For a tiny country, Costa Rica’s beauty is vast and diverse. From the surfing haven on the Pacific coast to white-sand beaches on the Caribbean coast, from the lush rainforests in the north to vibrant city life in San Jose there is an infinite number of things to do in this Central American country. With all this beauty it is very hard to decide which places to see and things to do in Costa Rica.
This ultimate 10-Day Road Trip through Costa Rica focuses on spending time on the West Coast (Southern Pacific) close to Manuel Antonio and Whale Tale Beach, Monteverde where the beautiful cloud forests are, La Fortuna to visit Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna Waterfalls and flying in and out of San Jose.
To better understand different regions of Costa Rica and what they have to offer please read our post Where to Visit in Costa Rica.
Things To Know About Cost Rica Before You Travel
Getting to Costa Rica
San Jose and Liberia are two major airports in the country. We flew into San Jose since there is a direct flight from Orlando.
How to Get Around
Once in Costa Rica, the best way to get around is by renting a car, preferably a 4×4. For more about driving in Costa Rica check out our post where we spill the beans.
An entry visa is not required from the US, UK, EU, Australia and Canada at this time, but double-check during your planning stages since it can take up to 90 days to receive a visa if needed.
Currency in Costa Rica is the Colón. You will be able to find exchange places in the US to exchange the money before your travels, but if you are having issues you can always have Western Union money to yourself and pick it up at your destination in the local currency or use an ATM. You can US credit cards, both Visa and Master Card, without any issues. Many places also accept US dollars (and even list their prices in dollars).
110V, same as the USA
Even though December to April is considered the dry season, one thing for sure about Costa Rican weather is that it is unpredictable. Chances are that it will rain at some point during your travel and temperatures will be somewhere between 60- and 80 degrees F.
Costa Rica is a safe place to visit. We had a lot of locals remind us not to keep any valuables in the car or anywhere out of our sight, but we did not experience any issues. A lot of parking lots will have a parking attendant making sure your stuff is safe so be kind and tip the parking attendants.
10 Days IN COSTA RICA:
DAY 1 – Arrive in San Jose and Drive to Uvita
Arrive in San Jose, rent a car and head out to South Pacific Region. Stay in Uvita, a beach town in the middle between Corcovado National Park and Manuel Antonio National Park. It is also the home of Marino Ballena National Park where the Whale Tail Beach is located (a beach in the shape of a whale’s tail that can be seen during low tide). It is a 3.5-to-4-hour drive from San Jose airport to Uvita depending on which way you decide to drive.
Two options are either going northwest and getting to Highway 34 and driving down the Pacific coast or taking Highway 2 and driving southeast through the mountains between Tapanati National Park and Los Quetzales National Park. We chose HWY 2 and the drive was our first true experience of Costa Rica driving. The elevation and temperature change are drastic, some parts of the highway are at over 10,000 ft elevation and temperature swings from 48°F to 80°F, which also gives you the first glimpse of driving through the Costa Rican clouds as they roll in and out.
Unbeknownst to us at the time HWY 2 is where Cerro de la Muerte (Mountain of Death). Appropriately named for the number of deaths that happen on this road every year. Still, the drive was unbelievably scenic.
Upon your arrival in Uvita check into your hotel, catch a sunset on a clear day, grab dinner in town and prepare for the next few adventurous days.
WHERE DID WE STAY: Golden Pineapple Resort – Adults Only Resort – beautiful but very pricy resort with an amazing view of Whale Tail beach. It is mandatory to have 4×4 vehicle to get to the resort as the road is windy, unpaved, and unbelievably steep.
WHERE DID WE EAT: Sabor Español – great Spanish food.
DAY 2 – 4 – Uvita
Uvita is a small beach town with so many amazing things to do around it.
THINGS TO DO in uvita:
- Day trip to Manuel Antonio National Park – Manual Antonio is about an hour’s drive north, along the coast, from Uvita. It is a beautiful national park, with nice hiking paths, beaches and amazing wildlife.
- Visit waterfalls in and around the area – Uvita Waterfalls, Nauyaca Waterfalls, and Ojochal Waterfalls. Some waterfalls allow swimming, but some do not.
- Visit Marino Ballena National Park – Marino Ballena is located in Uvita and includes the famous “whale tail” beach.
- Go Whale Watching – the best time for this is in August and September.
- Visit Playa Ventanas – during low tide, you can go exploring in the caves known as “windows”
- Visit Corcovado National Park – visiting this park requires a little more planning, as the only way to get in is by boat from Drake Bay or by hiking for many hours. You also need a certified hiking guide to be able to enter this national park. However, the wildlife and its beauty are worth a visit.
- Go Snorkeling, Kayaking or Surfing.
WHERE DID WE EAT: El Hornitos – excellent empanadas, Kinsu Restaurant – nice outside seating with refreshing drinks, Los Laureles Bar Y Restaurant – great margaritas, patacones, and tacos.
DAY 5 & 6 – Monteverde
A visit to Costa Rica would not be complete without visiting the capital of the Cloud Forests. For naturalists, birdwatchers and wildlife lovers this is the place to be. It is higher in elevation, misty, humid, windy, and a little bit cooler than the Pacific side or Central Valley.
Monteverde is almost a 4hr drive from Uvita, mostly along the Pacific coast. We recommend stopping in Jaco for lunch or maybe even at the Tarcoles River to see the crocodiles from the bridge or take a boat tour to get closer to them. Once on Highway 606, the elevation starts to increase, clouds start rolling in and the views of the valleys below become breathtaking.
Santa Elena is the main little town in the region with a mountain town vibe and cool bars and restaurants that were mostly closed for us, because of COVID.
THINGS TO DO in Monteverde:
- A nighttime tour of the cloud forest. It is an amazing way to explore the wild, as most birds and animals are trying to quiet down for the night. We highly recommend booking a nighttime tour with Nasua Tours. Oscar, the guide, is excellent, nice, courteous and a walking encyclopedia.
- Visit Cloud Forests, any or all! The most popular one is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, but there are many others: Wildlife Refuge, Selvatura Adventure Park, Curi Cancha Reserve, Aguti Wildlife Reserve, etc. One thing they all have in common is an amazing landscape, biodiversity, unexpected wildlife, and possibly hanging bridges. All of it is worth a visit.
- Take a coffee tour – coffee plantations are everywhere in Monteverde.
- Extreme Ziplining at Selvatura Adventure Park or Sky Adventures Monteverde Park
WHERE DID WE STAY: Koora Hotel – nice, clean and very friendly hotel
WHERE DID WE EAT: Because of the restrictions most places close at 8 pm other than hotels and resorts, so we mainly dined in the hotel. However, there are a lot of cool places to hang out in the area when COVID restrictions are not in place.
DAYS 7 – 9 – La Fortuna/Arenal
The drive from Monteverde to La Fortuna around Lake Arenal is stunning. We stopped at Café & Macadamia for a traditional Costa Rican lunch and an amazing view of the lake.
La Fortuna is one of the most popular tourist locations in Costa Rica so it has all the amenities that you may need, but with COVID not as many tourists which gave us a great opportunity to explore and enjoy the area.
THINGS TO DO in la fortuna:
- White Water Rafting – as everyone kept telling us “You have not been to Costa Rica, unless you’ve been white water rafting.”
- Visit one of many Hot Springs
- ATV Tours
- Hike the base of the Volcano, or hike down to the base of the La Fortuna Waterfalls (~ 500 stairs), or hike the Arenal Hanging Bridges – a total of 16 bridges for 16 to 328 ft long.
- Take a day trip to Tenorio Volcano National Park – Rio Celeste
- Take a day trip to Catarata del Toro, the same property offers hikes to Blue Falls of Costa Rica. Waterfall Hidden Treasure (Catarata Tesoro Escondido) is only a couple of miles away from it.
- On a clear day take a day trip to Poas Volcano
WHERE DID WE STAY: Amor Arenal – Adults Only Resort – we had a casita with a view of the volcano, it was just a wonderful place.
WHERE DID WE EAT: Don Rufino or the hotel
DAY 10 – San Jose
Drive back to San Jose and fly out.
We arrived a night early and spent the night in the suburbs of San Jose with an amazing view of the city. With restrictions in place starting at 8pm, we grabbed a quick dinner and enjoyed the view from our balcony.
THINGS TO DO in San Jose:
- Take a walking tour of San Jose
- Explore Street Art
- Visit the Central Market and try to mingle with the locals
- Explore the craft beer scene
WHERE DID WE STAY: Alta Hotel with a stunning view of San Jose.
WHERE DID WE EAT: Restaurant Pescatore – Peruvian Restaurant
Whether you are an adventure seeker or just looking for a place to relax and soak up some sun, Costa Rica has it all. With the COVID restrictions it cuts down the available hours to explore the country, but it is still worth a visit. To dive into more detailed hikes and adventures check out our other posts about Costa Rica.
Other helpful posts…
Renting a Car and Driving in Costa Rica
Tenorio Volcano National Park – Rio Celeste Trail
Crocodile Adventure on the Tarcoles River
Manuel Antonio National Park Trails
Where to Visit in Costa Rica
Adventure Day in Rincon de la Vieja National Park