Costa Rica is a dream holiday destination for anyone who loves nature, adventure, and delicious food! The country covers just under 20,000 square miles, but 25% of the country is protected by conservation programs covering rainforests, waterfalls, and marine life.
While you won't discover all Costa Rica offers in 10 days, it's enough time to sample a great range of experiences. From walks through rainforests, whitewater rafting waterfalls, and surfing on pristine beaches, you definitely won't get bored!
This is my guide to the best 10-day itinerary for Costa Rica that lets you explore and sample what this glorious country has to offer. Coast to coast, peak to valley, and everything in between!
The Perfect 10-Day Costa Rica Itinerary
Before getting started, consider how you plan to get around Costa Rica. While there are good bus connections between many of the most popular tourist destinations, renting a car is the best way to explore Costa Rica.
This gives you flexibility with timing and lets you hit destinations off the beaten path. You can use your local driving license in Costa Rica while visiting as a tourist and get a car rental at the airport. While you don't need a 4x4 to get around, you'll want something pretty tough and powerful since potholes are an issue.
Day One: San José
When traveling to Costa Rica, most people arrive in San José, the capital. The city is the perfect introduction to the country, so plan to spend some time here.
Walk and eat your way around San José, soaking up the atmosphere. Then try your first taste of Costa Rican coffee to perk yourself up!
Be sure to take in the sights, sounds, and smells of the bustling markets Mercado Central and the Mercado Municipal de Artesanias. The Teatro Nacional and Catedral Metropolitana are also impressive must-sees.
How to get to San José from the airport
San José International Airport is only about 10 miles from downtown San José, so you can reach your main destination within 30 minutes by car. A taxi or Uber will probably cost a little less than $20. If you're in a group, you can get a private shuttle from the airport for $40 for up to four people.
If you prefer to "do it like a local," you can hop on the "big red bus" from in front of the arrivals area to the city center. The trip is only about 35 minutes and costs under $2 at the current exchange rate.
Where to Stay in San José
San José has many accommodation options, from affordable hostels like the Capital Hostel de Ciudad to well-priced boutique hotels like Hotel Sura. For luxury, try the Grand Hotel Costa Rica by Hilton.
Day 2: Discover the Orosi Valley
Wake up early on your second day in Costa Rica and make the 30-mile journey to the Orosi Valley, which runs along the Reventazón River. If you travel by car, look for the sign for Mirador de Orosi to stop for pictures. If you take a tour bus, they'll probably stop there too!
The valley is characterized by rolling hills and lush vegetation. It's the perfect place to spend the day hiking or horseback riding. Remember to pack your picnic lunch!
You can visit Iglesia Colonial De Orosi, Costa Rica's oldest operational church and monastery, buy freshly ground coffee from local coffee farms, and hike through the Tapanti National Park.
Once you've had your exercise for the day, make your way to the Hacienda Orosi Hot Springs. Soak in the thermal mineral water while looking at the Irazu Volcano, Costa Rica's tallest volcano.
Where to stay in Orosi
Check into the colonial-style Orosi Lodge in the village downtown for atmospheric accommodations or the convenient Villas Orosi Valley just around the corner from the church. If you want to splurge for your own cabin or bungalow in lush private gardens, then look at the Chalet Orosi.
The Orosi Valley is close enough to San José that you could also return to your city hotel.
Day 3 & 4: Travel to Tortuguero
It's three hours from San José or the Orosi Valley to the La Pavona harbor. From there, you can take the one-hour ferry to Tortuguero, located on the east coast of Costa Rica. This experience is as your boat passes diverse wildlife, including seemingly sleepy crocodiles!
When you arrive at the national park, a range of activities is available. Boost your adrenalin with treetop zip lining, get to know nocturnal animals with a night forest walk, or take a sunrise canoe safari to see baby turtles and other sea life.
Walking around the park can fill a day if you'd rather keep it simple. Make sure you don't miss a thing with a local-led walking tour.
It would help to have at least an overnight stay to experience Tortuguero. The village has plenty of great restaurants and a vibrant nightlife. Try El Patio for traditional Costa Rican food, Budda Café for sunset views, and the Tavern for drinks and dancing.
If you're strapped for time, you can also do Tortuguero as a day trip from San José.
Where to Stay in Tortuguero
The Hospedaje Meryscar is basic but clean and conveniently located if you're on a budget. If you're in Costa Rica to treat yourself, check into the Mawamba Lodge. It has a rainforest bungalow feel and a swimming pool since you probably won't be swimming in Tortuguero's natural waters due to sharks and crocodiles!
Note: Many places in Tortuguero don't accept credit cards, so remember to bring a good amount of local currency.
Day 5: Transfer to Sarapiqui
As you head to the western part of Costa Rica, stop off in Sarapiqui—a lush green forested region in the center of the country north of San José. It'll take about three hours by car from Tortuguero but longer to reach the best parts of the forest.
Discover the region by whitewater rafting the river. There are routes available for different levels, so you can speed down or take a relaxing float. You'll see birds, iguanas, and other animals native to the region.
To wind down afterward, join a local chocolate tour to learn about local cacao production and sample some artisanal treats. You can also take the surprisingly enjoyable Pineapple Tour and Ant Tour. Sign up with local guides when you arrive.
Where to Stay in Sarapiqui
You'll want to stay close to the forest in Sarapiqui, both to be near the best activities and for the spectacular forest views. The Mirador Prendas is the most popular accommodation and is a treehouse in the middle of the forest. But it does take about one hour in a 4x4 to reach.
Day 6 & 7: Navigate La Fortuna
From Sarapiqui, it's a relatively short one-and-a-half-hour drive to La Fortuna. On the way, you must stop at the Catarata del Toro, the biggest waterfall in the country, and the Blue Falls of Costa Rica.
You'll need between two and four hours to walk the falls. Swimming in the falls is glorious and safe, with no crocodiles to worry about!
From La Fortuna, you can explore the Arenal National Park. To get the most out of your short time there, book the ultimate one-day tour, which promises an exhausting but satisfying day that crams in as much as possible.
You'll discover volcanoes, lava fields, waterfalls, hot springs, and suspension bridges. If you enjoy adventure, sign up for canoe or rappelling tours, horseback riding, or canopy walks. The Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges are also great for spotting sloths, frogs, and tarantulas.
Where to stay in La Fortuna
La Fortuna is a popular tourist hotspot, so plenty of suitable accommodation exists. Still, the best options tend to be just outside the center of the village, and the Arenal Sloth Hostel is a good budget option.
Day 8 & 9: Drive to Santa Teresa
Commit to a day-long road trip to Santa Teresa, a beach village on the west coast peninsula. The drive can take anywhere between 6 and 12 hours, depending on if and where you choose to stop.
Your first stop could be the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, which you can walk through on suspended bridges. It's home to the highest concentration of orchids in the world, with 500 different species.
If you want a short detour, head north to the Parque Nacional Volcano Tenorio, which has mangrove swamps, lagoons, and jagged cliffs with unique rock formations.
Plenty of small villages on the way allow you to stop to buy fresh fruit from local vendors and eat in cute restaurants. Your final stop could be Samara Beach, which is excellent for swimming or surfing, and there are shops and restaurants for a break to stretch your legs.
Try to arrive in Santa Teresa in time for a spectacular orange and pink sunset! Santa Teresa is a surfing mecca. You can enjoy yourself by renting a board as an experienced surfer or taking some classes at one of the many surf schools.
If you prefer snorkeling, take a short trip to the Isla Tortuga to see coral and colorful fish.
Where to Stay in Santa Teresa
For budget accommodation, check into the Lost Boyz Hostel, which has both dorms and private rooms in the hippy-surfer vibe of the town itself. Lucero Surf Retreats offers spacious private rooms and a pool.
For luxury, check into the Selva Ocean View Luxury Villas for a private villa with an infinity pool and incredible sea views.
Day 10: Return to San José
Day 10 means that it's time to start the 6-hour car drive back to San José, including a one-and-a-half-hour ferry trip. It's a beautiful route with plenty of great stops.
There's the biological reserve on the Negritos Islands, famous Playa Pajaros, Playa Pana, and Rancho Ericka to eat before you get on the ferry. When you get off the ferry, you'll pass the Puntarenas beach before a long coastal drive before the turn inland.
The city of Ortina has coffee plantations, wildlife walks, and organic restaurants to break up the drive.
You may have to rush back to get your flight, or if you have a morning flight, you might prefer to stay in a hotel in Alajuela near the airport. If you want to spend one final night in San José, check out the guide to the best nightlife in Costa Rica for things to do.
Plan your Costa Rica Journey with Pilot!
Once you've decided on the top destinations for your 10 days in Costa Rica, you can start to craft your ideal travel experience for you, your family, and your friends.