You can have a great adventure in Costa Rica in as short as a long weekend. With only a few days to spare you will have enough time to hike through a rainforest, see an active volcano, and take a surfing lesson. Of course, a week or more is recommended so that you can take advantage of the wide range of activities and biodiversity, giving you more opportunities to explore the culture and vast natural surroundings like a local. This is a breakdown of optimal itineraries to explore Costa Rica, listed from shortest (4 days) to longer (up to 2 weeks).

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Costa Rica in 4 days

With a compact long weekend, you can comfortably get out and explore beyond the capital of San José. Choose to visit (albeit briefly) a few different regional highlights, or take the time to focus on one specific area. For example, you can spend the bulk of your itinerary in and around Arenal Volcano with a trip that mainly focuses on activities — think hiking, zip-lining, rappelling, and horseback riding — in the rainforests and canyons of the volcano’s vicinity with plenty of opportunities to spot all kinds of plants and animals and appreciate a wide variety of ecosystems, not to mention some outstanding views.

The Arenal region is about 56 miles (90 km) away from San Jose and its convenience makes it the most ideal place for a shorter experience in Costa Rica, and can also be combined with other tours in a longer overall visit.

The majestic Arenal Volcano on a sunny day.
The majestic Arenal Volcano.

Costa Rica in 5-6 days

Here are some options if your vacation allows for a few more days. Adventurous types may be interested in a rafting trip through miles of tropical scenery on the Pacuare River, or perhaps an excursion to the lesser-visited Osa Peninsula. There is a great self-drive itinerary for families, too.

Jam-packed with thrilling experiences, this five-day itinerary highlights rafting on the Pacuare River, which flows for about 70 miles towards the Caribbean Sea. This is one of the best rafting experiences in the region and is a popular destination for whitewater rafting. The trip also includes an excursion to one of the country's top surf spots in Puerto Viejo.

For those interested in heading south along the Pacific, here’s a great five-day itinerary on the Osa Peninsula. Located at the remote edge of Costa Rica, featuring well-preserved forests brimming with wildlife. In just under a week, get to fully explore this gem of biodiversity through hiking, scuba diving, and participating in various other activities.

For families with active kids, check out this self-drive, six-day loop that includes a visit to Arenal Volcano, hiking to the 60-meter high La Fortuna Waterfall, and a chance to see wildlife in their natural habitat on a jungle hike in the Curu Reserve. The trip also offers a boat tour in the Pacific Ocean where you can spot dolphins.

Tambor Beach on Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula.
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Costa Rica in 7 days

One week is a common length of time for visitors coming to Costa Rica -- this allows to you explore a few different regions for a better understanding of the country. Here are several itineraries.

This Tortuguero & Puerto Viejo tour is ideal for travelers looking to do any of the activities the country is known best for hiking, nature tours, and tropical beaches. It spans exactly one week, making it a solid option for those who want something more than a quick introduction but shorter than an extensive stay. The itinerary starts and ends in San Jose, and includes many of the Caribbean Coast's best destinations, including a famous sea turtle nesting site and Cahuita National Park.

This adventurous week-long 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. Activities include zip-lining, hiking, biking around two impressive volcanoes, exploring the Damas Island Estuary, and relaxing on pristine beaches.

This San José & Caribbean coast itinerary begins with Costa Rica's contemporary city culture before veering off to the east coast, where Afro-Caribbean flavor and indigenous culture show off another, less mainstream side of Costa Rican identity. No trip to Costa Rica is complete without a bit of wildlife watching, which also happens to make for a lovely beach day at Cahuita National Park. You can see rescued monkeys and sloths being rehabilitated for release at the Jaguar Centro de Rescate. Also, learn about indigenous Bribrí people's traditions in the village of Yorkín, accompanied by a local guide

Taking a road trip through Costa Rica gives you the freedom and flexibility to explore where you want. With this classic itinerary, you'll pass through stunning natural scenery — from lush cloud forests to picturesque beaches — in seven days of scenic driving. This tour can be extended or shortened depending on how much time you have. Relax, surf, and snorkel in the beach town of Tamarindo and then encounter endangered leatherback sea turtles at Las Baulas National Marine Park.

Need more ideas, see this list of 7-day itineraries through Costa Rica.

Hiking trail in Cahuita National Park on the Caribbean Coast.  

Costa Rica in 8-10 days

Have a little more than a week? There are several good options in this timeframe for different types of travelers.  

