Planning a getaway to a tropical paradise offering a unique blend of awe-inspiring landscapes, rich biodiversity, and vibrant local culture? Here is your answer – spend 3 weeks in Costa Rica and plunge into a world of lush rainforests, pristine beaches and active volcanoes, experiencing the magic and allure of this fascinating Central American gem.
Get ready to explore the untouched wilderness, indulge in deliciously fresh cuisine, and soak up the ‘Pura Vida’ lifestyle that makes this country a truly unforgettable destination. Save my Costa Rica itinerary so that you are prepared for your trip!
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The Ultimate 3 Weeks in Costa Rica Itinerary
Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie seeking thrilling adventures or a nature enthusiast looking to immerse yourself in the great outdoors, Costa Rica has something for everyone. From zip-lining through the canopies of Monteverde Cloud Forest, to surfing in the warm waters of Manuel Antonio National Park, there’s never a dull moment in this diverse and dynamic country.
But Costa Rica is not just about adrenaline and adventure. It’s also a place of natural wonders and hidden treasures waiting to be discovered. With over 5% of the world’s biodiversity, this tiny country boasts an impressive array of flora and fauna, making it a must-visit destination for any nature lover.
Prepare to encounter colourful toucans, playful monkeys, majestic jaguars and so much more as we journey through Costa Rica’s diverse ecosystems.
And let’s not forget about the food! Costa Rican cuisine is a delightful fusion of indigenous, Spanish and Afro-Caribbean influences, resulting in a mouth-watering blend of flavours and textures.
Now, here is how to prepare for your trip.
Planning for your Costa Rica trip:
Travelling to Costa Rica is fairly straightforward. Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) in San Jose and Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport (LIR) in Liberia are the country’s main international airports.
Major airlines including Delta, American Airlines, and United offer direct flights from various cities in the United States. Indirect flights are available from Europe, Asia, and Australia, often with a layover in the United States.
I flew from Brussels Midi (in Belgium) and arrived at the SJO.
Once you arrive, domestic flights, buses, or car rentals are popular options for getting around the country. Remember to check the current travel advisories and visa requirements for your country before travel.
Where to stay in Costa Rica?
I will share all the hotel and glamping spots in Costa Rica as we proceed with the 3 week itinerary below. Costa Rica offers a range of accommodations from luxury resorts to budget-friendly hostels and eco-lodges. You will find lots of options to fit your budget, and proximity to attractions when making your choice.
When to visit Costa Rica?
Costa Rica has two distinct seasons, the dry season from December to April and the rainy season from May to November. Each offers its own unique experiences, with the dry season being ideal for beach-goers and the rainy season providing lush green landscapes and fewer crowds.
I visited in November and enjoyed the weather and all the lovely opportunities that came with it!
Now, let’s go over the Costa Rica 3 week itinerary in detail.
Day 1 and 2 in Costa Rica: Arrive in San Jose and explore
Plan to touch down in San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica. You can pick up a rental car or take public transportation to your hotel and explore the city.
Pro tip: I recommend having a rental car for the remainder of itinerary in Costa Rica
While San Jose may be the starting point of your Costa Rican adventure, the city itself has plenty to offer. Begin your exploration at the Central Market, a bustling hub of local vendors selling everything from fresh produce to traditional crafts, giving you a taste of the city’s vibrant culture.
Don’t forget to sample a traditional casado meal or savour a cup of local coffee at one of the market’s many food stalls.
For a dose of history and art, pay a visit to the Gold Museum and the National Museum of Costa Rica. The Gold Museum houses a stunning collection of pre-Columbian gold artefacts, while the other offers an array of modern artistic creations.
The Museum of Costa Rican art is also worth a visit!
Take a leisurely stroll in the La Sabana Metropolitan Park, the city’s green lung, where you can enjoy a picnic, rent a paddle boat, or simply soak up the tropical sunshine.
Finally, as evening falls, head to Barrio Escalante, famed for its gastronomic scene. Here, you can enjoy a range of culinary delights, from gourmet Costa Rican cuisine to international dishes.
Where to stay in San José: Hotel Presidente
Day 3, 4 and 5 in Costa Rica: Travel to La Fortuna, and explore
San Jose to La Fortuna is about 3 hours by road. Once you arrive in La Fortuna check in your hotel Finca Luna Nueva Lodge.
