COSTA RICA highlights

Costa Rica is difficult to see in a short amount of time. There are just so many cool places to experience! 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!

As always, we catered this itinerary to budget travelers like ourselves, but there are definitely a few splurge activities in here as well. Sometimes you’ve just got to go crazy! If any of the activities in this itinerary are a bit out of your price range we provided alternative activities as well.

Alright! Let’s get planning!

Costa Rica Highlights Itinerary – Schedule Overview

Here is a brief overview of this 3 weeks Costa Rica itinerary….

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 14)

 

Day 1:

Land in San Jose / Tour Britt coffee plantation

Day 2:

Visit Irazu volcano and explore the Central Valley

Day 3:

Drive to La Fortuna / Relax in a hot spring

Day 4:

Visit the La Fortuna waterfall / Take a cacao tour / Visit another hot spring

Day 5:

Spend the day tubing or rafting

Day 6:

Drive to Monteverde / Climb a ficus tree / Have drinks in a tree house / Take a wildlife night tour

Day 7:

Go ziplining / Go hiking

Day 8:

Drive to Playas del Coco / Watch the sunset from Playa Penca

Day 9:

Take a morning trip on a sailboat with snorkeling / Explore nearby beaches

Day 10:

Hang out at Playa Hermosa and enjoy jet skiing/kayaking etc.

Day 11:

Drive to Tamarindo / Explore downtown Tamarindo / Enjoy a sunset dinner

Day 12:

Rent a surfboard or take surf lessons for the day

Day 13:

Visit Playa Avellana / Enjoy Lola’s beach bar

Day 14:

Drive back towards the airport area

Day 15:

Say goodbye to paradise!

Costa Rica Highlights Itinerary – Transportation

street in san jose costa rica

This itinerary needs to be done by rental car. The reason for this 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.

FIND OUT HOW TO GET UP TO 20% OFF YOUR CAR RENTAL IN COSTA RICA!

Costa Rica Highlights Itinerary – Detailed Itinerary

Alright, grab a cup of coffee, take the afternoon off of work, forward all your calls to voicemail. This is going to be a long read (I should have just written a book).

Day 1:

Land in San Jose / Tour Britt coffee plantation

britt coffee tour

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 suggest checking out the Britt coffee tour.

If you arrive in the evening it is probably best to grab some dinner and relax. For some great dinner spots check out our Alajuela (airport area) guide. We personally suggest Jalapenos Central for some filling Tex-Mex style food which is super tasty.

We suggest spending this night and tomorrow near the airport. The airport is actually closer to Alajuela than downtown San Jose. We have a guide to Alajuela with hotel suggestions here.

 

Day 2:

Visit Irazu volcano and explore the Central Valley

irazu volcano

Today you are going to check out the amazing Irazu volcano. From your hotel near the airport, it will take you a little over one hour to get to Irazu volcano. We suggest starting early in the morning to get there before the fog rolls in, but just be warned that traffic can be insane during rush hour around San Jose.

We have a complete guide to Irazu volcano with suggestions of fun activities to do after nearby.

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.

 

Day 3:

Drive to La Fortuna / Relax in a hot spring

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.

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 like to get as much out of the hot springs as possible so we tend to stay until late (they are open until 9 or 10pm).

However, you probably want to eat as well. We usually grill (both hot springs that we recommend have free grills which you can use), but we also have the luxury of bringing paper plates, aluminum foil, etc from home. If you have to buy all of that stuff, it might be better to just eat at a restaurant or get takeout before going.   

We suggest Organico Fortuna for a good healthy meal which you can get to go, but you may end up getting there and want to just eat there (it’s ridiculously cute).

Another good option is Que Rico Arenal. They have great pizza and are located very close to both hot springs we will suggest below. You could pick up a pizza there and take it with you.

Either way, after picking up your food, head to the hot springs.

We have two hot springs which we love, so I’ll describe them both and you can pick which sounds better to you.

Termalitas de Arenal: This is where the locals go. It costs 4,500 colones to enter (so about $9). On the weekends it tends to get pretty crowded. We like this place because at night it is all lit up with different colored lights. The setup is also really nice and you have more privacy at the various picnic table areas.

Termales Los Laurales: This hot spring costs about 6,000 colones (so about $12) to enter. It is much more open than Termalitas de Arenal. We love it because it has an amazing view of Arenal volcano. It’s absolutely beautiful at sunset. It also has lights at night, but they are not multi-colored like Termalitas de Arenal.

If you’d like more info we have guides to the hot springs here.

I (Sarah) like Los Laurales more, but Thomas likes Termalitas de Arenal more. We’d love if you report back on your favorite so we can continue to argue about the best one. Maybe I’ll start a tally.

Both hot springs have multiple hot and cold pools, bathrooms, lockers, changing rooms, and a snack bar (but the food is not the best and it’s expensive for what it is).

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!

Day 4:

Visit the La Fortuna waterfall / Take a cacao tour / Visit another hot spring

la fortuna waterfall

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, stop at 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.

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!

 

Day 5:

Spend the day tubing or rafting

rafting la fortuna

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 the partner with any local companies. Sometimes they can get you a good discount. If not, Arenal Rafting is a great company that we have had really good experiences with.

