Volcanoes and cloud forests are two things Costa Rica does best. Why not combine them all in one week? I put together the ultimate Costa Rica 7 day itinerary for the perfect vacation!
If you’ve ever dreamed of soaring on cables ziplining through the clouds, riding an ATV through the jungle, chasing waterfalls, and soaking in the volcano heated hot springs this Costa Rica 7 day itinerary is for you! Here’s my perfect Costa Rica 7 day itinerary to maximize your time in the La Fortuna and Monteverde regions of Costa Rica.
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At a Glance: Costa Rica 7 Day Itinerary
- Day 1: Laz Paz Waterfalls Garden
- Day 2: ATV Tour, La Fortuna Waterfall, Coffee and Chocolate Tour
- Day 3: Hanging Bridges and Hiking in Arenal National Park
- Day 4: Soak in the Natural Hot Springs
- Day 5: Drive to Monteverde, Rio Celeste Waterfall, Guided Night Walk
- Day 6: Zipline, Hanging Bridges, Coffee Plantation Tour
- Day 7: Bird Watching at Curi Cancha Reserve,
Where this Itinerary Covers
This Costa Rica 7 day itinerary includes two different locations – La Fortuna (Arenal Volcano) region and the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. If you’re looking to see more of Costa Rica, such as Manuel Antonio, I would recommend 11-14 days.
Best Time to Visit Costa Rica
You’ll find the best weather in Costa Rica with the most sun and less rain from mid-December through April. The weeks leading up to Christmas and Easter is when you’ll see the most crowds with higher hotel rates.
The best time to visit is the second week of January after the holiday crowds went home. We had sunny days along with some afternoon showers that passed through quickly.
May-November is considered low season with more rain, but still very pleasant in the mountains. We were advised by locals to avoid visiting northern Costa Rica in September and October due to the weather and road conditions. Because of the high rainfall many businesses and roads shut down. If you can only travel to Costa Rica in September or October, choose to visit to the Caribbean coast rather than La Fortuna or Monteverde.
Is Costa Rica Safe to Visit?
Yes! Costa Rica has a very low crime rate. Use good judgment, and you likely won’t run into any problems. Costa Rica is a perfect place for solo travelers, families, senior travelers, and large groups.
Costa Rica Airports
Costa Rica has two international airports, San Jose (SJO) and Liberia (LIR). San Jose has more flight options as its Central America’s second largest airport. If you’re coming from the U.S. many airlines offer direct flights from major cities to SJO and LIR.
You’ll find endless options of airport hotels that offer free airport shuttles and breakfast. If you’re renting a car, you can pick up your rental car at the airport and drive to a nearby hotel.
Renting a Car in Costa Rica
If you’re comfortable with driving, renting a car is the most efficient way to travel around Costa Rica.
3 Important Car Rental Tips
- Plan Ahead for Navigation. If you plan on driving, be aware that roads are not always marked clearly. It’s important to have an off-line map of where you’re going downloaded beforehand. Download an offline maps with Google Maps of Costa Rica in advance.
- Take the Rental Car Insurance. Even if your own insurance covers a rental car, still take the full insurance. It’s worth the money when you can rest at ease knowing that you won’t be hassled for a crack on the windshield or a scratch on the fender. You’re required by Costa Rican law to take the rental car company’s collision damage waiver and third-party insurance, regardless of what your own credit card covers.
- Rent a 4WD Vehicle. If you’re following this Costa itinerary to Monteverde, you’ll appreciate having a 4WD vehicle. A portion of the road to Monteverde isn’t paved, and potholes are the size of bathtubs! Remember that manual-transmissions vehicles are standard, and you’ll need to request an automatic in advance.
Costa Rica 7 Day Itinerary: La Fortuna and Monteverde
Day 1: Laz Paz Waterfalls Garden
Your Costa Rica 7 day itinerary begins driving three hours from San Jose to La Fortuna which is home to the Arenal Volcano. On your drive to La Fortuna, make a stop at La Paz Waterfall Gardens located just an hour from the San Jose airport.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens
The La Paz Waterfall Gardens is the perfect a one-stop experience that will help you cross a number of different sights and activities off of your Costa Rica bucket list. I wanted to see La Paz originally because of their five stunning waterfalls, but once I was there I loved the chance to see the wildlife up close at their animal sanctuary.
