Have 10 days in Costa Rica? Awesome! That’s a nice amount of time to visit a couple destinations and not feel too rushed.
Here is a sample 10 day Costa Rica itinerary that takes you to the Caribbean, the city and the Central Pacific. Each of these destinations are easy to get to, are very different in terms of landscapes and activities and have beach, wildlife and rain forest. You will get to experience both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts too! Ideal for beach and wildlife lovers.
*This post has been updated April 6, 2020.*
What to Know About This 10 Days in Costa Rica Sample Itinerary
You can rent a car, book shuttles or take the bus
Since you are only visiting 3 touristic destinations, you can get around by public bus, shuttles or renting a car in Costa Rica. Renting a car gives more freedom but is not necessarily not the most wallet friendly option. Save on your car rental with our car rental discount here.
Then if you’re on a budget, you can take the bus. Just make sure to check the schedule, especially for the day you land since the last bus from San Jose to Puerto Viejo is at 4 PM and this ride takes around 5 hours. You can also take shuttles: private or shared.
Pack appropriately for San Jose and Puerto Viejo
Because the Caribbean side tends to rain more (June and November are rainiest months, October is the driest), bring a rain jacket/waterproof backpack. Even if you’re visiting in the normal dry season months (December to end of April), I highly recommend bringing some rain gear just in case for Puerto Viejo.
For San Jose, it is recommended to bring a jacket or sweater, long pants and closed toed shoes because it is the city.
At Manuel Antonio, bring your typical beach wear as it’s hot and humid on the coast all year round.
Costa Rica in 10 Days Map
Here is an interactive Google maps of this itinerary. You can find driving routes, hotels and activities recommendations.
Day 1: Land in San Jose in the morning, travel to Puerto Viejo
To maximize your time in Costa Rica for this itinerary, we recommend booking a flight that lands in San Jose International Airport before noon. Additionally, this 10 day Costa Rica itinerary needs to land in San Jose Airport (SJO Airport code). The drive from San Jose to Puerto Viejo is around 5 hours. We recommend landing in San Jose as early as possible to avoid traffic and driving late at night as the route is windy and very long with poor signage. You do not want to be driving this route in the dark.
You don’t need a 4×4 or 4wd for this route as it is completely paved.
**Driving tip** If you get a pre-paid Costa Rica SIM card or have an international data plan, use Waze for your GPS. Just make sure to open it when you have strong Wi-Fi so it can download all the prompts. It’ll help you navigate through San Jose and avoid the traffic.
Other transportation methods:
- Bus: There is a bus from San Jose to Puerto Viejo at 6, 10, 2 PM and 4 PM every day that takes 5 hours. It costs ~5500 CRC (~$11 USD) and the bus station is at the Terminal San Carlos Avenida 9. I recommend getting there as early as possible to buy your tickets beforehand because this is a very popular route and gets full quick.
- Shuttle: Shared shuttles from San Jose to Puerto Viejo are around $57 USD per person per route. They normally have one in the morning, one in the afternoon. For shared shuttles, check Ride CR, Easy Ride, Caribe Shuttle or Interbus.
- You can also book a private shuttle which will pick you up whenever you land and drop you off at your hotel. This costs around $250 USD for 1-5 people.
- Air: There is a local airport at Limon. From the airport, you can book a shuttle to Puerto Viejo which is around $20 USD and takes 1 hour.
If you are not driving and you land in San Jose in the late afternoon, you can book a private shuttle so you don’t have to drive to Puerto Viejo. Or you can stay a night in San Jose, leave early the next day to Puerto Viejo and you can cut out a day in San Jose to make up for it. We do not recommend to drive from San Jose to Puerto Viejo at night, especially in the rainy season. Remember, it gets dark in Costa Rica by 6 PM everyday so if you land in the late afternoon, we don’t recommend this drive.
Day 2 & 3: Puerto Viejo
Spend the next two days exploring Puerto Viejo, the gem of the Caribbean. Take in the funky Caribbean-Costa Rican culture, dance the night away or explore the lush jungle. There is so much to do in this area and is best for beach bumming, wildlife watching and relaxing.
