Life In the Big Green Jolly

Embrace local. Explore often.

Embrace local.  Explore often.

Costa Rica: 2-week itinerary

Monkey sitting on log in jungle

Costa Rica has so much to offer.

Beaches, mountains, volcanoes, and eco-adventures abound.  

Twenty-five percent of the country is under some type of protected conservation status.  

You could explore for months and still not experience all the wonder.

To get a sampling of Costa Rica, try out this “Costa Rica: 2-week itinerary” as your guide.

Costa Rica travel tips:

  • Plan to spend at least three days in each location. There is more to do than you realize at first. Usually, you will lose ½ a day to travel time.
  • Allow plenty of travel time between locations.  Buses and shuttles take extra time to pick up and drop off passengers.  With a rental car, it will still likely take more time than you think to reach a location.
  • Most lodging either has onsite trails and eco-adventure options or they can arrange nearby tours.
  • Always double-check hours for parks and activities.  Many of the national parks are closed one day a week or have early closure hours.
  • Plan a framework ahead of time but allow for flexible plan changes. My trip was spur-of-the-moment so I spent a lot of time in country on planning and administrative work.  

This ‘Costa Rica: 2-week itinerary’ includes three provinces on the Pacific side of Costa Rica.

  • Provincia de Guanacaste
    • Playas del Coco (Coco Beach)
    • Rincon de la Vieja National Park
  • Provincia de Alajuela
    • La Fortuna
    • El Castillo
    • Arenal area
  • Provincia de Puntarenas
    • Santa Elena (Monteverde) area
    • Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio (Manuel Antonio National Park)
    • Bahía Drake (Drake Bay) and the Osa Peninsula

Day 1 – Travel Day to Coco Beach

Sunset at Coco Beach
  • Arrive at Liberia airport mid-afternoon.   Allow 2-3 hours to clear customs.
  • Take a red taxi or rental car to the Coco Beach area.
  • Sunset walk along Coco Beach (~2 miles one way) including watching local fisherman hand fish and eat fresh shellfish on the beach.
  • Dine at a local restaurant either beach-side (Claudio & Gloria is an excellent choice) or in the small town of Coco Beach.

Alternative ideas:

  • Explore nearby beaches of Playa Ocotal or Playa Hermosa.

Day 2 – Coco Beach

  • Sunrise stroll along Coco Beach. Watch the town wake up.  Boat captains are gearing up for a day of snorkeling, diving or fishing.  Local caretakers are hand-raking fallen leaves while the occasional rooster crows.
  • Eat a typical breakfast (gallo pinto and eggs) with a mug of genuine Costa Rican coffee.
  • Secure car rental or arrange transit to next location as needed.  During high-season, reserve your car in advance to eliminate hours trying to secure a rental car.  Blue Marlin Services (yep – a company that does fishing and other tour activities) actually found us a rental car.
  • Once the tide has gone out, walk further along the southern rocky outcrop of Coco Beach.
  • Take a swim in Coco Bay and relax on the beach.  
  • Drive two hours to Buena Vista del Rincon eco-lodge near Rincon de la Vieja National Park.  Drive during the daylight hours as some of the roads are narrow and curvy.

Alternative options:  

  • Take a half-day fishing or diving trip in the Coco Beach area.

Day 3 – Rincon de la Vieja National Park

  • Hot springs at Buena Vista del Rincon eco-lodge.  Allow at least three hours so you can relax in the five thermal hot springs, experience the mud bath or spring for a massage.
  • Drive 1.5 hours to Rincon de la Vieja National Park (Las Pailas entrance).
  • Hike the 2-mile thermal loop in Rincon de la Vieja National Park. Allow for time to take photographs and watch the monkeys.
  • Cool off in the Oropendola waterfall (located next to the Las Pailas entrance of Rincon de la Vieja National Park). Expect to pay an additional fee to access the waterfall.  The 10-minute hike includes a rope bridge.
  • Drive four hours to the town of La Fortuna in the Lake Arenal area.
  • Stay at the La Fortuna hotel.

Alternative ideas:  

  • Stay two nights at Buena Vista del Rincon eco-lodge to enjoy the thermal pools as well as hike and partake in their eco-adventures like a jungle water-slide, a zip line, and the hanging bridges.
  • Enter Rincon de la Vieja National Park prior to noon to hike the 6-mile round-trip to the La Cangreja Falls

Day 4 – Arenal region

La Fortuna Waterfall
  • Hunt for sloths at the Bogarin Wildlife Trail park located on the outskirts of La Fortuna.
  • Climb down 530 steps to swim in the pool at the bottom of the La Fortuna Waterfall (Rio Fortuna Waterfall)
  • Re-energize with a cup of genuine Costa Rican coffee at the Down to Earth teaching farm.
  • Soothe your tired muscles, for free, in the heated Tabacon river.
  • Drive 20 minutes to El Castillo.  
  • Book a room at Essence Arenal and Spa (Essence Boutique Hostel).  Dine on a vegetarian dinner onsite.

Alternative ideas:

  • Hike in Arenal National Park

Day 5 – Arenal region

Lake Arenal with cloud-covered volcano in the background
Lake Arenal
  • Take an outdoor yoga class overlooking Lake Arenal and Arenal volcano.
  • Explore hiking trails at the Essence Arenal and Spa.
  • Walk along the shoreline of Lake Arenal spotting birds.
  • Spend a night glamping at Essence Arenal and Spa (Essence Boutique Hostel).

