Costa Rica’s lush rainforests, stunning beaches, and abundance of wildlife make it a nature lover’s dream vacation spot. There truly is nothing like the scenery this country has to offer. The waterfalls hidden within the trees are an almost picturesque sight to see that is even better in person. Those who love exploring will thrive there. There are also many animal refuges and national parks to visit, allowing travelers to see all kinds of animals from macaws to sloths. 

If you’re unsure of where to begin, here is a 7 to 10-day Costa Rica itinerary that allows you to experience the top highlights like Arenal Volcano, the Monteverde Cloud Forest, and Manuel Antonio National Park. With endless opportunities for hiking, wildlife spotting, water activities, and relaxing under swaying palms, this trip has something for everyone.

When To Visit Costa Rica

The best time to visit Costa Rica is during its dry season, the country’s “summer” from December to April. This may sound peculiar at first, as many are used to this time of the year as winter. However, Costa Rica is located near the equator, which makes for a dryer season during this time. Rainfall is minimal during these months and allows for the clearest views and most comfortable weather for exploring Costa Rica’s varied ecosystems.

Transportation in Costa Rica

Renting a 4×4 vehicle will give you some flexibility in driving between destinations in Costa Rica. The country’s road system is well-developed, but some remote national parks and rainforests are only accessible via gravel or dirt roads. However, this is not a necessity. Travelers for Costa Rica Guide wrote that renting these vehicles can be excessive and hard to use without practice. Not having a vehicle for travel will do you fine on a trip but if it works better for you to have one, consider cheaper vehicles that can do just as good of a job. For travelers on a budget, public buses reliably connect all major stops and tourist hubs at an affordable local rate.

Where To Stay in Costa Rica

Base yourself in popular tourist towns like La Fortuna and Tamarindo to have plenty of hotels, restaurants, shops, and nightlife options right at your doorstep. The Avocado Treehouse Villa in La Fortuna offers a unique, above-ground living space for under $100 a night. Or book at the beachfront Occidental Tamarindo for an all-exclusive stay. Hostels scattered around the national parks offer budget-conscious travelers a chance to stay immersed in nature.

Day 1 – Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna

Volcano in Costa Rica

Spend your first day hiking the trails through Arenal Volcano National Park, which allows safe vantage points to admire the imposing volcano and scattered lava rocks. Later, soak sore muscles in the mineral-rich volcanic hot springs nearby. End the day sampling delectable local cuisine in the charming town of La Fortuna.

Day 2 – Monteverde Cloud Forest

The Monteverde Cloud Forest

You will want a full day to explore the magical Monteverde Cloud Forest. It takes about three to four hours to walk through the forest, but you may easily end up spending much more time there. Walk along suspended bridges and zig-zagging walkways placed right in the jungle canopy to spot exotic birds, playful monkeys, and colorful frogs. The area is also home to adrenaline-pumping activities like zip-lining over the treetops. Make sure to wear rain-resistant clothing and shoes when visiting Monteverde Cloud Forest. 

Day 3 – Transfer to Manuel Antonio

Iguana roaming the Manuel Antonio National Park's beaches

After two days of adventure, enjoy a relaxed transfer day making the drive to Manuel Antonio on the Pacific coastline. Check into your beachside accommodation with time to unwind on the sand and swim in the idyllic blue waters. Let this also be your reminder to pack sunscreen and apply it regularly no matter what the weather is like when outside. Costa Rica’s proximity to the equator makes its sunlight extremely harmful to unprotected skin. 

Day 4 – Manuel Antonio National Park

A monkey in the wild at Manuel Antonio National Park

Within Manuel Antonio National Park, meander down trails leading through lush rainforest dotted with placid lagoons, eventually emerging onto breathtaking white-sand beaches. Book a boat tour or kayak among the mangroves for a chance to spot monkeys, sloths, dolphins, and more.

Day 5 – Free Day in Manuel Antonio

An Infinity pool in Manuel Antonio

Spend a second free day in Manuel Antonio however you choose – perhaps go surfing on the beginner waves, indulge in a relaxing spa day, or simply lounge poolside at your hotel with a drink in hand. This is also the perfect opportunity to do some shopping at the malls in Manuel Antonio or go out and order seafood from a local restaurant. The possibilities are endless.

Day 6 – Travel to Tamarindo

A man walking along the beach with a surfboard at sunset in Tamarindo.

Scenic lookouts line the drive as you make your way further down the Pacific coast to the lively surf town of Tamarindo. Spend the evening strolling the main strip, sampling fresh seafood, and finding a spot to take in the epic sunsets. This is the picture-perfect chance to get family photos or beautiful pictures of whoever you are traveling with. 

Days 7-9 – Beach Time in Tamarindo

A group walking on the beach in Tamarindo at sunset

After sunrise beach yoga sessions, spend your days lounging on the stunning shoreline around Tamarindo – tanning, swimming, surfing or maybe saddling up for a horseback ride. The sunsets continue to dazzle each evening. Try snorkeling or a watersport for an exciting activity one day or simply spend the rest of your time floating leisurely in the ocean. 

Day 10 – Departure

An aerial shot of Costa Rica

On your drive back to the airport, make any last-minute stops that you missed earlier – pick up artisanal coffee, chocolate, or craft souvenirs. Leave feeling refreshed and reconnected with nature.

Packing Essentials

Bring binoculars, hiking boots, swimwear, rain gear, high SPF sunscreen, and an adventurous spirit. A couple of days extra worth of clothes is also a safe bet if you have room. With wildlife, beaches, and friendly culture, Costa Rica offers natural beauty and memorable experiences. With these items and itinerary, you will be ready for adventure and the trip of a lifetime in Costa Rica.