Costa Rica itinerary 7 days – how to plan your dream Costa Rica vacation

Escape into the wilderness with ease in Costa Rica, a tiny yet perfectly preserved Central American nation where national parks make up a quarter of the land. Find rugged jungle, active volcanos and beaches that’ll make you want to wolf-whistle, all within a day’s reach. One week in Costa Rica may not seem like enough but its more than sufficient to enjoy its best bits. Undertake eco-adventures, traverse dense rainforest and wide-open grasslands, before driving to the dazzling coastline and dining on the freshest seafood. Wondering what to do in Costa Rica over seven days? Allow us at Mr Hudson to be your personal Costa Rica trip planner.

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Photo: Samuel Faber

Is Costa Rica safe for gay travellers?

As the first nation in Central America to recognise gay relationships and legalize homosexuality, the LGBT+ situation in Costa Rica is marginally better than other countries in the region. While there is of course room for improvement, your Costa Rica vacation is unlikely to be affected by harassment as most locals are relatively tolerant and operate on a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ level.

To be among likeminded people, plan your trip around gay hubs such as Manuel Antonio National Park and the nearby town of Quepos, which have long been on the international gay vacation radar. Manuel Antonio, in particular, is named as the de facto gay and lesbian capital of Costa Rica.

Photo: Debora Tingley

Photo: Kal Visuals

Best time for Costa Rica holidays

A tropical country lying close to the equator, Costa Rica sees average annual temperatures of between 12° and 27° degrees Celsius. Despite this or because of it, the weather in Costa Rica can be a little capricious, seeing sudden downpours year round, particularly in the central highlands and the Atlantic coastal plain. The rainy season starts in May right through to October, with October being the worst month to travel as the dirt roads can become impassable and some pacific coast businesses shut down. During the high season, from December to April, Costa Rica’s weather is a little more predictable, offering clear skies and high humidity to complement the nation’s awesome beaches.

Costa Rica is a top destination for sun-seeking North Americans during Winter holidays so it’s imperative you book ahead (for your flights, accommodation and even transport) if you’re hoping to travel at Christmas or New Year. Another peak time is Easter when Costa Rica’s parades and processions draw global interest.

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Costa Rica in a week is doable but there are tons of reasons to stick around! Fishing, sailing, diving, whale watching, white-water rafting are all fun options for those wanting to stay in Manuel Antonio

Getting around

Be in charge of your own destiny and itinerary while in Costa Rica by renting a car. Take our advice and pay that little bit extra for a 4×4;  you’ll want the high clearance and four-wheel drive to conquer those muddy roads.

You should also know that Costa Rica is set on becoming the second-most carbon-neutral country in the world (beaten only by Bhutan) by 2021. To stay as sustainable as possible during your trip, check out how businesses fare, ranked from 1 to 5 with the ‘Certificate of Sustainable Tourism’ from the Costa Rica Tourism Institute before making a booking.

Photo: Frank Ravizza

Crime in Costa Rica

While the nation is relatively quite a safe place to be, awareness of pickpockets and petty theft is a must, particularly within bus stations and crowded markets. Apply common sense in looking after your belongings, and never leave items on show in your parked car. Also, when parking near the beach, look for designated carparks which are often guarded. If you are unlucky enough to be the victim of theft, report it at the local police station.

Money and visas

Pay your bills with either the local colón currency (CRC) or the all-powerful greenback (USD), in most places. However, be aware that if you pay in dollars you may get a bad exchange rate. The current rate, at time of writing, stands at 1USD = 566.518CRC but download the XE app for up to date information.

Costa Rica itinerary 7 days

Settling on where to go in Costa Rica all depends on your time limit. A Costa Rica 7 day itinerary may not allow for much rest but will surely be a wild ride. Whether you choose to explore Costa Rica fast or slow, whatever you do, be sure to sample authentic local cuisine in capital San José, suck up some fresh air in Costa Rica’s “Green Lung”, Monteverde, and, traverse the beaches and mangroves of Manuel Antonio before heading into Quepos Town for a well-earnt Imperial Cerveza in good company. Let us break it down a little more…

Photo: Josue Barboza

Days 1 and 2 – San José to Arenal Volcano

Arrive at Juan Santamaria International Airport in San José for your first taste of the pura vida (aka the ‘pure life’). More than just a saying, pura vida is a way of life dedicated to living simply, with few worries, no hurries and 100% Arabica coffee breaks. After a friendly escort to your hotel, you’ll have the day free to meander through the city’s streets. Highlights include the Mercado Central for shops, food stalls and traditional dining options named ‘sodas’, as well as the National Museum and nearby National Park if time allows.

