
Go to bed somewhat early because you should be at Manuel Antonio National Park when it opens at 7am. We suggest being there when it opens because it gets really crowded as the day goes on. Ask at your hotel before you plan to get there at 7am. Sometimes the change it to 8am during rainy season.
Time to check out Manuel Antonio National Park! We have a complete post about Manuel Antonio here which you should read to get a better idea of how to have a successful visit. Because you can not bring food to Manuel Antonio, we suggest staying until about 12.
You can leave your car where you parked it and walk to the downtown area of Manuel Antonio. You have the option of walking the trail from right outside the entrance or walking down the road. If you decide to take the road and want a light lunch, check out Sol Frozen Yogurt on your walk. They have great smoothies, fro yo, and ice cream. It’s a super cute spot. If you want a bit more substance Backpacks Paradise Costa Linda serves good typical Costa Rican food at an affordable price. It is a hostel located down the street from Sol Frozen Yoghurt.
After you eat, enjoy some time on Playa Espadilla (the big beach in Manuel Antonio). If you want a quieter experience, walk to the far end of the beach. There are some cool large rocks down there and that area is almost always empty. After exploring the beach head back to your hotel to relax a bit or check out one of the Manuel Antonio activities we have listed in our Manuel Antonio guide.
In the evening enjoy dinner at one of our recommended places.
After breakfast, we suggest spending a few last hours back at Playa Biesanz before you have to check out of your hotel. It will only take you an hour to drive to Jaco and you won’t be able to check into your hotel so early.
If you do arrive at your hotel in Jaco before check in time, most places are pretty good about letting you check in early if the room is clean. If not, they will likely have a safe place you can store your luggage. Don’t leave it in the car!
Jaco is not exactly one of the most beautiful places in Costa Rica. It has a reputation for being a place for backpackers who are interested in partying and gambling so if that’s your scene you’ll love it here. If not, have no fear! There are plenty of other great activities to do. We suggest spending the night here mainly to give you another view of Costa Rica and to break up the drive from Manuel Antonio to Montezuma. That is just too long!
Once you arrive in Jaco and check in to your hotel, it’s time to do something fun, but first, change into your swimming clothes and grab lunch if you’re hungry! We love Tacobar, but we have other really great options in our Jaco guide if you’d like to try something different.
After lunch head to Carton Surf Boards. Here you can take surf lessons, rent a surfboard or a stand-up paddleboard. We suggest going the SUP route if you are not an experienced surfer and don’t want to spend the money for a surf lesson.
If you’d like to book ahead of time you can do so on their website, but we’ve never had a problem just walking in and getting a board. They can direct you to the best places to go. I suggest only doing an hour if it is your first time on a SUP (it is quite the arm workout), but if you love it you can always extend for longer.
After a fun day of SUP or surfing, it’s time to get changed and get some sunset cocktails.
We suggest heading to Amphitheater Restaurant for sunset drinks. This restaurant is located at the Villa Caletas hotel and is expensive, but for one drink and a sunset view it is worth it. Just ask at the front desk and they’ll direct you. You can sit in their outdoor Roman amphitheater on a cliff above Jaco and watch the sunset here. It doesn’t get better than this.
After a sunset cocktail head to one of our suggested restaurants for dinner. We suggest Soda Jaco Rustico if you would like a traditional Costa Rican meal at an affordable price. If you are up for a drink after head to Green Room Cafe. They have a good craft beer selection and usually have live music.
Don’t forget, you have a long drive ahead of you tomorrow though!
OK guys, the drive from Jaco to Montezuma is a bit ridiculous. It will take you in total about five hours. You will have to drive from Jaco to Puntarenas. From Puntarenas, you can take the Puntarenas ferry (we have a guide to that here) over to near Montezuma. It is then about an hour to drive to Montezuma.
The problem with visiting Montezuma is that from there you will be going to Samara. This also is not a short drive. It will take you about 3.5 hours.
My point is, we absolutely love Montezuma and think you will as well. It is ridiculously beautiful and unique, but a bit out of the way. If you rather minimize your driving, we suggest skipping Montezuma and heading straight to Samara.
