Costa Rica Itinerary: 12-day Travel Guide

12 days in Costa Rica will provide you the chance to explore the magnificent rainforests, natural hot springs, infinite animals, and beautiful beaches. It is a must-visit destination for nature lovers, offering everything from the tropical jungle to the beautiful beaches: a wildlife paradise.

Due to their priority on protecting the nature, Costa Rica excels at ecotourism. Interesting fact: Since 1996, they have reforested about 9% of their nation. It is a place where you can see wild sloths on the beaches and monkeys running right on your hotel balcony.
I have fallen in love with the ‘Pura Vida’ state of mind of the Costa Ricans and discovered the best of Costa Rica.

For nature lovers, visiting Costa Rica is a dream trip. Well, at least it was my dream trip, and one on my bucket lists. Here’s how I spent 12 days in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica Highlights

  • Rincon de la Vieja National Park – part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Guanacaste Conservation Area (visit bubbling mud pools, geothermal activity, and a variety of different plant and animal species up close. This location is excellent for bird-watching, just like the rest of Costa Rica)
  • Mistico Hanging Bridges: Amazing Experience in a Treetop Rainforest. Enjoy relaxing strolls through the forest on energizing trails lined with wildlife and natural phenomena. You may savor the spectacular Arenal Volcano’s grandeur and the lovely forest that surrounds it, as well as a reserve that is home to wildlife in its natural habitat and will let you get up close and personal with the ancestors of the human species.
  • Arenal Volcano National Park. One of the most popular tourist locations in the Northern Zone is Arenal Volcano National Park. The park’s flora, fauna, and lava tract remnants may all be seen on a number of trails, including Heliconias, Coladas, Tucanes, and Los Miradores. The magnificent Arenal volcano, as well as a variety of fauna, lakes, and natural hot springs, can all be reached from La Fortuna. Visit the Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa for the best panoramic views of this volcano and go on a hike to explore more.
  • Manuel Antonio is one of Costa Rica’s pearls you absolutely need to visit. An amazing flora & fauna that you can discover visiting the National Park as well as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. There are many activities and a unique vibe in the area, so everyone can find what they’re looking for. This is the right place whether you’re a family, couple, group of friends, eco-tourist, looking for exciting excursions, or just relaxing.
  • Nauyaca Waterfalls are the most spectacular waterfalls in Costa Rica located in the mountains of the southern zone. The Nauyaca waterfalls are absolutely breathtaking, featuring two sets of falls that combine to measure 61 meters (200 feet) tall and a large natural swimming pool. The Nauyaca waterfalls are definitely an impressive natural attraction that shouldn’t be missed.

Overview

From the Northern part of Costa Rica, to just south of Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica is full of incredible places to explore and enjoy.
It is a versatile itinerary with a number of alternative side trips. On this tour, you will not only see volcanoes and rainforests, but you will also take in some beach relaxation.
Costa Rica’s Pacific shoreline, known for its variety of ecosystems, contains everything from world-class surf beaches to dense mangrove swamps.

Therefore, this itinerary allows you to enjoy the best of Costa Rica over almost two wonderful weeks, whether you are a family with kids or a lone thrill-seeker.

Brief itinerary 
DayDestinationOvernight
Day 1Arrival in Liberia, Costa RicaLiberia
Day 2Parque Nacional Rincón de la ViejaLiberia
Day 3Rio Negro Hot SpringsLiberia
Day 4Místico Arenal Hanging Bridges La Fortuna
Day 5Hiking in Parque Nacional Volcán ArenalLa Fortuna
Day 6Tabacon Hot SpringsLa Fortuna
Day 7Drive from La Fortuna to QueposQuepos
Day 8Parque Nacional Manuel AntonioQuepos
Day 9Day at Playa Matapalo BeachPuntarenas Province
Day 10Hiking to Nauyaca Waterfalls/Cataratas NauyacaSan José Province
Day 11Free Day in Palo Seco Beach, and QueposQuepos
Day 12San José, Costa Rica (Departure)San Jose

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Liberia, Costa Rica

Liberia Costa Rica

I was traveling with family and friends; it was 11 people in total in our group. Our trip to Costa Rica started in Liberia.

Liberia is mostly used as a spot to come to Guanacaste Province and has all the makings of a popular tourist spot: an international airport, modern churches, an authentic colonial atmosphere, a rich history, and a central park.

We rented two cars (you can get one big Van for such a big group, but it was peak season – New Year time, so we got two cars, but it was the best decision for us). We got the best price from GREG  – he is a travel agent working with Alamo car rentals, and I highly recommend him for the best prices, best service, and best communication. Alamo provides a free shuttle from/to the airport to/from their office. So it was easy and fast to get our cars.
Before heading to our hotel for the next 3 nights, we stopped by the local grocery store (Walmart) to do some shopping.

Rinconcito Lodge is a mountain lodge with a charmingly rustic and welcoming atmosphere where we were staying at. Located between Rincon de la Vieja National Park (10 minutes drive) and Miravalles Volcano in Guanacaste (30 minutes drive), and hot springs are 15 minutes by car from the property. With a height of 600 meters above sea level, it has developed into the perfect starting place for exploring all of the natural wonders that this well-known location has to offer.
We stayed here for 3 nights. Rinconcito Lodge features a garden and complimentary WiFi in public areas, their restaurant offers regional cuisine. The property also has a bar and can arrange tours to Rincon de la Vieja National Park and to Miravalles volcano. It was a perfect place for us. We celebrated New Year’s eve here, had a New Year’s Eve dinner, and after party by the pool.

Day 2: Rincon de la Vieja National Park

Rincon De La Vieja Nationl Park

On new years eve day, we took a hike to Rincón de la Vieja National Park. This park is a must-visit destination when you are in Guanacaste Province. The Park is rich in ecological diversity. Two volcanoes, 32 rivers and streams, and a stunning variety of flora and fauna may all be found on the more than 34,000-acre Rincón de la Vieja. Steam spouts, hot springs, craters, and mud pots are all features of the volcano and are very popular visiting and hiking spots for visitors.

Hiking through Rincon de la Vieja National Park is an adventure for the whole family.

Day 3: Rio Negro Hot Springs

We spend an afternoon relaxing in the natural hot springs, and mud baths. Rich in minerals, thermal waters have rejuvenating and therapeutic properties that have been appreciated for centuries by people around the world.

Rio Negro Hot Springs is one of the most popular hot springs that are naturally heated by the volcano in this area. Rio Negro (Black River) flows through 10 manmade pools filled with steaming mineral-rich volcanic waters, all of which are surrounded by thick tropical dry forests. Two swinging bridges give access to the pools on each side of the river. You can use heated volcanic clay as a spa body mask for your entire body. When it has dried, rinse it off with some river water that is cool before returning to the hot pools. Wash it off with cool river water after it has dried, then jump back into the hot springs.

Day 4: Místico Arenal Hanging Bridges

Day 5: Hiking in Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal

Day 6: Tabacon Hot Springs, La Fortuna

Day 7: Drive to Quepos, crossing the Tarcoles River Bridge.

Day 8: Manuel Antonio National Park

Day 9: Day at Playa Matapalo Beach, Quepos

Day 10: Hiking Nauyaca Waterfalls/Cataratas Nauyaca

Day 11: Free Day in Palo Seco Beach, and Quepos

Day 12: San José, Costa Rica (Departure)