14 Day Costa Rica Itinerary: Best Places to Visit

Costa Rica is a fabulous travel destination; its various landscapes and microclimates make it the perfect place for any outdoors enthusiast.  With this 14 Day Costa Rica Itinerary, you can experience some of everything. 

We walked over lava trails in Arenal Volcano National Park in La Fortuna, did an amazing Monteverde cloud forest zip line tour, saw more monkeys than I thought possible at Manuel Antonio, and snorkeled at the remote Cano Island near Drake Bay.  

We hope you come to love the ‘Pura Vida’ lifestyle as much as we have; we can’t wait to return and continue exploring this incredible country.

14 Day Costa Rica Itinerary Day 1: Arrive in San José

We arrived late at night and took a taxi straight to our Airbnb.  We had decided to continue straight to La Fortuna the following morning, but if you plan on staying in San José, some popular activities include visiting the Teatro Nacional (a historic theater with beautiful architecture), the Museo Nacional De Costa Rica and checking out the large Central Market.

Where We Stayed

We stayed at an Airbnb in Río Segundo, about a 15-minute taxi ride from the airport.  Our host, Yadira, was there to greet us and was very welcoming.  We enjoyed the king-sized bed and private bathroom.  This stay also had access to a full shared kitchen and shared living room.

Airbnb Río Segundo | 14 Day Costa Rica Itinerary

Costa Rica Itinerary Days 2-4: La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano National Park

La Fortuna is known for its stunning Arenal Volcano National Park, Mistico Hanging Bridges Park, and endless trails to explore, and we were thrilled that this was the first stop on our adventure.

How We Got There

Many people choose to rent a car while traveling through Costa Rica, as this offers the most flexibility.  However, we decided to use a shared shuttle service to transport us the longer distances between towns. 

This saved us a lot of money and enabled us to sit back and relax during these lengthy trips.  I had traveled to Peru the previous year, and one thing that stood out when comparing Costa Rica to Peru is this awesome shared shuttle service.

For our trip from San José to La Fortuna, we went with Paradise Shuttle, but there are many companies to choose from.

Where We Stayed in La Fortuna

We stayed in an Airbnb just a few minutes from central La Fortuna.  Although the rooms were small and fairly basic, we had a beautiful balcony view of the Arenal Volcano and the lush surrounding area.  The neighborhood can get a little noisy on weekend evenings, so bring earplugs.

Balcony view airbnb where to stay in La Fortuna
Balcony view from our Airbnb

What We Did in La Fortuna

Bogarin Sloth Trail

This short activity is easy to fit into an afternoon after arriving in La Fortuna.  The trail is 1.5 miles and flat, and if you are lucky (which we were), this is a great spot for sloth-spotting.

large tree with vines growing around the trunk in La Fortuna Costa Rica
We loved these giant trees

La Fortuna Waterfall

Located just a 10-minute drive from central La Fortuna, this beautiful waterfall is a great spot for photos and a dip in the cold water if you are up for it.  The hike down to the falls is fairly short but consists of about 500 steps.  The entrance fee is $18 for adults and $5 for children.

tourist standing in front of La Fortuna Waterfall

Chocolate/Coffee tour

We booked a tour with North Fields Coffee and loved it.  We visited a small plantation and learned all about the coffee and chocolate production processes in Costa Rica.  We then got to sample all kinds of different chocolates, coffees, and teas.  This ended up being one of our favorite activities while in La Fortuna.

farm with rows of cacao trees
tour guide pushing a cane through a sugar cane press
Pressing sugar cane to make sugar cane juice

Mistico Hanging Bridges

The Mistico Hanging Bridges Park is five miles north of the Arenal Volcano 1968 Lava Trails hike.  We paid a $28 entrance fee and enjoyed the 2-mile trail, which includes six hanging bridges. 

tourist on one of the hanging bridges at Mistico Hanging bridges park

Arenal Volcano National Park

This is ‘the place’ to see while in La Fortuna.  We did The Arenal 1968 Lava Flow Trail (3 miles) and the Sendero el Ceibo (branches off of the Lava Flow Trail).  Walking over the old lava flow was awesome, and we loved the dense rainforest feel of the area.

two tourists on a balcony; Arenal Volcano can be seen in the background

Rio Chollin Free Hot Springs

There are many thermal hot springs in the La Fortuna area, and this is the one free option and is a favorite with the locals.  Located just a 2.5-mile drive from the 1968 Lava Flows Trail, this was a great way to relax and enjoy our Sunday afternoon. 

14-Day Costa Rica Itinerary Days 5-7: Monteverde and Santa Elena Cloud Forests

The Monteverde and Santa Elena Cloud forests are incredible; if you have the time, this is one portion of Costa Rica I would highly recommend.  Both parks are beautiful and have unique experiences to offer.  We loved our time here and can’t wait to go back.

