Are you planning a relaxing and adventurous trip to Costa Rica? This is a practical post written for you!
I want to share my Costa Rica two week travel itinerary (easily adaptable) with useful info, cost and travel tips, the result of sleepless nights for research and direct experience in Costa Rica. Have a good plan and let’s start!^_-
- My Costa Rica Travel Itinerary (with extras)
- How much does Costa Rica cost?
- Costa Rica travel tips (when to go, what to bring, what to eat, etc…)
1. My Costa Rica travel itinerary
• Days 16/15 nights, last 2 weeks of March
• Travelers 2 (couple)
• Destinations San José > Cahuita > Puerto Viejo > La Fortuna > Manuel Antonio > Uvita >San José
• Transport 1st part: bus, bicycle – 2nd part: rental car
We started our trip from the Caribbean side, moving to Arenal and to the Pacific coast. Most of the travelers plan the trip clockwise (from Pacific to the Caribbean), renting a car for the whole period: it works, but we preferred to use public transport+bicycle for the East Coast and to rent the car only from the second week. We saved quite a significant amount of money and we could leave the car at the airport on the way back: we did not regret the choice!
Arrival at San José – Cahuita/2 nights
Juan Santamaria International Airport > “Atlantico Norte” Bus Station (Avenida 9, calle 12 – San José) by Uber/Grab/Taxi
San José > Cahuita by bus (6,5h)
If I knew before. The bus was supposed to take 3,5-4h, it took 6,5h instead! The traffic and the mountain road was crazy and we were happy to not drive, especially after the intercontinental long flight!
What to see. Cahuita National Park, Playa Negra
Cahuita is an easy day trip from Puerto Viejo, but I would recommend sleeping there (2 or 1 night, if you prefer to change the location at evening). It is much less touristic and expensive than Puerto Viejo and its decadence looked more real to us.
If I knew before. You are not allowed to do snorkeling without a guide in the area of the park. Anyway, most of the corals are broken and dead, due to a recent earthquake, boats and barbaric tourists: I was soooo heartbroken! 🙁 The boat trip is still quite nice though, you can decide to take the trip in the morning and then hike back to town via the National Park (it is a very simple walk for everyone and it is easy to spot animals)
Puerto Viejo Talamanca/ 5 nights
Cahuita – Puerto Viejo by bus (30 min)
Rent a bicycle and explore the beaches from Puerto Viejo to experience the Caribbean vibe. It is really rewarding! Playa Cocles (our favorite -2km), Playa Chiquita (4km), Punta Uva (6,5km), Manzanillo (12km, but not flat… you can consider the bus option!)
What to do. Jaguar Rescue Center (between Playa Chiquita and Punta Uva), Chocolate Tour (check for Chocoart, after Playa Chiquita, or for Bri Bri community). Good snorkeling outside Manzanillo and after Punta Uva.
Fewer nights: do you have only 14 nights (or less) in total? Spend 1 night in Cahuita, take the bus in the evening to Puerto Viejo and spend there 3-4 nights. Et voilà!
Extra nights. 2+ days trip to Bocas del Toro (Panama), by shuttle/bus+boat. Every agency in town sells the package, including/excluding accommodation at a convenient price. If a bungalow in a small tropical island, white sandy beach, and emerald water is your dream, go ahead!
If you are looking for an adventure, then consider spending 1 night in Tortuguero, bus via Limon+boat from Moin.
Poasito/ 1 night
Puerto Viejo > San José by bus (6,5h)
Taxi/Uber from Atlantico Norte to the Rental Car (15 min)
San José > Poasito by car (45 km, 3h reality vs 1h Google)
Rent a 4×4 SUV (even if small), you will find many unexpected holes and some dirt roads are quite challenging, be prepared! Unfortunately the car is really needed to explore Arenal and to move to the Pacific coast: group tours are quite expensive and the options very restrictive. Add the full insurance, take a deep breath and drive slowly (I was NOT the driver for this trip, just the complaining and annoying passenger…)
Traveling day: take the bus from Puerto Viejo in the morning (max at 9:00), in order to arrive in Poasito before sunset, because mountain roads can be dangerous at night and dark arrives so damn fast at the Tropics!
Next day: Poas Volcano National Park (check if it is open, if yes be there at 8:00 a.m. to avoid the fog), Mi Cafecito coffee tour, driving to La Fortuna (2h)
La Fortuna-Arenal/3 nights
Free natural hot springs Tabacon river: add this location in your GPS/Google map 10°29’20.6″N 84°43’24.2″W (in front of the Tabacon Resort). Park the car on the street and walk down to the river with only a towel and a rain jacket if it rains (it was cold after the warm bath!)
Hot Springs Spa: for both the backpacker and the luxury experiences! We spent one afternoon plus dinner at Paradise Hot Springs (have a look also to Ecotermales)
Rio Celeste and hiking in Tenorio National Park (2h by car, last 7km uphill). The path can be very muddy and slippery, just don’t wear your perfectly white sneakers and be prepared to be amazed by the color of the river. A must do.
Hiking in Arenal National Park (if you have energy, we were lazy…)
Extra nights. You can consider to sleep 1 night nearby Tenorio (after visiting the Park) and drive to Monteverde (2 nights), to experience the cloud forest or to Rincón de la Vieja National Park, for more volcanos and hiking.
Manuel Antonio/2 nights
La Fortuna > Manuel Antonio by car (it should be 5h, but we got lost miserably somewhere in the mountains and it took 7h instead. Beautiful view, but scary moments). Stop at the Crocodile Bridge before Jaco, nearby Carrara Park (the name of the bridge might suggest the attraction…)
If possible, book a hotel with parking next to the entrance of Manuel Antonio National Park: they will let you access to the area by car (the hotel’s name works as the password) and from there you will just walk to the park or to the beach. Sleeping in Quepos+bus is a cheaper option, but less relaxing!
What to do. The National Park opens at 7:00, be already there to buy the tickets and avoid the crowd, the area is very touristic. Path and beaches are so much more beautiful in the early morning and the temperature is still enjoyable.
You can bring with you water and sandwiches, but not snacks: park rangers will inspect your backpack and confiscate them, fearing that you would feed the animals (by the way, we acknowledged that raccoons love sandwiches as well, but this is another story!). If you have an interest in zoology, you can hire a private guide at the ticket box office, but don’t expect a wild nature: the large path in concrete and wood, the crowd of people and the animals too used to humans are not exactly a definition of adventure!
If you look for a pristine environment, maybe skip Manuel Antonio and include in your trip Corcovado instead (see below).
Manuel Antonio > Uvita by car (45 km, 1h)
Uvita > Juan Santamaria International Airport by car (210 km, 3h). All the rental offices are 1,5 km far from the airport (ask for the address!), but they offer a free shuttle service.
What to see. Marino Ballena National Park, Nauyaca waterfalls (an Eden!) and Uvita waterfall.
If it is the right season (from half July-December), enjoy a whale watching tour and if you are lucky to be in town in September, don’t miss the Whale Festival.
Even if you decide to not take any boat tours, enter the park for free after 16:00 and walk on the beach to admire the sunset and the show of the low tide. The sand reflects everything like a mirror, it is pure magic.
Extra nights. If you have 2 or 3 extra nights and you love wild nature, include in your itinerary Corcovado National Park in the South. It is probably my biggest regret of the trip…
2. How much does Costa Rica cost?
Currency: Costa Rica Colon (CRC – ₡)
1000 CRC = 1,75 USD/1,50 Eur
For a 15 nights/16 days trip we spent 2850 USD/2400 Eur as a couple (March 2018), including everything, from flights to fruits, food of local sodas and few small souvenirs. Costa Rica is not a cheap destination, but we spent less than expected! Here you can find a breakdown of our expenses:
|Batido (fresh fruit juice)||900-1100 CRC|
|Meal for 2 in a soda||10000-13000 CRC|
|Bus San Jose’-Puerto Viejo||5600 CRC|
|Bus Cahita-Puerto Viejo||750 CRC|
|Rental bike 3 days||7000 CRC|
|Ticket for tours (coffee and chocolate)||20-25 USD|
|National Park entrance fee||10-16 USD (Cahuita free donation from North entrance)|
3. Costa Rica travel tips
When to go. In March we found in general good weather, with a couple of cloudy days in the Caribbean side (we had luck, the area is usually wet!) and only one raining day on the road between Poasito and La Fortuna (ok, it is called “rainy forest” for a reason, now we know…).
Since Costa Rica has different microclimates, here you are my small recap table with weather info and friendly icons (of course every year can be unpredictable!)
One side note: the full week before Catholic Easter is called Semana Santa (Holy Week), it is the main holiday in Costa Rica and everyone packs family and BBQ equipment to spend some days away from home. For you it might mean crowd and need to book accommodations in advance, you are warned!
Safety. Except maybe in San Jose’, we felt safe everywhere. In the Caribbean side they warned us to not carry credit cards and a lot of money outside Puerto Viejo, since there have been some bad episodes :/ If you rent a car, don’t leave your valuables unattended in the parked vehicle. One side note: when you pay or exchange money in the bank, always count the amount you get back and check carefully the bill. We had several nasty experiences that really spoiled our mood!
Visa and Tax. In general, European, US and Canadian citizens don’t need an entry Visa, for a stay of max 90 days (of course, verify eventual layovers). Costa Rica has an Exit Visa of 29 USD/person, but Lufthansa filled the form and paid it as part of our ticket!^0^/ Verify with your airline to avoid paying it twice, in theory, it should be included.
Languages. Costa Rica’s official language is Spanish, but most of the people speak English. Surprisingly, there are also several Italians, owning accommodations and restaurants… we are everywhere!
What to bring. Beach clothes, but don’t forget light cotton/linen clothes with long sleeves, especially if you cycle and don’t want to burn your arms (emmh….). Snorkeling t-shirt and equipment, sunglasses, hat, sunscreen (high protection), gel aloe for sunburns (a lot of gel), mosquito repellent. Rain jacket, long trousers for hiking/zip lining, good walking shoes and a hoodie for the mountain. Gopro (if you have) for snorkeling and zip line, better with the chest mount, but we managed also with only the floating stick tied to the wrist.
What to eat. Food is tasty, simple and a bit repetitive. Casado (a full plate with rice, black beans, fried green plantains, a small salad + chicken or beef), gallo pinto, guacamole, tortillas, ceviche (cold raw seafood/fish salad) are a traditional dish. In Cahuita and Puerto Viejo try Caribbean food, like fish cooked in coconut milk and other specialties.
That’s all for now, I included everything I could think of. Did you like this post? Curious to know more? Leave me a comment/thought/suggestion/question below: I am looking forward to hearing from you! ^_^/