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What is the Best 10 Day Costa Rica Itinerary for First Time Visitors?

Read about a 10 day Costa Rica itinerary ideal for first time visitors. Discover things to do in La Fortuna, things to do in Monteverde, and things to do in Manuel Antonio.
You may be wondering how many days in Costa Rica would be ideal. I say spend 10 Days in Costa Rica to ensure that your itinerary is one for the bucket list. 

Why visit Costa Rica? Take an extended trip to Central America and experience incredible wildlife, spectacular scenery, and delicious local cuisine. 

Plus, Costa Rica is one of the safest countries to visit in Central America. Join me as we explore in detail a 10 day Costa Rica itinerary ideal for first time visitors.

Costa Rica Itinerary: Arenal Volcano

Costa Rica Travel: Getting To and Around

Lining up transportation is critical to a successful trip to Costa Rica. Read on to find out how we got to Costa Rica and how we got around once we had arrived in the country.

Arrival by Air

What's the best way to get to Costa Rica? Hop on a direct flight from major U.S. cities on national carriers like American and United plus low cost carriers like Spirit and Southwest. 

We splurged on a business class ticket from Miami to San José on American Airlines. It was only about $150 USD more expensive than economy class and included a checked bag in the price. 

We don't have frequent flier status with American Airlines so decided it was worth it to spend a little more to ensure our comfort for the flight. 

How far is it from Miami to San José? The flight takes just under 3 hours. It's amazing to think that Costa Rica and the unique ecosystems it offers are that close to the United States!

Make sure to get a window seat for your flight. We enjoyed some great aerial views of Miami, Cuba, and Costa Rica en route.

Private Transfer Service

It is possible to rent a car and drive in Costa Rica. 

However, we decided that we'd use a private transfer service. ILT drove us from San José Airport to La Fortuna (about a 3 hour drive), from Monteverde to Manuel Antonio National Park (about 4 hours), and from Manuel Antonio back to San José Airport (about 3 hours). 

It cost about $500 USD in total for the three private transfers.
Costa Rica Itinerary: ILT Private Transfer Van
On the first leg, we got some nice views along the way but the roads are crazy curvy. It takes 2.5 - 3 hours to go less than 50 miles. Bring Dramamine if you are prone to motion sickness. 

Costa Rican coffee is some of the finest in the world. Our ILT transfers included one stop en route per leg. 

We seized the opportunity to taste our first Costa Rican coffee of the trip at La Fiesta de Savor en route to La Fortuna. We paired our coffee with chili plantain chips (a non traditional choice!) and local macaroons.

Hiring a Car

We hired a car for a few days in La Fortuna so that we could explore Arenal National Park and other nearby attractions. There is an Adobe Rent-a-Car office in La Fortuna town. We paid about $200 USD for a 3 day rental. 

Costa Rica Itinerary: Arenal Volcano with a blue car

Where to Stay in Costa Rica

Another key ingredient to a successful Costa Rica travel itinerary is the perfect accommodation. We split the 10 days we spent in Costa Rica between 3 different hotels. 

Hotel Secreto La Fortuna

We had a great stay at Hotel Secreto La Fortuna. The hotel is walking distance to town, sports volcano views, and a birdwatching oasis in the gardens on the property all for less than $100 USD per night. 

Hotel Secreto La Fortuna comes with breakfast birdwatching with tables that faces the gardens which are the centerpiece of the property.
Costa Rica Itinerary: Costa Rica Birds

Aguti Lodge in Monteverde

Stay at Aguti Lodge in Monteverde for the views. It's like living inside a bird hide in the two storey family bungalow. 

Enjoy dinner in the open air with gorgeous sunset views down the mountain and out to sea. Take a hike in the nature reserve on the property. 

Aguti Lodge isn't cheap at $280 USD per night but the location and unique rooms were worth the splurge.
Where to stay in Costa Rica: Aguti Lodge in Monteverde

GAIA Hotel and Reserve in Manuel Antonio

The GAIA Hotel and Reserve in Manuel Antonio caters to adult guests and has a no children (under a certain age) policy which suited us quite well. The GAIA Hotel and Reserve features sweeping sea views from the bar and restaurant. 

The GAIA hotel also has a nature reserve on site. Take a guided hike and check out the vibrant scarlet macaws who call the reserve home. The GAIA Hotel and Reserve hosts a reintroduction program for scarlet macaws. 

