First-time travelers to Costa Rica are often surprised at the wide variety of destinations, experiences, and attractions to be found in such a small country, which can make the task of planning the ultimate itinerary seem daunting. There are so many gorgeous beaches, tropical forests, national parks and tours that it can be hard to narrow it down the options to curate the trip that is right for you. Before you are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of possibilities, take a moment to imagine the ideal trip and define the necessary elements that will make it possible.
Your Type of Trip Determines Your Type of Itinerary
The first element to consider is the type of trip you are creating. Are you planning a family vacation, honeymoon, or adventure trip? It is important to know how many people are going on the trip and the purpose and expectations of each traveler. Take into consideration the ages, abilities, attention span, and interests of the integrants of your trip. Remember that some locations and activities have an age minimum and require a certain level of physical fitness for safety.
- Are you an adventurous couple looking for a remote romantic getaway?
- Are you a family looking for popular and enjoyable “must-see” locations in Costa Rica?
- Are you a group of avid explorers looking for adventurous outdoor experiences in nature?
- Are you up for a remote family adventure that is “off the beaten path”, or are the ease and amenities of a resort more your style?
- Did you know you can still have an all-inclusive, family trip without the generic surroundings of a resort?
Taking the time to clarify your intentions can help you make better choices as you create your Costa Rica itinerary.
The next factors to consider are the length of time you will need to visit Costa Rica and your group’s travel pace. Are you looking to see as much as you can of the country and pack your days with activities and tours? Or are you seeking to slow down, relax and unwind, and spend more time at each location with less time on the road getting from place to place?
We recommend a minimum of 7 days to give yourself enough time for arrival and departure travel days to and from your point of origin, plus enough time to thoroughly enjoy multiple destinations in-country.
How Many Days in Costa Rica?
7 days (one week)
You should make sure to see the rainforest and beach, with several activities and tours at each location. The tips in our article, Best of Costa Rica in 7 Days, ensure you take advantage of the most quintessential destinations while minimizing travel time. In a week, we generally go straight for the most prized natural attractions, such as white water rafting, strategically skipping the big cities.
With an additional day, you can enjoy the highlights of a 7-day itinerary and add in another attraction, such as a volcano, mountains or a day tour such as visiting Sarchí in the central valley before you depart.
You can expand your collection of destinations, adding in more places to visit while taking your time to truly soak in the flavor and everything each place has to offer. The tips in our article, Best of Costa Rica in 10 Days, ensure you can enjoy the rainforest, a beach, and a volcano.
14 days (two weeks)
In two weeks you can give yourself the luxury of covering more ground, exploring different regions of the country, and venturing into more remote locations. You can also take a slower pace, taking time to sink into each location or maximize the diverse climates, landscapes, life zones and ecosystems that Costa Rica has to offer.
14 days also ensures that you have enough time to visit both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts and also various elevations such as the highlands of Monteverde or Irazú volcano. You can also add some time at the capital of San José. Explore Costa Rica’s Southern Zone and secluded locations such as Drake Bay and the famous Corcovado National Park, known as one of Costa Rica’s most wild frontiers.
Costa Rica’s Top Destinations
Costa Rica’s top destinations usually include time at the beach, volcano, and rainforest. Our Costa Rica Collection itinerary includes a combination of rainforest, cloud forest, and Pacific beach to hit the most satisfying and iconic locations in Costa Rica. Popular activities include snorkeling, wildlife rainforest tours, soaking in thermal hot springs, and flying through the treetops on a canopy tour.
The following resources will help you determine where to go:
Planning Lodging & Accommodations
When planning your lodging, make sure that your accommodations are the right match for your group’s budget and tastes. By planning a trip with us, you can prevent unexpected surprises or lodging that doesn’t meet the reviews or photos you saw on their website. Whether you are in need of Casual, Premier, or Upgraded (Luxury) accommodations, we can make sure that you get the right lodging for your group and your wallet.
Planning Transportation for Smooth Transitions
Transportation is key in an itinerary that involves multiple destinations. The smoothest and easiest way to experience the trip, especially for groups, is to have private transportation (including airport transfers) so you know that you have a trusted driver waiting for you when you arrive.
For the more adventurous travelers and those up for navigating Costa Rica’s roads and different driving cultures, there is also the option of rental cars, shuttles, or even public buses. However, we recommend reviewing the Costa Rica transportation tips from the U.S. Department of State before choosing to drive in Costa Rica.
Some destinations such as Tortuguero do not currently have road access, so arrival via riverboat through tropical mangroves is part of the journey.
For more remote locations or to save time instead of going overland, Costa Rica has local airlines that fly from the major airports of Juan Santamaría and Liberia to smaller landing strips at destinations throughout the country.
Balancing Beaches vs Rainforest
On any trip to Costa Rica make sure to hit both the rainforest and beach. While visiting Costa Rica many enjoy the contrast of climate, temperature, and diverse flora and fauna of the beaches of Guanacaste vs the cloud forest of Monteverde. There are some locations, such as Manuel Antonio that have both beaches and rainforest in the same place.
Rather than fumbling blindly through the vast and varied possibilities of a trip in Costa Rica, allow Costa Rica Escapes’ itinerary specialists to match you and your group to the ultimate itinerary for your needs and interests, or create a custom itinerary specific to your requests.
John Rabenau has been working in the eco-tourism & adventure travel industry in Costa Rica since 2002. He has worked in a variety of capacities from Outdoor Educator & Principle Guide to Itinerary Design Manager & Business Owner for numerous organizations. He has grown Costa Rica Escapes into one of the most reputable Costa Rica travel agencies since its creation in 2006, hosting more than 5,000 people with custom vacation itineraries.