Alternative ideas:

  • Take a guided hiking tour in the El Castillo area
  • Have some fun on the water at Lake Arenal…kayaking, SUP and wind-surfing are available.
  • Visit the Butterfly Conservatory in El Castillo.

Day 6 – Monteverde

  • Hike the trail outside the Arenal Observatory and Lodge.  See old lava flows. I’d highly recommend skipping these trails and get on-premise at Arenal Observatory and Lodge.
  • Feast on patacones (smashed fried plantains) and a fruit smoothie at La Ventanita in El Castillo.
  • Take a jeep-boat-jeep shuttle to the Monteverde area.  The two-hour experience includes a lovely boat ride along Lake Arenal.
  • Make arrangements with your hotel for day tours in the Monteverde area cloud forests.
  • Find pit vipers in the jungle during a night tour with Kinkajou
  • Splurge on a private room at Hotel Sloth Backpackers Bed & Breakfast in Santa Elena.

Alternative ideas:

  • Explore trails at Arenal Observatory and Lodge

Day 7 – Monteverde

Costa Rica flower
  • Stuff yourself with a fantastic breakfast at Hotel Sloth Backpackers Bed & Breakfast.
  • Take a tourismo (shared shuttle) to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest.  Spend seven hours hiking the trails, bird-watching and taking photos.
  • Grab an outdoor table for dinner at Sabo Tico at the top of the hill.  This is the best spot in Santa Elena to watch the sunset.

Alternative ideas:  

  • If you an adrenaline-junkie, check out canopy tours or zip line tours in the area.

Day 8 – Monteverde

Yellow and green bird
  • Take a 3-hour guided tour at the Curi -Cancha Reserve.  Hand your phone to the guide – they take excellent phone pictures through their spotting scope.
  • Grab a scoop of ice cream at the Monteverde Cheese Factory just outside the Curi Cancha Reserve.
  • Spend an hour at the Bat Jungle taking videos of bats eating fruit, or mama bats caring for their baby bats.
  • Lunch at Stella’s Bakery.  Sit outside to enjoy the variety of birds.
  • Take an evening guided tour at the Frog Exhibit in Santa Elena.

Alternative ideas:

If you want more cloud forest time, check out the nearby Monteverde or Children’s Cloud forests.

Day 9 – Manuel Antonio

Man selling fish alongside the road
Buy your dinner along the road
  • Take a 5 hour shared shuttle from Monteverde to Manuel Antonio
  • If you are lucky, your shuttle will stop at Tárcoles River Bridge where you can look down on huge American crocodiles lounging in the river.
  • Enjoy a swim, beach walk and star gazing on Espadilla South Beach in the village of Manuel Antonio.

Alternative ideas:  

  • Ask your hotel for day trip ideas in the Manuel Antonio.

Day 10 – Manuel Antonio

  • Arrive EARLY at Manuel Antonio National Park.  The park opens at 7 a.m. but arrive before then to get in line as the park only lets in a limited amount of visitors per day.
  • Spend the day at Manuel Antonio National Park.  Take your hiking shoes, camera, and swimsuit. There are several beaches to enjoy as well as miles of hiking trails.  Sloths, monkeys, and iguana are easily spotted in the park.
  • Grab some cash from the ATM in town.  The next location, Drake Bay, does not have an ATM or a bank.

Alternative ideas:

None.  If you can handle the initial crowds and queues to enter the park, then it is well worth spending the day there.

Day 11 – Drake Bay

Woman in lifejacket on river boat
Taking the river shuttle to Drake Bay
  • Travel from Manuel Antonio to Drake Bay including the Sierpe River ferry.  
    • Plan for 6 hours of travel time, including lag time.
    • Shared shuttle from Manuel Antonio to Sierpe.
    • 11:30 a.m boat ride from Sierpe to Drake Bay.
  • Swim in the Playa Colorada in Drake Bay.
  • Stay at Jade Mar Cabins.  Have the hotel arrange your Cano Island and Corcovado National Park day tours.
  • Find jungle critters on a night tour.  Wear knee-high rubber boots for snake protection and water avoidance as you trek through the Rio Agujitas.

Alternative ideas:

  • Ask your hotel about sunset tours.

Day 12 – Drake Bay

blue fish spotted snorkeling at Cano Island
  • Take a half-day snorkeling trip at Caño Island.  The day will include snorkeling at two spots and lunch.
  • Cool off with a refreshing fruit smoothie at the ice cream shop in town.
  • Hike a part of the Drake Bay Hiking Trail just before sunset.  This gives you the option of hearing the jungle come alive.

Alternative ideas:

Day 13 – Drake Bay

  • Day trip to Corcovado National Park.  You must take a guided tour. The upside – the guides have a spotting scope to spot the animals and birds.  The day tour includes lunch at the ranger station.
  • Enjoy a sunset swim in Drake Bay.

Day 14 – Drake Bay

  • Attempt a half-day solo-hike to find the waterfall along Rio Agujitas.  Somehow I never found the waterfall that is an hour from the town of Drake Bay. But solitary jungle hiking is exhilarating.  
  • Travel home

Alternative idea:

  • Take a shared shuttle from Sierpe to San Jose.  I tried the public bus route – the buses were clean and comfortable but I could have spent more time exploring rather than riding the bus.