The Ultimate Costa Rica Itinerary

Are you planning to travel to Costa Rica? Super exciting! It's the perfect country to embark on jungle adventures, spot wildlife, and relax on the beach. Costa Rica boasts numerous beautiful spots, making it a challenge to create a travel itinerary. We've put together an itinerary for you that you can customize according to your preferences, so you can embark on a journey that truly suits you!

Getting around in Costa Rica

How you compile the perfect travel itinerary also depends on the transportation you choose. The easiest and quickest option is to rent a car in Costa Rica. This provides you with the freedom to drive wherever you want without depending on others. If you decide not to rent a car, local buses are a good alternative. The advantage of the bus is that it is cheaper than renting a car. However, keep in mind that you may need to transfer multiple times to reach your destination, and local buses may not have air conditioning. Larger touring buses do have air conditioning, but they may not cover all destinations.

Another option is to travel through Costa Rica by shuttle, which is usually equipped with air conditioning, and you will be dropped off at your accommodation. The downside of a shuttle is that it can be costly, often even more than renting a car. One option could be to combine local buses and shuttles to keep costs lower. You can easily book shuttles through Bookaway.

Costs in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a beautiful country to travel through, but it is also an expensive destination, notably pricier than other countries in Central America. Accommodation costs vary widely, with hotels being more expensive than hostels. Opting for a bed in a dormitory is the cheapest sleeping arrangement. Dining at popular restaurants can quickly reach prices similar to those in the US for a main course. Choosing local eateries can be more budget-friendly, and an even cheaper option is cooking your own meals.

Transportation costs can be tailored to your budget. Touring and local buses are the most economical options, though transfers are often required. Shuttles and car rentals are considerably more expensive, as are Ubers and taxis. Additionally, keep in mind that costs for activities, entrance fees, and tours are additional expenses, and these tend to be higher in Costa Rica compared to other countries. Despite the expenses, many people still visit Costa Rica because it is undoubtedly worth it.

Do you want to read more information about the costs in Costa Rica? Check out our article on Travel Costs in Costa Rica.

How many weeks do you need in Costa Rica?

You can certainly entertain yourself for several weeks in Costa Rica with all there is to see and do. Perhaps you only have a few weeks of vacation or you're on a multi-country journey? In that case, it's nice to travel through the most beautiful and unique places in a few weeks. Therefore, we have created an itinerary for you for 3 weeks. You can extend the itinerary with additional destinations or shorten it by spending one night less in some places. This way, you can create the perfect trip!

San José

+/- 1 night

The capital of Costa Rica is San José and is likely the starting point of your adventure when traveling to Costa Rica by plane. San José is not one of the highlights of Costa Rica, and if you don't have much time, it's advisable not to stay too long. The downtown area of San José lacks a bit of charm, and the city may come across as gritty. However, there are also nicer neighborhoods, pleasant parks, and lively markets to explore in the city. Moreover, it's a good place to take a day to recover after a long flight, so you can begin your journey with fresh energy.

After our trip, we stayed for two nights at the Ecostay Hostel, a 25-minute drive from the airport. The hostel has a lovely garden where you can relax in hammocks. It's also a friendly place to meet other travelers and start your journey with a positive vibe!


+/- 3 nights

Montezuma is a small gem on the Nicoya Peninsula. It's a beautiful place surrounded by jungle, stunning waterfalls, and a delightful beach. Montezuma is close to another coastal town, the busier Santa Teresa. If you prefer tranquility and an authentic atmosphere, Montezuma is a good choice. If you're looking for more activity, parties, and shops, it's better to stay in Santa Teresa.

How to get there?
From San José, it takes about 4 hours to reach Montezuma. You first drive two hours to Puntarenas, where you take the ferry to Paquera on the Nicoya Peninsula. A ticket for one adult is 1.50 USD. If you take your car on the boat, there's an additional 24 USD per car. Afterward, it's about an hour's drive to Montezuma.

It's also possible to take a shuttle to Montezuma. You can easily book this through Bookaway. Costs are around 67 USD.

You can also take a local bus from San José to Puntarenas and then take the ferry to Paquera. From Paquera, you can take a bus to Cóbano and then a taxi to Montezuma. Ask your accommodation about the boarding point and departure times, as these can change regularly.


+/- 3 nights

After a relaxing time in Montezuma, it's time for adventure in Monteverde! Monteverde is a beautiful nature reserve in the mountains. The town of Santa Elena, with many hotels and restaurants, is located near Monteverde. Monteverde is renowned for its unique cloud forests where you can spot numerous exotic plant and animal species. Surrounded by nature reserves like the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, Monteverde is a great place for hiking. If you're in the mood for an adrenaline rush, Monteverde has you covered! In the vicinity, you can enjoy zip-lining, canopy tours, and walking on towering suspension bridges.

