Although I try to encourage visiting Costa Rica for more than one week, you can see and do a whole lot in 7 days if you plan it carefully. You’ll be quite busy every day but luckily, Costa Rica is a small country and if you choose just one region, you can explore that area fairly well.
So for those who are planning a 1 week Costa Rica itinerary, here is a sample one that focuses on the Central and South Pacific such as Jaco, Manuel Antonio and the Costa Ballena. The destinations are easy to get to driving, has plenty of beautiful beaches and forest and gives a good taste of Costa Rica. This Costa Rica 7 days itinerary is especially great for first timers who love wildlife, beach and adventure!
Sample 1 Week Costa Rica Itinerary
You’ll land in SJO airport and head to the Central and South Pacific to visit beaches, national parks and do some fun tours. Here is a map so you can see where the destinations are.
Important note: this itinerary requires renting a car. There are buses to most of these destinations but since you are there for only one week, you want to maximize your time sightseeing and minimize the time on the road.
The destinations in this 1 week Costa Rica itinerary are not too far apart and luckily it is just one main highway you’ll be driving on outside of San Jose.
Day 1: San Jose & Jaco
Land at SJO airport, pick up your car rental and head to Playa Jaco, about a 1 hour drive away. Do note that traffic in San Jose is insane so it may take you around 1.5 hours or more depending on the time of day you land.
Also the airport is technically not in San Jose, it is in Alajuela but since all the Central Valley cities are so close, it’s essentially the same area.
About Playa Jaco:
Playa Jaco is the closest beach town to San Jose so it’s full of locals and tourists and has tons of good restaurants, shops and other services. This beach is famous for surfing as it has constant waves, perfect for beginners and pros as there are several different sections. This town also has some of the best restaurants in Costa Rica, a lively nightlife and you will find many locals and foreigners.
It’s not the most beautiful beach but it’s close and easy to get to so rest up, wander around downtown, watch the sunset on the beach and get ready for day 2!
Where to stay in Jaco:
Where to eat in Jaco:
Grafitti, Soda Rustico, Amancios, Tsunami Sushi, Pizza Shop, Soda Garabito. Read more of our favorite restaurants in Jaco here. Food in Jaco can run anywhere from $6-20 a meal depending on where you go. There are tons of happy hour and drink specials at the bars.
Day 2: Jaco
Day 2 is open to whatever you want to do whether you want to keep relaxing and hang out at the beach/pool or go on an adventure.
What to do in Jaco:
There is so much to do in Jaco! You can take a surf lesson as it’s one of the best beaches for surfing, exploring waterfalls, ATV, SUP and much more. If you’re not keen on surfing, here are our favorite things to do in Jaco besides surfing.
We do recommend surfing but if that doesn’t sound like something you’re interested in, we love the waterfall tour with Costa Rica waterfall tours. You get beautiful views, it’s a fun way to enjoy the rain forest and jump off waterfalls. If you’re an adventure junkie, go on the pure adrenaline tour where you jump off super high waterfalls!
Since you have a car, you can also visit the attractions around Jaco such as the lookout point at Cero Fresco, go ziplining and take the aerial tram at Rainforest Adventures or do an ATV/zipline/horseback riding combo at Ocean Ranch Park.
A surf lesson costs around $50 and a zipline/canyoning/horseback riding tour is around $110. For surf lessons, you can find instructors on the beach or you can go to one of the many schools. We recommend School of the World.
Day 3 & 4: Manuel Antonio
Today you’ll drive to Manuel Antonio, about a 1 hour drive south of Jaco.
About Manuel Antonio:
This is a very popular area in Costa Rica because of the national park, stunning beaches, abundant wildlife and incredible views. Here is where you will have the best sloth spotting opportunities in this one week Costa Rica itinerary.
You don’t have to leave super early in the morning as it’s just one hour away, so take your time in the morning and enjoy the drive. Once you arrive at Manuel Antonio, relax, hang out by the pool and drive down to the beach to watch the sunset. You can even go parasailing!
Day 4: Manuel Antonio National Park
Once named by Forbes as one of the most beautiful national parks in the world, Manuel Antonio has postcard perfect beaches with sparkling turquoise water, fluffy white sand and swaying palm trees.
At the national park you can hike the trails, swim, spot sloths, lay on the beach and hang out with monkeys. I recommend getting to the park early (it opens at 7 AM) to take advantage of the whole day and if you go early, you can have the beach all to yourself! The national park entrance fee is $16 per person so it’s a pretty cheap activity.
You can hike the park by yourself without a naturalist guide, but if you really want to see lots of wildlife and learn about the flora and fauna, I recommend hiring one. You can hire one at the national park entrance since many of the guides hang around there or book one through a tour company/your hotel. I recommend hiring one at a tour company like Iguana Tours as they will be ICT certified whereas not all the guides at the national park are. Iguana Tours also have other tours such as waterfalls, SUP, kayaking and more.
Where to stay in Manuel Antonio:
Hotel San Bada, Selina Hostel, El Faro Hotel, Vista Serena Hostel. There are many hostels in Manuel Antonio or you can splurge for a luxury hotel as this area has some of the most upscale hotels in Costa Rica. Hostels are around $10 -15 a bed and upscale hotels run a minimum of $200 a night.
