The ideal 10-Day Costa Rica itinerary
I’ve been living in Costa Rica for over two years now, and while I have not been everywhere, I have be getting around this gorgeous country I get to call home quite a bit.
Most of my weekend travels are in and around the Guanacaste region, the northern pacific side of Costa Rica. Guanacaste is a diverse area where you can really get a taste of everything Costa Rica has to offer.
I’m often asked about my recommendations for where to stay in Costa Rica, and it really depends on the type of adventure or vacation you are looking for, but based on the places I have been to and taking into consideration that this might be someone’s first time visiting Costa Rica, this is what I would suggest.
10 Day Itinerary in Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Fly into the Liberia International Airport. You can either rent a car or hire shuttles to transport you all around Costa Rica. Driving is safe and most of the roads you will be on for this itinerary are paved, with the exception of one small sections of road on your way to your destination. Hotels can help you hire shuttle services to take you to and from each destination, so just ask!
Arenal Volcano / La Fortuna – 3 nights
Stay: Tabacon Hot Springs or The Lost Iguana Resort
Travel Time: Liberia Airport to Tabacon Hot Springs – approximately 3 hours
Tabacon Hot Springs is the quintessential Costa Rican spot for soaking up the rainforest. Yes, this is a popular honeymoon spot, but it’s okay to bring kids, however I would not recommend this particular destination for babies or toddlers. The Spa at Tabacon Hot Springs is award winning and the massage tables are literally out in the middle of the rainforest; it’s a massage you’ll never forget. The Lost Iguana Resort is a bit like it sounds. A little off the beaten path, it offers rooms with clear views of the Arenal Volcano and is located close to the hanging bridges.
Must Do: Zip lining and Hanging bridges
Sky Trek Adventures I have gone on several zip lining courses here in Costa Rica and, if you want the real deal, Sky Trek is it. There are smaller courses all around Costa Rica, which can be better for smaller kids that might be afraid, but Sky Trek is very professional and the zips are long, with one zip giving you a breathtaking view of Lake Arenal.
Mistico Hanging Bridges (formally known as Arenal Hanging Bridges) This is an easy hike and great for kids. There is a extra trail you can take to see a waterfall if you are feeling adventurous. The total trek should take about 2 hours, so be sure to bring a backpack with water and a few snacks.
Optional: If you want to explore another Hot Springs you can buy a day pass to The Springs. They have a monkey slide that your kids (and you) will love. They also have a animal sanctuary, climbing wall, and white water rafting.
Tenerio National Park / Rio Celeste – 2 nights
Stay: La Carolina Lodge
Travel Time: Tabacon Hot Springs to La Carolina Lodge – approximately 2 hours
Hopefully by the time you get here you have embraced the pura vida way of life and are truly ready to unplug. La Carolina Lodge sits on near a rushing riverbed and, at night, the grounds are lit only by candlelight. Traditional Costa Rican food is prepared in a small open kitchen and everyone staying here dines at the same time. This place may be off the grid, but it’s a true hidden gem and one not to miss.
Tip: Stop at a store before you get here to stock your room with some snacks and any beverages (wine & beer) you may want. This is not a hotel with any sort of lobby or things for sale. The restaurant only serves water, fruit juices, and ice tea.
Must Do: Horseback Riding & Rio Celeste
La Carolina Lodge offers one hour horseback riding through the most enchanting forest. I’m usually not a fan of horseback riding, but this gorgeous sunset ride changed that for me. I felt like I was galloping through the pages of a children’s colorful storybook, it was so beautiful I almost cried (seriously). After your ride, sit in the rushing river then take a nice long soak in the naturally heated hot tub.
Tip: Bring a deck of cards or any small travel games to play with your children, read books, do yoga in the grass, and rest up for your hike the next day!
Get to the Tenerio National Park earlier than later to avoid crowds and the afternoon rain. The hike to the Rio Celeste waterfall is not too difficult and perfect for kids. Once you reach the waterfall you can continue on to the beginning where the sulphur and calcium carbonate mixes with the fresh water and the beautiful blue water begins or you can turn around and head back. I recommend continuing on, because there are some fun bridges to cross! The entire trek will take you about 2 ½ hours depending on how long you like to sit and gaze at the beautiful surroundings, take photos, and rest a bit.
Sand and Surf / Playa Conchal – 5 nights
Travel Time: La Carolina Lodge to Westin Playa Conchal – approximately 3 hours
Where to stay: Westin Playa Conchal
By now you may want to just lay on the sand for an entire day and have a cocktail at a swim up bar. The Westin Playa Conchal is the perfect place to do just that! An all-inclusive resort on one of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica, playa conchal (shell beach). The Westin Playa Conchal is in a really ideal location for some day trips off the resort.
Day Trip to Tamarindo
Must Do: Surf Lessons or Catamaran Sunset/Snorkel Tour
Tamarindo is the largest beach town in the area and is filled with local shops, restaurants and bars. If you want any nightlife in this part of Costa Rica you’ll find it in Tamarindo, but it’s still very kid and family friendly too. Getting out on a catamaran is a great way to spend the day, especially if you’d like to get in some snorkeling. The Marlin Del Rey boats cast off from Tamarindo daily.
Tip: If you are traveling with teenagers you may want to stay in Tamarindo, so they can be a bit more independent.
Day Trip to Las Catalinas at Playa Danta
Las Catalinas is a beachside development with luxury condos on playa danta and a favorite among the expat community and locals. Las Catalinas is home to some of the most stunning hiking and biking trails. Grab a map and hike to the point for epic views! You can rent stand up paddle boards, mountain bikes, and kayaks from Pura Vida Ride, and even grab a fabulous cappuccino. I really cannot recommend a day trip here enough.
Sunset at Mar Vista
Enjoy the sunset at The Club at Mar Vista, head there about 5:00pm to get a table, grab a drink, and sit in the infinity pool overlooking the view. It’s something not to miss!
Optional: Depending on whether you like to be on the move or not, you could also stay 3 nights at the Westin Playa Conchal and then stay 2 nights at Las Catalinas.
Travel Time: Westin Playa Conchal to Liberia Airport – approximately 1 hour
You can certainly turn this itinerary upside down and hit the beach first to ease into your trip, but this way you experience the adventures of Costa Rica first, earning you the rest and relaxation you’ll enjoy at the Westin Playa Conchal.
Another place that I have to mention is Monteverde, which was very hard to leave off this itinerary, but if you are here for two weeks or even longer than that, I highly recommend you make time to visit Monteverde, the cloud forest. It feels a bit more like you’re in a small mountainside town in Switzerland than Costa Rica – very unique!
Where to Stay: Monteverde Lodge and Gardens
Excited to discover more about Costa Rica? Follow along as the Findery team spends two weeks #FindingCostaRica. We’ll be sharing lots of amazing finds and places to explore both virtually and in person!