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1 Week in Costa Rica: An Amazing Itinerary for Rainforests and Beaches

An eco-tourism hot spot with rainforests and beaches, Costa Rica is an easy destination for many people and the perfect winter get-away. We loved our visiting Costa Rica and have the perfect 1 week in Costa Rica itinerary for enjoying this tropical country.

There are so many options of amazing places to stay and awesome things to do that putting together the perfect Costa Rica 7-day Itinerary can be difficult. We’re sharing our exact itinerary below, but if you scroll down we also have suggestions for other itineraries or ideas on how to shorten or lengthen your trip.

One week in Costa Rica was the perfect amount of time and fits well into a one-week school vacation.

1 Week in Costa Rica
1 Week in Costa Rica

Quick Look at the Itinerary for 1 week in Costa Rica

This itinerary includes several days exploring the La Fortuna area near Volcan Arenal and several days on the coast in Nosara.

In general we recommend splitting your time between the inland rain and cloud forest, and the coast. There are several different areas to explore on the coast.

It’s easy to adjust exactly what you do in each location using the information below, or you can follow the itinerary suggestions for each day of your trip. Here is an overview of the itinerary with some suggestions of things to do in Costa Rica:

  • Day 1: Fly into Liberia, Costa Rica, rent a car, and drive to La Fortuna
  • Day: 2-4 Explore La Fortuna – walk in the rainforest, visit an animal rescue, hike to a waterfall, and check out the volcano
  • Day 5: Leave early and drive to Nosara
  • Day 5-7: Enjoy the beach at Nosara, horseback ride, surf, and watch the sunset.
  • Day 7: Drive to Liberia and Fly Home

Map of Costa Rica Itinerary

Use this map to plan you 1 week Costa Rica Itinerary. You can easily see how flying into Liberia makes the most sense for visiting La Fortuna and Nosara.

Complete Costa Rica One Week Itinerary

Day 1: Fly into Liberia, Costa Rica, rent a car, and drive to La Fortuna

Liberia is a small airport and easy to navigate. I’ve also flown into San Jose and found Liberia easier and it’s the perfect airport for this itinerary. You can do this itinerary by flying into San Jose, but you may want to consider visiting a beach further to the south. For this 1 week in Costa Rica, you will need to rent a car.

The first time I visited Costa Rica I did it as part of a full tour and we had a driver. The most recent time, we decided to rent our own car. In general, we found renting a car in Costa Rica to be easy. Most of the roads are easy to drive, although the last hour’s drive to La Fortuna is on a narrow road with lots of tight turns. Getting to Nosara also involved driving through a low river. If you are not comfortable driving in these conditions, I would recommend booking drivers to take you between the different areas. This means you will need to book tours for many of the activities do will be more expensive in the long run.

The drive from the Liberia Airport to La Fortuna is about 2 hours and 30 minutes.

1 Week in Costa Rica: waterfall rappeling
1 Week in Costa Rica: waterfall rappeling

Day: 2-4 Explore La Fortuna

Spend the next 3 days exploring La Fortuna. There are so many things to do in this area that I really think you need 3 full days. If you want more beach time, you can also head to Nosara on day 4. La Fortuna has a medium sized town and many small to medium resorts outside of town. The roads are generally easy to drive. For your time in La Fortuna, you can choose from some of the activities below.

Check out: 11 Things to do in La Fortuna

Check out the Arenal Volcano – the volcano is the centerpiece of the La Fortuna area. If you are lucky, the clouds will clear giving a full view of the volcano. You can view the volcano from afar, but it’s also possible to hike on the sides of the volcano. The Volcano Arenal National Park is in two sections – the Main Section and the Peninsula Section. You can find several different hiking trails up into the lava fields.

1 Week in Costa Rica: waterfall
1 Week in Costa Rica: waterfall

Visit La Fortuna Waterfall – close to town you can find the beautiful La Fortuna Waterfall. From the parking lot, it’s a short walk down a series of stairs to the 70-meter waterfall. This is the perfect place to swim and cool off and you can explore right under the waterfall (although the current is strong) or swim in the water downstream. You do not need to book a tour to go to this waterfall unless you don’t have a car and need transportation.

Enjoy Some Hot Springs – Thanks to the thermal activity related to the Arenal Volcano, you can find many hot springs in the area. There are many resorts that have hot springs right on their grounds, or you can pay to visit one of the resorts for the day. You can also find one free hot spring spot in town and you just need to park on the side of the road and walk down a short path to enjoy the springs.

Visit the Butterfly Conservatory – We’ve been to the butterfly conservatory twice. It is a beautiful place to visit and you can go into several different areas to see different species of butterflies. The drive to the conservatory is beautiful and you often get excellent views of the volcano. Check out more about the Butterfly Conservatory.

