Looking to go explore Costa Rica but have limited time? This route is the perfect trip for a week long trip to visit this happy Country!
*Note that this Itinerary requires a rental car
Day 1: Arrive in San Jose
Fly into San Jose and take a shuttle from the airport to pick up your rental car. It is best to shop ahead to secure a car and great price. Check out Kayak for great prices.
It is important to know that its is a law in Costa Rica that you must obtain Third Party Liability insurance when renting a car. Although you may already be protected through your own car/travel insurance, this added cost is on top of that and can be quite pricey (we had to pay over $300 for the week in addition to our basic insurance.)
Stay at a nearby hotel overnight and take this evening to explore San Jose
We stayed at Hotel Posada Canal Grande in Santa Ana
Day 2: Depart San Jose and drive to the small town of La Fortuna
The drive is approximately 2 and a half hours. It is best to ask a local resident or the employee of the car rental shop which route is best at the time. For us, we luckily ran into a lady returning her car who told us about a collapsed bridge along our route and we had to plan accordingly to avoid it which added about half an hour.
Arrive in La Fortuna and take the day to explore to town. You can visit La Fortuna waterfall which is a quick drive away from the city centre. You can get a map from most hotels to help but our GPS had most of the points of interest pre-programmed. La Fortuna waterfall is located at the bottom of a trail with many stairs (over 500!). But it is an easy and safe walk but may be a challenge for some.
After the waterfall head over to one of the many natural hot springs. We ended up choosing to go to one of the free hot springs located behind the Tabacon Hotel. It is a bit difficult to find but if you park near that hotel you should be able to ask around for the location. This river is very warm and you are surrounded by forest. The currents can get a bit strong and because this one is not very well maintained it can get a bit rocky.
We stayed at Villas Eco Arenal in La Fortuna - the hotel is a newer one, the wifi was not working but it was a great location and we got a great price for it.
Day 3: Take a hike around the Arenal Volcano
You can either go with a local guide (prices vary but it is best if you take a walk around La Fortuna town and speak to the tour shop employees and bargain with them). We decided to give it a go without a guide. When you arrive at the base of the volcano you can choose which trail you want to try. They range in length and difficulty. The one we went on was about 2 hours on the trail. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me. The rainforests are incredibly lush and very unique. For dinner head back into La Fortuna to one of the many restaurants
In Monteverde catch the sunset (ask your hotel staff for the best lookout point!
Day 4: Spend the day in Monteverde
In Monteverde arrange for an excursion. Many packages are available but we chose the zip-lining and horseback riding day tour. Our hotel staff booked the tour for us and we were picked up from our hotel early in the morning from a shuttle that took us to the forest where we would zip-line. I had previously zip-lined in Mexico & Dominican but this was much better. One of the lines was over 700 meters. The staff of our excursion was friendly and helpful. They even took videos and photos for us at no extra charge using our cameras. Tip: Bring sunscreen, you are out in the open for a lot of it.
We stayed at Hotel Forest Dreams in Monteverde - the hotel was very basic but again good price and great location! Also lots of great restaurants nearby
Day 5: Head to Puntarenas!
We went straight to Jaco beach. This surfer town is very laid back. We rented our surf boards from Carton Surf Shop after reading such great reviews. The owner was friendly and again very laid back. He gave us our boards and we were on our way. It is a short walk from the shop to the beach. On the day we went it was quite windy and the surf was rough. All three of us were also stung by jelly fish - apparently at this time of the year (November) the beaches can be home to many of them.
Head to lunch at Bowie's Point Bar. The food is great and fresh with very fast service. The open air restaurant overlooks the beach so you can watch the surfers as you eat. The owner is super friendly as well!
In the later afternoon drive to Manuel Antonio (about 1 hour away).
We stayed at Puerto Azul Hotel in Puntarenas - This hotel was very new and really nice! We lucked out and were the only ones in the entire hotel - had the huge pool and bar all to ourselves! The owner is friendly and accommodating! The food at the restaurant was also really good.
Day 6: Spend the day at the Manuel Antonio National Park
Be sure to buy your tickets outside the main gate before entering. They do check bags as you are not permitted to bring food in (it can harm the animals). There are several trails that branch off after the main entrance. You can hire a local guide to explain all the animal species you see or you can do what we did, and just look where everyone else is looking! We saw many birds, sloth's, iguanas, and monkeys! One of the trails will lead you to a very nice beach which is perfect to relax at for hours. Each path has its own interesting look outs so be sure to count on spending the whole day here.
We stayed at Natural Pacific Suites - This hotel was alright - the rooms were massive and had their own kitchens. The hotel employee warned us that each morning a bird pecks at the window but oh wow that this was so very loud, like clockwork both days we stayed there we were woken up by this bird slamming its head against the window for half an hour starting at 5am.
Day 7: Depart beautiful Costa Rica for home.
My Experience with Contiki
In August 2014 I boarded the Contiki coach bus in London for a 17 day “European Encounter” tour.
It had been a last minute decision to book the tour. I had toyed with the idea of flying over to Europe and winging the trip, solo. But, after some hesitation from my family I decided a group tour may be the better option. I found a great deal in their promo section and within 3 weeks I was on a plane to what would be a life changing trip!
On the plane over I remember thinking how out my comfort zone I was. I am and always have been a travel enthusiast but have never been on a trip without family or friends. Especially such a long trip. My work life usually limited me to 7 day max vacations and I had mostly stayed within North America.
But here I was, alone and in very rainy London. Unsure of what to expect, I dropped my luggage at the shared dorm style hotel and went for a walk around the city before the introductory meeting in the “Contiki basement.” Which is, as it sounds, a basement where you are introduced to your fellow 30-40 tour-goers.
I ended up keeping a journal of my trip which can be read here.
But, this post is intended for those who are curious or debating if Contiki is right for them.