The Ultimate Costa Rica Itinerary for 5 Days: Everything You Need to Know

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Heading to Costa Rica, but short on time? Even with just a handful of days, you can still pack in a lot of punch in this incredible country, thanks to its steaming volcanoes, stunning beaches, and wildlife galore. 

Here’s the ultimate Costa Rica itinerary for 5 days, including where to stay and how to get around, so you can make the most of your time in this tropical paradise.

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Howler monkey in Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica
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Table of Contents


How to Get to Costa Rica

If you’re coming here for just 5 days, I’d imagine there’s a pretty solid chance you’re flying in. The two best airports to fly into for this Costa Rica itinerary will either be San Jose, located in the central part of the country, or Liberia, located in the northwestern section. 

Aerial view of mountains and clouds in Costa Rica

If you follow the itinerary that we suggest below, you’ll have a slightly shorter total drive time if you fly into San Jose (a little over 10 hours), as compared to Liberia (a little over 11 hours). However, given that it’s not too horribly different, regardless of which airport you fly into, I’d suggest prioritizing heading to the city that you can find the most affordable airfare to—we swear by finding the cheapest flights on Skyscanner!

How to Get Around Costa Rica

Thankfully, Costa Rica has awesome infrastructure for tourists, including several ways to get around the country. 

Getting Around Costa Rica with a Rental Car

With such a short period of time in Costa Rica, I’d STRONGLY recommend getting a rental car while you’re there, which will allow you the flexibility and freedom to go wherever you want, whenever you want. 

During my husband’s and my recent visit, we rented one for the entire duration of our trip and I’m SO glad we did—we got to squeeze in seeing way more of the country than we otherwise would have. Almost all of the roads that we drove on were paved and well-maintained and, as compared to some other countries where we’ve driven around in (ahem, looking at you, India!), Costa Rican drivers are MUCH safer and predictable. 

Woman sitting on top of an SUV looking at the Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna in Costa Rica

Word of warning, though—getting a rental car in Costa Rica definitely isn’t the cheapest and, depending on which site you book on, it can be easy to fall for a ridiculously low price online, only to be surprised by a bunch of outrageously priced (and sometimes, mandatory!) add-ons, like third party liability insurance, once you’re actually at the counter. 

I’ve had a good experience renting through the company, Discover Cars, which is an online aggregator that allows you to easily compare prices of different rental companies—and most importantly, select a booking that already includes third party liability coverage, which is required under Costa Rican law. 

Car parked in Costa Rica

Just be aware that third party liability coverage only covers the damage that you cause in an accident to the other person’s vehicle—and not your own—but, thankfully, Discover Cars also offers reasonably priced full coverage insurance options (which are optional under Costa Rican law), to cover damage to your rental car.

For what it’s worth, whenever we rent a car in a developing country, we always opt to get as much coverage as possible (regardless of which car rental agency we book with), so that I can spend my time climbing volcanoes or jumping into waterfalls or whatever, and not being worried about someone breaking into or stealing our car. 

Getting Around Costa Rica with Shuttles

Alternatively, you can definitely get around using shuttles and tour groups—given that these can definitely add up, though, I’d strongly suggest doing the math to figure out if renting a car would just be cheaper!

Here’s some suggestions for transportation to get from San Jose and Liberia to the other stops on this Costa Rica Itinerary:

Van parked next to a stop sign in Costa Rica

From San Jose to La Fortuna, consider:

From Liberia to La Fortuna, consider:

From La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio, consider:

Purple Volkswagen bus parked on a cobblestone street in Costa Rica

From Manuel Antonio to San Jose, consider:

From Manuel Antonio to Liberia, consider:

Costa Rica Itinerary for 5 Days

Day 0: Getting from the Airport to La Fortuna

For the purposes of this Costa Rica itinerary, I’m going to assume you have five full days here, arriving the day before it starts and leaving the day after it ends (i.e., five days for exploring, plus two travel days). 