For the next 3 days, keep La Fortuna as a base and explore the natural attractions and relax at a lovely thermal spa or a glamping spot.
Enjoy the evening at your leisure, perhaps taking a stroll through the charming town square or enjoying Costa Rican cuisine at a local restaurant.
The next day (day 4), kickstart your adventure with a visit to the La Fortuna Waterfall, a stunning natural wonder that’s perfect for a refreshing dip, and hikes.
You can also book a horseback ride through the picturesque landscapes of La Fortuna. Along the way, stop at a local farm to learn about traditional agriculture and enjoy a delicious lunch.
Alternatively, you can get your adrenaline pumping with a canyoning adventure in the afternoon – imagine descending down waterfalls and jumping into crystal-clear pools.
Top Tour: Balsa River rafting tour
After breakfast (day 5), make your way to Arenal Volcano, one of the most iconic and active volcanoes in Costa Rica. Take a hike through the surrounding rainforest and visit the nearby hot springs for a rejuvenating soak in the Arenal Volcano National Park.
Wrap up the day with a visit to a local chocolate farm, where you can learn about the process of chocolate-making from cacao bean to bar, and of course, sample some delicious handmade chocolates.
If you prefer an adventurous activity, consider booking Arenal Volcano Night Tour here
Where to stay in La Fortuna: Finca Luna Nueva Lodge
Day 6, and 7 in Costa Rica: Rio Celeste and nearby
For days 6 and 7, venture into the heart of the stunning Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio. Home to the enchanting Río Celeste, known for its surreal, vibrant blue colour, this park offers an ideal setting for a getaway filled with natural beauty and exploration.
La Fortuna to Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio is about a 2 hour drive. Stay at the Borinquen Thermal Resort for the next 2 nights.
One of the day’s highlights is sure to be the majestic Tenorio Volcano, cloaked by the lush forest and often shrouded in a mystical layer of clouds. A guided hike here takes you through the lush rainforest and will lead you past thermal hot springs, bubbling volcanic mud pits, and abundant wildlife.
As you venture outdoors, keep your eyes peeled for the diverse wildlife that calls this park home, such as howler monkeys, sloths, and a dazzling array of bird species. Don’t forget to pack your camera, as the stunning vistas and unique fauna provide endless photographic opportunities.
After a day of trekking and sightseeing, unwind with a traditional Costa Rican meal prepared with local ingredients, offering a perfect end to a day immersed in the vibrant beauty of Costa Rica’s wilderness.
The next day, head to National Park Rincón de la Vieja, located an hour’s drive away from the Borinquen Thermal Resort (accommodation).
This park is home to volcanoes, various hot springs, bubbling mud pools, and stunning waterfalls. On a day trip, embark on a hike through the park’s lush forests, where we’ll have a chance to spot native wildlife such as tapirs, jaguars, and colourful birds.
As you make your way to the volcano, you’ll be amazed by the unique geothermal features scattered throughout the park.
Keep an eye out for fumaroles (steam vents), sulphur pools, and boiling mud pits – all signs of the park’s volcanic activity. And don’t forget to take a dip in one of the natural hot springs to relax and rejuvenate after our hike.
A visit to Rincón de la Vieja wouldn’t be complete without seeing one of the park’s stunning waterfalls. La Cangreja waterfall, with its crystal clear waters cascading into a serene pool, is a must-see for nature lovers. The round trip hike to the waterfall will be about 3 hours to complete.
Take some time to soak in the beauty and serenity of this natural wonder before we head back to our accommodation for a delicious dinner and well-deserved rest.
Where to stay: Borinquen Thermal Resort
Day 8, 9 and 10 in Costa Rica: Santa Teresa
After an adventurous time in Rincón de la Vieja, head to Santa Teresa. The driving time from Rincón de la Vieja/Borinquen Thermal Resort is about 3.5 to 4 hours.
Stay at the Canaima Chill House for the next 3 nights. Perched atop a hill, surrounded by lush jungle, this tranquil Eco Chic adults-only hotel offers a serene escape. It is just a 13-minute stroll from Santa Teresa Beach and a short 10-minute walk from the trendy oceanfront eateries and surf shops that line the coast.
Book one of the suites here. Each suite boasts a terrace, ceiling fans, and mosquito nets, while the hanging beds made of bamboo add a unique charm.
Where to stay in Santa Teresa: Canaima Chill House
Day 11 to 14 in Costa Rica: Monteverde
Today, make your way to one of the world’s most famous cloud forests – Monteverde. Home to an astonishingly diverse ecosystem, including thousands of plant and animal species, this reserve is a must-visit for anyone interested in ecology and conservation.
Santa Teresa to Monteverde is about 4 hours and 30 minutes. I recommend staying at Jaguarundi Lodge in Monteverde for the next 4 days.
Depending on what time you leave for Monteverde, take it easy on day one here. There is a lovely dining bar at the hotel where you can hang out and plan out the next few days here.
Set aside a full day for exploring the mystical Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. You can walk along hanging bridges, suspended high in the forest canopy, and soak in a bird’s eye view of the endless green foliage, rushing rivers, and maybe even spot some wildlife.
Prefer to hike? You can enjoy anywhere from easy to moderately difficult trails inside the reserve!
And for those seeking an adrenaline rush, there’s the option to fly through the treetops on a zip-line or take a thrilling bungee jump over the lush canopy at the Sky Adventures Monteverde Park.
On the next day, visit the Butterfly Garden, home to over 30 species of tropical butterflies. You can witness the magical transformation process in the butterfly life cycle chamber, from a cocoon to a fluttering butterfly.
Nearby is the Hummingbird Garden, where you’ll be amazed by the sight of these vibrant birds fluttering and feeding at high speed.
For those interested in the local culture, I recommend visiting the CASEM (Cooperative of Artisans and Artists of Santa Elena and Monteverde) store, where local artisans sell handcrafted souvenirs, a perfect memento of your visit to Costa Rica.
After a long day, end sightseeing with a visit to the local coffee plantation. Here you can enjoy a guided tour, learning about the process of coffee production, from bean to cup.
Don’t miss out on sampling a fresh brew while gazing over the stunning landscape of the cloud forest.
Where to stay in Monteverde: Jaguarundi Lodge
Day 15 to 17 in Costa Rica: Uvita
Spend the next few days in Uvita, and stay at the beautiful Tropical Beach Hotel Restaurant & Bar.
Nestled amidst lush tropical foliage, this charming hotel is conveniently located just a 7-minute walk from Uvita Beach. It also offers quick and easy access to Route 34 and Marino Ballena National Park.
When leaving from Monteverde I recommend stopping at the Crocodile Bridge. The distance is about 2 hours by road, and it is perfect to break the journey to Uvita (Monteverde to Uvita is about 4 hours drive).
At the famous Crocodile Bridge, you can witness some of Costa Rica’s most well-known residents – crocodiles! These impressive creatures can often be seen sunbathing along the river banks or swimming in the water below.
Don’t worry, you’ll be safely viewing them from a distance on the bridge, but it’s still an exhilarating experience to see these ancient creatures up close. Make sure to have your camera ready for some amazing photos!
After your stop at the Crocodile Bridge, continue on your journey to reach Uvita. For the evening relax at the hotel’s pool or hit the nearby beach.
As your journey through Costa Rica continues to the beautiful coastal town of Uvita, get ready for a unique blend of adventure and relaxation. Known for its stunning beaches, lush rainforests, and abundance of wildlife, there’s no shortage of things to do in this charming town.
First up, explore Marino Ballena National Park – home to one of the most extraordinary beaches in the world. With its iconic whale-shaped sandbar and crystal clear waters, this beach is a must-visit for snorkelling, swimming, or simply lounging on the soft sand.
For an adrenaline rush, take a guided tour to Nauyaca Waterfalls – a majestic cascade of water surrounded by lush greenery. Here you can choose to hike, horseback ride, or even rappel down the falls for a truly unforgettable experience.
For wildlife enthusiasts, a visit to the Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary is a must. This protected area is home to a diverse range of animals, including monkeys, sloths, and over 140 species of tropical birds.
You can explore on your own or take a guided tour to learn more about the refuge and its inhabitants.
