A Fun-Filled 1 Week Costa Rica Itinerary

Costa Rica     Destinations
Only have a short time in Costa Rica? Here's how to see the "Best Of" in 7 days!
Some friends of mine were on a typical US schedule of having only a week for a vacation. How to see enough of Costa Rica in that amount of time? No problem. We put together a pretty active itinerary, and it worked out great. We didn't feel rushed and we saw a lot!

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.
When in Rome, be sure to eat some ceviche, chifrijo, chicharones, and a casado plate, and have a chiliguaro shot!

Itinerary Overview

Day 1
• Crocodile Bridge
• Jaco View Point
• Playa Hermosa
• Quepos
Day 2
• Punta Uvita Whale Tail Beach
• Catarata Uvita and Butterfly Garden
• Dominical
Day 3
• Manuel Antonio
• Monteverde
Day 4
• Hummingbird Cafe
• Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve
• San Luis Viewpoint
• Craft Beer & View at BelMar
• Ficus Root Bridge
• Sunset and Local Bar
Day 5
• Llanas de Cortez Waterfall
• Playa Brasilito
• Playa Conchal
• Playa Grande
Day 6
• Free Day / Tamarindo
• Zip Lining
Day 7
• Playa Hermosa
• Fly Home

Day 1

Walked: 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.
Don't forget to bring a letter from your credit card company stating that they cover the rental car insurance. If you don't have the letter, they will force you to purchase their very expensive insurance. If you do have the letter, you can either decline theirs, or they will lower their rate so much that it makes it worth it to buy it since it's full local coverage.
• 2 pm drive toward Quepos
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.
Crocs down in the River Tarcoles as seen from the bridge above!
Crocs down in the River Tarcoles as seen from the bridge above!
Jaco view point. Yeah, I had to do it.
Jaco view point. Yeah, I had to do it.

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 2

Walked: 5 miles

It's much easier to see the whale tail from the air than it is on the beach!
It's much easier to see the whale tail from the air than it is on the beach!

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.
What a cool walk to the main waterfall in Uvita! A must do if you're in the area.
What a cool walk to the main waterfall in Uvita! A must do if you're in the area.
Climb up and slide down the waterfall!
Climb up and slide down the waterfall!

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 Sunset

45 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.
Great lunch at Fuego Micro Brewery Restaurant in Dominical.
Great lunch at Fuego Micro Brewery Restaurant in Dominical.
Go to the marina for some seaside ambiance.
Go to the marina for some seaside ambiance.

Day 3

Walked: 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.
Wildlife and nature galore at Manuel Antonio!
Wildlife and nature galore at Manuel Antonio!

Wrap up Quepos, Head North

2:15 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
6:15 pm
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.
Looking up into the Tree House Restaurant. There, you've seen it, now you can move on. ;)
Looking up into the Tree House Restaurant. There, you've seen it, now you can move on. ;)
Chili guaro shots at Bar Amigos. Love them! It's like drinking gazpacho! LOL
Chili guaro shots at Bar Amigos. Love them! It's like drinking gazpacho! LOL

Day 4

Walked: 8.25 miles

Coffee Up for a Full Day

8:00 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.
DO NOT stop at the "official parking lot" for the Monteverde Cloud Forest. This is almost a mile away from the park and IS NOT the official parking lot. Drive all the way to the entrance. There is free parking on the street just outside the park.
Sooo many hummingbirds of so many types on the feeders outside the cafe.
Sooo many hummingbirds of so many types on the feeders outside the cafe.

Cafe Colibri

• 15 minute drive
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!

Monteverde Cloud Cloud Forest Biological Preserve

9:45 am - 12:30 pm
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.
When you arrive and purchase your tickets, a ranger will ask you how long you want to hike, and suggest a route for you to take.
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.
This hollow fig tree inside the park is so big, we had to use a panorama view to get it all in one photo.
This hollow fig tree inside the park is so big, we had to use a panorama view to get it all in one photo.
The entire park is just jaw-dropping.
The entire park is just jaw-dropping.

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.
I love this spot mostly visited by a few locals to smoke pot. The view near San Luis is off the tourist map with a view to die for.
I love this spot mostly visited by a few locals to smoke pot. The view near San Luis is off the tourist map with a view to die for.
You can see all the way to the ocean from quite a few places around Santa Elena / Monteverde.
You can see all the way to the ocean from quite a few places around Santa Elena / Monteverde.

Monteverde Cheese Factory

• 5 minute drive
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.
These are the ingredients for their cocktails at the Belmar!
These are the ingredients for their cocktails at the Belmar!
Nice selection of micro brews at the Belmar.
Nice selection of micro brews at the Belmar.

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.
One of the coolest things I've seen and not too popular with tourists (. . . . yet).
One of the coolest things I've seen and not too popular with tourists (. . . . yet).

Chill Out, Eat Dinner, Crash Out

You 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.

Day 5

Breakfast and Hit the Road

8:30 - 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)
Llanas de Cortez Waterfall - a great place to spend a few hours. Huge area, lots of locals.
Llanas de Cortez Waterfall - a great place to spend a few hours. Huge area, lots of locals.

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.
Beachside lunch in Playa Brasililito.
Beachside lunch in Playa Brasililito.
Playa Conchal on a holiday weekend!
Playa Conchal on a holiday weekend!

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)
The spray coming off the large surf waves at Witch's Rock is amazing!
The spray coming off the large surf waves at Witch's Rock is amazing!

Day 6

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 Jose

Drive 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.

Day 7

Playa Hermosa

If flying out of Liberia, you might have time to check out Playa Hermosa on your way to Liberia from Tamarindo.

Fly Home

So sad to go, but what a great trip! Pura Vida

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