Where to stay in Puerto Viejo
If you don’t have a car, it is best to stay in Puerto Viejo town. If you have a car, you can stay at the many beaches like Playa Negra, Playa Cocles, Chiquita or Punta Uva. Puerto Viejo is a party town though, so keep that in mind.
- Hotel Banana Azul: Oceanfront, adult only hotel on Playa Negra with a restaurant and a pool. There isn’t much at Negra but this hotel is really nice for those who want to stay somewhere quiet further away from town.
- Villas del Caribe: Great option for big groups as their rooms are spacious and have an ocean view. It’s on Playa Chiquita so it’s about a 5 minute drive to town.
- Lionfish Hostel: This hostel is right in town so the beach is a 2 minute walk and they have dorms and private rooms. They also have a restaurant. Breakfast not included.
You can also check out Airbnb (get $20 credit here), there are many apartments and casitas for rent. For my first trip to Costa Rica, we stayed in a little house near Puerto Viejo which was very convenient.
To get around Puerto Viejo without a car: you can rent a bike, motorcycle or scooter. Biking is the most popular form of transportation in this area.
What to do in Puerto Viejo
- Jaguar Rescue Center: If you want to see sloths up close, the Jaguar Rescue Center is the best place to learn about the rescue and rehabilitation of sloths. The center is by Playa Cocles, about 4 miles from Puerto Viejo.
- BriBri Chocolate Tour: The Limon area is home to indigenous communities so if you’re interested in learning their culture, you must take a tour to meet the BriBri people. They offer chocolate and medicinal tours so you can learn how they make cacao and how they use the various plants and trees they grow on their land.
- Cahuita National Park: Have a beach all to yourself at Cahuita National Park! This gorgeous park is free and you can see monkeys, toucans and sloths roaming free.
- Beach hopping: Spend a day exploring the gorgeous beaches in Puerto Viejo such as Punta Uva, Playa Chiquita and Playa Cocles.
- Surf: Cocles is a great surfing beach for lessons.
You can read about other things to do in Puerto Viejo here.
For places to eat, we love Soda Lidia’s Place. For the best Caribbean-Costa Rican food, that’s the place to go. Some dishes to try are rice and beans (with chicken is the best) and rondon (soup). Bread & Chocolate is also delicious and they have great breakfast.
Safety tips for Puerto Viejo: Don’t walk by yourself at night, don’t go to the beach at night and don’t leave your belongings on the beach.
Day 4: Travel back to San Jose
After a few days enjoying the Caribbean, it’s time to head back to San Jose and explore the Central Valley. If you’re taking the bus, the bus from Puerto Viejo to San Jose is at 9, 11 and 4 PM.
Since the next 2 days in this itinerary are in the Central Valley, you don’t necessarily have to stay in San Jose if you have a car. The city is too noisy and full of traffic so why stay there when there are beautiful hotels up in the mountains? The Central Valley cities of San Jose, Heredia, Alajuela and Cartago are all fairly close to each other so you have plenty of choices.
But if you want to explore San Jose, it is best to stay somewhere downtown so you can walk everywhere and not have to deal with traffic.
Where to Stay in San Jose
- Finca Rosa Blanca: This high end inn is also a coffee plantation so this is the perfect place for coffee lovers. They offer coffee tours on their property and have a spectacular view of the city. It’s up in the hills of Santa Barbara de Heredia.
- Pura Vida Retreat & Spa: This mountain top resort has an awesome view of the city from the hills of Alajuela and is popular with yogis as they offer workshops and classes.
- Hotel Alta Las Palomas: This hotel is up in the hills of Santa Ana in San Jose. Decorated European style with only 23 rooms.
- Gran Hotel: This hotel is right in downtown San Jose so you’re close to museums, restaurants and shops and you can walk everywhere.
