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
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)
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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…
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.
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.
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.
Yes, it is. But don’t let the country’s size fool you; getting around takes longer than you think.
Oh yes! It’s the standard tourism currency. Both hotels and tour operators list their prices in USD.
No, don’t worry. But it can get cold at high altitudes; Costa Rica has microclimates.