Costa Rica has always been a popular vacation spot and now that we’ve been, we can see why: it’s easy, laid back, and fun! We were looking for a short trip where we could unwind from the craziness of our full time jobs and relax at the beach, while also getting a little adventure in. Costa Rica is the perfect place for that, and an easy recommendation not just for couples, but for families as well!
Costa Rica is a relatively small country, so traveling between cities doesn’t take a lot of time out of your schedule, whether you take domestic flights or rent a car. But with only one week and with beaches on both the Pacific and Caribbean, jungles and mountains and volcanos, how do you choose where to go? That was a tough question for us, which we answered by making a list of our top priorities: sleeping in a treehouse, seeing sloths in the wild, doing some hiking, and spending some time at the beach.
We found the ideal treehouse first, and since it was near Arenal Volcano National Park, we decided to do our hiking there. We read that Manuel Antonio National Park was the best place to see sloths and also had some pretty incredible beaches, and it was near the Finca 6 Archaeological Site where we could see the mysterious ancient Costa Rican stone spheres (if you know us, we can’t pass up ancient sites). Bingo, the perfect one week itinerary.
ItineraryDay 1 – Arrived in San Jose, picked up rental car, drove to Treehouses Hotel
Day 2 – Spent the day at the Treehouses Hotel
Day 3 – Drove to La Fortuna, walked the Mistico Hanging Bridges, walked around the town and shops
Day 4 – Hiked Cerro Chato Volcano, pool time at Casa Luna Spa
Day 5 – Drove to Hotel San Bada at Manuel Antonio National Park, went to the beach
Day 6 – Spent the day in Manuel Antonio National Park
Day 7 – Drove to Palmar Sur to see the ancient stone spheres, drove to San Jose
Day 8 – Spent the day in San Jose and the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum
Day 9 – Flew home
I know what you’re thinking: rent a car in a foreign country?! And our answer is: YES! If you ever wanted to drive in a foreign country, Costa Rica is a great, safe place to do so. The driving was calm, the roads were good, and the navigating was easy. In our pre-trip research we found out that most tourists see the country this way because it’s cheap, safe, and you’ll see a lot of fun sites along the way!
Flights to San Jose are easy to come by and should range about $250–$450 from major US hubs. Once you’re in the country, you’ll have to decide how you’re going to get around. Whether flying from city to city or driving, be sure to factor this cost into your budget. We did meet quite a few backpackers who were taking buses and hitchhiking, a good option for budget travelers who have time to spare (not if you’re on a tight schedule like we were).
Below are the hotels we stayed at, but there are definitely cheaper and more expensive lodging options in every place we stayed. We usually opt for something a little more private and comfortable than a hostel and were surprised at how nice all of the hotels were. But if you’re on a budget trip, backpacker hostels could be as cheap as $20 a night.
Breakfasts were included at all of our hotels. Other meals can be pretty cheap, around $5 at the Sodas (little fast food joints that serve “tipicos” – typical meals of rice and beans, chicken and plantains), or can be pretty expensive, $15, at some of the restaurants geared to tourists. We tried a little of both! And of course, you’ll want to take into consideration having a little coffee break each day because there’s a reason so much coffee is exported out of Costa Rica—it’s freaking good.
Our spending on activities was really limited to National Park entry fees ($10-$20 each) but most people participate in one or more of the really cool activities Costa Rica has to offer: zip lining, water rafting, fishing trips, etc. These can be pretty expensive so make a list of your priorities and check on prices before you go!
What to DoWe didn’t get to do all of these things, but we don’t want to leave out all the cool stuff Costa Rica has to offer, so here’s a more extensive list of what you CAN do and see, just to give you an idea of what kind of trip you could take and so that you can pick out your top priorities to better plan your trip.
Take a guided nature trip
Kayak through mangrove forests
Stay at an eco resort
Soak in natural volcanic hot springs
Visit a spa, get a massage
Tour a coffee or cocoa plantation
Zip-line over the jungle
Surf, scuba dive, snorkel or fish at one of the beaches
Hike to a waterfall
Watch turtles hatch
Volunteer at an animal sanctuary or rehabilitation center
Sleep in a treehouse
Bravely walk over jungle suspension bridges
See the mysterious ancient stone spheres
Gawk over all the gold artifacts at the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum
Visit a market in San Jose
There’s so much to do in beautiful Costa Rica, so stay tuned to read more about our trip, then grab your family and start planning your own!
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