And for those seeking relaxation, Uvita has plenty to offer as well. From yoga classes on the beach to spa treatments in tropical settings, you can truly unwind and rejuvenate in this tranquil town.
Where to stay in Uvita? Tropical Beach Hotel Restaurant & Bar
Day 15 to 21 in Costa Rica: Drake Bay and Corcovado National Park
From southern Costa Rica, make your way to Bahía Drake located on the north side of the Osa Peninsula on the coast of southwestern Costa Rica.
Make a stop in Sierpe (Uvita to Sierpe is just an hour’s ride) to explore.
Located on the banks of the Sierpe River and surrounded by lush rainforests, this secluded town is a hidden gem with plenty to offer.
Take a mangrove boat tour down the Sierpe River, one of the most biodiverse rivers in the country. As you glide through the mangrove forests, keep an eye out for monkeys, crocodiles, and a variety of tropical birds.
After exploring the town and the forests, settle in Kunken Boutique Hotel & Spa for the night.
Sierpe to Drake Bay is about 2+ hours by road or an hour by public boat; and this is where you will spend the most of your time.
Check out the popular Bahía Drake Public Trail. This is a stunning 20.8-km out-and-back trail near Bahía Drake, making it a perfect adventure for backpackers, hikers, and runners alike.
With breathtaking views and diverse terrain, this trail offers a challenging yet rewarding experience.
On average, it takes approximately 5 hours and 6 minutes to complete. Even though it’s a popular trail, you can still find moments of tranquillity during quieter times of the day, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of nature.
Plan to take a guided boat tour to Corcovado National Park – known as the “crown jewel” of Costa Rica’s national parks. Here you can witness an abundance of wildlife, including monkeys, sloths, and even jaguars.
You’ll also have the chance to hike through the rainforest and spot exotic birds and other creatures. (Note that a guide is needed to explore the national park).
Book this tour: Corcovado National Park: Guided Hiking Tour – Full Day
For a unique experience, add a guided tour to the Caño Island Biological Reserve, where you can snorkel or scuba dive in crystal clear waters and explore the vibrant marine life and coral reefs.
The island came into existence approximately 40 to 50 million years ago due to the shifting of tectonic plates. The sinking of the Cocos plate beneath the Caribbean plate led to its emergence. In ancient times, this area served as a burial ground for the indigenous people. Regular tours leave from Drake Bay and Uvita.
If you are seeking relaxation and soft adventure, Drake Bay has plenty to offer as well. From secluded beaches to tranquil waterfalls, you can truly disconnect and recharge in this peaceful paradise.
Where to stay in Drake Bay: Kunken Boutique Hotel & Spa
Other things to do in Costa Rica for your itinerary
Here are some other things to do and add to your Costa Rica itinerary.
Nationaal park Tortuguero – Parque Nacional Tortuguero
Located on the Caribbean coast, this remote park is only accessible by boat or plane, making it a truly special and secluded experience.
As you explore the park, you’ll be surrounded by an abundance of lush rainforests, winding canals, and pristine beaches. It’s no wonder that this park is often referred to as “Costa Rica’s Amazon.”
One of the highlights of Tortuguero National Park is the opportunity to witness nesting sea turtles. From July to September, you may have the chance to see green sea turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs, or from October to February, watch as baby turtles hatch and make their way into the ocean. These unforgettable experiences are not to be missed.
Aside from sea turtles, the park is also home to a diverse range of wildlife such as monkeys, sloths, toucans, and more. You can explore the park on foot or take a boat tour for a chance to spot these incredible animals in their natural habitat.
And for those seeking relaxation, Tortuguero offers plenty of opportunities to unwind and connect with nature. You can take a peaceful canoe ride through the canals, relax on the beach, or simply soak in the stunning views from your hotel.
Note that the Tortuguero village stands as the sole settlement on the peninsula, boasting its small yet vibrant charm. Despite its size, the village offers an abundance of eateries, souvenir shops, and bakeries to cater to your needs and desires.
Jaguar Rescue Center
The Jaguar Rescue Center, nestled near Puerto Viejo de Talamanca in the Limón Province of Costa Rica, stands as a remarkable haven for animal rescue and rehabilitation.
Established in 2008, this non-profit organisation has been dedicated to providing a safe and nurturing environment for injured and orphaned animals.
