Lush Refuge in the Nicoya Peninsula: A Costa Rica Itinerary for 7 Days

Advisor - Lisa Gentile
Curated By

Lisa Gentile

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  • Costa Rica

  • Outdoors & Nature

  • Adventure Travel

aerial view of a jungle beach near blue ocean
Curator’s statement

A road trip around the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica means a journey through spectacular Pacific beaches, pristine forests and a staggering array of wildlife refuges. Conservation programs and a small town surf culture set the stage for wildlife encounters, adventures and luxe accommodations. This Costa Rica itinerary 7 days puts you in the action.

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Insider knowledge

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Where to stay

Casa Chameleon at Las Catalinas

Hillside adults-only property with sophisticated villas offering views of the Pacific Ocean.

Fora Perks
  • Welcome treat in room on arrival.

  • Upgrade & guaranteed late check-out.

Hotel Punta Islita, Autograph Collection

Airy, upscale hotel set on Guanacaste's Islita Beach with a restaurant, infinity pool and spa.

Fora Perks
  • $100 food / beverage credit.

  • Breakfast daily.

  • Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.

Casa Chameleon at Mal País

A tranquil, secluded jungle retreat on Costa Rica's famed Nicoya Peninsula, one of the world's Blue Zones.

Fora Perks
  • Welcome amenities.

  • Upgrade & extended check-out whenever possible.

Advisor - Lisa Gentile

Unlock perks by contacting Lisa to book your trip.

Day 1: Arrive on the Nicoya Peninsula

boy hangs on a zip line surrounded by trees during daytime

Arrive in Costa Rica at Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport or Liberia International Airport and rent a car. Ask your travel advisor to book your car in advance so the fun on your Costa Rica itinerary for seven days begins right away.

Already in Costa Rica and extending your trip? Just head southwest to Guardia for fresh savories, pastries and coffee at Ticoffia Café.

Continue southwest to stretch your legs at Canopy Tour of the Congo Trail. With ATV tours, zip lines and animal tours, there’s a way for everyone to get the adventure party started.

Check in at Casa Chameleon Las Catalinas, take a dip in the pool, and settle in for a romantic sunset view over dinner at Sentido Norte.

Day 2: Water and wildlife in Las Catalinas

monkey hanging in the trees during daytime

Las Catalinas is a new beach town focused on healthy, sustainable and fulfilling activities. It’s your base for kayaking, paddle boarding, sport fishing, horseback riding on the beach and a private catamaran tour of the Guanacaste Coast. You can always pick up a surf lesson on this famous coast (a must for any Costa Rica itinerary).

Also on the menu is a class II-III white-water float down the lower Rio Colorado. Sticking to land? You’re in the heart of 80 kilometers of stunning mountain biking and hiking trails.

Whatever your action choices, save part of your day for special wildlife experiences. Visit The Monkey Farm, a rescue center and 501(c)3 community organization, to visit the resident animals and help build monkey bridges.

Depending on the season, join a turtle watching night tour with a naturalist. Leatherbacks, green sea turtles and Olive Ridley sea turtles are the three species known to the area. Observing sea turtles nesting and laying eggs is one of the most profound experiences I’ve had.

Enjoy Mediterranean fare at Ponciana or hop down the road to Playa Potrero for local seafood at Las Brisas, a beach bar with a view of the bay.

Day 3: Explore a tropical dry forest

forest waterfall

Check out and head south toward Punta Islita. On the way, visit Werner Sauter Biological Reserve near Playa Sámara. It’s a little-known private reserve in a tropical dry forest, one of the rarest and most vulnerable biomes of Central America. This haven is home to monkeys, birds and butterflys. Take a guided hike through a mango plantation, picking and tasting the fruit along the way.

Check in at Hotel Punta Islita. Unwind with Artisan Ancestral Healing at Nanku - Wellbeing Spa.

Enjoy dinner in the garden at Kimbute Restaurant.

Day 4: Mixology & macaws

aerial view of half of a green melon near cocktail glasses

Take a Tico cooking class or a mixology class to learn the secret of Costa Rica’s flavors.

Visit the Macaw Recovery Network’s Macaw Refuge and Breeding Center to see the Scarlet Macaw, a species once nearly extinct, and learn about the ongoing conservation program.

Have dinner on the beach at Locos Cocos Cevicheria.

Day 5: Butterfly bliss

green-and-black butterfly resting on green leaves

Check out and head south toward Malpais. Stop at Jungle Butterly Farm in Pueblo Nuevo (a highlight on any Costa Rica itinerary, 7 days). Join an entomologist for tour of the open-air butterfly farm followed honey and coconut oil tasting at the ranch house.

Check-in at Casa Chameleon Mal Pais. Practice your surfing skills or get in a little more fishing.

Dine al fresco at Brasas del Mar.

Days 6: Pick your splash

wale breaching out of a blue sea

Today is Pick Your Splash Day: Snorkeling, scuba diving or whale watching.

Snorkeling at Islas Mortars: From MalPais, you can join a guided excursion for snorkeling at Islas Tortugas. Hotel ground transfers are available. The boat will take you from main beach inside Curú Wild Life Refuge to a group of islands named Morteros. Non-snorkelers can lounge on a small island beach. Next on the Costa Rica itinerary is fresh fruit, swimming and sunbathing on the main island. These islands are paradise. Take it from me, you never know who might be in your small party — perhaps a movie director scouting locations.

Scuba diving at Islas Tortuga: Head out with a dive master to spot eels, spotted eagle rays, puffer fish, and white tip sharks. In the dry season (December to April) manta rays visit the area. Hotel pick up is available.

Whale and dolphin watching: Migrating humpback whales from both hemispheres visit Costa Rica December to March / April, and July to November. Smaller cetaceans, spotted and bottle-nose dolphins frequent the area throughout the year. Depart from Paquera ferry landing and let the local network of fishermen, tour boats and researchers report whale and dolphin locations. Hotel pick-up is available.

For dinner, explore the small seafood restaurants in the area or return to Brasas del Mar for yet another of their unique experiences.

Day 7: Round out your Costa Rica itinerary's 7 days with coffee and caves

up-close photo of a red and green coffee plant

Check out early to visit Reserva Natural Cabo Blanco for a hike through the tropical dry forest at the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula.

It’s time to return north, back to the mainland. Visit El Toledo Agroecological Reserve, known in the community as El Toledo Reserve, to tour the coffee crops, processing center and tasting room.

A variation on the coffee theme is the Llanos del Cortez Waterfall and coffee tour from Guanacaste.

Above ground, a network of trails affords views of howler monkeys, deer, racoons, peccaries, kinkajous, agoutis and anteaters. Skilled climbers will want to visit Barra Honda Caverns National Park. Climbing gear, a guide and advance permission from the Parks service are required to enter the caves.

Drive on to Liberia International Airport for home, or continue north for the Papagayo Peninsula

Advisor - Lisa Gentile

Travel Advisor

Lisa Gentile

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Looking for more travel tips? Check out my 4-day Costa Rica itinerary. This itinerary is part of our ongoing series on travel to Costa Rica.