Costa Rica is absolutely one of my favourite countries to visit. Spending three weeks there only served to whet my appetite for more. There is quite simply so much to see and do. If you’re a nature lover and a fan of beautiful white sanded beaches (of course you are!) then you will love Costa Rica. With so much to do, it can be hard to choose, but after much research we crafted a fantastic Costa Rica three week itinerary.
Pura Vida is translated as “pure life”, in Costa Rica the phrase is used to say hello, goodbye, wish people good luck or even to indicate agreement. You can’t really go a day without hearing these two words. Costa Rica has, I think, tried to brand the country as safe, eco, simple – pure. And “Pura Vida” is an outward reinforcement of this ethos.
When I was researching my trip to Costa Rica, I wanted to make sure I could squeeze in everything I could in the three weeks I had. You may also want to find out how to visit Costa Rica on a budget – check here for more information.
- Costa Rica a Three Week Itinerary
- Day 1 – 2: Arrive in San Jose, travel to Arenal
- Day 3: Monteverde
- Day 4: Jaco
- Day 5 – 7: Montezuma
- Day 8 – 9: Santa Teresa
- Day 10 – 11: Manuel Antonio
- Day 12 – 13: Dominical
- Day 14 – 16: Ballena/Uvita
- Day 17 – 20: Puerto Viejo
- Day 21: San Jose
- Where would I go next time?
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Costa Rica a Three Week Itinerary
Day 1 – 2: Arrive in San Jose, travel to Arenal
Arriving into San Jose, I decided not to stay in the city but headed North to Arenal volcano. To maximise my time, I took a taxi (pre booked through the hotel) straight to Arenal. It wasn’t the cheapest option, but I’d arrived too late to take public transport. There is a bus direct to Arenal though from San Jose.
I stayed at Casa Torre Eco Lodge and couldn’t recommend it enough. I had a bungalow overlooking the volcano. Waking up here was incredible, I went out to the balcony and saw hummingbirds. It was around $70 a night for two of us. The breakfast was excellent and the host could not have been more accommodating.
Top three things to do in Arenal:
i) Hot Springs – there are loads you an go to and pay, we found a free one. It’s full of locals. You can find it on Google Maps. Dont be alarmed that it looks like a hole in the fence, it’s a lovely spot once you’re in.
ii) Walk up Arenal volcano – there’s a walking trail that costs around $15 to enter
iii) Fortuna Town – it’s a small town, but has plenty of bars and restaurants and it’s a nice evening out. Plenty of happy hour cocktails!
Day 3: Monteverde
Next I travelled to Monteverde, the cloud forest. I arranged a transfer with my hotel in Arenal, this seems to be the most popular way to travel between the two towns. It cost around $50 and includes a boat ride and bus transfer.
Monteverde is a small town, the main event is the forest but the town still has much to offer. I stayed near Christmas, and there was a lovely festive parade through town. It’s easy to visit the cloud forest with tour companies offering walking tours and zip lines.
Day 4: Jaco
I used Jaco as a jumping off point before heading to Montezuma, it’s where the ferries go in and out to get to the Nicoya Peninsula. Jaco is a large town with a massive strip of beach and lots of bars. It wasn’t my favourite place and the hotel I stayed in felt a little seedy and very cramped. But the beach is nice and has some lovely (if a little pricey) cocktail bars scattered alongside it.
Day 5 – 7: Montezuma – a must do in 3 weeks in Costa Rica
Montezuma is a beach town on the Nicoya Peninsula. It stole my heart! I took the boat from Jaco, organised by Zuma Tours. This company was great, super organised and I felt totally looked after. You are collected from your hotel in Jaco and you can also be dropped off in your accommodation at the other side of the journey too.
I stayed in a Tree House I found on Airbnb near to the town. It was pretty epic and I felt totally away from it all. A note of caution, taxis in Montezuma are difficult to get, so if you don’t stay near the beach, be prepared to wait for a cab.
Top Tips for Visiting Montezuma as part of a 3 week Costa Rica Itinerary
i) The small beach in town where the boat docks – beautiful and you could spend hours here
ii) Montezuma waterfalls – you MUST do this. It’s stunning and you can walk along and see all the falls. The trail is quite easy to walk and has railings when you need them. Whilst I was there, I watched a guy diving off the falls!
iii) Playa Grande – it’s a walk from Montezuma but it is so worth it. White sands, long beach and you will barely see anyone else. The walk is through a forest trail, which is an adventure it itself. Take drinks and snacks, there are no shops.