How to get there?
From Montezuma, it takes about 4 hours to drive to Monteverde. You will drive via the peninsula, and there's no need to take the ferry again. You can book a shuttle from Montezuma to Monteverde starting at 57 USD through Bookaway.

Another option is the local bus. You can take a bus to Santa Teresa first and then another bus to Monteverde from there. Ask your accommodation about the boarding point and departure times, as these can change regularly.

La Fortuna / Arenal

+/- 3 nights

Great news! There's a lot more to explore near Monteverde, and the next stop is La Fortuna. This is the town near the Arenal Volcano and the corresponding Arenal Volcano National Park. It's the place where many vacationers, backpackers, and travelers stop to enjoy adventure with a laid-back atmosphere. There's plenty to see and do here! You can visit the national park, admire waterfalls, relax in hot springs, and walk on hanging bridges.

Check out our article 'The 9 Best Tips for La Fortuna & The Arenal Volcano' for more tips!

How to get there?
From Monteverde, it's about a 3-hour drive by car to La Fortuna. You can book a shuttle from Monteverde to La Fortuna starting at 35 USD through Bookaway.

There's also a local bus from Monteverde to La Fortuna. You first travel to the Tilaran bus station and then take the bus to La Fortuna. This route takes some time as you may have to wait a while for a transfer.

Drake Bay

Drake Bay is a coastal town near Corcovado National Park, renowned for its remarkable biodiversity. The park is home to numerous plant and animal species, including endangered ones like the jaguar. It's a beautiful place for hiking, and guided adventures provide an opportunity to explore the park's wonders. In addition to hiking, Drake Bay offers excellent snorkeling, especially around Isla del Caño, a small island off the coast with a fascinating underwater world awaiting exploration. Whale and dolphin watching is also popular in Drake Bay, known for its warm waters ideal for whale breeding.

How to get there?
From La Fortuna, it's a considerable drive to Drake Bay, taking approximately 8 hours. Consider leaving early, and you might want to take a detour to visit the Catarata del Toro waterfall on the way. This is the highest waterfall in Costa Rica, with water plummeting from 90 meters (300 feet). The climb to the waterfall takes about 45 minutes, surrounded by jungle.

If you're not traveling by car, carefully consider whether you want to visit this destination. It's quite a distance from other attractions, making travel time-consuming and less accessible by shuttle or local bus. You can decide to take a shuttle from La Fortuna to San José, starting at 43 USD. From San José, you can then take a Tracopa bus to Sierpe. From Sierpe, you can take the ferry to Drake Bay, which takes about 1 hour. It's advisable to buy bus tickets from the Tracopa company through the Passer app, as the website may not always work well. Another option is to fly from San José to Drake Bay, but prices are around 250-300 USD. From the Drake Bay airport, it's an 8-minute taxi ride to the town.

If you decide to skip this destination, you can continue the itinerary from the next stop, Dominical.


+/- 3 nights

Dominical is one of the most beautiful coastal towns in Costa Rica. It is located near the more well-known and touristy Uvita. Dominical is a paradise for surfers and adventurers. The rugged beaches offer perfect waves for surfers, while the surrounding rainforest provides opportunities for hikes and zip-lining. After a day filled with adventure, you can relax in Dominical's laid-back, bohemian atmosphere and enjoy the sunset on the beach.

Check out our article 'The 13 Best Things To Do in Dominical' for more tips!

How to get there?
From Drake Bay, it's about a 3-hour drive to Dominical.

There are no direct shuttle or bus options to Dominical. However, you can choose to take a shuttle or bus to Dominical from Sierpe. To do this, you first need to take the ferry from Drake Bay to Sierpe. In Sierpe, you can take a shuttle or a Tracopa bus to Dominical. Tickets for these can be purchased online through the Passer app.

If you've decided to skip Drake Bay, you can take a local bus or shuttle from La Fortuna to Quepos. In Quepos, you can transfer to another local bus or shuttle to Dominical. Ask your accommodation for the current boarding point and departure time for the local bus, as this can change regularly.

Manuel Antonio

+/- 2 nights

Manuel Antonio is a small town, and many travelers make a stop here to enjoy Manuel Antonio National Park. It's the smallest national park in Costa Rica but one of the most well-known, so it's a must-visit on your itinerary. The park offers a bit of everything: tropical rainforest, beaches with crystal-clear water, and a variety of animals such as monkeys, sloths, and raccoons. You can easily spend a day here.

Check out our article 'The 7 Best Tips for Manuel Antonio National Park' for more information!