How we got there

We used a Jeep-Boat-Jeep service to transport us from La Fortuna to Monteverde.  If coming from La Fortuna, taking a boat across Lake Arenal is much faster than driving around.

tourist on a boat ride to Monteverde via a boat-jeep-boat tour; lake can be seen in the background
The boat ride portion of our jeep-boat-jeep ride to Monteverde

Where we stayed

We stayed at Hostel Cattleya in Santa Elena, which is a hostel-style stay.  The rooms are very basic, and we shared a bathroom with two other guests. 

However, we loved the access to a full shared kitchen, and the hostel office employees were happy to offer us all kinds of information about available tours and transportation.  They even had deals with some local tour operators, making coordinating these trips really simple. 

tourists at a long table, preparing food at a hostel

What we did in Santa Elena/Monteverde

Our three days in Monteverde were packed full of fun. Besides the zip lines we did on our 7-day Peru trip, the Monteverde ziplines are the best I’ve ever done.

Monteverde Butterfly Gardens tour

This tour was a hidden gem for us.  We saw (and held!) scorpions, stick bugs, and cockroaches and then walked through the amazing butterfly buildings.  We simply walked the 30 minutes from our Airbnb to the Butterfly Gardens and enjoyed seeing the neighborhoods we passed through.

tour guide with one of the many species of caterpillar in the gardens
Our tour guide with one of the many species of caterpillar in the gardens

Hanging bridge walk, Cable car, and Zipline tour in the Monteverde Cloud Forest

Today was full of adventuring in the Monteverde Cloud Forest.  We hiked along the hanging bridges within the park, saw the forest from above in our cable car, and then flew through the clouds on seven different ziplines.  What an experience! 

tourists on a cloud-covered hanging bridge in monteverde

Santa Elena Cloud Forest

This is the lesser-visited of the two reserves, and we loved feeling alone in the forest.  We did a loop that was about four miles that included parts of the Caño Negro trail and the Encantado Trail.

moss-covered tree trunks at Santa Elena Cloud Forest

Night walk tour

Monteverde is known for its night tours, so we booked an excursion through Kinkajou.  We saw transparent butterflies, tarantulas, a snake hanging from a tree, a sloth, and scorpions.

We thought Kinkajou did an excellent job. The group sizes were a little larger than normal, but our guide was great to make sure that everyone could see and hear.  

transparent butterfly wings seen on a night tour in Monteverde
Butterflies with transparent wings!

Costa Rica Itinerary Days 8-10: Manuel Antonio National Park and Nauyaca Falls

Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most visited places in Costa Rica, and for good reason!  We saw SO much wildlife: white-faced and squirrel monkeys, iguanas, and even a few howler monkeys. 

The park gets busy during peak tourist season, but we didn’t feel that the number of people negatively affected our experience.  In fact, we liked having extra sets of eyes around us to spot some of the hard-to-see animals.

Where we stayed

We stayed at a fantastic Airbnb between Quepos and Manuel Antonio National Park.  It was the perfect location; the bus stop to Manuel Antonio was right around the corner, and we were just a 30-minute walk from Playa Biesanz. 

Our room was beautiful and spacious.  This stay also used a shared kitchen, but we had our own dedicated dishes and a full-sized refrigerator.  We also had free access to a washer and dryer (although they were a special eco-friendly version that was a little more tricky to use). 

Our host, Loraine, was incredibly friendly and helpful.  She showed us how to use the bus system and the easiest way to get to the places we were interested in.  Five stars for this stay.  We would love to visit again.

outdoor lounge area of our airbnb with padded chairs, a sofa, and refrigerators
the open kitchen/lounge area at the Airbnb we stayed at

Best things to do in Manuel Antonio and the Surrounding Area

Playa Biesanz

This quiet, lesser-visited beach near Quepos was the perfect way to spend an afternoon.  We walked the 35 minutes from our Airbnb and enjoyed seeing the neighborhoods we passed through.

white-building neighborhoods as seen from above walking towards playa Biesanz
We walked alongside some beautiful neighborhoods on our way down to Playa Biesanz

Manuel Antonio Park

As we mentioned, Manuel Antonio Park is THE place to see monkeys in Costa Rica.  We spent an entire day in Manuel Antonio; there were enough miles of trail to walk and animals to see that we were happily occupied for hours.  And we wanted to leave ourselves enough time in the afternoon to stop at Manuel Antonio Beach quickly.

white-faced monkey at Manuel Antonio national park
And this one had stolen a piece of white bread (not from us!). Be careful; these monkeys WILL steal your food if left unattended. The park is also very strict about what food is allowed inside.

Nauyaca Falls Day trip

Nauyaca is a beautiful waterfall located an hour and a half drive from Manuel Antonio and can be visited on your own or as part of a guided tour.  We went on a guided tour just for ease of transportation.  We enjoyed jumping off the rocks and swimming in the pool beneath the falls and thought Nauyaca was a great way to spend our last day before heading to Drake Bay.

tourist in front of Nauyaca Falls

Costa Rica Itinerary Days 11-13: Drake Bay

Drake Bay was the perfect place to end our 2-week Costa Rica trip.  It’s a great spot to escape the crowds because it is more remote and a little harder to reach.  Additionally, Drake Bay is right near Corcovado National Park and the incredible snorkeling at Cano Island.

How we got there

We took a shared shuttle with EasyRideCostaRica that picked us up at 7:15 from our Airbnb and dropped us off at La Perla Del Sur restaurant in the small town of Sierpe.  From there, we boarded a boat that took us on a beautiful one-hour ride through the mangroves to reach Drake Bay. 

tourist with life jacket on boat ride to Drake Bay

Where we stayed

We stayed at a basic Airbnb about a ¼ mile walk from the beachfront on Camino Aerodromo.  The rooms, kitchen, and shared bathroom had a very ‘glamping’, almost outdoors feel, but it had everything we needed for the few days we were there.

outdoor-style airbnb with wood plank flooring and a small kitchen with a refrigerator

Best Things to Do at Drake Bay

Caño Island Snorkeling Tour

For our first day at Drake Bay, we went on a half-day snorkeling tour of Caño Island with Yemanyá Expeditions.  We had a great time and saw all kinds of wildlife, including dolphins and flying fish on our boat ride, sea turtles, and even a shark while in the water.

tourist with snorkel on boat tour out to Cano island

Kayaking along the coastline

We rented a two-person kayak from a beach vendor to explore the Drake Bay coastline.  Our favorite part was a calm river inlet where the water was less choppy than out in the open ocean.   

two tourists kayaking in the ocean

Hike to Playa San Josecito

The entire trail to Playa San Josecito is six miles each way, and Esther and I just did a portion.  We stopped at a few of the small beaches along the way and enjoyed the solitude of the coastline.  This is not a highly trafficked area, and we had the trail to ourselves.

tourist standing in front of large cane-like tree branches

Costa Rica Itinerary Day 14: Travel Back to San José and Fly Home

Today is just a long travel day.  We took the 7:15 a.m. boat out of Drake Bay towards Sierpe.  It’s $20 per person for the boat ride.  You can pay this in cash directly to the boat driver on the beach or book ahead of time with your hotel or Airbnb (this is what we did). 

We arrived back in Sierpe around 8:30 and walked the short distance to Hotel Margarita, where we were picked up at 9:30 by our shared shuttle service (we went with EasyRideCostaRica again). 

From there, it was about a 5-hour trip back to San Jose (with a few rest stops).  Once back in San José, you can stay another night in Alajuela or go directly to the airport and take an evening flight home. 

We opted to stay one more night at an Airbnb in Alajuela to be well-rested for the long flight the next day.  

Best Time of Year to Visit Costa Rica

From our experience, all of our tour guides spoke very good English.  Most of our shuttle, taxi, and Uber drivers spoke basic English, enough to give directions and answer basic questions. 

There was a wide range of proficiency with our Airbnb hosts and the restaurants we visited (although we found that in the bigger or more ‘touristy’ restaurants, the employees almost always spoke English very well). 

I would say if you plan on staying in more well-known hotels, using tourist transportation services, and eating in more ‘mainstream’ restaurants, you really don’t need to speak any Spanish.  If (like Esther and I) you like to go a bit more off the tourist path, even knowing a few phrases of Spanish can be very helpful.  

Transportation in Costa Rica

For shorter distances

Uber is technically illegal in Costa Rica but is widely used.  Esther and I decided to go ahead and use Uber for our shorter-distance transportation(this is a personal decision, of course).  We feel more comfortable using a service where the price is set beforehand, and we love that the service is paid for via the app(instead of needing to have cash on hand for taxis). 

If you use taxis, make sure it is a registered taxi(not a pirate one).  A registered taxi will be red with a yellow triangle on the side containing the license number. 

Even when using a legitimate taxi service, I always like to pull up the route on Google Maps or Waze(the more commonly used navigation app in Costa Rica) beforehand and clarify with the driver if this is the route they will be taking. 

This is where having a basic proficiency in Spanish can be incredibly helpful.  If you don’t feel comfortable negotiating a price beforehand in Spanish, many hotels also offer transportation services.  

For longer distances between towns/cities

There are two options here: rent a car or use a pre-arranged transportation service.  Esther and I found that using a shared shuttle service was far cheaper than renting a car for two weeks. 

Additionally, we liked that we could enjoy the scenery or sleep instead of having to do the driving ourselves.  The main roads in Costa Rica, at least at the destinations we visited, seemed fairly well-maintained, but we still preferred letting the experts do the driving. 

However, renting a car simplifies visiting destinations within a city.  Especially while we were in La Fortuna, finding an Uber to transport us to each spot we wanted to see was a pain.