Two Week Itinerary for Your First Time in Costa Rica

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Advisor - Anna Ingoglia
Curated By

Anna Ingoglia

  • Costa Rica

  • Active Travel

  • Adventure Travel

  • National Park

  • Coastal

  • Outdoors

costal view
Curator’s statement

Costa Rica is a captivating destination full of rich biodiversity, awesome adventure and delicious and healthy cuisine. From lush rainforests to warm sandy beaches, family adventures to romantic escapes or thrilling adventures to serene relaxation, Costa Rica has something for every traveler. This is a wonderful destination to tick off your list.

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Day 1: Nicoya Peninsula exploration

Brown rock formation on seashore.

Fly into Liberia, Costa Rica, and pick up your rental car. Having a car is essential to explore all the sights, so I recommend a 4-wheel drive vehicle for the diverse road conditions. If you’ve landed with plenty of time to drive to the Nicoya peninsula before sundown (about 4.5 hrs), start your road trip journey right away. Otherwise, stay nearby and wait until morning. Nighttime driving in Costa Rica can be challenging due to uneven and unpaved roads, potential flooding and limited street lighting.

Your destination today is Santa Teresa on the Nicoya Peninsula. This cool remote beach town has lots of delicious, diverse restaurants, a beautiful beach with stunning sunsets and tons of fun activities.

When you arrive, you’ll notice that a lot of people get around by car, quad/ATV, or motorcycle. Drive along the main road, Las Piedras, to get a feel of the town. Check out the different shops and restaurants and since this road runs parallel to the beach, you can park and pop over to the sand on foot at any time.

Day 2: Relaxed culinary exploration

A rooftop dinner table during sunset

Assuming you arrived in Santa Teresa the day prior, start your day on the main road and get to know the town of Santa Teresa at a relaxed pace with breakfast at The Bakery. This Israeli-owned bakeshop has a deep case of baked goods, delicious coffee, and an entire a la carte menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner items.

Window shop and take your time exploring Las Piedras, then enjoy lunch at Eat Street. This open-air restaurant is a collection of different food stalls, so everyone in your group can pick whatever they’re in the mood for that day.

In the afternoon, pick a spot along the beach or at your pool to relax until dinner time. There are numerous delicious dinner options, and I recommend El Facon Grill & Bar. This quaint, cool steakhouse serves Argentinian steaks and fresh local seafood and often features live music. I highly recommend a margarita and the hamburger, although you can’t go wrong with any of their steaks.

Day 3: Active beach adventures

People during daytime on the beach

Embrace the local culture and try your hand at surfing! Numerous surf shops in town will rent you a board and/or provide you with lessons, whether you’re brand new or looking to sharpen your skills. If surfing isn’t your thing, there are also plenty of kayaking and paddleboarding options available too. Or, if watersports don’t sound appealing try yoga at one of the many yoga studios in town that welcome yogis of all levels.

After an active morning, unwind on the beach and soak up the sounds of the crashing waves before enjoying lunch at Soda Tiquicia, where you can eat your fill of delicious fish casados and fresh ceviche.

Afterward, spend the rest of your day exploring the nearby Playa Hermosa, a beautiful stretch of pristine sand just North of Santa Teresa Beach. Sunbathe, swim or simply lounge under the shade of a palm tree with a good book.

For dinner, treat yourself to a delectable sushi feast at Nami Sushi in Santa Teresa; you’ve earned it! This local gem offers a delightful array of fresh and flavorful sushi creations. Or, if you’d like something you can sink your teeth into, try Muzza Pizzeria, a local haven for pizza lovers.

Day 4: Adventure, waterfalls and gourmet delights

Aerial view of a green beach and blue water.

Time to explore what the larger area has to offer. If you haven’t already: rent a 4-wheeler or ATV. You have a choice of a seated and covered cab style option (that can fit up to 4) or the traditional four-wheelers where you sit astride on top and seat up to 2. Take your time to practice driving before grabbing coffee and snacks at a local cafe and heading out to The Montezumas Waterfalls Trailhead. Pop into one of the many local Sodas for lunch on your way back to town.

If enjoying your stay in a vacation villa, elevate your dining experience by hiring a personal chef for this evening. While there are several talented chefs to choose from in the Santa Teresa area, two that stand out are the talented sisters of D'twins Kitchen. These two chefs were classically trained in the US and returned home to Costa Rica to create some of the most outstanding and authentic Tico cuisine. Treat yourself to a memorable evening filled with exquisite flavors as D'twins Kitchen creates culinary masterpieces in the comfort of your villa.

Day 5: Island adventure finale

surfer walks on a beach with pink sunset

Take off on a boat ride to Tortuga Island for an impressive snorkeling and scuba adventure on your last day in Santa Teresa. Discover vibrant marine life and coral reefs in the crystal-clear waters surrounding this volcanic island where you will enjoy hours of snorkeling, a BBQ lunch and relaxing on pristine white sands. There are numerous snorkeling options available, ranging from family-friendly group tours to customizable private catamaran rentals.

When you return back to your home away from home, celebrate your last night in Santa Teresa with a beachside dinner at Manzu restaurant at the Hotel Nantipa. Here, with warm sand between your toes, you can enjoy a selection of fresh and locally sourced plates and an extensive selection of handcrafted cocktails, fine wines and beer. Be sure to schedule dinner to start right before sunset so you can marvel at the pastel sky while enjoying your meal. And take lots of pictures!

Day 6: Enchanting Cloud Forest retreat

waterfall amid a lush jungle

Time to hit the road again! Your destination today is Monteverde, the renowned Cloud Forest of Costa Rica. The main attraction here is the Biological Reserve, a protected area spanning over 26,000 acres, where you can explore a lush canopy of trees and an abundance of flora and fauna, like the quetzal, toucans, and howler monkeys.

Check into your lodging then enjoy dinner at the San Lucas Treetop Dining Experience. This unique pre-fixe dinner takes place in suspended glass rooms connected across a system of walkways and platforms over the canopy of the forest. Take in panoramic views of the clouds sifting through the trees and the town of Monteverde while you savor your culinary journey— which has pescatarian, vegetarian and vegan options available.

Day 7: Hiking in Monteverde

A waterfall from a mountain into a lake.

Hiking in Monteverde is a must-do and there are several options that will fit everyone’s preferences - from self-guided tours to fully guided adventure parks.

Selvatura Park offers numerous ways to explore their 850 acres of nature reserve, featuring educational exhibits, a sloth sanctuary, zip lining and canopy tours. Their diverse packages offer something to suit everyone’s preferences.

If you prefer to explore on your own, El Tigre Waterfall hike is a family-owned and managed moderately challenging self-guided hike that takes you through a lush forest past numerous waterfalls, and over picturesque hanging bridges. You are welcome to stay as long as you’d like during the day, so pack a swimsuit and cool off under one of the waterfalls throughout your hike. You have the option to hike back out of the canyon or take a horseback ride back to your starting point. Either way, be sure not to miss the delicious casado lunch provided by the kitchen here. It’s delicious!

Retreat to your lodging to take a rest and enjoy an early dinner, then head back into the forest. Yes, serious! The majority of wildlife in Costa Rica is nocturnal, so there are several guided night tours offered. Accompanied by an experienced guide, venture into the nocturnal realm and witness the fascinating creatures that emerge under the cover of night.

Day 8: Arenal adventure awaits

stream through jungle

Wake up at a leisurely pace. You were up late into the night after all, party animal, and enjoy breakfast and coffee at one of the many fantastic cafes in town. Poke around Santa Elena and do some last-minute shopping (sloth memorabilia, anyone?) before hitting the road. Today your destination is La Fortuna.

Nestled at the base of the magnificent Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna offers a captivating blend of adventure, relaxation and breathtaking landscapes, ensuring an unforgettable travel experience.

Check into your lodging and enjoy dinner in town. I recommend La Cascada for a casual, locally-owned dinner. This popular spot has been Tico-owned for years and has views of the volcano and a full bar alongside the delicious Costa Rican cuisine. Careful not to imbibe too much, though - you have an early morning ahead of you!

Day 9: Birding adventure and blissful relaxation

view of a jungle city

If you’re one of the many people who took up birding recently, rise with the sun and join the early birds at the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park. Here, a specialized naturalist guide will show you the tropical birds and reptiles of the Arenal forest. You’ll have a chance to see different kinds of toucans, motmots, hummingbirds, parrots, snakes and more, over 400 bird species have been sighted here!

Your tour should conclude around 9:30 am, so once you’re done, spend the rest of the day unwinding at one of the many hot springs located in town. If your lodging doesn’t include hot springs, many resorts offer day passes with meals included — Tabacón Thermal Resort and Spa is a notable spot.

You can also indulge in a massage at one of the many top-notch spas in the area. The Nayara Resorts Spa is potentially one of the most romantic. It has open-air spa cabanas overlooking a river and a private pool and they offer numerous packages from full body massages and treatments to facials and nail services.

Day 10: Thrilling volcano adventures and rejuvenation

Staircase with waterfall and plants around

Begin your exploration today with a visit to the iconic Arenal Volcano. Embark on a guided hike through the national park, traversing lava fields, vibrant forests and bubbling hot springs.

For the adventurous at heart, combine your hike with thrilling activities such as ATV rides, zip-lining through the rainforest canopy, whitewater rafting or rappeling down cascading waterfalls.

If you didn’t get the chance yesterday, unwind after your adventures with a soak in a hot spring or a massage at one of the many spas in the area.

Day 11: Luxurious coastal retreat

Puerto Viejo coastline aerial view.

Back on the road for your penultimate car trip of this vacation! Today your destination is the Papagayo Peninsula. Stop by Tom’s Pan German Bakery on your way out for coffee and pastries. I recommend a strudel or anything with fresh mango or guava.

This part of your trip is all about relaxation. Enjoy the serene luxury of 5-star resorts along the Papagayo Peninsula, just an hour's drive from Liberia Airport. Resorts offer shuttle services and you can choose to return your car rental today or keep it until your departure day.

Check into your lodging and get ready to flop and relish the last couple of days in your costa rican adventure. You’ve done a lot!

Day 12 - 13: Ultimate luxury and tranquility

An island view

Relax and unwind in pure luxury at your resort. Indulge in a soothing massage, take leisurely beach strolls, and enjoy a picturesque beachside picnic. These two days, the world is your oyster! You are on holiday, after all.

Explore the calm waters with a kayak or paddleboard excursion, basking in the warm Costa Rican sun. The only appointment you have to keep each day is being on time for the breathtaking sunsets that paint the sky at cocktail hour.

Day 14: Farewell to Costa Rica's beauty. Pura Vida!

Palm trees on a beach

On departure day, bid farewell to the enchanting paradise of Costa Rica.

If you opted to return your rental car, a convenient transfer service will be arranged to take you to the airport. Alternatively, if you still have your rental, take the leisurely drive to Liberia Airport, reminiscing about the incredible memories you've made on your journey. Pura Vida!

Need to Know

Looking for more travel tips? Check out Fora Advisor Wendy Wallace's guide, Family-Friendly 6-Day Costa Rica Itinerary.

Advisor - Anna Ingoglia

Travel Advisor

Anna Ingoglia

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Costa Rica.