This itinerary is designed for all of you looking for that laid back Caribbean vibe. This itinerary is great because it also includes a bit of Panama exploration and can be done by rental car or by public bus. Get ready for undisturbed beaches, snorkeling, wildlife canoe tours, turtles laying eggs, cool beach bars, and more!


Airport Area (1 night) -> Tortuguero (3 nights) -> Cahuita (3 nights) -> Puerto Viejo (2 nights) -> Bocas del Toro (4 nights) -> Airport Area (1 night)

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This itinerary is partially by car and partially by bus. You can rent your car for six or nine days. It totally depends on your preference. You will be picking up the car from the airport and returning in down in Puerto Viejo. It is your choice if you would like to have a car while traveling in Puerto Viejo. It will make things a bit easier, but it is not necessary.

From Puerto Viejo you will take a bus to the Costa Rica/ Panama border to a town called Sixola. The bus ride is short (less than an hour).

At the border you will cross into Panama (I give detailed instructions in the full itinerary section). After getting your passport stamped in Panama you will take a shared bus for about $10 per person to Changuinola. They will drop you off right at the boat terminal. The bus ride takes about 45 minutes and is SCARY (at least for me it was). They drive those curvy roads so fast!

Once you arrive at the boat terminal you will pay about $10 per person to take a boat to the main island in Bocas del Toro called Isla Colon. If you are not staying on Isla Colon you can take a water taxi for a few dollars to the island your hotel is on.

When it comes to leaving Bocas del Toro you will do the same thing, but in reverse (boat, bus to the border, bus from Sixola all the way to San Jose).

You do not need to buy your bus ticket back to San Jose ahead of time. When you cross the border back into Costa Rica just head to the bus terminal and buy your ticket for the next available bus back to San Jose. It will cost about $12. The ride will take about six hours and will drop you off in downtown San Jose at the bus terminal.

When you get to the bus terminal there will be a million guys asking if you need a taxi. Just ignore them. Fire up Uber on your phone and take an Uber to your hotel. The taxi drivers will charge you double what the Uber drivers will charge.

If you are staying at a hotel near the airport with a free shuttle, take that the next morning. If your hotel is close to the airport and has a shuttle service that you have to pay for ask how much it is. If it is going to cost over $10 total for your entire group, take an Uber instead. It will be cheaper.



Casa Maki: This hotel is a 5-minute drive from the airport. It also has a shared kitchen for your use and free breakfast. You can expect to pay about $50 for a double room.

Hotel II Millenium: For about $50 you can get a basic double room with breakfast included. This hotel is about 3 minutes from the airport.

Hotel Cortez Azul: For about $25 you can find a room for two people with a shared bathroom. Breakfast is included as well as a free airport shuttle. This hotel is about a 5-minute drive from the airport.

La Villa Rio SegundoFor about $40 a night you can get a room for two people with a shared bathroom. Breakfast is included and there is also a nice pool on site. This hotel is an 8-minute drive from the airport. There is an airport shuttle, but you have to pay for it.

Note: When looking for hotels near the airport search for “Alajuela” as your location rather than San Jose.


In Tortuguero, all of the fancier hotels are not located on the island of Tortuguero itself but a short boat ride away on an offshoot of the mainland. Even if you have the money to stay in one of these nicer hotels we recommend not doing so. The island of Tortuguero is so cool that you should really soak in the full vibe.

Hotel Icaco: This hotel is about as basic as they come, but it is perfect if you’re on a budget. It is located directly across from the beach on the ocean side of the island. We stayed here in a yurt-like structure with my dad and sister for two nights and paid $40 a night for one large room with three beds. Can’t get cheaper than that! They did not have air conditioning units, but they did have standing fans which you can aim directly on you at night.

Hotel River View: We stayed here the first time we visited Tortuguero and although it is basic, we were impressed. For a double room, you can expect to pay about $45 per night. This price includes a good breakfast. This hotel is located on the river side of the island (hence the name) and we loved sitting on the balcony watching the boats go by. One morning during breakfast we even spotted dolphins jumping in the river.

Los Amigos Jungle Hotel: Basic rooms on the ocean side of the island. You can expect to pay about $35 for a double room. There is a shared kitchen and pool on the property which guests can use.

Tortuguero Natural: More basic rooms on the ocean side of the island. For about $30 you can get a large room for two people. The people working here are the sweetest and will help you out in any way they can.

