A sunset at Manuel Antonio beach, Costa Rica

How to Plan the Perfect 10 Day Costa Rica Itinerary

So you have ten days in Costa Rica and you don’t know what to do with them? You’re in luck! I’ve been to Costa Rica twice over the last three years, I’ve visited every coast and, like the overly chatty bean I am, spoken to a lot of fellow-hostel-stayers about their trips around Costa Rica, too! In this article I’m going to go over some of the essentials you need to know for your trip to Costa Rica, then cover some of the basics on each destination I think is worth visiting. Note: it would be difficult to get to each of these destinations in just ten days, so you’ll need to pick out the right ones for you!

If you scroll down, I’ve put together two example itineraries that will recommend where to go based on what’s most important to you. (Click here to jump straight to the itineraries!). 

These itineraries assume that you don’t have a rental car, and they’re for the more budget-friendly type travellers. You can probably do even more with your time if you have a rental car, or if you have the money to pay for a guided tour. (I have mixed feelings on guided tours, but they work for some people and they’re certainly a great way to get around if you’re short on time! If this is a once in a lifetime trip for you, I would recommend looking at a guided tour to get the most out of your 10-day adventure in Costa Rica).

The Essentials to Know about Costa Rica

When it comes to the best places to visit in Costa Rica, you have to know what you’re looking for. There’s such a wide variety of things to do, from trekking through the jungle in Monteverde to lounging on the beach in Puerto Viejo, from surfing in Santa Teresa to hiking mountains in Arenal. It’s a great place to visit no matter what you love to do in your spare time, but the best place for you will take a little research.

Costa Rica is by far the safest country in Central America, and the most touristy, too, meaning you’re more likely to find English speakers (especially in hotels, hostels and tourist centres) and the country is used to facilitating foreigners. This made it the easiest place to be when I travelled in Central America at the beginning of this year.

The currency in Costa Rica is Colones, but you can also pay in dollars almost everywhere, and card payments are widely accepted without an additional fee (which cannot be said for paying in the rest of Central America!).

There are just two international airports in Costa Rica: in Liberia and in San Jose. Most flights go to and from San Jose airport, which is quite far out of the city itself. 

Read more about Central America: How to Take the Bus from Nicaragua to Costa Rica

Key Destinations in Costa Rica

San José

San José is the capital city of Costa Rica, and it’s more than likely to be your first stop because it’s home to Costa Rica’s largest international airport. San Jose airport is a little far from the city, so if you’re arriving late then it may be easier to spend the night in the nearby town of Alajuela.

Note: The full name of the airport is Juan Santamaría International Airport. Although this might seem obvious, be careful not to mix it up with San Jose, California, when booking your flights. (If you search for San Jose, the one in California is the default.)

Whilst there are some great museums to see in San Jose, there’s not much else to do. And this is what it’s famous for: being one of the most boring destinations in Costa Rica. On my most recent trip I actually spent over a week in San Jose dealing with a health issue, so I can tell you this for sure. The healthcare is great! Everything else, not so much.

I’d recommend spending one night here, max. If you’re jet lagged, your best option, realistically, is going out for a nice meal and getting some decent rest before moving on to one of the other many incredible things there are to do in Costa Rica.

If you’re looking for a late night vibe, try Barrio Escalante just northeast of the city. There are a few bars, restaurants and food markets around here! 

​Manuel Antonio/Quepos

The main thing you need to know about Manuel Antonio is that most people don’t stay in the small town itself. Most people stay in the nearby town of Quepos and head to Manuel Antonio Beach, Manuel Antonio Town, or Manuel Antonio National Park for day trips. There are also some great places to stay on the road between Quepos and Manuel Antonio and Manuel Antonio itself, but Quepos is more lively with more places to eat, shops, etc.

These towns sit on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, and I’ve said myself that they’re home to some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. 

It’s a great place to go surfing as well as lounge around on the beach. I went a couple of years ago when Covid was still having a big impact on tourism, so I can’t really speak for how busy or touristy it is now, but I do think it has become quite a popular destination.

Manuel Antonio Beach itself is a stunning beach within Manuel Antonio National Park. The park is well kept, and open from 7am to 4pm every day except Tuesdays. It’s a great place to do some small hikes, but all of the trails are fairly easy. There’s a lot of information you need to know before you go about parking, entrance fees and what you can and can’t bring with you, so make sure to read it all and plan ahead.

Monte Verde

Monte Verde is a must-see for nature lovers and activity lovers. It is located in a rare type of habitat called a cloud forest, giving it incredibly rich biodiversity. 

The Monteverde Cloud Forest is home to thousands of species, and is a great place for long or short hikes alike. The nearby Santa Elena Cloud Forest has much of the same biodiversity and attractions, but is a little less well known and therefore less touristy. In either park you can take a guided canopy tour or pay an entrance fee to plan your own hike. 

100% Aventura in Monteverde boasts the longest zip line in Latin America, which is the last in a series of nine zip lines along with a couple of other activities including a rappel and a ride on the “Mega Tarzan Swing”. I did this myself when I was in Monteverde and I highly recommend it! The views were incredible and it really forced me out of my comfort zone (in a good way).

If you’re not feeling quite that adventurous, two parks in Monteverde (Selvatura Park and Sky Adventures in Monteverde Park) offer suspension bridges (that you can visit yourself or take a tour of) that give you a unique view of the cloud forest.

There are many more things you can do in Monteverde, most of them including hiking and wildlife. There’s even a butterfly garden and a bat museum!

Read more about Costa Rica: What to Pack for Backpacking in Costa Rica

Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa is a surf city. Pristine beaches, cocktail bars and some of the best waves in Costa Rica (apparently – I don’t surf!). Whilst you will find a lot to do here if you’re into water sports (or if you’re just into the beach), it’s not the best place for hiking and adventurous activities. It’s also quite out of the way on the Nicoya Peninsula, so it’s difficult to get to, especially if you only have ten days!


The Guanacaste province of Costa Rica is a beautiful one. It’s in the north of Costa Rica, close to the border with Nicaragua, so if you’re planning 10 days in Costa Rica as part of a larger trip in Central America, you could stop here on your way from Nicaragua. That being said, most of the buses between Nicaragua and Costa Rica don’t stop here and will take you directly to San Jose!

In Guanacaste province you’ll find a lot of nature, hikes, food tasting and also the Rio Negro hotsprings, which are definitely worth a visit! 

In the north of this province is Guanacaste National Park, where there are two short hiking trails. There are two volcanoes in the national park which make for incredible views, but they are not easily climbable.

La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano

La Fortuna is a small town in the Alueja province of Costa Rica. It’s a nice, picturesque town with lovely parks, but the star of the show is Arenal Volcano that dominates the landscape beyond. Although there’s not too much to be said for the town itself, the surroundings are just full of completely natural beauty.

Arenal Volcano National Park is easily accessible from La Fortuna, or you can choose to stay in the national park itself if you want to be closer to the volcano. There’s a tonne of things to do that include hiking nearby to get a good view (but you can’t actually hike Arenal as it’s an active volcano!).

Close by there is also La Fortuna waterfall, which is well worth a day trip. 

Arenal Volcano also produces a number of natural hot springs nearby, which are mineral rich and incredibly relaxing. You can even go at sunset or after dark, because this area is not particularly dangerous, but be sure to go with a group or guide and have a plan for getting back to your accommodation late at night! 

Nearby to La Fortuna you’ll also find Tenorio Volcano National Park and Celeste River, which make for great day trips.

Puerto Viejo/Cahuita

Puerto Viejo and Cahuita are two towns on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. You can easily take the public bus from San Jose to Puerto Viejo or Cahuita. Puerto Viejo is quite large, touristy, and has a lot of things to do as well as several beaches. Cahuita, just twenty minutes up the road, is smaller, less touristy, but also has less to do. Between the two towns is Cahuita National Park, which has several long walks you can do (as long as you plan well, because the park closes early!).

This area is more for relaxing or party beach vibes, as the surf is not as good as it is on the pacific coast or on the Nicoya Peninsula.

There are some incredible coral reefs just off of the beaches in Puerto Viejo, which you can reach from the shore with a snorkel (but I’d recommend taking a guide, as they know all the best spots and can give you advice on how to make sure you don’t damage the local habitat as you’re exploring.


Tortuguero National Park is on the northern part of the Caribbean coast. It’s a very unique place, in that it can only be accessed by boat and there are two parts to the town on either side of a river, so you often travel around by boat, too! (No, it’s not swimmable – there are crocodiles!).

Tortuguero means region/land of turtles in English, which of course means that if you go at the right time of year you’re in with a good chance of seeing some sea turtles. (If you don’t know already, I’m a bit obsessed with turtles.) You can find out more about sea turtles in Tortuguero here.

Costa Rica Itineraries

A 10-Day Costa Rica Itinerary for Hiking and Adventure Enthusiasts

San Jose – 1 night

Arrive at San Jose airport and travel straight into the city. If you arrive early and have some time, visit some of the museums or hit up Barrio Escalante in the north east.

Puerto Viejo – 2 nights

Take the bus early the next day from San Jose to Puerto Viejo and get ready to enjoy some beach time!

La Fortuna – 3 nights

You can take two buses, via San Jose, or a direct transfer to La Fortuna, depending on your budget. This is a long drive and the longest transfer of your trip, so if you’re going to splash out on any, make it this one!

Monteverde – 3 nights

Take the public bus or a private shuttle from La Fortuna to Monteverde in the morning and spend three whole days here in this paradise for nature lovers.

San Jose – 1 night

Travel directly from Monteverde to San Jose by bus either on the day of or the day before your flight home.

A 10-Day Costa Rica Itinerary for Beach and Surfing Enthusiasts

San Jose – 1 night

Arrive at San Jose airport and travel straight into the city. If you arrive early and have some time, visit some of the museums or hit up Barrio Escalante in the north east.

La Fortuna – 2 nights

The next day, take the public or private bus straight to La Fortuna and spend two nights here.

Santa Teresa – 3 nights

To get from La Fortuna to Santa Teresa, the best option is to take a shared shuttle bus that you can arrange with your accommodation. It will cost around $50, but it’s twice as fast as taking several public buses.

Manuel Antonio/Quepos – 3 nights

You can take the bus, then ferry, then another bus to Manuel Antonio. Although this sounds like a long trip, it shouldn’t take you longer than half a day. It’s even quicker if you book a private transfer service; this takes around 4 hours. 

San Jose – 1 night

Travel directly from Manuel Antonio/Quepos to San Jose by bus either on the day of or the day before your flight home.

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