How to get there?
From Dominical, it's about a small hour's drive to Manuel Antonio. You can also take a shuttle from Dominical to Manuel Antonio. The shuttle takes about 1.5 hours, and prices start from 39 USD.

From Dominical, you can also take a local bus to Quepos and transfer to another local bus or taxi to get to Manuel Antonio. Ask your accommodation about the correct boarding point and departure times, as these can change regularly.


+/- 3 nights

Jacó is a delightful conclusion to your journey through Costa Rica. This surf town is loved by tourists and Costa Rican locals alike. It boasts a broad beach lined with palm trees, hotels, shops, and restaurants. Jacó is one of Costa Rica's most developed beach resorts. On the beach, you'll often see Costa Ricans relaxing with their families or friends during weekends, holidays, or special occasions, creating a lovely blend of local culture and tourism in the city. Jacó is one of the coastal towns with dark sand on the beach, a result of past volcanic eruptions in the region.

If you're in the mood for a party, Jacó has plenty to offer in the evening. Enjoy a delicious cocktail at a cozy bar or attend a party! During the day, there are also numerous activities to enjoy. You can go zip-lining, take a catamaran cruise, surf, or explore nature. Carara National Park is nearby and is fantastic to visit! The national park is one of the best places for bird watching, and we've also seen iguanas, monkeys, and poison dart frogs while hiking through the park. There are plenty of options for a wonderful conclusion to your journey!

Check out our article 'The 9 Best Things To Do in Jacó' for more tips!

How to get there?
From Manuel Antonio, it's just over a 1-hour drive to Jacó. By shuttle, you can reach Jacó in 1.5 hours, with prices starting from 33 USD.

From the bus station in Manuel Antonio, you can also take a Tracopa bus to Jacó, which takes about 1.5 hours. You can buy bus tickets online through the Passer app.

San José

+/- 1 nights

The chances are high that your journey concludes in San José, as this is where you'll likely catch your flight. If you have an early morning flight, we recommend spending an extra night in San José to minimize travel time to the airport. If your flight is in the late afternoon, you may also consider heading directly to San José from Jacó.

How to get there?
From Jacó, it's about a 1.5-hour drive to San José and the airport.

Taking a shuttle to San José or the airport is a convenient option. Prices start from 16 USD to the city and from 30 USD to the airport.

There are also buses from Jacó to San José, taking around 3 hours, and arriving at the bus station. You can easily purchase tickets online through the Passer app.

Additional places to visit

Unfortunately, not all of Costa Rica's beautiful destinations fit into this 3-week itinerary. If you have enough time, we definitely recommend visiting these places as well!

Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa is a delightful beach destination on the Nicoya Peninsula. Many travelers come here for surfing, but it's also a great spot for lively parties, quad biking, visiting waterfalls, shopping, yoga classes, and of course, chilling on the beach.

Santa Teresa is a vibrant location and is located near Montezuma, which is a quieter coastal town.

Tortuguero National Park

This is the place to go if you love turtles! The national park is a crucial nesting area for sea turtles. 'Tortuguero' also means 'place of turtles.' You can only reach the park by taking a boat trip through the mangrove, as the park is located on a sandbank. A very cool start to your tour of the park!

During the nesting season from July to October, you can see the most turtles. In addition to turtles, you can also spot other wildlife in the park, such as colorful poison dart frogs, American crocodiles, snakes, and spiders. There is more than enough to discover.

Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo is a tropical paradise with a delightful laid-back vibe on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Here, you'll discover delightful restaurants and cozy bars. It's enjoyable to explore the town and its surroundings by bike. Puerto Viejo is quite a drive from the other destinations and therefore is not included in the suggested itinerary, but it's definitely worth considering if you have more time!


Uvita is located near Dominical and is more well-known among travelers. The surrounding area of Uvita offers a variety of activities. Many people visit for the Marino Ballena National Park and the Whale’s Tail, which takes the shape of a whale's tail during low tide. The formation is particularly visible from the air. Additionally, Uvita is a hotspot for activities such as zip-lining, hiking, kayaking in the mangroves, and horseback riding on the beach. It's a delightful beachside location surrounded by rainforest!

Do you want to read more about Costa Rica?

See all our articles with the best tips to discover all beautiful places in Costa Rica.

Do you want to read more about Costa Rica?

See all our articles with the best tips to discover all beautiful places in Costa Rica.

About the authors

How nice that you are on our website and that you have read this article! We are Mirte and Matthew, two Dutch adventurers with a passion for traveling, discovering cultures, and gaining new experiences. We've translated our love for the world into this website. We hope our articles inspire you to go on adventures! You can learn more about us through the button below.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram