With a mix of rugged jungles, active volcanoes and world-class beaches, Costa Rica offers some of the best natural sights and experiences in the world, all conveniently packed into one territory. Almost a quarter of the land is preserved within national parks, allowing a wide range of animals and plants to flourish, making Costa Rica an ideal destination for ecotourism. With this itinerary, you'll discover the best attractions Costa Rica has to offer in just a week.

Highlights

  • Zipline, hike, bike, and more around Costa Rica's most famous volcano
  • Discover the thousands of species that call Monteverde's cloud forest their home
  • Relax on the pristine beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park
  • Explore the natural coasts of the Damas Island Estuary

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Overview

This itinerary covers most of the accessible and major ecological sites of interest in Costa Rica — primarily the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and Manuel Antonio National Park — in a relatively short time span of 7 days. This means activities will be tightly-packed, but Costa Rica's small size makes for faster domestic travel times.

This itinerary is highly flexible and can be modified based on preference for transportation, local tour groups, and even an extension to experience Manuel Antonio National Park at a more leisurely pace. For those who love nature and are looking for a less typical travel experience, this tour is a fantastic option.

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Explore Downtown San José San José
Day 2 San José to La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano La Fortuna 
Day 3 La Fortuna to Monteverde Monteverde 
Day 4 Guided Hike of Monteverde Cloud Forest Monteverde 
Day 5 Monteverde to  Manuel Antonio Manuel Antonio 
Day 6 Damas Island Estuary and Manuel Antonio National Park Manuel Antonio 
Day 7 Manuel Antonio National Park (Optional Extension) - San José (Departure)  
 

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Downtown San José

San Jose's National Museum
San Jose's National Museum

Welcome to Costa Rica! Arrive and get settled in San José, and if your flight arrives earlier in the day, take the rest of the day to head downtown and explore the city. The capital city of Costa Rica, San José features a wide array of green plazas and European-inspired architecture.

Be sure to tour the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum as well as the post office building. If you are interested in architecture, you can visit the Teatro Nacional (National Theater), which many deem the most exquisite building in the entire city. Also, check out the National Museum, a former military barrack painted in a dazzling golden color. There will bound to be something to capture your attention on every street and turn.

Day 2: San José to Arenal Volcano (La Fortuna)

Arenal Volcano
Arenal Volcano

Leave your hotel after an early breakfast and start driving towards Arenal Volcano. Once we arrive in La Fortuna, the regional hub at the foot of the Arenal Volcano, drop off your luggage at the hotel. Then, spend the afternoon in the Arenal area zip lining, walking through hanging bridges, and admiring views of the forest canopy and the volcano itself. Wind down after a day of adventure by going to the Tabacón Hot Springs and Resort. After peacefully soaking in the natural springs among lush tropical scenery, return to your hotel for the night.

Day 3: Adventures in Arenal and Monteverde

A hanging bridge in Monteverde Cloud Forest
A hanging bridge in Monteverde Cloud Forest

Get one last chance to try some more activities around Arenal National Park this morning. The options are endless; from white-water rafting to mountain biking, horseback riding to hiking the Rio Fortuna Waterfall.  

Next, head to the Monteverde Cloud Forest. The drive will take about 4 hours, following a road that curves around Lake Arenal and into scenic patches of jungles and green hills. Parts of the trip will pass through foggy conditions and unpaved roads, so alternatively, you can boat across Lake Arenal. You can even cycle or ride a horse through the surrounding mountains, as a number of local tour companies provide several interesting options to complete the trip. After getting to Monteverde by sundown, rest up and prepare for tomorrow’s fascinating eco-tour.

Day 4: Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve

A colorful quetzal bird
A colorful quetzal bird

Wake up early and go on a guided tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, a unique tropical ecosystem and one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. Trek through acres of virgin forests and spot a wide variety of rare animals, including quetzal birds, amphibians, three-wattled bellbirds, sloths, and monkeys. Make sure to bring a light extra layer, as the temperature usually reaches a daily high in the mid-60s (F). Additionally, the forest sees frequent showers and can get quite wet, especially in the summer months, so rain gear and hiking gear are also highly recommended.

In the afternoon, continue to explore the park through more activities such as birding or hiking. You can also visit some of the local coffee, chocolate, or sugarcane plantations, or seek out the beautiful Butterfly Garden or Orchid Garden.

Day 5: Monteverde to Manuel Antonio National Park

A beach in Manuel Antonio National Park
A beach in Manuel Antonio National Park

Spend the morning in Monteverde and scope out some last-minute sights before hitting the road by lunchtime. Our destination today is the Manuel Antonio National Park, located on the Central Pacific coast. Once you arrive, check in at one of the luxurious seaside hotels, enjoy a drink on the beach, and watch the sunset over the ocean horizon. Relax in comfort tonight, as tomorrow, get ready to venture out yet again for more discoveries in the wilderness.