The GAIA Hotel cost $278 USD per night for two nights. For this price, you get breakfast and complimentary shuttle service to the town and Manuel Antonio National Park.
Costa Rica Itinerary: Sunset in Manuel Antonio

La Fortuna

We started our trip in La Fortuna because it's the easiest tourist friendly town in Costa Rica to access from San José Airport and is a great home base for exploring the Arenal area. Let's start exploring!

Day 1 - Explore La Fortuna Town

We arrived in La Fortuna Town in the late afternoon. After getting settled in at Hotel Secreto La Fortuna, we walked into town and sampled Costa Rican craft beer at La Fortuna Pub. 

Berta hoppy IPA took the edge off the humidity and Mono Titi saison was wheaty not sour. For dinner, we sampled casado con carne, pollo picante, and a light-as-air papaya milkshake at Soda Restaurante Viquez, a great spot for a budget-minded meal filled with local flavors.
Plate of Costa Rican Food

Day 2 - Costa Rica Wildlife and Birds

Our second day in La Fortuna featured an early morning sloth and Costa Rican wildlife tour followed by a relaxing afternoon and fulfilling dinner.

Sloth Tour

We awoke with the sun for a sloth tour near La Fortuna with Callidryas Tours ($60 USD per person). Our pick-up time was a tough 6 am. The tour was pretty awesome though. At our first stop along a lazy river near La Fortuna Town we saw a mama and baby three-toed sloth. 

We also caught a glimpse of a two-toed sloth which is much furrier compared to the three-toed sloth.
Costa Rica Itinerary: Mother sloth and baby
Our Callidryas tour guide wandered into the brush while we were staring through the scope up into the trees and returned with a tiny poisonous blue jean frog.
Costa Rica Wildlife: Blue jeans frog
Toucans (and Costa Rica birds in general) are the stars of a Costa Rica trip. Toucans are faster moving than sloths and thus harder to spot. We got lucky though. I snapped the shutter at just the right moment for a beautiful portrait.
Costa Rica Wildlife: toucan
Our sloth tour included a buffet breakfast with a side of opportunistic bird watching at Arenal Oasis. We saw Costa Rica's national bird: the clay-colored thrush known by the native people of Costa Rica as the bringer of rain. 

We also spotted a male great currasow and a blue-gray tanager, again highlighting why Costa Rica birds are some of the best in the world.
Costa Rica Itinerary: Woodpeckers
We spent the afternoon relaxing at Hotel Secreto La Fortuna. We picked up some Costa Rican craft beer at the supermarket and enjoyed them with some opportunistic birdwatching at our hotel. We spotted 5 toucans in a tree! 

We also got a peek at an industrious great kiskadee building a nest in the gardens at our hotel. As an added bonus, Arenal Volcano showed us its peak today. The clouds parted unexpectedly and offered us a spectacular view.
Costa Rica Itinerary: Great kiskadee building a nest
We enjoyed upscale Costa Rican food for dinner at Inspira in La Fortuna. Cassava croquettes with sour guava sauce, sweet plantain empanadas in 3 flavors, and fresh Pacific catch with curry and banana sauce washed down with an El Chilling cocktail (a spicy margarita, essentially) really hit the spot.

Day 3 - Costa Rica Hiking and Spas

On the third day of our 10 day Costa Rica itinerary, we hopped in our rental car and explored fun things do to around La Fortuna with a centerpiece on Arenal Volcano.

Arenal Volcano Hike

We started our day we a vigorous hike in Arenal Volcano National Park. It costs $15 USD per person to enter for the day. Take the 3 km detour on Sendero Ceibo to see a 400 year old tree that has survived the eruption of the volcano over the centuries. 
Costa Rica Itinerary: Arenal National Park
Wear sturdy footwear and allow about 3 hours to walk the main trail at Arenal Volcano National Park. The climb to Mirador Colada looks a little intimidating. It takes about 10 minutes to climb the rocky path to the scenic vista. The views are definitely worth it!

After walking the main trail at Arenal Volcano National Park, drive the rocky road about 600 meters to the very end for stunning views of the volcano. Some people walk from the trailhead but it's simplest to drive and save a little time. 

