Costa Rica is difficult to see in a short amount of time. There are just so many cool places to experience, but transportation between places can take longer than expected.
We created this Costa Rica highlights in two weeks itinerary to give you the best overview of what Costa Rica has to offer in a short amount of time.
Get ready for swimming under waterfalls, snorkeling, beautiful beaches, zip lining, and more good stuff!
Oh, and I apologize in advance. This is a long read. However, if you are not ready to sit down and digest all this info, here is a shortened overview for you.
Day One – Land in San Jose / Tour Britt Coffee Plantation or Visit Poas Volcano
Day Two – Fun Outdoor Alajuela Nature Adventure
Day Three – Drive to La Fortuna / Relax in a Hot Spring
Day Four – Visit the La Fortuna Waterfall / Take a Cacao Tour / Visit Another Hot Spring
Day Five – Spend the Day Tubing or Rafting
Day Six – Drive to Monteverde / Climb a Ficus Tree / Have Drinks in a Tree House / Take a Wildlife Night Tour
Day Seven – Go Ziplining / Take a Cloud Forest Hike
Day Eight – Drive to Playas del Coco / Watch the Sunset from Playa Penca
Day Nine- Take a Morning Boat trip with Snorkeling or Diving / Explore Nearby Beaches
Day Ten – Hang out at Playa Hermosa and Enjoy Jet Skiing/ Kayaking etc.
Day Eleven – Drive to Tamarindo / Explore Downtown Tamarindo / Enjoy a Sunset Dinner
Day Twelve – Rent a Surfboard or Take Surf Lessons for the Day
Day Thirteen- Visit Playa Avellana / Enjoy Lola’s Beach Bar
Day Fourteen- Drive Back Towards the Airport Area
Airport Area (day 1, 2) → La Fortuna (day 3, 4, 5) → Monteverde (day 6, 7) → Playas del Coco (day 8, 9, 10) → Tamarindo (day 11, 12, 13) → Airport Area (day 14) → Leave paradise (day 15)
This itinerary needs to be done by rental car. The reason for this is that a lot of the activities mentioned are somewhat off the beaten path. If you depend on day trips from tour companies you will end up spending a lot more money. Having a car gives you a lot more flexibility and is almost always cheaper in the long run.
We have partnered with our favorite rental car company in Costa Rica, Adobe, to give you all a 10% discount, free extra drivers, a free cell phone to use etc. Adobe is the most trustworthy and helpful rental car company we have found in Costa Rica.
You can find out more and grab your discount here.
Yeay! You’ve arrived in Costa Rica.
Now you’re probably wondering, “what’s next?”
First off, we suggest reading our guide to landing in San Jose. This will tell you all you need to know about going through Customs and picking up your rental car.
Once you have exited the airport, taken the shuttle to Adobe, and picked up your rental car, it is time to do something fun.
We have three choices for you.
If your flight gets in early in the morning you can even do more than one of these activities (or all of them). They are all in the same general area.
In the evening, we suggest staying near downtown Alajuela. This will make it easy for you to hop on the highway in the morning to the coast.
For some hotel and dinner suggestions, check out our Alajuela (airport area) guide.
Today we suggest taking on whichever for Alajuela activities that you didn’t get a chance to do yesterday.
With a full day today you will have more time to really soak up the vibe of this area. Take the time to pull off on the side of the road as you drive and enjoy the beautiful Central Valley views. I always feel like this area reminds me a bit of Switzerland.
As an added bonus, look out for people selling strawberries and cheese on the side of the road during your drive in the Alajuela area. The cheese looks like this ↓ and is called palmito. It is basically the Costa Rican version of string cheese (but, like, delicious and fresh string cheese).
In the evening we suggest getting dinner at one of the places suggested in our Alajuela guide and heading to bed somewhat early before your drive to La Fortuna tomorrow.
After breakfast, it’s time to pack up your stuff and get ready for a long drive to La Fortuna. In total, the drive will take you about four hours. It may seem long, but the second half of this drive is the most beautiful drive in Costa Rica (at least in my opinion).