Day 6: Manuel Antonio National Park

A capuchin monkey
A capuchin monkey

In the morning, take a boat tour of Damas Island Estuary. Navigate through the extensive mangrove swamps and kayak through some of the smaller waterways. Make sure to be on the lookout for fascinating island wildlife, including boas, caimans, and over 200 species of birds.  

In the afternoon, take a break on one of the beautiful beaches inside Manuel Antonio National Park. Lay down on the white sands and sunbathe, or go snorkeling in the nearby reefs. If you still seek more adventure, you can hike through the park on one of the many well-marked trails, and if you’re lucky, you can even see a capuchin monkey or a sloth up close!

Day 7: Farewell

Time to say goodbye to Costa Rica!

If you have a day or two more, you can stay longer at Manuel Antonio National Park. Diving, whale watching, whitewater rafting, fishing, sailing, and more are all available nearby. If not, then it’s time to say “adios” to Costa Rica. After breakfast, you'll drive 3.5 hours to San José in time for your departure flight home.

 

Looking for other ideas for Costa Rica?

Looking for other ideas for your trip to Costa Rica, we have some great ideas for how to spend 7 days in Costa Rica, how to spend 10 days in Costa Rica, and more trip ideas.

 

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Map

Map of Best of Costa Rica in 7 Days: Explore Jungles, Volcanoes and Beaches
Map of Best of Costa Rica in 7 Days: Explore Jungles, Volcanoes and Beaches
Yenyi
Published by Yenyi Fu, updated Apr 19, 2019

Recent Trip Reviews

Related trips planned by kimkim specialists
Li

Trip to costa rica, Costa Rica - Apr 20 - Apr 28, 2019

Traveler: Li K. - Local specialist: Olman Romero

Olman did a perfect job booking an amazing week of holiday in Costa Rica for my husband and son and I. After providing Olman with the cities, the activities, and our budget, he came back with a schedule that fit everything. I was a little worried that I hadn’t yet received any confirmation from Olman one week prior to our departure but Olman reassured me there will be a schedule before our departure. Everything in Costa Rica was right on schedule, the car transport pickups were always 5... read more

Olman did a perfect job booking an amazing week of holiday in Costa Rica for my husband and son and I. After providing Olman with the cities, the activities, and our budget, he came back with a schedule that fit everything. I was a little worried that I hadn’t yet received any confirmation from Olman one week prior to our departure but Olman reassured me there will be a schedule before our departure. Everything in Costa Rica was right on schedule, the car transport pickups were always 5 minutes early to pick us up. The level of hotel and quality of tours exceeded our expectations. I would recommend Olman to anyone wanting a trip organizer for Costa Rica. Pura Vida!

Best of costa rica in 7 days: explore jungles, volcanoes and beaches, Costa Rica - Apr 22 - Apr 27, 2019

Traveler: Judith B. - Local specialist: Randall Jiménez

Guides Juan and Daniel at selvatura hanging bridges and frog pond in Monteverdi respectively excellent. Night walk not worthwhile too many people and too many groups and unsuitable terrain. Best of all was Manfred Garcia Leon at casa Corcovado - brilliant informative and endlessly patient - couldn’t recommend him more highly!
Overall accommodation all excellent and all drivers punctual except the one for night walk who was sent to the wrong hotel and after 45 minutes we were picked up in a... read more

Guides Juan and Daniel at selvatura hanging bridges and frog pond in Monteverdi respectively excellent. Night walk not worthwhile too many people and too many groups and unsuitable terrain. Best of all was Manfred Garcia Leon at casa Corcovado - brilliant informative and endlessly patient - couldn’t recommend him more highly!
Overall accommodation all excellent and all drivers punctual except the one for night walk who was sent to the wrong hotel and after 45 minutes we were picked up in a taxi to join the others. Don Juan coffee chocolate tour very interesting and worthwhile.
We loved Costa Rica and especially it’s people
Judy and john

Best of costa rica in 7 days: explore jungles, volcanoes and beaches, Costa Rica - Apr 13 - Apr 21, 2019

We had a great family spring break adventure vacation in Costa Rica. Yenyi was instrumental in planning all details from hotels, excursions, transfers between citis and local restaurant recommendations. Kids really enjoyed the hotels and excursions in:
> La Fortuna (Arenal) - hotsprings and coffee and waterfall tour
> Monteverde - nocturnal animal tour and hanging bridges and zip line
> Manuel Antonio - catamaran and snorkeling tour
with all the upfront planning and detailed itinerary, all... read more

We had a great family spring break adventure vacation in Costa Rica. Yenyi was instrumental in planning all details from hotels, excursions, transfers between citis and local restaurant recommendations. Kids really enjoyed the hotels and excursions in:
> La Fortuna (Arenal) - hotsprings and coffee and waterfall tour
> Monteverde - nocturnal animal tour and hanging bridges and zip line
> Manuel Antonio - catamaran and snorkeling tour
with all the upfront planning and detailed itinerary, all we had to do was show-up and follow the plan. Great way to enjoy the vacation and not worry about the logistics.

We will definitely work with Yenyi and the KimKim Team to plan our next vacation soon.

Chris

Best of costa rica in 7 days: explore jungles, volcanoes and beaches, Costa Rica - Feb 22 - Mar 2, 2019

Traveler: Chris W. - Local specialist: Olman Romero

So first off, thanks to Olman for his great service. The trip that was planned definitely met our expectations. Below is our point by point review:

Arrival: all good, driver was able to accommodate all of us even though one flight was quite delayed. Overnite stay in the Radisson was fine as well. Early pick-up and xfer to La Fortuna went very smoothly.

La Fortuna/Arenal: Casa Luna was VERY nice, the staff super friendly and helpful. A little far from the center of town but still we enjoyed... read more

So first off, thanks to Olman for his great service. The trip that was planned definitely met our expectations. Below is our point by point review:

Arrival: all good, driver was able to accommodate all of us even though one flight was quite delayed. Overnite stay in the Radisson was fine as well. Early pick-up and xfer to La Fortuna went very smoothly.

La Fortuna/Arenal: Casa Luna was VERY nice, the staff super friendly and helpful. A little far from the center of town but still we enjoyed our stay there. The tour of Arenal was fine as well. We organized another outing the following day thru the hotel.

Monteverde: Xfer to Monteverde by car-boat-car the next day was fine as well. The replacement hotel was adequate but nowhere near the standard of the Casa Luna or La Mariposa, so we were glad it was only a one nite stay. The ziplining was fantastic though wet. We skipped the tour afterwards as we did something similar on our own the previous day after our arrival. As a result, we left earlier than planned and Olman was great in helping with that change. The xfer the following day to Quepos was fine as well, the driver very helpful and stopped off at the crocodile bridge for us.

Quepos: La Mariposa was easily the hilite of the stay hotel-wise. Great rooms, great views, great food (great French-trained Costa Rican chef). Super friendly staff. The day after our arrival we went to Uvita to dive. The club was super well organized, the staff very well qualified, high quality equipment. Having said that, this is a dive organization for beginner divers. So they were not really equipped to deal with experienced divers with computers that needed to be installed (a bit our fault as well as we should have had our own tools to do that – but we did not expect that the center would not have the tools either – somewhat surprising). The boat ride out to/back from to Isla del Caño was really fun and the island lovely. The two dives, however, were average at best. The usual marine fauna which is always nice but the flora was non-existent – a very degraded underwater environment, comparable to the Mediterranean but clearly lacking when compared to places such as the Red Sea, Rangiroa or Indonesia. We would not recommend this activity to intermediate and above divers. Plus we found out the there was a dive club at the Quepos marina, not sure if the dives were any better but it would have saved us the 2-hour transit to Uvita.

The rest of the stay at La Mariposa was great. We organized a tour of Manuel Antonio the last day and that was very nice. We made some last-minute changes which appeared to give Amazilia Travel a few problems: we switched the return to San Jose from 10:30 to 11:00, no problem there. But we changed my return as follows: instead of returning to SJ with the other two, I decided to stay at La Mariposa one more nite and xfer to SJO the following pm via air. We asked Amazilia to make this change, but it seems to have been too much: the SJ hotel resa and city tour were cancelled (we assume), the air travel from Quepos to SJO was handled fine, but Amazilia forgot to book an extra nite at La Mairposa or book xfer from the hotel to the Quepos airstrip. Oops. Fortunately it was not an issue and I managed to do everything on my own (although the airport xfer was done in extremis). Then there is the matter of cost: the extra nite at La Mariposa was paid directly by me so no issue there. But the flight to SJO was $65 and the xfer to the Quepos airstrip was $20. Perhaps I have missed something there but that would appear to a less costly initiative than staying overnite in SJ and then taking an all-day city tour. So you may want to have someone look into that.

Overall, an extremely enjoyable experience, and we would definitely recommend kimkim to others. Thanks again.

Chris Welton

Best of costa rica in 7 days: explore jungles, volcanoes and beaches, Costa Rica - Feb 15 - Feb 22, 2019

Traveler: Douglas A. - Local specialist: Sofía Kikut

There was an issue with one of our excursions in Monteverde where the sky adventures park never received the reservation from desafio tour company and we had to reschedule the tour, which was a little disappointing