Costa Rica Guide & Itinerary

Summer is rapidly approaching and I’ve already taken my first summer vacation of the year. Costa Rica had been on my bucket list for a long time and it was everything I wanted and more. I spent 10 days backpacking from city to city trying to make the most out of my trip and let me tell you 10 days was not enough time! Costa Rica has luscious rainforests and beautiful beaches with so much to offer! Pura Vida. I will make the effort to return again and spend more time exploring in the cities that called out to me. Here is a summary of my trip for reference to any friends who may want to plan a trip to this central American country.

Day 1 

This was my first travel day. I boarded my flight from San Diego to Houston, where I had a 2 hour layover, and then boarded my last flight to San Jose, CR. San Diego has a smaller airport which leads to most international flights requiring a layover. Honestly, the layover split the travel time in half so it did not feel as long.

Hotel Balmoral

My friend and I ubered to our hotel, Hotel Balmoral, in San Jose which was close to the downtown area. It offered air conditioning and free breakfast, which were wins. We had dinner at a “soda” nearby and went to the “California” district to dance and enjoy the nightlife of San Jose. A “soda” is essentialy a fast-casual restaurant and they are all over the city.

Day 2

Hacienda La Chimba

We took this day to explore a coffee plantation (definately a must) and the bustling city. We started at the coffee plantation where we had a traditional breakfast of Gallo Pinto, which consisted of beans, rice, fried egg, cheese, and plantains! We had this traditional breakfast nearly every morning of the trip, it was absolutely delicious and tasted homemade every time! We finished breakfast with an agua dulce or sweet water which is literally like what it sounds like! Hot water and sugar! We then bought a package to be driven around the plantation with a tour guide to all the instaworthy photo spots! We also had the oopportunity to walk aorund, explolre, and try coffee. There were some parrots that really entertained us with their “Holas.” 

Mercado Central San Jose

(WWM9+V5F, Calle 8, Paso De La Vaca, San José Province, San José, Costa Rica)

This market was a core staple of the city! You can find nearly everything there. Groceries, fresh produce and poultry, souvenirs, clothing, and household items. Now, I cannot tell you how big this market was because it was a maze in there. Its a bustling maze, where we would realize we had already walked by because the vendors would recognize us.

Mercado Municipal de Artesanías, SJO

This market was only a couple blocks away from the Mercado Central and was definately more catered to handcrafted and artesian items. A lot of the same souvenirs could be found at the Mercado Central, however on our visit to this market, we noted it was much slower paced and easier to look around. This was partly due to the fact that it was much smaller than the Mercado Central. Here is where I found my yellow pullover which was perfect for the cold flight home!

Restaurant Maxis By Ricky | Santa Ana

This restaurant was a great tik tok find! It was outside of San Jose, but no more than a 20 minute drive. This Caribbean spot had great reggae music and attentive wait staff. I had a delicious traditional chicken plate and Ana had the same with beef. We accompanied the meal with a few Imperials and even gave “agua de sapo” a try! The drink translates to “frog water” and consists of water, limes, ginger, and piloncillo (raw sugar cane).

Day 3

We left San Jose and headed to Jaco. It took a little over two hours to get to Jaco. We wanted more of a relaxing day so we checked into our beachfront hotel and spent the day relaxing on the beach with a few Cuba Libres. At night time, we went to Jaco Bar where we played jenga, took shots, and integrated with the night life.

Fun Fact: There was an insane amount of iguanas in Jaco! They are fast and will ignore tourists as long as not provoked.

Hotel y Villas Tangeri

They had beachfront rooms with amazing view of the sunrise and sunset. We would walk out of our room and sit on lounge chairs with cubra libres.

Jaco Bar




Day  4

Started our journey to Monteverde! We took a private shuttle in a tropical storm! It was a 3 hour drive through winding roads in the rainforest. We did not realize how quickly shuttle spots were reserved and how in advanced, which is why this day we got very lucky with transportation and found this private shuttle that took is to the doorstop of our next stay: Selina Monteverde. 

Selina hotel Monteverde, Costa Rica | Stay and Explore

This hostel was absolutely beautiful and in the middle of the forest! There was a restaurant and bar within that served meal and drinkds at various hours. The staff was friendky and helpful! They assisted us in booking our excursions with pick up from and to the hostel. It was a the perfect setting for friend making.


This tour was through the nearby canopy forest on foot with a local tour guide. We got to see an array of insects, frogs, and spiders. We also got to see a viper in the tree tops and a sleeping sloth. We walked with flashlights and got to experience widnerness after dark. 

Day 5

Selvatura Park: The Sloth Sanctuary!