Have you ever fed a toucan, or held a butterfly in your hand? If you haven’t …now you can! La Paz has a massive aviary with colorful toucans flying all around. They also have largest butterfly garden in Costa Rica.
Their animal sanctuary has monkeys, toucans, sloths, jungle cats, parrots, snakes, frogs, and other animals. I’d like to point out that the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment donated these animals which were confiscated as pets or injured to the sanctuary. Under no circumstances is La Paz a type of zoo. In fact, zoos are outlawed in Costa.
Entrance tickets are $48 for adults and $32 for children. I would allocate around 2 ½ – 3 hours to see the animal sanctuaries, visit all five waterfalls and have lunch.
Dinner at Gingerbread Restaurant ($$-$$$)
After a long drive, I know you’re ready to relax and enjoy a nice dinner. If you decide to stay in Nuevo Arenal (Lake Arenal), have dinner at the Gingerbread Restaurant.
The menu at Gingerbread changes daily- is that a good sign or what! You’ll meet Chef Eyal himself who prepares his food with nothing but the best local ingredients and love. Ask him for his recommendations of the day, and you won’t be disappointed.
Portions are large and can be ordered as a half size if you’re traveling with just one other person. This was my favorite restaurant of our trip. We even came back the following day for dessert and coffee.
Day 2: ATV Tour, La Fortuna Waterfall, Coffee and Chocolate Tour
Power Wheels ATV Adventures
Book an early morning ATV with Power Wheels ATV on their Jungle & Waterfall tour. This tour is awesome because you maximize your time and combine your ATV adventure with a trip to the La Fortuna Waterfall.
Power Wheels ATV Adventures is the only 100% off-road private ATV company in La Fortuna. You won’t have to waste time waiting on groups that you get with other larger tours.
The guides at Power Wheels ATV Adventures were very friendly. They even spotted a sloth for us up in a tree while we were driving- amazing! We had plenty of stops along the way so we could take photos of the volcano and wildlife. The tour is four hours altogether and includes lunch at Restaurante El Coloso Arenal – which was delicious.
Cost for the Jungle & Waterfall Tour is $198 per rider, or an extra $50 if two people share one ATV. (Click here for more info)
Visit the La Fortuna Waterfall
No visit to La Fortuna is complete without visiting the beautiful La Fortuna Waterfall. If you book your ATV trip with Power Wheels ATV you can opt in to add a visit to the waterfall on your tour (which I highly recommend).
You’ll hike down almost 500 steps to the base of the waterfall where you can take pictures and swim in the pool under the waterfall. Allocate for 25-40 minutes when you start the climb back up.
Lunch at Restaurante El Coloso Arenal ($)
With glowing reviews, this popular spot is loved by locals and tourists! I’d recommend you order one of the traditional casado meal and a fresh fruit smoothie.
A casado is a dish that typically includes rice, beans, and meat – it could be fish, chicken or meat -, with a green or pasta salad. The casado has been a fundamental dish in the diet of Costa Ricans, and you’ll see different versions offered all around the country.
All their casados at Restaurante El Coloso Arenal looked excellent, but I highly recommend the casado with chicken filet. Don’t miss out on their smoothies! I ordered a second smoothie because they were so good!
Costa Rica is world-renowned for its delicious coffee and chocolate. If you can’t choose between your love for chocolate and your love for coffee – this is the tour for you! Don Juan Tours combine the best of both worlds with coffee tasting and chocolate making in just two hours.
You’ll start the tour with a deep dive into the history of coffee in Costa Rica. Did you know that around 1.5 million bags of beans are exported every year!?
You’ll see examples of the life cycle of coffee beginning with the seed, to the plant, to the fruit. At the end, you’ll sample blends from three different types of coffee and see the roasting process of the beans.
