Costa Rica 10 Day Itinerary: Relaxing, Active and Cultural

Costa Rica 10 day itinerary - feature image

Dear Reader, am I safe to assume that you are intrigued by Costa Rica? A country full of mysterious jungle, incredible national parks and colourful wildlife warrants your attention for sure. A Costa Rica 10 day itinerary could include so many things, from river rafting to fine dining. In fact, any itinerary would have to reflect the diversity of the country itself – which, astonishingly, encompasses no less than 12 unique ecological zones, and has one of the greatest biodiversity’s on the planet. It is therefore a dream destination for wildlife spotters.

Known also for its adventurous activities, such as zip-lining and caving; it is perhaps the things it is less known for which are most impressive. For instance, the country runs a free, compulsory public education system, it is a stable democracy, it administers progressive social policies and it is particularly good on renewable energy initiatives. Not just a pretty face, ay? It’s also known to have a high level of social wellbeing amongst its people and indeed a high level of happiness.

Now, onto the itinerary bit. I have tried to include as wider variety of experiences in this Costa Rica 10 day itinerary as possible. These experiences are made up of relaxing, active and cultural activities, and should give you a strong overview of what Costa Rica has to offer.

The costa rica 10 day itinerary

Days 1 and 2: Explore San Jose

Assuming you’ll be flying into Juan Santamaria International Airport, then Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose, marks the beginning of your journey. San Jose is packed full of culture, with plenty of museums, churches, a central market and Costa Rica’s National Theatre. A Costa Rica 10 day itinerary could easily revolve around this city alone.

Costa Rica 10 day itinerary - National Theatre of Costa Rica
National Theatre of Costa Rica, San Jose

The museums that pepper this colourful capital are particularly unique. You’ll definitely want to discover the collection of more than 3,000 Pre-Columbian artefacts housed in the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. Moreover, it is well worth visiting the National Museum of Costa Rica, housed in the Bellavista Fortress, to learn about Costa Rica’s natural and cultural heritage. Also, if you’re on a family trip, the Museu de Los Ninos (Children’s museum) will keep the kids happy for hours. If you’re a museum lover in general, check out this article about the museums of Europe.

Costa Rica 10 day itinerary - National Museum of Costa Rica
National Museum of Costa Rica

To soak up the culture of a country it is always recommendable to spend time with the locals, or at least to see them go about their everyday lives. What better place to do this than a market. Mercado Centrale, San Jose’s central market, has been open since 1880. Within this bustling hub you’ll find stalls selling fruit, spices, vegetables, meat and rice dishes, soups and of course, coffee. Further, if you want to purchase any authentic artisanal items, you can visit the Mercado Artesenal, which is just a 10 minute walk down the street. For a real treat, why not take a tour of San Jose at night, and finish up the with a traditional dinner and choice of beers and wines.

Day 3: Day Trip to Tortuga Island

The capital city is marvellous, but for a quieter, more serene experience I recommend taking a full day tour from San Jose to Tortuga Island. On this day trip you’ll get to laze on a handful of pristine, white sand beaches, cruise along crystal clear waters with the potential to spot dolphins, and snorkel along the fringes of the beautiful Tortuga Island.

Costa Rica 10 day itinerary - Tortuga Island
Tortuga Island

Day 4: Visit Manuel Antonio National Park

A luscious, beautiful realm encompassing three white sand beaches, animated coral reefs, huge stretches of dense rainforest and tonnes of hiking trails. This is one experience you’ll definitely want to include in your Costa Rica 10 day itinerary. You’ll get the chance to see the famous white-faced Capuchin monkeys, Squirrel monkeys, Three-toed sloths, Iguanas and hundreds of marvellous bird species. Then, once you’re done with wildlife watching, you can go snorkelling in the crystal shallows. The best way to experience the park, because of the wholeness of the trip, is a day tour from San Jose.

Costa Rica 10 day itinerary - Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park

Day 5: Chocolate and Coffee Tour

Cacao was once Costa Rica’s largest export. Eventually taken over by coffee and bananas, the ‘chocolate seed’ still continues to be a thriving industry in the country. Luckily, on a ‘chocolate and coffee tour’ travellers can experience the preparation process of both commodities in a local setting. A day tour around a local farm and plantation is a great way to taste fresh coffee and chocolate, and learn about how they are prepared. Otherwise, you may wish to visit an indigenous community to see how they prepare the cacao seeds. The best way to do this would be to go to Puerto Viejo and enjoy the BriBri chocolate tour.

Costa Rica 10 day itinerary - Cacao Plant
Cacao Plant

Day 6: Waterfalls and Hot Springs at Arenal Volcano

There are plenty of places to enjoy waterfalls and hot springs in Costa Rica. But no place is better than the Arenal Volcano region. Until 2010, the Arenal was the country’s most active volcano. Even now scientists believe it is simply in a resting phase, but that its activity will pick up again. Thick rainforest decorates the region, marbled by a network of rivers. Within this paradise you’ll find plenty of waterfalls and hot springs to enjoy. Although, the best way to explore them is through a guided tour. If you would prefer to swim in the waterfall lagoons, and experience the hanging bridges, then this tour is better suited to you. Additionally, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Costa Rica (mainly for the bright blue water) is Rio Celeste Waterfall, found in the Tenorio Volcano National Park. Click here to visit.

Days 7 and 8: Ziplining, Tubing, Quad Biking and Horse riding

Costa Rica has some of the greatest outdoor adventure activities of any country on the planet. Whether you want to go whizzing through the jungle canopy on a zipline, bob and rush down the river on a rubber ring or stroll the pastures on a noble steed, Costa Rica can accommodate. In fact, this day trip weaves all of these activities into one. And, if you want to fly through the jungle on a quad bike too, then this day trip is one for you. Adventure activities are a great way to spend some of your 10 days in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica 10 day itinerary - Canopy Ziplining
Canopy Ziplining

Day 9: Canyoning or Sunset Cruising

On your last full day in Costa Rica, I suggest trying something that really will push your boundaries. Canyoning. A combination of climbing, abseiling, jumping, swimming and scrambling; canyoning is a real adrenaline rush. Can you see yourself rappelling down the face of a waterfall? Sliding down slimy river rocks? If so, give this activity a try.

Costa Rica 10 day itinerary - Canyoning
Canyoning

On the other hand, you may want to just relax and have a few drinks whilst watching the sun set over the ocean. In this case, the best thing you can do is head out on a mesmerising sunset cruise. With any luck you’ll spot whales, dolphins and turtles from the boat, as well as tropical fish whilst you’re snorkelling in the turquoise waters. Check out this amazing sunset cruise leaving from Guanacaste that offers a fully-stocked bar, kayaks and paddle boards to its customers.

Day 10: The End of your Costa Rica 10 day Itinerary, Time to Head Home

Your time in Costa Rica has come to a close. Hopefully, if all went well, you’ll have seen lots of wildlife and spectacular landscapes. You’ll have dipped your toes in a few waterfall lagoons, and a few thrilling adventure activities. Not to mention you’ll have soaked in a bucket-load of culture in the capital city, and swam in the crystal clear waters of Manuel Antonio National Park. You will have tried the hearty Costa Rican food, including chocolate, and you’ll have sipped a few strong coffees. It will certainly be a trip to remember.

Costa Rica 10 day itinerary - flying home

more information for your costa rica 10 day itinerary

This itinerary is by no means exhaustive. There are of course hundreds of other experiences to enjoy in Costa Rica. But I think this itinerary covers almost everything: beaches, adventurous activities, cultural immersion and time to relax and unwind. We’re not finished here though. Below, I’m going to provide you with some more information about Costa Rica.

Best Bars in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is an extremely diverse country, so as you can imagine, it is home to a whole variety of waterholes. Whether you want a quiet cocktail on the beach, or a bottle of wine whilst overlooking the city lights of San Jose, Cosa Rica has it all.

Coco Loco

A beachfront bar that the locals love. Here, on the white sands of Playa Flamingo, you can indulge in rum cocktails served directly from coconuts whilst running your toes through the sand. Coco Loco is also a restaurant, so make sure to try their dishes too.

The Costa Rica Sailing Centre

The perfect setting for an enjoyable and relaxing day, and night. The Sailing Centre pours cold, fresh beers and serves up the most exquisite chili guaros. Aside from that, you can rent a kayak, paddle-board or a volleyball, which is always fun after a few beers.

El Vaquero

Another local favourite, El Vaquero sits on the gorgeous Tamarindo beach. They serve craft beers and popular brands, fruity cocktails and delicious fusion bar food. You can sit at one of their picnic tables and watch as the sun sets over the glorious ocean. Additionally, you’re likely to see bonfires and live music.

Ram Luna

Though this is technically a restaurant, the views from this place are simply too spectacular for it to be left off of this list. Offering a buffet and dinner show on Wednesday and Thursdays, you can really soak in the Costa Rican culture here. And I’ll mention again, the views are incredible. You can see all of the night city lights of San Jose from above.

Tintos Y Blancos

Set in Escazu, Tintos Y Blancos is a classy restaurant perfect for couples. They have an extensive wine list and excellent food to match, including tapas style dishes, cheese boards and full entrees. Revolving around wine, the staff will make sure that each glass comes with a hang tag so you can keep track of what you have tried.

Best Places to see Sloths in Costa Rica

The unsung hero of Costa Rica is surely the sloth. And, luckily, there are plenty of places where you can spot them. This list is split into ‘wild encounters’ and ‘sanctuary encounters’.

A hungry sloth

Wild Encounters

The best places to see sloths in the wild in Costa Rica are Puerto Viejo, Tortuguero, Manuel Antonio, Uvita, Dominical and the Osa Peninsula. Usually you can spot them in the treetops that line the road, although you may want to bring some binoculars. Additionally, you may even see them crossing the road or hanging out in the palm trees at the beach. Tortuguero National Park is perhaps the world’s most likely place to spot a sloth in the wild, but you can spot them in pretty much any national park in Costa Rica.

Sanctuary Encounters

If you’d like a more planned-out encounter with a sloth, you can visit one of Costa Rica’s animal sanctuaries. You should check out the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Centre in Cedadilla first, they are open for daily tours and you don’t need to book in advance. They also run a great volunteering programme. Another home for sick, injured or orphaned animals is the Jaguar Rescue Centre. It operates from two sites: the nursery at Playa Cocles, and the Ceiba Primary Forest release area in Punta Uva. This centre also offers guided tours with wildlife experts. Other places you could visit are the Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary in Dominical and the Sibu Sanctuary in Nosara, although the latter only allow a small group of visitors each week.

Best Places to Snorkel in Costa Rica

With the Caribbean sea to the East, and the Pacific Ocean to the west, Costa Rica has a huge range of snorkelling experiences available. The Caribbean side is decorated by dazzling coral reefs whilst the Pacific side is rocky. Two totally separate ecosystems means that you have the chance to spot a whole host of different underwater creatures.

Hawksbill Turtle
Hawksbill Turtle

Pacific Coast

On the Pacific coast, Playa Ocotal, Play Bonita and the little creeks that nestle in Punta Cacique are all brilliant places to snorkel. The latter is a small peninsula that separates Playa del Coco and Playa Hermosa, which are also great places to snorkel. Additionally, try Calzon de Pobre and Playa Penca. Just a few minutes by boat from the coast is Islas Pelonas. This island is circled by coral reefs and is a favourite spot for hawksbill turtles and Pacific seahorses. Or, if you’d like to snorkel somewhere off the beaten track, head to Playa Bassey, north of Santa Rosa National Park.

Playa Ocotal
Playa Ocotal

For more famous and potentially busier snorkelling spots, head to Playa Conchal or Playa Danta. Both are very near to Playa Flamingo. Moving south now, snorkelling in Manuel Antonio National Park is also a wonderful experience. Here you can swim in the little bay surrounded by a jungle full of sloths, raccoons and coatis.

Caribbean Coast

The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica offers slightly less in the way of snorkelling spots. The ones that do exist are all located on a short, twenty kilometre-long shore. The best overall snorkelling site is the Cahuita coral reef, within the Cahuita National Park, which can only be accessed by boat with a guide). Aside from that, Puerto Viejo rock pools, Punta Uva reef and Playa Manzanillo all offer some pretty spectacular underwater views. Having said that, visibility is not always great here, and rough seas can be a problem. But if you do get good visibility, be sure to keep an eye out for nurse sharks and stingrays.

Isla Del Coco
Isla Del Coco

Last but certainly not least, Isla del Coco is a must for snorkelling in Costa Rica. Roughly 550 kilometres from the Costa Rican mainland, this beautiful island is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site. The island is known for its shark populations and more generally as a biodiversity hotspot. However, it can only be visited during multi-day cruises.

Is it Safe to Drive in Costa Rica?

In short, yes. In fact, renting a car is probably the best way to get around Costa Rica. There are of course a few things to consider, and I’ll go over them shortly. But first, a quick ‘fact sheet’ about driving in Costa Rica.

  • Cars drive on the right hand side of the road (like the US and Canada)
  • The metric system is used. Costa Rican rental car’s odometers will use kilometres and your petrol/gas tank will be in litres.
  • Speed limit on the roads is 90 Km/h.
  • Road signs are in Spanish.
  • Legal driving age is 18. Minimum age for car rental can vary between 21-23 years of age.
  • Visitors to Costa Rica can drive with a valid original driver’s license and their original passport (no copies/scanned documents)

Some safety tips are worth considering before driving in Costa Rica. First, it is worth noting that big cities are best avoided during rush hour. Which in Costa Rica is 5-8 AM and 3-6 PM. The reason for this is simply that the roads become extraordinarily busy at these times and there is very little ‘courtesy’ shown by other drivers in Costa Rica. Also, there are motorbikes everywhere, so stay very alert. Additionally, because Costa Rica can unfortunately play host to violent crime and theft, it is best to drive with your windows up and valuables out of sight. Also remember to lock your doors. Lastly, traffic cops may remove your license plate if you park illegally, so be sure to check.

Roads in Costa Rica

Urban

Road conditions will very much depend on which part of the country you are driving in. All the major cities have paved roads, and even some of the smaller ones. However, what is more rare are traffic lights and sidewalks, especially once you leave a city. San Jose does have roundabouts, but the lanes are not marked and usually it is a bit of a free-for-all. You will need to drive assertively otherwise you won’t get anywhere.

Rural

In more rural areas you will find that only the main roads are paved, however there are less people around, which makes for a calmer drive. Having said that, there is a chance that farm animals will be crossing the road, so be wary of that. Also, there will be no sidewalks in rural areas, so you’ll have to be careful, especially if children are running around playing.

Well, dear reader, I hope this Costa Rica 10 day itinerary has been useful for you. Costa Rica truly is a magical country, with such ecological diversity and beauty. Whether to enjoy the wildlife, the landscape, the food, the people, or what is more likely, all of these things; Costa Rica is well worth a visit.

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