Just a warning, the roads are in decent condition but it can get pretty curvy in places for all of you who tend to get car sick. I personally always get sick on this drive. If you need, find a pharmacy and ask for Gravol. Gravol seems to be the most commonly sold motion sickness pill in Costa Rica.
Once you arrive in La Fortuna, you will need to check in to your hotel and get changed into swimwear. It’s time to relax at a hot spring!
We suggest contacting the hotel you are planning to stay at in La Fortuna and ask if they have any discounts with local hot spring companies. Sometimes they can get you a great deal.
If not, check out our Arenal hot spring guide. We have suggestions for all budgets and interests.
Some of the hot springs have restaurants on site, but if you are looking for something different, check out our guide to La Fortuna restaurants.
After a nice evening at the hot springs, head back to your hotel and get some sleep. Tomorrow is going to be filled with action!
Today, you are going to start out the day by checking out the amazing La Fortuna waterfall! We have a full guide to visiting the La Fortuna waterfall here.
After the waterfall, we like to take a Rainforest Chocolate tour. It is located right down the street from the waterfall. It is best to book this activity ahead of time, especially if you are visiting during high season. So, go check out their website right now and reserve a spot.
In the afternoon we suggest checking out whatever hot spring you didn’t visit yesterday or visiting the free hot spring. We have more info about the free hot spring in our hot spring guide.
Also, don’t forget to make some stops to take pictures of the amazing Arenal Volcano. Hopefully it is not too fogged in and you can get a great view!
Grab dinner at one of our suggested places in our La Fortuna guide and head to bed somewhat early. Tomorrow is packed with some pure Costa Rica adventure!
Ready for an amazingly fun activity? This morning you are going tubing or rafting!
If you opt to go rafting, there are plenty of great companies in the La Fortuna area. I suggest asking at your hotel if they partner with any local companies. Sometimes they can get you a good discount.
If you decide to go for tubing instead, Arenal River Tubing will take you on a half day tour down a river in a personal inner tube. It’s ridiculously fun and the guides are absolutely amazing. It is best to reserve a spot ahead of time so, head on over to their website right now and email them to confirm a spot. They are generally really good about emailing you back within 24 hours.
After your fun-filled tubing or rafting adventure, we suggest relaxing a bit before dinner.
Before eating in the evening, park your car in downtown La Fortuna and check out the cute main town park. It is really well maintained and a nice spot to chill for a bit and do some people watching. Also, the fee you paid to enter the La Fortuna Waterfall goes towards maintaining this park, so might as well take full advantage of it.
Try out one of the places in our suggested restaurant list which you haven’t tried yet.
In the evening you can relax or go to bed early.
Good morning! Monteverde is the next stop on your Costa Rica jungle adventure! Although Monteverde and La Fortuna are close in distance it takes about three hours to drive between the two. The reason for that is big Lake Arenal.
It’s a really nice drive though. We definitely suggest stopping along the way to take pictures. The view of Lake Arenal is really nice in spots. Oh, and load up on motion sickness pills for the first half of the journey. It’s a curvy one!
Once you arrive in Monteverde you can check in to your hotel and grab some lunch if you haven’t already eaten. We have tons of good food suggestions in our Monteverde Guide.
After grabbing some food we suggest checking out the ficus tree. This is a large ficus tree in the woods that you can climb to the top of. It’s pretty cool and it’s free!
The easiest way to get here is by entering “Cloud Forest Lodge” into your GPS. When you arrive at the Cloud Forest Lodge just park your car on the side of the road. As always, don’t leave anything valuable in the car.
Across from the lodge you will see dirt pathways going into the woods. Follow these paths and you will pass a few other ficus trees before finding the tree you really want.
You’ll know you are in the correct spot when you see a tree that you can stand inside of and climb like a beautiful ladder from nature. Eventually, you will get to the top where you will have a really nice view.
Just be careful though. There is nobody around out there and you are climbing a tree. It is, of course, possible to slip.
After your ficus tree adventure, if you need a good dinner spot just check out our Monteverde guide.
In the evening, we suggest going on a wildlife night tour. You can read our complete post about it here. However, we suggest asking about it at the hotel you are staying at. Most hotels partner with local companies and can get you a good discount.
