So it’s your first time traveling to Costa Rica, and you’re overwhelmed with where to go.  We get it!  There are an endless amount of beautiful destinations in Costa Rica, so it’s really hard to choose!

But… you have limited time, so you have to make a decision.
Lucky for you, we’ve tested the waters and have done the work for you!
This particular itinerary for first time travelers to Costa Rica is for the beach enthusiast (although, even if you’ve been to Costa Rica multiple times, you’ll still love this trip!).  It’s designed to be a very easy vacation, suitable for any age group, for couples, solo travelers and families.  You’ll feel like you’ve seen a lot of the amazing things Costa Rica has to offer without having to switch locations every couple of days.
This is my FAVORITE itinerary, and we’ve suggested it to countless friends and family who agree!
So without further ado, here’s your perfect Costa Rica itinerary!

 

Jaco Costa Rica

Lookout just south of Jaco

 

Day Zero

This is your travel day!  Bienvenido a Costa Rica! Pura Vida!
  • Fly into San Jose (SJO)
  • Rent a car from Vamos Rent-a-Car or Adobe, they will be your cheapest option and you’ll actually know all your fees up front.  Trust us, you’ll find initially cheaper prices online, and they will swear to you there will be no more fees, but we’ve tested this and inevitably you’ll end up paying more when you check out somewhere else.
  • Head to the Costa Verde Inn for the night.  Be sure to ask for room number 13!  The view of the city and mountains is incredible! And check out the HUGE fireplace in the main living area.
  • Don’t miss dinner at Le Monastère for a luxurious experience, and Tiquicia Mirador if you’re wanting something a little more laid back.  Both have great views!
  • If you want to just chill at the Inn, the front desk has a ton of delivery menus.

 

Costa Verde Inn San Jose Costa Rica

The city view from room 13 at the Costa Verde Inn

 

Day One

  • Wake up early and enjoy the included freshly made breakfast at the Inn.  Be sure to get the Gallo Pinto with your eggs, a Costa Rican staple!  And that little bottle of Lizano on the table? Put it on everything!  Well, everything that’s not sweet!  You will be addicted to the stuff by the time your trip is over so be sure to leave room for a couple of bottles when you’re packing!
  • Hop in your car and head over to Puntarenas to catch the ferry to Paquera. It should take a little over 2 hours to get there, but count on 2.5 (it IS Costa Rica, after all!).
  • Be sure to get there at least an hour ahead of time to get your car in line.  Also, you must grab your tickets from the Muswani bakery across the street.  Check out MyTanFeet’s great post on taking the ferry!
  • Book early to stay at Bahia Rica!  They have a great house with accommodations, and absolutely take them up on their dinner!  Some of the most delicious and fresh food!
  • Spend the evening on the water on Bahia Rica’s Bioluminescent Kayak Tour.  It is truly one of the most memorable and surreal experiences we’ve done!  Real life Avatar!
Tips: If you can’t stay at Bahia Rica, try Mapi’s.  It’s very inexpensive, clean and safe.  The owner is American and very nice! Also, you’ll want the least amount of moon as possible, so if necessary, move this leg to the end of your trip depending on the lunar cycle.

 

 

Day Two

  • Wake up early and take the morning tour to Isla Tortuga.  With it’s light blue waters and light golden sand, it’s a tropical paradise!  Tip: if you leave early in the morning (8am), you’ll beat the other tour boats and have the island to yourself for an hour!
  • After your boat tour, hop in the car, go back on the ferry, and drive on down to Manuel Antonio.
  • Be sure to stop at the bridge at Rio Tarcoles to see the crocodiles.  You can’t miss it…there will be lots of people stopped there!  We always park at the little store before the bridge and grab a soda and bathroom stop.  It’s pretty safe there, but as always, keep an eye on your car and be sure to lock your doors!
  • You’ll arrive in Manuel Antonio just in time to check into the Hotel Costa Verde. If you’re not with a family, I highly recommend the CVII adult building, on a high floor for unparalleled views, or if you’re in the mood to splurge, reserve the 727 Fuselage Suite.  Yep, it’s really a PLANE!
  • It’s been a long day, so either walk just across the street for dinner at La Cantina, or if you’re feeling really lazy, order pizza from El Wagon.

 

 

Day Three Through Six

(Select four of your favorites from the following itineraries)

 

A.

  • Head down by car or bus (sometimes bus is easier – runs frequently, takes 5 min, and you don’t have to worry about parking) to Manuel Antonio beach, find a sweet Tico named Peluca (he’s usually at the beach area in front of where the first set of artists stands are), rent chairs and an umbrella for the day for about $20.  He’ll take care of you the rest of the day and will remember you every time you come back!  I swear he never forgets a face!  Be sure to tell him Brooke and Eric sent you!  The drinks are 2 for 1 at the little beach bar, but they are a bit weak. (not the worst thing when out in the sun and in the ocean!)  The ceviche is delicious!
  • Don’t bring too much to the beach, but if you rent chairs your belongings should be pretty safe.  Just keep an eye on them from the water.
  • If you do drive yourself down, you will see lots of men in official looking vests whistling and waving to you.  Just ignore them completely.  They are trying to book park tours, that’s all.  We just drive right by them and go park near the beach.  The best place to park is on the dirt road on the right hand side just when you get down the hill.  You’ll see vendor stands and all the vested men, just turn right and park anywhere in there.  We always keep some 100 colones coins to give the randoms who say they will watch your car…better safe than sorry!  LOL!
  • After your day at the beach, walk down to the more “town” area by the beach and get some “comida tipica” at Marlin Restaurante.  The Casado plates are delicious!  Fish is your best bet here. And they have good free wifi, so you can go ahead and post those beach pics right away!
  • Try to time your after dinner drinks at around 5:00 to watch the sunset from one of the rooftop bars.  Or, just head right across the street to the beach and get some of the most spectacular pictures!

 

 

B.

  • Wake up early and grab breakfast at the Anaconda at the Hotel Costa Verde.  The corner table view is what you’ll want every morning!
  • Take a zipline tour at El Santuario.  They’ll come pick you up at the hotel and take you back into the jungle where they have the 3rd longest zipline in the world!  Over 90 seconds of zipping above the canopy with an ocean view – it’s just phenomenal!  They’ll prepare you a great lunch and are great with modified diets.  Just let them know when you book the tour.  You’ll want to book this in advance, at least the day before.  Or book online here.
  • Relax at the adult pool for the rest of the afternoon, and watch the sunset from the “helipad” sundeck just off of the pool.
  • Get a little fancy and go eat some Italian fare at Victoria’s.  It’s cozy, romantic and the food is delicious.
  • Head to Byblos if you’re up for gambling or a club atmosphere.

 

C.

  • Rise and shine with an early guided walk through Manuel Antonio National Park.  You’ll see SO much more wildlife if you go with a knowledgable guide!  If you don’t want to pay for a guide, it’s still a must-see.  If you see lots of people standing around at one spot, go find out what they’re looking at – no doubt it’s something cool!
  • Relax after your tour at Manuel Antonio’s most beautiful beaches that are inside the park. Think golden white sand and turquoise blue water!  Be sure to pack a snack or a lunch and plenty of water because there are no restaurants inside the park.
  • Head back to the hotel to relax on your balcony or at the pool.
  • Tonight you’ll be going to one of the coolest beach bars and restaurants in Costa Rica: El Avion.  The sister plane to the one Sandinistas shot down during the Iran Contra Affair is now a Costa Rican pub! It also happens to be attached to the restaurant with an incredible sunset view and really good food!  Make sure to get there by 5:00 to get a good table with a sunset view.
  • For the adventurous ones – go early and stop at the ZIP COASTER/AVATAR right in front of El Wagon for the most unique jungle experience, a zipline roller coaster!  For the faint of heart they also have the kid-friendly bike coaster!  Definitely do this BEFORE you eat or drink!
  • Enjoy the nightlife in high season at the Avion Pub in the plane.  And in low season?  It’s your own private airplane bar!  Be sure to have a cocktail IN the cockpit!

 

 

D.

  • Get out on the water on a snorkel cruise or fishing tour.  Most of these leave from the Marina in Quepos and include lunch.  If you don’t like to fish or snorkel, head to the marina and rent a boat anyway!  It’s the best way to get a completely different view of the coastline.
  • Upon your return to the marina, take advantage of being in Quepos and walk around the shops downtown.  While some my be touristy, there are many locally owned gems!
  • Go to Barba Roja around 4:30 or 5:00 for cocktails and THE best sunset view in Manuel Antonio! Don’t forget your camera on this excursion!
  • Head over to Emilio’s Cafe for dinner.  The food is wonderful and the atmosphere even better!  Live music keeps dinner vivacious!

 

barba-roja-sunset manuel antonio costa rica

Amazing sunset from Barba Roja

 

E.

  • Today is a BEACH CRAWL!!
  • Discover some of the most beautiful beaches in Manuel Antonio.
  • Grab breakfast at the Anaconda at the Hotel Costa Verde. Pack a beach bag and drive to Playa Biesanz.  It’s a small local beach cove that some call the “secret beach”.  You do have to hike about .5 mi down a trail to reach the beach, but it is totally worth it!  Bring your own provisions as there aren’t any there.  Try to do this on a weekday and you might have your own private beach.
  • If you haven’t eaten at El Wagon yet, go get the best pizza in Manuel Antonio for lunch.  Their tropical drinks are also not to be missed!  If you’ve already eaten there, go to the Falafel Bar…there’s a reason it’s rated #1 restaurant in Manuel Antonio on TripAdvisor!
  • Your next beach adventure will start in the parking lot for the Arenas Del Mar Hotel.  Let them know at the large grass hut welcome center that you’re there to check out the beach and beach restaurant.  They will drive you down free of charge in a golf cart…the ride through the jungle is half the fun!  If you’re getting a drink (We suggest the sangria frozen cocktail), feel free to sit in the beach chairs overlooking the private beach.  The sunset colors here are typically gorgeous!
  • Head back up the hill and enjoy dinner at Agua Azul, with its delicious fish and phenomenal views!
  • If you want to get your dance on, head to Bambu Jam to work off those drink calories the fun way!

 

Arenas Del Mar Beach Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

Secluded beach at Arenas Del Mar

 

F.

  • Do…NOTHING!!!!!
  • This is your VACATION!!
  • It’s perfectly ok to just sit on your balcony or at the pool and stare at the ocean all day!
  • To spend the evening by candlelight playing cards, listening to the rain and having ron con cocas!!
  • P.S. El Wagon delivers. So does the grocery store Super Joseth. (Even alcohol!)  You’re welcome.

 

Costa Verde Pool Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

Taking a vacation from our vacation!

 

Day Seven

  • Sad face.  Time to go home.
  • Try to plan your flight in the afternoon so you can spend night six at the beach.
  • If you have an early morning flight, just head back up to the Costa Verde Inn the night before your flight!

 

Manuel Antonio Costa Rica Beach

Whatever you choose, you will have a fabulous time!

 

Let us know what you think about this itinerary in the comments below!

 

Bien Viaje!!!!
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