10-Day Costa Rica Itinerary: Best Things to Do in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a beautiful country with rainforests, cloud forests, volcanoes, and dreamy beaches. Spending 10 days in Costa Rica is a good amount of time to see the highlights of the country. This 10-Day Costa Rica Itinerary will take you on an incredible road trip to La Fortuna, Arenal Volcano, Monteverde, Manuel Antonio National Park and Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula.
10-Day Costa Rica Itinerary
When to Visit Costa Rica
The best time to visit Costa Rica is during the dry season which runs from December through April. If you are looking to travel when it is less busy and you are okay with some rain, May and June would be a good time. September through November is the height of the rainy season which will make it harder to do activities and make it difficult to spot wildlife.
How to Get Around Costa Rica
By Rental Car
Renting a car in Costa Rica can be expensive, especially during the high season, but it is worth it if you want to make the most of your trip. For this 10-day Costa Rica itinerary I recommend renting a car as it will be significantly easier to get to off the beaten path destinations in Costa Rica. Make sure to book your rental car as early as possible, as rates get more expensive. Keep in mind Costa Rican rental car companies will add personal liability coverage fees and other taxes, so expect a higher rate than what you are seeing while booking.
Many people rent a 4×4 in Costa Rica. While a high clearance vehicle can be helpful on certain dirt roads, a 4×4 car is not necessary. You could do this road trip in a sedan, but it may take you longer since you’ll have to drive slower. We rented a manual Suzuki Jimny and never ended up using the 4×4 capabilities.
By Public Transportation
Costa Rica has busses that connect most of the country. The busses are operated by private companies and there is not one general bus station. This is a good option if you are looking to save money, but it will be helpful to know Spanish if you choose this option. To make sure you have the most up to date bus times and destinations, make sure to check with your hotel or Airbnb.
10-Day Costa Rica Itinerary
Click on this map to view the interactive map on Google My Maps.
Day 1: Arrive in San Jose and Drive to La Fortuna
If you have extra time you could spend a day visiting museums in San Jose and exploring the downtown, but otherwise I recommend driving straight to La Fortuna.
The drive from Juan Santamaria International Airport to La Fortuna is about 2.5 hours. When you arrive to La Fortuna you can eat at one of the many restaurants in the town.
Where to Stay in La Fortuna
La Fortuna has a range of accommodations you can choose from, ranging from hostels to luxury hotels. I recommend looking for an exciting Airbnb with a great view of Arenal. There are many airbnb options that are significantly cheaper than the luxury hotels and are located close to the town. It is helpful to have a car in La Fortuna as many of the activities are a drive from the town.
Day 2: Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges and Mirador El Silencio
Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges
On your second day in Costa Rica, eat breakfast Red Frog Coffee Roasters on the way to Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges. Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges has a 3.2 km trail where you can take a nice walk through the rainforest and see views of Arenal (on a clear day). You can pay for the entrance fee and explore the park on your own, or you can reserve a guided tour. We walked the trail without a tour and got to see howler monkeys and many colorful birds.
Mirador El Silencio (Hike near Arenal)
Next drive to Mirador El Silencio which is a nature reserve with beautiful hiking trails through the rainforest. The trail takes you to the 1968 lava flows and rewards you with incredible views of Arenal Volcano. One of our favorite activities during our 10 days in Costa Rica was hiking this trail as we got to enjoy the views to ourselves and be able to see animals. The trail is about a 3 mile loop, and you will most likely only see people near the lava flows since there are tourist busses that take people directly there.
Day 3: Catarata Río Fortuna and Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio
Catarata Río Fortuna
Start the day visiting the breathtaking 70 meter high Fortuna Waterfall. This is the biggest waterfall that you will see on this 10-day Costa Rica itinerary. After purchasing your tickets, you can walk into the park where you will see a view of the waterfall from above. To get to the waterfall you will walk down about 530 steps in the beautiful rainforest. If conditions allow, you have the option to swim in the pool the waterfall drops into or in the Fortuna River, so don’t forget your bathing suit. Take in views of the rainforest and the native plants as you make your way back up the 530 steps. Make sure to bring comfortable shoes and water!
Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio
Drive about 1.5 hours from La Fortuna to Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio. The park is open until 2 pm and it is busiest in the morning when the tours are coming through. Around noon the park gets significantly quieter, which is why I recommended to go to La Fortuna Waterfall first.
At this park you will follow a trail through the rainforest to a bright blue waterfall, lagoon, and river. On the hike you may be able to see animals such as toucans, woodpeckers, coatis, and many different kinds of birds.
I recommend taking the trail all the way to the end and going down to the waterfall on the way back once most of the tours have left. You will see a beautiful blue lagoon on your way, surrounded by lush plants and then have a nice walk along the bright blue river which will eventually take you the mixing point (Teñidero). The beautiful blue color is created when Rio Buenavista and Quebrada Agria mix.
On the way back go down about 200 steps to Catarata Río Celeste, the bright blue waterfall that this park is most known for. You cannot swim in this water but you can enjoy the waterfall as you make your way down the stairs and onto the designated platform.
Day 4: Hot Springs in La Fortuna then Drive to Monteverde
A visit to La Fortuna is not complete without a visit to the hot springs. There are many different options for enjoying the hot springs including a free location where you can float in the natural springs, cheaper maintained pools, and luxury resort-style hot springs and amenities. The hot springs offer a great break from hiking during your 10 days in Costa Rica.
While on the more expensive side, we decided to spend our time at Tabacón Hot Springs which is one of the nicer resort-style hot springs, and we had an incredible time. Tabacón Hot Springs has several cascading pools with temperatures ranging from 72 to 105 degrees as you make your way up to the higher pools. The water is true thermal water that is naturally heated by the volcano.
I recommend purchasing the morning ticket option with lunch so you can enjoy the hot springs in the morning when they are less busy and eat a nice lunch before driving to Monteverde. The lunch included is a three course meal with an appetizer, main course, and desert. You will get to choose your appetizer and main course from a specific menu and there are several options. When you book your ticket make sure to select the time you want to eat lunch.
Drive to Monteverde
The drive from La Fortuna to Monteverde takes about three hours. The beginning of the drive borders Lake Arenal and there are certain viewpoints where you can stop and see Lake Arenal with Arenal Volcano in the distance. Make sure to drive when there is still light out as the roads closer to Monteverde are not paved and it will be more difficult to drive on them in the dark.
When you get to Monteverde you can select from a range of options for dinner such as Morphos Restaurant, Restaurante Thomas & Thiago, Tarmonti and more.
Where to Stay in Monteverde
There are many unique guesthouses and airbnbs in Monteverde with incredible views. I recommend not staying right in the town center as it gets busy, but close enough where you can get to food options within a 10 minute drive. We stayed at this Airbnb that was a few minutes drive from the town and had beautiful views.
Day 5: Selvatura Adventure Park and La Reserva Bosque Nuboso Santa Elena
Selvatura Adventure Park: Canopy Tour and Treetop Walkway
Start your 5th day in Costa Rica with breakfast at Orchid Coffee where you can choose from a list of options and can get the food to-go if you are short on time. Then drive to Selvatura Adventure Park for zip lining (canopy tour) and a beautiful rainforest walk on hanging bridges. I recommend booking your tour ahead of time as it is possible for the tours to sell out. You can reserve the Gold Pack to do both the canopy tour and treetop walkway suspension bridges. There are lockers that you can buy a lock and key for to store your bags while you are on the Canopy Tour.
The Canopy Tour at Selvatura has 13 cables that guide you above the cloud forest. The longest cable is the last one at 1 km where you can glide above the cloud forest with breathtaking views. Overall the length of the cables add up to 2.2 miles. You will also get the opportunity to do the Tarzan Swing which is a fun experience. A canopy tour is a must-do on your 10-day Costa Rica Itinerary, especially while in Monteverde.
After the Canopy Tour you will walk over to the Treetop Walkway which is a beautiful 1.9-mile trail through the cloud forest. The trail has 8 bridges that range from 170 ft to 560 ft in length. Experiencing the cloud forest from the suspension bridges allows you to enjoy it from unique perspectives.
Reserva Bosque Nuboso Santa Elena
Make the quick drive from Selvatura Adventure park to Reserva Bosque Nuboso Santa Elena for a magical cloud forest hike. Santa Elena is less busy than Monteverde Cloud Forest and you can enjoy it almost all to yourself. There are several trails you can take with varying lengths and views. We did a big loop trail around the park and got to see many large trees and exciting plants.
Day 6: Monteverde Cloud Forest, Coffee and Chocolate Tour
Monteverde Cloud Forest
Start the day with breakfast at Stella’s Monteverde where you can watch wildlife while enjoying your breakfast. We saw a Capuchin monkey, Toucan, and many colorful birds here.
One of the best things to do in Costa Rica is visit Monteverde Cloud Forest. To visit Monteverde Cloud Forest you can either go on your own or book a guided tour through your accommodation or a tour company. The are several trail options at Monteverde Cloud Forest that you can follow and have the opportunity to see animals. I recommend starting with Quebrada Cuecha trail to the waterfall and then looping back with Sendero Tosi. You can then continue a bigger loop by combining multiple trails through the cloud forest. We saw several different birds and lots of beautiful plants. After your visit go across the street to Cafe Colibri where you can enjoy a snack while watching hummingbirds.
Don Juan Coffee and Chocolate Tour
Don Juan Coffee and Chocolate Tour is an interesting tour that walks you through the process of growing and making chocolate and coffee. Make sure to reserve a tour time in advance so you don’t miss out. During the tour you will also get to taste coffee and chocolate as learn about the process. The tour is very interactive and was a great experience.
Day 7: Quepos, Espadilla Sur Beach, and Manuel Antonio Beach
Drive 3.5 hours from Monteverde to Quepos. The beginning of the drive is very interesting and you get to see views of the cloud forest from afar. Quepos is the town you will stay in when visiting Manuel Antonio National Park. On the way to Quepos make sure to stop at the crocodile bridge, located above the river Tarcoles.
When you arrive at Manuel Antonio National Park you can relax at Espadilla Sur Beach and Manuel Antonio Beach. If you have time and want to see more animals, you can book a mangrove tour of Isla Damas.
Day 8: Manuel Antonio National Park, Drive to Sierpe, Boat to Drake Bay
Manuel Antonio National Park
Manual Antonio National Park is one of the most popular places to visit in Costa Rica. I recommend reserving a guided tour for the morning in Manuel Antonio National Park in order to see many animals. The guide is very helpful in spotting animals and you will learn a lot about the plants and the animals. In Manuel Antonio National Park you can find Capuchin Monkeys, Howler Monkeys, Squirrel Monkeys, Toucans, Iguanas, Sloths, and more.
Drive to Sierpe and Boat to Drake Bay
If you are interested in seeing a very remote part of Costa Rica where you can see many more animals in their natural habitat, you should visit the Osa Peninsula. The best place to stay in order to visit Serena Stations at Corcovado National Park is Drake Bay. To get to Drake Bay you will need to drive 2 hours from Manuel Antonio National Park to Sierpe. In Sierpe you will be able to park your car for a fee overnight and take a boat to Drake Bay. There are two boats a day to Drake Bay, one at 11:30 AM ($15 per person) and the second at 4:00 PM ($20 per person). I recommend arriving at least 20 minutes early in order to have time to park and load the boat with your belongings. Make sure you have enough cash to pay for the boat both ways. Check with your accommodation in Drake Bay ahead of time regarding the latest boat times and prices.
The boat leaves from La Perla Del Sur and guides you through the Sierpe River to the Pacific Ocean and to Drake Bay. If you are staying at a hotel further away from Drake Bay you can let the captain know before boarding the boat and they will drop you off closer to your hotel, with an extra fee. Drake Bay is very small so from the beach you should be able to walk to your hotel within 10 minutes on the dirt roads. There are several restaurants in the town and a few small convenience stores but they don’t have much inventory so make sure you have everything you need for the next couple of days before heading to Drake Bay.
Day 9: Corcovado National Park
You can book a tour to Corcovado National Park through your Drake Bay accommodation. I recommend contacting the hotel ahead of time to book your tour. The tour starts around 6 am with an hour boat ride to Corcovado, Serena Station. You will spend about 5 hours in the park and then take the boat back to Drake Bay where you will eat lunch. The tour finishes around 2, so you will have plenty of time after the park to relax on the beach. If you want to spend more time at Corcovado National Park there are overnight options which you can enquire about through your hotel.
At Corcovado National Park you could have the chance to see Tapirs, Squirrel Monkeys, Spider Monkeys, and more. Sirena Station area has many animals close by so you won’t have to walk far to spot animals.
Day 10: Return to San Jose to fly home
On your last day take the morning boat ride back from Drake Bay to Sierpe. The drive to San Jose from Sierpe is about 5 hours if you go the more scenic route through the mountains between Parque Nacional Tapantí and Parque Nacional Los Quetzales. This route has incredible views and is worth the extra 20-30 minutes. Make sure you are comfortable driving on windy roads if you choose to go on this route.
If you need to stay a night near the airport, Escazú is a nice area which is only 20-30 minutes away.
If you have more than 10 days in Costa Rica
If you have more time to spend in Costa Rica there are many more beautiful sights you can see. The list below are some of the other top things to do in Costa Rica in addition to this 10 day itinerary.
- If you have time on the way back to San Jose from Sierpe you could stop at Nauyaca waterfalls. The waterfalls can be reached by hiking 2 miles each way or paying an extra fee to be taken to the waterfall by a truck. At the end you’ll reach a 45 meter high fall and a 20 meter high fall with a pool at the bottom where you could swim.
- Spend a day in San Jose where you can visit the National Museum of Costa Rica, the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, and the Jade museum.
- Learn to surf in Tamarindo or Santa Teresa.
- Explore Parque Nacional Tortuguero where you can find green and leatherback turtles.
- Visit a range of national parks close to San Jose such as Parque Nacional Volcán Poás, Braulio Carillo National Park, and Parque Nacional Juan Castro Blanco.
- Hike through Parque Nacional Tapantí and enjoy mountain views.
- Look for Quetzals at Parque Nacional Los Quetzales.
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links for products and services I recommend. At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
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