If you love waterfalls and hiking, this is an excellent Costa Rica itinerary for you. For this post, I put together a 10 days in Costa Rica itinerary, ideal for active travelers who love nature, hiking and waterfalls.
What to Know About this 10 Day Costa Rica Itinerary
It arrives in Liberia Airport, departs from San Jose Airport
However, if you have to depart from Liberia International Airport, it is about a 5 hour drive from the last destination, Manuel Antonio. In this case, you will need to add another day to this itinerary for traveling to the airport or travel on day 9 to Liberia.
This is a very active itinerary
You will be going to a new destination every couple days and it does require a significant amount of driving time. This 10 days in Costa Rica itinerary is ideal for active travelers who want to see and do as much as possible in a short amount of time.
Rio Celeste is a 7-8 kilometer hike roundtrip so you need to be in decent shape to walk that long through dirt paths.
Catarata del Toro is about a 20 minute walk with a lot of steps. However, they have a nice view point from the garden so you don’t necessarily need to walk all the way down if you can’t.
For Nauyaca waterfalls, there is a horse and 4×4 truck option so you don’t have to hike.
You need to rent a car and 4×4/4wd highly recommended
Due to the fast pace of this itinerary, you do need to rent a car. It will provide you the most flexibility and freedom to maximize your time in Costa Rica as there is no public transportation to any of the waterfalls. Get our Costa Rica car rental discount and extra freebies here!
Additionally, a 4wd or 4×4 will be much better, especially for Bajos del Toro.
You can visit all these waterfalls on your own, no guide needed
There is no reason to spend extra money booking guided tours when all these waterfalls and hikes can be done on your own.
What to Bring
A pair of good, sturdy hiking shoes. If visiting in rainy season, waterproof shoes is best.
Also bring sunscreen, mosquito repellent, hat, sunglasses, camera and hiking clothes. It is very humid in Costa Rica so bring clothes that dry fast and wick away moisture.
If you’re visiting in rainy season, a rainjacket and waterproof backpack is required.
Here is a map of the 10 days in Costa Rica itinerary. Click the sidebar to see the driving route and destinations.
Day 1: Liberia, go to Bijagua
Pick up your rental car after landing at Liberia International Airport (Guanacaste International Airport) and drive to Bijagua right away (about 1.5 hours). If you are arriving during daylight, you can stop at the Catarata Llanos de Cortes. This beautiful waterfall is about 20 minutes outside of Liberia in the town of Bagaces. They have a large parking lot and it’s just a 5 minute walk down to the waterfall. It’s a nice place to take some pictures, you don’t have to stay long.
Stay in Casitas Tenorio B&B (get 10% off in the link) and spend the rest of the day wandering their trails, spotting sloths and relaxing. This place is good for seniors or families.
If you’re looking for a more upscale hotel with more hotel services, Rio Celeste Hideaway is the best option.
Day 2: Rio Celeste
Wake up bright and early to do the Rio Celeste hike in Tenorio Volcano National Park. The park opens at 8 AM and the entrance fee is $12 USD per adult.
Tip: Single use plastics are not allowed in the national park anymore so make sure to bring your own reusable water bottle!
The entire hike is about 7 kilometers roundtrip (4 miles). Make sure to go all the way to the end to see the origin of the blue river.
Take your time on this hike to enjoy the views. There are also various view points that make for excellent photo opportunities.
Give yourself at least 4 hours for Rio Celeste.
What to Know About Rio Celeste
This area tends to rain more. Bring a waterproof rain jacket and waterproof backpack, especially if you have cameras. You can rent rain boots for $5 USD at the entrance.
If you are visiting in the rainy season, there may be times when the river is brown due to the sediment from the rains. If it rains really hard, they may close the park so be flexible if you’re visiting that time of year. Check conditions with your hotel or the Tenorio Volcano National Park Facebook page before you go. This happens whenever there is a tropical storm or wave, common in months of August – December.
However, the river does turn back to blue a day or two after the rains stop. Because of this, we usually recommend to stay overnight in Bijagua for the best chances to see the blue river.
If you visit during the months of December through April, the park is very crowded so arrive early to guarantee park tickets.
Today you’ll explore Bijagua. In the morning, head to the Heliconias Lodge to walk their trails and hanging bridges to see nature and the rainforest. Then afterwards, have lunch in town and head to Finca Verde for a walk to see sloths and other animals.
If you are a birder, you can skip the Heliconias hanging bridges to do an early morning birdwatching tour instead.
Day 4: Travel to Bajos del Toro
Today is a travel day. Bijagua to Bajos del Toro is about a 3.5 hour drive. You can book an Airbnb, stay at the cabinas at the Catarata del Toro park or splurge on El Silencio Lodge & Spa. If you stay at El Silencio, they have 3 waterfalls on their property which you can visit after you check in.
Day 5: Catarata del Toro
On day 5 of your 10 days in Costa Rica, you will visit one of the tallest waterfalls in Costa Rica, Catarata del Toro. Standing at an astonishing 270 feet (82 meters) in an extinct volcano crater, it’s also one of the most unique.
Once you arrive at the reserve, pay the $14 USD for adults entrance fee and head down to the waterfall. The walk takes about 20-30 minutes and has a lot of steps.
This private reserve also has a hummingbird garden, trails and a small cafeteria.
Tips for Catarata del Toro
Bring a camera, sunscreen and a hat. You don’t need to make reservations.
This area rains quite a bit so if you visit May – December, come prepared with your rain gear. When we visited end of June, it was really rainy in the morning but cleared up a bit before noon.
The walk down has many steps so take your time and go slow walking back up. There are a lot of nice view points of the waterfall from the top so take all day to enjoy this gorgeous area in Costa Rica.
If you want to hike a little bit more, check out the Blue Falls of Costa Rica. It is owned by the same people of Catarata del Toro so you can see both in one day!
Day 6: Travel to Manuel Antonio
On day 6, you’ll travel to Manuel Antonio. The drive is around 4 hours. In Manuel Antonio, you’ll enjoy beaches, rainforest and wildlife. Here you have a ton of hotels to choose from including many luxury hotels and vacation rentals.
Day 7, 8 and 9: Manuel Antonio and Nauyaca Waterfalls
Your last three full days in Costa Rica will be based in Manuel Antonio to explore, enjoy the beach and hike more. One of those days will be dedicated to the Nauyaca Waterfalls, one of the most impressive waterfalls in Costa Rica. The waterfall entrance is about a 40 minute drive from Manuel Antonio.
You have 3 ways to get to the waterfall. You can hike the 8 kilometers round trip (around 5 miles) through a hot and humid jungle. If you don’t want to hike, you can take a horseback riding tour. The last option is the 4×4 truck that takes you right to the waterfall.
Then one of the other days is dedicated to a visit to the Manuel Antonio National Park. Wander through this beautiful national park to hike trails, see the coast or enjoy the beach. You can hire a guide or visit the park on your own.
There you have it. 10 days in Costa Rica chasing waterfalls! And you get a little bit of beach time in there too!
Editing This Itinerary
Instead of staying in Manuel Antonio, you can stay in Jaco instead. This is a good switch if you prefer partying, bars and clubs because Jaco has much more of that than Manuel Antonio. Additionally, Jaco is only 1.5 hours from SJO Airport and 3 hours to LIR Airport so it’s a much shorter drive. Furthermore, it is a bit cheaper in Jaco for lodging and food.
Instead of Bajos del Toro, you can go to La Fortuna instead. Bajos del Toro is a teeny tiny rural farming town with bare infrastructure (good for off the beaten path travelers) whereas La Fortuna is a tourist town with good infrastructure. If you want to see a volcano, La Fortuna is a better option as the Arenal Volcano is right by it. In La Fortuna, you can see La Fortuna waterfall and do a lot more activities. La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio is about a 5 hour drive.
For more Costa Rica itinerary ideas, check the posts below!