Ultimate Costa Rica Travel Itinerary (10 Days) 🌿
Costa Rica is often called the “land of the Pura Vida,” which means “pure life” in Spanish. This phrase represents the country’s laid-back and relaxed way of life, as well as its commitment to sustainable living, environmental conservation, and enjoying life to the fullest.
Pura Vida is not just a saying, but a way of life that reflects the country’s positive outlook, friendly people, and stunning natural beauty!
After exploring this gorgeous slice of Central America for myself, I can assure you that travelling here will exceed your expectations.
However, with so much natural beauty, it can be hard to narrow down the best places to go in this incredible country.
So to help you decide, I’ve highlighted below my Costa Rica travel itinerary (10 days), which includes all of the best places to visit in Costa Rica, as well as my insider travel tips.
PS. If time is on your side, I highly recommend adding at least an extra day or two in each place!
Costa Rica Travel Itinerary 10 Days:
🇨🇷 Days 1-2: San Jose 🇨🇷
The best place to start your Costa Rica adventure is the capital city, San Jose. This is a vibrant and cosmopolitan destination that offers a mix of history, culture, and modern amenities.
As the cultural capital of Costa Rica, the city has so many museums, galleries, theatres, and other awesome attractions just waiting to be explored!
Best Activities in San Jose:
Immersed in the rich cultural tapestry of Costa Rica since 1978, the The Museo De Arte Costarricense serves as a vibrant tribute to the nation’s artistic heritage, spanning from the 19th century to contemporary times.
You’ll find an eclectic mix of art forms here, from the masterpieces of renowned Costa Rican artists to the promising work of emerging talents. Notably, the museum also appreciates global influences, hosting works by international artists who have left a significant imprint on the country’s art landscape.
Overall, this is the perfect place to lose yourself in the cultural exploration of Costa Rica!
The Toucan Rescue Ranch is one of the top things to do in Costa Rica, as it does amazing work for the conservation and rehabilitation of wildlife, providing a safe haven for gorgeous birds, like toucans, owls, and macaws.
This is undoubtedly one of the most wholesome places to visit on your Costa Rica travel itinerary.
In terms of where to see sloths in Costa Rica, you’re guaranteed to see them here! You’ll get an up close glimpse and learn all about their stories, as well as the conservation efforts being undertaken to protect them.
Overall, the ranch is a wonderful place to visit if you’re interested in wildlife conservation and the natural beauty of Costa Rica.
Another amazing thing to do on your 10 day Costa Rica itinerary is spending a few hours at Mercado Central, San Jose. This has been a Costa Rica landmark for over 100 years and is even listed as a national monument.
You can sample authentic and seriously tasty food here, like Gallo Pinto, Casado, Empanadas, and Tamales. This is also one of the best places in Costa Rica to do some souvenir shopping.
Where to Eat in San Jose:
After lots of recommendations for this place, we checked out Restaurant Silvestre for ourselves.
From the moment you step into the restaurant you’ll fall in love, as it occupies a beautiful period house in Amó.
At Restaurant Silvestre, I highly recommend trying their renowned ‘Costa Rican Round Trip Tasting menu.’ Employing a Farm-to-Table concept, this incredible menu features a range of dishes that showcase local Costa Rican ingredients and flavours.
Each course is practically a work of art and it truly felt like a Michelin star experience! This has GOT to be the best restaurant in San Jose (I would even argue in all of Costa Rica, it’s that epic!).
If you’re looking for the best nightlife in Costa Rica, San Jose is the place to be! For bars, clubs, and live music venues, check out lively areas like El Pueblo, Escalante, and La California 🍹 🎉
Where to Stay in San Jose:
We stayed at the Radisson, which is one of the best luxury hotels in San Jose, offering the perfect combo of comfort, convenience and fantastic amenities (including a gym, swimming pool, spa, and multiple dining options). It’s right in the heart of the city, making it the perfect base to explore all San Jose has to offer.
🌿 Days 3-4: Tortuguero National Park 🐊
For the next part of your Costa Rican travel itinerary, head to Tortuguero National Park, which is one of the world’s most important nesting sites for the endangered green sea turtle.
Due to its remoteness, getting here is an adventure in itself!
Firstly, you’ll need to travel to either La Pavona or Cariari, which is about a 2 to 3-hour drive from San José. From there, you’ll take a scenic 1 hour boat ride along the river to Tortuguero National Park.
Alternatively, for a quicker but more expensive option, there are small domestic flights available from San José to Tortuguero.
Best Activities in Tortuguero:
If you’re looking for black sand beaches in Costa Rica, Tortuguero is one of the best places to see it. An endless expanse of ebony-hued sand unfolds here, stretching all the way to Nicaragua.
Free from the trappings of touristy crowds, these beaches invite you to experience tranquility in its purest form!