If you do opt to go to Montezuma (which we are sure you’ll love) we suggest stocking up on some snacks for the drive. They do sell food on the ferry but it is basic things like popcorn, candy bars etc.
When you arrive in Montezuma we suggest heading to the butterfly garden. The people who run the butterfly garden are absolutely lovely. It costs a few dollars per person to check out the butterflies.
After seeing the butterflies we suggest grabbing a beer at their restaurant. They brew all their beer themselves. They also have an excellent food menu (in fact it is some of the best food in Montezuma) if you need something to eat.
Note: Another amazing thing to do in Montezuma is to visit the Montezuma waterfalls. We have not included it on this itinerary because it was too rainy when we were in Montezuma and we could not visit the falls. If you would like to check them out we suggest asking at the butterfly garden about it. The will let you park on their property to go to the falls and will be happy to explain to you how to get there.
In the early evening, we suggest sitting on the beach to watch the sunset. For dinner we suggest Cocolores for some great food next to the beach.
Today you’re going to do something super cool and take a day tour to Isla Tortuga. We have not actually done this tours ourselves (but it is high on our list of things to do). Instead, I asked a few people and did a lot of research to find the best info for you all.
The trip to Isla Tortuga consists of a 45-minute boat ride out to the island. Along the way, you may be lucky enough to see dolphins or whales. once you arrive near Isla Tortuga you will have the chance to snorkel. After snorkeling they will dock the bat at a nice white sand beach. You will then be served fruits, drinks, and then a nice BBQ lunch. You will then have the chance to relax on the beach, hike, or rent a kayak for the afternoon. This tour departs at 9am and returns at 4pm. It costs $60 per person and can be arranged through Zuma Tours. We suggest arranging your tour ahead of time to guarantee a spot.
When you come back from your tour you will probably be a bit tired. We suggest relaxing on the beach and getting dinner at one of the places in our Montezuma guide.
Today you are going to spend a lot of time on the beach. You are going to do a nice long beach walk in Montezuma and then check out a unique cemetery on an island in the town of Cabuya.
You can only visit the Cabuya cemetery during low tide, so you will need to schedule your day around that. We have a complete guide to the Montezuma beach walk here. We have a guide to visiting Cabuya cemetery here.
In the evening we suggest going to bed somewhat early because you have a bit of a drive to Samara ahead of you for tomorrow.
Wake up semi-early, eat breakfast, pack up your stuff and get ready for a 3.5 hour drive to Samara.
Once you arrive in Samara it’s time to check into your hotel and grab some lunch. We suggest trying Bouticafe Bohemia if you want a filling but healthy meal.
After lunch head over to our favorite surf school. Pato’s Surf School is our top pick for surf schools in this whole country because they are a great company and have amazing package deals.
We suggest purchasing the Pura Vida package. It costs $130 per person, but that’s all you will pay for activities for the rest of the time you are in Samara.
This package includes a 60-minute massage, a 90-minute surf lesson, a three-hour kayak or SUP tour, and free usage of their surfboards for five days. You can divide this package up between the next few days.
Ask at Pato’s which part of the package you can begin now. It really all depends on the tides and availability.
After your fun at Pato’s, we like to grab a few beers from the little store near the beach and watching the sunset while relaxing on the beach.
We suggest getting dinner at Soda La Perla for a tasty meal of typical Costa Rican food at an affordable price.
Today is going to be a full day of fun with Pato’s Surf School!
Hopefully, you set up a nice schedule of fun with Pato’s yesterday. Don’t forget that Pato’s will let you take out a surf board for free when you are not busy with your lesson, kayaking or SUP tour, and massage.
For lunch, we like to head to the Falafel Cafe. It is a short walk from Pato’s Surf School and they serve up some really amazing Mediterranean food!
Continue with your fun at Pato’s surf school in the afternoon.
For dinner with a sunset view, we suggest heading to LuvBurger. They provide high-quality food and you can enjoy your meal with a table on the beach for a great sunset view.
In the evening after dinner head to Microbar Samara for some amazing craft beers.
Last day of enjoying Patos surf school! Make the most of your surfing practice because tomorrow you will be heading to Nosara where the waves are bigger and a bit more crazy.
If you need some food suggestions for today check out our Samara guide for some more great options.
The drive from Samara to N