Day 5 & 6: The Central Valley
For days 5 and 6 of your 10 day Costa Rica itinerary, you can explore the Central Valley. I know a lot of people automatically think “I don’t want to stay in the city in Costa Rica!” when you mention San Jose but there is so much to the area than just the city. Not quite convinced? Here are some reasons why you should visit the Central Valley.
You’ll get to experience the local culture and city life plus there are a ton of nature and outdoor activities just one hour from the city!
Things to do in the Central Valley
- San Jose: Here are some things to do in San Jose like museums, local markets and more. You can also take a city tour to learn more. Honestly, you only need 1 full day in San Jose to get a really good feel for it and to visit the markets, museums and see downtown. Your second full day can be for something close to the city like a coffee tour as mentioned below.
- Coffee tour: If you love coffee, you have to try Costa Rican coffee and learn how it’s processed since it’s quite special. We love the Doka Coffee Tour. Britt and Naranjo are two other good ones in the area.
Day 7: Travel to Manuel Antonio
After spending a couple days in the mountains/city, it’s time to hit the beach again! This time you’ll head to the Central Pacific coast to the popular Manuel Antonio for the last couple days of your 10 day Costa Rica itinerary. It’s only a 2 hour drive or you can take a bus from San Jose to Manuel Antonio/Quepos (Calle 5, Ave 4, Terminales Transportes Tracopa. 7, 10, 2 PM, 4 PM and 5 PM).
Since Manuel Antonio is very touristic, there are a ton of hotel options. If you want to splurge and stay at a luxury hotel, this is the place to do it!
Itinerary recommendation: if you don’t want to go to another beach town, consider La Fortuna for rainforest, wildlife, adventure and Arenal Volcano. It is around a 4 hour drive from Puerto Viejo. For somewhere a less touristic with similar activities, check out Sarapiqui (3 hour drive).
Hotels in Manuel Antonio
- Hotel La Mariposa: This high end hotel has a gorgeous view of the park and has several infinity pools. They have modern and rustic rooms.
- La Mansion Inn: This is a boutique hotel that has a view of both Manuel Antonio National Park and Playa Biesanz on the other side.
- Tico Tico Villas: Spacious studio-apartments with a beautiful tropical garden.
- Jungle Beach Hotel: Clean and spacious rooms, close to the beach.
- Selina Hostel: Great hostel in Manuel Antonio for backpackers.
- Tulemar: This is a luxury home vacation rental property with luxury houses and one bedroom bungalows, perfect for families, big groups or couples.. It has amenities like 24/7 hour concierge, their own beach and an exclusive sloth walk.
Day 8 & 9: Manuel Antonio
Spend your last couple days in Costa Rica taking in as much lush jungle and beautiful beaches as you can. Manuel Antonio is not a big destination but there are many things to do whether you want to hike, see wildlife or simply relax.
What to do in Manuel Antonio
We have a post about things to do in Manuel Antonio but a must do is to visit the national park. Take a guided walk in Manuel Antonio National Park or relax at the beach. Add some more adventure and go ziplining, parasailing, horseback riding or kayak through the Damas Mangroves.
If you want to do tours, get our Manuel Antonio tours discount to save $$!
Day 10: San Jose
It’s time to head back to San Jose and say goodbye to Costa Rica. This 10 day Costa Rica itinerary should give you an amazing time in Costa Rica discovering the Caribbean, exploring the Central Valley and relaxing at the Central Pacific coasts. You get to experience mountain, wildlife, nature, beach and rain forest as well as see some Costa Rica wildlife!
Remember, it is about a 3 hour drive from Manuel Antonio to San Jose and you need to be at the airport 2 hours before your flight. If timing doesn’t work out to leave on Day 10, you may need to go back to San Jose on Day 9 and stay the night before your flight. Plan accordingly and plan smart!
Estimated 10 Day Costa Rica Itinerary Cost
If you’re staying at hotels that are around $100 USD a night, spending about $40 USD a day for food and doing a few tours, your estimated budget for this 10 day itinerary will be around $1300 USD per person (no flights or transportation included).
Check out more Costa Rica itineraries here!
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