I recently came back from Costa Rica, and can confidently say it’s one of the most incredible places I have ever visited. The country has a breathtakingly beautiful landscape and a wealth of unforgettable experiences on offer.
When exploring such a diverse country, organisation is key. A well-prepared Costa Rica itinerary will give you the freedom that you crave to explore the rugged rainforests of the country, without missing out on the main attractions.
If you want to tick off the main cities, explore the natural wonder, go on an adventure and push your comfort zone, then this 10-day Costa Rica itinerary is the perfect plan for you!
- 1 Best time to visit Costa Rica
- 2 Getting around Costa Rica
- 3 Do you need travel insurance for 10 days in Costa Rica?
- 4 How to spend 10 days in Costa Rica
- 4.1 Day 1: Arrive in San José
- 4.2 Day 2: Explore Orosi Valley
- 4.3 Day 3: Travel to Tortuguero
- 4.4 Day 4: Early morning canoe in Tortuguero Rainforest
- 4.5 Day 5: Travel to Sarapiqui
- 4.6 Day 6: Rafting & Waterfall Chasing
- 4.7 Day 7: Explore La Fortuna & Arenal National Park
- 4.8 Day 8: Travel to Santa Teresa
- 4.9 Day 9: Surf in Santa Teresa
- 4.10 Day 10: Back To San José
- 5 Costa Rica travel tips
Best time to visit Costa Rica
Some travellers look to enjoy the ultimate Costa Rica backpacking route while others prefer to enjoy the luxury of tropical bliss. Either way, your experience will depend largely on the weather.
To make the most of your 10-day trip, try to plan it during the dry season. The dry season runs from mid-December to April. This is also the peak tourist season so expect plenty of sunshine and well-established hospitality.
The months of May and November, known as the “green season” will make your trip to Costa Rica more affordable, but you’ll have to prepare for a fair amount of rain.
With this being said, the weather in Costa Rica varies quite a bit depending on the region. The thick forests can get quite humid, while the coastal areas are less so.
Getting around Costa Rica
There are several ways to get around this tropical wonderland. If you’re planning a Costa Rica self-guided tour, then it’s best to be prepared by knowing your options.
The public bus is the most affordable way to get from one destination to another. Most routes leave from San José, which means that you’ll be spending at least a few moments in the capital city at some point.
It’s recommended that you book your ticket in advance – especially for mid- to long-distance routes.
Keep in mind that the bus schedule changes frequently (even if you’ve pre-booked) so keep checking the Costa Rica bus timetable before your trip.
For a more comfortable bus experience, you can also book a shuttle bus. These cost approximately five times more than the public bus, but makes up for it with comfort and air-conditioning.
Driving around Costa Rica makes for quite an experience. If you want to see the beautiful country at your own pace, then renting a car is your best bet. Most of the reputable car rental shops can be found in San José.
I’d definitely recommend that you pay a little bit extra for a 4×4. While the roads are not the worst, there are potholes scattered along various routes and your drive will be significantly more comfortable.
This is especially necessary if visiting during the rainy season, or if you plan to explore more remote areas.
Renting a car is a little bit more of an expensive option, but it gives you freedom and flexibility that money can’t buy. I was travelling with four friends so renting a car made the most sense for us, both economically and logistically.
Alternative transport methods
There are other ways of getting around Costa Rica. One of them is to travel by plane. This is the perfect option if you’re short on time and have a bit of budget.
While flying won’t get you to destinations off-the-beaten-track, it can get you close enough, in a shorter amount of time.
If you’re travelling in a large group, and you prefer private transport, then you may want to look into organising a taxi. There are plenty of taxis that are willing to do long-distance trips.
Finally, if you’ve got experience on a motorbike or scooter and hold a valid licence, then you can travel around on two wheels. Renting a motorbike in Costa Rica can be quite an epic adventure.
Do you need travel insurance for 10 days in Costa Rica?
After my personal experience spending two nights in a private hospital in Tenerife, and having to pay for it out of pocket (it wasn’t cheap), I always recommend getting travel insurance.
You might not end up needing it, but for a small fee you can travel without worries. Personally, I suggest getting your travel insurance with Heymondo.
Heymondo offers tailor made travel insurance, providing the best value for money for your specific trip. You can also buy it once you’re already abroad and have forgotten about it before flying (which, if you’re anything like me, is quite likely).
Besides the usual cancellation, medical expenses, luggage coverage and general travel insurance services, Heymondo also has a 24/7 doctor chat and instant assistance through their app.
As a Greta’s Travels reader, you get 5% off your Heymondo travel insurance!
