Costa Rica Itinerary: 7 Days in a Biodiverse Heaven

Costa Rica’s wildlife is as well-known as its beaches & volcanoes. But there’s more. Read this to plan your Costa Rica itinerary for 7 days

costa rica titi monkey

Squished between North and South America, Costa Rica is a nature lover’s paradise. While the Central American country accounts for only 0.03 percent of the planet’s surface, its staggering six percent of the world’s biodiversity help keep our earth alive. If that isn’t enough to inspire you to visit this incredible country, this Costa Rica itinerary for 7 days will. 

Pura Vida, or pure life, dominates across the region. The cone-shaped Arenal spews lava from its crater to corroborate that. Underneath the clouds of ash lies ravishing beauty—from gushing waterfalls feeding milky-blue pools to rainbow-billed toucans sitting high up in deep green jungle canopies. 

Costa Rica itinerary day 1: Hit a national park

Nicoya Peninsula (Puntarenas Province, West Costa Rica)

trees meet the beach

Given that Costa Rica protected 28% of its land in national parks, reserves, and wildlife refuges, it’s little wonder its dry tropical forests reach the shores of Puntarenas on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. 

Here, you’ll find Cabo Blanco, Costa Rica’s first nature reserve. It’s a central maritime bird sanctuary essential to the country’s wildlife protection efforts. In a word—a must on any Costa Rica itinerary. It epitomizes the country’s commitment to conservation.

rainbow billed toucan

To get here, travel from San José to Montezuma, just north of the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve.

While you’re in the area, check out the Cueva Murcielagos (bat cave) Wildlife Reserve. The moist tropical jungle abounds with fragrant, watercolor-like frangipani shrubs and evergreen trees like the Spiny Cedar. The trees have sharp, conical spines jutting out from the bark with white shaving brush flowers that bats love to pollinate before heading elsewhere. 

Need to feed your adventurous side? The best things to do in Costa Rica include canopy tours. Picture flying through the rainforest over canyons and along creeks, with the Pacific in the distance hailing from every corner. You can book the canopy tours in Malpaís, a small fishing village within walking distance of Playa Malpais, a palm-fringed coastline popular with surfers and horseback riders.

Costa Rica day 2: Unwind on Guanacaste’s beaches

Guanacaste Province, Northwest Costa Rica

shadow of trees on the beach in costa rica
Photo© Grettel V. Navas

Guanacaste is a tropical paradise with soft white sands and transparent, turquoise waters—a must-do on your best Costa Rica itinerary. Stretching across the Nicoya Peninsula, this province boasts some 400 miles of coastline, ideal for beach bums working on their tan. 

Aside from swimming and sinking toes in white powder, you mustn’t miss fishing, surfing, and diving. The prime spots are the beaches of Tamarindo, Playa Hermosa, Avellanas, Flamingo, Conchal, Bahia de los Piratas, and Playa Negra.

Eager to see some leatherback turtles? From November to April, these adorable, endangered creatures use Playa Grande as one of their primary nesting sites, digging deep nests for their eggs before returning to the sea.

Costa Rica itinerary day 3: Hike the Monteverde Natural Reserve

Puntarenas Province, Northwest Costa Rica

Photo© Florent MECHAIN/TravelMag.com

As for what to do in Costa Rica, Monteverde Natural Reserve in Puntarenas Province is a must. Imagine birds twittering in the morning mist, high up in colorful trees aglow with bromeliads. 

Set at 1,500 meters above sea level and a haven for hiking enthusiasts, Monteverde has high-altitude paths wriggling through the moss-covered jungle. 

Adventurers love Selvatura Park’s suspension bridges amid treetops and forest canopies. Walk over these hanging bridges and you’ll hear roaring waterfalls and watch monkeys leap from twig to branch.

Suspension bridges in Costa Rica

Want it a bit more easygoing? 

No Costa Rica travel guide would be complete without sipping on a local cup of joe. There’s a string of cafes to choose from in the area.

Costa Rica day 4: Cross Rincón de la Vieja National Park on a horse

Guanacaste Province, Northwest Costa Rica

Photo© Kobold66

Still wondering where to go in Costa Rica?  How about another national park?

