Costa Rica 7, 10, 15 or 20 day itineraries

Central America

Some countries seem to have been created for tourism and Costa Rica is one of them. With beaches, mountains, active and dormant volcanoes and tropical forest, nature was very generous in offering options for all tastes. So that you don't miss any attractions on your trip, we have prepared some travel itineraries for Costa Rica for 7, 10, 15 or 20 days. All ready to use or adapt to your style.

In addition to the exuberant nature, the country has an excellent infrastructure of roads and services, welcoming people and public safety. That's it: you have the complete cake recipe for an unforgettable holiday.

If what you are looking for is authenticity, you will find it in indigenous communities, in the gallo pinto (a rice and bean mixture, typical from there and other Central American countries) that is served at every breakfast, in the preservation of biodiversity , in the characteristic accent of the “ticos”, as Costa Ricans are affectionately called. It is also in “Pura Vida” way of life, marked by the smile on the face, tranquility and joy present in local daily life. It is no surprise that this has already been voted the happiest country in Latin America and one of the happiest in the world.

Puerto Viejo, in Costa Rica

Puerto Viejo. Foto: Shutterstock

Transport in Costa Rica: rental car or bus?

If you don't mind driving, renting a car can make your trip to Costa Rica a lot easier. You can easily do everything by bus, as the country has good road and transport infrastructure. The inconvenience, however, is that bus trips take twice as long, as the vehicles usually make several stops along the way. Furthermore, to go from one region of the country to another, it is almost inevitable to pass through San José more than once, as companies make the capital a major road hub.

Anyone who chooses to get behind the wheel can rest assured about the quality of the roads, but must be extra careful when driving, as many of them pass through mountainous regions and are full of curves. See here how to get cheaper car rentals in Costa Rica.

Buses departing and arriving from San José: to the Caribbean or La Fortuna

San José is a road hub that connects the country. Therefore, if you are going to use the bus system, it is likely that you will have to pass through the capital several times, as interurban lines usually leave and arrive there. There are several bus stations in the city, so it is important to know where the buses leave for your next destination. Check it out beforehand so you don't end up in the wrong place!

Some of the most frequent destinations for travelers leaving San José to explore the rest of the country are La Fortuna, a city at the foot of the Arenal volcano, in the north of the country, and Caribbean destinations, such as Puerto Viejo, Cahuita and Tortuguero.

How much does it cost and what currency to take to Costa Rica?

I'll be direct: Costa Rica is the most expensive country to travel to in Central America and leaves many others in Latin America to shame. If you passed through Nicaragua and Guatemala, then you might be shocked when you make the conversion there and see your expenses more than double. Those coming from Panama will see more similar costs, but still slightly higher.

The local currency is the Colón (USD 1 = 565 colones), but most tourist establishments accept payment in dollars, including supermarkets. Sometimes, however, the exchange rate they use will be unfavorable. I recommend bringing dollars and exchanging them in the country or withdrawing directly from ATMs (be careful with withdrawal fees), if you prefer not to carry all your cash. It's not worth exchanging reais for colones in Brazil.

Travel cost in the country:

  • A long neck beer in a bar costs between 2 and 3 dollars.
  • A lunch at a soda (local restaurants) or market costs between 5 and 8 dollars.
  • A fast food combo costs around 8 dollars.
  • Entrance fees to National Parks cost 16 dollars (except Cahuita, which is by voluntary donation).
  • Group tours cost between 40 and 80 dollars, depending on the tour.
  • Intercity bus tickets are cheap, costing between 5 and 15 dollars.
  • A bottle of water bought from a street vendor costs 1.50 dollars (it's cheaper in the supermarket, of course).

See some now Tips for planning your trip to Costa Rica and ideas for itineraries around the country.

Tips to save money on your trip

  • Eat at “sodas”, small family restaurants that offer typical, homemade food for much less than tourist restaurants. It's also worth giving the markets a try.
  • The tours are what will weigh most on the budget. Jokingly, a group tour of 20 people can cost 60 or 70 dollars. Paying this once isn't the end of the world, but filling all your days with them can triple your travel budget. Therefore, prefer to do things on your own (in this case, having a car helps a lot, as sometimes natural attractions are more difficult to access by public transport). Also avoid falling for the trick of tourism agencies that may sell programs that are not so interesting and even make you think that you NEED to see it before leaving. Do a lot of research and already have in mind what you want to do.
  • If you stay in hostels, you can find excellent shared rooms for up to 15 dollars, like the TripOn Hostel in San José (one of the best I've ever stayed in). Those traveling as a couple or pair can also pay more or less the same per person for double rooms in inns. You can find good deals here.

Use public transport, which is very cheap, when you need it.