Energetic types will love this 8-day adventure itinerary through Costa Rica's rivers, beaches, and volcanos. Here, you will explore Costa Rica's amazing natural scenery through a thrilling series of activities including whitewater rafting, kayaking, zip-lining, and more. This tour will take you to a wide range of coasts, jungles, and rivers, all while keeping your adrenaline pumping.

With this family-friendly itinerary covering two of Costa Rica’s most famous sites, this nine-day tour offers a more laid-back Costa Rica experience, making it ideal for families with small children and for those who want to minimize travel time. Most of the hikes will be relatively mild and easy for young kids, and there will be plenty of opportunities also to do all the typical Costa Rica activities, such as zip-lining, beaches, and wildlife spotting.

For those interested in surfing and yoga in the Nicoya Peninsula, this is the 10-day itinerary for you. There is, perhaps, no better place in the world to enjoy this healthy combo than the Nicoya Peninsula, where the most popular beach destinations in Costa Rica are found. Set against the Pacific’s consistent and warm waves, this itinerary takes you through Tamarindo, Nosara, and Santa Teresa, and is suitable for surfers of all levels. Enjoy the adventure of having your own transportation so you can explore nearby beaches and villages, each with its own laid-back beach lifestyle.

For more 10-day trip ideas, see this list of 10-day itineraries through Costa Rica.

One of the stunning beaches at Manuel Antonio National Park.

Costa Rica in 12-14 days

Hooray! Having this much time to spend in Central America's most visited country is a real treat. Here are some itinerary ideas to help you make the most of your two weeks. 

This 12-day Costa Rica wildlife adventure takes you to the nation’s top biodiversity hotspots. This itinerary is specifically tuned for wildlife lovers. Expect to get up early and stay out late to see monkeys, lizards, birds, insects, and other spectacular fauna that inhabit the virgin rainforest, cloud forest, and swampy estuaries covered here. The trip begins with a southwest journey from San José to Parque Nacional Corcovado (Corcovado National Park) before continuing northwest along the Pacific coast. Next head inland to the cloud forests around Monteverde and complete the trip along the Caribbean coast at Parque Nacional Tortuguero (Tortuguero National Park), accessible by a short flight.     

This 12-day coast-to-coast experience is a must for any serious adventurer, as you'll cross the country without motorized vehicles! Starting at the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and ending on the Caribbean coast, you'll bike, hike, and raft past hundreds of miles of scenery that define Costa Rica as the world's premier destination for eco-tourism, all while challenging yourself like never before. The adventure itinerary is the only itinerary across Central America that relies completely on human muscle power, a 154 mile (248 km) journey that lasts almost two weeks and has been pushing travelers to the limit since 1994. Most of the route will be covered by mountain biking, but several stretches will provide opportunities to hike, white-water raft, kayak, and swim.

For those who prefer a car, this two-week self-drive tour lets you experience Costa Rica's essentials and main attractions as well as its lesser-known marvels. Drive along coasts, rainforest roads, and hills to discover the natural sights that make Costa Rica the most visited country in Central America. This extensive itinerary is a nature-focused, flexible choice for travelers looking for a more independent and thorough experience in Costa Rica. Most of the destinations are situated on the Pacific Coast, making for a convenient south-to-north drive over the timespan of the trip. 

Explore the best of Costa Rica's capital city and Pacific Coast in this two-week-long itinerary. The journey starts in San Jose and continues from south to north along the coast, stopping at four national parks with more sites along this route. You can rent a car near the airport for a self-drive experience, or we can help you organize transportation from place to place. Most destinations in the itinerary will focus on what Costa Rica is best known for -- nature. Other than fantastic scenery, this tour also includes several more adventure activities, such as hiking and zip-lining.

Last but not least, this national parks and beaches tour offers a complete experience in Costa Rica, covering both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Costa Rica is known for its volcanos, zip-lines, and high density of wildlife, all of which will be touched upon on this tour. Regions that will be covered include San Jose, Tortuguero, Arenal, Monteverde, and Manuel Antonio. Parts of many days will be spent traveling from one region to another on land vehicles and boats, but Costa Rica's compact size will make for convenient transfers. If you want a longer trip that includes everything that makes Costa Rica iconic, this two-week itinerary is the ideal tour for you.

Read this 2 weeks in Costa Rica article for more ideas for 2 weeks in Costa Rica.

A suspension bridge in Monteverde's cloud forest. 

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