How Many Days Do You Need in Costa Rica? Vacation Planning

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Are you wondering how many days you need in Costa Rica for your vacation?

Costa Rica is a tropical paradise with an impressive Pacific and Caribbean Coast. Plus, the central part of the country is filled with dense rainforests and rolling hills of the Central Valley. It can be difficult to figure out how many days are necessary to really soak in the vibe.

We get it. We have called Costa Rica home since 2016 and we are still finding new places to explore in this country. Recently we have been experimenting by taking one week, two week, and three week trips around the country to get a better grasp on what may be the best route and plan for you as a first time visitor.

We created this guide to how many days you need in Costa Rica based on our experiences. Our goal is to help you get an understanding of the minimum number of days you need in Costa Rica, itinerary ideas, and tips to maximize your Costa Rica experience.

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So, lets get to planning your trip!

Minimum Number of Days

How Many Days Do You Need in Costa Rica? Vacation Planning

Costa Rica is such a beautiful country! It deserves, at minimum, one week to get a general feel for it. Ideally, we would suggest spending three weeks here, but I know we are a little biased and unrealistic. 

I get it, you probably aren’t able to easily take that much time off of work. Fortunately, if you are traveling from the United States you likely won’t have to deal with a very long international flight and the time difference will be minimum.

I think that often people see how small Costa Rica is and try to cram in visiting a lot of the country in a short amount of time. However, you really should give yourself enough time in each location to at least relax and soak up the atmosphere a little bit.

Ideally, you should visit at least one beach and one jungle town on your Costa Rica trip.

Just keep in mind, that even though things may appear close on a map, the travel time between locations can actually be a lot longer than Google Maps may suggest. 

Most “highways” are one lane in each direction and if you get stuck behind a big truck, if there is an accident etc. a drive can take a lot longer than what Google Maps might predict.

Also, despite being a small country, Costa Rica has so much to see! 

Almost every town has some fun adventure to offer from waterfalls to volcanoes to beautiful beaches to impressive wildlife dense national parks. 

It’s just impossible to enjoy it all in a short time.

How Many Days Do You Need in Costa Rica? Vacation Planning

I’ve gone through and made suggested itineraries depending on how long you will have in the country and based on which airport you’re flying into.

I’m going to throw out a lot of town names and you’ll probably be like “What are all these places she is talking about?”

So, I suggest clicking here are referring to the map at the top of this page as you read the rest of this. Hover over a destination to see its name, and click each destination to view its complete guide.

Alright, let’s check out some different travel route ideas.

Costa Rica in Less Than a Week

playa hermosa beach

If you have less than one week of traveling to Costa Rica and are really just looking to soak up some tropical vibes, I suggest just staying in one place.

In this case, I highly suggest flying into the Liberia International Airport if possible. It is located in the northwest corner of the country about 20 minutes away from beautiful beaches.

I suggest looking into staying at Playa Hermosa for a relaxed family vibe or Papagayo Peninsula if you are looking for a resort-type stay.

From either area, you can take TONS of fun day trips to places like Llanos de Cortez waterfall, Rincon de la Vieja Volcano National Park, and go on fun catamaran trips with fishing, snorkeling, or diving.

If you can not find a flight into Liberia and instead fly into San Jose International Airport in the middle of the country, I suggest heading towards the towns of Jaco or Manuel Antonio on the Pacific Coast.

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Jaco is not our favorite beach town in Costa Rica. It is known for being a bit seedy and having an active nightlife scene, but the beach is nice and long and the town is a good jumping-off point for activities.

Instead of Jaco, you could opt to stay just north of Jaco at Playa Herradura. This is a resort beach town and home to Los Suenos by Marriott. This is a great place to stay to relax on the beach, have the resort vibe that is good for the whole family, and take fun day trips.

⤷ Check Rates and Availability for Los Suenos Resort 🌴

Los Suenos Resort also has numerous condos and homes you can rent if you are staying with a larger group or just want your own kitchen space. You can check out a lot of options on VRBO.

The other place I mentioned, Manuel Antonio, is about a 4 hour drive from San Jose. This beach town is a common tourist destination and is home to the most popular national park in the country, Manuel Antonio National Park.