Aside from trekkers, Rincón de la Vieja National Park also caters to horseback riders. You can saddle up and ride your horse along scrub savannahs and vast grasslands. Your guide will take you through secondary rainforests ideal for bird watching. It’s a rugged place with lots of volcanic activity.

The Rincón de la Vieja volcano climbs to 1,848 meters. Still, you can watch thermal activity drip along its sides, with several vents, geysers, and fumaroles spewing heat and steam. And if that’s not enough action, climb to the top and admire the crater. This explorer’s paradise is complete with hot springs, mud baths, waterfalls, and rainforest pools. 

Costa Rica itinerary day 5: Witness Arenal’s volcano spectacle

Alajuela Province, North Costa Rica

In Costa Rica’s north, the cone-shaped Arenal looms over the hamlet of La Fortuna. If you get lucky, you can watch its crater spewing lava and spot ash clouds from a safe distance. Or, if you’re a daredevil, drive up, and gaze at that scorching lava flow that never stops.

Alternatively, the region’s rafting, ziplining and rappelling adventures keep your adrenaline pumping.

Costa Rica day 6: Chill out in mineral hot springs near Arenal

Alajuela Province, North Costa Rica

Need a hot bath to soothe your muscles after all that adventure? Then save time on your seven-day Costa Rica itinerary for hot springs. As there’s no shortage of volcanic activity, you can find hot springs all around this Central American country. Witness Arenal’s spectacle while kicking back in a hot spring at the volcano’s base. Or slurp cocktails at Tabacón’s Grand Spa Thermal Resort bar.

The Springs Resort & Spa offers comparable box seats and hair-raising slides for kids in the bargain!

Costa Rica itinerary day 7: Be transported back in time in the Ujarras ruins

Cartago Province, East Costa Rica

Ujarras church in Costa Rica
Photo© Mariordo (Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz)

To complete your Costa Rica itinerary for seven days, stop in Orosi, some 40 kilometers southeast of San José. Take a break at a panoramic vantage point overlooking the Orosi Valley and the mountains that frame the river bend. Apart from the views, I suggest Orosi because it’s only nine kilometers south of the Ujarras ruins—the remains of Costa Rica’s oldest church dating back to 1561.

Got time for a ten-day Costa Rica itinerary?

Here are three more ideas…

Manuel Antonio

Capuchin and titi monkeys will greet you on the hiking trails of Manuel Antonio National Park. Watch out for your food, though—monkeys and raccoons will try to make off with your provisions sneakily. 

Tortuguero

If you prefer east Costa Rica to the country’s southwest coast where Manuel Antonio sits, the Tortuguero Canals beckon in Limon Province. 

A tiny strip of land between the Caribbean and a dense tangle of jungle waterways, Tortuguero village comprises a few wooden cottages, and that’s it. You can take a boat ride along the narrow canals and spot sloths, caimans, monkeys, and aquatic birds. Green turtles nest on Tortuguero beach between June and October.

Tortuguero is a must-see on your Costa Rica itinerary for ten days if you’re a nature lover.

Osa Peninsula

The Osa Peninsula is the country’s most isolated and biologically rich area that jaguars, scarlet macaws, and crocodiles call home. 

Whether you like camping in Osa’s Corcovado National Park or defying the angry Arenal—you’ll have your head in the clouds by visiting this biodiverse heaven.

FAQ

Is Costa Rica a small country?

Yes, it is. But don’t let the country’s size fool you; getting around takes longer than you think.

Can you use US dollars in Costa Rica?

Oh yes! It’s the standard tourism currency. Both hotels and tour operators list their prices in USD.

Does it ever snow in Costa Rica?

No, don’t worry. But it can get cold at high altitudes; Costa Rica has microclimates.

Posted July 12, 2022
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Philipp Meier
Philipp Meier is a Phuket-based travel writer passionate about Thai culture and wandering off Thailand’s well-trodden tourist trail. His work has been published on the Nat Geo Traveller India, South China Morning Post, Culture Trip, BootsnAll, GoNOMAD, and elsewhere. You can find him at Writer Philipp Meier and LinkedIn.
image of blog writer Phil