Volcanoes and hot spring rivers. Misty cloud forests. Howler monkeys swinging through the treetops. White sand beaches. Costa Rica is a tropical, eco-friendly paradise, filled with colorful wildlife and lush forest canopies just waiting to be explored on ziplines and hanging bridges and vibrant coral reefs teeming with marine life.
Over the many trips we’ve taken and the weeks we’ve spent backpacking through this beautiful country, we’ve learned a few things. Like that you need REALLY good bug repellant (I swear by this combined with this). Or that there are a LOT of things nobody tells you about Costa Rica.
And finally, we’ve combined all of our experiences into one epic route that visits all of our favorite destinations: the ultimate Costa Rica two week itinerary! You’ll be visiting visiting three national parks; hiking in cloud forests, rainforests and jungles; snorkeling and swimming in crystalline waters; traversing the tree canopy on ziplines and hanging bridges; exploring volcanoes, canyons, hot springs and rivers; and befriending sloths, monkeys, macaws, toucans, and more. And if you’re anything like us, you’ll probably be booking your next trip to Costa Rica as soon as you return home again.
Ready to dive in? Pura Vida!
Psst: Check out some of our other posts before your trip:
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Costa Rica 2 Week Itinerary Summary
The route you’ll be taking on this Costa Rica itinerary is San José > La Fortuna > Monteverde > Manuel Antonio > Corcovado > San José
Here’s the route broken out by days:
- Day 1, San Jose to La Fortuna
- Day 2 & 3, La Fortuna
- Day 4, Travel to Monteverde
- Day 5 & 6, Monteverde
- Day 7, Travel from Monteverde to Manuel Antonio
- Day 8 & 9, Manuel Antonio
- Day 10, Manuel Antonio to Drake Bay
- Day 11 & 12, Drake Bay
- Day 13 & 14, Drake Bay to San Jose and fly home
Notes and Suggestions
- If your arrival flight lands in the evening, you need to lose a day somewhere – or fly back from Drake Bay and take an evening flight home.
- If you want to add extra time to one of the destinations in the itinerary, you could visit Manuel Antonio for just one full day rather than two, especially if you get an early start in the morning.
- You will note we don’t have you spending much time in San Jose. We’ve now been to Costa Rica multiple times and the city just isn’t the most exciting part about the trip.
Costa Rica Itinerary: Things to Know
- This itinerary combines multiple trips we’ve taken over the years. You’ll be visiting La Fortuna (including Arenal Volcano National Park), Monteverde, Manuel Antonio National Park, Corcovado National Park, and San José. Yes, y’all: that’s THREE of Costa Rica’s stunning national parks in ONE epic itinerary.
- This Costa Rica itinerary focuses on the Pacific side of the country – there are no Caribbean-side destinations. That said, you will be visiting two phenomenal snorkeling/swimming destinations with warm, clear blue water!
- You do NOT need to rent a car. Buses and van shuttles connect all over the country for a low price, although they have very specific schedules or run infrequently. Most of the shuttles in this itinerary are bookable online in advance through Bookaway or other online tour operators, and many will include direct hotel pickup and drop-off. Unlike many destinations, the price to book online in advance will be the same as the price you’d pay in person to book last minute, so we strongly recommend booking all of your transit in advance! We’ve included details about how to get to each stop throughout the itinerary.
- It’s helpful to speak Spanish, but English speaking is common. You won’t have much difficulty communicating in the locations on this itinerary – the tourism industry is robust and most tour guides, hotel staff, and bus drivers will speak some English. That said, learning some Spanish is always helpful – not to mention polite!
Two Weeks in Costa Rica
Visiting Costa Rica makes you want to get a “pura vida” tattoo and a lifetime supply of salsa lizano – it’s a difficult place to leave.
Which is why I’ve been back four times! The first time I visited Costa Rica with my family, I was just 8 years old and in absolute awe. I’d never imagined a place like this could really exist – it was a literal paradise, filled with adventure and toucans and monkeys and orchids. I remember galloping on horseback along the beach, kayaking through rapids on a river, chewing sticks of fresh sugarcane, befriending a baby squirrel monkey, and plucking a sweet starfruit from a tree. Our family trip was filled with wildlife and adventure, which cemented much of what would later become my preferred travel style.
And on the 4 subsequent trips to Costa Rica I’ve taken over the years, my awe has never gone away: Costa Rica is truly one of the most beautiful places on earth.
As an adult, I know that Costa Rica’s natural beauty is carefully maintained, thanks to comprehensive and conscientious sustainability policies: Costa Rica is one of the world leaders in ethical and sustainable tourism. So while it is not as cheap of a destination to visit as most of its Central American neighbors, for me, that extra cost is worth it because I know that my presence as a tourist is not negatively impacting local communities or wildlife!
Without further ado, let’s jump into the Costa Rica 2 week itinerary.
Day 1: San José to La Fortuna
I’m gonna be honest here: San José is the least exciting part of this Costa Rica itinerary. When we visit Costa Rica, we pretty much bounce as soon as we hit the tarmac – although to be fair, we tend to prefer smaller towns and more rustic destinations to big cities as a rule.
If you like big cities more than we do, we recommend exploring San Jose at the end of your trip, when you’ll have some time to kill before your flight.
So, the first day of your itinerary is actually a travel day: you’ll arrive in San Jose and then immediately hop on a bus or shuttle and head to La Fortuna!
Check into Hotel Los Lagos Spa & Resort, located just a few miles outside of the town center. With multiple hot-spring-fed pools and a stunning mirador looking out to Arenal Volcano, this surprisingly budget-friendly resort is an absolute dream and the perfect place to base yourself for the next 2 days of adventure in La Fortuna.
- How to Get to San Jose: There are two airports you can fly into: Liberia and San Jose. We recommend San Jose. If you can, try to arrive in the morning: most flights from the West Coast are red-eyes, meaning you’ll be sleeping on the plane (our long haul flights packing list will help with that). The earlier you arrive, the earlier you can get to La Fortuna, and you might be able to squeeze in an afternoon/evening activity on your first day!
- Where to Stay in San Jose: Seriously, don’t spend the night in San Jose. Adventures in La Fortuna are waiting for you! But if your flight arrives late and you need to spend the night in San Jose before flying out, we recommend booking one of these budget-friendly apartments in downtown San Jose.