During your visit, you will have the opportunity to observe a variety of animals such as jaguars, monkeys, sloths, and more via guided tours. You’ll also learn about the centre’s efforts to rehabilitate and release these animals back into the wild.
The Jaguar Rescue Center also offers volunteer opportunities, where you can assist with the care and rehabilitation of these animals. It’s a great way to contribute to animal conservation efforts while getting an up-close and personal experience with some incredible creatures.
Cahuita National Park
Located on the Caribbean coast, Cahuita National Park is a must-visit for nature lovers. This protected area is home to a beautiful coral reef, making it an ideal spot for snorkelling or diving.
You can also take a hike through the rainforest and spot various wildlife, including howler monkeys, sloths, and colourful birds.
After exploring the park, be sure to visit the nearby town of Cahuita for some delicious Caribbean cuisine and a taste of local culture. And if you’re feeling adventurous, you can even try your hand at surfing in the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea.
Cahuita is located about 3 to 4 hours from the capital of San José, in the Limón province of Costa Rica.
Poas Volcano National Park
Poas Volcano National Park is home to one of the world’s largest active craters. Take in the breathtaking views of this natural wonder and learn about the geological history of Costa Rica.
This national park is one of the most accessible from the capital city of San Jose, because it is only an hour and a half drive away making it perfect for a day trip!
Tamarindo is a charming coastal town located on the Pacific Coast, in the Guanacaste Province of Costa Rica. Renowned for its pristine beaches, such as Playa Tamarindo and Playa Langosta, it has become a haven for surf enthusiasts seeking the thrill of the powerful waves. Whether you’re a pro or a beginner, there’s no better place to catch some waves and soak up the sun.
You can also explore the nearby Tamarindo Wildlife Refuge, where you’ll have the chance to spot crocodiles, monkeys, and a variety of bird species.
Additional Costa Rica travel tips
When planning your trip to Costa Rica, there are several important details to consider.
Visa and Permits
Most tourists from the United States, Canada, and many European countries do not need a visa for stays of 90 days or less, but it’s always a good idea to check the latest requirements with the Costa Rican consulate in your home country.
For certain activities, such as fishing and hiking in some reserves, a permit might be required, so it’s worth checking in advance.
Costa Rica is considered one of the safest countries in Central America. However, as with any tourist destination, it’s wise to stay alert, especially in crowded areas. Always keep your belongings secure and avoid isolated areas, especially at night.
The official currency is the Costa Rican Colón, but many places also accept US dollars. Credit cards are widely accepted in cities and tourist areas, but it’s a good idea to carry some cash for smaller establishments or rural areas.
Costa Rica enjoys a tropical climate with an average temperature of 27°C (81°F). The dry season runs from December to April, and the rainy season from May to November. It’s advisable to pack accordingly, considering the season and activities you plan to do.
Packing for Costa Rica means preparing for diverse climates. Essentials include lightweight clothing, a rain jacket, hiking shoes, swimwear, and sunscreen.
Don’t forget a good quality insect repellent and any necessary prescription medications.
Purchasing travel insurance that covers medical emergencies, trip cancellation, and lost belongings is highly recommended. Costa Rica requires all incoming tourists to have travel insurance that covers medical emergencies for the duration of their stay.
Planning ahead and considering these elements will help ensure a smooth and enjoyable Costa Rican adventure.
Before I conclude the post, let’s take a moment to talk about the famous phrase you’ll hear all over Costa Rica – Pura Vida. Literally meaning “pure life,” Pura Vida is more than just a saying. It’s a way of life for Costa Ricans – embracing the simple things, being grateful for what you have, and enjoying life to the fullest.
As travellers, we can learn a lot from this laid-back attitude. Take some time to slow down and appreciate the natural beauty around you. Talk to locals and hear their stories, try new foods, and take part in cultural activities.
Embrace Pura Vida and you’ll truly experience the essence of Costa Rica.
Remember that Pura Vida is not just a phrase, it’s a state of mind. Carry this mindset with you in all your future travels and you’ll make unforgettable memories wherever you go.
I hope you enjoyed my guide to 3 weeks in Costa Rica. Safe travels and enjoy the Pura Vida!