Land in San Jose. San Jose airport is a very hit or miss experience. Sometimes you can end up waiting in line at Customs for an hour or so. The best thing I can suggest is to not take your time after getting off the plane. While everyone else is heading to the bathroom to freshen up, go straight to Customs. This will help you get closer to the front of the line.
Customs is generally pretty easy. The Customs Officer will ask how long you are planning to stay and what is the purpose of your visit. You will then be good to go! As a precaution, I always have my flight info for my return flight with me so if asked I can show proof that I am leaving within 90 days.
After going through Customs you can pick up your bags at your baggage carousel. You will then put your bags through one last security check and out you go!
If you’ve ever wanted to feel like a celebrity, get ready! It’s your time to shine! 🙂 As you exit the airport you will be absolutely bombarded with men asking if you need a taxi. Politely decline and look for a person holding a sign from your rental car company. We always recommend using Adobe for your rental car needs. We have used other companies in the past and have been charged crazy extra fees. You can read more about renting a car and why we like Adobe here.
No matter what company you go with they will take you on a shuttle to their shop nearby. They are all about a 5 minute drive. You will then fill out some paperwork and you’ll be good to go!
Please, please, please read our post about renting a car first though. I don’t want you to be surprised or have extra unexpected charges (which is something that tends to happen).
Drive to Jaco: The drive to Jaco is a fairly easy one. It will take you about 1.5 hours to get there depending on the traffic.
Note: This is a toll road. It will cost you about $5 total to get to Jaco. The toll booths do accept dollars but will give you change in colones. If you only have dollars I suggest giving them a $10. The change will be enough for you to pay the rest of the tolls in colones.
Along the way stop at Rio Tarcoles to check out some crocodiles. About an hour into your drive you will cross a bridge lined with people. After you cross the bridge pull off onto the right hand side of the road. Make sure nothing valuable is left visible in your car and walk back onto the bridge. From there you will get a great view of crocodiles lounging in the sun.
Arrive in Jaco: Once you arrive in Jaco head to your hotel and check in. Depending on the time you can grab dinner or check out one of our suggested Jaco activities. Definitely make sure to catch the sunest on the beach. It’s the perfect spot for it.
Grab some breakfast and then it’s time to head to one of our favorite beaches, Playa Blanca! You’ll be back tracking a bit for this one and driving about 20 minutes back towards the way you came from yesterday. Unfortunately there are not any budget hotels in this area, which is why we told you to stay in Jaco.
Before you hit the road stop at one of the many small grocery stores in Jaco and pick up some food and drinks for the day. There are not any restaurants at the beach you are going to. There are grills though, but if it is a busy beach day they tend to get taken over pretty fast.
We usually bring lots of water, some beers, fruit, crackers, a few cans of tuna fish (they have some crazy ones here with various veggies in them), and a few other snacky things. If the hotel you are staying at has a kitchen area you can buy stuff the night before and make sandwiches before you head out for the day.
Alright, now it’s time to drive!
Playa Blanca is located in a private resort community, but because every beach in Costa Rica needs to have public access, there is a side entrance which will lead you to a dirt parking lot which you can use. Check out the maps section in this itinerary for precise directions. You will have to pay about $5 to park.
In front of where you park you can access a beach called Playa Mantas. It’s a nice beach, but if you want an AMAZING beach walk to the left on Playa Mantas. At the end of the beach there is a little path up a hill which will take you to Playa Blanca. Welcome to paradise!
Note: You can only access this area during low or middle tide. We have tried to do it during high tide but the water comes in too far and the rocks are extremely slippery. I wiped out and ruined a bunch of things in my backpack. To check the tides I rely on the app Magic Seaweed.
Also, the hill to Playa Blanca is small but steep. It’s difficult when you have all of your beach gear with you.
Spend the day on Playa Blanca, but make sure to keep track of the tides! Make your exit when the tide is low and head back to Jaco. Check out the Activities section of this itinerary for some suggested Jaco activities to do in the evening.
Eat breakfast in the morning in Jaco. Check out our suggested restaurants for a list of our favorites.
It’s time to say goodbye to Jaco and head to Manuel Antonio. The drive to Manuel Antonio will only take you about an hour.
Along the way you can check out Playa Esterillos. It is a long expansive beach which isn’t as beautiful as other beaches in Costa Rica, but it is usually fairly empty and worth a quick visit.
Once you arrive in Manuel Antonio you should go check into your hotel. If it is too early to check in you can ask if you can store your stuff somewhere safe at the hotel. Usually if the room is clean they will let you check in early at no extra cost.
After dropping your stuff off, grab some lunch before heading to Playa Biesanz. We suggest the Falafal Bar. It is on the corner of the same street as Playa Biesanz, is crazy good, and has a fun vibe. You can also wait until you get to Playa Biesanz. There are plenty of locals selling grilled food on the beach at a good price.
When you get to Playa Biesanz you can park your car on the side of the road and the guy working will watch it for about $5. Even though someone will be watching your car you should make sure nothing of value is left visible. Walk down the woodsy path to the beach. On the path check in the trees for howler monkeys. There are usually a lot of them hanging out there.
This beach is not exceptionally beautiful, but it has a nice local feel. We love it because there is so much to do there! Locals on the beach can rent you snorkel equipment for a few dollars. We recommend doing this. We saw some really cool fish here. You can also rent a nice two person sea kayak for about $15 for 90 minutes. There are also beach chairs you can rent for a day with umbrellas if you want to just relax. There are plenty of vendors selling food and drinks here as well for a good price. Spend the day here and head back to your hotel around 4pm to get changed for dinner.
Manuel Antonio is the perfect place for beautiful sunset dinners. Check out our restaurant suggestions for a few of our favorite places. We aim to eat around 5pm so we can enjoy the sundown while we eat.
Note: Make sure to bring bug spray. The second the sun goes down it gets really buggy.
After dinner you can go back to your hotel for some evening relaxing or check out one of the local bars. We suggest El Avion. The drinks are decent and it is located in an old cargo plane. It’s not the cheapest, but if you stick to local beers you can save some money.
Time to check out Manuel Antonio national park! The park opens at 7am and we suggest being there at opening time because they only allow a certain number of people into the park at a time and it fills up fast.
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 something with more substance you can stop at one of the places downtown across from the beach. We’ve eaten at a few of these places and all have been decent, but not really awe worthy.
After you eat, cross the street and enjoy some time on the beach. If you want a quieter experience walk to the 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 the evening enjoy dinner at one of our recommended places.
It’s time to head south to the Dominical/ Uvita area. Don’t worry, it’s a short drive. It will only take you about an hour to get down there.
Day 7: After enjoying breakfast and checking out of your hotel it is time to head back towards the airport. 🙁 The drive back will take you about four hours depending on traffic.
We suggest not starting too late because hitting the airport area during the afternoon rush hour is a nightmare.
If you get hungry along the way we suggest stopping off in Jaco and revisiting your fave restaurant or trying one of our suggestions that you missed out on.
We listed some of our fave cheap hotels in the accommodation section but if you want to search on your own be sure to check in Alajuela rather than San Jose. The airport is actually located in Alajuela rather than San Jose.
Once you arrive in Alajuela, check into your hotel, and chill. If you are feeling up for an activity, I’ve listed a few for you in the activity section.
In the evening, grab some dinner and get some sleep before your flight tomorrow.
Goodbye Costa Rica!