- How to Get to La Fortuna: A bus or shuttle from San Jose to La Fortuna takes about 3 hours. There are plenty of options available on Bookaway – pick a time that works with your arriving flight.
- Where to Stay in La Fortuna: Hotel Los Lagos Spa & Resort has multiple on-site hot spring-fed pools and a stunning view of Arenal Volcano.
Day 2 & 3: La Fortuna
Natural hot springs, forest canopies filled with wildlife, active volcanoes, and gushing rivers and waterfalls: welcome to La Fortuna, aka Arenal. Surrounded by a lush jungle, and located at the base of two volcanoes – Arenal Volcano, which is still active, and Chato Volcano, which is dormant – this little town is the gateway to the Arenal Volcano National Park and is known as Costa Rica’s best adventure town!
An adventure town is essentially a spot where you can do a bunch of adventure travel activities, like white water rafting, ziplining and canopy tours, canyoning, horseback riding, and more – and La Fortuna (and Arenal, which is how many visitors refer to the general area) has it all. In addition to exploring the jungles and canopies, thanks to the thermal activity coming from the volcano, the area is also full of thermal hot springs – and one hot spring river.
If you came to Costa Rica looking for adventure and wildlife (and, of course, you did, right?), you’ll be off to a great start here.
We recommend spending 2 full days in La Fortuna. The way we typically structure our days in adventure towns is with one adrenaline-rush, high-intensity activity and one less exhausting, more relaxing activity each day – say, canopying in the morning and a relaxing river safari in the afternoon. So, you should be able to pick 2-4 activities to fill your days in La Fortuna.
Below are the best things to do in La Fortuna:
You wouldn’t think hiking is a high-octane adventure activity, would you? Well, we disagree: this 6-hour tour also includes 3 of La Fortuna’s best attractions in one truly epic day. You’ll hike through the jungle, scramble up lava rocks on a volcano, cross hanging bridges across forest canopies, go swimming at the stunning La Fortuna waterfall, and end your day with a cocktail in a natural hot spring (which is incidentally the only thing you’ll feel like doing after a full day packed with adventure).
The tour includes transportation, lunch, a bilingual guide who will both ensure that you live and also help point out wildlife in the jungle, and the aforementioned cocktail-in-the-hot-springs situation. If you’re up for the challenge, this is THE tour to do during your trip! Note that it will take up one full day of your stay.
Canyoning combines a bunch of different activities into one thrilling adventure. Essentially, it involves going into a canyon and then getting back out of it, through a combination of hiking, rappelling, cliff diving, rock climbing, and pretty much anything else you can think of – it’s thrilling, and Jeremy absolutely loves it.
He recommends this half day tour, on which you’ll ride a 4×4 into the forest, rappel down waterfalls, rock climb up a hidden rain forest canyon, and zip line across the canyon! Plus, the tour includes lunch and transportation.
This Balsa River white water rafting tour covers class II and III rapids – easy to intermediate if you enjoy white water rafting, advanced if you’re terrified of anything more than perfectly still water, like me.
Your guides will pick you up from your accommodation and drive about 45 minutes outside of town to a private put-in of the Balsa River, adjacent to private restrooms and changing rooms.
You’ll learn the basics of white water rafting, gear up, and hop in for 6 miles of rolling rapids! During lulls, your guide will point out wildlife like monkeys, sloths, and toucans in the lush greenery along the river.
After your tour, you’ll eat a refreshing lunch next to a beautiful waterfall and swimming hole – feel free to hop in and enjoy!
One thing to note: I’m pretty sure I got an ear infection from this river, so I would highly recommend wearing ear plugs – so long as you’re still able to hear the guide’s instructions, of course.
River safaris are perfect scaredy cats like me who just want to be on a river without all of the terrifying bits. You’ll float down the river for about 2 hours with a wildlife guide, who will help spot toucans, sloths, caymans, kingfishers, and more.
Your guide will navigate the river using poles or paddles, so you can sit back and relax and listen to the sounds of calling birds and buzzing insects jungle around you and the water gliding past you.
And, er, howler monkeys: we glided right underneath a pack of them! They sound like Godzilla and are legitimately nerve-wracking – they won’t like, hurt you, but they will absolutely fling poo at you and make really loud noises, which is enough for my anxiety to act up. This half day tour includes snacks and coffee at a local farm!
There are tons of hot springs to soak in around La Fortuna, ranging from rustic to luxurious. Many of them are located at hotels or resorts, so you can actually book accommodation that comes with hot spring access – or just buy a day pass.
Tabacón River Hot Springs is fabulous but pricey, around $100 for a day pass that includes lunch or dinner – a splurge, but a worthy splurge. But there is also a free public entrance to the Tabacón River, located across from Tabacon Resort: look for a small parking lot full of locals walking down to the river!
Baldi Hot Springs is like a hot spring waterpark and looks awesome, but looking at the views we were a bit put off … it seems a bit … er, sketch? Not super clean? Not totally safe? Maybe we were just being too cautious?
Anyway, this guide to hot springs in La Fortuna will help you figure out where to go!
There are a LOT more things to do in La Fortuna, but we’ve cut out several activities that you’ll be doing later on in the itinerary, including Hanging Bridges and ziplining, which you’ll be doing in a cloud forest in Monteverde; and horseback riding, which you’ll be doing through the jungle and on the beach in Corcovado.
We did say this was the ultimate Costa Rica two week itinerary, didn’t we??
After an action-packed two days, you’ll head up into the clouds – er, cloud forest, that is – to Monteverde!
Day 4: La Fortuna to Monteverde
Today is a travel day: you’ll be departing La Fortuna and heading up into the mountains to nearby Monteverde. But even though these destinations appear close on a map, there’s a massive volcano, a huge lake, and a National Park separating them!
An Interbus direct shuttle takes about 4 hours and departs only once per day, arriving in Monteverde at noon. The shuttle will pick you up and drop you off at your accommodation.
But there is another transit option which involves taking a boat across Lake Arenal rather than driving around it. It cuts about a half hour off your total transit time, plus you get a nice relaxing ferry boat trip to break up the long car ride!
The cost is comparable for either option, so it really just comes down to personal preference. You’ll book the entire van-boat-van/taxi-boat-taxi transport service with a single company. This taxi-boat-taxi transit service picks you up and drops you off at your accommodation.