The beaches here are beautiful and you will see tons of wildlife. The downside is, it is a longer drive from San Jose and because it is so popular things tend to book out fast and rates are high.

Costa Rica in One Week

manuel antonio costa rica view

With one week to visit Costa Rica we suggest sticking to one destination or two destinations. I think a beach destination and one jungle destination will give you the perfect overview of the country.

From San Jose Airport

If flying into the San Jose International Airport we suggest heading either straight to the beach or straight to the jungle. 

For a beach destination we suggest: 

Playa Herradura: It will only take about 1.5 hours to drive here and it is home to the popular Los Suenos Resort. It is a good jumping off point for surfing, deep sea fishing, catamaran tours, beach hopping, zip lining, crocodile river tours, and exploring Carara National Park.

Manuel Antonio: Manuel Antonio is home to the most popular national parks in the country. It will take about 4 hours to drive here from the San Jose Airport. This is a popular beach town, so book early if you can. 

Some popular things to do here include: hiking at the national park, relaxing on the beaches, and taking a catamaran tour.

For jungle destinations, we suggest:

La Fortuna: Probably the most popular jungle town in the country. This town is home to the impressive Arenal Volcano which forms a backdrop to the town. 

Some fun things to do here include; relaxing in a hot spring, hiking on hanging bridges, zip lining, kayaking on Lake Arenal, and hiking to the impressive La Fortuna Waterfall.

Monteverde: Monteverde is a cloud forest town. It is always a bit rainy and moody here, but that is definitely part of the charm. Here you can go ziplining, hike at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, take a wildlife night tour, and so much more! 

If you would like a bit more variety, we suggest spending a night or two near the airport and then heading to the beach.

The hills above Alajuela (the town next to the airport) are really nice to explore for a day or two. You can visit Poas Volcano, visit La Paz Waterfall Gardens, and tour a coffee farm. 

To get between Manuel Antonio and La Fortuna will take about 4 to 5 hours depending on traffic.

Manuel Antonio to Monteverde will take about 3 to 4 hours depending on traffic.

From Liberia International Airport

If flying into Liberia Airport, you could opt to only stay at a beach destination and take day trips from there. 

For example, Playa Hermosa is a small town that is located only 20 minutes away from the Liberia International Airport. It’s a beautiful beach with calm Pacific Ocean waters that is perfect for families. There is so much to do from here!

We actually come to Playa Hermosa at least once a year and usually spend about a week here. We just love it as a jumping off point for fun. 

Another nice nearby beach area is Papagayo Peninsula. If you would like a resort stay, this is one of the best places in the country for resorts.

Check out the Complete Costa Rica Packing List for all the Essentials You Need in Your Suitcase (and on that subject….we suggest a large backpack instead of suitcase)

If you would like to add in a jungle destination, we suggest spending a few nights at Rincon de la Vieja National Park. This will only take you about an hour to drive to from the Liberia Airport.

The best hotel here is called Hacienda Guachipelin. This hotel features swimming pools, direct access to the national park hiking trails, hot springs that are included in your room rate, and the option to add on fun combo packages such as white water rafting and zip lining.

⤷ Check out rates and availability at Hacienda Guachipelin

You could easily spend a few nights here and a few nights at Playa Hermosa for the perfect fun one-week trip without tons of driving.

Costa Rica in Two Weeks

hot spring la fortuna

With two weeks in Costa Rica you have much more flexibility in your vacation planning. You can easily visit 3 to 4 towns and have plenty of time to really embrace the destinations.

From San Jose International Airport

From the San Jose Airport, some suggested travel itineraries are:

San Jose -> La Fortuna -> Monteverde -> Manuel Antonio -> San Jose

This route will give you a nice mix of jungle and beach. You could do 4 nights in La Fortuna, 2 nights in Monteverde, 4 nights in Manuel Antonio, and then end with a few nights near the airport to explore the hills above Alajuela.

San Jose -> Manuel Antonio -> Drake Bay or Puerto Jimenez -> Uvita -> San Jose

This route basically involves just heading south along the Pacific Coast. It’s the perfect route for nature lovers.

I suggest 3 nights in Manuel Antonio, 4 nights in Drake Bay or Puerto Jimenez to explore Corcovado National Park, 3 nights in Uvita to go on a whale-watching tour and hike at Nauyaca Waterfall, and then either stop at another beach town along the Pacific Coast or head back towards San Jose and explore the area near the airport.