Today is action packed! After eating some breakfast (there are some great little coffee shops in downtown Monteverde) it is time to head over to Selvatura Adventure Park.
This is something you could arrange ahead of time on their website. However, we usually wait until we are in Monteverde to set this up. Again, most hotels have partnerships with Selvatura and can get you a discount which includes transportation.
If you ask at your hotel the day before they can most likely help arrange it for you.
Selvatura has all sorts of different packages you can choose from such as combo packages of zip-lining, hanging bridges, and the butterfly garden. We have only done the zip-lining but have heard the hanging bridges are nice as well.
Anyway, for the rest of the morning, you will be zip-lining and hiking. It really depends on what time you were able to arrange the zip-lining for.
If you opt to drive your rental car to Selvatura instead of using their transportation you can go for a hike after at the Santa Elena Reserve. It is located right up the street from Selvatura. This is the perfect cloud forest hiking spot. We have a full post about visiting here.
In the afternoon you will likely be tired. We suggest relaxing and grabbing a few early evening cocktails at Tree House restaurant. Their food isn’t amazing or anything, but I like to at least go here for a cocktail. After all, how often can you say that you visited a restaurant in a tree house?
For dinner check out one of our suggested places in the Monteverde guide.
Today you will be driving from Monteverde to Playas del Coco. This drive will take you about three hours and consists of some interesting driving in the beginning followed by the nicest highway in Costa Rica.
Along your route, near Liberia, there is an amazing waterfall called Llanos de Cortez. It’s one of our favorite falls in Costa Rica and definitely worth checking out. However, you will have all of your belongings in the car, so stopping here would definitely be risk. There is a person watching the parking lot, but I don’t know how well they actually keep an eye on things. If you don’t feel comfortable stopping, you could always take a morning trip here from Playas del Coco.
Anyway, once you get to the Coco area and check in to your hotel we suggest grabbing some lunch or snacks and heading to Playa Penca.
To get to this beach just enter “Mirador Playa Penca” into your GPS. There are two Playa Penca’s in Guanacaste. I just don’t want you to direct yourself to the wrong one. If your GPS says it will be more than a 20-minute drive from downtown Coco, it’s the wrong Playa Penca.
Anyway, getting to Playa Penca is not the easiest, but that is what makes it a virtually empty and beautiful beach. As you drive you will eventually find the road just ends. You may see a few other cars pulled off on to the side of the road as well as a path down the hill. Pull your car off as well (and make sure you don’t leave anything of value in your car).
The walk down to the beach is a bit steep. It will take you a few minutes to reach the bottom and the beach. We suggest spending a few hours here relaxing and swimming (it’s a great swimming and snorkeling spot).
We usually try to leave the beach right before sunset so that we are not trying to walk back to our car in the dark. You can then watch the sunset from where your car is parked to get a great overhead view (the picture above was taken from there).
Check out our Playas del Coco guide for some great dinner ideas.
Today we are going to go crazzzzyyy and splurge on a fun adventure and go on a snorkel or diving tour!
There are plenty of diving and snorkel tour options in the Playas del Coco area. Personally, we aren’t especially loyal to a particular company for this. We suggest asking at your hotel for their suggestions. Maybe they can get you a discount.
This area is great for snorkeling, diving, and just enjoying a fun day on the boat.
We get that this is not the cheapest tour and if it is out of your budget please check out Coco guide for other good activity ideas.
In the afternoon, if you aren’t too tired, we suggest just driving along the coast and doing some beach hopping.
Today you will head to nearby Playa Hermosa. It will take you 10 to 15 minutes to get here from Coco.
You can park your car at any parking space you see near the beach.
Playa Hermosa is the perfect long beach for walking, swimming, etc. If you feel like going crazy you can also rent jet skis, kayaks etc. from the locals. There are also a few restaurants along the beach if you want to grab some lunch.
In the late afternoon, we suggest returning to Coco and grabbing a few drinks. We like Coconutz. They have a good selection of craft beers.