Travel Tip: Regardless of which option you choose, there are some curvy roads on this route, and the last half of the trip is on bumpy roads winding up into the mountains. We recommend taking a non-drowsy Dramamine to help avoid nausea!
Once you arrive, check into Camino Verde B&B. The small, budget-friendly hotel offers beautiful views from its outdoor deck: when the morning and evening fog clears, you can see all the way to the Pacific Coast, the ocean and islands on one side, and Monteverde town on the other! The b&b is located a short walk into town (down a short hill and up a short hill).
One thing we loved about this hotel was the fantastic service: everyone was super friendly and accommodating, and when we checked in, the front desk clerk sat us down and booked us all of the tours we wanted to do so our itinerary was all arranged for us.
Plus, a delicious and filling breakfast is included each day with several options like gallo pinto, delicious pancakes, and fruit. We would definitely stay here again!
- How to Get to Monteverde: There are two options: an Interbus direct shuttle will take about 4 hours to drive around Lake Arenal, and a taxi-boat-taxi transit service will take about 3.5 hours with a ferry ride across the lake.
- Where to Stay in Monteverde: We recommend Camino Verde B&B, located a very short walk from town. The small, budget-friendly hotel offers beautiful views from its outdoor deck and a delicious breakfast is included with your stay.
Day 5 & 6: Monteverde
Welcome to the mountains of Costa Rica! Monteverde is a high-elevation town positioned directly on the Continental Divide among a dense cloud forest. The weather is much cooler than the rest of the country – you’ll definitely want to pack some warmer layers and a rain jacket for this portion of the trip.
But taking a break from the warmth of the low-elevation tropics is well worth it to explore a completely different ecosystem in Monteverde. Within the incredibly biodiverse cloud forests orchids, ferns, and bromeliads climb up towering avocado and strangler fig trees as monkeys, sloths, hummingbirds, Quetzal birds and butterflies flit among the treetops.
Plus, thanks to the dense forest canopy, Monteverde is home to some of the longest zip lines and hanging bridges in the country!
I’m going to out myself as a massive Lord of the Rings nerd here, but the best way I can describe the cloud forests of Monteverde is that it is like a real-life Lothlorien: picture enormous hollow trees hiding natural ladders, boughs laden with flowers and plants, and hanging bridges criss-crossing through a misty canopy … it’s otherworldly, y’all. And if that doesn’t make you want to go, you definitely need to watch LotR again!
The best things to do in Monteverde – much like the rest of Costa Rica – involve wildlife and outdoor adventure. Here’s what we recommend during your two days in Monteverde:
I’ll be honest: orchids had never interested me before this trip. But the Monteverde Orchid Garden changed my mind. The small garden is packed with a truly mind-blowing variety of orchids that I didn’t realize existed.
We searched for teeny tiny orchids with magnifying glasses – including the smallest orchid in the world, which is about the size of a freckle. We found orchids shaped like hearts and orchids that look like alien squids. Did you know that vanilla is an orchid?! I did not. Orchids are dope, y’all!
I recommend making this a relaxing afternoon stop on your first half-day in Monteverde, after you arrive and check into your accommodation. Located a very short walk away is the best Tico (traditional Costa Rican) restaurant in town, Sabor Tico – head here for lunch or dinner!
Costa Rica invented ziplining, and while you can do it almost anywhere in the country, it’s truly special inside the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. From a stunning one-mile long superman swing over the tree canopy – the longest and highest zipline route in all of Latin America – to a spine-tingling Tarzan swing, this is definitely not your basic zipline course.
The route is one of the longest in Costa Rica and winds through the tree canopy across hanging bridges. (Note that there is a 250lb weight limit on the Tarzan swing. Which *ahem* means Jeremy skipped it – but still had a great time.)
Note that there are two main places to go ziplining in Monteverde, Aventura Park and Selvatura Park – we recommend Aventura.
Importantly, breeding sloths is illegal in Costa Rica, and you absolutely cannot touch or interact with the sloths – so, wonderfully, this is an ethical animal experience.
The Sloth Sanctuary at Selvatura Park is only one of 2 operating in Costa Rica, and takes care of sloths that were rescued as babies and cannot be released back into the wild because of their dependence on humans. (This is different from a rescue center, which takes in injured sloths and nurses them back to health before releasing them back into the wild.)
We highly recommend this experience for sloth lovers like us!
In addition to the sloth sanctuary (and adjacent butterfly garden), the park also features hanging bridges and ziplines through the Monteverde Cloud Forest tree canopy.
We highly recommend taking a self-guided walk through the canopy. You’ll be traversing a very easy to follow stone path. The route has a few small hills, but is not challenging. Take it slow if you’re a slower hiker (like us) – it should take around 1.5-2 hours if you’re not in a hurry. Apparently some people do it in 1 hour, though I don’t know how.
Along the way, you’ll cross hanging bridges of varying lengths spanning the treetops. For a non-adventure lover like me, the hanging bridges were scary at first. Try to walk slowly and in the very middle to avoid swinging the bridge, and hold onto the sides. I also waited to start each bridge until the ppl ahead of me were finished. But by the last few bridges I was used to it and it wasn’t so scary anymore!
Bring a pair of binoculars and keep an eye out for monkeys playing in the trees! In our case, we didn’t even need our binoculars: on the longest bridge, a group of howler monkeys popped up into the canopy all around us, munching on leaves like 2 feet away from us in the bridge, totally unbothered. So freaking cool!! We could have stayed there watching them forever.
A ticket to Selvatura Park includes transportation from local hotels – your accommodation should be able to arrange it for you, or you can book directly online on the Selvatura Website.
- Travel Tip: We made the mistake of heading to Selvatura on the afternoon shuttle at 2pm. But the last bus back into town is at 4:30pm. So around 4pm we were still on hanging bridge #5 of 8 having a moment with some monkeys in the treetops when we realized we were running late. We RAN and made the bus, but we didn’t get to fully appreciate half of it! Give yourself ample time especially if you are a slow hiker like we are, and leave earlier in the day.
- Explore a Cloud Forest on foot
It’s one thing to experience a cloud forest from a hanging bridge or zipline in the treetops, but it’s quite another to walk through it at the very base of the forest. To fully appreciate the cloud forests, we recommend taking the time to do both.
There are multiple cloud forests and reserves you can visit in Monteverde, and it’s hard to pick just one to visit – but time is limited. There’s the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve and the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (which you’ll be ziplining through at Aventura Park), the two most popular options.
