8 Day Itinerary for Costa Rica

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Advisor - Anna Ingoglia
Curated By

Anna Ingoglia

  • Costa Rica

  • Adventure Travel

  • Active Travel

  • National Park

  • Coastal

  • Outdoors

San Jose green province in Costa Rica.
Curator’s statement

Costa Rica is a wonderful destination full of rich biodiversity, vibrant adventure and delicious cuisine. From lush rainforests and warm sandy beaches, family friendly getaways and romantic retreats, Costa Rica has something for every traveler. Tick this country off your list and enjoy the myriad of attractions in Costa Rica. Pura Vida!

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Day 1: Nicoya Peninsula exploration

Sunset over the sea in Costa Rica.

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: Birding adventure and soothing relaxation await

Beach with blue sky, clear water and sand.

Start your vacation with a bang - 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 (or if you’ve decided to just sleep in) 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 one of the most romantic with open-air spa cabanas overlooking a river and a private pool. They offer numerous packages from full body massages and treatments to facials and nail services.

Day 3: Thrilling volcano adventure and rejuvenation

A volcano in Costa Rica

Begin your exploration today with a visit to the iconic Arenal Volcano National Park. Embark on a guided hike through lava fields, lively 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.

Unwind after your adventures with another soak in a hot spring or a massage if you didn’t have the chance for one yesterday!

Day 4: Enchanting Cloud Forest getaway

Cloud forest in Costa Rica.

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. 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.

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 5: Adventurous hikes, waterfall beauty and nocturnal wonders in Monteverde

horse in the jungle with harness

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 6: Luxurious coastal retreat for ultimate relaxation

tropical island with quiet beach at dusk

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 the Papagayo Peninsula.

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 7: Ultimate luxury and tranquility by the coast

A blue sea coast next to a lush green rainforest.

Relax and unwind in pure luxury at your resort. Indulge in a soothing massage, take leisurely beach strolls, and enjoy a picturesque beachside picnic. Today, 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 really have to keep today is being on time for the breathtaking sunset that paints the sky at cocktail hour.

Day 8: Farewell to Costa Rica's paradise. Pura Vida!

aerial view of an untouched beach and jungle

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 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.