San Jose -> La Fortuna -> Tortuguero -> Cahuita or Puerto Viejo -> San Jose

This route would be good in August or September when the Pacific Coast is experiencing peak rainy season and the Caribean Coast is dry. In Tortuguero at this time of year you can experience turtle nesting (which is AMAZING).

I suggest 4 nights in La Fortuna, 2 nights in Tortuguero and 3 nights in Cahuita or Puerto Viejo.

You could extend the time by staying south of Puerto Viejo near Manzanillo for a few nights. This is a good spot for pure beach relaxation.

Or, head into Panama and explore Bocas del Toro for a few nights. It’s absolutely beautiful, but the border crossing is a pain so I suggest giving yourself 3 or 4 nights here to make it worth it.

San Jose -> La Fortuna -> Monteverde -> Santa Teresa or Montezuma -> San Jose

This gives a good mix of jungle and beach. The Santa Teresa and Montezuma area are somewhat remote. Santa Teresa is popular with surfers and has a very surfer/ yoga enthusiast vibe. Montezuma is more relaxed. But, both towns have plenty of things to do.

From here, you can take the ferry to get back close to San Jose.

From Liberia International Airport

Liberia Airport -> Rincon de La Vieja -> Rio Celeste -> La Fortuna -> a Pacific Coast beach town such as Tamarindo, Playa Flamingo, or Playa Hermosa -> Liberia Airport

This will give you a really nice mix of cool jungle destinations and relaxing beach vibes. Rio Celeste is a bright blue waterfall that you almost have to see to believe. However, during the peak part of rainy season (August through mid-November) you might want to skip it because all the rain makes it lose its color.

As for a beach town, Tamarindo is somewhat bustling and popular with surfers. Playa Flamingo is just north of Tamarindo and has more condominium-style accommodations in hotel complexes. The area around Flamingo is known for having the best beaches in the country.

Costa Rica in Three Weeks

monteverde sunset

In three weeks you can see a lot of the country. You can explore both coasts and some stuff in between. 

I would also suggest spending several nights in just one beach town relaxing. Some good beach areas to just chill are; Uvita on the South Pacific Coast, Montezuma on the Nicoya Peninsula, Playa Avellanas in Guanacaste, and Playa Manzanillo on the South Caribbean Coast.

For more help, check out all of our detailed Costa Rica itineraries

Consider a Guided Tour

santa teresa costa rica

We used to be those people who planned trips all on our own because I thought it was cheaper.

However, in recent years I’ve realized that sometimes taking a guided tour can actually be a great option for traveling. They can often be cost-effective and allow you to easily explore things in a short amount of time without dealing with the stress of planning things all on your own. 

Here are our favorite guided tours in Costa Rica based on the length of time you have in the country.

Under 5 Day Tours of Costa Rica

Here are our top two picks for tours that are under 5 days.

Tropical Costa Rica 5 Days

⭐️ RATING: 5/5 Stars on Tour Radar | ✅ Book it!

Visit San Jose, Sarchi, La Fortuna, and Tortuguero on this fun-filled 5 day tour.

You will have the chance to; relax in a hot spring, take a wildlife boat tour in Tortuguero, and explore the city of San Jose.

Accommodations, guides, transportation, and some meals are included in the tour.

Tortuguero Jungle Expedition

⭐️ RATING: 4.6/5 Stars on Tour Radar | ✅ Book it!

This is a 3 day tour that goes from San Jose to the beautiful village of Tortuguero on the Caribbean Coast.

In Tortuguero, you will have the chance to take a wildlife canoe ride, take a nature hike with an experienced guide, and soak in all the Caribbean Coast vibes.

This is a really nice tour to add on to some other exploring in the country.

One Week Costa Rica Tours

Here are our favorite tours that last one week in Costa Rica.

Raft, Hike and Explore Costa Rica

⭐️ RATING: 4.8/5 Stars on Tour Radar | ✅ Book it!

This 7 day tour goes from San Jose to La Fortuna and Monteverde. You won’t get to enjoy the Costa Rica beaches, but you will get the chance to enjoy tons of jungle adventures.