You can even do a guided night hike in the Santa Elena Cloud Forest – night is the time when wildlife is most active, so this is an amazing opportunity to see a completely different side of the forest!
And then there’s the Curicancha Reserve, a much smaller attraction that allows fewer people to visit each day. We tend to avoid crowds and people – they scare off the wildlife! But also yes we’re kind of misanthropic like that – so we chose to visit Curicancha. We booked a guided tour through our hotel with Monteverde Experts, and our naturalist guide made the forest come alive as he explained the flora and fauna, the history, and pointed out wildlife.
One thing we loved about the Curicancha Reserve is how accessible it is: the walking paths are nice and wide, although rocky (they are currently working to improve oath accessibility for wheelchairs.) There are bathrooms and benches throughout, and you can even rent 4x4s so you don’t have to walk. The walking itself goes slowly as you’re frequently stopping to look at wildlife, and there are a few small hills, but the route is very doable at a gentle pace even for non-hikers. Just be sure to dress for rain and mud!
- Enjoy local food & coffee
We have a few suggestions for where to eat and drink in Monteverde:
- Tree House Restaurant & Cafe: This restaurant built into a massive ficus tree is freaking gorgeous. Keep in mind that you don’t go here for the food, you go for the ambiance. But nothing is quite like dining in a tree surrounded by artwork while birds call and play in the branches overhead. Y’all: it is very Lothlorien! We highly recommend making this a stop during your trip.
- Cafe Monteverde is a fantastic specialty coffee shop in town serving Costa Rican brews in a variety of preparation methods. You can also sample several different roasts and buy a bag to bring home with you! This area is a coffee region, and if you like, you can even book a coffee farm tour through the shop.
- Sabor Tico: Located up on a hill close to the Orchid Garden, this was the best Costa Rican meal we ate during our stay in Monteverde. The portions are huge, the view is stunning, and the food is delicious. It’s a bit of a schlep on foot, though – 10 minutes or so, but with a couple of short hills – so we recommend eating here when you visit the Orchid Garden so you only have to make the trip once.
Day 7: Monteverde to Manuel Antonio
Today you’ll be leaving first thing in the morning to head about 4 hours from Monteverde to your next destination, Manuel Antonio, home of Manuel Antonio National Park.
You have two options. The easiest way is to book an Interbus shuttle leaving at 8am. The shuttle will pick you up and drop you off right at your accommodation.
The cheaper but slightly more complicated option is to take 2 buses. First you’ll board an early morning bus from the bus station in Santa Elena to Punta Arenas. From there, you’ll take a bus to Quepos, the largest town adjacent to Manuel Antonio. From there you’ll need to hail a taxi to get you to your accommodation (there will be plenty nearby, and Quepos is only about 15 minutes from Manuel Antonio). You can find the bus schedules and prices on Rome2Rio.
For what it’s worth, we’ve found that the public buses in Costa Rica are both comfortable and reliable, and the bus stations are easy to navigate with clear signage and lots of helpful attendants, so don’t worry – even if you aren’t familiar with taking public transit in Costa Rica, you’ll be just fine!
When you arrive in Quepos, check into your accommodation. We’ve stayed at the inexpensive but beautiful Hostel Plinio twice now – each time in a private ensuite room, though their dorms are also fantastic! The hostel is situated up a hill with ocean views from most of the rooms, an on-site restaurant and pool, and an open-air lounge where breakfast is served. It’s a fantastic hostel!
That said, it’s a bit far from the main reason you’re in the area, Manuel Antonio National Park. Public buses heading to the park run every 15 minutes right past the hostel until 7:30 PM, so it’s easy to hop on one and take a fairly short, inexpensive ride to the park.
If you’d prefer to be closer to the park and the beach and don’t mind paying more, Hotel Manuel Antonio is a great pick, walking distance to the entrance of the National Park and across the street from the beach!
- How to Get to Manuel Antonio: You can book an Interbus shuttle with hotel pick up and drop-off, or take a public bus. First you’ll board an early morning bus from the bus station in Santa Elena to Punta Arenas. From there, you’ll take a bus to Quepos, then take a taxi to your accommodation. You can find the bus schedules and prices on Rome2Rio.
- Where to Stay in Quepos: We love Hostel Plinio, a beautiful, inexpensive hostel a short bus ride from the National Park. As an alternative, Hotel Manuel Antonio is walking distance to the entrance of the National Park and across the street from the beach.
Day 8 & 9, Manuel Antonio
Manuel Antonio National Park is Costa Rica’s smallest, but one of the most popular – and for good reason. With beautiful beaches, well-maintained trails running through the forest and mangroves, and abundant wildlife, the park is one of the best destinations on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. You’re highly likely to see Capuchin, Howler, and Squirrel Monkeys, plus sloths, iguanas, agoutis, and tons of birds!
You’ll arrive in Manuel Antonio with most of the day left to relax or hit the beach. The best beaches in this area, of course, are inside the National Park – but that’s a whole day activity. Two, in fact!
Here’s what you’ll be doing in Manuel Antonio:
On the half day of your arrival, head to Playa Espadilla Norte, the beach outside of the park in the town of Manuel Antonio. You’ll find vendors on the beach offering chair and umbrella rentals, surf lessons, and even food delivery. The water is beautifully warm and swimmable, and you’ll see surfers enjoying the waves, too. Across from the beach, there are plenty of small shops to browse for trinkets and snacks. Relax and enjoy!
Alternatively, you can head to the much more secluded (and therefore much emptier) Playa Biesanz. Look for a jungle trail that starts by the side of the road close to Hotel Parador. You’ll head through a small opening in a fence and down a steep hill with loose pebbles for about 10 minutes. Once you arrive, the beach is probably all yours – well, yours and a buzzing jungle filled with monkeys, sloths, lizards, and birds, of course.
To access the park entrance, you’ll need to walk from the road up a rocky dirt path and over a bridge. It will feel sort of like you’re going the wrong way but there are signs directing you to the public park entrance!
At the entrance, you’ll pay the entrance fee (check the site for the current rate) and have the option of booking a guided tour. It costs 10,000 colones per person, and honestly, if you really want to spot animals, this is your best chance! It’s very hard to spot critters without a guide, and the park guides have constant reports about where all the wildlife is hanging out throughout the day. That said, if your goal is just to go hiking and swimming, then the tour isn’t worth it.
