This 10 days in Costa Rica itinerary includes the very best that Costa Rica has to offer.
It follows part of the route we used to explore magical Costa Rica with kids. However, like us, you will quickly discover that you could spend months in this incredible country and still not see everything that Costa Rica has to offer.
Our 10 days in Costa Rica itinerary includes lush rainforest, rare cloud forest, fantastic local food, challenging adventure activities and some once in a lifetime wildlife opportunities. Plus there is time allocated to relax and recharge on Costa Rica’s glorious tropical beaches.
The itinerary focuses on the north west of the country (Guanacaste and Alajuela provinces) and is full of busy, action packed days. But I guarantee that you will love every minute of your 10 days in Costa Rica.
10 days in Costa Rica Itinerary
Arrive into Costa Rica. Pick up your hire car or private transfer and head directly to La Fortuna and Arenal volcano.
Where to fly into Costa Rica – San Jose or Liberia?
This 10 days in Costa Rica itinerary is based in the north western Guanacaste province so it doesn’t really matter whether you fly into San Jose or Liberia.
The drive time to your first location -La Fortuna – is the same length whether you fly into the capital, San Jose, or into the north western Liberia airport. Both journeys will take around 2 ½ hours.
HOWEVER, if you can, I’d recommend flying in and out of Liberia airport. You will have a MUCH shorter journey at the end of this itinerary; unless of course, you do this itinerary in reverse!
Where to stay – La Fortuna or Arenal?
La Fortuna and Arenal are only minutes apart by car so all the major attractions in this area can be visited from either location.
If you wish to be in the heart of a bustling, local town, stay in charming La Fortuna.
But if you prefer a rural resort or hotel – or a hotel with its own hot springs – stay near Arenal.
If you arrive into La Fortuna/Arenal with remaining time in your day, stretch your legs and explore the small town of La Fortuna.
Wander the bustling town and watch the world go by from the centrally located town square with its pretty fountain and gardens. Refresh with one of La Fortuna’s famous fruit smoothies.
End your weary travel day with a soak in a hot spring.
Many hotels in Arenal have their own private hot springs for guests to use whenever they want to. But several hotels allow non guests to purchase a guest pass for their hot springs. One of these is the famous Tabacon Grand Spa.
Day 2 La Fortuna/Arenal
Morning – Proyecto Asis
Spend your morning at Proyecto Asis, a locally run wildlife rescue and refuge.
Wounded wild animals and confiscated pets are brought here to recuperate. Wherever possible, the animals are re-released into the wild.
The guided tour will give you valuable insight into the wildlife of Costa Rica. There is also the opportunity to book further packages that involve helping to prepare the animals food, feeding the animals and creating toys for the animals.
These add on experiences range from 2 hours to an overnight stay and offer a fantastic experience for animal lovers of all ages. Check out all the options available here.
Afternoon – Chocolate Tour
In the afternoon, take the excellent Don Olivio chocolate tour. In my opinion, this friendly tour is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica.
Unlike large group tours to commercial cocoa farms, this family run farm offer small group tours providing a hands on experience and a glimpse into rural life in Costa Rica.
Visitors can sample the different fruit grown on the farm, picked cocoa pods, grind cocoa beans and squeeze sugar cane.
The tour culminates in a delicious hot chocolate and chocolate tasting.
Check the current tour times of Don Olivio chocolate tour here.
Both Proyecto Asis and a chocolate tour are a must if you are visiting Costa Rica with kids.
Day 3 – La Fortuna/Arenal
Spend a full day exploring the incredible Arenal volcano.
Morning – Arenal Volcano National Park
Standing at 1,657 metres tall, the perfect conical shaped Arenal volcano is one of Costa Rica’s most active volcanoes.
Understandably, climbing the active volcano is not permitted but there are fantastic walks in the forests and lava fields around the base of the volcano.
There are trails for every age and ability varying from one hour trails to strenuous 3 hour trails. There is a ranger station with maps at the fee paying entrance.
Afternoon – La Fortuna Waterfall
Visit La Fortuna waterfall – a high, plunging waterfall in an idyllic setting straight out of ‘Jurassic Park.’
The 70 metre high waterfall lies in a fee paying nature reserve at the base of the dormant Chato volcano. The base of the waterfall is accessed by descending 530 steps (which you will have to ascend to exit).
The waterfall is spectacular after heavy rain and swimming is allowed in a designated area near the falls.
Evening – Soak in a hot spring
Rest weary sightseeing muscles with a soak in one of Arenal’s hot springs.
Buy a guest pass to access hot springs in a hotel or join the locals at the free to access Rio Chollin.
Rio Chollin is a hot river rather than a calm hot spring and is popular with local families. There are no changing facilities here so come ready dressed for the water or find the nearest big tree to change behind!
Day 4 Monteverde / Santa Elena
Morning -Transit to Montverde/Santa Elena
This journey can be completed in different ways.
If you are self driving or using a private transfer it will take around 2 1/2 hours to reach Monteverde. The roads are undulating and winding. Be prepared to stop to look at the spectacular views and to rest your churning stomach.
Alternatively, buy a ticket for the bus/boat/bus tourist route across Lake Arenal.
This established route is a well organised tourist operation. Numbered buses and private transfers depart La Fortuna/Arenal and drop tourists to the lake side to catch the passenger boat across the lake. Do not expect a modern passenger terminal with catering and toilets. Tourists are dropped off on the side of the road, walk down an earthen path and board the boat via walkways.
The passengers disembarking the boat head to the numbered buses you have just vacated. When you reach the other side of the lake you pick up the buses that these passengers vacated.
This buses and boats run on a tight schedule so neither will wait for you if you are running late. The boats are foot passenger only so you cannot take this journey if you have hired a car. I highly recommend this trip; the scenery was spectacular.
Where to stay – Santa Elena or Monteverde?
Monteverde and Santa Elena are ten minutes apart by car so again, major attractions can be visited from each location.
For a rural and remote stay, base yourself in Monteverde. If you would like to be near restaurants and a supermarket, stay in Santa Elena.
Afternoon – Explore Santa Elena
This small town is geared for tourists with several bars, restaurants and bakeries. It has a well stocked supermarket and a useful pharmacy.
Plus, there are several tourist outlets that sell tours and activities.
Santa Elena also has a several tourist attractions that deserve a visit.
Wander among the stunning flowers at The Orchid Garden or visit the Ranario Monteverde Frog Pond. Our kids loved the Serpentarium and don’t miss the delightful Children’s Eternal Rainforest.
Day 5 – Monteverde
Morning – Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Take a local bus or taxi to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Pick up a map at the rangers station and spend the morning hiking this incredible – and rare – part of the planet.
Wear sturdy shoes or boots as the earthen paths are uneven and can be muddy. Look out for coatis and the rare Resplendant Quetzel.
We spent two full days hiking in the cloud forest and loved every minute of it. We will never forget the enormous entwined trees, the giant millipedes and the constant drumming of Hummingbird wings.
Pack a sweater/jumper or raincoat as the elevated cloud forest is much cooler than lower locations. Again, bring plenty of snacks and water as there are no facilities inside the park.
You can read more about our time in the cloud forests of Monteverde here.
Afternoon – Coffee tour
Take a tour of a coffee plantation.
Several plantations offer timetabled guided tours with coffee tastings and optional purchases at the end of your tour. One of the most popular tours is the affable Cafe Monteverde tour.
Coffee production is surprisingly labour intensive and you will never look at a cup of coffee in quite the same way again!
Evening – A guided nocturnal hike
Take a nocturnal hike tonight or on Day 6 – whichever offers the driest weather! Trust me, it will make all the difference to your experience and enjoyment.
A nocturnal hike in this wildlife rich area is a must do activity but it is essential to follow a knowledgeable guide. You will not be able to navigate in the dark on your own and you will encounter some dangerous animals. Pay the money and go with a guide.
On our 2 hour nocturnal tour we saw tree frogs, sloths, tarantulas, kinkajous and snakes.
Day 6 Hanging bridges and zip lining
This is the adrenaline filled day of your 10 day itinerary. Costa Rica is emerging as an adventure activity destination – so don’t miss out!
There are a few adventure parks to choose from in this area. We chose Selvatura Adventure Park based on reviews from other families and were not disappointed.
Tourist outlets in Monteverde and Santa Elena offer zip lining and hanging bridges tours but you can also self drive and pay on entrance.
Morning – ziplining
Spend a thrilling morning ziplining Selvatura’s 13 zip lines. The 13 lines gradually increase in length and height preparing you for the final 1 kilometre long zip line high above the rainforest.
Basic training is given before you start and guides at every end point will help you onto the next line. Young children will be accompanied by a guide throughout; our six year old loved every minute spent with his guide.
Soaring above the Costa Rican rainforest was an incredible experience that our family will never forget.
Afternoon – Hanging Bridges
Calm your heart rate by savouring the views of the rainforest from the amazing hanging bridges.
These are not scary, wooden suspension bridges. Costa Rican ‘hanging bridges’ are sturdy, non swaying metal bridges.
The bridges offer incredible views and a fascinating, different perspective of the rainforest. They are suitable for all ages.
I hate heights but the hanging bridges were one of my top experiences in Costa Rica.
Day 7 – Hit the beach in Guanacaste
No 10 days in Costa Rica itinerary would be complete without some downtime on Costa Rica’s glorious beaches.
From Monteverde to the coast is approximately 2 ½ hrs by car.
If you have time, make a detour to visit Palo Verde National Park.
Palo Verde offers wetlands, grasslands, lagoons and tropical dry forests all in one park. The park is home to monkeys, crocodiles, iguanas, whip tail lizards, sloths and snakes. You may even see a puma!
Best beaches in Guanacaste
There are numerous location options along the coast; choosing where to stay in Guanacaste depends on what you want from your beach time.
If you prefer lively, built up areas offering easy, established tourist infrastructure head to the resorts of Tamarindo.
For water sports, stay at Playa Hermosa, a Blue Flag beach.
If you wish to stay in a tranquil, rural beach side town or village, head further south to Nosara and the area around stunning Samara.
We stayed in tiny Playa Junquillal. We wanted a small, local vibe and we luckily found it in gorgeous Playa Junquillal.
Be aware that Guanacaste beaches are not the tropical Caribbean kind. The sand on this stretch of coast is coarse and yellow plus the sea is cooler. Rip tides are common on this coastline so always seek local advice as to where to swim.
But the expansive beaches in Guanacaste are undeniably beautiful. Long, unspolit stretches of beach lined with palm tress and tropical flora. Plus the beaches offer fantastic wildlife opportunities; we saw monkeys, turtles and iguanas on our beach walks.
Day 8 -9 Guanacaste beaches
Fill your days with thrilling activities or do absolutely nothing except relax under a palm tree!
Things to do on the Guanacaste beaches
Learn to surf at Tamarindo or boogie board at calmer Langosta.
Go kayaking or snorkelling at Playa Hermosa. Brave a zipline with a coastal view at Diamante Eco Adventure Park or go horse riding or off road driving. Plus there are several coffee and chocolate plantation tours available in Guanacaste.
Do not miss the chance to see nesting turtles in your 10 day itinerary. Costa Rica offers some of the most accessible turtle spotting locations in the world.
In the peak season of December and January, you can watch leatherback turtles nesting at Playa Grande which forms part of Las Bualas Marine Park. If you can make the journey to the rural black sand beaches at Ostional, you will have the chance to witness thousands of nesting Olive Ridley turtles in the ‘arribada’ phenomenon.
An ‘arribada’ is a mass nesting that follows the lunar cycle between May and December. Tens of thousands of turtles come ashore at once to nest. The largest numbers occur at new moons during September, October and November.
Alternatively, visit Playa Junquillal during nesting season to help the locally run turtle sanctuary release endangered Olive Ridley and Leatherback turtles into the sea.
You can read about our magical, once in a lifetime experience releasing turtles here.
Day 10 – Depart Costa Rica
If you are departing from Liberia, it is a 1 hr 20 drive from Tamarindo to Liberia airport. San Jose airport is 4 1/2 hours away.
But if you have any spare time before departing, there are a couple of options on how to spend your time.
Tio Leo Coffee Tour is a ten minute drive from Liberia airport. Tio Leo offers guided tours as well as a coffee roasting class and cooking class.
If you have a full day you may be able to squeeze in a visit to Rincon de la Vieja National Park.
This UNSECO World Heritage Site is a 50 minute + drive further north of Liberia airport. It offers scenic hiking trails, lots of wildlife as well as the opportunity to see volcanic activity such as bubbling mud and fumeroles. You may even have time for one last soak in a Costa Rican hot spring!
This busy 10 days in Costa Rica itinerary will show you the incredible diversity of Costa Rica. You will leave imbibed with ‘pura vida’ and already planning to return.