Some activities that this tour includes are; white water rafting, nature walks, soaking in hot springs, horseback riding, and walking on hanging bridges.

Beaches & Nature Adventure 8D/7N

⭐️ RATING: 4.8/5 Stars on Tour Radar | ✅ Book it!

This 8 day/ 7 night adventure departs and returns to San Jose. The tour goes to La Fortuna, Monteverde, and Santa Teresa (a really cool surfing beach town).

You will have the chance to enjoy a walk around Arenal Volcano, a soak in hot springs, zip lining, and relaxing on the beach.

This is a really great tour that we highly recommend.

10 Day Tours in Costa Rica

Here are our favorite 10 day guided tours in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica Adventure

⭐️ RATING: 4.9/5 Stars on Tour Radar | ✅ Book it!

This fun-filled 10 day adventure goes from San Jose to La Fortuna, Monteverde, and ends in Santa Teresa. We like this tour because it doesn’t go to a ton of places so you can actually soak in the vibe of each town.

Some things you will enjoy along the way include; traditional cooking with local family, relaxing in volcanic hot springs, a wildlife night tour, zip lining, relaxing on the beach, and taking a yoga class.

The downside of this tour is that it ends in Santa Teresa. It is designed for people who would like to continue exploring Costa Rica with onward travel. However, they can help you organize a ride back to San Jose if you need.

Essential Costa Rica – Package

⭐️ RATING: 4.5/5 Stars on Tour Radar | ✅ Book it!

A 10-day tour that combines the Pacific Coast, Caribbean Coast, and some jungle exploration.

This tour goes from San Jose to Tortuguero, La Fortuna, Monteverde, Manuel Antonio, and back to San Jose again.

Along the way you will enjoy exploring Tortuguero National Park, ziplining, the La Fortuna waterfall, hiking through a cloud forest, visiting the most popular national park in the country, and so much more!

14 Day Tours of Costa Rica

The best of two week long tours in Costa Rica.

Basic Costa Rica: Coastlines & Cloud Forests

⭐️ RATING: 4.6/5 Stars on Tour Radar | ✅ Book it!

This 14 days tour starts and ends in San Jose. You will also get to visit; Puerto Viejo, La Fortuna, Monteverde, Santa Teresa, and Montezuma.

This tour does not include a lot of activities, but the price reflects that. Instead, you will be given the flexibility of choosing between numerous activities in each destination and paying for them separately.

Costa Rica Coast to Coast Ride

⭐️ RATING: 4.8/5 Stars on Tour Radar | ✅ Book it!

If you love bike riding this tour is perfect for you! I think it is such a unique concept.

This trip goes basically all over the country by bike. You will see some very unique off the beaten path spots and popular tourist destinations as well.

Also, don’t worry, a lot of biking is involved but some transfers between locations include bus rides or ferries as well.

Tips for Optimizing Your Trip

woman at rio celeste blue river

Here are our tips for making the most of your trip even if you only have a short amount of time to travel. 

There Are Two International Airports

When considering your trip always keep in mind that there are two international airports.

The San Jose International Airport is centrally located in the middle of the country next to the capital city of San Jose.

From here, it is easiest to get to the Caribbean Coast, Northern Mountains, and Central Pacific Coast. 

Travel Tip: A lot of people head straight from the airport area to the beaches or jungle, but actually there are some amazing things to see near the airport as well. If you want to tour a coffee farm or visit an active volcano crater, this area is perfect for that. Check out our guide to Alajuela (the town next to the airport) for more info.

The other international airport is Liberia International Airport. This airport is located in Guanacaste Province on the Pacific Coast near the border to Nicaragua. More and more airlines are starting to fly in to this airport.

The beaches here are some of the nicest in the country and the weather is the most stable in the country.

From here you can easily visit Rincon de la Vieja National Park (a volcanic national park filled with tons of adventures, Rio Celeste (a bright blue river and waterfall), La Fortuna, or Monteverde.

Pro Tip: You can always fly into one airport and out of the other. For example, you could fly into San Jose, go to Monteverde or La Fortuna, and end your trip at one of the beautiful beaches near Liberia Airport before flying home from Liberia. 

If you fly in and out of San Jose, it might be a good idea to spend your first day/ night near the airport. The sun sets around 5:30pm and we don’t suggest driving after dark on your first night since you won’t be used to the roads yet.

We have a guide to hotels near the San Jose Airport to help you plan that.

Consider Your Transportation Options

There are multiple transportation options in Costa Rica. These include domestic flight, rental car, shared shuttles, private shuttles, buses, and taxis (for short distances).

The fastest way to get between locations is definitely domestic flights. In Costa Rica, these domestic flights are actually typically not that crazy expensive. The downside is you will need to still figure out transportation once you arrive in your destination.

A rental car is typically our preferred transportation method because it gives you the most flexibility for exploring. It is the best way to easily get between places without having to depend on the schedule of shuttles or day trips with transportation.

If you are interested in renting a car, we have a 10% discount plus other great perks for you from our favorite Costa Rica rental car company, Adobe.

⤷ Find Out More and Get Your Costa Rica Car Rental Discount

How To Save Money

If you would like to extend your Costa Rica vacation but are concerned about the cost of traveling for an extended period of time, we get it! Costa Rica is definitely not a cheap country. 

There are a few things you can do to save money.

  • Travel at Off-Peak Times: The Costa Rica rainy season runs from mid-May through late November. During the rainy season, prices for hotels, transportation, and activities go wayyyy down. You may have to contend with some afternoon rain storms, but I actually think the rainy season is the best time to travel because everything is lush and green. The dry season is from mid-December until early May. Everything is more expensive at this time.
  • Visit Off The Beaten Path Destinations: Typically it is more affordable to stay at less popular destinations and small towns. You can check out our guide to off-the-beaten-path spots in Costa Rica for some ideas.

For more info on the cost of traveling and money-saving trips check out our guide to what you can expect to pay for a vacation in Costa Rica.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is important for any place you travel to, including Costa Rica. Travel insurance doesn’t just help protect you in the case of needing medical care but it also helps for if your travel plans change, if your luggage gets lost, if something gets stolen etc.

I will admit, this country can cause crazy things to happen. It is a tropical environment that you are probably not used to. When we first moved here my face swelled up to the point that I couldn’t even open my eye. Turns out that mango trees have the same oil as poison ivy, which I’m highly allergic to.

Who knew?

Travel insurance definitely came in handy for that incident!

Our go-to travel insurance in Costa Rica is HeyMondo, click here to see their plan options and get a quote.

Conclusion: Number of Days in Costa Rica

In conclusion, although Costa Rica is a small country there is so much to explore. It is best to give yourself time to soak up the vibe and actually relax in each place you visit. And remember that driving times often take longer than they may appear on a map.

If you have any questions about planning your trip to Costa Rica don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out!

You Might Also Like:

Costa Rica Travel Details: What You Need to Know

🚗 Should I rent a car in Costa Rica?

Having a rental car will give you the most flexibility when traveling in Costa Rica. This will also allow you to take fun day trips on your own.

🏄🏽 How can I book things to do?

We find that Viator tends to have the most comprehensive selection of activities with secure booking and good cancellation policies.

🍍 I’m overwhelmed with planning. Can you help?

Of course! I suggest joining our Facebook group for specific questions and head to our Start Here Page to get started planning.

✈️ What is the best way to book a flight?

Usually, we have the best luck finding great prices with Skyscanner. Check for flights to both San Jose Airport (SJO) and Liberia Airport (LIR).

🛏️ What is the best way to book my Costa Rica hotels?

We highly suggest for hotel bookings and typically use VRBO for Costa Rica vacation rentals.

🗣️What is the main language in Costa Rica?

The main language in Costa Rica is Spanish. Most people working in tourism speak at least some English.

💰 What is the currency in Costa Rica?

The currency used in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón (CRC). However, the US dollar is widely accepted in most tourist areas

📞 What is the best way to stay connected?

An eSIM from Airalo is the easiest way to get 4G data while traveling in Costa Rica.

🌴 Is Costa Rica safe?

Generally, Costa Rica is considered safe for tourists. However, like any travel destination, it’s best to use caution and be aware of your surroundings.

🛂 Do you need a passport to go to Costa Rica?

Yes, Costa Rica is its own country. You will need a passport to visit.