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The Perfect Week in Costa Rica: A Comprehensive 7-Day Itinerary for First-Time Visitors (2023)

Rio Celeste Waterfall in Costa Rica, top reasons to visit Costa Rica in 2022, 2023, 2024.
Arriving at Rio Celeste waterfall.

Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful countries in Central America. You could easily spend weeks in Costa Rica and not experience everything the country offers. If you're planning a trip but don't know where to begin, we created a short and easy-to-follow itinerary below to help you make the most of your time while in Costa Rica!

Note: You will need a car and a GPS to follow this itinerary. For internet on the go, we recommend purchasing a prepaid data SIM card in the airport or downtown San Jose. The three leading providers are Kölbi, Movistar, and Claro. Last, stay on the paved roads even if your GPS tells you otherwise. When Elli and I traveled to Costa Rica, we followed our GPS down a dirt road, and it took us nearly three hours to find civilization again!

Day 1: San Jose

The Best Airbnb's in San Jose, Costa Rica in 2022, 2023, 2024.
Our Airbnb in San Jose.

San Jose is the capital city of Costa Rica, and you can easily see the best of the city in one day. As soon as you arrive in San Jose, there is no time to waste. Pick up your rental car at the airport and head downtown San Jose to begin exploring the city at your leisure! We recommend starting with a visit to the pre-Columbian gold museum, followed by a stop at the famous National Theatre. End your day with dinner and dancing at a typical Costa Rican restaurant called "sodas."

Tip: A "Soda" is a local restaurant that serves regional cuisine for a very affordable price. You can find Sodas all across Costa Rica.

Typical Casado meal from a soda in Costa Rica.
Typical "casado" meal from a soda.

Day 2: La Fortuna

Selina Hostel in La Fortuna, Costa Rica.
Our hostel in La Fortuna.

Start your day early to begin your four-hour drive to La Fortuna. La Fortuna is a lovely small town located in the Arenal district of Costa Rica. The small town is a popular destination due to its proximity to the volcano and its many natural attractions. Visitors can go hiking, birdwatching, horseback riding, and zip-lining through the rainforest. La Fortuna is also home to several hot springs, a popular spot for visitors to relax and soak up the scenery. With so much to see and do, La Fortuna is a great place to visit for any traveler looking to experience the natural beauty of Costa Rica.

Tip: We recommend booking two nights in La Fortuna to take advantage of all the activities in the area.

Day 3: Arenal Volcano

Best secret view from the Arenal volcano in Costa Rica.
Awesome view from the Arenal volcano.

Did you know Arenal Volcano is one of the most active volcanoes in Costa Rica? You can easily reach Arenal Volcano in under 20 minutes if you drive from La Fortuna.

Arenal is a symmetrical cone-shaped volcano that rises 1,633 meters above sea level. The Arenal region is also home to many hot springs, which are popular amongst travelers. The last major eruption of the Arenal volcano occurred in 1968 when the northeast flank of the volcano collapsed. Despite its reputation as a dangerous volcano, Arenal is now one of Costa Rica's most popular destinations. Visitors can hike to the volcano summit, relax in the hot springs, or take a cable car ride over the lava fields.

Tip: If climbing Volcanos is not really your thing, head to the Rio Celeste waterfall, which is 1 1/2 hours from La Fortuna!

Rio Celeste in Costa Rica. Unbelievable blue water in Costa Rica, a must visit in 2022, 2023, 2024.
Elli in Rio Celeste.

Day 4: Monteverde Cloud Forest

Suspension bridge inside Monte Verde's Cloud Forest. Must see places in Costa Rica in 2022, 2023, 2024.
Suspension bridge inside Monte Verde's Cloud Forest.

Start your day early to begin your three-hour drive to Monteverde Cloud Forest. The mystical Monteverde Cloud Forest is one of Earth's most unique and biodiverse ecosystems. Found in the mountains of Costa Rica, this forest is home to an incredible variety of plant and animal life. Monteverde is perhaps best known for its population of quetzals, a brightly-colored bird that is the national symbol of Costa Rica. However, the Monteverde Cloud Forest is also home to thousands of other species, including jaguars, sloths, and howler monkeys. Monteverde Cloud Forest feels like something out of a fairy tale with its misty atmosphere and towering trees. No wonder this magical place attracts visitors from all over the world!

Tip: Watch where you step! During our visit to the cloud forest, Elena almost stepped on a giant black snake!

Day 5: Manuel Antonio National Park

Leafcutter ants in Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica. Ants carrying leaves in Costa Rica.
Leafcutter ants in Manuel Antonio National Park.

Start your day extra early to begin your four-hour drive to Manuel Antonio National Park. The park is one of Costa Rica's most beautiful and well-known national parks. The park is situated on the central Pacific coast and covers an area of 4,988 acres. Manuel Antonio was established as a national park in 1972 to protect the park's many endangered species, including the scarlet macaw and the white-faced capuchin monkey. The park also contains a wide variety of plant life, including over 100 species of trees. Enjoy your day at the park's stunning beaches, hiking trails, and wildlife.

Tip: While in Manuel Antonio, check out the famous restaurant "El Avion" (the Airplane). This unique establishment serves food and drinks from inside a C-123 Fairchild cargo airplane with sea views!

Day 6: Jaco and San Jose

On day six, head out early to the coastal town of Jaco to enjoy a beautiful morning relaxing by the beach. Jaco is a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Manuel Antonio and has plenty of cozy cafes and restaurants along the coast. After you soak up some sun, you can either spend the night there or start your drive back to San Jose if you have an early flight to catch the following day. The drive from Jaco to San Jose is one-and-a-half-hour.

Day 7: End of Your Journey

Delicious house ice-cream from "La Sorbetera de Lolo Mora" in San Jose Costa Rica.
Delicious house ice-cream from "La Sorbetera de Lolo Mora"

Wake up early for your flight back home. Although, if you have a few hours to spare before your flight, we recommend heading to the Central Market for your last opportunity to eat some amazing food. Don't miss out on "La Sorbetera de Lolo Mora," a traditional cinnamon homemade ice cream!

In summary, Costa Rica is a beautiful and diverse country with something for everyone - adventure seekers, history buffs, nature lovers, and foodies can find something to enjoy. With careful planning, it's easy to make the most of your time and see everything this unique country offers. We hope you have an incredible trip! ¡Pura Vida!

Final Note: Travel times can be longer than predicted due to road closures and small curvy roads with few opportunities to overtake slow-moving trucks. Also, it is good to note that it rains pretty often in Costa Rica, sometimes to the point where your driving visibility is zero. If you are caught in a rainstorm, simply find a safe spot to pull over and wait till the rain passes. Finally, don't speed, and stay alert! During our drive in Costa Rica, we encountered falling rocks, animals on the road, and people riding bikes on the most unexpected roads.


Have you ever traveled to Costa Rica? What was your favorite to visit there? Let us know in the comments below!


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