The chocolate portion of the tour is very interactive! You take your shot at creating your own chocolate from cacao beans that you grind up yourself. After you make your own chocolate, you sample Don Juan’s chocolate-covered coffee beans, chocolate bars, melted chocolate with fruit, and hot chocolate.
Costa Rican chocolate and coffee beans will put a smile on anyone’s face back home. For a unique souvenir look for a “Costa Rican coffee maker”. These coffee makers are actually used all throughout Costa Rica, and the guides at Don Juan will show you how to make coffee using one. The filter is made of cloth, and unlike paper filters, it can be washed and reissued over and over. You can find the coffee makers in souvenir stores, and the filters can be bought in local supermarkets.
Dinner at Don Rufino ($$$)
Named after one of the city’s founders, Don Rufino is one of the best restaurants in La Fortuna for Costa Rican and international fusion dishes.
A popular dish is Rufino Grandmother’s Chicken. It’s covered in a tangy barbeque sauce wrapped and roasted in banana leaves and infused with chocolate, tarragon and coffee. Their fresh ceviche and cocktails were also excellent. The restaurant vibe feels trendy and inviting.
I’d recommend a reservation for dinner during peak season. (Click here to book online)
Day 3: Hanging Bridges and Arenal National Park
Book a guided tour at Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges for the best bird-watching this rain forest has to offer. Mistico has 6 different hanging bridges – all together at different heights to let you see the forest from new perspectives.
Thanks to our guide, we were able to see howler monkeys, owls, tarantualas (eeek!), and so many different species of birds through his telescope. I never would have spotted these animals with just my eyes, and with the help of a guide (and their telescope), it really let’s you feel connected to the rainforest. Not only will the guides help you take photos of any animals through their telescope, they’ll offer to help your group take any photos on the bridge too.
A natural history guided tour is $40, and the regular entrance to the bridges without a guide is $26. For only $14 more, it’s worth the extra money to see the animals and learn the history with a guide. (Click here for more info)
Lunch at La Choza de Laurel $$
La Choza de Laurel is a lively open-air restaurant with picnic tables and a cigar shop storefront to replicate an old Costa Rican village. The staff wears traditional costumes which gives the restaurant a nice cultural feel.
Order the “volcano” rice, the black bean soup with homemade tortillas, and a pina colada that will make you smile. If that doesn’t convince you that this is the real deal, banana splits are served in pineapples!
Hike the 1968 Lava Trail
The 1968 Lava Trail will give you the closest views of the Arenal Volcano. It’s called the “1968 Trial” because that was the year the volcano has its first major eruption. From 1968 to 2010, it erupted on a regular basis, but never again with the force of the 1968 eruption. From 2010 onward it has remained in a resting phase.
The trails are unique because you’ll actually be able to walk along old lava flows that have now hardened into rock. You’ll see the volcanic boulders scattered around that were shot into the air when the volcano erupted. Near the lava flow and volcano viewing area, you can see a nice view of Lake Arenal to the west.
Plan for a moderate hike, and pack water, sunscreen and bug spray. Admission is $15 per person for a self-guided visit.
Dinner at Que Rico $$$
In Spanish “Que Rico” means “how delicious” which perfectly describes how you’ll feel at this lovely Italian-inspired restaurant. They’re known for the brick-oven pizzas. The “Volcan” is a local favorite made with ham, mushrooms, bacon, and pepperoni. Que Rico has large glass windows that open out into the garden with a view of the Arenal Volcano to create the perfect ambiance.
Day 4: Soak in the Natural Hot Springs
Tabacon Hot Springs
Spend a day unwinding in the thermal waters heated by the Arenal Volcano. After the 1968 eruption, natural hot springs were formed and since then they have become a must-do for anyone visiting Arenal. Their are so many hot springs resorts to choose from around Arenal, but at Tabacon it feels as if you’ve stepped into a magical rainforest.
Tabacon is my recommendation for anyone looking for a truly memorable hot spring experience in Arenal. Tabacon has beautiful lush gardens and pools that have been landscaped around the Tabacon river, creating a peaceful ambiance for guests. Since the pools are created from the river, Tabacon is the only hot spring in Arenal that’s truly natural. Tabacon doesn’t use pumps or systems to reheat or circulate the water.
