This itinerary has you staying 2 nights at each area; the Central Pacific Coast, the higher elevations of Monteverde, and the Guanacaste Coast on the Nicoya Peninsula. Please note that this is a "car rental" type of trip, not a typical budget "public transportation" type of trip. Therefore, this trip is best done with a few friends so you can spit the cost of the car rental and gas. Renting a car allows you to see so much more in a short amount of time.
Our flight arrived at noon in San Jose so that's where the itinerary begins. On day 7, we flew out of Liberia, but I have added an easy modification to fly back out of San Jose. Also, we did not go zip-lining because we've all done it already but it would be easy to swap something out and fit it into this itinerary in Monteverde or in Tamarindo.
• Crocodile Bridge
• Jaco View Point
• Playa Hermosa
• Punta Uvita Whale Tail Beach
• Catarata Uvita and Butterfly Garden
• Manuel Antonio
• Hummingbird Cafe
• Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve
• San Luis Viewpoint
• Craft Beer & View at BelMar
• Ficus Root Bridge
• Sunset and Local Bar
Day 1Walked: 3.75 miles
Arrive in Costa Rica• 12 pm flight lands at SJO
Do your usual airport stuff and get colones from the ATM. Grab a shuttle outside the airport from your rental company to go pick up your rental car. The rental car locations are very close by.
There are various tolls along the way. You do not need exact change. At least 3 tolls will range from 500 colones to 800 colones.
See Interesting Stops Along the Coast Highway in Costa Rica
Crocodile Bridge• 1 hour drive from SJO
A quick walk across the bridge to view the largest concentration of American crocodiles in the river below. Park on the north end of the bridge and be sure to lock your car. There are shops in case you want to grab a snack or a cold drink.
See The Crocodile Bridge in Tarcoles - An Unexpected Tourist Attraction.
Jaco View Point• 30 minute drive from the Crocodile Bridge
Off to the right, there's a pull-out with large colored JACO letters and a view of Jaco down below. It's a good photo opp and there are usually some cold drinks for sale. Try a fresh coconut or a local snow-cone type treat.
Playa Hermosa• 5 minute drive from the Jaco View Point
If you got in on an early flight, you have time to stop for beachside lunch in Playa Hermosa and watch the surfers while you enjoy a local casado or some pizza. Otherwise, just cruise on by and take note of the cute surfer area.
Quepos (2 nights lodging)• 1 hour drive from Playa Hermosa
5:15 pm check in to lodging, wander around town and watch the sunset from the malecon.
Dinner: for a pricey gourmet hidden gem, eat at De La Finca. The place looks like nothing more than a Tico hole-in-the-wall but the food is full-on gourmet and delicious with a 5.0 rating. Even the sangria is amazing. Other recommendations are the restaurants at the Marina, Soda Sanchez, and Calypso.
Day 2Walked: 5 miles
Day Trip to Uvita• 8:45 am head toward Uvita
Punta Uvita Whale Tail Beach• 1 hour drive from Quepos
10 am - 11:30 am walk out to the beach
You really need to time this with the tide since the beach gets completely covered up at high tide, and the whale tail shaped beach shows itself at low tide. On the day we went, the low tide was at 9:30 so we needed to be back across the river by noon to get out before the high tide. It's a bit of a walk from the parking (there are pay parking lots but you can also park on the road for free). If you decide to stick around Uvita, you can use your same ticket in the evening at next entrance to the south to watch the sunset.
Catarata Uvita and Butterfly Garden• 15 minute drive from Punta Uvita
12 - 2 pm
An easy visit not far off the Costenera Highway, spend an hour or so with a refreshing dip in the waterfall pool and a visit to their butterfly garden. Then have a cold beer at the restaurant on your way out.
See Uvita Waterfall - Cool Pools in the Jungle.
Dominical• 20 minute drive from Uvita
2 - 4:30 pm
Have lunch & beers at Fuego Craft Brewery Restaurant. Drive down to the beach to enjoy the cute town. Shop the many many souvenir stands and grab a $1 kebab.
Back to Quepos for Sunset45 minute drive from Dominical
Get home in time for the sunset around 5:45 pm, then enjoy dinner at one of the restaurants at the Pez Vela Marina.
Day 3Walked: 7.5 miles
Manuel Antonio• 20 minute drive from Quepos
8:45 am - 1:45 pm
Explore the most visited park in Costa Rica. Hike all the trails from Cathedral Point to Gemelas and Escondido Beach. Spend some time at the beach, have a swim, and get a snack at the café.
Wrap up Quepos, Head North2:15 pm
Pick up your luggage in Quepos that you left at your hotel. Stop for lunch at Soda Sanchez or Calypso if you aren't anxious to get on the road.
Then for a change of scenery, head to the mountains in Northern Costa Rica to experience a completely different micro-climate.
Monteverde / Santa Elena (2 nights lodging)4 hour drive from Quepos
Check in to your hotel then have dinner at Tree House Restaurant.
In the heart of downtown Santa Elena, there is a large tree growing through the restaurant.