Go Zip Lining or Waterfall Rappelling – We loved doing a waterfall rappelling/zip-lining adventure in Costa Rica. We took our 2 oldest kids and spent a morning going down a series of waterfalls. It was incredible and our kids still talk about how fun it was a few years later.

Explore Mistico Hanging Bridges – One of the must-do activities in La Fortuna is taking a walking tour in the hanging bridges. You can book this tour in many different ways, but you should definitely book in advance. The tour guides shared lots of information about the rainforest and we were able to see monkeys and enjoyed the walk through the canopy.

1 Week in Costa Rica: volunteering at Proyecto Asis
1 Week in Costa Rica: volunteering at Proyecto Asis

Visit Proyecto Asis – This is a small animal rescue located near La Fortuna. The organization uses funds raised through tours to help rehabilitate rescued animals in Costa Rica. You can book several different types of tours, including the ‘volunteer’ tour where you help feed the animals. This was a great experience for our family. The emphasis at Proyecto Asis is on releasing the animals back into the wild. We chose to do the longer volunteer tour and definitely think the longer tour is worth it.

Other great activities in the area include white water rafting, horseback riding, biking, trekking, and chocolate tours.

What we did in La Fortuna...

On our first full day in La Fortuna, we spent the morning doing a hanging bridges tour.  In the afternoon, we drove to the Butterfly Conservatory and enjoyed some amazing views of the Volcano.

On the second day, we started with waterfall rappelling.  After grabbing lunch, we visited natural hot spring in town.  

On our 3rd and final day in La Fortuna, we visited the La Fortuna Waterfall and spent the rest of the day volunteering at Proyecto Asis.  This was an ambitious agenda, but we're glad we made time to see everything on our list!

Where to Stay in La Fortuna

There are so many options for places to stay in La Fortuna. Most of the resorts and lodges are small and eco-friendly, but you can find everything from budget options to luxury.

We stayed at Los Lagos Spa and Resort and enjoyed having pools and hot spring tubs right at the property. The property is large and was a great base for our adventures.

A bit outside of town, we also considered the small luxury Nayara Gardens or glamping at Hotel Arenal Glamping.

Day 5: Leave early and drive to Nosara

This drive takes about 4.5 hours. It’s an interesting drive, but we didn’t take time to stop anywhere except to have lunch in Samara. While we ultimately decided to stay in Nosara for the beach portion of our trip, we really liked Samara and would have happily stayed here for a few days. Samara is a bit more laid back with a local vibe compared to Nosara.

From Samara, the drive to Nosara can be done in two ways. If the water level is low, you can drive on the more direct route, but you may need to drive through a river. We did not know this but had no problem crossing the river as the level was very low. We did get out of the car to check the river depth and watched a truck drive through before we attempted it. Note that this entire stretch of road is only about 20 miles but takes a long time to drive (about 1 hour).

See more details on 10 Amazing Things to do in Nosara Costa Rica

1 Week in Costa Rica: sunset in Nosara
1 Week in Costa Rica: sunset in Nosara

Day 5-7: Enjoy the beach at Nosara, horseback ride, surf, and watch the sunset.

Nosara is a small tourist-driven town on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. We chose this destination over some of the beach areas further south partially since we were flying out of Liberia, and partially because we wanted to find somewhere a bit quieter than the beaches closer to San Jose.

Nosara is quieter and has a long a beautiful beach popular for surfing. As mentioned we were a bit unprepared for how many ex-pats lived in the town – it almost felt like we were in Southern California. This made it an easy place to stay in terms of dining and lodging, but if you are looking for a more authentic Costa Rica experience, you may want to consider Samara or other small beach towns. That said we had an amazing time in Nosara – it’s just helpful to know what to expect. Here are some of the best things to do in Nosara, Costa Rica:

Watch the Sunset – this is almost a necessity to do in Nosara and it truly feels like everyone empties out onto the beach at sunset. The entire beach lights up and you can watch the surfers out having fun.

Surf – Nosara is a surfing destination and many people come here specifically to surf. As a complete beginner, this was probably not the best place to learn as the waves were quite big. We still had a blast renting surfboards for the day and trying out the waves. Our twins were 9 during our visit and the waves were too much for them, but they enjoyed boogie boarding.

If I was going to go again, I would probably start by taking a surfing lesson.

1 Week in Costa Rica: surfing
1 Week in Costa Rica: surfing

Check out the Nosara Biological Reserve – This is a large, private reserve. There are several ways you can visit including taking a guided tour and walking trails or spending time on the water. There are many animal species including monkeys, anteaters, crocodiles, iguanas, and many bird species. There are several different kayak tours on the river you can look into as well.

Take a Yoga Class – Nosara has become a wellness destination and you can find lots of restaurants focused on healthy and fresh foods as well as yoga classes.

Go Horseback Riding – this was at the top of my 7 years olds list of things to do during our 1 week in Costa Rica. We ended up booking a sunset horseback ride. In addition to the beach at sunset, we also saw lots of monkeys and a boa constrictor. The horses were reliable and well treated and we loved this tour.