Other than looking for wildlife, there are two main activities in Manuel Antonio: hiking and swimming at the beach!
Getting to the beach in Manuel Antonio takes about 30 minutes down a wide, mostly flat trail – the main trail in the park. Certain sections of the trail also dovetail to boardwalks through the mangroves, which personally I find to be less crowded and more scenic. (The boardwalks are part of the El Perezoso trail, and run parallel to the main trail.)
Just up the hill from the beach, you’ll a restaurant, changing rooms, bathrooms, and lockers to store your stuff. These are the only facilities, so don’t head all the way down the hill to the beach until you’re really ready!
The beach is beautiful, scenic, and warm. That said, do beware of high tides and swells.
The other main activity in Manuel Antonio is hiking. The park is full of trails, most of which are short (though not necessarily easy). Here’s a quick guide:
- La Catarata Trail: Located close to the park entrance, this medium intensity .6 mile long trail leads to a small waterfall (hence the name: catarata means waterfall in Spanish). Keep an eye out for frogs along the way!
- El Perezoso Trail: These are the boardwalks that run parallel to the park’s main trail. As the name suggests, keep an eye out overhead for sloths!
- Punta Catedral Trail: This mile-long trail leads to one of the most iconic parts and scenic of the park, a high peak that divides the beach outside the town and the park’s beach. Although the hike is relatively short, it’s steep – bring plenty of water and be prepared to climb! You’ll find the trailhead at the end of the beach
- Playa Gemelas Trail: This short, easy trail from the main beach will take you to a second beach, Playa Gemelas. It also connects to the other trails and to the western portion of the park. During low tide, you can see a view of Punta Catedral on this trail.
- Mirador Trail: This mile-long trail leads to a scenic lookout of Punta Serrucho, a rocky landmark. Heads up, this trail is challenging!
- Congo Trail: This short trail connects Playa Gemelas and the Mirador Trail and it can be used as an alternative return route.
One, one more thing: there are gonna be monkeys, and they’re gonna want your stuff. I would discourage you from bringing in any snacks or food – the first time we visited Manuel Antonio, we watched a monkey snatch a backpack off of someone’s shoulder, run up a tree with it, and proceed to dig out all of her snacks!
The park has since enforced stricter regulations about food. There is a small restaurant near the beach that sells sandwiches, drinks, ice cream, pastries, and souvenirs – and whether you bring your own food or not, this is the only place that’s safe for you to eat it. You should NEVER, EVER feed a wild animal – even inadvertently!
In terms of what to bring with you, you’ll want a day bag packed with hiking shoes/sandals, a swimsuit, a towel, sunscreen, a rain jacket and travel umbrella, and bug repellant. Wear clothes that are comfortable to hike in and dry quickly – we’ve got specific suggestions in our Costa Rica Packing List.
Other than the national park, there are several other things to do in Manuel Antonio:
Costa Rica’s wildlife residents are most active at night, and the jungle is a totally different place after the sun goes down! This tour will lead you through a nearby rainforest where the extinct harlequin frog reappeared and was rediscovered, an exciting scientific discovery.
During your adventure you may see bats, Jesus Christ lizards, arachnids, owls, lots and lots of frogs, snakes and a wide variety of fascinating insects. You’ll be provided with everything you need to navigate safely and see wildlife without disturbing them.
The night walk includes hotel pickup and drop-off as well as a meal, and takes about 2-2.5-hours.
If you’re up for discovering the critters that fill the rainforest when you’re not looking, be sure to wear close-toed shoes (so as to not get bitten by anything). If the idea of looking at bugs and spiders gives you the heebie-jeebies, maybe just skip it!
Kids Saving The Rainforest runs the only legal rescue center that rehabilitates wounded, sick and abandoned rainforest animals on the Pacific Coast. The non-profit, located about 15 minutes outside of Quepos, protects and rehabilitates wildlife, conducts scientific research, and provides outreach and education about conservation and ethical tourism.
The center rescues more than 100 animals each year, focusing primarily on rehabilitating and releasing wild animals back into their habitats whenever possible.
For animals that cannot be released back into the wild, the center has an onsite wildlife sanctuary which visitors can tour. You’ll see 5 types of monkeys, including Spider Monkeys, White Faced Monkeys, Squirrel Monkeys, Tamarins, & Marmoset; Coatis; Two-toed sloths; Nocturnal Kinkajous (if they are awake); and Parrots!
Note that you’ll need to email to make a reservation in advance for your tour – more information here.
Head out on the ocean for 2.5 hour kayaking and snorkeling adventure! On and off your kayak, you’ll see marine birds and their nesting grounds, parrot fish, starfish, angelfish and possibly a few sea turtles. The tour will provide you with snorkeling gear, so just bring a towel.
I highly recommend wearing swim leggings and a rash guard so you don’t need to worry about sunscreen except on your hands, face, and feet – plus, it’s the perfect outfit for jumping and and out of the water!
The tour includes pickup and drop off from your hotel and a delicious meal!
Manuel Antonio National Park encompasses some mangroves, but just 10 minutes away is Damas Island, an enormous protected mangrove forest with incredible biodiversity. During your relaxing ride in a 12-person covered boat, you’ll wind through lush green vegetation as you guide helps spot white-faced monkeys, anteaters, boa constrictors, iguanas, birds, and colorful mangrove crabs!
The tour includes pickup and drop-off and a meal. I highly recommend putting on plenty of bug repellent for this tour, and bringing your own pair of binoculars, because you never know when a critter might disappear before you’ve had a chance to look through your guide’s!
Day 10: Manuel Antonio to Drake Bay
Manuel Antonio and its neighboring town, Quepos, is just up the Pacific coast from your next destination, but you can’t drive all the way there. Your next destination is, er, a bit remote. Like, on a tiny bay, on a tiny peninsula, right next to a huge national park that you can only access by boat. Yup: it’s awesome!
From Quepos, you’ll take a shuttle to the boat dock in Sierpe. At the Sierpe boat dock, you’ll board a ferry that will take you down a river to Drake Bay and drop you off directly to the dock of your next accommodation.
