There are of course many different routes and ways to see Costa Rica. But when you start planning your trip you can feel slightly overwhelmed. There is so much to see in this amazing country.
I am kind of in love with the route I took so I wanted to share it for anyone attempting to plan a 10 (ish) day trip to Costa Rica.
First off, you should definitely rent a car. I stupidly rented a standard car and although it ended up (mostly) fine. I definitely wish I had rented a 4x4 with 4 wheel drive. Even though it is more expensive it is worth the extra money for peace of mind.
Here are the top articles to read about renting a car in Costa Rica.
10 days in Costa Rica itinerary
Day 1: Fly into San Jose – Drive to Costa Ballena
While you can choose to stay in San Jose and explore I didn’t. My main goal was to see nature. I arrived into San Jose around 1 pm, immediately picked up my rental car and drove to the Costa Ballena Area. Costa Ballena includes the towns of Dominical, Uvita and Ojochal.
Suggested Hotel: El Castillo in Ojochal – full review here.
Day 2 – 4: Explore the beautiful Costa Ballena
If you enjoy being close to beaches, waterfalls, jungles and tons of wildlife definitely spend a good amount of time in Costa Ballena.
Plan your trip: Costa Ballena Trip Planning - things to do, where to stay, how to get there.
Don't Miss: Whales Tail at Marino Ballena National Park - full directions and tips here.
Suggested Hotels: La Cusinga, El Castillo and Oxygen Villas.
Day 5: Drive to Monteverde
If you are driving yourself or taking a shuttle driving to Monteverde takes a good amount of time, which is why I budgeted a full day. Allow 4 – 5 hours if you are coming from the Costa Ballena area. Sometimes it takes longer depending on road conditions.
You can read a full guide on the best route to take to Monteverde here.
Day 6: Monteverde
Spend the whole day and night exploring all that Monteverde has to offer. Monteverde has seriously hundreds of things to do (read more here) in both the adventure, think ziplining, and the more relaxed, think easy trail hiking, categories.
Plan your trip: Monteverde Trip Planning - things to do, where to stay, how to get there.
Don't Miss: The adventure parks. There are two in Monteverde, Selvatura and Sky Adventures. They are very similar to each other but one is way cheaper than the other. You can see a full comparison of the two parks here.
Suggested Hotel: Miramontes - great budget option in Monteverde.
Day 7: Drive to La Fortuna or the Lake Arenal Area
Again, getting down the mountain from Monteverde takes a good amount of time. I suggest stopping at Viento Fresco Waterfalls along the way. Not only are they absolutely BEAUTIFUL but they are the perfect midway point to stretch your legs and cool off with a swim under one of their 4 waterfalls.
Read on: Exact directions and info for Viento Fresco Waterfalls here.
Day 8 & 9: The Arenal Volcano and beyond
Explore the La Fortuna and Lake Arenal area. There are a ton of things to do including zip lining, ATV rides, the gorgeous La Fortuna Waterfall and of course the main attraction: hiking around the Arenal Volcano. If you love hiking and want great views I highly suggest the 1968 Lava Trail. (Directions and more info on the trail here.) It is a tough hike but totally worth it.
Plan your trip: Arenal Trip Planning - things to do, where to stay, how to get there.
Don't Miss: The 1968 Lava Trail and taking a dip in the natural hot springs.
Suggested Hotel: Hotel Mystica
Day 10: Fly home
Head to San Jose or Liberia, return your car and fly home.
More time in Costa Rica?
If you have more time in Costa Rica (lucky you) I suggest a couple more things:
- Book a stay at Rafiki Safari Lodge for a couple of days. It is truly a unique experience and I double recommend it if you are traveling with kids. Rafiki is one of the best family friendly hotels in Costa Rica.
- Visit Tenerio National Park and hike to the Rio Celeste Waterfall. The bluest waterfall you honestly have to see to believe.
- Visit a non-profit wildlife sanctuary. Animals upclose and your money goes to a good cause = a win win. I suggest Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary in Uvita.
- Explore more waterfalls. Here is a list of the best waterfalls in Costa Rica.
- Of course you can add more cities in. Here is a list of best cities in Costa Rica to get you started.