If you’re about to start planning your first trip to Costa Rica, get ready to experience the trip of a lifetime!
We’ve created this Costa Rica trip planning guide to inspire you with steps to follow before your trip, suggested itineraries, and other tips to help you have a wonderful experience in Costa Rica.
- Steps for Planning Your Trip to Costa Rica
- Costa Rica Trip Planning for Different Types of Groups
- Costa Rica Itinerary Ideas to Match Your Travel Style
- Enjoy Your Once-in-a-Lifetime Trip to Costa Rica
- FAQs About Vacation Planning
Steps for Planning Your Trip to Costa Rica
Before we jump into the itineraries, here are some general tips for planning your trip to Costa Rica.
Step #1: Create a Budget
Before you start planning a trip to Costa Rica, it’s important to estimate how much you can afford to spend during your trip.
Although it’s possible to travel on a budget to Costa Rica, it’s important to note that this bucket list destination is the most expensive country to visit in Central America and will require a decent-sized budget to spend on accommodations, tours, food, and other expenses.
It may be helpful to hire a travel agent to help you navigate the trip planning process, especially the nuances of international travel while staying within your specified budget.
Step #2: Choose Your Location
Even though Costa Rica is a small country, you still won’t be able to see everything the country has to offer in one trip to Costa Rica. It’s essential to select a place to stay that gives you easy access to the destinations you want to see most during your trip.
We suggest staying in the Guanacaste Province so you can visit the area’s beautiful beaches while also taking excursions to popular tourist destinations, like Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna.
However, it may be easier to base yourself in a few different cities to see as much as possible during your trip.
Step #3: Book Your Lodging
Step #4: Purchase Your Flights
After booking your lodging, you’ll need to purchase your flights to Costa Rica. Many travelers choose to fly to Costa Rica’s largest airport, the San Jose Airport, because the flights tend to be more affordable, especially if you’re flying from a country outside Central America.
However, if you plan to base your vacation along Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, you may prefer to fly to the Liberia Airport, located in the Guanacaste Province.
Arriving at this airport will allow you to avoid the traffic in Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose.
Step #5: Book Your Transportation
Selecting the type of transportation you’d like to use during your trip to Costa Rica is an essential step in the planning process. You can book a rental car to travel throughout the country with ease or hire a private shuttle for convenient, stress-free transportation.
You can also rely on Costa Rica’s public buses to transport you between some of the country’s key destinations, and you can also rely on official taxis for quick transportation to and from the airport.
Step #6: Choose Your Tours
Costa Rica has tons of guided tours and excursions you can book ahead of time to enjoy during your trip, such as whitewater rafting in La Fortuna, whale watching along the Gulf of Papagayo, and scuba diving off the coast of Las Catalinas.
Since the best tour operators tend to get booked relatively quickly, especially during the dry season, it’s crucial to book the tours you’re sure you want to experience during your time in Costa Rica months before your trip begins.
Step #7: Create a Packing List
Finally, before your trip, create a packing list to ensure you don’t forget anything before your flight leaves for Costa Rica.
Your packing list should include items to bring, like a swimsuit during the dry season and a rain jacket during the rainy season.
However, it should also include to-do items before your trip, like renewing your passport, getting vaccines recommended by the CDC, and purchasing travel liability insurance.
Costa Rica Trip Planning for Different Types of Groups
Your Costa Rica itinerary will look different depending on your travel companions. For example, a family with small children will likely experience Costa Rica much differently than a couple visiting the country to celebrate a milestone anniversary.
Here are some tips for planning the perfect Costa Rica vacation depending on who you are planning to travel with:
Costa Rica is one of the most popular destinations for couples and makes the perfect trip for a honeymoon, babymoon, or anniversary.
Costa Rica offers plenty of adventurous activities for couples who like to try new experiences together, like ziplining, whitewater rafting, and scuba diving. Couples who prefer to relax in nature can enjoy a genuinely low-key vacation at Costa Rica’s beaches and luxury hotels.
Costa Rica is a fabulous destination for a family vacation with plenty of activities that family members of all ages will enjoy, from snorkeling at the beach to spotting wildlife at Costa Rica’s national parks.
If you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica with kids, it’s wise to consider booking an all-inclusive resort with kid-friendly services or a home with plenty of amenities, like a kitchen, so you can cook and save money on meals during your vacation.
Families also recommend renting a car or hiring a private shuttle to travel around Costa Rica, so you don’t have to navigate bus schedules and taxis with younger children.
Costa Rica is a popular destination for solo travelers, digital nomads, and snowbirds, thanks to the country’s friendly locals, biodiversity, and exciting culture.
Those traveling to Costa Rica on their own may want to consider joining group tours or experiences to meet other travelers during their vacation time. Many of the coastal towns in the Guanacaste Province are popular among solo travelers, so it’s easy to make friends while you travel.
Costa Rica Itinerary Ideas to Match Your Travel Style
Depending on your vacation style, here are some suggested one-week Costa Rica itinerary ideas curated for your unique interests and reasons for visiting Costa Rica.
7 Day Adventure Itinerary
Spend your first day in Costa Rica getting settled in and traveling to the first destination on your itinerary.
For this itinerary for adventure-seekers, we recommend booking three accommodations in the following locations for a “road trip” style vacation that will allow you to immerse yourself in each area and give you as much time for tours and excursions as possible!
Arrive in San Jose
Arenal Volcano National Park
Arenal Volcano, located in La Fortuna, is one of the most active volcanoes in Costa Rica and one of the country’s most popular places to visit.
You can explore the area by completing a trek on one of the many hiking trails or going whitewater rafting or kayaking in the Toro River, Balsa River, Peñas Blancas River, or Lake Arenal. If you’d like to unwind, you can also spend a few hours soaking in one of the hot springs in La Fortuna.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve
Monteverde is another one of Costa Rica’s most popular destinations. This tropical rainforest, located at 5,249 feet (1,600 meters) above sea level, gets its name from the mist that covers the surroundings. The cloud forests are a popular place to go ziplining, and you can also go hiking across suspension bridges to see the jungle from a unique vantage point.
Before heading home, spend a few days at Tamarindo Beach for some coastal adventures. Playa Tamarindo is an excellent place for a surfing lesson, and once you’ve gotten the hang of surfing, you can check out the bigger waves at nearby beaches, like Playa Avellanas and Playa Grande.
You can also go on a scuba diving or snorkeling tour from Tamarindo to Catalinas Island or Bat Island, where you’ll be able to see manta rays, reef sharks, octopus, and more marine wildlife!
7 Day Relaxation Itinerary
This itinerary is focused on convenience and relaxation to make your trip to Costa Rica as stress-free and rejuvenating as possible. After you arrive, spend the first day settling into your “home away from home” for the week.
We recommend choosing one of our beautiful rentals near Playa Flamingo or Playa del Coco to stay in for your entire vacation and arranging for a private shuttle to transport you to and from your excursions, so you don’t have to worry about driving.
Arrive at the Liberia Airport
Rio Negro Hot Springs
Due to its volcanic activity, Costa Rica is home to dozens of hot springs that offer a great way to spend a relaxing day in Costa Rica.
Located in the Rincón de la Vieja National Park, the Rio Negro Hot Springs are just a short drive away from your rental in Guanacaste. You can enjoy a quiet, laid-back environment with dozens of pools, hanging bridges, mud pools, and more.
Nosara is a village on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula known for yoga, surfing, and relaxation. It’s a great destination to visit if sightseeing isn’t your style and you’re looking to slow down and unwind during your trip to Costa Rica.
During your time in Nosara, you can attend yoga and pilates classes, take surfing lessons, and immerse yourself in the local culture by eating locally-grown food and embracing the “pura vida” lifestyle.
After relaxing at the beach, take a day trip to Costa Rica’s most popular attraction—Arenal Volcano.
During your few hours at this popular attraction, you can embark on a hike, relax at one of the area’s hot springs, or go horseback riding through the beautiful scenery.
Spend the morning soaking in the peaceful atmosphere at Playa Flamingo before heading home from your relaxing getaway to Costa Rica.
7 Day Itinerary for Nature Lovers
This itinerary will allow you to immerse yourself in Costa Rica’s natural beauty and wildlife while visiting some of Costa Rica’s most popular and diverse parks.
Arrive in San Jose
After arriving in San Jose, head to the Puntarenas Province, where you will spend the next two days. You will then spend the rest of your trip in the Guanacaste Province, where you’ll be able to take day trips to the region’s popular parks.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park is Costa Rica’s most famous park with a diversity of natural habitats.
You can see hundreds of birds and mammals and a few endangered species, like the squirrel monkey, or go hiking in the lush undergrowth of the jungle.
You can also relax at the beautiful white sand beaches at this popular park.
Spend the day traveling to your rental at Playa Flamingo or Playa del Coco (about a six-hour drive).
Once you arrive, you can spend the afternoon relaxing at the beach before embarking on day trips over the next two days.
Rincón de la Vieja National Park
Rincón de la Vieja National Park is home to three active volcanoes, gorgeous waterfalls, and hiking trails. This park shares many similar features to the region surrounding Arenal Volcano but makes a convenient day trip since it’s located in Guanacaste.
Travelers can spot unique bird species on a wildlife watching tour, go on a horseback riding tour through the park’s varied terrain, or enjoy other fun activities during their day in the park.
Las Baulas National Park
Though not as well-known as the country’s other parks, Las Baulas National Park is an excellent place to visit for those who love wildlife and nature. It’s situated between Tamarindo Beach and Playa Flamingo, so it’s a convenient spot to visit for those staying along Costa Rica’s west coast.
This park encompasses four beaches and two mangrove estuaries and is one of the most important nesting sites for Leatherback sea turtles in Costa Rica. In addition to seeing sea turtles, you’ll be able to see hundreds of exotic birds and monkeys, too.
Before heading home, spend the day at Playa Conchal, a beautiful beach along Brasilito Bay.
While all the beaches along Costa Rica’s west coast are beautiful in their own way, Playa Conchal is especially unique since the sand is made from crushed seashells. It’s also considered one of the best beaches for swimming in Costa Rica!
Enjoy Your Once-in-a-Lifetime Trip to Costa Rica
Now that you have all the information to plan your Costa Rica itinerary, you’re ready to experience the gorgeous beaches, lush rainforests, and adventurous activities this amazing country has to offer!
Explore our selection of beautiful rentals in Guanacaste to find the perfect place to stay during your bucket list trip to Costa Rica.
FAQs About Vacation Planning
The average traveler should expect to pay between $800 and $1,500 per person for a one-week trip to Costa Rica.
If you’re traveling on a tight budget, you can spend less money, but if you’d like to enjoy a luxury experience with a beachside resort, high-end activities, and upscale restaurants, you should expect to pay more than the average amount.
Although you can enjoy a one-week trip to Costa Rica, we recommend spending at least ten days and up to two weeks in the country.
This will allow you to enjoy a few low-key, relaxing days at the beach while still allowing plenty of time for travel to and from the country’s national parks, hiking trails, adventure tours, and other experiences you’d like to enjoy during your trip to Costa Rica.
You can use this vacation planning resource to plan your trip to Costa Rica, and you can also follow these Costa Rica travel tips to ensure your trip is smooth, relaxed, and fun!
Costa Rica may not be your ideal destination if you love exploring big cities, vibrant nightlife, and fast-paced travel experiences. Costa Rica is filled with natural beauty, and to fully enjoy a trip to Costa Rica, you must be willing to embrace the slow-paced “pura vida” (pure life) lifestyle.
Costa Rica has two sides—the Caribbean Coast along the country’s eastern border and the Pacific Coast along the country’s western border.
Although both sides offer unique experiences, the country’s Pacific side is more developed than the Caribbean side. It includes many popular Costa Rica destinations, like the remote Osa Peninsula, the extremely popular Manuel Antonio National Park, and dozens of scenic beaches in the Guanacaste Province.