If you want to splurge on a hotel for this 7 days Costa Rica itinerary, I highly recommend doing it in Manuel Antonio. Many luxury hotels have a spectacular view of the national park, infinity pools, spas and some even have private hot tubs on the balconies. Some high end hotels are La Mansion Inn, Arenas del Mar, Parador and Hotel La Mariposa.
Days 5 & 6: Uvita
On day 5, you’ll drive to your next destination: Uvita.
About Uvita: It’s a small town in the Costa Ballena, perfect for a peaceful jungle getaway. This area doesn’t see as many tourists at Jaco or Manuel Antonio so you will have the opportunity to enjoy beaches and the rain forest without crowds.
Manuel Antonio to Uvita is roughly one hour south on the Costanera Sur, an easy drive. I do recommend getting there somewhat early so you have more time to explore. Hotels will hold onto your luggage for you if early check in is not available.
You can visit a couple of waterfalls nearby such as Uvita waterfall and Cascada El Pavon. Both are small charming waterfalls 15 minutes from Uvita, a short walk and cheap.
Or you can go into Marino Ballena National Park and hang out there for the rest of the afternoon. You can walk on the beach, swim, visit the Whale’s Tail if it’s low tide and watch the sunset. Make sure you enter the park before 4 PM to see the sunset.
Day 5 is open for you whether you want to chill or do some activities. There are a lot of awesome things to do in this area so this is why I recommend arriving early on day 4 to have more time in Uvita.
What to do in Uvita:
Some of our favorite things to do in Uvita are the Nauyaca waterfalls, humpback whale watching and Cano Island snorkeling/scuba diving. Other top tour choices are a waterfall tour with Rancho DiAndrew, horseback riding in Ojochal, Sierpe mangrove kayaking/boat ride and Corcovado National Park hiking.
If you want to go ziplining, there is a fun zipline at Hacienda Baru near Dominical.
For tour companies, we went with Bahia Aventuras for the Cano Island and humpback whale watching and had a great time with them. Highly recommended. They also run tours to Corcovado National Park, Sierpe Mangrove and others.
Where to stay in Uvita:
Manoas, a glamping and villa resort in the mountains (get 10% off), Flutterby House, a hostel in Uvita town, Hotel Cuna del Angel, Oxygen Jungle Villas, an adult only romantic hotel (get 15% off here). As most of the hotels are outside of Uvita town either along the main Costanera Sur road or up in the mountains, a 4×4 may be required.
If you’re a birder, La Cusinga Lodge is a great option.
There aren’t as many hostels or cheap lodging places in Uvita, you will find mostly hotels around $100-150 a night.
Where to eat:
Sibu cafe, Kaku, Soda Almendros, Jolly Rogers.
**You can also choose to stay in Dominical. Dominical is about 20 minutes driving from Uvita and is a surfing beach town, but not as big as Jaco. It has more of a hippie feel and the beach is very different than the beaches in the Marino Ballena National Park. Most people who stay in Dominical are those who like surfing or want to camp on the beach.**
Day 6: Back to San Jose
Today you’ll head back to San Jose. It’s about a 3 hour drive from Uvita to San Jose so this is why you have to go back the day before your flight. If you have enough time and energy when you get to the city, you can visit some museums, the National Theater or the local market to get some last minute souvenir shopping in.
Or you can just relax and get ready for your flight tomorrow. Many hotels in Alajuela offer free airport shuttles but if you choose to stay somewhere downtown San Jose, some hotels there do not and you will have to book a shuttle, pay for a taxi or call an Uber. Uber works very well in San Jose and we always use it to get around San Jose. Read our tips on using Uber in San Jose, Costa Rica.
From San Jose downtown to the airport, it costs around $15 for an UberX.
Where to stay by SJO airport:
These hotels all have complimentary airport shuttles.
Day 7: Fly Home!
And your Costa Rica has come to an end as you fly home on day 7. This 1 week Costa Rica itinerary gives you a good amount of time to explore 3 different places and isn’t too tiring. You actually get an excellent idea of the Central and South Pacific in one week!
Estimated 1 Week Costa Rica Itinerary Cost
For this 7 day Costa Rica itinerary, if you’re staying in hotels that cost about $80 a night, spending about $40 a day on meals and drinks, doing 2 tours around $100 each, you’re looking at spending roughly $1100 for the week per person. This doesn’t include the car rental which is roughly $400 a week depending on the model and time of year.
You can do it cheaper by staying in hostels/budget places, taking the bus and not doing as many tours as tours will eat up most of your budget. However, we do recommend doing at least a couple of tours since they take you to places you can’t go on your own such as the waterfalls outside of Jaco or Cano Island for snorkeling.
But for some places, you can do on your own since you will have a rental car. You can hike to Nauyaca waterfalls on your own ($8 entrance fee versus $90 something with a tour company) or go to the adventure parks outside of Jaco on your own without paying for extra transportation.
For more of an idea, check out this one week Costa Rica travel budget to see how much we spent in Jaco and Playas del Coco.
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Check out other Costa Rica itineraries!
2 week Costa Rica itinerary: Arenal, Monteverde, Santa Teresa and Playas del Coco
14 day itinerary: Tortuguero, Arenal, Monteverde, Guanacaste
10 day itinerary: San Jose, Puerto Viejo and Arenal
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