PURA VIDA! Costa Rica was NOTHING short of AMAZING and FAR EXCEEDED our expectations. After researching for countless months, we put together a 10 day itinerary to ensure we saw the BEST that Costa Rica had to offer: volcanos, rainforest, mountains and beaches!
- Why Costa Rica?
- A 10 Day Itinerary of Costa Rica
- Other Costa Rican Cities To See
- Nearby Countries to Visit
- Tips & Tricks
Why Costa Rica?!
Why, you ask?! Well, this country offers beaches, mountains, the rainforest, adventure, relaxation…EVERYTHING! It’s also incredibly safe and Costa Riccans are some of the kindest people we’ve ever encountered on all our travels.
A 10-Day Itinerary of Costa Rica
If you’re planning on doing 10 days in Costa Rica, I HIGHLY suggest skipping San Jose, as there is literally nothing exciting about the city. That being said, if you can fly into/out of Libera and do this itinerary backwards (what we should’ve done), I’d recommend that instead. If you’re committed to San Jose, then this itinerary will be PERFECT for you!
La Fortuna, Costa Rica
La Fortuna is full of adventure! This incredible city is known for the famous Arenal Volcano National Park, which is comprised of two volcanos and one of them is still active.
La Fortuna is 3 hours by bus from San Jose Airport. We arranged a private driver ($160) because we missed the Interbus shuttle bus due to our flight time.
We stayed 2 nights in La Fortuna and that, honestly, felt like enough for us. Granted it rained the ENTIRE time we were there, so I imagine if it was sunny and beautiful, we most likely would’ve wanted another day to explore.
I HIGHLY recommend staying in the Airbnb Tifakara ($112USD/night), located RIGHT in the heart of the jungle. For $55 off your first AIRBNB booking, click HERE!
The rooms were affordable and clean, the location was great, the service was kind, the amenities were nice (pool & hot tub), and, the best part, I’d sip coffee on our balcony in the jungle every morning! Waking up with a cup of Joe while watching and listening to the colorful birds was such a peaceful experience.
Where To Eat
Restaurante Tipico La Yunta: For delicious, affordable, Costa Rican cuisine, you cannot go wrong here (pictured).
Restaurante Don Rufino: EVERYONE told us to eat at this restaurant, and I honestly regret not going. After being out all day in the rain, Josh and I just wanted to cozy up at our hotel and eat there instead (Moon Palace).
Moon Palace: This restaurant was conveniently located inside our Airbnb, so we ate there both nights for dinner. Truly, the Peruvian-style food was very good and I would recommend those that aren’t staying at Airbnb Tifakara to eat there as well. Their staff is incredibly kind and the bartender makes a great mojito!
Que Rico Arenal: Who wouldn’t want to eat delicious Italian food while looking out large glass windows at the Arenal Volcano? Great pizza, pasta and service!
What To Do
ATV TOUR: If you’re physically capable, you don’t want to miss an ATV tour around Arenal Volcano with ATV Pradera. This was the HIGHLIGHT of our trip to La Fortuna and literally one of the most fun days we’ve ever had traveling. Be prepared to get MUDDY, which is all a part of the fun.
After riding around in front of the volcano, we cruised down to this beautiful river and rinsed off. Finally, included in the price, we ended with a delicious Costa Rican lunch at Restaurante Tipico La Yunta. DON’T FORGET to tip your guides!
HOT SPRINGS: The hot springs are all the rage in La Fortuna. In 1968, a volcanic eruption of the Arenal Volcano created thermal hot springs, leaving dozens of them sprinkled all over the city. This Blog Post outlines all of them for each and every budget.
Tabacon is the most well known, but be sure to make a reservation far in advance, as they fill up quickly (especially during peak times, likes Christmas). After visiting the thermal baths in Budapest, we were kind of skeeved out by the hot springs, so we elected for massages instead.
MASSAGES: After riding 4 wheelers all day, the best thing that we could think of doing was getting a 90-minute massage and it was worth every penny! Located right next to Restaurante Tipico La Yunta, the Arestetic Spa was clean and the massages were great! And, for $80 for a couples massage, we couldn’t refuse!
