Central America & Mexico

How to Spend 8 Days in Costa Rica

If you’ve been following along on my blog, I went to Costa Rica back in February. It was my first international trip in 2 years and it felt so amazing to be back to my normal self, traveling! I’ve been sharing some itineraries and guides about my 8-day trip there, but planning a full 8-day itinerary can be a little overwhelming.

There is so much to do and see in Costa Rica, and 8 days just simply isn’t enough time to see everything. However, don’t let that stop you from planning a trip if you are limited on vacation days. There’s still a lot you can get into 8 days in this country, and hey, you’ll just have an excuse to come back and see more of it!

Here is my breakdown of how I spent 8 days in Costa Rica…

Beach at Manuel Antonio National Park

Day One: Travel Day to San Jose then La Fortuna

We arrived at Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose, Costa Rica in the early afternoon and had a private shuttle booked to take us to our next destination, which was La Fortuna. This was about a 3-hour drive. Many people choose to rent a car at the airport and drive themselves, but since I hardly drive at home, I wasn’t comfortable driving in another country. So we booked shuttles along the way to each of our new destinations. Public buses and transportation are also available for those being more budget-conscious.

Where we stayed in La Fortuna: La Princesa De La Luna

On the first day since it was a long travel day, we really just went into town for dinner and that was about it. Here are some recommended restaurants to choose from:

La Fortuna Guide - girl in waterfalls at Tabacon Hot Springs
Tabacon Hot Springs

Day Two & Three: La Fortuna

The next two days, we spent exploring La Fortuna. There are a ton of activities in this area for literally anyone, of any ability, and any age. Here is what we chose to do:

Hot Springs

The hot springs are a must-do while visiting La Fortuna and there are SO many options and ways you can do them. You can opt for the more bougie hot springs in the area like Tabacon or The Springs. Despite these also being hotels, you can buy just a day pass to visit their hot springs. You’ll get a more elevated experience in places like these. I went to Tabacon because we want to go to the best of the best, however, it was expensive and not conducive to everyone’s budgets, so you can opt for one based on how much you want to pay. Generally here is what’s recommended:

Luxury: Tabacon ($75-$110 USD) or The Springs ($79 USD)

Mid-Range: Baldi ($22-$62 USD) or EcoTermales ($44-$72 USD)

Budget: There are free hot springs in La Fortuna too! Just up from the popular Tabacon Resort, you’ll usually see a bunch of cars/people on the side of the road. There’s a short path on the north side of the road that leads to the river.

You can spend a full day at the hot springs or you can just add these in at the end of a long day doing other activities. It really depends on how much time you want there.

Arenal National Park

Hike in this National Park to see the volcanic rock, some great views, and old lava trails. You can drive yourself to the park and do a trail or hike on your own, or you can do a guided tour. The entrance fee is $15 USD and it’s open daily from 8am-4pm. All the trails are pretty short, so this really can be a family-friendly activity as well. We did the Arenal 1968 Volcano Trail. If you do decide you want a guide, your best option is to hire one beforehand or book a tour. There are no guides you can hire right at the park itself. We did our hike as part of a tour that included the hanging bridges, La Fortuna waterfall, and the national park.

La Fortuna Waterfall

La Fortuna Waterfall

I LOVED this waterfall. It was so refreshing and fun. You can easily drive yourself here and just pay the $18 USD entrance fee to visit the waterfall. You can also buy tickets in advance here. There is no need for a guide here. You basically walk through the entrance and you will walk down 500 stairs to get to the bottom of the waterfall. If you aren’t cut out for the steps, there is also a platform to view the waterfall from the top. Bring your bathing suit and go for a swim! Since I didn’t have a car, I did this as part of the tour I mentioned above and there are several different tour companies you can find through your hotel or the city centre of La Fortuna that can help get you to the waterfall.

Mistico Hanging Bridges

I went to the Mistico Hanging Bridges while in the area and it was a great experience. The views from the bridges are beautiful but what was even better was our guide that pointed up a lot of nature and wildlife along the way. You can definitely do a walk through the hanging bridges alone. However, it’s very unlikely that you will spot ANY wildlife. It’s incredibly hard to spot a lot of the animals hidden in the forest without a guide so I would recommend hiring a guide. You can do this directly with Mistico or book a tour with a tour company in town.

Other Popular Activities:

Read my full guide to La Fortuna here

Camino Verde B&B

Day Four: Travel to Monteverde

Our next stop on the trip was Monteverde. We took a jeep-boat-jeep which is the most popular way to go if you don’t have your own car. We left at about 8 am and arrived at around noon. The drive was scenic (but bumpy) and was super easy.

Where we stayed in Monteverde: Camino Verde B&B

When we arrived in Monteverde, we spent some time walking around the little town, and having lunch. Here are some options if you’re looking for food:

In the evening, we did a rainforest night walk which is a popular activity in the area to see wildlife that only comes to life at night. You can book a tour here but they basically run every night as it’s a popular activity.

Cloud Forest

Day Five: Monteverde

We only had one full day in Monteverde in this itinerary, but if you have time, you could do two for sure as there is a lot to offer in this area. We got up and had breakfast at our hotel, but some other breakfast options in the area are:

After breakfast, head to the Cloud Forest bright and early. Of course, like any nature hike in Costa Rica, you can go to the park yourself, buy a ticket, and walk yourself around the forest too. You don’t need a guide, but if you want to spot wildlife and learn more about what you’re actually seeing, then a guide is always the way and highly recommended. You can book tickets and/or tours here. Make sure to stop at the Hummingbird Cafe on your way out of the park to enjoy a coffee with the hummingbirds before you leave.

When you’re back in town, opt for lunch at one of the suggested restaurants above. Then choose your own adventure for the afternoon. Everyone’s preferences are so different, and you’ll want to use your limited time wisely. So I’d suggest that you pick and choose out of the below activities how you’d like to spend your afternoon. Anything nature-related is usually better to do in the morning, so if you’re booking organized tours, you won’t be able to find many (or any) that depart later in the afternoon. However, you can still go explore Curi Cancha ReserveHummingbird Garden, or Monteverde Butterfly Garden yourself and hire a guide there directly.

Sunset Horseback Riding

Some more recommended things to do in the afternoon are:

To end a hectic day, I recommend that you book a gourmet dining experience that you will not forget! San Lucas Treetop Dining Experience is next level. I booked it just wanting to splurge on a fancy dinner on vacation but was not expecting it to be as amazing as it was. You pay for a prix fixe menu and you dine in a private glass treehouse that you can enjoy the views in. Book far in advance as they only have 8 tables!

Read my full guide on Monteverde here

Jungle Beach Hotel

Day Six: Travel day to Manuel Antonio

Wake up and head to the beach! We’re heading to Manuel Antonio this day. When visiting Costa Rica, you can make an entire trip just on or near the beach. There is the Pacific Coast, and the Caribbean Coast. For the sake of time, we went to the Pacific Coast and chose Manuel Antonio as it seemed to offer a good mix of activities, and relaxation. To get there, we hired a shared shuttle. It was a long drive but it was efficient and we got there in about 3.5-4 hours. We booked this right through our hotel and arrived around 1 pm.

Where we stayed in Manuel Antonio: Jungle Beach Hotel

Since this was a long travel morning, we opted for a beach afternoon. Upon arrival we headed out for some food first, here are some recommended restaurants:

Then we set up shop on Playa Espadilla. There’s also Playa Biesanz, and Playa La Macha nearby. Most of the beaches have lounge chairs and umbrellas you can rent for a fee for the day.

For dinner, head to one of the above. We chose El Avion.

Day Seven & Eight: Manuel Antonio

For your final 2 days, you should definitely fit in a day for Manuel Antonio National Park. This is the gem of this area. It’s beautiful! Arrange a guide or tour to take you first thing in the morning, then opt to stay the rest of the day at their beautiful, spotless beaches. Our guide was booked through our hotel but you can book him directly here.

The beaches in this park are the most beautiful in the area, but you cannot bring your own outside food, and lounge chairs, etc. are prohibited, so make sure you bring a towel to lounge on.

Some other activities you can opt to do with an afternoon in the area are:

Manuel Antonio National Park

You can also choose to do an easy day trip from the area such as:

  • Nauyaca Waterfalls: I really wanted to do a day trip here, but unfortunately, our hotel needed two people to run the tour so I wasn’t able to go. Nauyaca Waterfalls is a beautiful set of waterfalls that you can hike into, horseback into, or take a 4×4. It’s located about an hour out of Manuel Antonio.
  • Jaco: This is often a stop on your way to Manuel Antonio but you can also visit this little town for the day or enjoy its beaches.
  • Tortuga Island: Tortuga Island boasts a beautiful white sand beach. You can snorkel, rent a jet ski, hike, or just lounge in the sun. Most companies will require a minimum of 4 people to run this tour but enjoying the cruise through the Gulf of Nicoya looks stunning.
  • Cano Island Snorkeling: Known for some of Costa Rica’s best snorkeling and diving, Cano Island is a biological reserve and will definitely beat any snorkeling you’ll find in Manuel Antonio by a long shot.

Day Nine: Fly home

Okay, I know I said this trip was for eight days, but really it’s nine. You can, however, cut off a day in Manuel Antonio to get back home a day earlier and squeeze this into 8 days.

What would you suggest for 8 days in Costa Rica? Share below in the comments!

Other Costa Rica reading:

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  • Reply
    September 17, 2022 at 11:27 pm

    This is the most amazing and thorough itinerary I’ve discovered! It’s exactly the type of trip I was searching for. Minus the flight’s expense, would you mind me asking how much you paid in total (shuttles, food, hotels, excursions…)? My husband and I were hoping to keep our entire trip, flights included, under $4000.

    • Reply
      October 3, 2022 at 11:50 am

      Hey Amanda, Glad you found this helpful. I would say it cost under $4K. You can make it as expensive or as inexpensive as you want depending on how you get from place-to-place (shared shuttles will be the cheapest next to a bus), and the type of accommodations you choose (for example, if you are in an Airbnb, you can also go to the local markets and cook in your Airbnb for some meals vs. eating out 3x meals a day). Some excursions, if you have a car, you can drive yourself and just pay for entry to them which could also be a cheaper way of doing it than going with an arranged tour like I did.

  • Reply
    Jennifer Ostrom
    April 7, 2023 at 11:13 am

    Hi Lauren! Exactly what I was looking for! I’ve done Manuel Antonio before and LOVED it. Now wanting to take my kids and see more of the country and share MA with them as well. Anything about your itinerary you would leave out next time? Just thinking this much hotel hopping in 9 days might get “irritating” to teenagers. 🤣

    • Reply
      April 11, 2023 at 2:07 pm

      Hi Jennifer! Thanks for reading. Costa Rica is such a good destination for the whole family. If you had to eliminate anywhere in order to have less hopping around, I would say that La Fortuna and Monte Verde had very similar offerings in terms of activities. You could zip line in both places, you could do nature hikes/walks in both places, night safari’s, etc. So choosing one of those then heading to MA to have some beach time would be a good mix.

  • Reply
    September 29, 2023 at 9:49 am

    Did you fly in and out of the same airport?

    • Reply
      October 2, 2023 at 7:57 pm

      Hi Dustin! Yes I did.

  • Reply
    February 5, 2024 at 11:09 pm

    Hi Lauren, This is a wonderful itinerary. We are planning a trip to CR in March and I’m having a hard time deciding between Monte Verde and La Fortuna before we head to the beach. If you had to pick one of these two places which one would you choose? Kindly, Beth

    • Reply
      February 20, 2024 at 5:04 pm

      Hi Elizabeth! Honestly, they both offer very similar activities and you won’t be disappointed in either option you choose. If I had to choose one I’d c choose La Fortuna, but I couldn’t tell you why, it’s just what my gut is telling me 😉

      • Reply
        March 2, 2024 at 7:10 pm

        Thanks for this great blog post. We are thinking of doing 9 days, depending on how you count travel days. But we are thinking of flying into Liberia, so that we can end with one of the Marriott beach resorts on the west, like either Conchal or Playa Panama. The other two stops could be both La Fortuna and Monteverde. We could probably fit two nights in one and three nights in the other. Bringing two middle school kids. What do you think?

        • Reply
          March 14, 2024 at 6:04 pm

          Hi Paul,

          I’ve never visited Conchal or Playa Panama so I can’t really comment on either but both sound and look beautiful. I’m sure you can’t go wrong with either. For La Fortuna, and Monteverde. Both offer very similar activities like zip lining, night safaris, wildlife excursions, etc. and ton of family-friendly activities. You won’t be disappointed with either or if you are only choosing one, or you can totally do both like you said, 2 nights in one, 3 nights in the other. La Fortuna seemed to have more to do, but it’s entirely up to your interests.

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