We even spotted a couple of really cool birds in the rafters of the shaded picnic area.

Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park

Costa Rica Itinerary: Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges
Mistico Hanging Bridges is another extremely popular thing to do near La Fortuna and features great views of Arenal Volcano. Face your fear of heights at Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges. 

Don't expect to see much wildlife (especially without a guide), but the 1.9 mile walk has some nice views. We spotted vampire bats after hearing a French tour guide say "Dracula". 

The suspension bridges are quite wobbly and will definitely get your adrenaline flowing if you don't like heights. I dare you to look down for an added rush.
Costa Rica Itinerary: Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges

Arenal to La Fortuna

Getting there is half the fun. On our return from the attractions near Arenal Volcano, we stopped for a quick chocolate fix at Chocolateria Estukurú.

At one point along the road, we noticed a bunch of people pulled over and I knew something was up. I caught a glimpse of fur and we stopped with brakes screeching. This particular three-toed sloth was very obliging and posed in plain sight.
Costa Rica Itinerary: Sloth in a tree

Dinner in La Fortuna

We were definitely hungry after a day of hiking and enjoyed a fire-roasted rotisserie chicken combo for two including fresh tortillas and patacones (savory plantains), not to mention some amazing salsa picante at Pollo Fortuneño in La Fortuna. 

Save room for Pops! The Dulce de Leche and Cocunut make for a great ice cream combo in Costa Rica!
What to eat in Costa Rica: Rotisserie Chicken at Pollo Fortuneño

Eco Termales Spa

Spend the evening at Eco Termales spa. The experience costs $42 USD per person for 4 hours in the hot springs. Eco Termales features six different hot pools covering a range of temperatures. 

Plunge into "cold" (80 °F) pools every 15 minutes to cool off. Eco Termales serves drinks so enjoy a cocktail poolside. 

We tried a guaro sour which takes guaro, the traditional liqueur of Costa Rica, and pairs it with lime.
Costa Rica Itinerary: Eco Termales Spa

Day 4 - Costa Rica Rivers and Butterflies

On the fourth day of our 10 day Costa Rica itinerary we opted for a mixed guided and self-drive experience with a morning river safari followed by a trip to the Costa Rica Butterfly Conservancy. 

Rio Peñas Blanca River Safari 

We started our day by embarking on a half day river safari on Rio Peñas Blancas with Jacamar Tours ($60 USD per person). Before we even departed on our Costa Rica river safari our guide pointed out a troop of howler monkeys. They are much easier to photograph from land than on our inflatable raft!
Costa Rica Wildlife: Howler monkey
We saw lots of cool birds on our river safari including tiger herons, three species of kingfisher, and a boat-billed night heron. Our guide Diego had an amazing eye for spotting wildlife and was adept at paddling the boat into the best position to see it. 

We also got to see bats, iguanas, waterfalls, and lovely river vistas on our river safari on Rio Peñas Blancas near La Fortuna.

Diego also had a really good eye for spotting sloths and we saw three on our river safari. If you do the Jacamar Tours Peñas Blancas river safari, make sure to wear water shoes or sport sandals. We had to get out of the boat and splash through some water to see one of the sloths. 
Costa Rica Itinerary: Rio Peñas Blanca River Safari
We finished our Costa Rica river safari at a local farm where we ate fresh maduros (sweet plantains), cheese made on the farm, and yucca cake (tasted a little like corn bread) washed down with a cup of coffee. We also got to play with the resident puppies.

Lunch on the Road

We hopped into our rental car and made our way to La Caribeña for lunch. Patacones with beans and pico de gallo were the perfect snack. We asked for hot sauce which came with a warning that it was "muy picante". My lips were tingling a bit but it wasn't that hot.
Costa Rica Food: Patacones at La Caribeña

Costa Rica Butterfly Conservancy

When considering things to do in La Fortuna, you may wonder if the 35 minute drive from La Fortuna to the Costa Rica Butterfly Conservancy is worth it. Despite the potholes that turned the last 15 minutes of the drive into an obstacle course, the drive is totally worth it. 

