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
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Jul 2, 2019