Costa Rica is a small, yet incredibly beautiful country that has something for everyone. Whether you’re an adventure seeker looking to explore the jungles and beaches, or a nature enthusiast searching for exotic wildlife, Costa Rica won’t disappoint.
With this one-week itinerary, you can experience the very best of what Costa Rica has to offer—all while spending little time in one spot.
I’ve spent a lot of time travelling through Costa Rica and researching this itinerary, so you can trust that this is an authority on how to make the most of your week.
I also spent some time talking to travellers who weren’t sure what to do with just one week in Costa Rica—so hopefully this will help out those who are planning their trip!
Costa Rica is home to some of the most beautiful places on earth, and it’s so easy to explore them all! From dramatic volcanos to unique wildlife, this beautiful country offers different experiences around every corner.
While you could easily spend months exploring Costa Rica, a week is a great amount of time to have a classic Costa Rica adventure.
With our 1 week itinerary for Costa Rica, we aim to see some of the most iconic destinations in Costa Rica- from cloud forests to white sand beaches. Follow along with us to discover the best of Costa Rica in 7 days.
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How to get around Costa Rica
The main two ways to get around Costa Rica are by renting a car, or by taking public buses. The bus system is actually really good, and you can get to many of the top destinations in the country for less than 20 USD per trip using the local bus network!
However, a rental car is a great option as it really allows you total flexibility on where to go (and is definitely the quickest way to get point to point, which is a major benefit when you only have 7 days in Costa Rica!).
It can also allow you to make spontaneous stop offs to look at different viewpoints along the way- which come up very often when driving through this beautiful country.
You should be able to follow this 7 days itinerary in Costa Rica using either a rental car or buses, but you may need to add a couple days or opt out of one of the stops if using a bus, as you’ll need to account for bus schedules and longer travel times!
7 day Costa Rica Itinerary Overview
Here’s a glance at what you’ll see and do during your self planned 1-week stay in Costa Rica. Otherwise you can also select to join a tour to show you the sights without having to worry about anything:
- Week of Adventures
- All-inclusive package 7 nights 8 days in the best destinations in Costa Rica
- 8-Days Costa Rica: Volcano, Tropical Jungles and Cloud Forests
- 6-Day Osa Jungle Adventure Tour in Osa, Drake and Corcovado
- 11-Day Tour from San Jose: Monteverde Cloud Forest and Tortuguero, Arenal Volcano and Manuel Antonio National Parks
- 9-Day Best of Northwest Costa Rica from San Jose: Arenal Volcano National Park, Monteverde Cloud Forest and Guanacaste
- All-inclusive deluxe package for 7 nights 8 days in Costa Rica
Day 1 in Costa Rica
- Arrive in San Jose
- Drive from San Jose to la Fortuna
- Relax and have dinner at the Baldi Hot Springs
Day 2 in Costa Rica
- Spend a full day exploring Arenal Volcano National Park
- Enjoy a traditional dinner at Tierra Mia restaurant
Day 3 in Costa Rica
- Drive from La Fortuna to Santa Elena
- Eat a quick lunch at Gusticos Monteverde
- Learn about coffee in Costa Rica by taking a tour
- Dine at the Tree House Restaurante
Day 4 in Costa Rica
- Start your day with a morning coffee at Café Santa Elena
- Visit (and zipline through!) the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
- Grab a late lunch at the Open Kitchen
- Drive from Santa Elena to Manuel Antonio
- Dine in style at Oceano Seafood
Day 5 in Costa Rica
- Hike through Manuel Antonio National Park
- Enjoy a picnic lunch in the park
- Spend the afternoon on Manuel Antonio Beach
- Enjoy dinner at Baldi’s Fresh Restaurant
Day 6 in Costa Rica
- Spend the morning on the water in Manuel Antonio
- Enjoy the short hike to Cascada el Saito
- Eat with the locals at Soda El Angel
- Go on a Manuel Antonio night tour
- Enjoy dinner (and a few drinks) at EL Patio de Café Milagro
Day 7 in Costa Rica
- Drive to Jaco
- Squeeze in one last zipline at Chiclets Zipline
- Grab lunch at Vida Hermosa Bar and Restaurant
- Finish the drive to San Jose Airport
- Alternate: Visit Vieja National Park
Day 1 in Costa Rica: San Jose to La Fortuna
Arrive in San Jose
On day one, you will most likely be flying into San Jose’s Juan Santamaria International Airport to kick off your 7 days in Costa Rica itinerary. San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica, and that means that it has some really interesting heritage sights and museums.
However, with only 7 days in Costa Rica, our recommendation would be to capitalise on the country’s beautiful nature and head straight out of the city after picking up your rental car.