The greenhouses are full of hundreds of Morpho butterflies (the national butterfly of Costa Rica) and other colorful species. Morpho butterflies are almost iridescent and rarely sit still. The Costa Rica Butterfly Conservancy costs $17 USD per person to enter, but we thought it was worth every penny. 
Costa Rica Itinerary: Morpho Butterfly
The Butterfly Conservancy in Costa Rica also has a collection of poisonous and non-poisonous frogs plus a couple lizards. A volunteer from Germany showed us around and opened up some of the tanks for pictures. I am not sure how advisable that was given how poisonous some of these species are.
Visiting the Costa Rica Butterfly Conservancy
We took the rainforest walk at the Butterfly Conservancy. Beware that the trail is short but a little rough in places. We encountered an older couple right after the husband had fallen. Fortunately we were there to help him up. We definitely recommend bringing hiking poles for extra leverage.

Drinks, Dinner, and Dessert in La Fortuna

Our evening plans involved grabbing a craft beer at Lava Lounge. We found this very relaxing after a full day of exploring things to do near La Fortuna. 

We returned to Pollo Fortuneño for dinner again (it was that good!) We opted for pork ribs and arroz con pollo this time. 

The ribs came with banana salad, a savory and starchy salad marinated in vinegar. Delish! We picked up dessert at Chocolate Fusion; just a few truffles filled with tropical fruits like guava, sour guava, mango, and soursop.
Costa Rica Craft Beer


Day 5 - A Costa Rica Massage en Route from Arenal to Monteverde Cloud Forest

About halfway through our 10 day Costa Rica itinerary, we undertook the journey from La Fortuna to Monteverde. We booked shared transportation otherwise known as "Jeep-Boat-Jeep" for the trip. 
Costa Rica Itinerary: Jeep on a gravel road en route from Arenal to Monteverde

La Fortuna to Monteverde Cloud Forest

All I can say is, hold on to your butts! The first leg was a warm and unpleasant ride with no A/C from La Fortuna Town to Lake Arenal. Fortunately, this was the shortest of the legs (less than an hour including picking up guests from other nearby hotels. 
Costa Rica Itinerary: boat en route from Arenal to Monteverde
Once we boarded boats to cross Lake Arenal, the journey became much more pleasant with beautiful scenery (including volcano views) and cool lake breezes. For the final leg of the trip from La Fortuna to Monteverde, we got what locals like to call an opportunistic "Costa Rican massage". 

The 2 hour drive from the boat dock through the winding gravel roads to Monteverde is simply bone rattling. On the plus side the views are spectacular.
Costa Rica Itinerary: rolling hills en route from Arenal to Monteverde

Aguti Lodge and Nature Reserve

The jeep-boat-jeep experience may have been arduous but the ends justified the means. We were ensconced in the Aguti Lodge in time for lunch and were surrounded by some of the most unique and biodiverse terrain in the world. 

We enjoyed complimentary fresh juice upon arrival at Aguti Lodge in Monteverde Cloud Forest. We decided to keep it healthy for lunch with vegetarian ceviche with passion fruit sauce and a watermelon, cheese, and basil salad.
Costa Rica Itinerary: Trail signage in Aguti Nature Reserve
After getting settled in, we took a quick hike by day to familiarize ourselves with the Aguti Nature Reserve. We spotted a grey-necked wood rail on our hike and then witnessed a gorgeous sunset back at Aguti Lodge.

Night Walk in Aguti Nature Reserve

After sunset, we embarked on a guided night walk in Aguti Reserve. It was a cool experience but wildlife is much harder to photograph after dark. 

We saw frogs, an orange-kneed tarantula, and a 9 banded armadillo (not pictured). We were all equipped with flashlights and were told to use wave the beam around to spot eyes in the forest. I just didn't have a knack for it though.
Costa Rica Wildlife: Orange-kneed Tarantula

Dinner at Aguti Lodge

Black bean soup, pumpkin cream, chicken with cacao and tamarind and chicken achiote washed down with glasses of Argentinian red (a Pinot Noir and Cab Sav) brought the day to a perfect close.

Day 6 - Monteverde Cloud Forest

We spent Day 6 of our 10 day Costa Rica itinerary exploring things to do in Monteverde starting with the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, one for the bucket list!

Reserva Monteverde

Costa Rica Itinerary: Public Bus to Reserva Monteverde
We took the public bus from Monteverde Town to to Reserva Monteverde at a cost of just 700 Colones per person (about $1.20 USD at the time of writing). Upon arrival, we encountered a bit of a curveball. 

The line to enter Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve was long and quite chaotic. The reserve limits visitors and was assigning numbers to the people in the queue. 

Fortunately, we pre-booked a guided tour and were able to cut to the front of the line. However, that wasn't immediately clear when we arrived. We talked to someone and they sent us in to the ticket office via the side door and we were on our way.
Costa Rica Itinerary: queue to enter Monteverde Reserve
We took an independent hike for about an hour to the hanging bridge in the park (and back). Beware that some of the trails in Monteverde are quite steep. I definitely felt winded because of the altitude. 
Costa Rica Itinerary: Hanging bridge at Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
We pre-booked a guided walk through Monteverde Reserve. Normal entrance to Monteverde Cloud Forest is $25 USD. 

The guided walk was $45 including entrance so a great deal for 3 hrs. Highlights included 2 sloths, a hummingbird nest, and a wasp that had fallen victim to a parasitic fungus. No quetzals though, sadly. 

We got lucky and saw an aguti crossing the trail. Video is the only way to capture this little critter. We saw a number of things on our guided walk that we never would have spotted on our own (e.g., the hummingbird nest). I definitely recommend the guided walk in Reserva Monteverde. 
Costa Rica Wildlife: Sloth in Monteverde Cloud Forest

Hummingbird Gallery

Before departing, check out the hummingbird gallery just outside the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. You'll find all sorts of species flitting about the sugar-water feeders.

Costa Rica Itinerary: Hummingbird at a feeder

Tramonti Dinner and a Costa Rica Sunset

We caught another spectacular sunset over the Pacific Coast in Monteverde to end the day on another high note. It was amazing to watch a tendril of cloud unfold across the sunset scene in Monteverde while sipping a drink at Aguti Lodge.
Costa Rica Itinerary: Sunset in Monteverde
We met the couple that we 'rescued' on the trail a couple days back at the Costa Rica Butterfly Conservancy. They've been coming to Costa Rica for years and highly recommend Tramonti (an Italian wood-fired pizza restaurant) in Monteverde. 

They have been married 52 years so we also got a glimpse of what we may be like in another quarter century. The food was great too. We filled up on pizza and pasta for a change of pace after days of eating beans and plantains.
What to eat in Costa Rica: Tramonti Pizza in Monteverde

Day 7 - Seeking Birds and Coffee in Monteverde Cloud Forest

Day 7 of our 10 day Costa Rica itinerary focused on birds and coffee, two of the amazing features of the Monteverde Cloud Forest ecosystem.

Birdwatching in Reserva Curi Cancha

Monteverde is a top destination for birds so we got up with the sun this morning for a birdwatching tour ($55 USD per person with Nature Tours CR) and spotted Lesson's Motmot on the grounds of our hotel before the tour guide even arrived. 

We spotted a bunch of cool birds on our guided walk through Reserva Curi Cancha including a white-eared ground sparrow, slate-throated redstart, squirrel cuckoo, and crested guan. 

We also saw plenty of hummingbirds at Curi Cancha Reserve including a lesser violetear. They perch and sing in the same spot for hours trying to attract a mate. 

Costa Rica Itinerary: Birdwatching in Curi Cancha Reserve in Monteverde Cloud Forest

Herberto from Nature Tours CR, was sad that we didn't see a quetzal at Curi Cancha. Despite his very best efforts, the quetzal remained elusive so he took us to another place where they hang out. 

Herberto's ears perked up and he said: I hear a bellbird! We didn't see a quetzal but saw a three-wattled bellbird which was pretty awesome. 

Herberto really went went above and beyond by taking us to a private spot he knows about so we could see the strange mustachioed three-wattled bellbird.
Costa Rica Wildlife: three-wattled bellbird

Santa Elena

We spent the afternoon exploring Santa Elena, the main town near Monteverde Cloud Forest. We had time for a coconut latte at Espresso Beso. 

Our coffee was not too sweet and beautifully presented. What better way to spend the afternoon than sipping a Costa Rican craft coffee after a morning of birdwatching. 
Costa Rica Itinerary: Coconut Latte
We moved on to a craft beer break at Monteverde Beer House. We tried the chili beer (bam! nice and spicy) and black ash stout (earthy!) with a small snack. 

Unfortunately, most of their taps were kicked when we visited but at least we liked the two beers we got to try.

