A guide to orient you and help you decide which regions and in which order to travel. We didn’t travel everywhere, so this guide ignores most of South Costa Rica.
We traveled in May, 2022.
In my experience, there are four main regions you can hit:
- La Fortuna/Monteverde – About 3 hours by car between these two. About 3 hours from San Jose.
- Things to do: Jungle treks, hot springs, zip lines, adventuring, etc.
- Guanacaste and Beach Hopping – Tamarindo is about 3 hours from La Fortuna
- Things to do: Surfing, parties, beaches, yoga, bio luminescence tours, boats
- Caribbean Side - About 4 hours from La Fortuna and 7 hours from Guanacaste (we didn’t go here)
- Things to do: Beach things, chilling, smoking weed
- Jaco & Manuel Antonio – Pacific beaches and national parks about 4.5 hours from Guanacaste and La Fortuna, 3 hours from San Jose
- Things to do: Beaches, jungle treks, wildlife, yoga, parties
We spent a night outside of San Jose and then went north first to La Fortuna (where we spent 3 nights), then dropped down to Guanacaste Peninsula. We first went to Playa Grande (not recommended, although we stayed in a sweet spot for two nights), then spent a night in Tamarindo (which we didn’t love) before taking a four hour drive south to Santa Teresa (which we loved). We spent a week there beach hopping and seeing the bio luminescence (which you have to do!).
We then debated between going to Manuel Antonio or crossing to the Caribbean side. We decided to go to Manuel Antonio as the Caribbean side is known to be more rainy and the Pacific side was already providing to be pretty rainy. We took the ferry from Paquera to Puntarenas and then drove to Jaco before making our way down to Manuel Antonio.
You could also potentially go the other way, taking the ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera, then going to Santa Teresa before working your way north.
Having a car makes this whole thing much easier. The only advantage of not having a car is that you can take boats from the mainland to the Guanacaste Peninsula. In other words, if you have a car and want to go by boat, you have to take the ferry.
Recognize that driving from north to south along the Guanacaste Peninsula is not really possible on the coast. The road is terrible and you’ll average like 30km/h (if that). You also will probably damage your car unless you have a Jeep Wrangler. There aren’t that many nice places on either Airbnb or Booking along that route either. If you want, you could beach hop along the way, staying at little guest houses. We opted to take the high road which goes to Santa Teresa (by way of Paquera and Pochote).
Go This Way:
Not This Way:
Looking Back: Our Recommended Route
If you’re planning around the weather, plan to go to La Fortuna / Monteverde during the rainiest part.
Two Week Route:
Monteverde/La Fortuna, Santa Teresa, Dominico, and
Go north to La Fortuna. Enjoy the relaxing jungle and hot springs, especially after your flight. We recommend 3-4 days there. There are some sweet places about 1.5 hours from La Fortuna which we did not go. If we had 1 more day, it would have been perfect. Although we skipped it, it’s worth going to Monteverde.
Then drop down to Guanacaste. Spend a night in Tamarindo to just feel the vibe. Catch cocktails and a fire show on the beach. The town was not that active in late May. Plenty of bars but we didn’t find any clubs.
Then head south to the Santa Teresa area. Definitely hit the bio luminesce there.