If you did want to add a day to your trip to experience a bit of the capital, here are a few recommendations of things to see and do in San Jose:
- Catch a show at the Teatro Nacional Costa Rica (National Theare of Costa Rica)
- Visit the central market
- Explore the Jade Museum
- Learn about the history of gold in Costa Rica at the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum
- Take a half-day trip to the nearby Braulio Carrillo National Park, which is less than 30 minutes from the city.
- Check out local artists at the Museo de Arte Costarricense (Costa Rican Art Museum)
- Get a taste of Costa Rica’s hipster side at Costa Rica’s craft brewery
Drive from San Jose to La Fortuna
After picking up your rental car at San Jose airport, it’s time to get out in nature and kick of the best Costa Rica itinerary!
It should take you just under 3 hours to drive north to La Fortuna, a small town which is known as the gateway to Arenal Volcano National Park, one of Costa Rica’s most famous destinations.
While there are a few places to stay within the park itself, most tourists opt to stay in La Fortuna for access to more accommodation options as well as bars and restaurants.
The town itself is extremely beautiful, centered around a charming town square, where you’ll find regular buses that take tourists to the surrounding destinations.
The whole town is walkable, so once you’ve arrived you can forget the car and get anywhere within the small town on foot.
Relax and have dinner at the Baldi Hot Springs
La Fortuna is famous for its natural hot springs, and one of the best places to experience them is at the Baldi Hot Springs. Drive, pick up a local taxi, or take the bus to get to this beautiful spa hotel, which is only about a 10 minute drive from La Fortuna.
Book yourself a day pass for the hot springs plus dinner, and you can enjoy all the amenities of the spa plus a delicious meal in one of the onsite restaurants. The spa has tranquil pools, waterfalls, and an onsite bar, and even a water park for those looking for an adrenaline rush!
If you want to have a luxurious stay for your first stop in Costa Rica, you can also book to stay here overnight. After a crazy travel day, spending your evening here is perfect way to unwind and relax before you start to explore Costa Rica further.
Day 2 in Costa Rica: La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano National Park
Enjoy breakfast at your hotel
It’s more common than not for hotels in Costa Rica to offer a delicious breakfast as part of your stay, and we’d recommend taking advantage of this to make the most of your stay.
These will often involve delicious local coffee (called café chorreado by Costa Ricans), fresh juice made from locally grown fruits like mangos, and eggs.
More unusual to foreigners is the national dish of Costa Rica, Gallo Pinto, a dish of leftover rice and black beans, which you’ll often find for breakfast alongside sausage, tortillas, and fried plantains. Overall it’s a tasty, filling, and healthy breakfast!
Spend a full day exploring Arenal Volcano National Park
After an early breakfast, it’s time to explore the reason we came to La Fortuna- Arenal Volcano National Park!
There are so many things to do in the park, so with a shorter time frame it’s often a good idea to book a tour that incorporates all the different parts of the park like this full day Arenal Combo Tour.
These tours will typically also include lunch, allowing you to relax and enjoy your experience. However, you can also travel to see the same places on your own! Here are some of the top Arenal activities you should definitely include on your 7 day itinerary for Costa Rica.
- Swing through the rainforest using Arenal Volcano National Park’s famous network of hanging bridges, which allow you to experience the rainforest without disturbing any of the wildlife around you, including pumas, jaguars, and tapirs.
- Hike the stairs down to La Fortuna Waterfall (about .75 miles round trip). This impressive waterfall is 200 foot tall, and you can swim in the pool at its base. If you aren’t on a tour, pack a picnic lunch (your accommodation may sell these!) and you can picnic with a beautiful view while watching the waterfall flow.
- Hike around the base of Arenal Volcano, a fascinating walk that takes you through lava fields and gives beautiful views of both the volcano and Arenal Lake. Its only 1.24 miles roundtrip, so you can easily complete it as part of your day exploring the national park.
Enjoy a traditional dinner at Tierra Mia restaurant
When you return to La Fortuna after your busy day exploring, it’s a given that you’ll be exhausted and ready for an amazing meal! Head to Tierra Mia restaurant, a favorite of locals and foreigners alike.
Enjoy authentic dishes like fish and shrimp soup or a “Casados”- a traditional meal consisting of rice and beans, a protein such as eggs, chicken, or beef, and salad, served with tortillas.
Wash it all down with a cold local beer, and enjoy a well-deserved rest before your next day on your Costa Rica seven day itinerary.
Day 3 in Costa Rica: La Fortuna to Santa Elena
Drive from La Fortuna to Santa Elena
After another hearty breakfast at your accommodation, it’s time to hit the road. The drive will take you around Lake Arenal, so you can get some stunning views of the lake along the journey. After about two and a half to three hours, you’ll arrive in Santa Elena, the gateway to the beautiful Monteverde Cloud Forest.
Again, as with Arenal, you will find some accommodation options inside the park itself, but most opt to stay in Santa Elena, a nice town with lots of options for places to stay and eat.
You’ll also be able to get picked up from anywhere downtown for any tours you book, or it’s a quick drive to the Cloud Forest and surrounding attractions if you choose to explore on your own.
Eat a quick lunch at Gusticos Monteverde
Gusticos is a chilled spot right downtown offering street food like loaded shrimp fries, burgers, and fried cheese. It will definitely hit the spot after a morning spent in the car!
Learn about coffee in Costa Rica
As you’ve gotten an early start today, you should have time to sightsee this afternoon, and a coffee tour is the perfect thing!
The area around Monteverde is filled with coffee farms, and visiting them is a great way to connect with locals and to learn about a part of Costa Rican culture that has always been (and still is) integral to the country’s economy.
You can visit a few different farms near Santa Elena, but we’d recommend this 3 in 1 coffee tour that also teaches you about coffee, chocolate, and sugar cane, while connecting you with local farmers in their beautiful mountain farms.
Dine at the Tree House Restaurante
The Tree House isn’t only surrounded by the beautiful nature of Monteverde- it also invites the outside in. The whole restaurant is built around a huge ficus tree, and it definitely has an atmosphere that’s hard to replicate anywhere else.
Their known for their great cocktails, so order a couple of those and some delicious small bites, and enjoy the vibe, including regular live music nights.
Day 4 in Costa Rica: Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve to Manuel Antonio
Start your day with a morning coffee at Café Santa Elena
While you will probably enjoy breakfast at your hotel, you may want to grab a second cup of coffee after a few cocktails the night before! Café Santa Elena is the perfect spot. This trendy café is a small craft coffee roaster that roasts beans from the local farms.
You can get any coffee you could imagine here, from local pour over cups to amazing espresso, and it really shows off the artisan coffee culture that is very alive and well in Costa Rica today. You can also grab a pastry from their impressive selection.
Visit (and zipline through!) the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Its finally time to visit one of the most beautiful natural wonders of Costa Rica, Monteverde! While you can hike Monteverde’s hanging bridges on your own, one of the top activities is something you’ll definitely need some help with- ziplining!
You truly can’t leave Costa Rica without experiencing the rush of ziplining through the country’s insane nature, and Monteverde is the perfect place to do this as you’ll get a unique view over the cloud forest’s canopy that’s hard to achieve in any other way.
Book a combo tour that includes both a canopy zipline tour and the hanging bridges of Selvatura Park, and you can fit both of these activities into just five hours.
Grab lunch at the Open Kitchen
After your morning exploring the cloud forest, head to the Open Kitchen, a restaurant with an indoor-outdoor concept allowing beautiful views over Santa Elena’s surroundings.
Enjoy either local food or classics like burgers and fries while you look out through the restaurant’s floor to ceilings windows.
Drive from Santa Elena to Manuel Antonio
It’s been a full day, but to create the perfect 7 day itinerary for Costa Rica we need to keep moving! From Santa Elena, it’s time to drive to Manuel Antonio, the site of the next Costa Rican national park.
This is a longer drive, about three to four hours, which will take you along the scenic pacific coast of Costa Rica and past the city of Quepos.
The small town of Manuel Antonio is the perfect gateway to explore Manuel Antonio National Park, which is a unique national park consisting of a wildlife-rich rainforest reserve, backing up onto beautiful white sand beaches.
The town itself is very small and walkable, and, unlike the past two national parks, there are no options for staying inside of the national park. Manual Antonio is a favorite with backpackers, so you’ll find a lot of affordable hotels, as well as a bustling nightlife and lots of food options.
Dine in style at Oceano Seafood
As we’ve hit the coast, it’s definitely time for a seafood dinner! Head to Oceano Seafood just in time to (hopefully) catch the sunset, and feast on local seafood delicacies like lobster, tuna and mussels.
The restaurant is perched overlooking the pacific, so it’s a perfect welcome to this new region of Costa Rica.
Day 5 in Costa Rica: Manuel Antonio National Park
Hike through Manuel Antonio National Park
After enjoying a filling breakfast at your hotel, you can walk, drive or take the local bus to the entrance of the Manuel Antonio National Park.
We’d recommend buying some food on the way, as there aren’t any cafeterias or food stands inside the park. Make sure to also bring your swimsuit, and towel, and plenty of sunscreen.
There are a few different hikes to choose from, including the Sendero el Perezoso (sloth trail), where you’re likely see sloths, and the Punta Catedral (1 mile) which should take about an hour and gives you beautiful views of the park and islands.
There are maps all around the park, and the trails are generally quite short, so you can have a great day exploring all of the different paths and seeing diverse wildlife.
While Manuel Antonio is very manageable on your own, it can be hard to really appreciate what you’re seeing without more context, so visiting with a guide can also be a memorable experience.
You can either book a guide at the front, or you can book a full tour that will provide transport to the park from the town and will have stocked up on water and fruit snacks for the journey. No matter what choice you make, you’ll be blown away by the flora and fauna of this remarkable spot.
Enjoy a picnic lunch in the park
While you can’t buy food in Manuel Antonio, you can bring it in, and enjoy a delicious lunch in a very cool setting. Grab empanadas, fruit, or any other snacks before heading into the park so you can extend your day exploring.
Spend the afternoon on Manuel Antonio Beach
You can’t go to Costa Rica without some beach time, and you couldn’t imagine a more perfect beach than Manuel Antonio Beach.
This beach is inside of the National Park, so it’s pristine, and you’ll spend your beach day surrounded by beautiful birds and watching monkeys swing through the trees lining the beach. Soak up the sun and the Pura Vida of this little slice of Costa Rican magic.
Enjoy dinner (and a few drinks) at EL Patio de Café Milagro
When you’ve had enough of the sun, head out of the national park and you’ll find Baldi’s Fresh right outside of the entrance to the park.
This café is right on the beach, and it has delicious seafood and cocktails, as well as being an incredible place to catch the sunset. At this time of day, you’ll also get deals by ordering off their happy hour menu.
Day 6 in Costa Rica: Manuel Antonio Continued
Spend the morning on the water in Manuel Antonio
While yesterday was about the land, let’s make this morning about the sea! You’ll find a ton of cool water activities near Manuel Antonio, like Kayaking, snorkeling, surfing, or stand-up paddle boarding.
Any of these should take just a few hours, so you can spend your morning enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful coastal views and still have time to explore in the afternoon.
Stop for coffee and a cake at Emilio’s Café
Emilio’s café, perched above the Atlantic, is a perfect stop for a late morning snack. Enjoy coffee and a slice of tiramisu, chile cake, or chocolate mousse while you look out for birds flying across.
If you’re lucky, you may even catch a few monkeys playing in the trees below.
Enjoy the short hike to Cascada el Salto
Walk or drive to Cascada el Salto, a small waterfall located on the outskirts of Manuel Antonio town. It may not be quite as big as the other waterfalls on this travel itinerary for Costa Rica, but it’s worth the trip.
It’s only a short walk from the road, and you can swim in the beautiful pool beneath the waterfall. It also tends to be less crowded than some other spots in the area, so you may even get it completely to yourself!
Eat with the locals at Soda El Angel
After your mini hike, you’ll be hungry! Head back into town and go straight to El Angel, a typical “Soda” (what Costa Ricans call mom and pop local restaurants) where you’ll find simple food tailored to local tastes and with local prices.
Enjoy a delicious milk-blended smoothie (called a batido) and a simple dish like rice, chicken and beans. You can’t leave Costa Rica without trying one of these spots.
Go on a Manuel Antonio night tour
I bet you never thought you’d go into the rainforest in the dark, but that’s just what we’re about to suggest! One of the most interesting ways to see the rainforest is at night, when animals like snakes, frogs, and sloths are most likely to appear.
Book a tour like this Manuel Antonio night tour, where a local guide will take you through a private rainforest reserve right next to Manuel Antonio National Park and show you a totally different side of this unique environment.
Enjoy dinner at EL Patio de Café Milagro
When you’ve emerged from your late-night adventure, find your way El Patio de Café Milagro, a relaxed beach café offering strong cocktails and plates of classic Costa Rican dishes. This place livens up at night, and you’ll often find live music and people dancing late into the night.
Day 7 in Costa Rica: Manuel Antonio to San Jose
Drive from Manuel Antonio to Jaco
Welcome to the last day of your Costa Rica trip! After shedding a tear or two, and grabbing breakfast at the hotel, it’s time to slowly make your way back to San Jose for your outbound flight. But we’ve still got some fun in store.
Drive about an hour and a half up the coast to Jaco, a beautiful beach just south of the big beach town of Jaco.
While Jaco is known for its nightlife (which you’ll have to experience next time!), there is a beautiful and relaxing beach area located outside of the chaos, and it’s a great spot to relax and enjoy another bit of Costa Rica’s dreamy coastline.
