For such a small country, Costa Rica has a lot to offer. From volcanoes to rainforests to beaches, there’s something for everyone, but unfortunately most people have limited time to enjoy the country and don’t get the chance to see it all. It can be hard to choose what to see and what to miss, but there is a way to mix adventure and relaxation and get the “best of” experience, even if you only have a week. Here’s my one week itinerary for Costa Rica, assuming you fly in and out of San Jose.
Day One: Arrive in San Jose in the morning/early afternoon. I strongly suggest that you rent a car. It will make the rest of your trip faster and cheaper, and gives you a chance to pull over and take photos of the spectacular scenery, and to stop at roadside fruit stands and restaurants.
Spend the late afternoon and evening enjoying the downtown area’s museums and architecture. Dinner at a local soda or one of San Jose’s many up and coming restaurants.
Day Two: Spend the morning exploring Mercado Central and shopping for jewelry, cigars, food, crafts, and much more. The food stalls at the market are fantastic–some of the best chicken I’ve ever had. Make sure to stop for some cafe con leche and churros too!
Head out around 12:00 for Poas Volcano. It’s a beautiful volcano, but coffee lovers will especially love visiting Doka Estate for a coffee tour. If you leave San Jose at 12:00, you’ll be there in plenty of time for the 2:30 tour.
After you’ve stocked up on coffee and photos, continue on to La Fortuna, the town at the base of the Arenal Volcano. Depending on the time of night you arrive, you could spend the late evening relaxing in the area’s natural hot springs. Some nicer hotels have access to the springs, or you can pay by the hour at several spas.
Day Three: Visit the Arenal Volcano! You can visit on your own, or take a guided tour. I would go with the tour, because there really is a lot to learn about the animals and plant life you encounter. The Two Volcano Hike with Red Lava Tours is awesome. The hike is challenging, but the views are amazing and you’ll get to do more in one day than if you went on your own. You’ll climb up the Chato Volcano, learning about monkeys, snakes, toucans, dozens of plants, and more. After lunch at the top (and the lunch they pack you is huge), you’ll get the chance to swim in the crater of the volcano, then head down the other side and continue on an easier hike across hanging bridges and through lush farmland. Eventually, you’ll arrive at the Arenal Volcano observatory for panoramic views of sunset. The tour ends with a trip to a natural hot spring river, where you’ll be treated to volcanic mud facials and rum cocktails (all included). After the tour, grab dinner at a local restaurant. Soda Viquez is one of the better local spots in La Fortuna.
Day Four: Today, the beach portion of your vacation begins! Take the gorgeous drive to Tamarindo, a bustling town with a great beach. There are quite a few restaurants and bars in Tamarindo serving a variety of cuisines. For great coffee, stop at La Bodega. For a full list of restaurant recommendations email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Days Five and Six: These are your relaxation days. You can stay in Tamarindo or take a day trip to one of the many more remote and tranquil beaches nearby (the benefits of renting a car!). Playa Avellana, Playa Brasilito, and Playa Conchal are just a few of my favorite relaxing beaches in the area. From these beaches you can surf or enjoy other water sports, spot nesting sea turtles, or simply bask in the sun with nothing to interrupt you.
Day Seven: Sadly, this is your last day in Costa Rica and you’ll have to leave Tamarindo early to head back to the airport. It’s about a four hour drive back to San Jose, so schedule a late afternoon or evening flight if possible. Alternatively, you could schedule a flight for the very early morning on Day Eight, leaving you one last leisurely day to drive back to San Jose, stopping along the way at beaches and sodas.
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