Cafe de Monteverde Coffee Tour

We spend the rest of the afternoon on a coffee tour at Cafe de Monteverde. We got to see the end to end process including making compost for fertilizer, picking berries, separating, drying, and roasting the coffee beans. We also learned about seasonal Nicaraguan coffee pickers and how 50% of the farm is forested for conservation. 

We even got to pick some coffee berries at Cafe de Monteverde. This is hard work! Did you know that it takes 100 berries to make a single cup of coffee?Costa Rica Itinerary: Picking coffee beans at Cafe de Monteverde
Of course, we finished our tour of Cafe de Monteverde with a tasting: light, medium, and dark roasts from fully washed beans plus honey and natural process brews. Overall, this was a very educational tour and was priced at $35 USD per person including transportation from/to St. Elena.
Costa Rica Itinerary: coffee tasting at Cafe de Monteverde

Manuel Antonio

Day 8 - Onward to Manuel Antonio National Park

Day 8 of our 10 day Costa Rica itinerary was spent in transit to the Pacific Coast (one of our private transfers with ILT) with a bit of fun mixed in along the way.

Monteverde to Manuel Antonio

We took a final early morning walk in Aguti Reserve in Monteverde. It was a good idea to get some exercise before the long drive to Manuel Antonio. 

En route between Monteverde and Manuel Antonio, we broke up the drive with a stop at Crocodile Bridge. Not only are there crocodiles but also cafes with bathrooms at the edge of the bridge making this a good, albeit touristy, rest stop.
Costa Rica Itinerary: Crocodile Bridge
We really enjoyed the view from Crocodile Bridge. Thousands of crocs live in the 5 km of river between here and the Pacific Ocean. 

Why hello there... Our driver pulled over when he spotted a scarlet macaw in a tree at the side of the road near Jacó. I was delighted by all the wildlife that we spotted on our Costa Rica road trip!
Costa Rica Wildlife: Scarlet Macaw in Jaco

Post Road Trip Cocktail at GAIA Hotel

We arrived before our room was ready at GAIA Hotel. What better way to while away the time than with a fancy margarita. 

It was hard to choose but ultimately we decided on the pinajalapeno and guanabana and cilantro margies. The guanabana and cilantro in particular was unusual but delicious. I was definitely in my happy place after the long drive.
Costa Rica Itinerary: exotic margaritas at GAIA Hotel and Reserve

GAIA Reserve Guided Walk

Guests at GAIA Hotel in Manuel Antonio can do a guided walk through the onsite reserve for free. We thought the visit would focus on the scarlet macaw breeding program. 

While we did see macaws, the tour is actually a fairly strenuous hike through leaves and brush with a high population of snakes. Heat and humidity was so high that my clothes were soaked with sweat within minutes. If I had to do it again, I'd skip this walk. 
Costa Rica Itinerary: Scarlet Macaws at GAIA Hotel and Reserve

Dinner at GAIA Hotel

We treated ourselves to a lovely dinner at GAIA Hotel in Manuel Antonio. We got to try 4 kinds of homemade bread including jalapeno, carrot, caper, and sour guava. 

We sipped butternut squash and papaya soup followed by coconut crusted calamari, and two kinds of Mahi Mahi (simple flavors in a banana leaf and a plantain and a coconut crusted version). Delicious!

Day 9 - Exploring Manuel Antonio

We spend the final full day of our 10 day Costa Rica itinerary exploring Manuel Antonio National Park and the associated town.

Manuel Antonio National Park

We started the day with breakfast at the GAIA Hotel and then caught the golf cart down the hill followed by the hourly shuttle for Manuel Antonio National Park at 8 am. 

We made the right choice to go at 8 not 7. Apparently, the bus was full at 7 but just us at 8. There was no wait for tickets at Coopealianza Bank. 

At first we thought the guides were trying to scam us into buying tickets on the secondary market but it's legit. Tickets to enter Manuel Antonio National Park are sold at the bank across from the park entrance.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Looking for other unique landscapes and places to visit in the Americas? Why not spend 2 weeks in Patagonia with a stop at El Calafate glacier in Argentina and iconic Torres del Paine National Park in Chile.

Manuel Antonio was the easiest to explore of the national parks we visited in Costa Rica. A smooth boardwalk is wheelchair accessible through the forest to the beach. 