Squeeze in one last zipline at Chiclets Zipline
Playa Hermosa is a great beach, but it’s also home to a really cool (and very different) zipline experience!
Spend your morning navigating 14 different zipline tracks, with views over rainforest and sea at the same time. It’s honestly the perfect way to spend your last morning in Costa Rica.
Finish the drive to San Jose Airport
It’s time to head back to San Jose and to the airport! Drive inland, making sure to leave yourself plenty of time for security.
Wave goodbye — but we both know it’s really a “see you later”! We truly believe we’ve given you the best itinerary for Costa Rica, but there’s always so much more to explore.
Alternate: Visit Rincón de la Vieja National Park
One of the top spots in Costa Rica we haven’t been able to include on this itinerary is Vieja National Park.
Also known as Rincon de la Vieja, this national park has two volcanos, incredible waterfalls, and amazing hiking leading to beautiful views. It’s also home to over 300 species of birds and mammals, so it’s a nature-lovers dream.
It is absolutely worth a visit, but it’s a four hour drive north of Arenal, so visiting both Rincón de la Vieja and Manuel Antonio within a 7 day travel itinerary for Costa Rica wouldn’t leave you with time to enjoy either of them!
If volcanoes appeal more to you than beaches, consider swapping out Manuel Antonio and visiting this park instead- you truly can’t go wrong with either!
Tours to include in all Costa Rica Itineraries
Tours near La Fortuna/ Arenal Volcano National Park
- Hanging Bridges, La Fortuna Waterfall and Arenal Volcano Hike
- Balsa River White Water Rafting class
- Mistico Park Hanging Bridges Guided Tour
- The Best 7 Zip Lines of Arenal
- Original Arenal ATV Experience
- Baldi Hot Springs Day Pass with Lunch or Dinner Included
- Coffee and Chocolate Tour
Tours near Santa Elena/Monteverde Cloud Forest
- Private Guided Walk to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve
- Night Hike in Santa Elena Monteverde
- The Original Canopy Tour Monteverde, Zipline
- Coffee, Chocolate and Sugar Cane Tour
- Monteverde Birdwatching Experience
- Butterfly Garden Tour in Monteverde
- Kayak or Paddleboard Tour in Lake Arenal
- Farm Tour & Farm to Table Lunch
Tours near Manuel Antonio
- Manuel Antonio Ocean Kayak
- Private Manuel Antonio Park Tour
- Horseback Riding from Manual Antonio
- Surf lessons Manuel Antonio Beach
- Jungle Night Tour Manuel Antonio
- SUP Paddle Board Manuel Antonio
- Bird Watching Tour- Manuel Antonio Surroundings
FAQs About 1 week in costa rica
What is the best way to get around Costa Rica?
Renting a car is the most convenient and cost-efficient way to get around Costa Rica, as it gives you more freedom and flexibility. You can also take public buses, or fly by plane from one city to another.
Is Costa Rica a safe place for tourists?
Yes! Costa Rica has a good reputation for safety among travellers due to its strong police presence in tourist areas and friendly locals who are used to helping out visitors.
is 1 week enough for costa rica?
A week is definitely enough time to get a sense of Costa Rica. You can explore the vibrant capital city of San Jose, go on a day trip to the Arenal Volcano or Monteverde Cloud Forest, and enjoy some sun and surf at one of the many stunning beaches on both coasts.
There’s something for everyone here, from wildlife watching to taking in the cultural heritage. With careful planning, you can even fit in some zip-lining or whitewater rafting adventures!
That said, if you are looking for a truly immersive experience and have more than a week available, there’s so much more to explore in this beautiful country.
how much does it cost to spend a week in costa rica
Costa Rica is one of the most popular destinations for travelers due to its stunning beaches, lush jungles, and diverse wildlife.
The cost of spending a week in Costa Rica will depend on your preferences for accommodations, transportation, and activities.
Generally speaking, you can expect to spend anywhere from $700 – $2,500 USD for a week long trip in Costa Rica. This cost can be reduced if you opt for more budget-friendly accommodation options and stick to local meals.
Final Thoughts: itinerary for costa rica in one week
To make the most of your time in Costa Rica, it’s important to be flexible and know which activities you should prioritize. Mix and match this itinerary to find what works for you!
Whether you want to spend more time in the rainforest or at a beach resort, there are plenty of great options that will suit your travel needs. With the right planning, you can have an unforgettable week-long trip in Costa Rica!
So what are you waiting for? Start packing your bags and make your way to Costa Rica. Let us know how it goes and share some of your favorite photos!