So on your arrival day in Costa Rica, get from whichever airport you fly into straight to La Fortuna (if you don’t have a rental car, we’ve suggested transportation options in the How to Get Around Costa Rica section above). La Fortuna is widely considered to be the adventure capital of Costa Rica and quite literally translates to “The Fortune.” It’s no wonder why–the town is surrounded by lush rainforests, offers towering waterfalls and steamy natural hot springs, and, oh yeah, is situated at the base of a 5,358 foot volcano!

Arenal Volcano, shrouded in cloud, in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

If you have spare time on your arrival day, relax by the pool, mosey around the shops in La Fortuna, and rest up—you’re going to have a jam-packed next five days!

Where to stay in La Fortuna:

Budget: 

  • San Bosco Inn: Hands-down, San Bosco Inn is my budget pick in La Fortuna. The rooms are simple and clean, but the inn comes with some MAJOR perks—like free breakfast and, most importantly, access to the hot springs at its bougier sister resort, the Volcano Lodge, Hotel, and Thermal Experience! This really is kind of an unbelievable perk, given San Bosco’s very reasonable price point!
  • Nice Place Hostel: While this accommodation calls itself a hostel and offers some dorm rooms, it also offers a variety of private bedrooms, with nice comfy beds and private bathrooms. You’ll still get all the benefits that hostels are known for—a friendly social environment and a shared kitchen space to make food, plus it’s super walkable to many of the restaurants and shops in La Fortuna.  
Man riding a motorcycle with the Arenal Volcano in the background in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Moderate:

  • Hotel Sierra Arenal: This is where my husband, Justin, and I stayed during our time in La Fortuna and I loved it! There’s a pool in a beautiful garden to cool off in, they offer made to order breakfast every morning, and there’s an adorable resident puppy that greets you upon arrival (reason enough to book a stay, in my opinion!). Plus, it’s just a short walk away from pretty much everything in downtown La Fortuna.
  • Princesa de la Luna Ecolodge: Princesa feels romantic and secluded, tucked away in the rainforest (but still just a short 10 minute drive from town!). Its property is stunning—think a pool right next to the riverside and a beautiful garden, with hammocks and hiking trails to enjoy—perfect for spotting tropical birds, like toucans, or, if you’re lucky, even sloths overhead!
Path through the rainforest in Ecotermales Hot Spring in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Luxury:

  • The Springs Resort and Spa: The Springs would be the perfect option if you’re planning a romantic honeymoon or just looking to indulge—after all, it’s where the Kardashians stay when they’re in Costa Rica! Its vantage point, over 1,000 feet above La Fortuna, offers jaw-dropping views of the Arena Volcano and the surrounding village, and it offers a whopping 28 hot spring pools. The rooms themselves are, of course, spectacular, with rocking chairs on the terrace to take in the volcano views and Jacuzzi tubs, carved out of marble.
  • Tabacon Thermal Resort and Spa: Another luxurious option, Tabacon offers a world-class spa; five(!!!) swimming pools, including a swim-up bar; more than twenty hot spring pools; and fun perks, like a welcome cocktail. Your room comes with a living area, a view of the resort’s immaculately landscaped lush garden, and a soft fluffy robe you’ll never want to take off.
Hot spring waterfall at Tabacon Thermal Resort and Spa in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Day 1: Catara del Toro and El Salto Rope Swing

Breakfast

Grab a quick breakfast and hit the road—it’s time to see what Costa Rica is all about!

Catarata del Toro

Head to Catara del Toro, one of the best under-the-radar gems near La Fortuna. This private ecological reserve is absolutely stunning, with its namesake waterfall cascading out of a volcanic crater 300 meters (90 feet) into a plunge pool below.

Couple standing in front of Catarata del Toro waterfall in Costa Rica

In addition to its main waterfall, the reserve also has hiking trails through the lush rainforest, a botanical garden, lagoons to swim in, and several other waterfalls, including the Blue Falls. This pair of waterfalls cascades down two cliff sides that are right next to each other—one with emerald green water and one with robin’s egg blue water, that flow into the same plunge pool and combine to create a river of stunning turquoise water.

Justin and I got to Catarata del Toro at 9:30 AM and expected to spend just a few hours here—but we had so much fun taking photos, splashing around in the water, and observing wildlife (it’s hummingbird heaven!) that we had to drag ourselves away at 4 PM, so that we wouldn’t be driving back to La Fortuna in the dark!

Ble Falls in the Catarata del Toro Ecological Reserve in Costa Rica

The reserve is located an hour and 25 minutes southeast of La Fortuna. Unfortunately, the only way to get there is by driving, as there’s no public transport or guided tours that come here.

If you don’t have a rental car to get to Catarata del Toro, consider, instead, spending the morning rafting on the Balsa River, like with this tour option with Class 2-3 rapids or this more challenging option with Class 3-4 rapids.

Group rafting down a river in Costa Rica

If you’re looking for something a bit less adventurous, there’s several beautiful chocolate farms that you can tour, like the Don Olivo Farm, where you can learn about how cacao is grown and turned into the sweet treat we all know and love today. Most importantly, you’ll get PLENTY of free samples to, you know, truly immerse yourself in the chocolate making process.

El Salto Rope Swing

If you finish up at Catarata del Toro earlier than we did and get back to La Fortuna with some time to spare in the afternoon, head to El Salto Rope Swing, which is 1.5 kilometers south of its downtown area and walkable from most of the accommodations in town.

Woman watching a man swinging on a rope swing at the El Salto Rope Swing in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

This little swimming hole, tucked into the jungle and located at the base of two waterfalls, is the perfect place to relax and spend a few hours. You can swim through the cool turquoise water or just watch locals do crazy tricks on the rope swing over the waterfalls.

Dinner

Head to La Street Bistro for dinner—Justin and I enjoyed this place so much that we actually wound up going here multiple times while we were in La Fortuna! The service was always impeccable and I could eat a truckload of the canasta de plátanos (little cups made of plantains and filled with yumminess, like guacamole).

Taco bowl at La Street Bistro in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Nightcap at Voodoo Bar & Cocktails

If you still have energy after dinner, consider visiting Voodoo Bar & Cocktails, a fun bar that serves up unique hand-crafted cocktails. For example, you can get a cocktail that’s served in a horn, rimmed with chipotle salt, or in a goblet, overflowing with smoke. It’s definitely the most interesting bar in La Fortuna!

Day 2: Mistico Hanging Bridges, Arenal Volcano, and La Fortuna Waterfall

Mistico Hanging Bridges

First things first, head to Mistico Hanging Bridges, one of the most popular things to do in La Fortuna.

Woman standing on a suspension bridge at the Mistico Hanging Bridges in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

This ecological reserve is located right outside of town and has a gentle and easy-to-follow trail that snakes a total of 3.2 km (or 2 miles) through the lush rainforest. While the property is absolutely beautiful, its main draw is that the trail includes sixteen bridges—six of which are suspended through the treetops.

It’s an awesome chance to spot wildlife, from howler monkeys to leaf cutter ants, but your best chance of seeing them is bright and early in the morning, before the noisy crowds arrive and scare off the critters.

Man looking at sunlight in Mistico Hanging Bridges in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

To be honest, one of the things I was surprised about the most in Costa Rica was how hard it was to spot animals in the rainforest—the greenery is so dense, it can feel impossible to notice creatures hiding in the treetops. So if you’re really set on seeing wildlife, I’d strongly suggest booking a tour, like this option or this small group option, where a knowledgeable guide will help spot animals big and small in the thick canopy and even bring scopes along to help you give you a closer look. 

Arenal Volcano Hikes

Next up, head to explore some of the hiking trails around the Arenal Volcano. This feature is actually what originally made La Fortuna a tourist attraction—in fact, up until 2010, the volcano was constantly smoking!

Woman standing in front of the Arenal Volcano along the Arenal 1968 trail in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

While the volcano is currently dormant, it’s still absolutely worth exploring around its base, admiring its lush slopes and rugged volcanic fields. You have two options of hiking trails here—either Arenal Volcano National Park or the Arenal 1968 Reserve.