From there, we move to the historic Barrio Amón to marvel at the famed architecture of the ‘cafetalero’ mansions, built for the nation’s richest coffee growers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. As well as housing high-end hotels, restaurants and galleries, one of the key sites is the Teatro Nacional, which exudes neo-classical opulence and offers guided tours of the theatre within. If you’d like to see the stage come alive with dance, music and theatrical performance, check their schedule for upcoming events.

Day two takes us to La Fortuna, the best-known base for adventures into Arenal Volcano National Park, located north of the Tilaran Mountains. Sign up to a zip lining tour through the park’s forest canopy, across canyons and over waterfalls ending with inspiring views of the volcano itself. Alternatively, opt for stand-up paddleboarding or kayaking on Lake Arenal. After a day soaking up Costa Rica’s landscapes, restore your aching body with a dip in the mineral-rich waters of a nearby hot springs, heated by underground geothermal activity.

Photo: Jorge Rosales

Photo: Trail

Days 3 and 4 – Adventures in Arenal and Monteverde

Adrenaline junkies will want to remain in Arenal for more biking and hiking adventures, with options of walking among the treetops on Mistico Hanging Bridges Park or taking a leisurely hike to the kid-friendly La Fortuna Waterfall. After exhausting the volcano and yourself, we travel onwards to the mountainous north-western region of Monteverde, a place nicknamed the “Green Lung” for its incredible biodiversity. A number of tours operate between Arenal and Monteverde, allowing you to skip the long drive around Lake Arenal and instead take a serene 3.5-hour boat ride towards the town of Santa Elena, known for cheese, coffee and Quakers, where you can wind down for the evening.

The following day is set to be a memorable one, as we trek through the virgin forests of Monteverde’s 26,000-acre Cloud Forest Reserve. Stay extra stealthy to be afforded with the closest encounters of Costa Rica’s amazing wildlife; including amphibians, three-wattled sloths and all manner of primates. Come armed with binoculars for bird watching on the treetop suspension bridges, looking out for the resplendent quetzal, coloured with feathers of iridescent green. Surrounding the forest’s well-marked trails you’ll also discover the world’s greatest number of orchid species in one place. Expect high temperatures, frequent rain showers and the subsequent muddy terrain.

Photo: Isabella Juskova

Day 5 and 6 – Manuel Antonio

Day 5 takes us to the best points of interest Costa Rica and its coastline have to offer. Drive 3.5 hours from Monteverde to be rewarded with gorgeous views of the Pacific Coast, a large chunk of it contained within the Manuel Antonio National Park. Take your pick from four beautiful beaches with crystal waters made for snorkelling, or hike yourself silly once more before cleaning off and heading down to Quepos town to enjoy the sunset over fresh seafood and cocktails.

It could take weeks to explore the park to its entirety but with one more day you should consider booking a boat tour to Damas Island Estuary, one of the top Costa Rica activities. Discover the estuary’s mangrove ecosystem which acts as a nursery for hundreds of species of on-land and aquatic life and travel through natural tunnels and passageways, gazing into the water to see oysters, stingrays, baby sharks and schools of fish all taking refuge here. You may even be joined by a few curious white-faced capuchins in the canopies overhead.

Day 7 – Back to San José

Costa Rica in a week is doable but there are a ton of reasons to stick around for longer! Fishing, sailing, diving, whale watching, white-water rafting are all fun options for those wanting to stay in Manuel Antonio. Or, extend your Costa Rica holiday even further and explore off-the-beaten-track gems such as Costa Ballena, where you’ll get to enjoy stunning southern coastline surrounded by mountains and a number of luxury boutique hotels. Learn more with our guide of Things to do in Costa Bellena.

Photo: Drew Sullivan

Photo: Juliana Barquero

Tired of moving about and want to relax? End your holiday in the chillest way possible, with a booking at one of the best wellness retreats in Costa Rica. Combine spa days with beach days, interspersed with yoga and meditation sessions led by Costa Rica’s best instructors. Most of these retreats are eco-conscious and set within the jungle, allowing for close encounters with nature and wildlife, such as toucans, macaws and monkeys. The perfect way to realign your chakras!

When the fun most definitely has to come to an end, take the scenic drive back to San José and enjoy a fine farewell amid the culture of Costa Rica’s flamboyant and flirty capital.

Let us design your perfect Costa Rica trip

Take some of the stress out of planning your trip with a helping hand from our expert Trip Design team. We pride ourselves on providing a tailor-made itinerary for you and your travel gang so that you enjoy the most memorable vacation with none of the hassle. Instead of saddling you with pesky travel agent fees, all we ask for is a small upfront fee to cover our time crafting your dream getaway.

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