Guest House Paisajes de Tortuguero: Located directly on the beach. You can expect to pay about $40 for a double room.


Cabinas Nirvana: Super cute rustic place hidden in the woods. This was perfect for when we were traveling with my family and wanted a big cabin we could all share at a decent price. Breakfast is not included, but there are plenty of places downtown where you can get a cheap meal.

Cabinas Algebra: Super basic cabins close to the beach. You can expect to pay about $35 a night for a double bungalow.

La Rana De Cahuita: This place is the absolute cutest! I suggest only staying here if you are traveling by car. It is a bit out of the downtown area.

Cabinas Tito: Great cabins close to the beach and downtown area. Breakfast is not included, but there are plenty of great places nearby.


Lodge Casa Moabi: This place is located a bit south of Puerto Viejo. It is great for if you want to be away from the action of the town, but still close to a beach. For about $35 a night you can get a double room in the jungle with a cool rustic feel.

Apartment El Chilamate: Super nice apartments with a kitchen. For about $45 a night you can get an apartment with a terrace for two people.

Sea Tower Hotel: For about $40 a night you can stay in a double room close to the beach. There is also a shared kitchen on site for guests to use.

Apartment Las Casitas: For about $40 a night you can stay in a nice apartment close to the beach. Every apartment has its own kitchen.

Hostel Kinkaju: For about $35 a night you can get a double room with a shared bathroom. There are two kitchens on site for guests to use as well.


Sun Haven Apartments: For about $45 a night you can stay in a basic apartment for two people. This place is optimal for all of you that want to save some money and do your own cooking.

Hostel Selina: This hostel is not located on the main island of Bocas del Toro. It’s best for those of you that just want to disconnect. To get to the main islands you’ll have to pay about $5 for a boat. The property is amazing (pretty much on the beach), it has a great vibe, and for about $45 a night you can get a double room with a shared bathroom.

The Bocas Beach House: I highly recommend this place. It is a bit out of the craziest of downtown, but still close to all the action. There are nice beaches nearby, or you can also just swim from the dock at the house. The rooms are simple but perfect and there is a shared kitchen for guests to use. You’ll pay about $55 a night for a double room.

Hostel Spanish by the Sea: Basic, but right in the downtown area. For about $30 a night you can stay in a double room with a shared bathroom. There is also a communal kitchen on site.

Want an even more unique experience? Check out Airbnb. You can sometimes find some really unique accommodations at crazy good prices. Just make sure to read the reviews before you book anything. If this is your first time using Airbnb we have a $35 credit for you. Woot!AIRBNB

Want to look at more hotels? We like Hotels Combined because they compare the prices on all hotel booking sites which makes it easy to guarantee you get the best deals.


l Chante Vegano: This place doesn’t look like much from the outside, but get ready for super tasty vegan food. This is the perfect lunch spot.

Yellow Cafe: Great for lunch or dinner. They have good drinks, sandwiches, pasta and more. It has a nice cafe vibe.

La Calle-Beer & Street Food: Go here! This is basically a food truck with outside tables and it is the coolest. They have some great beers and good burgers. It’s not the cheapest (burgers are about $10) but it’s a fun spot to chill.

Pesqueria Qlity Fish: Totally unexpected amazingness. If you like seafood or fish, this is your spot. We suggest going here for dinner.

Jalapenos Central: Quality Tex-Mex style food at super reasonable prices. This place is owned by a guy from the US (Norman) who likes to make his rounds through the restaurant to make sure everyone is happy. Perfect for lunch or dinner.

Denny’s: OK usually we wouldn’t suggest Denny’s as dining option, but it is open 24 hours a day and is close to the airport. If your flight gets in really late or you have an early departure, this is your best bet for a meal.


Budda Cafe: Probably our favorite hangout spot in all of Costa Rica. The food is great, the drinks are great, and the atmosphere is perfect. Just note this is not traditional Costa Rican food. It has a more Mediterranean feel to it, but after a hot day of exploring it is perfect.

Tutti’s: Finding quality pizza is not the easiest in Costa Rica and we are always on the hunt for decent Italian food. This place was on point! The staff is super nice and the prices are decent.