I’d actually recommend choosing Arenal 1968, a privately owned property with two hiking trails to choose from. It’s considerably less crowded than the national park. Plus, more sections of its hiking trails are open, which allows for better views of the volcano and a better chance of spotting wildlife. However, you really can’t go wrong with either choice here!

Howler monkey hanging from a tree in the Arenal 1968 Reserve in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Lunch

Grab lunch at Soda la Hormiga, just south of downtown La Fortuna. In Costa Rica, “soda” means a locally-owned mom and pop restaurant, usually which are much more affordable than touristy restaurants. 

We ate at Soda La Hormiga several times while we were here—the food was cheap and delicious and we loved that it felt much more local and authentic than many of the other restaurants in town.

Woman smiling with a casado at Soda La Hormiga in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

La Fortuna Waterfall

Spend the rest of your afternoon at the La Fortuna Waterfall, one of the most iconic waterfalls in Costa Rica

La Fortuna Waterfall is tucked away in a lush jungle and spills 75 meters (246 feet) over a cliffside into a turquoise pool below—which you can actually swim in! The water is quite turbulent (and surprisingly chilly!) here, especially for any newbie swimmers.

Luckily, there’s also a much calmer and warmer stream that’s fed by the waterfall near a little sandy beach, where you can relax, soak up the sun, and watch little silver fish dart through the turquoise water. 

Couple smiling in front of the La Fortuna Waterfall in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Dinner

For dinner, head to Chifa La Familia Feliz, a delicious Peruvian restaurant, right in downtown La Fortuna. The service is great and the homey atmosphere makes it feel like you’re having one of the best meals of your life in your Peruvian aunt’s living room. 

Day 3: Rio Celeste and Hot Springs

Rio Celeste Waterfall

We’re headed to another waterfall this morning—Rio Celeste! This waterfall is known for its stunning electric blue color—it’s actually the local legend that the waterfall got its color from God, cleaning off their paintbrush in the river upstream after painting the sky (so sweet!).

Man standing in front of Rio Celeste in Costa Rica

The waterfall is located in Tenorio Volcano National Park and is only accessible via a hiking trail that winds its way through the jungle. To reach the waterfall itself, the trail is 2.7 km (1.8 miles) roundtrip, with portions of the trail that have a gentle incline. Alternatively, if you want to see everything the trail has to offer beyond the waterfall, including an electric blue lagoon, boiling pots, and the exact point in the river where the brown water turns into its dazzling shade of robin’s egg blue, it’s a moderately challenging 5.4 km (3.4 miles) roundtrip trail.

There’s much ado made about the 250 stairs that lead from the trail down to the waterfall, but most hikers that don’t have mobility issues should be just fine, so long as you take it nice and slow. You unfortunately can’t swim at the base of the waterfall, but the endpoint does give you jaw-dropping views of the brilliantly colored water (pssst… there’s a super cool (and free!) swimming spot, located here, right outside of the national park, where you can jump into the turquoise water after you’re done with your hike!).

Woman swimming in Rio Celeste in Costa Rica

Rio Celeste is located near the small town of Bijagua, an hour and 15 minutes northwest of La Fortuna.

The easiest way to get there is to drive, but, alternatively, there are several options for Rio Celeste tours from La Fortuna, like this affordable one or this one, which also stops to swim in the stunningly colored river. Even if you have a car, you might want to consider going on a guided tour if you really want to spot wildlife in the rainforest—the guides are INCREDIBLE at seeing interesting creatures that you’d almost certainly otherwise miss!

Howler monkey hanging from a tree in a rainforest in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Lunch

On your way back to La Fortuna, stop for lunch at La Jarra, located in the town of Katira. This family-run restaurant has awesome service and affordable food, made with impossibly fresh ingredients. However, the best part of this restaurant is that it’s located on a sprawling ranch, where you can pay a few colones to drive all the way down to the Rio Celeste, where you can swim and use a rope swing to jump into the river. If you’re lucky, you can even spot toucans or sloths in the surrounding treetops.

Hot Springs

After a couple of days of hiking and exploring the rainforests, spend the rest of the day relaxing and soaking those muscles in La Fortuna’s famed hot springs, fed by its volcanic geothermal energy. 

Woman walking through a pool at the Ecotermales Hot Spring in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

If you’re not lucky enough to be staying at a hotel that has its own hot springs, like Volcano Lodge, Hotel, and Thermal Experience; The Springs Resort and Spa; or Tabacon Thermal Resort and Spa recommended above, there are several options for you to choose from:

  • Budget: There’s actually a FREE hot spring in La Fortuna, located here, that you can enjoy, right outside of the Tabacon resort. Given this is the only free option in the area, it tends to be quite crowded, but it’s a good spot to meet locals and enjoy a more lively atmosphere.

    Heads up—even though the hot spring itself and parking along the road is free here, you will almost certainly be asked to pay around 3000 colones (~$5 USD) to a local for them to watch your car while you’re in the hot spring. Expect this to happen all over touristy parts of Costa Rica—it’s kind of annoying, but, in my opinion, I’ll happily pay a few extra dollars to ensure that my car isn’t broken into. 
  • Moderate: During our time in La Fortuna, we opted to go to Ecotermales Hot Spring, one of the only hot springs here that isn’t attached to a hotel or resort.

    Unlike many of the hot springs in the area, which only offer full day passes, Ecotermales offers half day passes—either from 9 AM to 4 PM or 5 to 9 PM. Accordingly, even though Ecotermales has a luxurious and romantic atmosphere, you’ll get access to its six hot spring pools, ranging from 20 to 41 degrees Celsius (68 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit), at a much lower price point than some of the other options in La Fortuna. 
Woman walking towards a waterfall in Ecotermales Hot Spring in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
  • Luxury: As mentioned above, the two most bougie hot springs in town are Tabacon Thermal Resort and Spa and The Springs Resort and Spa. They both offer day passes to non-hotel guests, which, at the time of this writing, costs $81 per adult for a day pass to Tabacon or $85 for a two-day pass to The Springs (good for only one day during the peak season from mid-December to early January and from early March to early April).

    If you’re not visiting during peak season and you think you can squeeze in hot spring time two days in a row in your Costa Rica itinerary, The Springs pass really isn’t that bad of a deal—in hindsight, I probably would’ve done that and just tried to head to The Springs whenever I had free time over those two days. 
Thermal waterfall at Tabacon Thermal Spa and Resort in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Dinner 

Most of the hot springs have dinner options onsite, so I’d suggest eating there so you can spend the rest of your time enjoying the pools—I mean, why leave all those warm, cozy springs for the night just for a meal?

But if you’re tired of being all pruny, consider grabbing dinner at either Soda La Parada, one of the most authentic sodas dishing up Costa Rican food in La Fortuna; Kappa Sushi, a sushi restaurant that’s surprisingly delicious for being located in the middle of Central America; or Organica Fortuna, an Instagrammable cafe that focuses on fresh, healthy foods made from local ingredients.

Day 4: Head to Manuel Antonio and enjoy the beach

Manuel Antonio National Park

Your time in La Fortuna has concluded during your Costa Rica itinerary, so it’s time to check out of your hotel and make your way four hours and 40 minutes southwest to Manuel Antonio, a small fishing village along the Pacific coastline that’s known as the home to Costa Rica’s smallest—but arguably most famous—national park.

Coffee farms on rolling hills in Costa Rica

If you’re making the drive down, make sure to stop at the Crocodile Bridge in the small town of Garabito, located here. At a glance, it just looks like a normal bridge but once you peer over its railing to the river below, you can usually see dozens of crocodiles, lazing about in the river! 

Tip: If you’re driving here, make sure you do not have “Avoid tolls” turned on in your GPS. We made that mistake on our way from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio, and were taken on a wild route, with incredibly steep inclines and massive potholes. On the way back up to San Jose, we realized our error and found out that there was an incredibly well-maintained and flat highway we could’ve taken instead for just a few dollars toll. 