I highly recommend booking a guided boat trip along Tortuguero’s tropical canals in search of wildlife. On our tour, we spotted caimans, monkeys, sloths, and an amazing variety of birds!
Where to Stay in Tortuguero:
If you’re a nature lover, spending a couple days in the park is ideal, as it’s one of the most biodiverse areas in the world.
With some advance planning, I booked the popular Mawamba Lodge. This is a top place to stay in Tortuguero National Park as it’s literally right in the heart of it in the most peaceful and beautiful setting!
🌋 Days 5-6: Head to La Fortuna 🌋
After a couple of days in Tortuguero National Park, head to La Fortuna for the next part of your Costa Rica travel itinerary 10 days.
This is a charming town in northern Costa Rica, surrounded by stunning natural beauty, including the Arenal Volcano, lush rainforest, and cascading waterfalls.
To get here, you’ll need to get a boat from the National Park to La Pavona, taking around an hour. From La Pavona, drive or get a shuttle to La Fortuna, which takes about 3 hours. It’s well worth the adventure getting to La Fortuna I promise!
What makes La Fortuna so special? The streets here are lined with colourful buildings, quaint little shops, and restaurants serving delicious local cuisine. I seriously loved the laid-back atmosphere of the town, which makes it super easy to enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
Best Activities in La Fortuna:
In terms of things to do in La Fortuna, one of the best activities is visiting Ecotermales Fortuna (pictured below), which is a hot spring offering a truly serene experience.
This spring has several natural pools surrounded by the rainforest, which creates a heavenly atmosphere. It also serves delicious tropical cocktails!
For adventure seekers, there’s a range of thrilling outdoor activities to do in La Fortuna as well, such as hiking, zip-lining, and white water rafting. There’s genuinely something for everyone here.
Where to Stay in La Fortuna:
We stayed at Arenal Manoa Resort & Hot Springs, which is a luxurious resort set amidst tropical gardens and overlooking the Arenal Volcano.
If you don’t have time to visit Ecotermales Fortuna, this resort is ideal, as it even has its own thermal springs that are naturally heated by the Volcano!
This is undeniably the best place to stay in La Fortuna and well worth splurging on I can assure you!
☁️ Days 7-8: Discover Monteverde Cloud Forest 🦜
Next up on the Costa Rican travel itinerary is Monteverde Cloud Forest, which is a natural wonder located in the northern part of the country. It’s a unique destination in Costa Rica that offers a glimpse into the cloud forest ecosystem, which is only found in certain parts of the world.
It’s estimated that there’s over 2,500 plant species, 400 bird species, and 100 mammal species living within the forest. Some of the more iconic species include the resplendent quetzal, the three-wattled bellbird, and the jaguar.
Traveling from La Fortuna to the Monteverde Cloud Forest involves a scenic journey across Lake Arenal and then overland through beautiful countryside.
First, take a 30-minute taxi or shuttle to Lake Arenal, followed by a 45-minute boat ride across the lake. Once you disembark, a 1.5-hour drive will take you the rest of the way to Monteverde.
Best Things to do in Monteverde:
Canopy tours are one of the top things to do in Monteverde, consisting of zip-lining through the forest from one platform to another, suspended high above the ground and experiencing the forest from a bird’s-eye view.
The exhilaration of being suspended in the air and gliding through the canopy is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that’s sure to get your heart racing!
Top Monteverde travel tip: In January this mountainous town was surprisingly cold, but luckily I’d come from baltic England and had a warm coat in my luggage! So, if you plan on visiting Monteverde, be sure to add warm clothing to your Costa Rica packing list!
Where to Stay in Monteverde:
We stayed at arguably the best hotel in Monteverde – El Establo Mountain Hotel. This incredible hotel is nestled in the midst of a vibrant forest, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
Every morning an adorable and friendly white-nosed coati (pictured below) was waiting for us outside our room!
If you do decide to stay here, I highly recommend a visit to the on-site Green Leaf Spa for an incredible massage in the mountains.
🦋 Days 9 – 10: Experience Manuel Antonio National Park 🦋
The last stop on the Costa Rica travel itinerary for 10 days is Manuel Antonio National Park, which is a tropical paradise located on the central Pacific coast.
This beautiful park is home to lush rainforests, pristine beaches, and an incredible array of wildlife, making it truly one of the most picturesque destinations in the world.
Traveling from Monteverde to Manuel Antonio National Park typically involves a 4 hour drive. Keep in mind that road conditions can vary and some sections can be quite rough.
What makes Manuel Antonio National Park so special is its unique blend of natural beauty and biodiversity.
The park is home to over 100 species of mammals, including monkeys, sloths, and anteaters, as well as literally hundreds of species of birds, reptiles, and amphibians.
Best Things to do in Manuel Antonio:
In the crystal-clear and warm waters surrounding the park, you can often spot a variety of marine life, like dolphins and whales, making it one of the best places to do snorkelling in Costa Rica.