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.

The price is $45 per person, which I know isn’t exactly a budget activity, but sometimes you’ve got splurge a little! If this is out of your price range, check out our La Fortuna guide for other great activity ideas. 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.

The tour will begin at 10am and will return around 2pm. Transportation from your hotel is included (which is awesome). Make sure to wear a bathing suit or something you don’t mind getting wet.

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 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. We personally like the vibe at Lava Lounge. It is right down the street from the La Fortuna park so you can just leave your car where you’ve parked it.

In the evening you can relax or go to bed early. You have an early morning tomorrow and a long drive back to the airport area.

 

Day 6:

Drive to Monteverde / Climb a ficus tree / Have drinks in a tree house / Take a wildlife night tour

monteverde night walk - taratula

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.

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 you will be going on a wildlife night tour. You can read our complete post about it here.

 

Day 7:

Go zip-lining / Go hiking

monteverde walk

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, but we don’t like to. On their website you, unfortunately, can not just save a spot. You actually have to pay ahead of time. For us, we don’t like doing that because you never know if your plans will change.

Instead, we suggest going there in the morning and seeing when they have space for zip-lining. They have 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, but up the street from Selvatura is the Santa Elena Reserve. 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.

Day 8:

Drive to Playas del Coco / Watch the sunset from Playa Penca

playa penca view

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. It will only take you about 1.5 hours or less to drive there.

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.

 

Day 9:

Take a morning trip on a sailboat with snorkeling / Explore nearby beaches

beach guanacaste

Today we are going to go crazzzzyyy and splurge on a fun adventure and go on a sailing/ snorkel tour!

This tour costs $69 per adult. It departs at 9 am and returns at 1:00 pm.

You will be sailing with Sea Bird Sailing Excursions on their 45′ vessel. You will hopefully see dolphins, whales or sea turtles. An open bar, snacks, and snorkeling gear are also included. At one point during the tour, they will anchor the boat and you will be given the chance to do some snorkeling. If you are interested in this tour, head on over to their website to get more info and book your spot.

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. However, keep in mind that we only suggest tours that we are really impressed with and think are a great value for their price. If you are going to do any tour in Coco, we think this should be the one.

After your fun sailing tour, we suggest relaxing and getting dinner in Coco.

 

Day 10:

Hang out at Playa Hermosa and enjoy jet skiing/kayaking etc.

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. 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 Zi Lounge for their great Happy Hour deals all day. Next to Zi’s is Coconutz. They have a good selection of craft beers if that is more your thing.

 

Day 11:

Drive to Tamarindo / Explore downtown Tamarindo / Enjoy a sunset dinner

tamarindo at night

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.

 

Day 12:

Rent a surfboard or take surf lessons for the day

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 comparrible 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.

Day 13:

Visit Playa Avellana / Enjoy Lola’s beach bar

playa avellana

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.

 

Day 14:

Drive back towards the airport area

car - transportation in costa rica

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.

 

Day 15:

Say goodbye to paradise!

flying out of San Jose Costa Rica

That’s all folks! It’s time to head back to reality. 🙁 We hope you’ll be back soon!

 

Costa Rica Highlights Itinerary – Destinations

la fortuna hot spring

Was that enough info for you all? If you would like to know more about each destination we mentioned in this two weeks in Costa Rica Itinerary, we have guides to each location. I’ll link them all here for you.

Airport area, La Fortuna, Monteverde, Playas del Coco, Tamarindo

 

Costa Rica Highlights Itinerary – Accommodations

volunteer costa rica accommodation

In every destination guide, we list our favorite accommodations. Recently we have had really good luck with Airbnb and have gotten some really good deals. We have a guide to using Airbnb in Costa Rica here. Our guide to budget accommodations in Costa Rica will also help you out.

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.

Also, if you are new to Airbnb we have $20 off for your first stay. Just click here to sign up for an account.

 

Costa Rica Highlights Itinerary – Restaurants

FOOD IN COSTA RICA

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.

 

Costa Rica Highlights Itinerary – Activities

to do in Costa Rica

As I mentioned earlier in this article, we tried to keep things mostly on budget, but there are for sure some activities in this itinerary that are not 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.

 

Costa Rica Highlights Itinerary – Words of Advice

to do in Costa Rica

– 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.

 

Costa Rica Highlights Itinerary – Printables

playa avellanaWe know this was a lot of info! If you’d like to make things a bit more organized we suggest signing up for our mailing list (at the end of this article). We will automatically send you our Costa Rica travel planning packet. This packet will make it easy for you to organize your daily plans using this itinerary. You can find out more about what is included in this packet here.

If you have any questions about this Costa Rica Highlights Itinerary don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out as much as we can! Also, if you have done this itinerary and have any suggestions for future travelers please leave a comment. We love to have your input!

 

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This is the perfect Costa Rica itinerary to visit lots of amazing highlights. Ge ready for zip lining, hot springs, snorkeling, beach chilling, and more! #CostaRica #travel This is the perfect Costa Rica itinerary to visit lots of amazing highlights. Ge ready for zip lining, hot springs, snorkeling, beach chilling, and more! #CostaRica #travel

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