The river-pool temperatures range from 72 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Also worth noting is that sulfur content is low, which means that the water is free of strong and undesirable smells.
Day Pass Tips
I suggest you take a full day to unwind on your vacation and spend a whole day at the hot springs. The day pass we purchased included lunch and dinner.
Day pass reservations do book up in advance during peak season (December-April) so it’s best to reserve yours in advance. Despite our visiting during peak season, we never felt crowded at Tabacon. Be sure to check their website when you book your reservation to see if they’re offering any promotional rates for a spa credit included in your day pass.
If you want to ensure you have time to enjoy the hot springs without any crowds I would suggest booking a night at Tabacon. Hotel guests are allowed to enter the hot springs two hours earlier (8am) before day pass reservations.
A full day pass (10am-10pm) including lunch and dinner is $105 per person.
Day 5: Drive to Monteverde with a Stop at Rio Celeste Waterfall and Take a Guided Night Walk
Rio Celeste Waterfall
Imagine a river of turquoise waters that ends in a sparkling blue waterfall. Rio Celeste gets its breathtaking blue color from the combination of sulfur and calcium carbonate in the water. While always stunning, the river has the brightest blue hues during dry season (February-April).
Locals like to tell the story of a river turning blue when God dipped his brush in its waters while he was painting the sky. Even though we know the science behind it now, it doesn’t take away its beauty one bit.
Parking is $4 per car. The Tenorio Volcano National Park entrance fee for adults is $12.
Take a Night Walk with a Guide
I was surprised when I learned that over 60% of the wildlife found in the Costa Rica rainforest is nocturnal! You’re missing out on seeing so many different animals, insects, and birds if you don’t take a night tour.
We arranged our night tour with our hotel Hidden Canopy. It was just a private tour exclusively to hotel guests. Our guide Koki was incredible. In one night we saw frogs, spiders, snakes, sloths, and toucans. He also helped us capture great photos.
Our night tour was $35. If you’re not staying at a hotel that will help you arrange a night walk, I recommend you check out Three Brothers Tours.
Dinner at El Sabor Tico $
A local spot with delicious casados, guacamole and great smoothies. The portions are generous, and the prices are low- it doesn’t get better!
Day 6: Zipline Adventure, Hanging Bridges, and a Coffee Plantation Tour
Can you really go to Costa Rica and not go ziplining?! Start your morning off with adrenaline on a zipline flying through the forest canopy. There’s no better place to zipline in Costa Rica than Monteverde. The views in the cloud forest are simply spectacular.
Just up the road from Sky Adventures is Selvatura. Selvatura is a nature-themed adventure park. It’s a great place to combine multiple activities in one if you’re short on time. In addition to the hanging brides, you can visit a hummingbird garden, frog and reptile house, and zipline.
Unlike the hanging bridges in Arenal, guided tours at Selvatura aren’t as common. The Arenal hanging bridges are better for wildlife, but Monteverde has better views. These bridges go all the way to 180 feet on a 2-mile (3km) walk. These are the longest bridges in the country, and they run through the same canopy as the zipline. (Click here for more info)
Lunch at Raulito’s Pollo
Raulito’s is the perfect quick lunch stop. They have perfectly seasoned and crispy rotisserie chicken that’s so good!
Raulito’s is a small no-frills stand with bar stools you can sit at and watch the rotisserie cook. Order the Pollo Asado con Papas Fritas (chicken with french fries)-and for only $4 you’ll be full and happy!
El Cafetal Organic Coffee Tour
Here’s your chance to visit a working Costa Rica coffee farm! At El Cafetal you’ll visit the coffee farm of local man, Victor Ramírez, and see how coffee is produced from seed to cup right on his farm.
Victor grows all his coffee plants organically. You’ll have the chance to roast beans over a pan and grindcoffee the traditional way using a hand cranked grinder! At the end you’ll sample coffee, and have the chance to purchase beans directly from the farm. Unlike larger coffee tours, El Cafetal feels personal and more interactive.