Day 8 – 9: Santa Teresa
There was a bus from Montezuma to Santa Teresa, or you could get a cab, but I like hiking so chose to walk it. Its around 15km and not too hard, but the beer I had when I arrived in Santa Teresa felt pretty special!
The main event in Santa Teresa is the sun set, it’s on the west coast of the peninsula so really special. There are also lots of bars and the nightlife is pretty fun.
Day 10 – 11: Manuel Antonio
Next I took another boat organised by Zuma Tours to Manuel Antonio. I stayed at a basic hostel called Costa Linda Art Hostel. It has a really pleasant bar area with good food and drinks. It’s also super close to the beach and park entrance!
Manuel Antonio is all about the national park. Book tickets in advance! And check the opening hours, it closes one day a week and you would not want to miss out. I opted for a tour that cost $25, it lasts a few hours and you learn a lot. It ends in the national park beach which is stunning. I’d recommend taking a tour early so you can relax on the beach all day!
The beach in town is also lovely. An iguana came to say hi whilst I was sunbathing. If you want a sunbed, don’t be afraid to haggle with the vendors. They all offer different prices.
I would also recommend Biesanz Beach, it’s a bit of a hike from town. But at the end of your walk you’ll be rewarded with a stunning cove with the calmest water I saw in Costa Rica. There’s a few stalls down on the beach selling beers and snacks, including ceviche, but you could take your own snacks down too.
Day 12 – 13: Dominical
From Manuel Antonio, I took a public bus to Dominical. I stayed at the One Love Hostel, basic but has a fun café attached and is right on the beach. Domincal was all about the surfing for me, I shopped around and found a cheap hire place with decent boards and spent my days in the water. There’s a decent brewery in Domincal, but it gets super busy so if you want to go, book ahead.
Day 14 – 16: Ballena/Uvita
Next was Ballena national park, I stayed near the beach. The area is laid back with a few nice cafes open during the day and not much going on at night so I stayed in and cooked.
The national park is beautiful and called “Ballena” (Whale) due to the whale tail that the beach makes. You have to pay to walk on the whale tale, but the beach further up is free.
I also went into Uvita, taking in the waterfall (worth the hike up) and two really fun breweries on the way back. Definitely recommend if you’re a beer fan!
Day 17 – 20: Puerto Viejo – a must see on your Costa Rica three week itinerary
I took the bus from Uvita to Puerto Viejo (two buses via San Jose). My one recommendation – book in advance! They get busy and you’ll want to make sure you can make your connection in San Jose.
Puerto Viejo is on the Caribbean Coast and it has totally different vibes to the Pacific Coast. The food has a more Caribbean influence and the beaches too. In town, you’ll hear reggae blasting from the bars.
In Puerto Viejo, I spent most of my time lazing on the fantastic beaches. But also hired bikes to explore along the coast – well worth doing if you’re here for some time. This also meant I could cycle to a yoga studio every morning – I went to Ama Ser Yoga and it was the most peaceful Shala experience.
I opted for an Airbnb bungalow near the beach with a kitchen and found the supermarkets in the town to be well stocked and cheap. In town, there area some great bars and restaurants with drinks deals around happy hour. I was a fan of Tasty Waves Cantina which has live music and Sol de Caribe bar has great cocktails.
A note of caution for female travellers. Whilst I was in Puerto Viejo, I heard about an alleged sexual assault that had taken place near to the beach at night. Locals told me that this had happened before. I’ve also seen online that women in Puerto Viejo have been out protesting in support of female safety. I had some experience of cat calls and unwanted male attention whilst I was there and if I went back, I wouldn’t walk alone near the beach.
Day 21: San Jose
I didn’t spend much time in the city, opting for a hotel near the airport before my flight. I’ve heard mixed things about the capital of Costa Rica, but some have enjoyed it.
Where would I go next time?
I had really wanted to climb Chirripo mountain, which sits tall in the middle of the country. At the time of travel (December 2021), the office managing ticket sales to Chirripo were operating a phone line only booking system. I tried calling hundreds of times and was never able to get through to book. In retrospect, I wouldn’t have had time in the three weeks to do this properly, but on my second visit I am determined to get up there!
Whilst I was in Costa Rica, I saw many other travellers driving 4 x 4 vehicles and some had tent boxes. I would absolutely LOVE to try this next time I go to Costa Rica. Having access to a car, which I did not, would mean that you could get to all the beaches and national parks that are off the beaten track. Plus, being able to pitch a tent gives ultimate flexibility. Next time!
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