In more than twenty years we’ve covered 25,000 km researching and updating the travel map we publish. We highly recommend anyone planning a Costa Rica vacation at least considers following the best routes we found.
Tweak, adjust and modify to your heart’s content but you can’t go wrong starting with one of these outlines.
You can do any of them in 7-10 days and on any budget from $500 per person (backpacker’s & public buses) to ~ $1,800 per person (first class luxury full service travel).
Arenal Volcano >> rafting, rappelling, hot springs + Monteverde Cloud Forest >> zip-lines, cloud forest, hiking + Tamarindo Beach >> surfing, turtle nesting, sand
We love this trip because it focuses on active adventures while visiting the three ecological regions that Costa Rica is famous for – rainforest, cloud forest and tropical dry forest backing a great beach. The Volcano, Monteverde, and the beaches of Guanacaste are at the top of most “must see” lists and this route takes in all three highlights.
Rincón de la Vieja >> slot canyon tubing, zip-lines, hiking + Bijagua/Tenorio Volcano >> Celeste waterfall, hiking, hot springs + Hermosa Beach >> swimming, beachfront hotels
So when I came up with that catchy name (we got bored just calling trips by the destinations included so now they all have catchy names) I was thinking that “Both Worlds” were the rain forest and the tropical dry forest. Then as I started describing our route I realized that you can visit the cloud forest at Tenorio, and there are mangrove forests near the beach, and the beach is a whole other world too. The Best of Five Worlds just sounded stupid so “both” it remains.
This itinerary is a hiker and walker’s dream. Don’t get me wrong, it can be a fantastic route with great thing to see and do without walking more than a few blocks but it’s even better if you love trails. Sue and I like nothing better, and good trails are very hard to find in Costa Rica. We’ve done more or less this same itinerary four or five times.
San Gerardo >> cloud forest, paramo, peaks + Hacienda Baru >> “private beach,” wildlife refuge, mangroves, Nauyaca & Diamante waterfalls + Manuel Antonio >> ocean views, swimming, wildlife walks
We start off with two (well really three but we’ll get to that) amazing and amazingly different undiscovered natural destinations then finish off with relaxation and comfort at Costa Rica’s most upscale and popular wildlife viewing spot.
There are actually two San Gerardos about two hours apart. They share a lot of similarities and fit into this itinerary equally well so I thought I’d include both and let you decide.
Pacuare River >>rafting, rainforest, indigenous + Puerto Viejo >> Caribbean beaches, sloths + Tortuguero >>wildlife water trails, sea turtles
The Pacuare is one of the top ten rafting rivers in the world. Add the overnight in a rainforest lodge cut off from from roads, cell service and the world and it’s a once in a lifetime experience. I feel a little guilty invoking “once in a lifetime” considering how many times I’ve gone back, but every time I’ve found something more incredible than the last.
The river is a hard act to follow but the Caribbean destinations of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and Tortuguero hold their own. Spend a few days around Puerto Viejo relaxing under a palm, enjoying the restaurants, hiking in the Gandoca Manzanillo wildlife refuge, or even surfing before heading back to nature at Tortuguero and its canoe and kayak water trails and of course sea turtles nesting.