How To Spend 7 Days In Costa Rica: A Week-Long Itinerary

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Last month, my boyfriend and I took a fun trip to Central America to visit the country of Costa Rica. Many will say that you can't spend just a week there because it is not nearly enough time. While that's true of almost any place you'll go in the world, it's actually fairly easy to see quite a bit of Costa Rica in just 7 days. Not everyone has the time or money to take more than a week off from work, and if you want a vacation that takes you to a new place with a ton of different scenery, all in one country, than Costa Rica is definitely the place for that. You can get mountains, greenery and hiking in one part and then in an hour or two, be at a beach swimming in tropical water with a monkey flying overhead.

Note: This is a guide for budget travelers, so if you're wanting to stay in hotels and pay for special transportation, then you might not get much from this. If you want to save tons of money, than use this as a template for your own trip.

Travel Day

  • My suggestion is to time your flights right so you either arrive in the morning or late at night so you don't count it as a day of your trip since you'll truly need the full 7 days to get a full taste of Costa Rica.
  • Spirit Airlines (as terrible as they can be) is the cheapest way to get there and they often have sales, so watch out for those when you're booking your flight (I got ours for $150/each!).

Day One - San Jose

  • Arrive in San Jose.
  • Take bus from the airport to downtown San Jose - For only about $1
  • Explore San Jose: Many articles will tell you that there's not much to do in San Jose, and truthfully that's accurate. It is a thriving city though and a walk through it won't be a waste of time.
  • Where We Stayed: Golden Frog Hostel for one night. For $11/person you can just rest your head for a night in a dorm room before getting up early the next morning. It's right in the middle of downtown so you're not far from things and then it's a 15-20 minute walk to the bus station.

Day Two - La Fortuna

  • Wake up really, really early and head to the bus station at Ave. 7-9, Calle 12.
  • Pay for bus in advance (we didn't know we had to do this and thankfully they let us pay on the bus, but they prefer you don't do this) - $3
  • Bus leaves at 6:15am and is a 4 hour ride.
  • Arrive in La Fortuna.
  • Explore the town and sign up for tours of Arenal to take the next day.
  • Where We Stayed: Eco Hostel for two nights. $9/person for a dorm room. This hostel was in a shopping center with a gym next to it that blasted music from 6am to 11pm so it wasn't great, but it was cheap and the location was great.

Day Three - Arenal

  • Arenal Volcano Hike or Two Volcanos Tour - buy a tour from your hostel or one of the many tour vendors around the town. Some have great deals where they include a lunch or dinner in the price and you can definitely haggle the price down. The volcano hike is great for those who want to see a lot but can't take a lot of uphill hiking. The two volcanos tour is for adventure seekers who want to climb a whole mountain. Either one you choose, you'll have an all-day adventure and get to hike, swim at a waterfall, relax in hot springs, see animals and get great photos - prices vary from $40-60

Day Four - Monteverde

  • Wake up early again to get the taxi/boat/taxi option to get to Monteverde at 8:30am (it's the quickest way to get to Monteverde taking only 3-4 hours, plus you get to ride over lake Arenal in a boat) - $25/person
  • Arrive in Santa Elena (which is the town you stay in to access parts of Monteverde).
  • Where We Stayed: Sleepers Sleep Cheaper Hostel for one night. We stayed in a private room for $12.50/person, but there are dorms for $10/person.
  • If you arrive before 2pm, you can hop on the last tour of the day of the Monteverde Extremo Park to go zip-lining or bungee jumping. Zip-lining is $50/person and bungee jumping is $70/person. If you are into adrenaline rushes, it's definitely worth the money.

Day Five - Puntarenas, Quepos and Manuel Antonio

  • Wake up early and walk to the bus station to catch the bus to Puntarenas at 6am - $3
  • Spend an hour or two in the beach town of Puntarenas as a layover and to stretch your legs.
  • Catch bus to Quepos around 1 or 2pm (Quepos is actually the town you head to when going to Manuel Antonio National Park, so don't get confused at where you're going) - $3
  • Unless you booked a hostel in Quepos, you'll want to take a taxi or bus to your accommodation. There's a bus that runs between Quepos and Manuel Antonio every 15 minutes and costs less than $1.
  • Where We Stayed: Hostel Plinio for two nights. We stayed in a basic private room for $15/person a night. It's a treehouse like hostel that sits up in the trees and is so beautiful. We did have an ant infestation problem, but thankfully we didn't spend much time in the room to have to endure them. There was free breakfast included.

Day Six - Manuel Antonio National Park

  • You can actually sleep in today and head to the park on your own time, but remember that it opens at 7am and closes at 4pm. You can take the bus from your hostel and it will drop you right at the entrance trail for the park.
  • There's usually a line to get in, but you won't have to wait for more than 30 minutes usually. The cost is $16 and make sure you don't plan this trek for a Monday because the park is closed on that day.
  • You can pay for a guide to lead you through the park, but it's not really needed unless you have an extra $20-30 to spare. They only really help to point out hard to see animals, but you'll see plenty of monkeys and birds without their help.
  • Make sure to check out the hiking trails and beaches and just enjoy your day at the park. It's definitely worth the admission price.

Day Seven - Jaco

  • Head back to the bus station in Quepos to catch a bus to Jaco - $3
  • Buses leave many times during the day and only take about an hour to get to Jaco, so no need to hurry.
  • Where We Stayed: Manga's Surf House - Private room for $20/person. I actually wouldn't recommend staying in this hostel as it was dirty and isn't worth the money, not even for the cheaper dorms.
  • Jaco is a beach town so go enjoy the beach for the day. It's a surfer place too, so if you feel like taking a lesson, go for it.

Travel Day

  • You can either stay in Jaco for the night and leave next morning or leave Jaco for San Jose and the airport that night, since it's only a 2.5 hour bus ride back to the city - $3
  • Make sure you don't forget to pay the $29 exit fee at the airport on your way out of the country. Make sure your airline also does or doesn't have extra stamps or paperwork to do on your ticket before you leave, because that line can take awhile as well.

Other Options

  • Since this is kind of a sampler plate of Costa Rica trip, if you want to spend more time in certain places, then I would definitely say that Jaco is not mandatory and if you cut it out, you can spend an extra day in Monteverde and go to the Cloud Forest Reserve, which we missed (but I've heard it's beautiful). If you want to cut out San Jose entirely, you can also fly into the Liberia airport and focus only on the Pacific side of the country and get in tons of beach time.