Honestly, the schlep is all part of the adventure of getting to the destination: the boat ride takes about an hour and travels through beautiful mangroves along the Sierpe River, before crossing over the mouth of the river connecting to the Pacific Ocean and then heading to another, much smaller, river. The first time I visited, the ferry boat was tiny – literally like, a tiny little boat with room enough for a cooler full of Fanta, the boat captain, our luggage, and my family of 4. But more tourists visit the area now, and today the ferry is a large, comfortable boat with ample seating, plenty of space for luggage, and a cover to protect you from the sun.
Though it may sound a bit complicated, don’t worry – you don’t need to arrange any of this on your own: your accommodation can set it all up and book it for you!
For the final stop on your trip, you’ll be staying at the Aguila de Osa Rainforest Lodge, a sustainable eco-lodge on the mouth of the River Agujitas just outside Corcovado National Park.
All of the rooms and the open-air lodge feature sweeping views of Drake Bay and the Osa Peninsula. The lodge is a 1 minute walk away from a small beach, and you’ll be able to book all of the tours and activities you want directly from the hotel when you arrive.
Note that this stop on the itinerary is definitely the most expensive, but honestly? It’s an incredibly worthy splurge. The lodge is like an all-inclusive resort, except rustic and eco-friendly and sustainable. All of your meals are included in the cost of your room – breakfast, lunch, appetizers, and dinner – and feature fresh, locally sourced ingredients, like whatever fresh fish was caught by local fisherman that morning and organic vegetables picked from the lodge’s nearby farm. Meals are served in the stunning, open-air great room and are honestly one of the highlights of each day.
There’s also no need to book any tours in advance: your accommodation will help you plan your itinerary and book everything for you once you arrive.
That said, there are cheaper places to stay in Drake Bay (take a look here), and all of the accommodations in the area will offer roughly the same tour options. Just don’t expect to find any big hotels nearby: everything here is small, rustic, and deep in the rainforest. If you book an accommodation that doesn’t offer help arrange transportation, you can contact Transportes Alvarez to arrange a shuttle.
- How to Get to Drake Bay: From Quepos, you’ll take a shuttle to Sierpe. Then, you’ll board a ferry that will take you down a river to Drake Bay and drop you off directly to the dock of the accommodation at your next stop. You should be able to book everything through your accommodation, but if not, contact Transportes Alvarez to arrange your shuttle.
- Where to Stay in Drake Bay: Aguila de Osa Rainforest Lodge is an incredible, sustainable eco-lodge in the rainforest overlooking the ocean – basically, paradise! It’s a splurge, but trust us when we say that it is a highlight of this itinerary and well worth it. Your meals are all included.
Day 11 & 12, Drake Bay/Corcovado
It might be hard to believe after the adventures you’ve been having for the last two weeks, but we actually saved the best for last. We had to: if we put this destination earlier in the itinerary, everywhere else would have felt like a downer.
Corcovado National Park – home to the largest rainforest in Central America – and the tiny town of Drake Bay are, hands down, our favorite places to visit in Costa Rica. The crystalline waters of the ocean are full of colorful coral reefs and marine life, bordered by jungle stretching all the way to the beach. And next to this stunning and remote National Park are a tiny handful of eco-lodges and resorts and the teeny tiny little town of Agujitas. It’s not the easiest place to get to, but it’s well worth the trip!
Personally, this is the place where I first fell in love in Costa Rica (and with travel in general) on two incredible family vacations, decades ago. My parents booked this awesome eco-lodge in the jungle, walking distance from the beach. We rode horses on the sands of Corcovado National Park, snorkeled in perfect warm, clear blue water, and woke up to monkeys, scarlet macaws and toucans and laughing hawks calling and playing outside the windows of our bungalow each day. Each night we watched the sun set from the open air lodge over dinner, and drifted off to sleep lulled by the scent of ylang ylang trees and the sound of buzzing cicadas. It was heaven.
It was such a beautiful and memorable trip for our family that my sister returned on her honeymoon … and finally, after years of telling Jeremy about this incredible place, we decided to make it our first trip after COVID. Why did we wait so long? Because it’s kind of a splurge, and we’re like… hostel people, not resort people. But after 2 years of being stuck at home, we were ready to ball. I was terrified that I’d built it up in my head, that we’d arrive and it wouldn’t be anything like I remembered it.
But. Y’all. It was exactly as magical as I remembered it being! This incredible little place, at the foot of a river opening up to the sea – accessible only by boat – is a dream. Literally: it’s the place I imagine in my head when I’m trying to fall asleep, listening to rain and jungle noises on a Spotify playlist I made for this exact purpose. (Fun fact: in 2020, my Spotify most played list was literally all just rain/jungle noises. It was a hard year, ok??!)
And not to make it weird, but let’s just say that I finally sat down to write this post 8.5 months after our trip… and 2 weeks before welcoming a tiny new member to our family. You do the math. And yes, we fully intend to bring our child here and point at various things and tell them it’s where they were conceived. Because what is the point of having a child if not to embarrass and possibly traumatize them??
Anyway. My personal history with this place aside, you HAVE to go. I know, it’s hard to get to. I know, it’s pricier than the rest of the places on this itinerary. But do not skip it! Trust us – you’ll thank me later. (Or you’ll come back here and leave me a strongly worded comment telling me about your experience, one or the other. But I really think you’ll have an amazing time!)
Here’s what we recommend doing during your stay in Drake Bay. (Note that most of the tours will be shared with multiple local resorts/hotels, and everything can be booked on arrival at your accommodation.)
- Snorkeling or Scuba Diving
The clear waters of Caño Island Biological Marine Reserve are an incredible place for both scuba diving and snorkeling. You’ll see healthy coral reefs, schools of vibrant tropical fish, turtles, reef sharks, and rays.
I’m a snorkeler and Jeremy is a certified PADI scuba diver, so we split up for this activity – and we were both deeply satisfied with our separate experiences!
Your accommodation will provide all the gear you need and book and arrange your boat tour.
- Go on a wildlife hike in Corcovado National Park
Corcovado National Park is the crown jewel of this region, and a trip into the rainforest is a highlight of any trip to the Osa Peninsula! Hikes begin and end at San Pedrillo, Corcovado National Park’s northernmost ranger station – but first, you have to get there by boat. The ride is about 25 minutes, and you’ll want to wear sandals and quick-drying pants: there will be a wet landing (and it’s a little bit of a nail biter – but don’t worry, your boat captain does this literally every day).