I could have stayed in here all day! We saw sloths up close in a rehabilitation sanctuary. All the sloths were females who had been injured or could no longer survive on their own in the wild. There was over 20 of them hanging around sleeping and we were lucky enough to see a few of them in movement. 

Butterfly garden in Monteverde, Costa Rica | Selvatura Park

I could have stayed here all day! I didn’tt know butterflies were such a big part of Costa Rica. They have so many different types of butterflies. The garden had feeding posts for the butterflies where they ate sweet plantains. If you stay still, you can get lucky enough to have a few land on you.

In the evening, we took a long ride to La Fortuna! The journey consisted of a shuttle which was a couple hours to a boat ride that was about 45 mins to a second shuttle. Selina Monteverde assisted us in booking these travel arrangements which went smoother than we could have asked for. We also made a bit stop for food and restrooms! We took advantage of our time to look for a few more souvenirs.

Arenal Backpackers Resort

This hostel was so fun and interesting. There were bedrooms of all types. You had your typical building structures, large glamping tents, and little dome rooms. We stayed in one of the dome rooms, which basicall was just a bed with underbed storage. We kept calling it our teletubies hut, because it was covered in grass and appeared to be right out of the show. There was shared bathrooms, showers, and common areas. We even washed clothes in a sink like true backpackers at this location.




Day 6

La Fortuna Waterfall

We took an uber to La Foruna Waterfall. You do have to pay entry to get to the waterfall. It was approximately $18 USD. You have to take over 500 steps down to the waterfall and then the same 500 steps back up. But the mini workout was worth the serene time we spent there. There wre plenty of people sitting around the waterfall and swimming in the water below it. The views in La Fortuna were magical.

ATV Tour

We booked a very, very last minute ATV excursion with a local. We were walking by his stand and spontaneously booked the tickets and hopped on to their shuttle. This tour was so much fun. We each rode an ATV through La Fortuna, the forest, and to the base of the La Fortuna Waterfall. During the tour, various stops were made to take pictures and learn about the culture. The tour guides were locals and very knowledgeable on the flora and fauna of the region.




Day 7

The Beach Bungalows

This morning we took a shuttle that we booked through our last hostel. It picked us up early at 7am and we were headed off to Tamarindo! On our arrival we checked into our Airbnb which was out of a movie (not literally). Our host was kind enough to allow us to check in before the designated time due to the weather and earlier arrival time. The Airbnb was bed and breakfast style, where we would be served breakfast and coffee every morning. The bungalows were canopy style with the bedroom and bathroom upstairs and a lounging area with a hammock on the first level deck. All the bungalows faced the pool which was the perfect temperature, even late at night.

Tamarindo Estuary Tour

We took a boat tour of the estuary in the evening. Our tour guide provided in formation on the flora and fauna of the area. The tour guide was a loal and extremely knowlwedgeable. We saw termite nests, crocodiles, crabs, birds, and monkeys! We got to observe a small colony of howler monkeys during an active period. We did booked this last minute with a tour we found on Viator.

Day 8

Monkey Jungle Canopy Tours

It is absolutely necessary to zipline in a tropical environment. We had an insanely fun time on this zipline tour. We did about 7-9 lines of different heights, lengths, and speeds. The tour guides were all locals who were welcoming and kept us laughing the entire time. They provided us plenty of water and fresh cut fruit, which absolutely hit the spot after sweating in the treetops.

The Alley @ Calle Dengue | Upe

The Alley is a speakesy style bar behind another bar named Sharkys. This bar hosts a beer pong tournament every Sunday night. Now this tournament did not start until 11pm, but definately was worth the wait! From newbies to professionals, everyone was invested and a teamplayer during the tournament. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it past the first round, but loved cheering new friends on.


Day 9

Occidental Papagayo - Adults Only Resort |

Our hostel helped us in securing spots on a shuttle to Play Hermosa. The drive was not very far from La Fortuna and the shuttle drop us off right at our all-inclusive, adults only resort! We lounged at the pool, grabbed drinks at the swim up bar, and ate plenty of yummy food! We definitely relaxed hard this day and did one of our favorite hotel things. We laid in bed, eating snacks, and watching hotel tv. 

Day 10

We packed up and had breakfast at the resort as we waited for our shuttle to the airport to arrive. The resort was only a 30 minute drive to the LIR airport. On our way back, we had the same layover again in Houston.




Overall, the trip was action packed and busy! Backpacking through a country is no easy feat and not for everyone. So glad that we chose Costa Rica as our major summer trip and first backpacking trip. The culture, food, drinks, and people were wonderful. We had many first expderiences that we will never forget. Although we really packed on the excursions, Costa Rica is a relaxing country where just simply staying on the beach would suffice.

Back to blog