Lush and inviting, Costa Rica is a nature lovers delight. There are waterfalls, national parks filled with wildlife, serene crater lakes and tropical, deserted beaches. Adventure seekers can zipline, kayak and horse ride through the country and beach bums can choose between a variety of golden sand beaches to chill out on. Here’s a travel itinerary for 7 days in Costa Rica that will hit all the highlights.
7 days in Costa Rica: Day 1 | Capital delights
Spend the first of your 7 days in Costa Rica on a city tour in San Jose, Costa Rica’s big city capital, exploring the cityscape, with its colonial architecture and culture. There’s the magnificent architecture of the Opera House and the National Theatre and the domes and stained glass windows of the Metropolitan Cathedral. For art and history aficionados, a visit to the Museum of Pre-Colombian Art is a must, with its stunning gold, jade, stone and pottery exhibits. If you haven’t had quite enough of opulence yet, head to the National Theater, with its ornate ceilings and marble sculptures.
To refuel, stop over at Café de los Deseos, which offers casual food and local craft beer. There’s burgers, pizza and small plates to share. There’s plenty of Mediterranean or Italian options in San Jose – especially downtown. If you’re after a fine dining experience, visit Hotel Grano de Oro’s restaurant, where the locals go to celebrate special occasions.
7 days in Costa Rica: Days 2-3 | Volcanoes & hot springs
After you’ve had your fill of San Jose’s charms, head to Arenal, a 3 hour drive away. The eponymous volcano here sits in lush rainforest. After checking into your hotel, take a hike through the National Park, spotting wildlife like sloth and snakes on your way up to the observation point at the base of the volcano. Arenal is Costa Rica’s most active volcano, and you may still hear or feel the rumblings of volcanic activity under your feet!
At night, grab your swimmers and head to one of the many hot springs in the area, like Baldi Hot Springs, where the heated outdoors pools will soothe your weary muscles. The pools are set amidst tropical gardens, varying in temperature from pleasantly warm to very hot – ease in slowly! There is also a couple of pool bars, so grab a cocktail, pick a comfortable spot, soak in the hot springs and watch the stars.
The next day, you can book a horse riding tour to La Fortuna waterfalls – the ride takes you up into the forest slopes to a magnificent waterfall. The waterfall drops 70-75 metres, forming small rapids below the falls. If you pack a picnic you can stop for lunch with a view while on the trail – there’s also a restaurant on site for the less organised amongst us!
If horse riding doesn’t appeal, try visiting the local tribes who live in the area instead. The Maleku are indigenous to La Fortuna. There are only about 600 of them left. The Maleku believe that each persons’ soul is represented by an animal; the jaguar for fierceness and strength, the toucan for beauty, the scarlet macaw for fidelity. They use iguana skin drums and hollow tubes filled with seeds and stones as musical instruments, creating a noise like falling rain and rolling thunder from these simple tools.
7 days in Costa Rica: Days 3-5 | Cloud forest, Monteverde
Monteverde is Costa Rica’s crown jewel; a best-practice example of eco-tourism, both because of the sheer diversity of its flora and fauna, but also because of the way the national park has been managed. Instead of relying purely on state managed national parks, individuals and communities bought land to be set aside as reserves. Almost 95% of the area around Monteverde is protected, either as a national park, reserve, or wildlife sanctuary.
We made our way across the mountains to Santa Elena as the sun set, casting golden rays across cloud and rolling meadows. Scattered farmhouse nestled between the gentle green slopes, the clouds reflecting the glowing, ambient light. It was tranquil, pastoral, stunning.
Trails like the Encantando, in Monteverde National Park
Make your base in the village of Santa Elena, a tiny, vibrant spot with backpackers, hotels, supermarkets, a small art gallery and plenty of restaurants. There’s also great shopping in Cerro Plano at Luna Azul, a gallery and gift shop offering clothing and silver jewelry inspired by the surrounds of the park. There are lots of dining options in Santa Elena, but for a chance to dine amidst fluttering iridescent blue butterflies with a view of waterfalls, go no further than Morpho’s restaurant, serving up simple, hearty mains like grilled chicken or fish.
7 days in Costa Rica: Days 6-7 | Beaches
The white sand beaches of Costa Rica are legend. From Monteverde, either catch public transport or take a private transfer
While 7 days in Costa Rica are short and you certainly won’t have seen everything this diverse country has to offer, this itinerary offers you the main highlights. Other attractions include volunteering with sea turtles on the east coast, adrenaline adventures like white water rafting and zip lining, wildlife spotting in Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, and checking out the relaxed, hippie beach town of Montezuma – you’ll need at least 2-3 weeks in Costa Rica to fit it all in!