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.
This is a very active itinerary
You will be going to a new destination every couple days and it does require a significant 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.
A couple of the waterfalls require a 5-8 kilometer roundtrip hike (3.1 to 4.9 miles). They are Catarata La Cangreja and Rio Celeste. You do need to be able to walk for that long on dirt paths and uneven ground.
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. No public transportation to the waterfalls. Get our Costa Rica car rental discount and extra freebies here!
Additionally, a 4wd or 4×4 will be much better for Bajos del Toro. This is a tiny rural town in the mountains so roads are steep and curvy. Definitely required if visiting in rainy season.
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, Stay in Hacienda Guachipelin
Pick up your rental car after landing at Liberia International Airport (Guanacaste International Airport). Then head to Hacienda Guachipelin, an adventure park and ranch close to the entrance of Rincon de la Vieja National Park. It’s about a 35 minute drive from the airport and you can stop in Liberia city to get some food or supplies.
Once at the lodge, you can relax or check out the property since it’s very big. If you’re arriving super early, you can relax in their hot springs or visit waterfall Oropendola.
Day 2: Catarata la Cangreja
Today you will hike to Catarta La Cangreja, a small but stunning waterfall deep in the Rincon de la Vieja National Park. You will get great views of the tropical dry forest along the way.
The entrance fee is $15 USD per adult.
After a couple miles in the hot dry heat, you’ll enter a lush forest and come upon a beautiful waterfall. You’re technically not supposed to swim in the pool anymore but you can dip your toes and relax on the rocks.
This is one of our favorite waterfalls in Costa Rica. If you visit in dry season (December – beginning of May), you will feel like you’re walking through a desert with such yellow grass and trees. But as you near the waterfall, you’ll notice the landscape change from yellow to green due to the many rivers in the area and eventually, you come upon this beautiful oasis.
Give yourself around 4 hours for this hike.
Top Tips for Catarata del Cangreja
Make sure to bring at least 2 liters of water and plenty of snacks. It’s very hot in this area and there are no facilities once you leave the national park entrance. There is a hose with drinkable water at the ticket office and we recommend bringing an insulated water bottle to keep your water nice and cold.
The trail is fairly flat the entire way. However, there is a short section where you need to walk a little bit on some rocks and tree roots.
Day 3: Travel to Bijaguaand Stop at Llanos de Cortez Waterfall
On day 3 of your 10 days in Costa Rica, you’ll travel to Bijagua. This is a small town close to Tenorio Volcano National Park. It’s about a 1.5 hour drive from Hacienda Guachipelin.
Stay in Casitas Tenorio B&B and spend the rest of the day wandering their trails, spotting sloths and relaxing (get 10% off the hotel in the previous link).
On y our way to Bijagua from Hacienda Guachipelin, stop at 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 3 minute walk down to the waterfall.
Day 4: Rio Celeste
Wake up bright and early to start the Rio Celeste hike. The park opens at 8 AM and the entrance fee is $12 USD per adult.
After about 30 minutes, you’ll reach the steps to go down to amazing Rio Celeste waterfall.
Tip: Single use plastics are not allowed in the national park anymore so make sure to bring your own reusable water bottle!
Then continue on to see the rest of the sky blue river. 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 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 February through April, the park is very crowded.
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!
Day 6: Catarata del Toro
On day 6 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.
Top 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 7: Travel to Manuel Antonio
On day 7, 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 and this is the best place to splurge since Manuel Antonio has some of the nicest hotels in Costa Rica.
Today you will visit 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. The entrance fee for hiking is $9 USD.
If you don’t want to hike, you can take a horseback riding tour which is around $79 USD per person and includes breakfast and lunch. Or you can ride a 4×4 truck right down to the waterfall.
There is another park called Nauyaca Waterfalls Park that offers a 4×4 truck.
Day 9: Rest
Today is your last full day of your 10 days in Costa Rica so relax and enjoy! You can visit Manuel Antonio National Park to see wildlife, go on an ocean cruise, go ziplining or just chill at the beach/hotel.
Day 10: Travel to San Jose/Fly Out
Manuel Antonio to SJO Airport is around 3 hours so make sure to leave early enough to get to the airport two hours before and also to return your rental car.