Getaway Compass

10-Day Costa Rica Itinerary: From Hot Springs to Cloud Forests

Catarata Río Celeste Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a beautiful country with lush rainforests, cloud forests, stratovolcanoes, 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

Driving in Costa Rica

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 prices get more expensive last minute. 

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 10-Day Costa Rica Itinerary 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 an 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. 

If you are not quite ready to take on the public busses in Costa Rica but don’t want to spend money on a rental car, consider booking shuttles with Bookaway. Search Bookaway for shuttles routes throughout Costa Rica at reasonable prices.

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

Arenal Volcano 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. A majority of hotels and guesthouses in La Fortuna have breakfast included in the rate, which is helpful as there aren’t many breakfast options in the town.

The below list features the top places to stay in La Fortuna by budget. Where will you stay?

SAVE:
Cabañas Del Lago – With a Booking.com review rating of fabulous (8.8), this is a great budget accommodation and you even get to stay in your own bungalow.
Hotel Lavas Tacotal – You might not have a view of Arenal Volcano from your room, but you will get an unbelievable view from the hotel’s pool.

JUST RIGHT: 
La Finca Lodge – You will definitely need a car to stay here, but the place has a 9.5/10 rating for a reason. Each unit features a balcony with mountain views. An exceptional breakfast is included. 
Loma Real Hot Springs Bed & Breakfast – Breakfast, a pool, and views of Arenal Volcano. This B&B is 4 km outside of the town center making it conveniently located but still feels remote.
Hotel Heliconias Nature Inn & Hot Springs – Stay in a rustic bungalow in the rainforest. The picturesque pool on the property is perfect for relaxing.
Miradas Arenal Hotel & Hotsprings – Stay in a cute private bungalow with views of Arenal Volcano and a hot springs pool with a bar.

SPLURGE:
Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa – Staying at Tabacón gives you access to their thermal river and pools throughout your stay. Hotel guests also receive exclusive access to an adults-only part called Shangri-LA Gardens. If you were already planning to go to the Tabacón Hot Springs it may be worth it to stay here for at least a night.
Lost Iguana Resort and Spa: Every room has a view of Mount Arenal and in the morning you can enjoy the breakfast buffet that is included. Guests can’t stop raving about the pool.
Arenal Manoa Resort & Hot Springs: Eat a delicious breakfast with a breathtaking view of Arenal. The luxury pool features a wet bar and views of Arenal.

EXTRA SPECIAL SPLURGE: 
The Springs Resort & Spa at Arenal – This is the hotel that the Kardashians stayed at when they visited La Fortuna. It was also featured on the Bachelor a few years ago and on the Golden Bachelor recently. It looks like dream, perfect for a honeymoon?

Day 2: Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges and Mirador El Silencio

Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges

Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges
View of Arenal From Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges
Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridge from Below

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)

Mirador El Silencio La Fortuna
Mirador El Silencio La Fortuna Green Pond and 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

Catarata Rio Fortuna
View of La Fortuna Waterfall before going down the stairs
Catarata Rio Fortuna Costa Rica
La Fortuna Waterfall

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. Make sure to purchase your admission ticket in advance for La Fortuna Waterfall on Viator so you don’t have to wait in line. 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

Catarata Río Celeste
Catarata Río Celeste
La Laguna Azul
Río Celeste at 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

Hot Springs

Tabacon Hot Springs Costa Rica
Tabacón Hot Springs
Tabacon Hot Springs La Fortuna
Tabacón Hot Springs

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.

If You Have Time: Thrilling Experiences in La Fortuna

If you already had a chance to soak in hot springs or you have more time in Costa Rica, consider doing one of these thrilling experiences in La Fortuna.

Canyoning and Waterfall Rappelling: This unique experience in La Fortuna takes you on a 4×4 ride into the forest where you will get to rappel down waterfalls and a canyon rock wall. While canyoning and waterfall rappelling you may get to see exotic wildlife such as toucans, sloths, and monkeys. After the thrilling experience, you will have an organic Costa Rican lunch. The tour includes transportation to and from hotels in La Fortuna so you don’t have to worry about getting there if you’re not renting a car. Book the Pure Trek Canyoning and Waterfall Rappelling Tour in La Fortuna ahead of time to secure your spot!