How to spend 10 days in Costa Rica
With so much to discover, I’d recommend a minimum of 10 days in the Central American country. This will allow you to tick off the main activities without rushing or running on empty.
This Costa Rica 10-day itinerary is based on my own trip, and it should give you some great ideas for your route.
Day 1: Arrive in San José
Chances are that you’ll land in San José, Costa Rica’s vibrant capital. It’s the perfect place to whet your appetite and make you crave more.
Spending time exploring the city after arriving will give you the cultural and historical context to enjoy the mountains, jungles and beach activities that follow.
San José city centre is full of fantastic museums and restaurants. It even introduces a trendy urban mood to the scene. With limited time in the city, there are a few must-do activities to tick off.
The top attractions in the city centre include Costa Rica National Theatre, Pre-Columbian Gold Museum and Costa Rica’s Jade Museum – all of which are located close to one another.
If you have a little bit more time, and energy, at your disposal, then there are several other things to do in San José.
Take the time to pop into a local cafe and try the coffee that has given Costa Rica such a fantastic name, relax in a park and visit one of the many markets. San José shares great insight into the day-to-day life of urban Costa Rica.
If you want to kill two birds with one stone, and your flight lands early enough, then try to do a food and sightseeing combo tour. This is a great way to introduce you to the flavours and attractions of San José.
Where to stay in San José
Fauna Hostel – Slightly further away from the city centre, Fauna Hostel is a comfortable and beautiful place to stay for your night in San José. It also has the perks of great views and friendly staff.
Finca Escalante – If you prefer to be centrally located, with access to great restaurants and bars, then this is the spot to be. The old building conjures a nostalgic mood and makes for a great place to spend the night.
Day 2: Explore Orosi Valley
Less than 50 kilometres from the hustle and bustle of San José is the tranquil Orosi Valley. Orosi is set along the Reventazón River, surrounded by rolling hills and lush vegetation.
As you drive from San Jose to Orosi you will drive past a sign that says “Mirador de Orosi”. Make sure to do a stop here, as the views are simply incredible!
It’s a free park with plenty of benches, picnic tables and water fountains. We were visiting on a cloudy day, but even then we could appreciate just how stunning the landscape in front of us was.
One of the best ways to experience the area is on horseback, of which you’ll find many opportunities. Especially if you book to stay at a “finca” (a farm stay). But more on that below!
Another unforgettable activity to enjoy in Orosi Valley is to visit Hacienda Orosi hot springs. Treat yourself to the $45 USD that it costs to enter, and make sure to soak up the incredible views.
The service is also fantastic and you’ll leave feeling relaxed, with a smile on your face.
If you want to enjoy a faster pace experience, then you can have a look at doing a combo tour from San José. Such as this Irazu Volcano, Orosi Valley and Lancaster Garden tour.
Where to stay in Orosi Valley
Finca Agropecuaria Queveri – If you want to enjoy a truly local experience, then this is a fantastic choice. The road is a bit of a rough ride, especially if you don’t have a 4×4.
But the building is beautiful, the views over the valley are incredible and the hosts are both hospitable and great cooks. The hosts even organised horse riding with them for $25 USD for a 2 – 3 hour tour.
Day 3: Travel to Tortuguero
Once you’ve enjoyed the lush beauty of Orosi Valley, you can hop on a ferry and venture off to Tortuguero. The one-hour ferry ride itself is quite an experience.
Expect to see lots of wildlife on the ride, and don’t be surprised if you come across a few iguanas and crocodiles languishing in the shallows.
I’d recommend booking an early morning ferry ride so that you can enjoy the whole afternoon in the area (that means setting off from Orosi super early, as it’s a 3 hour drive from Orosi to La Pavona harbour).
Prepare to have your mind blown after arriving in Tortuguero National Park. Depending on your interests, there are a wide variety of awesome tours to pick and choose from.
One of the top choices is to do a canopy and zipline tour across the treetops. There’s nothing quite like a bird’s eye view of a spectacular jungle.
Make sure that you save some energy for the evening because there are also fantastic night forest walking tours to spot the nocturnal animals.
Coming from San José? This 3-day Tortuguero National Park tour shows you the best of one of Costa Rica’s most popular ecotourism destinations.
Where to stay in Tortuguero
Hospedaje Meryscar – This is a budget option and so the amenities are rather basic. However, the location is fantastic and chances are that you won’t be spending much time indoors. So it’s often best to save the cash.
Day 4: Early morning canoe in Tortuguero Rainforest
Tortuguero National Park is a beautiful, remote eco-tourism destination that brings you face-to-face with Costa Rica’s wildlife.
Perhaps the biggest selling point in visiting the unique area is that you can enjoy it in a variety of ways – including a canoe trip.
If you visit in the right season, you can even do a turtle tour. This typically runs at different times for different species and you’ll be certain to see individual turtles throughout the year.
Another great way to experience the park is to do a walking tour or venture off on a trail. There are several popular viewpoints to choose from, or you can follow the popular “jaguar trail” which follows a forest route along the beach.
Day 5: Travel to Sarapiqui
It will be tough to leave Tortuguero, but arriving in the lush, green inland region of Sarapiqui is worth it. The journey is a fairly long one, so I’d recommend setting off as early in the morning as possible.
Head straight to your accommodation once you arrive in Sarapiqui and settle down. Pick your spot to stay carefully. Ideally, you’d want to be located in an area near the forest so that you can enjoy a variety of hiking trails.
I’m a big fan of hiking and have done my fair share of hiking in Azores, Sri Lanka and around the world. If you’re not so keen on hiking, accommodation in the forest is still ideal, as you’ll be surrounded by natural beauty.
Where to stay in Sarapiqui
Mirador Prendas – Costa Rica is a rugged haven, and Mirador Prendas is the epitome of top-notch accommodation in the Sarapiqui region.
Located in the middle of the forest, the building appears as a treehouse. It takes a bit of time to get there (estimate approximately 1 hour in a 4×4) but the stay is rather magical.
Day 6: Rafting & Waterfall Chasing
I hope you’re ready for day 6, because it’s going to be a pleasantly packed one! The abundant forests are not the only natural wonder that Sarapiqui is known for.
The area also boasts magnificent waterfalls and opportunities to go whitewater rafting.
You don’t have to be an adventure junkie to enjoy the thrill of a morning rafting experience in Sarapiqui (although it does help if you choose a challenging level). There are routes available for all levels of difficulty, and all are very fun.
We did a level two rafting route. I was pretty terrified but the rafting company ensured me that even little children do that route, and when I saw a group of 70+ year olds in the raft next to ours, I figured I could handle it.
In the moments when the river cruises slowly our rafting instructor pointed out birds, iguanas and other animals that live along the river.
Check out this awesome ‘Jungle Run’ whitewater rafting experience – it gives you a taste of what’s to come.
After rafting it’s time to head to La Fortuna, but with a short detour to see some waterfalls first. Catarata del Toro is the biggest waterfall in Costa Rica, with the Blue Falls of Costa Rica nearby.
Search for “Catarata del Toro waterfall” on Google Maps, and head straight there as it’s the start point also to visit the Blue Falls.
They are separate waterfalls but managed by the same park authority. At the time when we visited we weren’t allowed to see the Blue Falls without a local guide.
We figured we might as well go for the combo tour to both waterfalls. There are options for a 2-hour, 4-hour or full-day waterfall tour.
We did the 4-hour combo tour to Catarata del Toro and the main swimming area of the Blue Falls. This cost us $25 USD each, and was worth a lot more.
All the advice I read online said to visit the waterfalls early in the morning before the crowds, so I was a bit wary of visiting in the afternoon.
However this turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it meant we were the only people at both waterfalls.
We spent two hours swimming in the Blue Falls, and then hiked to Catarata del Toro where we could admire the falls without other tourists around. The waterfalls are very different, but both were incredibly beautiful.
Keep in mind that the waterfalls close at 17:00, so make sure that you plan accordingly.
For us it meant hitting the road as soon as rafting ended and having a quick lunch in the car. After your waterfall tours head to La Fortuna for the night.
Where to stay in La Fortuna
Arenal Hostel Resort – This modern and clean hostel has a lovely courtyard with hammocks, as well as a swim-up bar where you can have a few drinks and relax at the end of a fun day exploring.
Day 7: Explore La Fortuna & Arenal National Park
Continue your Costa Rica trip itinerary in La Fortuna and explore Arenal National Park. There are so many highlights to see in the area that the toughest part will be deciding how much you can fit in.
The best way to enjoy the northern highland region is to book the ultimate one-day tour that crams in as many of the key attractions as possible without compromising energy levels.
The beauty of the region lies in the variety of natural spectacle. On one hand, you have volcanos, and on the other, you have majestic waterfalls nestled in lush forests.
Booking one of these full-day tours will include highlights such as the lava fields hike around Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna Waterfall, the suspension bridges and the hot springs.
You couldn’t find a more breathtaking combination if you tried!
Day 8: Travel to Santa Teresa
Santa Teresa is a charming beach village on the Nicoya Peninsula. Life is simple in Santa Teresa. The locals and travellers enjoy the surf, agriculture and fishing in the area.
What is less simple is the drive there, which can take 5 to 6 hours – so better to leave early in the morning.
You’ll arrive by afternoon and can spend the rest of the day at one of Santa Teresa’s beautiful beaches. The beaches are known for their long stretches of white sand, warm blue water and palm trees that reach the sky.
Make sure you stay on the beach for sunset – the view as the sun paints the sky various shades of orange and pink is unparalleled.
Where to stay in Santa Teresa
Lost Boyz Hostel – This hostel mimics the same chilled, laid back social mood that perpetuates across Santa Teresa. They offer both dorms and private rooms to suit your preference.
Day 9: Surf in Santa Teresa
Costa Rica is known for its world-class surfing waves. I’ve been surfing in Fuerteventura, and other places in the world, and I can vouch that Costa Rica’s reputation is deserved.
Of all the places to surf in Costa Rica, Santa Teresa is one of the best. As a popular surfing village, it is well-supplied with lots of board rentals and lessons.
Renting a board for the small price of $10 USD a day is a great way to spend the day in Santa Teresa.
If the idea of surfing doesn’t appeal to you, then there are other fun water-based activities which will have you making the most of the beautiful Costa Rica coastline. One great option is to go on a snorkelling trip to Isla Tortuga.
This is a full day trip to a beautiful paradise island. In Isla Tortuga you can expect to see plenty of fish, corals and spend some time relaxing on the beach.
The water is nicer in Isla Tortuga (no ocean surfing waves) but bear in mind there’s a 1 hour speed boat journey to get there.
Santa Teresa is a beautiful beach town and however you decide to spend your hours in the tropical paradise, enjoy every moment.
Day 10: Back To San José
Your 10-day itinerary draws to a close with the journey back to San José. The journey is a long one and so it’s important to prepare accordingly. You can expect about 5 – 6 hours in the car, with a 1.5-hour ferry in between.
The good news is that the route is beautiful and if you have your own car then you can go at your own pace. Obviously, if you plan to fly home the same day, then you need to plan your timing very carefully.
Costa Rica travel tips
Roughly a quarter of the country is made up of protected jungle, and the Costa Rica climate can be quite unpredictable. I’ve put together some Costa Rica travel tips to make your trip planning smoother.
Here are a few details to keep in the front of your mind when organising your trip.
Getting around – The terrain can be quite rough in parts of Costa Rica. The best way to get from point A to point B is by car. If given the choice, a 4×4 is preferable.
Climate – The tropical climate in Costa Rica can change dramatically depending on where you are.
For example, you’ll experience a lot of rain in Tortuguero, feel the chill of the mountains in Orosi and bake in the heat on the beaches in Santa Teresa. Make sure that you pack appropriately so that you’re comfortable at all times.
Prepare finances – The local currency in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican Colon (CRC). At the time I was visiting (February 2020) $1 USD equated to around 560 CRC.
While most places accept credit cards and USD, I’d suggest having a small amount of CRC on you for emergencies.
What to pack
Comfortable walking shoes that you don’t mind getting wet or muddy. In rainforest destinations such as Tortuguero you will find shops that rent wellies (waterproof plastic boots) but we couldn’t find any in La Fortuna
Rain poncho – for most excursions in Tortuguero they will offer you a rain poncho, but for every other moment of the day when you’re out and about on your own you will get very wet without one
International adapter – Costa Rica has the same plugs as the US. Depending on where you’re coming from you might need an adapter, I personally like my international one as I can use it everywhere I go, instead of needing one per destination
One piece swimsuit – for the ladies planning to surf, get yourself a one piece swimsuit! Trust me, you’ll be much more comfortable.
The sea in Costa Rica is warm enough that you don’t need a wetsuit, but that means with a two piece bikini you will probably lose parts of it at every wave
Final thoughts on my Costa Rica travel itinerary
Costa Rica really is an incredible destination, one that has found a very special place in my heart. From the long stretches of sandy beaches to the wild jungles and rugged mountains, the country has so much beauty to offer.
If you plan to explore Costa Rica in 10 days, then this itinerary should start you off in the right direction. Costa Rica is the perfect destination for outdoors and adventure lovers, as well as people searching for a hot tropical holiday.
Whatever it is you’re looking for, Costa Rica has something to offer to every type of traveller.
With this trip plan and the many travel resources available, you can look forward to an unforgettable escape in the rustic beauty of Costa Rica.