Sun Rise: Now that I’m looking at reviews of this place on TripAdvisor, I’m not totally impressed, but we had the Caribbean chicken here one night and we were obsessed. We also hadn’t eaten in way too long, were extremely grumpy, and it was the middle of a crazy rain storm in which the whole island was flooded. We may have just been so hungry and relieved to find food that we thought it was perfect, but from what we remember the chicken was fall off the bone goodness with perfect flavor. If you ask my sister what her favorite meal of her ten-day trip here was, she will say this restaurant.

Note: If you try it out, report back on what you thought so I can update this for future travelers. 🙂

Fresh Foods: Honestly you can’t go wrong with basic breakfast anywhere on the island, but I have to include Fresh Foods on here because of their monster smoothies. Seriously, they are the size of my head and super good. Just don’t drink one and then hop on the hour long boat ride back to the mainland like I did. Your bladder will hate you. 🙂


Cafe Cahuita: A great little breakfast place to fuel up before a day of hiking in the national park.

Pizzeria Cahuita: If you are tired of eating rice and beans every day, head here! You won’t be disappointed. Their pizza is dream worthy.

Sobre las Olas: If you are looking for a good seafood or fish dinner, this is the perfect spot. It is not cheap, but I think it is worth a visit. From the outside, it doesn’t look like much, but head around back and you’ll be pleasantly surprised y the tables set up along the water. We suggest getting there early (around 5 pm) to claim one of the good tables and enjoy the nice waterfront view. Also, be sure to bring bug spray because it gets rather buggy once the sun goes down.


Cafe Rico: The vibe here is my fave. This place is sooo cute and I love all the books they have around this place. If you need a good breakfast spot, this is it!

KOKi Beach Restaurant: This place is a bit on the pricey side, but I like the atmosphere here a lot. If you don’t want to eat here because of the prices at least go here for an early evening drink.

La Nena: This is not located in Puerto Viejo itself, but rather nearby in Cocles. It’s the perfect spot for an affordable meal of typical food which tastes great.

Tiere Cafeteria: This place is the perfect breakfast or lunch spot. They have a nice modern twist on a lot of typical Costa Rican meals plus some great sandwiches.

De Gustibus Bakery: This spot is perfect for an afternoon coffee and cake or a nice breakfast. Everything they make is amazing!

Alice Ice Cream Bar: After a hot day at the beach, this spot is the perfect place to eat amazing ice cream and just chill out. This is located south of Puerto Viejo near Cocles.


The Blue Coconut: When we were here the staff was totally overwhelmed by the amount of customers and they had lost water. Things were chaotic, but we still loved the vibe here. I suggest going here for afternoon cocktails and some appetizers. You can swim off their dock and chill in the floating hammocks. It’s perfect, but not really a good option for an actual meal.

Bocas Brewery: If you are into beer, head here. It is a bit of a walk from the main drag of Isla Colon, but we suggest hitting up this place by kayak. It’s the perfect little pit stop on your kayak journey (if you can still paddle after tasty beers). 🙂

Leaf Eaters Cafe: Vegetarian and vegan food heaven. Seriously amazing!

Hungry Monkey: The perfect little lunch spot on Isla Colon. They have a deal where you order 3 tacos and get a beer for free. Woot!

Bibi’s on the Beach: We, unfortunately, did not have the best experience at Bibi’s, but I think the main cook must have been off that day. We want to give this place another try, but haven’t had a chance yet. Thomas and I ordered completely different things, but both ended up with the same sauce and our waiter said, “The chef made you something special,” aka “we are out of stuff.” We loved the vibe here though and have gone for Happy Hour a few times and always love their drink deals. They also have amazing reviews, so I think we just got unlucky.

Note: If you try it out, let us know how it was so we can update this for future travelers. 🙂

Cafe del Mar: Perfect place for your morning coffee or a nice sandwich lunch. I love the vibe here.

Capitan Caribe: Doesn’t look like much from the outside, but you won’t be disappointed. They serve amazing Caribbean food at a super reasonable price.


Check out the city park: In downtown Alajuela, there is a cute city park which is the happening spot on the weekends. You probably won’t spend more than an hour there, but there is a nice church there that you can go in. There are also plenty of vendors selling snacks. Grab a bunch, get a snack, and do some people watching.

Watch the planes take off: If you want a fun/ unique evening experience, check when the next planes are taking off and head on over to the airport. If you are coming from the downtown area of Alajuela, drive past the airport on the highway and you’ll see parking spots on the side of the road. You can pull off here or turn right on the street at the end of the runway. There aren’t any parking spot there, but you can just pull your car off the side of the road. You’ll probably see many families with picnics set up in the grass. This is (in my opinion) the best spot to watch the planes, but I’ll warn you, it’s absolutely terrifying to have planes flying literally right above your head. We like to go out night to get the full effect. There are also usually vendors here selling food.

Do some shopping: If you’re coming from the US, the prices in Costa Rica will be a bit higher than what you are used to, but if you are coming from Europe they are pretty comparable to what you are used to. In Alajuela, there is a city mall, which has a ton of stores which you’ll love. If you want an even crazier experience, head to MultiPlaza. MultiPlaza is not in Alajuela, but it’s still close by in Escazu. That mall is crazy even by US standards. It is the largest mall in Central America and is super modern.

Catch a film: Not really the optimal thing to do on your vacation, but if you are visiting during rainy season, you might be out of luck finding something else to do on a rainy afternoon. Both malls that I listed above have nice movie theaters in them which show films in English with Spanish subtitles. If you’d like to see what is showing, you can check that out here. Just click MultiPlaza Escazu or City Mall, depending on where you’d like to go.

Take a drive through the Central Valley: From the city of Alajuela, head north and check out the amazing views of the valley. I always feel like I’m in Switzerland while driving through here. There are tons of little places selling fresh strawberries and cheese along the way. If you would like to see a nice waterfall, type in “Catarata de la Paz” into your GPS. This waterfall is free (just on the side of the road) and it’s a beautiful drive to this spot. It is really close to Poas Volcano, but unfortunately, Poas is currently closed indefinitely due to eruptions 🙁

Catch your lunch: From downtown Alajuela, you can take a 40-minute drive to a trucha called Los Arroyos. Now, I’m sure you have no idea what I’m talking about, but this is a super popular activity with locals. It’s a totally unique experience that most tourists aren’t lucky enough to have. At this place, they will give you a piece of fishing line with bait on the end and send you over to their little pond. It doesn’t look like much, but it is stocked with trout. Catch a trout for each person in your group and then they will cook it up for you on site with great side dishes. For about $10 you can have a fun half day activity and a really tasty meal. It’s one of our absolute favorite things to do with visitors.

Play with hundreds of dogs: You may have seen a video of this place that has been going viral recently. Territorio de Zaguates (land of the strays) is located in the valley in Alajuela and is home to hundreds of stray dogs. It is possible to visit this beautiful place and play with the dogs, but only on certain days. They usually do one open day a month on a Saturday or Sunday. Check out their Facebook page to stay up to date on their next open day.


Walk the miles of beaches: The beach in Tortuguero is not the best in Costa Rica, but it is decent. Plus, you can walk for a really long time along it.

Rent kayaks: There are a few places in town where you can rent kayaks. Compare rates and try some haggling. Renting kayaks for half a day is a great way to explore the little streams near the island and see wildlife.

Go on a canoe tour: On Tortuguero, there are a few different wildlife tour options but we think that the 6 am canoe tour is definitely the best. It’s not cheap (it’s about $30 per person plus you need to pay for national park admission) but the guides are really knowledgeable. You will see lots of cool wildlife and it is completely peaceful. Ask at your hotel and they will arrange it for you.

Explore the national park: On the same day as your canoe tour you should explore the national park because you have already paid for it. I don’t think the national park is overly special, but it is a nice walk through the woods next to the beach.

Check out the turtle museum: On the north side of the island there is a small museum about the turtles. It costs a few dollars to enter but this money goes towards funding work with the turtles. You will probably spend about 45 minutes here.

Go on a night time turtle egg hatching tour: Between July and November, there are evening turtle tours on the beach. After 6 pm you are actually not allowed on the beach without a guide so as to protect the turtles. For $20 you can take a tour which I promise you will be one of the coolest things you’ve ever experienced in your life. Get ready to see massive turtles waddle up from the ocean, lay their eggs, and go back down into the water. Ask at your hotel and they will arrange a tour for you.

Go on a fishing tour: If you are interested in fishing, don’t pay a ton of money to go on a fishing trip with an established company. We asked our guide from the turtle tour if he knew of anyone that did fishing tours. He called a friend who was happy to take us out the next morning for two hours in his boat for far less than we were originally quoted. It wasn’t as fancy as a professional fishing tour would have been, but we all had a really good time and caught a few fish. Just ask some locals (everyone knows everyone here) and they’ll likely help you out.


Explore Cahuita National Park: The Cahuita National park is our favorite national park in all of Costa Rica. It is seriously amazing! You can read our full post about it here.

Watch the sunrise: Wake up at 5 am and head to the beach for a beautiful and peaceful sunrise experience.

Check out the shops in downtown Cahuita: Downtown Cahuita is small, but there are some cute artsy shops you can explore.

Visit the Sloth Sanctuary: The Sloth Sanctuary is not cheap (about $30 per person) but if you’ve ever wanted a close-up encounter with sloths, this is your chance! They are a great sanctuary that are working hard to help sloths.

Check out Puerto Viejo: Puerto Viejo is really close to Cahuita and also has a very Rasta feel to it. If you’d like to know about Puerto Viejo, head on over to our Puerto Viejo page.

Visit a wildlife sanctuary: Tree of Life Sanctuary is a great animal sanctuary located in Cahuita. Entry is $15 for the guided tours. They have very limited hours and tours so be sure to check their website for updated info.


Go to Punta Uva: Playa Punta Uva is an easy drive from Puerto Viejo and it is seriously beautiful. The water is super clear and the sand is a perfectly fine white. Just note that there are occasional incidents of petty theft so always keep any valuables near you.

Take a yoga class: Cashew Hill has walk in yoga classes for 6,000 colones (about $12). You can check out their schedule here.

Go snorkeling: We suggest packing your own snorkel mask so you don’t always have to rent one. Playa Punta Uva is the perfect place to snorkel.

Visit the Jaguar Rescue Center: The Jaguar Rescue Center has awesome tours which put you in close contact with amazing wildlife. The tours cost $20 per person for adults. You can find out more on their website.

Check out the nightlife: Puerto Viejo is the perfect party town for some late night bar hopping.

Take a coco tour: Caribeans Chocolate tour is a bit on the pricey side ($28 per person) but it is a super detailed chocolate tour that takes you through the whole process from tree to bar. Plus you get to try chocolate at the end!

Go surfing: There are plenty of surf schools in Puerto Viejo or if you are more experienced you can just rent a board. We have not personally surfed in Puerto Viejo so I can not recommend a place to you. I suggest asking at your hotel. Sometimes the local hotels partner with local companies and they may be able to get you a discount.

Do some shopping: Along the beach in Puerto Viejo, you can find some amazing local artists selling handmade products such as jewelry. Usually, they are out there in the evenings.


Go kayaking: The waters around Isla Colon (the main area in Bocas) are calm enough to kayak in. We rented kayaks from our hotel, but if your hotel does not have kayaks just ask at the front desk. I’m sure they can direct you to a good place to rent one. We paid $10 for a few hours. The water is so incredibly clear that you can see huge starfish just chilling on the ground.

Go snorkeling: I always suggest bringing your own snorkeling gear while traveling in Central America, Bocas is no different. Because the water is so clear you can just jump in and swim around to see starfish and amazing fishies.

Take a day tour: The highlight of our trip in Bocas del Toro was taking a day tour which included snorkeling and visiting the various undisturbed beaches. We paid $30 per person for a tour that left at 9 am and returned at 4 pm. There are plenty of shops in downtown Isa Colon that run tours but, also ask at your hotel. Sometimes the hotels partner with local companies and you can get a discount.

Go daytime bar hopping: Guys, I’ve never enjoyed bar hopping as much as I did in Bocas del Toro. We went with a tour (which was amazing, but I don’t think it’s running anymore 🙁 ), but you can easily create your own tour. Definitely go to Aqua Lounge, Bibi’s, Boca’s Brewery and The Blue Coconut. Oh and don’t forget to wear your bathing suit!

Take a yoga class: Bocas Yoga Studio has walk in yoga classes for only $6 per hour class. These classes include mat and props usage. You can check out their schedule here.

Go partying: The nightlife scene in Bocas del Toro is on point. Isla Colon is the perfect place to bar/club hop at night.

Rent an e-bike: Bocas Bikes has e-bikes for rent for $40 for a full day (9am-6pm). They are a super great company and will help you out so that everything is adjusted properly. They can also give you tips on where to go, but I say definitely head to Playa Bluff.