Your naturalist guide will have binoculars and will point out wildlife along the way. On our last hike in Corcovado we saw white-faced, spider and howler monkeys, an adorable white-lipped peccary mom and baby pair, scarlet macaws, and a coati.
The hike isn’t challenging in terms of distance and is quite flat, but it is hot, humid, muddy and sweaty – bring plenty of water, wear breathable clothing, and slather on bug repellant like it’s your job. Midway through your hike, you’ll visit a swimming lagoon at the base of a small waterfall to take a short swim (so be sure to wear or bring a swimsuit!)
- Travel Tip: Wear breathable, quick-drying clothes and a swimsuit, and bring both sandals and sturdy hiking shoes with good grip. Trekking poles are helpful on muddy days, though we did without and were fine. Lots of water, sunscreen, and bug repellent are a must as well. And pack a lightweight rain jacket and travel umbrella just in case – it’s called the rainforest for a reason!
One of my favorite activities in Costa Rica is horseback riding, thanks to their very small, closer-to-the-ground-than-usual Palomino horses, which are MUCH less scary to ride than tall thoroughbreds (or Clydesdales, which we rode exactly one time – it felt like riding a T-Rex).
And it’s great that the horses are small and gentle, because horseback riding in this area is definitely more on the adventurous side.
You’ll ride your horse directly through a river, on winding paths through the rainforest, and across the beach – and your horse will almost certainly break into a trot or canter on the beach. (For what it’s worth, Palominos are the ONLY horse I’ve ever felt comfortable cantering on!)
The tour offered by Aguila de Osa ends at a waterfall and a beach where you can swim and relax before riding back!
- Kayaking on the Agujitas River
Borrow a kayak from your accommodation and take a self-guided kayak tour at high tide! You can head upriver deeper into the rainforest, or leave the river and head down the coast to explore sandy beaches.
Although this is a pretty relaxed activity, don’t get too complacent: the river can get a little choppy in parts and is home to very small, reportedly harmless crocodiles that nevertheless scared the living daylights out of us – especially when we hit a couple of rough patches of water. (It turns out that Jeremy and I are BOTH scaredy cats when it comes to tiny crocodiles.)
Also, I wouldn’t swim in the river – and take care not to get your ears wet, either. Both my dad and I contracted gnarly ear infections (a couple of decades apart) as a direct result of our ears coming into contact with river water in Costa Rica. If you’re prone to ear infections like we are, you might want to wear a pair of earplugs just to be safe.
Honestly, if you’re capable of not flipping your kayak, you’ll be fine… but maybe don’t do this as your very first kayaking trip ever. Let’s call this an intermediate kayaking experience.
- Take a night wildlife tour
Did you know that Costa Rica’s wildlife residents are most active at night? You might not see much activity during the day, but you’re pretty much guaranteed to see critters at night!
Our tour was led by a local scientist, the Bug Lady. And although we didn’t travel far (most of the tour is just on paths around the resort) we saw a few snoozing sloths, several tree frogs, sleeping birds, moths, opossums, owls, and a bunch of fascinating insects and arachnids!
Yes – I said arachnids. On this tour, you’ll definitely need to be able to appreciate that spiders are bros – or at least that they are beautiful and diverse creatures! The most memorable arachnid friends we saw on our night hike were trapdoor spiders, which live in tiny little hobbit holes. Our guide gently opened a perfectly hidden round door, and a little spider arm came out and SLAMMED it shut. I’m guessing he had probably read the Hobbit and knew not to let a group of strangers in, lest he end up on a long journey with the fate of the world resting on his tiny spider shoulders. How many LotR references in a single blog post is too many?
Anyway: if you’re up for discovering the critters that fill the rainforest when you’re not looking, be sure to wear close-toed shoes (so as to not get bitten by anything). And if this section gave you the heebie-jeebies, maybe just skip this one!
San Josecito is hands down the most beautiful beach on the Osa Peninsula: picture a sandy cove with wonderfully swimmable water, ringed with palm trees full of scarlet macaws. Many tours stop here at one point, but you can also hike, horseback ride, or take a boat to get here.
If you choose the 2.5 hour hike, you’ll find the trailhead at the hanging bridge across the Rio Agujitas near the mouth of the river. This guide will help you know what to expect. Dress appropriately and wear water/hiking sandals, because there is a water crossing at one point – we highly recommend a pair of Tevas for both women and men.
If you’d like to visit San Josecito by horseback or boat, just ask your accommodation: they’ll know who to call and what to arrange to get everything set up for you, and tell you what it will cost.
- Literally just relax, look at the view and listen to the rain
Staying in a beautiful eco-resort is a huge part of why the trip to this part of Costa Rica is so worth it, so take full advantage!
All the rooms at the Aguila de Osa Rainforest Lodge have an outdoor patio with stunning ocean views. Some have rocking chairs, others have hammocks.
We highly recommend spending an afternoon out on the patio, listening to the sounds of the tropical rainforest and just relaxing. Bonus points if you can do it during a heavy rain. Annnd I just turned on my Spotify playlist again…
There are also a few other activities you can do during your stay, including zip lining, bird watching, visiting the local town, and hiking to the beach. Ask your accommodation for other options if you’re interested!
Day 13 & 14: Return to San Jose and Fly Home
Leaving Drake Bay is a bit more complicated than the way you arrived, since at this point you’ve traveled quite a ways from San Jose!
The easiest, fastest, and most exciting way to get back is by taking a teeny tiny little plane (definitely an adventure in and of itself) from either Drake Bay or Palmar Sur. (Note that if you fly out of Palmar Sur, you’ll need to repeat the boat trip back from Drake Bay to Sierpe – the airport is about 15 minutes outside of Sierpe.)
You can book your flight through Sansa Airlines or Aerobell. If you time things just right and your flight home is after 4PM or so, you can leave directly from San Jose once you arrive at the airport! (That also means you have an extra day if you’d like to add time somewhere on this itinerary.)
That said: flying is also the most expensive option.
A cheaper option is to take a shuttle back to San Jose. You’ll first hop back on the boat to Sierpe, then you’ll be taking the Costanera (Coast Road) all the way back up the Pacific Coast before turning inland to San Jose. The drive takes about 4.5 hours. If you’re booking this option, ask your accommodation for assistance or reserve a shuttle online on Bookaway.