LA FORTUNA WATERFALL: This waterfall drops about 246 feet (75 meters) and is located at the base of the dormant Chato Volcano. The entrance fee is $18 per person and all the proceeds are reinvested into the local conservation. Don’t forget your swimsuit-the water is chilly, but you MUST take a dip! For more information, check out their website.
SLOTH TOUR: I don’t know about you, but I came to Costa Rica to see SLOTH’s! Join a guided nature tour through the jungle and spot as many as you can! You’ll also see toucans, hummingbirds and SO much more. Jacmar Naturalist Tours offers the tour for $55 per person.
There’s a GREAT grocery store, Mega Super, in town that literally has everything you could ever need. We stopped to stock up on wine and snacks for the road trip to Monteverde.
Monteverde, Costa Rica
We spent Christmas in Monteverde and it was nothing short of magical. We truly didn’t want to leave!
At an elevation of 4,600 ft (1,400M), Monteverde is drastically different from La Fortuna, as well as Tamarindo. Getting there from La Fortuna is a bit of a trek, but obviously worth it!
Although it’s only 66 miles, to drive from La Fortunate to Monteverde is a 4-hour journey (due to VERY windy roads)-OR-you can elect the land-boat-land adventure (like we did), which drops it down to 2.5-3 hours. This trek is probably one of the craziest driving experiences we’ve ever had (besides Egypt). You literally drive OVER the mountain, on dirt roads, so BE PREPARED!
Ideally, we would’ve stayed in Monteverde forever. I didn’t want to leave the lush greenery, clean mountain air and our treehouse accommodation (see below). But for real, we spent 3 nights there and it was honestly perfect for the itinerary.
Hidden Canopy Treehouses has to go down as one of the top 5 most unique and amazing places Josh and I have ever stayed out of the 50 countries we’ve roamed around.
Picture this: waking up in your own 5-star boutique tree house in the middle of the cloud forest. You’ll hear birds chirping all around you and sit on your balcony looking and listening to all the different sounds and colors as you sip locally crafted coffee.
Then, you’ll venture up the club-house for a DELICIOUS homemade breakfast made by some of the friendliest staff you’ve ever encountered. Jen, the owner, will surely make you feel like you’re right at home.
There are SO many personal touches about this accommodation, that I could write for days. We spent Christmas Eve and Day here and Jen, the owner, gave each guest a stocking filled with Costa Rican goodies. We found them hanging on our door after sunset cocktails. I’ve truly never experienced such incredible service!
DO NOT ever miss a sunset from the club house at Hidden Canopy Treehouses. They have a sunset “happy hour” with homemade appetizers baked daily, along with sangria and wine (all included in your room rate).
Jen has created something so unique and special with this boutique hotel-it’s nothing short of fabulous and, if budget permits, it MUST be on your list!
Where To Eat
Sabor Tico: (pictured) This was our favorite restaurant in the city. Costa Rica can be a bit pricey and Sabor Tico offers up delicious, affordable food with HUGE portions. The total was about $10 per person, including a beer.
Bon Appetit! This delicious Italian restaurant is family owned and offers up delicious pasta and pizza! Several nights, we found ourselves just getting takeout from here and eating it on our balcony to soak in the atmosphere at our accommodation.
Tree House Restaurant: This is an overpriced tourist trap so, if you’re going to go, maybe just grab a drink or an app. It’s really just good for a drink and really touristy. The food looked unremarkable.
Panaderia Jimenez: Great coffee served by friendly locals. They also have an array of pastries, if you’re looking for a quick bite!
NOTE: DO NOT eat at Open Kitchen. We were swayed by it’s hip decor and open concept, but the service was some of the worst we’ve ever had. The food had much to be desired, as well.
What To Do
NATURE HIKES: This was absolutely the highlight of our trip in Monteverde (besides the Hidden Canopy Treehouse accommodation). Our guide, Koki, was the most knowledgable person of the Cloud Forest you could imagine meeting. Koki grew up playing in the cloud forest, so his knowledge of the trees, plants, birds, bugs and animals is like that I’d never seen before.
He even leads a night tour for those that want to see all the critters that come out to play after dark in the cloud forest. The cost for the day nature hike was around $40 a person. If you’re not staying at Hidden Canopy Tree Houses, check out this morning trek and night tour.
COFFEE TOURS: This 2-3 hour coffee tour explores Café Monteverde, a farm that is managed by 12 different families that have farmed and harvested Costa Rican coffee since 1989.
HANGING BRIDGES TOUR: In retrospect, we would’ve done the hanging bridges tour instead of zip lining. With a guide, you’ll climb through the tree canopies of the Cloud Forest and explore all the wildlife that lives within the trees. You’ll walk about 2 miles on the course at a gentle pace. Prices for the tour are around $40 per person.
ZIP LINING: There are multiple companies that offer various versions of zip lining. Honestly, we didn’t have the greatest experience with Sky Adventures, as you have to bounce from tree to tree 12 times and there were about 10 people standing on each of the tiny platforms in between. I just didn’t feel safe and the guides didn’t make us feel comfortable. I will say that the Tarzan swing was AMAZING, though! ($84 per person).
Jen, at hidden canopy tree houses, will help you choose the best Zip Lining company for you and what you’re looking for. Otherwise, check out this blog post, which lists all the different companies and types of zip lining that they offer.
NOTE: We arranged all our excursions through our accommodation, Hidden Canopy Treehouses. If you’re not staying at Hidden Canopy Treehouses, then check out the Tripadvisor pages I’ve linked in each description.
Uber wasn’t around in Monteverde, but there were plenty of local taxi drivers that would take you to any place nearby for around $5 per person. Check with your accommodation, who should have a great referral.
Tamarindo, Costa Rica
It’s no secret that Josh and I are avid beach lovers, divers and all around water obsessed. We always seek out destinations that are near the ocean…there’s just something about it that always draws me in. Tamarindo was on of those incredible beach towns that we’d happily return to in the future!
Tamarindo is a 4 hour shuttle from Monteverde. We took a shared shuttle, arranged by our accommodation in Monteverde. I’d check out Interbus– they offer comfortable public shuttles for about $50 per person, if your accommodation isn’t pre-arranging them for you.
We spent 4 blissful nights in Tamarindo and it was nothing short of perfect. The town is relatively compact, but if you want to explore nearby beaches or just relax, you definitely want to stay 3+ days.
Our Airbnb in Tamarindo was truly UNFORGETTABLE! Boho Tamarindo ($179/night) is run by a husband/wife team who have really created such a beautiful space, just steps from the beach. For $55 off your first AIRBNB booking, click HERE!
Johanna and Greg are incredibly kind hosts who are there for anything you need and Greg makes a delicious breakfast each morning (included in your room rate).
The space is so hip, new and uniquely designed. The pool is perfect for taking a dip in after a long day on the beach. There are also SO many monkeys that live in the nearby trees, they even woke us up one morning (when we were sleeping wayyyy too late) with their monkey calls-but don’t worry, they don’t come near the rooms or the accommodation!
Trust me, if budget permits, you DONT want to miss staying here!
Where To Eat
Green Papaya: If you eat at only one restaurant we recommend, let Green Papaya be it! We ate here 3 times it was SO amazing! The chipotle shrimp dish is probably one of the top 5 most delicious dishes I’ve ever eaten, anywhere in the world. The tacos are incredible as well!
Shrimp Hole: Our second favorite restaurant in town. We loved the shrimp hole so much, we ate here twice! The service is great and so are the drinks. The classic, the tico and the jungle curry are all incredibly delicious. You really cannot go wrong with anything on the menu.
Buon Appetito: This family run restaurant offers up GREAT Italian food. The owners are straight from Italy and moved to Tamarindo many years ago to open up shop. The pesto pizza and breakfast are delicious!
El Mercadito: If you’re looking for a more casual meal, then check out El Mercadito. This is essentially an outdoor food hall with a dozen or so restaurants offering up anything from pizza, to waffles, to poke bowls! It’s great for late night food as well.
Hotel Capitan Suizo: We randomly stumbled upon this hotel walking far out on the beach trying to get away from the crowds to fly Josh’s drone. They have a great bar and tables to sit outside and enjoy a quiet beverage, or two 😉 It’s a great place for photos as well!
Breaking Bread: We stumbled upon this cute breakfast joint on our last morning. The owner was more than friendly and the breakfast sandwich and pastries were delicious. Plus, we just had to go because the name is a pun on one of our favorite shows, Breaking Bad.
Sharkys: We LOVE American Football and it just so happened to be a Sunday during the playoffs when we visited, so we fortunately found Sharkys! They have descent draught beer and TV’s playing American sports, which was great, but the food and service were dismal.
What To Do
SUNSETS: Never miss a sunset in Tamarindo! Grab a bottle of wine from one of the many stores in town, park your butt in the sand and revel in the beauty of a Costa Rican sunset!
MASSAGES ON THE BEACH: We were told there are therapists that walk along the beach, offering massages for $20, but we sadly never encountered them. Be on the lookout and bring extra cash when you go to the beach. Check with your accommodation for more details.
YOGA AT SER OM SHANTI: I totally regret not picking up a class at Ser Om Shanti, but the facility looked great and it was located right in the center of town. A drop in class costs $16 per person.
REVIVE WELLNESS CENTER: Although it’s a bit outside of town, Revive Wellness Center has a great gym and offers yoga classes too. It’s also beautifully designed and incredibly clean. Yoga costs $15 per person, per class. They also offer massages for around $80 per person.
PLAYA LANGOSTO: If you follow the beach west past Hotel Capitan Suizo, you’ll come to a large rock that you can climb up for beautiful photos! Just on the other side is Playa Langosto, a secluded beach that you’ll virtually have all to yourself! Beware as the tide comes in, because you wont be able to walk back on the beach (just take the street instead).
SURFING: Tamarindo is well known for its surfing beaches. If you’re not an experienced surfer, there are many shops in town and even on the beach that offer lessons. A group lesson costs around $50 per person for 2 hours.
ZIP LINING: There are several companies that offer zip lining just outside the city of Tamarindo. The cost is around $50 per person. Check with your accommodation to arrange this for you.
NIGHTLIFE: Tamarindo has a GREAT nightlife scene and, if that’s of interest to you, don’t miss it! The Crazy Monkey Bar and Sharkys are great spots to start with.
Soak in every minute, because you’re never going to want to leave here! You can shuttle back to San Jose from Tamarindo via Interbus. The journey takes about 5-6 hours, depending on traffic, but the bus is comfortable and they stop frequently along the way. We brought our MacBooks and after two throw back Matthew McConaughey movies, we were back to San Jose.
San Jose, Costa Rica
As previously mentioned, San Jose can absolutely be skipped. If you happen to have arranged your flights in and out of San Jose and have to stay one night, I’ve listed a few things to do and restaurants to eat at below.
San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica and is located in the central portion of the country.
Zero. I would spend zero time here if I were you. This country has SO many beautiful places, do not waste your time or money in the city. We had to stay one night here because we flew out early the next morning from San Jose.
We stayed at Hotel Presidente ($100USD/night), in the heart of the downtown area, which I highly recommend. The rooms are plain and simple, but the location is paramount. The lobby is also super chic and they have a buffet breakfast included.
Hotel Gran de Oro ($150/night) is another great option for accommodation. Conde Nast rated it as the top hotel in Central America in 2019. It’s centrally located and really beautiful!
Where To Eat
P3 Pub: This restaurant has mediocre food, but is located on the second floor with views overlooking the Main Street. It’s great to grab a beer and people watch.
Tenedor Argentino: Excellent Argentinean food, service and drinks. Get a table on the second floor overlooking the street.
Tin Jo Asian Restaurant: GREAT Pan Asian cuisine. Get the Mongolian Beef or Asian Chicken, they’re both amazing!
What To Do
TAKE A FREE TOUR: What better way to get to know a city than with a free tour?! San Jose Free Walking Tour company offers free tours daily at 9:00 and 1:00pm. DON’T FORGET to tip your guide!
CENTRAL AVENUE : The mile-long downtown pedestrian boulevard of San Jose is great for a stroll. You’ll find countless restaurants and shops, street performers and musicians.
