Nicknamed the Switzerland of Central America, Costa Rica is a true champion of sustainable tourism. But this natural paradise is also one of the happiest countries in the world, the land of pura vida as the ticos say.
Costa Rica is the promise of a wild escape in the heart of an intact and majestic nature, where the colors and the heat of the tropics explode in your face. Between mountain, volcano, beach and primary forest, the country offers a diversity of natural landscapes quite amazing and plenty of activities.
So, travel to Costa Rica and take your rental car and explore Costa Rica in a 10 days itinerary. Here are the best things to do in Costa Rica :
Step 1 : San José, the capital of Costa Rica (1 day)
If you have to spend the night in a hotel in San José before heading to the nature, the best way to experience Costa Rica's urban culture in San José is to take a walk. Scattered throughout the city, San José's public parks, markets and courtyards serve as daytime hangouts for the city's friendly residents (called Joséfinos).
Your itinerary of the city's must-see places include:
- Mercado Central: the bustling Mercado Central (Central Market) is the perfect place to fill up the empty spaces in your backpack or suitcase.
- Avenida Central: One block beyond Mercado Central, Avenida Central is a pedestrian epicenter of stores and restaurants.
- Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica: Founded in 1897, the National Theater of San José is one of Costa Rica's greatest architectural attractions.
- Museo de Arte: An art museum and originally the main terminal of San José's first international airport, this museum houses the most important collection of works by Costa Rican artists from the colonial era.
Step 2. Tortuguero (2 days)
Sea turtles arrive in Tortuguero since hundreds of years during the night. The main turtle hatching and nesting seasons starts in later July and ends in later September.
The main species seen is the Green Sea Turtle, although other species come ashore as well, in lesser number. Young sea turtle start hatching during September and October in Tortuguero National Park Costa Rica.
It is better to book your tour in advance. You can book for a tour guide at your hotel and also many other activities.
Step 3 : Surfing in Puerto Viejo (1 day)
You like colorful villages, lobster, surf, and reggae music? Puerto Viejo is perfect to be in contact with nature and the authenticity of its inhabitants: friendly villages, beautiful beaches within natural parks, a luxuriant fauna and flora, and a very "Pura Vida" way of life, that is to say, relaxed.
The population, essentially made up of Jamaican descendants, speaks a mixture of Spanish and English (patois). The pace of life is decidedly slow and you should not be in a hurry! You will hear reggae music everywhere and Bob Marley is revered as a god.
Grab a surf board and explore the wonderful waves in Playa Cocles or enjoy other activities.
Step 4 : Arenal Volcano and surroundings (2 days)
Since 1968, after more than 500 years of inactivity, the Arenal volcano began to expel lava and ashes to the great surprise of the ticos. It is considered one of the most active volcanoes in Costa Rica.
This majestic volcano of 1,600 meters high is located in the Arenal Volcano National Park, in the northwest of the country. It is surrounded by a tropical forest of more than 12 000 hectares and a waterfall.
This cone-shaped volcano overlooks the town of La Fortuna de San Carlos, located 3 hours drive from the capital; San Jose, only 10 kilometers from the Arenal volcano.
The area is also famous for its hot springs and a beautiful waterfall. You can visit the river called Tabacón and bathe in its thermal waters, sipping a mojito with the view of the volcano. This is a great itinerary. Book your tours in advance. There is also a hotel if you want to spend the night.
Step 5 : Rincon de la Vieja (1 day)
The national park, which was created in 1973, is 34,000 hectares in size and is divided into two sectors: Santa Maria and Las Pailas.
In the heart of the park you will find the volcano Rincon de la Vieja, 1 916 meters high. It has 9 craters and is surrounded by rivers and streams. The park is full of animals such as capuchins, howler monkeys, sloths and over 300 species of birds. You will also observe the local flora.
Step 6 : Samara (2 days)
The village of Samara borders the beach that bears its name. But be patient, before running into the sea, take the time to walk around the village. It is very pleasant to walk around and to stroll between the different stores. You can also visit the restaurants and reserve a table for your lunch or dinner after a good swim in the sea.
You may come across some animals in the city. Indeed, Samara is bordered by the tropical forest and some monkeys, iguanas and birds escape from it and find themselves in the middle of the town. They are not very shy and you can observe them but keep your distance so as not to scare them.
Step 7 : Volcan Poas (1 day)
The Poás volcano is one of the must-sees of your trip to Costa Rica.
It is located in the Central Valley and rises to 2,700 meters. This half-day trip will delight both young and old.
At the top, there are two magnificent craters, the main one is 1.5 km in diameter and 300 deep. Here you will find the beautiful Botos Lagoon, composed of cold water and an emerald green color.
Prepare your trip
Budget (car, travel, visa)
Keep in mind that prices in Costa Rica are higher than in other Central American countries.
It is highly recommened to book for a 4WD in Costa Rica because the roads are sometimes very bad, even in the city. But if you want to save money, you can easily take public transportation to almost any destination in the country.
US nationals do not require an entry visa to Costa Rica. However, they must have a current valid passport and a return ticket to exit Costa Rica within 90 days. ... US passport must be valid for a minimum of one day from the day you enter Costa Rica. As a tourist US nationals cannot stay more than 90 days.
Get in touch with the Instituto de Turismo of Costa Rica, they will provide all the useful information you might need.