Costa Rica Travel Guide: the ultimate travel route

costa rica - the ultimate route for 3 weeks

Costa Rica has many wonderful places and is known for its hanging bridges, volcanoes, jungle, waterfalls, beaches, and hot springs. When you’re traveling to Costa Rica you want to make sure you’ll see it all. We created the perfect travel guide for you.

Costa Rica has a versatile and beautiful nature and the people are very careful about this. You barely see any trash, so make sure you won’t leave any. This route brings you along the most beautiful part of Costa Rica, where you’ll pass national parks, beaches, and cozy towns to stay in.

San Jose

San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica and is mostly the start of your trip. Personally, I don’t like San Jose and I won’t recommend you to stay here that long. Make sure you relax in a nice hotel or hostel after your flight and then leave as soon as possible for your next location. Costa Rica has so much more to offer than this. If you’re looking for a nice hostel, I can recommend you Selina Hostel.

Stay within an ecolodge, surrounded by wild animals and nature

The Tortuguero Nature Reserve is one of the best known and most popular parks in Costa Rica. In the Tortuguero park, you have a great chance of spotting wild animals. There are more than 400 different bird species, more than 150 species of mammals, nearly 50 species of amphibians, and 30 species of reptiles. You stay here in the middle of the jungle, with beautiful nature and different animals around you. You can book various activities such as hiking through the jungle, a boat trip, and a visit to the small center of Tortuguero.

It’s not possible to travel to Tortuguero on your own. From San Jose, we booked a 3-day excursion to Tortuguero. A bus will pick you at your hotel in the morning. It will take you some time to get there and the ride brings you along with endless green landscapes. The last part is by boat. This makes a bit more special than any other national park. You can stay in one of the many ecolodges and most of them are all-inclusive since there are no restaurants. You can grab some food at the small city center of Tortuguero, but you have little choice and you first have to take a taxi boat. After your stay, they drop you in a restaurant to have lunch. If you rented a car, you can pick them up here so you can continue your road trip from here.

La Fortuna & Arenal Volcano

La Fortuna is located next to the active Arenal volcano which provides the most amazing views. The volcano had a major eruption in 2000 and has an altitude of 1633 meters. Mostly you can’t see the tip because it’s hidden in the clouds. Besides the many activities in the surroundings, La Fortuna is a cozy small town to stay.

La Fortuna is famous because of its most beautiful suspension bridges in the jungle of Costa Rica. I can recommend the hanging bridges of Mistico. Another nice activity is to swim in the La Fortuna waterfall which is 70 meters high and located in the middle of the jungle. You’ll reach this waterfall after a 600 meters walk down the staircase. You can’t climb the volcano but you have amazing hikes. You can take the hike in Arenal National Park or the Arenal 1968 Trail. You can easily do the hikes on your own. And afterward, you can relax in one of the many hot springs in the area.

Sámara

Sámara is a small beach paradise on the west coast of Costa Rica where you barely see any other tourists. You’ll find beautiful deserted beaches and rows of gently waving palm trees. There are no chain hotels, fast food restaurants, or big shopping malls. Yere you’ll find small restaurants and hotels. Relax and enjoy the endless amount of sandy beaches which are always feel fairly empty. Go surfing, kayaking, horse riding, or snorkeling.

Discover the cloud forest in Monteverde

A beautiful road through the mountains brings you to Monteverde. You can stay in an eco-lodge within the cloud forest in Monteverde or take a hostel/hotel in Santa Elena, a small village nearby. Here you’ll find many hostels and restaurants. Monteverde is famous and special because of its cloud forest. In this area, you’ll find more than 3000 different plants, 100 different kinds of mammals, 400 different birds species, 120 different reptiles and amphibians, 490 butterflies and thousands of insects.

Monteverde is a perfect place to go ziplining or to visit some hanging bridges. You can also take a hike through the Monteverde cloud forest or Santa Elena cloud forest. The second one is less touristy and just as beautiful. Another nice experience is to visit the Tree House restaurant. This restaurant is built around a huge tree, where you can enjoy some food and live music in the evenings.

Time to relax in Manuel Antonio

When you’re driving you’ll pass a small city Jaco. Some locals stopped our car. I was a bit scared, but they stopped us to show us dozens of giant crocodiles in the water directly under the bridge. Manuel Antonio is quite touristy, but you don’t want to skip it during your trip to Costa Rica. Here you will find one of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica. Furthermore, you can spot various wild animals in the Manuel Antonio National Park. It’s a perfect spot to relax at the beach, enjoy some food at one of the many nice restaurants and spot some wild animals. Keep your eyes open and you’ll definitely see some sloths and monkeys.

The small town Turrialba

With some stunning views of Costa Rica’s rural countryside, Turrialba is a little town in the Central Valley in Cartago province. If you love outdoor adventure and visiting the not so touristy places when you travel, Turrialba should be on your list of places to go in Costa Rica. Among the most rarely visited national parks in Costa Rica, the Turrialba Volcano National Park is home to the active Turrialba volcano. It is the second-highest volcano in Costa Rica. In the surroundings of Turrialba, you can make beautiful hikes, fly on a zipline through the forest and go rafting or canyoning.

End your trip in laid back Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo is located on the southeast side of the country is an ideal place to end our trip in Costa Rica. Puerto Viejo is laid back. You hear You hear reggae music everywhere, you can go surfing, and enjoy the most beautiful beaches. Many people rent a bicycle here to explore the area on their own. The most beautiful beaches of Puerto Viejo are Playa Cocles, Playa Chiquita, Playa Punta Uva, and Playa Grande. Punta Uva is ideal for kayaking.

Cahuita National Park is 20 km from Puerto Viejo. Take a walk and encounter various animals such as sloths, howler monkeys, and even raccoons. This national park offers a diversity of nature. You walk along white beaches, black beaches, swamp, and jungle. If that is not a perfect way to end your trip.

How to travel through Costa Rica

The best way to travel through Costa Rica is by car. The roads are safe, the police aren’t corrupt and a rental car is quite affordable. It is best to pick up your car after your stay in Tortuguero and return the car in San Jose.

From San Jose to Tortuguero: around 2,5 hours by car. The last part is by boat and it depends where you stay.
From Tortuguero to La Fortuna: After the boat ride it’s about a 3-hour drive to La Fortuna.
From La Fortuna to Samara: around 3,5 hours by car
From Samara to Monteverde: around 2,5 – 3 hours by car
From Monteverde to Manuel Antonio: around 3 hours by car, but make sure you’ll make a stop at Jaco to spot some crocodiles underneath the bridge.
From Manuel Antonio to Turrialba: depending on which route you’ll take, it will take you 3,5 – 4 hours.
From Turrialba to Puerto Viejo: 2,5 – 3 hours by car
From Puerto Viejo to San Jose: 3,5 hours by car.

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Manon
Manon

Hi! My name is Manon, an Amsterdam based travel junkie who wants to explore at least three new destinations each year. Follow my personal Instagram: @manonheitkamp

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