10-Day Costa Rica Itinerary: From Hot Springs to Cloud Forests
Costa Rica is a beautiful country with rainforests, cloud forests, volcanoes, and dreamy beaches. Ten 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. Continue reading for more information on when to visit Costa Rica, how to get around Costa Rica, and more tips to plan your Costa Rica getaway.
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 also be a good time to go. I don’t recommend visiting Costa Rica between September and November as this is height of the rainy season which will make it harder to do activities and make it difficult to spot wildlife.
How to Get to Costa Rica
There are two main international airports in Costa Rica: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) near San Jose and Liberia International Airport (LIR) in Guanacaste. You can find flights to Costa Rica by searching across dates and airlines on Skyscanner.
Travel Hack: Sign up for Going to get cheap flight alerts and find an amazing flight deal to Costa Rica. We bought a nonstop round trip flight from LAX to Costa Rica for $260 that we found through a Going flight alert.
How to Get Around Costa Rica
By Rental Car
Renting a car in Costa Rica can be expensive but it is worth it if you want to make the most of your 10 days in Costa Rica. For this 10-day Costa Rica itinerary you will need to rent a car to reach hidden gems around the country. Make sure to book your rental car as early as possible, as rates can get more expensive. Book a rental car on Discover Cars where you can compare rates to find the best fit for this incredible Costa Rica Road Trip. Keep in mind rental car companies in Costa Rica 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. You can also search for routes and book your bus tickets on Bookaway. If you prefer, you can book private transfer options on Bookaway.
10-Day Costa Rica Itinerary
Click on the map below 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. Search for accommodations with a view of Mount Arenal on booking.com and sort by price to find the best deal. Look for something right outside the town so you can enjoy your quiet place but can get into the town quickly for food.
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 to see more animals. We decided to explore the park on our own and still 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 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, 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!
Read More: How to Find Cheap Flights
Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio
One of the best things to do in Costa Rica is to visit Catarata Río Celeste. Drive about 1.5 hours from La Fortuna to Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio. The park is open until 2 pm and is best to visit in the afternoon after the morning tours have left. 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. 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 to 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.
If you didn’t rent a car you can visit Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio with a group tour that provides transportation to and from your hotel. You can find and book tours to see Catarata Río Celeste on Viator.
Reminder: Medical Insurance for Costa Rica
Don’t forget to buy a travel insurance policy for your trip! SafetyWing offers affordable, flexible, and reliable travel medical insurance that can be purchased ahead of your travels or while you are already traveling.
Day 4: Hot Springs in La Fortuna then Drive to Monteverde
One of the best things to do in Costa Rica is visit the hot springs in La Fortuna. 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 on your Costa Rica 10-day itinerary.
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. 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. It’s best to stay right outside of the town where it is more quiet but you can still get to restaurants within a 10-minute drive. We had a wonderful stay at this Airbnb with beautiful views which was a few minutes drive from the town.
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 food and can get your order to-go if you are short on time. One of the highlights of this Costa Rica 10-day Itinerary is zip lining at Selvatura Adventure Park. After breakfast 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 Selvatura Park Combo Tour to do the canopy tour, treetop walkway suspension bridges, and hummingbird and butterfly garden. If you prefer a cheaper alternative, you can reserve a zipline tour at 100% Adventure Park, which has the longest zip line in Costa Rica at 5,220 ft.
The Canopy Tour at Selvatura Adventure Park has 13 cables that guide you above the cloud forest. The longest cable is the last one at 1 km where you can glide through the cloud forest. 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.
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 to visit Monteverde Cloud Forest. To explore Monteverde Cloud Forest and see unique birds, you can either go on your own or book a guided tour on Viator. 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 you learn about the process. The tour is very interactive and a must-do on your 10-day Costa Rica itinerary.
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 Station 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
One of the most amazing things we did during our 10 days in Costa Rica is Visit Corcovado National Park. You can book a day tour to Corcovado National Park ahead of time on Viator or through your accommodation. If you book through your hotel, make sure to contact them before reserving a room to ensure they have spots available on a day tour to Corcovado National Park.
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. At Corcovado National Park you will 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.
If you want to spend more time at Corcovado National Park there are 2-day guided tours which you can book ahead of time or enquire about through your hotel. These overnight tours give you the opportunity to see more animals as you explore the park for 2 days.
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 from the airport.
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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