NATIONAL THEATRE: The National Theater‘s architecture is beautiful and they offer tours for $10 per person.
CENTRAL MARKET: The Central Market is full of local goodies and souvenirs. It’s absolutely worth a stop.
Uber was the cheapest way for us to get to the airport ($11) versus arranged transport by the hotel.
Other Costa Rican Cities To See
While I wish we had one month to explore this incredible country, sadly, we only had ten days. Everything in Costa Rica is spaced out and is quite the journey on the windy roads, so we weren’t able to see it all. There is one region I REALLY wish we would’ve had time to visit that you should heavily consider when you go.
Our adventure to Costa Rica was during Christmas, which means that virtually every hotel was booked up in our price range in Manuel Antonio when we went to make reservations.
So, in retrospect, I’m glad that it happened because it pushed us to explore Tamarindo, which became our favorite. But you better believe I’ll be returning to explore all the beauty the region of Manuel Antonio has to offer.
Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular destinations in Costa Rica. Why? There is an endless amount of things to do! Whether you want to sit in the sand with a pina colada, white water raft, kayak, hike in the jungle or zip-line, Manuel Antonio has it all. Check out this Blog Post by My Tan Feet for more information about the region.
Tips About Costa Rica
There are definitely some things that you should plan for prior to coming to Costa Rica.
- Driving: DO NOT DRIVE HERE: Rental cars can become pricey and the roads are crazy windy because they were designed 50+ years ago without tourism in mind. Affordable, comfortable shuttle buses via Interbus to get form city to city are easy to use and Uber exists to get around locally. I have known many people that did decide to rent a car and drive, but they are FAR braver than I am haha.
- Don’t Forget to Pack: A raincoat and an umbrella are a must to bring, especially if you’re planning to go to La Fortuna or Monteverde.
- Currency: You can pay in USD everywhere and they’ll give you back Costa Rica Colones. If you run low on money, ATM’s are everywhere and are very safe to use.
- WiFi: San Jose airport offers free, unlimited WiFi, which is a total win when you land. WiFi is easily accessible everywhere all over the country.
- SIM Cards: We never purchased a SIM card because WiFi was everywhere, but, if you want to purchase them all three major cell companies sell them for 1-2000 colones (around $2-4). They will give you the same amount for phone credit on the SIM card itself. At San Jose airport there is a small stand called Claro (name of the phone company) to the left of the baggage claim where you can purchase a SIM card.
- Drinking: Drinks are pricey and often not that great-if you’re looking to save money, order vodka instead for $3 and then a separate chaser. We honestly just bought wine and liquor from the local grocery stores and drank it at the pool/beach to save cash.
Nearby Countries to Visit
Costa Rica is just a hop, skip and a jump from SO many nearby countries! Our full 3 week itinerary went from Miami > Cartagena > San Andres > Costa Rica > Miami and was quite seamless.
Cartagena is a 1 hour, 40 minute flight from San Jose, making it an easy add on to your itinerary. If you have to choose ONE additional country or city for your Costa Rican Adventure, I’d make Cartagena the choice! Cartagena is a travel lovers playground: delicious food, great history, great nightlife…oh and virtually every corner you turn is picture perfect! Check out my blog post on Cartagena for more info!
We were pleasantly surprised with how amazing Panama City is and, at less than 1.5 hours away from San Jose, why not check it out! The Old Town is full of history and colorful buildings. There’s GREAT food on every corner and you can visit the Panama Canal!
I also have two words for you: San Blas. In retrospect, I WISH we would’ve gone to San Blas instead of San Andres, but we’ll definitely head there someday soon. For more information about our trip to Panama City, check out my blog post!
The Magic City is literally a 2 hour flight away, so why not come visit one of the greatest cities in the world (ok, ok, so maybe I’m pretty biased because I live here). But really!
Miami has SO much more to offer than just South Beach and parties! We have watersports, national parks, the colorful and always hip Wynwood, the everglades, glitzy Brickell and SO much more! Check out all my posts on Miami for more information!
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XOXO The Traveling Blondie
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