White Water Rafting: If you have never been on a white water rafting adventure now is your chance. If you have already experienced the thrill of white water rafting you know how incredible it is, and you can’t miss the opportunity to do it in La Fortuna. Make sure to book the Upper Balsa River White Water Rafting in advance so that you don’t miss out.

Along the white water rafting adventure down the Balsa River you will get to take a break, swim, and snack on Costa Rican fruit. After the rafting trip, you will get a traditional Costa Rican lunch at a local restaurant. The tour also includes transportation to local La Fortuna hotels, all equipment needed, and towels.

Drive to Monteverde

Lake Arenal
Lake Arenal
Monteverde View
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

Airbnb Monteverde
The view from our Airbnb 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: Canopy Tour (Zip Lining), Treetop Walkway, and La Reserva Bosque Nuboso Santa Elena (Cloud Forest)

Selvatura Adventure Park: Canopy Tour and Treetop Walkway

Selvatura Hanging Bridge Monteverde
Hanging Bridges at Selvatura Adventure Park

Start your 5th day in Costa Rica with breakfast at Orchid Coffee where you can get your order to-go if you are short on time. One of the highlights of this 10-day Costa Rica itinerary is zip lining in Monteverde at Selvatura Adventure Park. After breakfast drive to Selvatura Adventure Park for a canopy tour (zip lining) and a beautiful rainforest walk on hanging bridges.

You must have a reservation in advance to experience the canopy tour and hanging bridges at Selvatura Adventure Park. You can reserve the Selvatura Park Combo Tour if you want to do the canopy tour, hanging bridges walk, and visit a butterfly garden. If you only want to do the canopy tour you can book the Selvatura Park Canopy Tour Here.

The Canopy Tour at Selvatura Adventure Park has 13 zip-line cables that guide you above the cloud forest. If you are up for it you will get to do the Tarzan Swing, a 45-degree jump off an edge connected to a rope, which is sure to get your heart pumping. A canopy tour is a must-do on your 10-day Costa Rica Itinerary and is one of the best ways to experience the Monteverde Cloud Forest.

If you choose to do the combo tour, 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 more slowly from a higher view.

Another popular zip line adventure in Monteverde is this zipline tour at 100% Adventure Park, which has the longest zip line in Costa Rica at 5,220 ft. This 3-hour tour includes a 10-cable zip line, rope bridge, and an ATV ride.

Reserva Bosque Nuboso Santa Elena

Santa Elena Cloud Forest
View of Cloud Forest from Hiking Trail
Santa Elena Cloud Forest
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 where you can see unique birds.

Day 6: Monteverde Cloud Forest, Coffee and Chocolate Tour

Monteverde Cloud Forest

Monteverde Cloud Forest Hike
Hiking in Monteverde Cloud Forest
Hummingbird Monteverde
Hummingbird at Cafe Colibri

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 Chocolate Tour
Process of Making Chocolate
Don Juan Chocolate and coffee Tour
Coffee Beans on Tree

Don Juan Coffee and Chocolate Tour is an interesting tour that walks you through the process of growing and making chocolate and coffee. 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. Make sure to book the tour in advance so you don’t miss out!

Day 7: Quepos, Espadilla Sur Beach, and Manuel Antonio Beach

Manuel Antonio Beach
Espadilla Sur Beach
Crocodile Bridge
View from Crocodile Bridge

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

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 the most animals. The guide is very helpful in spotting animals and you will get to learn more about the plants and animals in the park. 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

View From Drake Bay Hotel

If you are interested in seeing a very remote part of Costa Rica where you can see 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.

If you are spending more time exploring this area, you could book a diving tour or snorkeling tour in Caño Island from Drake Bay.

Day 9: Corcovado National Park

Spider Monkey Costa Rica
Spider Monkey Corcovado National Park
Tapir Corcovado National Park
Drake Bay Beach

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 want to 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 spend more time in the park.

Day 10: Return to San Jose to fly home

Boat to Drake Bay

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 this route. 

Airbnb Escazu

If you need to stay near the airport before your flight consider staying in Escazú. This area is nice and only 20-30 minutes away from the airport. The photo above is the view from the hotel we stayed at.

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 more 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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Reut and Zack Elopement-5

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