Travel insurance in Costa Rica

Travel insurance is optional for entering Costa Rica, but we recommend that you never travel without one. It protects you in the event of any medical emergency, theft, lost luggage or the need to interrupt your trip due to some major unforeseen event. See below some recommended plans for Central America, with an exclusive discount for blog readers using coupon 360MERIDIANOS05:

Best time to visit Costa Rica

Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica

Cahuita. Photo: Shutterstock

It's hot all year round in Costa Rica, but you should always take coats for trips to volcanoes and at altitude, where the temperature drops a few degrees and the weather changes quickly. The country has two seasons, the dry season is the best for traveling and lasts from December to April. The rainy season is from May to November. Between May and August, you will face downpours, but you will be able to take advantage of the more attractive prices in the low season and you will find the most empty seats. After that, until November, it's tropical storm season and it gets more complicated. In addition to the weather, many roads end up closed at this time.

In the Caribbean, the weather is quite unstable and can experience all four seasons in the same day. Even in the dry season, there are almost daily showers, especially in the late afternoon, which soon pass and the sky opens up again. If you want blue skies and strong summer, better head to the Pacific beaches.

More travel tips for Costa Rica:
• What to do in San José, capital of Costa Rica
• Travel guide to La Fortuna and visit to Arenal Volcano
• Cahuita National Park: coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea
• Puerto Viejo: Surf, reggae and the Caribbean off the coast of Costa Rica

Itinerary for 7 to 10 days in Costa Rica: Nature and beaches in the Caribbean

Those arriving by air will probably disembark at Saint Joseph. On such a short trip, it's best not to waste too much time in the capital, which, although it has its charm, is not as interesting as the rest of the country. See our tips on where to stay in San José to make the most of the day.

The day after arrival, head to The Fortune, to the north, where you will stay for two days to discover the Arenal Volcano, the most famous in the country, and the thermal waters that spring up in the region. Then go to Tortuguero, a national park in the Caribbean that is a breeding ground for sea turtles. If you chose not to rent a car, the best way to make this journey is by hiring a private shuttle in La Fortuna. It is significantly more expensive than taking a bus, but it saves you time traveling back to San José.

Whatever your means of transport, you need to go to Puerto La Pavona and from there take a boat across the Río La Suerte to Tortuguero, which is not accessible by land (there is the option of flying there, however). Spend two or three days in the reserve. Afterwards, you have the option of returning to San José or heading south through the Caribbean to Old Port of Talamancafrom where you can visit the Cahuita National Park, which protects some of the best beaches in the country, and enjoy some of the hippie atmosphere of the place. If you have time, be sure to get to know the indigenous communities of Bribri and organic chocolate factories.

From Puerto Viejo, there are two alternatives: either you return to Saint Joseph or head towards Bull's mouthsnot Panama.

San Jose Costa Rica

San José. Foto: Shutterstock

15-day itinerary in Costa Rica: Nature and beaches in the Caribbean

This itinerary is an extension of the previous one, less busy and with some additions, especially if you have a car or can do everything by private shuttle, which saves time. Spend two days in Saint Josephhead north to The Fortune. And with a little more time there, you can also visit Rio Celeste e Monteverde. The first is a national park that holds a river of sky-blue water; the second is a small city that has one of the rarest ecosystems on the planet, a tropical forest rich in biodiversity, at an altitude of 1600 meters.

Then reach the Caribbean and the Tortuguero. Keep going down until Puerto Viejo and Cahuita and, from there, cross the country to the Pacific to the Manuel Antônio Nature Reserve7 kilometers from the city of Quepo, which also has a tropical forest + incredible beaches, surrounded by mountains.

Another option for this itinerary is to do the opposite route, starting in Manuel Antônio and ending in La Fortuna before returning to San José or continuing on to Nicaragua. Or even take the national park off your itinerary and head for a few days in Bull's mouths and, from there, fly to San José or Panama City.

Itinerary of 20 days or more in Costa Rica: From Nicaragua to Panama (and vice versa)

If your trip to Costa Rica is part of a larger itinerary through Central America, it is very likely that you will enter the country through Nicaragua or Panama, depending on the direction of your journey. If you come from Nicaragua, you will pass through the Panamerican Highway, which crosses the continent bordering the Pacific. Take advantage of this path to discover Tamarindo and Sámaratwo beach destinations in the north Pacific of the country – stay two days in each.

If you have a car, go to The Fortunewhere you will stay four days to also discover Monteverde e Rio Celeste. If you're taking a bus or want to get to know the country's capital, stop for two or three days in Saint Joseph before heading to La Fortuna. In the capital, also take the opportunity to discover the Irazú volcanothe highest in the country, and the La Paz Falls. From there, just follow the previous itineraries of Tortuguero until Old Port. Stay four more days in each one. From Puerto Viejo, it is easy to cross to Bocas del Toro by bus.

The Fortune, Sand Vulcan

The Fortune

By car, it is also easy to include Manuel Antonio in the itinerary, after Sámara. Just follow the Panamericana to Quepo, from there to San José and then La Fortuna.

If you are coming from Panama, just follow the route in reverse.

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