Then go around the corner to unwind at Bar Amigos. Check out the local culture and have a chiliguaro shot. They have the best in Costa Rica. It's a large place with pool tables and reasonably priced good food.
See Best Places to Eat Around Monteverde for your future eating endeavors.
Day 4Walked: 8.25 miles
Coffee Up for a Full Day8:00 am breakfast at Cafe Orchideas, Stella's, or Choco Cafe.
9:15 am head up the hill to the Monteverde Cloud Cloud Forest Biological Preserve.
At the entrance to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve is a little freebie where you can see many varieties of hummingbird come to feed outside the cafe. It's about a 30 foot path off the road and is worth a few minutes or more!
Hike around the cloud forest for a few hours. See a small waterfall, visit a giant hollow fig tree, enjoy pure nature.
Don't worry about this being redundant with Manuel Antonio. The parks are surprisingly unique and it's a very different vibe up in the mountains. But if you don't want to walk around the cloud forest, there are so many other things to see in the area. Canopy tours, suspension bridges, zip-lining, etc.
I recommend starting on the green path (Bosque Nubosco - a raised path, easy walk with informational signs) to the yellow path, going to the Continental Divide view point (sendero la ventana - a dirt path), then come back on the red path (Sendero Camino - a muddy road). Then go on the purple path (up many stairs) to the picturesque suspension bridge. Or you can just return along the red path but take the offshoot to go see the suspension bridge from the other side.
Once you are back at the entrance, take the black/red/green paths up to the waterfall. Along the green path (Sendero Tosi) you will come across a giant hollow fig tree - amazing.
San Luis Viewpoint• 10 minute drive
Before lunch, catch the view all the way to the ocean! A little-known spot on the tourist circuit, this view is amazing! It's not marked on any maps and is on a steep winding road. You can even see a large waterfall in the hills to your left. You'll get a similar view from the Hotel Belmar, so if you are short on time, you can choose between the two.
Directions: Location on map. Park to the right, just before the benches.
Grab an Ice Cream or some local-made cheese. Life is short, eat dessert first? Ruin your appetite for lunch, you're on vacation.
Beer at a Celajes, BelMar Hotel and Lunch• 10 minute drive
1:30 - 3:30 pm
Enjoy a local craft beer or a garden-to-glass cocktail while enjoying the most amazing view all the way to the Nicoya Peninsula.
If you don't want to eat at the pricey BelMar, head on over to The Green. Maybe not the most beautiful setting on the upper floor at the big supermarket complex, but they have great food which is surprisingly difficult to find in Santa Elena. If you want to check a "popular" spot off your list, try Taco Taco.
See Best Places to Eat Around Monteverde.
Ficus Root Bridge (Ficus la Raiz)• 5 minute drive
A short 15 minute hike by/through the stream to visit an amazing root bridge.
See Secret Tree Root Bridge in Monteverde for instructions on how to find this site.
Chill Out, Eat Dinner, Crash OutYou know the area pretty well by now. Choose one of the places you haven't been to yet for dinner, then go out or crash out !
See Where to Grab a Drink (and a Bite) in Monteverde.
Breakfast and Hit the Road8:30 - 9:30 am breakfast 9:30 am take the road north toward Tilaran
If you choose to go to a different part of the Guanacaste Coast other than Tamarindo, you might want to take a different route here.
La Piedra del Indio Waterfall and Aboriginal Rock• 1/2 hour drive from Santa Elena (Monteverde)
We did not make the time to stop here but it's on the road to Tilaran and it gets great reviews!
The town of Tilaran is really cute, then the next town of Cañas not so much; it's just industrial.
Llanas de Cortez Waterfall• 1 1/2 hour drive from Santa Elena (Monteverde)
11 am go to the waterfall.
Give yourself an hour at the very least to walk down to this large area with wide waterfall and huge swimming pool. Join the locals as they swim, take great photos, and have a picnic. 4000c entry (approx. $7 USD)
Playa Brasilito• 1 1/2 hour drive from Llanas de Cortez
You'll pass by mango farms along the way with roadside stands to buy fresh fruit. Then arrive at Playa Brasilito for lunch on the beach. Tofu poke? A first!
Playa Conchal• 15 minute drive
If you have extra time, you can check out the beach. It's a little out of the way and on a crowded day you park along the road and walk in.
Playa Grande (2 nights lodging)• 15 minute drive
4:30 pm arrive Playa Grande, check in to Ripjack Hotel, get settled.
Head straight out to the beach to watch surferrs on the big waves of the Witch's Rock break and try not to miss happy hour at Ripjack from 4 - 6 (bocas & 1/2 price drinks)
If flying out of Liberia - Free Day!If returning to the US, get your COVID test today. Hopefully you already made a reservation.
Go into Tamarindo proper for brews and shopping, and zip lining, Enjoy your pool, and go to the beach for the sunset.
If flying out of San JoseDrive to San Jose after breakfast and zip lining, and schedule your COVID test for somewhere along the way or in San Jose.
Dinner at Restaurant Silvestre for elevated Costa Rican food.
Stay at Cariari Bed & Breakfast.