The main complicating factor is the heat and humidity. You can't bring food to the park but bring plenty of water.

We opted to visit Manuel Antonio National Park without a guide. We still managed to spot some wildlife mainly by watching where crowds of people had gathered. 

Manuel Antonio was the busiest park we visited in Costa Rica. We saw crabs, iguanas, a Jesus Christ lizard, and a deer. With the help of the maintenance staff, we spotted a three-toed sloth and her baby in a tree outside the restroom near the beach.
Costa Rica Wildlife: Jesus Christ Lizard in Manuel Antonio National Park
We hiked Sendero Mirador at Manuel Antonio NP. That was a mistake. The view at the end was gorgeous and we saw capuchin monkeys up close but the trail was difficult in the heat/humidity with lots of stairs to climb. We ran out of energy and didn't do Sendero La Trampa afterward.
Costa Rica Itinerary: trail at Manuel Antonio NP
On the return from Sendero Mirador we spotted a troop of howler monkeys. I think there can be no doubt that the howler we saw was the alpha male. Not only was he showing off the "boys" but he let out a booming cry while we were standing there.
Costa Rica Wildlife: Howler Monkey in Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio is the only national park I've ever been to that includes beaches. After our hikes, we were drenched in sweat. We changed into our bathing suits (there are a few rustic facilities available) and took a dip in the Pacific.
Costa Rica Itinerary: Beach at Manuel Antonio National Park
I was a little nervous about the tree we set ourselves up under for shade (gotta watch out for snakes) but it was grand in the end. My partner asked me: what are you more afraid of? Snakes or sunburn? Answer: sunburn.

Capuchin monkeys hang out on the beach (Manuel Antonio NP searches bags on the way in for food so the monkeys don't eat human junk food). We saw a water fountain with a sign that said: "Please don't wash your feet here".  It seems like the monkeys in Manuel Antonio National Park didn't get the memo.
Costa Rica Wildlife: Capuchin Monkey at Manuel Antonio NP
Did you know that there are raccoons in Manuel Antonio National Park? I heard a sort of whining as I was washing the sand off my feet and looked up to see a raccoon looking at me from the edge of the forest.

Manuel Antonio Town

Patacones and a beer for lunch at Buru in Manuel Antonio town were just what we needed. After hiking in the heat and humidity in Manuel Antonio NP, I've never had a meal taste so good!

Relax at the GAIA Hotel

Time for an afternoon dip in the pool at GAIA Hotel. We had an A/C issue in our original room so they moved us to a nicer one complete with a loft and semi-private pool. The regular pool was pretty rad too with floating chaises & swim up bar. I had a coconut margarita in the water.
Costa Rica Itinerary: Semi-private pool at GAIA Hotel
Our final dinner at GAIA Hotel included a slice of GAIA Lime Pie. It was much lighter than we expected which was good since we were pretty full even though we only had a starter each and one main to share. 
Costa Rica Itinerary: GAIA Lime Pie

Day 10 - Returning Home

We spent the final day of our 10 day itinerary in Costa Rica driving from Manuel Antonio to San José to catch our flight.

Manuel Antonio to San José Airport

Last day in Costa Rica! We soaked up the view while eating Gallo Pinto for breakfast. Sadly, we didn't have time for much other than the drive to San Jose Airport, about 3 hours from Manuel Antonio. 

We made a rest stop at a crafts complex en route to San José Airport with ILT.  Such an easy to book, trustworthy, and reliable private transfer! We used them three times on this trip and were pleased with the quality of the car and drivers.

We toasted our 10 day Costa Rica itinerary with a goodbye beer and a Costa Rican alfajor at San Jose airport in the Copa Club lounge. Cheers to a great trip that's not quite over yet! We still had about 24 hours to spend on a Panama City layover before our return to Europe and the day job that funds all our travels.

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10 Day Costa Rica Itinerary for first time visitors10 Day Costa Rica Itinerary for first time visitors

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: What is the Best 10 Day Costa Rica Itinerary for First Time Visitors?
What is the Best 10 Day Costa Rica Itinerary for First Time Visitors?
Read about a 10 day Costa Rica itinerary ideal for first time visitors. Discover things to do in La Fortuna, things to do in Monteverde, and things to do in Manuel Antonio.
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog