The Perfect One Week Costa Rica Itinerary

Planning a week long trip to Costa Rica? Look no further - this is the perfect one week costa rica itinerary that includes adventure, beaches, and wildlife. Click to read and start planning your trip! |

I’ve written several posts about Costa Rica at this point. There’s the one about San Jose Airport day trips, the one covering Monteverde and La Fortuna, and finally, the one about Manuel Antonio.

I broke these up in order to provide useful details on each city. After all, there are tons of things to do and see in this beautiful country, and most people only have a limited amount of time.

Now I’m bringing all my learnings together into the perfect one week Costa Rica itinerary. While you could easily spend weeks or months exploring all that Costa Rica has to offer, I’m aware that most people are often short on vacation time.

This one week itinerary is a tad jam-packed, but offers a good taste of the west coast of Costa Rica. The detailed city guides are linked above so you can read about each place in more depth as well.

Note: This itinerary is based off renting a car in Costa Rica. There are shuttle bus options, but that obviously limits your mobility. Renting a car in Costa Rica is very expensive due to country-mandated liability insurance, but is still the best way to see the city.

World’s longest intro huh? Here we go: the perfect one week Costa Rica itinerary.


Day 0: Arrival

It seems like most international flights arrive in San Jose in the late afternoon or early evening. I recommend driving directly to La Fortuna from the airport once you rent your car. If you aren’t a fan of evening drives, plan to wake up early the next morning and head to La Fortuna.


Day 1: La Fortuna

Read the complete guide to La Fortuna and Monteverde here.

Wake up bright and early and hike at the Arenal National Park. Here you’ll find Costa Rica’s most active volcano as well as exotic wildlife. Try to get here early to avoid the heat, crowds, and afternoon clouds that will obscure your views of the volcano.

Head to town for lunch at Rainforest Café (not the chain) for a delicious and inexpensive traditional Costa Rican meal. Don’t forget to try one of the giant empanadas!

After lunch, drive just outside of town to the La Fortuna Waterfall for a dip in the natural pool. You can reach the waterfall by more hiking or on horseback if you’re feeling extra adventurous.


Day 2: La Fortuna

Read the complete guide to La Fortuna and Monteverde here.

Feel free to sleep in a bit on this day, then head over to the beautiful Baldi Hot Springs and Spa. They’re the most affordable in the area and are super fun! The springs are comprised of several pools as well as a couple of large water slides, so come here for the day and relax in some thermal water.

Since the hot springs are attached to a hotel, I recommend getting lunch there. For dinner, head to town for some delicious Peruvian-Chinese fusion from Chifa La Familia.


Day 3: Monteverde 

Read the complete guide to La Fortuna and Monteverde here.

Getting to Monteverde is a huge pain since the roads immediately surrounding the city are incredibly rocky. Although the locals seemed to have no issues navigating there, it ended up taking us nearly four hours to arrive. My recommendation? Grab a hearty breakfast and leave early!

If you can arrive to Monteverde early enough, grab a quick lunch before heading to the magical Cloud Forest. It’s home to beautiful plants and animals, extensive hiking trails, and chilly clouds that float right through the forest. Be sure to bring a jacket!

For dinner, stop by Soda La Salvadita, the local Costa Rican restaurant just down the road from the main town. Prices are inexpensive and food is both delicious and authentically Costa Rican.


Day 4: Monteverde

Read the complete guide to La Fortuna and Monteverde here.

On your second day in Monteverde, plan for a wild outdoor adventure tour! Monteverde caters to every outdoor lovers’ dream in terms of adventure tour options, but I recommend you go ziplining. We went on the canopy tour with 100% Aventura which I highly recommend, but you can choose a tour that fits your needs from this comprehensive list. I also suggest you do the add-on hanging bridges tour if you don’t get a chance to visit the Cloud Forest.

Restaurant options are somewhat limited in Santa Elena, but Tico y Rico is a solid spot for dinner. It has a wide variety of delicious options (both Costa Rican and international), but it’s definitely a tad overpriced as it’s clearly the tourist hotspot.


Day 5: Manuel Antonio 

Read the complete guide to Manuel Antonio here.

On this day, plan for another 3 hour drive – this time to the beautiful beach town of Manuel Antonio. Upon arrival, reward yourself with the freshest and tastiest seafood in town at Marisqueria Jiuberths. After that, spend a lazy and blissful beachy afternoon at Playa Biesanz. There aren’t many tourists here due to its somewhat hidden location but Google Maps will lead you right to the parking attendant, who will direct you accordingly.

If you’re feeling fancy for dinner, head to the Quepos Marina and take your pick of restaurants. There’s a poke and onigiri place if you want to stay within budget (and if you’re tired of Costa Rican food – I know I was). Otherwise, Runaway Grill is an excellent choice for Mexican-American-Costa Rican food.


Day 6: Manuel Antonio

Read the complete guide to Manuel Antonio here.

Plan to spend the entire day at the glorious Manuel Antonio National Park, where you’ll find plenty of hiking trails and exotic animals. What’s more, the park is home to not one, but three separate beaches! Get here early and negotiate a good price for a guide – they’re trained to help us unobservant folk find the animals. After you’ve hiked for awhile, head to the beautiful Playa Manuel Antonio within the park and bask in the warm water. Keep a close eye on your belongings – the raccoons and monkeys aren’t afraid to pounce. All the detailed information about Manuel Antonio National Park can be found in this post.

Things to bring: hiking sandals, swimwear, lunch, water, sunscreen, and the strongest mosquito repellent you can buy.

For dinner, head to Sancho’s Tacos for some delicious and inexpensive Mexican food.


Day 7: Alajuela / San Jose

Day 7 depends entirely on when you’re flying home. If you’re flying home early that day, drive to San Jose / Alajuela the night before. I recommend staying in Alajuela since it’s much closer to the airport. If your flight is that evening or the next day, then head over to Alajuela early in the morning. From there, you can take a day trip – I recommend Volcan Poas and/or the Waterfall Gardens.


The best way to end your trip? Start planning your return to Costa Rica! What’s not to love about that Pura Vida lifestyle?


Where to stay in each city:

(affiliate links)

Alajuela / San Jose area: This airbnb. Get $27 of airbnb credit here.

La FortunaHotel Arenal Rossi

MonteverdeCabinas Vista Al Golfo

Manuel Antonio / QueposCabinas Mansion Tropical


Specialty things to pack:

Hiking sandals: they may be ugly, but they’re certainly versatile! Not only did I wear them for every hike I took in Costa Rica, but I also wore them at the beach as well.

Waterproof jacket: It rains a lot in Costa Rica – especially if you’re there during rainy season. This jacket is lightweight and breathable, but keeps you dry. It also fits into its own pouch. So much winning.


Tell me: have you ever been to Costa Rica? Which city was your favorite? Share in the comments below!


Like it? Pin it now, read it later!

  • Grassroots Nomad

    Great round up! I only had a weekend and went to Manuel Antonio park and was really disappointed! It was so crowded and the tourists were throwing things at the animals. It felt like I was being herded around an IKEA.

    • Thank you!
      Omg what a terrible experience! I’m so sorry to hear that. Perhaps I was lucky because I went right when the park opened. It did get more crowded as the day wore on but the tourists were pretty respectful. It’s so upsetting when tourists ruin an otherwise good place.

  • Svetoslav Dimitrov

    Thanks for this amazing guide! I have been reading about Costa Rica lately so I am really excited to visit probably the most diverse country in the world when measured by its territory. 🙂

    • Thanks for reading! Yes it’s honestly so biodiverse and they do a great job of protecting it environmentally. I really hope you get a chance to visit sometime soon!

