Looking for how to spend your time in Costa Rica? Check out this amazing 5 days in Costa Rica itinerary to help you plan your trip.
Costa Rica is a stunning country in Central America, known for its wonderful beaches and abundant wildlife. With countless rainforests, lakes, hiking trails, volcanoes, and rivers, it is truly a heaven on Earth for adventurous travelers.
Those of you that are looking for an adventure can have heaps of fun in this charming country. From walking amongst butterflies to grinding your own cacao beans – we bring your our favorite things to do in Costa Rica!
Table of Contents
- Getting Around Costa Rica
- Day 1 Of 5 Days In Costa Rica Itinerary: San Jose To La Paz
- Day 2 Of 5 Days In Costa Rica Itinerary: La Paz
- Day 3 Of 5 Days In Costa Rica Itinerary: Arenal
- Day 4 Of 5 Days In Costa Rica Itinerary: Monteverde
- Day 5 Of 5 Days In Costa Rica Itinerary: Back To San Jose
- More than 5 days in Costa Rica?
We highly recommend renting a car as soon as you land in Costa Rica. This is the cheapest and the most time-efficient way of getting around the country; busses take too long and taxis are too expensive – especially if you want to follow our Costa Rica itinerary!
The distance from one place to another isn’t really that far of a distance, but the roads are curvy so you can’t really drive at breakneck speeds.
In some of the areas you won’t be able to drive faster than 30 km/h, and traveling in your own car is going to be much more comfortable than on a crowded bus.
Please jump to More than 5 days in Costa Rica? if you end up using the Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport in Liberia for directions as this Costa Rica itinerary mostly follows along from Juan Santamaría International Airport.
We have given the same 5 days in Costa Rica itinerary directions if you end up using the Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport in Liberia!
51 km or 32 miles ~ 1 hour 20 minutes drive
The beauty of Costa Rica lies in its wonderful, untouched nature. So, our priorities on our Costa Rica itinerary does not include exploring much of the city of San Jose or visiting the museums unless you have extra time before your flight back home.
The 5 day Costa Rica itinerary we have in mind is suited for the adventurous traveler, who wants to go hiking, climbing and maybe even skydiving.
Which is why when you land in San Jose, you should go straight to La Paz. If you had decided to rent a car, you will be there in a little over an hour.
If your flight landed late in the day, it’s probably best to spend the night in San Jose, and then head straight to La Paz in the morning.
We recommend you stay somewhere close to the airport, as it will be easiest to reach La Paz from there.
There are several places to stay in La Paz, but we recommend the Peace Lodge. It is part of La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park, and it’s a unique stay in a lush rainforest, and it will truly make your trip much more memorable.
Need to spend the night in San Jose before starting your fun 5 days in Costa Rica? We recommend Costa Rica Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen, a gorgeous 4-star property near the Juan Santamaría International Airport.
La Paz Waterfall
The star of this small town is the La Paz Waterfall. It’s actually a nature preserve in the middle of the rainforest, with multiple waterfalls, great hiking trails and all sorts of exotic animals and a must-add to your Costa Rica itinerary.
The more adventurous travelers will really enjoy the place; the marked hiking trails take you through the rainforest and offer spectacular views along the way.
We recommend you wear waterproof shoes and a lightweight rain jacket; due to all the water, there’s quite a lot of moisture and mud.
Lunch: Big Trout Bar
The most memorable meals of your life will rarely be just about the food – they will also be about your spectacular surroundings. Which is why you can expect burgers and beer at the Big Trout Bar to be permanently engraved in your memory.
The picturesque scenery makes up for the above-average meal and drink prices at this cozy La Paz bar.
With several smaller waterfalls, a vast pond and gorgeous greenery, this bar fits perfectly into the peaceful nature of the small town.
Try out their really fresh fish if you’re in the mood for seafood, or stick with classic burgers and fries – you can’t go wrong either way.
La Paz Nature Park
La Paz Nature Park is a vast area with many different things to offer. From hiking trails and scenic waterfalls to a Jungle Cats zoo – there’s so much to do and see here, that we recommend spending the better part of your day here.
La Paz is home to Jungle Cats Zoo, a place where you can see jaguars, mountain lions, ocelots and other types of giant kitties that are native to the country. Whether or not you’re a feline fanatic, you can’t deny that they are adorable. And that’s exactly what jungle cats are – slightly oversized cats that will still go nuts if they see a cardboard box.
It’s not a vast zoo, but it’s a great place to visit if you’re in the area and want to see some jungle cats playing or running around.
The nature park is also home to an Aviary and a butterfly exhibit. The former is a unique opportunity to see some exquisite birds like toucans and macaws, while the latter gives you a chance to observe the various stages of cocoon to butterfly development. You can also walk amongst the butterflies, feed them and hold them.
Skip the line and get your La Paz Nature Park tickets in advance!
90 km or 56 miles ~ 1 hour 50 minutes drive
Arenal 1968 Lava Trails
Next up on your 5 days in Costa Rica itinerary are the Arenal Lava trails. These hiking circuits that take you to remnants of lava from the 1968 eruption.
The hiking trails are suitable even for beginners, but they do get a bit more difficult once you reach the lava area, because the terrain is very uneven. So, remember to wear some really grippy hiking boots!
You can choose from two hiking circuits – the shorter one is about 4 kilometers, while the longer one is only 4.7 kilometers long.
The main difference between the two is that the longer trail takes you over the bridge near the lake, while the shorter trail does not pass near the lake.
Expect to see wildlife some 5 minutes into the hiking trails. Monkeys and toucans are all over the forest, and they are mesmerizing to observe. And there are several viewpoints along the trails, from where you can actually see the volcano.
However, the visibility is heavily dependant on the weather – on very cloudy days, the volcano is not visible at all.
Want a local guide to show you the Arenal Lava Trails? Try this guided tour of the Arenal Lava Trails with an expert local guide who will show you the different native species and the best views of the volcano!
Natural Hot Springs River
Hot springs are a great way to relax and unwind anywhere in the world, and especially in Costa Rica. Head to the natural hot springs river, for a free swim in the hot springs.
Well not entirely free – upon arrival, you’re expected to tip the man who helps you park your car. You’re supposed to do this so that nothing happens to your car, so it’s best to just obey and pay the man $3-4.
There are other hot springs in the area, but they’re organized as more of a waterpark. The hot springs river is in a lush rainforest setting, and it’s a wonderful and relaxing experience overall.
Rainforest Chocolate Tour
We also recommend this as a great lunch spot – since sitting down at a restaurant to eat takes at least an hour, why not fill up on delicious chocolate? The rainforest chocolate tour includes a chocolate workshop, as well as informative lessons on cacao beans that are native to Costa Rica.
Here you have an opportunity to see them go from bean to powder to bar, and even try your hand at grinding cacao beans! You’ll also learn about all the different spices that are added to the chocolate, as well as the chemical reactions that make it taste so good.
Book your Rainforest Chocolate Tour in advance.
We pick Arenal Volcano Montaña de Fuego Resort & Spa for your night near Arenal Volcano, a gorgeous property offering jungle bungalows near La Fortuna Central Park.
119 km or 74 miles ~ 3 hours 13-minute drive
Breakfast: Beso Espresso & Roasters
The best way to start the day on your Costa Rica itinerary is to get a cup of delicious local coffee. And the Beso Espresso & Roasters is without a doubt the best cafe in Monteverde for that.
You can also grab a bite to eat here – they don’t have many options, but their sandwiches are pretty good, and the brownies are absolutely delicious.
Monteverde Butterfly Garden
The Butterfly Garden is a very unique place in Monteverde, but it’s definitely not for everyone. To be perfectly honest with you, I would not step foot inside the place due to my crippling arachnophobia and a more general entomophobia.
- arachnophobia: extreme or irrational fear of spiders.
- entomophobia: specific phobia characterized by an excessive or unrealistic fear of one or more classes of insects.
But a more reasonable person might enjoy seeing all the different butterfly species – even I can admit that they are gorgeous and majestic creatures.
The place also has a center with all sorts of insects and spiders (hem hem), including tarantulas. Oh, and if you pay the entrance fee once, you can return once more during your stay for free!
Put on your best pair of hiking shoes and head to the Ecological Sanctuary. There you can enjoy scenic hiking trails through the forest, with epic views all around you. All while seeing all sorts of wildlife along the way, from the occasional monkey in a tree to bird species you’ve never seen before.
One of the best things about the Ecological Sanctuary is the peace and quiet you will get to experience. It’s rarely crowded, and there’s a good chance you’ll be all alone even during peak season.
We recommend that you bring food along on the hike so that you can spend as much time in the rainforest as you want, without having to go back to the town for lunch.
Dinner: Restaurante de Lucía
After walking around Monteverde the entire day, it’s time to treat yourself with a delicious meal. Head to Restaurante de Lucía for a proper dinner and some cocktails. The place even has vegetarian options, so it’s a great choice regardless of your dietary restrictions.
This restaurant is a bit pricier than most others in the town, but it’s also much classier than other locales. And the portions are very generous, so you’re still getting a good deal for your money.
We pick Hotel Belmar for your night in Monteverde, this amazing property and upscale hotel within the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
144 km or 89 miles ~ 3 hours drive
It’s time to head back to San Jose on your 5 days in Costa Rica itinerary since you likely have a flight to catch to get home from the Juan Santamaría International Airport.
If your flight is in the evening, you have two options – you can either stay in Monteverde longer, and explore everything you didn’t have a chance to see the day before, or you can wander around the streets of San Jose.
If you choose the latter, we recommend visiting the National Museum of Costa Rica. It’s a great way to learn about the history of this gorgeous country, and get to know the culture and traditions of the locals better.
Other must-visit spots in the city include Central Park in the heart of San Jose, the Jade Museum and the Museum of Costa Rican Art.
We also recommend checking out a private 3-4 hour guided tour of San Jose, Costa Rica to see all the best highlights of the city before departing with a local expert!
Maybe you have more than 5 days in Costa Rica to spend in this charming country, or maybe you’re arriving in Liberia instead of San Jose?
Either way, we have some tips that will really help you make this Costa Rica itinerary your own!
If you have more than one or two days extra we recommend checking out this amazing 9-day tour of the northwestern region of Costa Rica covering many of the destinations included on this 5 days in Costa Rica itinerary featuring the natural beauty and biodiversity of this incredible destination.
The 9-day tour includes 8 nights of accommodation, transfers, activities, and most meals so you can just book and just enjoy your vacation without having to stress over all the details!
Arriving In Liberia
Costa Rica has two major international airports – Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) in San Jose, and Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR) in Liberia. If your flight lands in Liberia, you should know it is possible to the itinerary in reverse.
It will be a longer drive on the way back home, but it’s definitely doable if you’ve opted to rent a car.
If you decided to rely on busses and taxis instead, we would advise you to skip visiting La Paz, and instead head to Miravalles Volcano. It is a gorgeous place, so well worth your time, and it’s only a short ride away from Liberia.
Punta Arenas is a small port town on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It lies on a peninsula that is connected to the mainland with a thin stretch of road, and it features several miles of gorgeous sandy beaches. The small residential town is a great place to lounge around in the sun if you have extra time on your Costa Rica itinerary.
Tortuguero National Park
Tortuguero National Park is a popular marine wildlife and forest sanctuary on the Caribbean coast of the country.
It’s best to stay overnight at a resort within the national park since you need more than one day to really get to explore it in all its glory.
Limón is the capital city of Limón province on the Caribbean coast. It’s a great town for people who are just looking to relax and unwind since it has everything to offer to the hedonist traveler.
From sandy beaches and cruise ships to American chain restaurants and casinos – Limón is the antithesis of the peaceful rainforests of La Paz and Monteverde and another great option if you have more than 5 days in Costa Rica on your itinerary.
About the Author
Mike is addicted to both adventure and travel, so he decided to combine the two to form The Adventourist. There he shares his journey from one adrenaline rush to another, always exploring new places as he goes. You can find him sharing his travels on Facebook.
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