If you’re looking for white sand beaches in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio is also the place to be! It’s so easy to spend the afternoon relaxing and soaking up the scenery in this stunning part of the country.
This place is seriously epic and an absolute must on any 10 day Costa Rica travel itinerary.
Where to Stay in Manuel Antonio National Park:
We stayed at Hotel Playa Espadilla & Gardens, which is on of the best places to stay in Manuel Antonio. It’s just 200m from the National Park and features a gorgeous outdoor swimming pool that’s super Instagram worthy.
However, if none of my hotel recommendations appeal, you can easily find the best Costa Rica accommodation deals to suit your budget using Hotellook below:
🏖️ Things to Know When Traveling to Costa Rica 🏖️
🗣️ Official Language
The official language of Costa Rica is Spanish. However, English is also widely spoken, particularly in tourist areas.
The official currency is the Costa Rican colón (CRC). However, U.S. dollars are also widely used.
Credit and debit cards are widely accepted, but it’s always a good idea to have some local currency on you.
ATMs are readily available in larger towns/ urban areas where you can withdraw colónes directly.
✈️ Best Time to Travel to Costa Rica?
The best time to visit Costa Rica depends on the activities you’ve planned and the regions you want to visit.
The country has a tropical climate with two main seasons: Dry Season (December to April) and Rainy Season (May to November).
🌞 Costa Rica Dry Season (December to April) Pros and Cons:
- Pros: Sunny weather with little to no rain, making it ideal for outdoor activities like hiking, beach-going, and wildlife watching.
- Cons: Higher crowds and prices, celebrating Christmas in Costa Rica is particularly expensive, as are the Easter holidays.
🌧 Costa Rica Rainy Season (May to November):
- Pros: Lush green landscapes, excellent surf conditions, and lower crowds and prices (this is the cheapest time to fly to Costa Rica).
- Cons: Frequent rain showers, which can make some activities more challenging, such as hiking and wildlife watching.
Overall, the best time to visit Costa Rica is during the Dry Season, particularly if you’re planning on visiting the Pacific coast or doing outdoor activities.
However, if you’re interested in seeing wildlife or visiting the Caribbean coast, the Rainy Season might be a better option.
How Much is a Trip to Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is often considered one of the pricier countries in Central America, especially when compared to its neighbours like Nicaragua and Guatemala. That being said, it’s still significantly cheaper than many destinations in North America and Western Europe.
Costs can fluctuate depending on the region, the type of accommodation, and the activities chosen. For example, Manuel Antonio and Arenal can be more expensive, especially for accommodations and tours.
However, more off-the-beaten-path destinations and local eateries can provide more budget-friendly options. Public transportation is quite affordable and food costs can be kept down by eating at local ‘sodas’ (small restaurants).
Is Costa Rica Safe?
As for safety, Costa Rica is generally regarded as one of the safest countries in Central America for tourists. The country has a stable democracy, a disarmed population, and a friendly local culture, making Costa Rica solo travel a great idea!
Petty theft, like pickpocketing or bag-snatching, can occur, especially in tourist-heavy areas, so it’s always wise to stay vigilant and take precautions. However, more serious crime is less common, especially against tourists. In general, most visitors to Costa Rica have a trouble-free stay and enjoy the warm hospitality of the locals.
The stunning landscapes and incredible biodiversity of Costa Rica make it a top destination for travellers from all over the world.
Whether you’re looking for adventure, relaxation, or a chance to connect with nature, Costa Rica truly has something for everyone.
So, if you have 10 days to spare, why not complete this 10 day Costa Rica itinerary yourself?
I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed with the magic of this tropical paradise! ✨
Costa Rica Travel Map
Here’s a Costa Rica map pinning all of my recommended travel destinations in Costa Rica:
Top Tours in Costa Rica
TourRadar has some amazing Costa Rica tours – I’ve travelled all over the world using their platform and always had a fantastic time!
These are some of the best Costa Rica trips currently on offer ⁀➷
- Costa Rica Quest
- Costa Rica: See & Experience it ALL in 11 Days, 1st Class Custom Tours
- Essential Costa Rica – Package with Manuel Antonio National Park
Best Travel Insurance for Costa Rica
Travel insurance is essential – it will save you thousands if something goes wrong on your 10 Day Costa Rica itinerary.
Do note that travel insurance is particularly crucial for Costa Rica due to the country’s adventurous activities and remote areas.
For me, Nomad Insurance with SafetyWing is the best choice for Costa Rica, as it covers emergency medical evacuation and bedside visits, starting at just $42 per 4 weeks.
What I particularly love about SafetyWing Insurance is that you can use it as a subscription service. This means that rather than having to pay for an entire year upfront, you’re only charged every 28 days (until you cancel), which is ideal if you’re only doing a 10 day Costa Rica itinerary!
Check SafetyWing Insurance out for yourself here:
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