      • Svetoslav Dimitrov

        You are welcome, Sally! I wish I could visit it soon too 🙂

  • Dirk Van Giel

    If you travel by car to the south via the Costanera (6 hours drive) you will find not only to have a splendid trip but you can also admire the entire Westcoast which will take you from Tarcoles (where the big crocs are) via Jacó, Parrita and Uvita to Palmar and finally Puerto Jimenez or Golfito. From there you can plan multiple visits to the most beautiful beaches of the entire country e.g. Zancudo, Pavones, Carate or the beaches in the land of Osa. There are several National Parks you can visit e.g. Humedal Nacionál Terraba Sierpe the Reserva Forestal Golfo Dulce or the famous National Park of Corcovado. In Piedras Blancas you can also visit a National Park and in La Gamba on the off shore road from Km 37 to Golfito you can visit a beautiful private rain forest called Cataratas y Senderos Avellán.
    There are so many things to see in the South as well but unfortunately they never get mentioned.

    • Whoa, you’re quite the expert on Costa Rica! I actually originally had planned to drive down the coast to Drake Bay but was told that the road were flooded during rainy season which was unfortunate. There is clearly a TON to do in Costa Rica (despite its somewhat small size) and I feel like I would need at least a couple of months to see most things. Now that I have this list from you, I’ll definitely take a look once I return 🙂

      • Dirk Van Giel

        I have lived in Costa Rica for almost 2 years. My first visit was in 1986 then 2004, 2009 and 2010 when I moved from Belgium to ciudad Neily in the south of the country. Unfortunately due to corruption and greed (by Migración) I had to return in 2012.

        • Oh gotcha. That makes sense! Sorry to hear you had to return. Maybe you’ll go back to Costa Rica longer term one day.

  • I can totally see myself at the La Fortuna Hot Springs. Are those big boulders natural? I also hadn’t heard of hiking sandals, but I need to get myself a pair for those hot summer hikes I intend on doing this year.

    • The hot springs are SO fun – especially the waterslides! The water itself is natural from the hot springs but they’ve built it into a spa area so the boulders appear to be fake. Also those sandals are lifesavers! They’re so versatile and much better than dealing with socks during the heat. Highly recommend them 🙂

      • Waterslides are my favorite! Pinning this post for future Costa Rica planning!

  • Vyjay Rao

    Costa Rica holds untold promise and I am sure I would love to spend more than a week there, more like two weeks 🙂 Volcanoes, waterfalls, wildlife, hiking, all the stuff that I would love.

    • I actually did go here for 2 weeks but figured I’d write a weeklong itinerary since most people only go for one :). It’s an amazing place and even with 2 weeks we only saw a small part of the island. There’s so much to do and see! I hope you get a chance to visit sometime soon.

  • This is a beautiful travel itinerary – I would definitely try to hire a car in Costa Rica, it seems to be worth it. Such a stunning country ♡

    • Thank you! Yessss the car is the way to go to allow you all the flexibility you want. It truly is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever visited. Highly recommend if you get a chance!

  • Carly Heyward

    Hey! Just a heads up that I liked your itinerary so much, that I included it in my 2016 ADVENTure calendar post! Let me know if you’d like the wording altered at all!

  • Patricia – Ze Wandering Frogs

    Good tips and itinerary! We have been planning to go for a while, mostly because this is also a great windsurfing / kitesurfing destination. Also hoping to go to Tortuguero National Park!

    • Thank you! Yeah it’s honestly GREAT for outdoor activities. You would love it. Hope you get a chance to go soon!

  • I must say that you had a wonderful itinerary to Costa Rica that is known to be a wonderful place for its flora and fauna and all the photos are amazing. For Monteverde, you have mentioned that it was quite difficult, but there are taxi boat taxi options to explore the beauty of Monteverde.

  • Axita

    Great itinerary, Leaving for Costa Rica in a week. Following your suggestions. Is renting a car and driving to places doable for the first timer? I am excited and nervous at the same time for driving around the country.

    • I’m so sorry that I missed your comment! I imagine that you’re in Costa Rica now and I’m hoping you’ve rented a car! Driving there is definitely a little challenging due to the road conditions but make sure you get insurance and drive carefully and I’m sure you’ll be fine. Hope you’re having a blast!