Lunch

Check into your hotel in Manuel Antonio and, if you’re hungry, head to El Avion for lunch. The restaurant is so-named because it was actually built around an old 1954 C-123 Fairchild cargo plane, which now boasts a bar and restaurant inside of it.

Word of warning—this definitely is a more touristy experience—and thus, is pricier than other restaurants in the area. However, we really enjoyed our time there—between the beautiful views of the ocean and the jungle (there’s a good chance you’ll see monkeys and iguanas during your time there), the solid food, strong drinks, and quirky plane element, it’s definitely one of the most unique restaurants we’ve been to. 

Woman holding a cocktail in front of the C-123 Fairchild cargo plane at El Avion in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Beach Time

Spend the rest of your day enjoying some of the incredible beaches in Manuel Antonio.

Aerial view of Playa Espadilla at golden hour in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

For example, Playa Espadilla is the most popular beach in town and offers a variety of activities to enjoy, from surfing lessons, banana boats, and parasailing. Be sure to stay for sunset—this beach arguably has the most stunning sunset we’ve ever seen and we’ve seen a LOT of ‘em!  

Dinner

Grab dinner at Emilio’s Cafe, which offers an eclectic mix of Costa Rican and Mediterranean food in a welcoming environment. It also happens to be an incredible place to watch the sunset if you get hungry on the earlier side, but if you’re visiting after dark, you can still enjoy the noises of the tropical birds and monkeys in the jungle around you.  

Sunset over a rock at Playa Espadilla in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Where to stay in Manuel Antonio:

Budget:

  • Selina Manuel Antonio: If I were a budget traveler in Manuel Antonio, Selina would definitely be my top pick. The property is clean and there’s tons of perks to staying here, from three pools and multiple onsite bar areas to free activities, like salsa lessons. The location is convenient, located right in front of a bus stop and across the street from El Avion and the beach is about a 20 minute walk down the road.
  • Casa Huéspedes Pura Vida: This guest house offers cabanas or room options, both of which are spacious, bright, and clean. The property is tucked a bit further away from town in the jungle—it’s a magical experience to wake up to the sound of the wildlife around you! 
Monkey in Manuel Antonio National Park in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Moderate:

  • La Posada Jungle Hotel: This hotel is basically as close as you can possibly get to the National Park—not only is its location convenient, but there’s also a good chance you’ll get to watch monkeys play in the treetops above you as you relax in your pool. Plus, you’re just a short walk from the beach and you’ll get to enjoy some nice perks, like free breakfast!
  • Hotel Plaza Yara: This hotel has all of the things you’d expect of accommodations in Manuel Antonio, like an outdoor pool, sun terrace, and jungle surroundings, but it also has a much more modern and stylish vibe than many of the other accommodation options. Add in the friendly staff, rooms with kitchenettes, and free (delicious!) breakfast, Hotel Plaza Yara is hands down one of the best mid-range options in town. 
Pool overlooking the ocean in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Luxury:

  • Arenas Del Mar Beachfront & Rainforest Resort: In a few words, this resort is the epitome of relaxed luxury. It’s one of the few hotels in Manuel Antonio that’s literally on the beach, with an infinity pool overlooking the ocean and surrounded by lush greenery. There’s some really neat perks, like a free mini-bar(!!) and onsite activities, like yoga classes, and an excellent beachfront restaurant. 
  • Si Como No Resort, Spa & Wildlife Refuge: If you’re looking to splash out, this would be my pick in Manuel Antonio. It comes with two outdoor pools with a waterslide and swim-up bar (truly something for the whole family!), a hot tub, and a luxurious spa. The rooms feel effortlessly modern, while still making you feel completely immersed in the beautiful surrounding jungle. 
Couple embracing on Playa Espadilla in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Day 5: Manuel Antonio National Park

Wildlife Spotting at Manuel Antonio National Park

Head to Manuel Antonio National Park as soon as it opens at 7 AM. The park is known for the incredible biodiversity found in its rainforest and is home to over 100 species of mammals and over 350 species of birds alone!