After breakfast, say goodbye to Coco and start heading south towards Tamarindo. The drive to Tamarindo will usually only take you about 1.5 hours.
When you arrive in Tamarindo, check into your hotel and explore the downtown area. There are tons of restaurants, bars, and cute stores to explore. I’d suggest keeping this as a relaxing day to explore the downtown area and chill on the beach. If you feel like you need to do something you can rent a surfboard all along the beach.
Check out our Tamarindo guide for food suggestions.
Tamarindo is the perfect place for surfing, so it is time to take advantage of that!
There are tons of surf schools in Tamarindo that offer lessons or board rentals. We don’t have a favorite place. Rates are comparable throughout the town, but you could always ask at your hotel if they have a suggestion. Sometimes they partner with local companies and can get you a good deal for lessons.
In the afternoon we suggest relaxing on the beach and getting dinner at one of our suggested places.
Today we suggest heading to nearby Playa Avellanas. You can get here with your car, but if you feel like splurging on a fun activity, we suggest renting an ATV for the day.
Let me explain the ATV rental to you, just so you can decide if this is something worth spending money on for you….
The company who we suggest for renting ATV’s is called Tamarindo Active. They are great because they allow you to actually rent an ATV or UTV and do your own thing instead of having to go with a tour.
They are of course happy to give you suggestions on where to go.
If you opt to do this, I suggest using at least part of your time to go Playa Avellana. The road to get there is unpaved and could be fun with your ATV. It will cost you about $100 to rent an ATV in Tamarindo for the day.
Playa Avellana is perfect for some relaxed beach chilling. You can grab lunch at Lola’s (the beach bar there) and just relax. We have a full guide to Playa Avellana for you.
In the evening grab dinner at one of our suggested places and chill out.
It’s time to head out from Tamarindo and make your way back towards the airport area. This drive will take you about five hours. It is a decent drive with paved roads the whole way.
We suggest not starting too late because hitting the airport area during the afternoon rush hour is a nightmare. Once you arrive in Alajuela (the airport area), check into your hotel, and chill.
If you are feeling up for an activity, you can check out our Alajuela guide for some good ideas.
In the evening, grab some dinner at one of our suggested places and get some sleep before your flight tomorrow.
That’s all folks! It’s time to head back to reality. We hope you’ll be back soon!
In every destination guide, we list our favorite accommodations.
If you plan on booking a hotel, we’d appreciate it if you booked by clicking this link to booking.com. It doesn’t cost you anything but we get a percentage of their profits which allows us to keep making these Costa Rica trip plans available to you for free.
Costa Rica is a restaurant paradise. You can find our favorite places to eat in every destination guide. We also have several articles that will help you out. You might also enjoy our article How to Eat on a Budget in Costa Rica and Must Eat Food in Costa Rica.
As I mentioned earlier, we tried to keep things mostly on budget, but there are for sure some activities in this itinerary that are not as cheap. We tried to only pick more expensive activities which we feel are worth splurging for and support wonderful local businesses.
If you would like some alternative activity ideas, check out our destinations guides for the places you are visiting.
– This itinerary does involve a lot of driving, but we tried to space it enough that it becomes doable.
– Check out our Must Know page for more tips for preparing for your travel including packing lists, gear suggestions, using your cell phone here etc.
– It is also possible to do this itinerary if you are flying in and out of Liberia airport instead. In fact, it will save you a lot of driving at the end of your trip. From Tamarindo to Liberia will only take you about 1.5 hours. Usually flying into Liberia is more expensive, but it’s worth checking into it.
– Please take into consideration that we created this guide from our personal experience. We try to always give you the best and most updated info possible, but that is not always possible.
For example, even in writing this I discovered three restaurants I planned on including here are now closed.
What I’m trying to say is you will need to check up on everything listed here. There is always a chance that things have changed since we created this itinerary.
Also, if you follow this itinerary and notice something that is incorrect info, please let us know. We always want to keep the most updated info here that we can.
Does this itinerary sound good, but you would like a more customized Costa Rica experience? Just fill in our Costa Rica Trip Planner form! One of our favorite Costa Rica experts will contact you and help with the entire Costa Rica planning process.
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