Other Things to do in Nosara: Check out the Sea Turtles, take a river safari or river kayak

Where to Stay in Nosara

Nosara is full of fun and small places to stay. We stayed at Kayasol (now part of Iluminar) and found it wonderful for our family with a pool and a great location. Some of the other hotels that look amazing include:

Green Sanctuary Hotel – just a short walk to the beach, this is a great budget-friendly hotel with a pool

Hotel Boutique Lagarta Lodge – This is a more luxurious option with lovely views and a swimming pool

What We Did...

We spent our time in Nosara enjoying the beach and pool at our hotel and did a few extra activities.  On one day, we rented surf and boogie boards from one of the shops i town and experimented with surfing.  It was difficult but fun in the big waves.

The second night of our stay in Nosara, we did a sunset horseback ride where we also saw howler monkeys and a boa constrictor.  The ride was fun for everyone in our crew and the sunset was wonderful.  

We also spent plenty of time during our stay walking around town and some of the paths by the beach.  We found the restaurants good in Nosara although slightly expensive.  Overall we enjoyed our time in Nosara.

Day 7: Drive to Liberia and fly home

Finish off your 1 week in Costa Rica with a drive to the airport. They were working on the roads when we were there but we still got slowed up twice on the drive (once for cows and once for traffic). Give yourself extra time to get to the airport.

1 Week in Costa Rica: horseback riding
1 Week in Costa Rica: horseback riding

If you have More Time (Costa Rica Itinerary 7 days or More)

If you have more than 7 days in Costa Rica, you can easily add on a few destinations. I would recommend starting with Monteverde. We did consider working this into our 1 week in Costa Rica but didn’t want to spend the whole vacation driving.

Since I visited Monteverde years ago, it’s become an even bigger tourist destination and is the land of rainbows. This beautiful forest destination is a nature lovers’ paradise. Here are some other excellent places to visit if you have more than one week in Costa Rica:

  • Puerto Viejo or Cahuita- fun towns on the Caribbean coast
  • Tortuguero – this massive park is the land of turtles
  • Corcovado – another park on the Osa Peninsula
  • Manuel Antonio – beautiful beaches and nature on the Pacific Coast

If you have Less Time (5 Day Costa Rica Itinerary)

If you have 6 or even 5 days in Costa Rica, you can easily adjust this itinerary. I would start the itinerary the same way, but spend one less day in each of the locations. If you have less than 5 days in Costa Rica, you will want to choose just one location as it’s not worth the driving times between the different areas. If this is the case, I would suggest the La Fortuna/Arenal area.

1 Week in Costa Rica: hanging bridges
1 Week in Costa Rica: hanging bridges

Things to Know About Planning Your Costa Rica 1 Week Itinerary

Use the information below to help plan your 1 week in Costa Rica.

General Things to Know

  • Costa Rica is Spanish speaking but in many tourist destinations people speak English
  • The currency is the Costa Rican colon
  • Costa Rica is generally a safe destination in Central America

When is the Best Time to Visit Costa Rica?

The best time to visit Costa Rica is between December and April when it is the driest. This is also the most popular time to visit and the most crowded. May, June, and November are also night and less crowded. The wet season is also the time you might see turtles and whales but prepare for more rain.

How Many Days in Costa Rica for the Perfect Itinerary?

This itinerary is for 1 week in Costa Rica, but is this really the ideal amount of time to spend in the country? We really love planning 10 day trips as it makes up for the time to get there and gives you time to relax and generally enough time to see a smaller country. I think 10 days in Costa Rica is the ideal amount of time. With 10 days in Costa Rica, you could do the itinerary above and add on several days in Monteverde.

How to get to Costa Rica

There are many flights to Costa Rica. San Jose has the biggest airport, but we were also able to find excellent flights to Liberia. We searched many different sites, but ultimately booked through but I encourage you to check multiple platforms to find the best deal.

Getting Around Costa Rica

We rented a car to get around Costa Rica. As a family of 5, getting a rental car is often the most cost-effective option as long as driving is safe. If you are traveling as a couple or solo, you can also consider transfers or buses to get around Costa Rica. Another excellent option is to book a multi-day tour. These tours can often save money as they include better lodging options and transportation.

Is Costa Rica Safe?

Costa Rica is generally considered a safe place to visit and is one of the safest countries in Central America. That said, always exercise typical safety measures when traveling.

Is Costa Rica good for Families?

Yes! Costa Rica is an amazing destination for kids. From animals, thrilling adventure opportunities, and gorgeous beaches, there are amazing options for every age and every type of traveler. It’s also become a haven for people seeking eco-friendly vacations.

Looking for other great Central American Itineraries? Check out:

How to Plan the Perfect 10 day Panama Itinerary

Do you have questions or suggestions on this itinerary for 1 week in Costa Rica? Leave a comment and let me know.

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