Tropical bird in Manuel Antonio National Park in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

The park is inarguably one of the most popular things to do in Manuel Antonio, so it can get extremely crowded and loud as the day wears on—not exactly the best for spotting wildlife. So the earlier that you can get there, the better!

The park has a series of easy and well-marked trails to follow that lead you through the rainforest and to the park’s stunning beaches. You can easily navigate the park by yourself or, alternatively, go as part of a guided tour.

Capuchin monkeys sitting on a tree in Manuel Antonio National Park in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

If you go by yourself, you’ll need to purchase timed entry tickets here ahead of time. You’ll need to make an account online before you can purchase tickets, which is kinda annoying—but make sure you buy them well in advance, because they definitely sell out, sometimes weeks ahead of time! 

Alternatively, if you want to have a better shot of spotting wildlife and learning more about the fascinating ecosystem here, there are several options of Manuel Antonio tours that you can choose from, like this one, which includes your ticket to the national park, or this one, which is almost double the length of other tours, where a knowledgeable guide will lead you around the park and help you spot wildlife in the dense jungle.

No matter how you get there, don’t forget your swimsuit so that you can spend a few hours enjoying this National Park’s incredible beaches! 

Woman walking into water at Playa Gemelas in Manuel Antonio National Park in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
Tip: The park is closed every Tuesday, so make sure to plan accordingly!

Dinner

Okay, hear me out—Manuel Antoio has a seriously good falafel place, fittingly called Falafel Bar—I was resistant to eating here during our visit, but am so glad I eventually caved in.

As its name might suggest, there’s a huge bar of toppings that you can put on your dish of choice, from jalapenos to pickled red onion and hummus. So load ‘er up—it’s the perfect place to fill up for lunch after a long morning exploring the park’s hiking trails and beaches. 

Choose Your Own Adventure

Since it’s the last night of your Costa Rica itinerary, your afternoon and evening can be a choose your own adventure:

  • Want to relax? Head back to the beach! If you want to try something new, Biesanz Beach is a bit quieter and has a more local vibe than Playa Espadilla. You can rent kayaks or snorkels here and say goodbye to the land of Pura Vida in pure relaxation. 
Greenery at Biesanz Beach in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
  • All beached out? You can sweeten up your trip by heading to a nearby chocolate farm. You can learn about the history of chocolate, which was once the largest export in Costa Rica, and, of course, sample some of the good stuff along the way. This tour has over 300 five star reviews(!!) and has an afternoon tour that you could squeeze in following a morning visit to the national park. 
  • Looking for something a bit more adventurous? Consider signing up for a night tour of the jungle, where a guide will take you out and help see (and take photos of!) wildlife with their high definition spotting scopes. The nighttime is the best time to see some of Costa Rica’s most iconic animals, like red-eyed tree frogs and boa constrictors. Don’t worry, though—your guide will help you keep an eye out for any really gnarly creepy crawlies! 
Red-eyed tree frog in Costa Rica

Pack up and say goodbye

After your afternoon and evening adventures, pack up and get ready to head back to the airport tomorrow and start planning your next visit back to Costa Rica! 

When to Visit Costa Rica

The best time to visit Costa Rica is from December through April, when the skies are mostly clear and the temperatures pleasantly warm. However, this is also Costa Rica’s peak tourist season, so expect to shell out a bit more dough for airfare, hotels, and rental cars.

Woman sitting on a rock in Rio Celeste in Costa Rica

Alternatively, if you don’t mind a bit of rain, May through November is considered the slow tourist season, thanks to the heavy downpours that occur during this time. On the bright side, the jungle will be at its very lushest, the waterfalls will be rushing at their maximum flow, and it usually only rains for short bursts in the afternoon. If you visit during this time, though, just make sure to include a raincoat on your Costa Rica packing list (here’s an awesome option for men and one for women). 


Well, there you have it—everything you need to know about planning the ultimate Costa Rica itinerary for 5 days! Do you have any questions about exploring this beautiful country? Let us know in the comments below!

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