We booked this tour through our hotel, Hidden Canopy, and I recommend you schedule arranged transportation to/from your hotel. The roads are challenging to drive, and the coffee farm is 30 minutes away from Monteverde. You can book the tour directly here.
Dinner at Soda Bonanza
Sodas are what Costa Ricans call their local restaurants. They’re typically smaller, but it’s the best place to experience what life is like eating out like a local.
Soda Bonanza was recommended to us by our hotel, and it proved to be an amazing little hidden gem.
The owner stopped by our table to explain the menu and make us feel welcomed. I recommend the passion fruit chicken casado, ceviche, and a fresh fruit smoothie. All the portions are huge! Ditch the tourists spots for a local experience.
Day 7: Bird Watching at Curi Cancha Reserve
Take a Guided Tour through the Curi Cancha Reserve
Did you know that the number of wildlife in Costa Rica represents nearly 4% of the total species estimated worldwide?! That’s so much wildlife one little country.
I never considered myself a lover of birds before I went to Monteverde. Monteverde has beautiful birds, and is home to the resplendent quetzal bird that’s famous in this region of Costa Rica. Costa Rica has over 800 species of birds, and you can see most of them in Curi Cancha.
It’s so important here to hire a guide when visiting this reserve. All but one of the birds we saw were high up in the trees, and we never would have been able to find them – let alone spot them without a guide and their telescope. We were lucky to see quetzals, toucans, hummingbirds, and a baby sloth!
I recommend you wear hiking shoes because it can be a bit muddy, and it’s not fun to feel like you’re sliding around all the time! Our hotel helped us arranged a guided tour for $70 per person, but they can also be booked through the reserves site here.
Lunch at Taco Taco $
If you need a break from casados – come to Taco Taco for a taste of Tex-Mex in Costa Rica. This was my favorite restaurant in Monteverde! Order the homemade chips and guac, ceviche tacos, or the baja avocado tacos. Just a word of advice, the service can take a little longer when they’re busy at lunch. Try to allocate some extra time.
Where to Stay
Know Before You Go
- Documentation Requirements: You’ll be given a 90-day tourist visa on arrival. Outside of having a booked round-trip ticket, and a passport that’s valid for at least six months after your date of entry, you won’t need to bring additional documentation.
- Currency: Their currency is the Costa Rican colón. All of the tourist prices are listed in USD, and USD is widely accepted. I would still advise exchanging a small amount of colón as a precaution. Make sure to download the XE app so you can always stay up to date with the exchange rates.
- Water and Food Safety: Costa Rica is the only Central American country where you don’t need to worry about drinking the water. The water is potable in all but the most remote regions. There’s no problem enjoying the fruit, or other local products that are sold on stands along the road.
- Outlets: Costa Rica are 120 volts, with standard U.S. two-prong plugs, three prongs if grounded. If you’re coming from the U.S. you won’t need to worry about an adaptor.
- Credit Card Friendly: During our stay, we never came across a restaurant, or business that didn’t accept credit cards. Smaller restaurants preferred we paid in cash which we happily did, but we never were obligated to pay cash.
- What to Pack: Hiking shoes, hiking sandals, rain jacket, athletic wear, backpack, swimsuit, travel sized hair conditioner, and water shoes are must-haves. Bring along your own sunscreen and bug spray too. If you plan on visiting the hot springs, or go white water rafting, it’s best to have a protective waterproof case for your cell phone.
Embrace the “Pura Vida”
Pura Vida means Pure Life, and is a way of life in Costa Rica. Costa Ricans, or “Ticos”, as they happily refer to themselves will use this phrase with each other and visitors to say hello, goodbye, and anything in between. It essentially means don’t stress, enjoy life, don’t worry, and be thankful. Embrace it and enjoy the Pura Vida lifestyle!
There you have it – my one week guide to Costa Rica in a nutshell! No matter how you choose to spend your time, Costa Rica will leave you with a greater appreciation for this beautiful world we live in.
Have you been to Costa Rica? Share your favorite parts of the country with in the comments below! If you haven’t been to Costa Rica yet, let me know what questions you have, or what you thought of this article!