The cheapest option is to take a public bus. You’ll first need to take the ferry back to Sierpe, then a taxi to the bus station, where you’ll board a bus to Quepos. From there, you’ll board a bus back to San Jose. You can use Rome2Rio to figure out the exact route. It’s definitely more complicated, but if you can pull it off, you’ll save a bunch of cash.
However, your main challenge is timing: buses from Sierpe to Quepos leave at 7:30 AM, but the boat from Drake Bay to Sierpe leaves at 7:15 AM, so you won’t make it – meaning you’ll need to stay overnight in Sierpe. And at that point, it’s probably worth it to just book the dang shuttle. (We do this math every time we go to Costa Rica, and we always end up taking the shuttles!)
Because it takes quite some time to get from Drake Bay to San Jose on the shuttle, we ended up needing to stay the night in San Jose. If you’re eager to explore the city, book yourself a later flight or consider adding an extra day – but we honestly don’t recommend it.
We wanted to spend as little time as possible in San Jose, so we booked an inexpensive place close to the airport and an early morning flight. Unfortunately, the place we booked had some sort of booking issue and turned us away at the door. We ended up having to walk several blocks on foot with all of our luggage to another nearby hotel to see if they had room for us. And there was absolutely nothing around to do or see in the area, so we just sat in our cheap hotel for the rest of the day feeling sad about our trip ending. It was not the best way to end a trip!
Ultimately, it would have been better for us to stay in an area with more hotels and more things to do nearby, even if it meant waking up earlier to take a taxi to the airport in the morning (our least favorite thing ever – we are serial oversleepers).
Our freakish bad luck probably won’t happen to you (we’re travel disaster magnets, it’s scientific fact) but nevertheless, we recommend staying in a more walkable part of town so you at least get some exploration in on your last night and can say a proper goodbye to Costa Rica! We recommend booking one of these budget-friendly apartments in downtown San Jose right on Central avenue. It’s conveniently located within walking distance of several of the city’s best museums, including the Jade Museum, the Costa Rica National Museum, and the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. If you have time before your flight, pick one to explore!
- How to Get to San Jose: The easiest, fastest, and most exciting way to get back is by taking a teeny tiny little plane from either Drake Bay or Palmar Sur. You can book your flight through Sansa Airlines or Aerobell. If you time things just right, you can leave directly from San Jose once you arrive at the airport! A cheaper option is to take a 4.5 hour shuttle back to San Jose; you can reserve a shuttle online on Bookaway or ask your accomodation to help make arrangements.
- Where to Stay in San Jose: If you need to spend the night in San Jose before flying out, we recommend booking one of these budget-friendly apartments in downtown San Jose.
Essentials to Pack for Costa Rica
- Bug Repellant: We take a two-pronged approach to avoiding bug bites: Insect Repellant Lotion and treated clothing. Before your trip, spray all of the clothes you’ll be bringing with Permethrin Spray, a bug repellent which adheres only to fabrics, leaves no smell or residue on clothes, and doesn’t harm human skin. During your trip, slather all of your unclothed skin in lightweight Picaridin lotion. It’s highly effective, the coverage of the lotion is MUCH better than spray-on bug repellant (not to mention less harmful for the environment) and it doesn’t leave a gross oily residue on your skin. Between these two repellants, we rarely get bitten!
- Reef-Safe Sunscreen: You need to wear reef-safe sunscreen every time you go into the ocean. Reef-safe sunscreen is designed to biodegrade and not harm marine life. Regular sunscreen bleaches coral and ensures humanity’s swift death from climate change. So please, for the love of society’s inevitable collapse, wear reef-safe sunscreen if you’re going into the ocean! Note that although reef-safe sunscreen is always mineral, not all mineral sunscreens are reef-safe. Sunscreen must use “non-nano zinc oxide” particles to be reef safe(more details here). This is my favorite reef-safe sunscreen, and I use this lightweight sunscreen on my face. Better yet, bring a rash guard so you need less sunscreen overall!
- Swim Leggings: This itinerary involves a lot of hikes and horseback rides to the beach, which means you need to be wearing something that can dry quickly. Personally, my skin chafes just thinking about wearing a wet swimsuit, so my go-to pick is swim leggings, which are basically like leggings made from swimsuit material! They’re quick drying and extremely comfortable to wear while wet (yes, you can actually hike in them even when they’re soaking wet). Plus, they provide excellent sun protection, so you don’t need to worry about sunscreen even when you’re butt-up on a snorkeling tour. For more information, head to the full review of my favorite pair of sustainable swim leggings!
- Binoculars: Every tour guide in Costa Rica will have a pair of binoculars or a massive telescope. But then you have to share it between everyone else on the tour, and critters do not like to stand around waiting for full audience appreciation. So, stick some travel-friendly binoculars into your day-bag!
- Travel Towel: You’ll want to bring a full-sized, quick-drying travel towel. Towels are not typically provided on tours, and you’ll be going to lots of beaches!
- Teva Sandals (his & hers): Not only are these rugged sandals comfortable and rugged enough to walk and hike for miles comfortably, but they also double as water shoes. They stay strapped tightly to your feet in the water and are perfect for adventure sports like canyoning or rafting. Plus, they’re lightweight, durable, and legitimately cute!
- Rain Gear: From rainforests to cloud forests, you should be prepared for it to rain at any moment! Always keep an Ultra-Light Rain Jackets (His & Hers) and a teeny tiny lightweight Travel Umbrella in your day bag, just in case.
- Day Bag: Jeremy and I each carry a day bag on trips. This cute backpack is perfect for some snacks, a couple of jackets, a travel umbrella, cameras, phones, and whatever we need for the day. It also doubles as our lockable carry-on valuables bag while on transit, which is key for safety (never let your passport, camera, or laptop out of your sight on travel days)! For more active days, we pack up a Camelbak Hydration Pack that fits 70oz of water in addition to all our gear. It’s perfect for hikes or exploring on hot days when you’ll need to stay extra hydrated!
We’ve got a ton more packing tips and specific suggestions in our Costa Rica packing list!
We’ve also created a FREE Printable Packing List with everything you need to plan your trip to Costa Rica. We’ll also send you tips to help you prepare for your trip! Just sign up below.
Ready to pack your bags and take off for two weeks in Costa Rica? Do you have any questions about our Costa Rica 2 week itinerary? Drop us a comment below!
Psst: Check out some of our other posts before your trip: