3 weeks in Costa Rica itinerary: Ultimate Travel Guide (2024)

Would you like to raft through whitewater rapids?

What about soaking in volcano-fed hot springs or an easy forest hike to a beautiful thundering waterfall?

If you’re nodding enthusiastically, then you’ll love visiting Costa Rica!

I’ve created this 3 weeks in Costa Rica itinerary based on our own trip to the most beautiful beaches, active volcanoes, waterfalls, and national parks around the country.

It’s perfect for first-time visitors and nature lovers!

If you’re looking for a shorter itinerary, you can find it here: 10 days in Costa Rica.

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How to get around Costa Rica

Renting a car is the best and most convenient way to get around Costa Rica.

It gives you the freedom to explore at your own pace, which is perfect for a 3-week trip.

You’ll find it more comfortable than public buses, especially on routes with transfers. Just remember, car rental prices can spike in the high season.

While Costa Rica used to be known for rough roads, nowadays, they’re mostly well-maintained. The one exception might be the road from La Fortuna to Monteverde, so using the Waze app is a smart move to stay on track.

You’ll get the best rental car deals with Discover Cars.

Rent a car
Best Car Rental Company:


When booking your car rental online, I recommend Discover Cars. They compare prices at car rental agencies all over the country to get you the best deal.

Map of your 3 week Costa Rica Itinerary

Below is a map of the places on your Costa Rica itinerary.

The places are numbered in the same order as this itinerary to make it easy for you. When you click one of the numbers on the map, the name of the place will appear:

3 weeks in Costa Rica itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José

Most international flights arrive in the capital, San José.

After your long flight, you’ll want to relax.

We stayed at the deluxe Studio Hotel Boutique, which has a wonderful rooftop pool, perfect for lazing about in a sluggish state.

If you have the energy for it, head to the pre-Columbian gold museum and the central market, Mercado Centra, and grab a casado. It’s a typical Costa Rican dish.

You’ll hit the bed early at your hotel because tomorrow’s an early start.

Day 2: Day trip to Poas Volcano

Rise and shine for a day trip to Poas Volcano.

Poás is an active volcano with a big crater lake that’s pretty acidic. It last erupted in 2017, causing a stir with a lot of ash and small earthquakes.

I recommend getting there early to beat the clouds and the crowds. It’s a 1.5-hour drive from the capital, so it’s not far.

Once you reach the parking lot, there are short walking paths leading directly to the crater. It’s an easy visit.

Poas volcano

Day 3: Transit to La Fortuna

It’s time to move on to your next destination, La Fortuna, which is known for the iconic Arenal Volcano.

The drive from San José to La Fortuna takes about 3 hours on decent roads, so a 4×4 or high-clearance vehicle isn’t necessary.

La Fortuna and Arenal

La Fortuna is the adventure capital of Costa Rica. This place is all about the great outdoors, with its hot springs, impressive waterfalls, and rainforest trails.

The small village of La Fortuna is the gateway to Arenal Volcano National Park, where the Arenal Volcano itself dominates the landscape.

At this luxurious hotel, you’ll find hot spring baths, sauna, massage services, luxury spa treatments, and 5 swimming pools – the perfect place to end the day.

Day 4: Visit Arenal Volcano, hot springs, and La Fortuna Waterfall

Once you get up, head to Arenal Volcano National Park where you can find wildlife and the occasional lava flow remnants. If you’d rather not walk, you can also take an ATV tour to the volcano.

After lunch, don’t miss the breathtaking La Fortuna Waterfall, accessible by a short hike. Swimming further downstream is refreshing, so bring your bathing suit.

Afterward, soak your muscles in the volcano-heated hot springs, with options ranging from luxurious resorts to local favorites.

You can explore all of the above on your own or join this small-group guided tour that takes you to the highlights + more.

Book here – Full day Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna Waterfall and Hotsprings

3 weeks in Costa Rica itinerary - Arenal

Day 5: Whitewater rafting + chocolate and coffee plantation

Start your day with a hearty breakfast, because today is all about adventures!

For the thrill-seekers, consider whitewater rafting or ziplining that goes over the spectacular La Fortuna Waterfall!

Later in the day, visit a chocolate farm and look for sloths.

Day 6: La Fortuna to Monteverde

Pack up your suitcase and get in the car. Today, you’re going to Monteverde Cloud Forest!

On your way, make sure to stop by the Mistico Hanging Bridges, about 30 minutes from La Fortuna. These bridges are perched 45 meters high and offer great views of the rainforest, the volcano, and a chance to spot wildlife.

Also, swing by Rio Celeste Waterfalls, a bit off the path between La Fortuna and Monteverde. Just a heads-up, the road from Lake Arenal to Rio Celeste isn’t great for cars with low clearance.

Prepare for a cooler climate and a different type of natural beauty as you transition from the volcanic landscapes of La Fortuna to the cloud forests of Monteverde.

3 weeks in Costa Rica itinerary - Rio Celeste Waterfall

Monteverde Cloud Forest

Monteverde means ‘green mountain’ and it really lives up to its name.

It’s a fantastic place with its cloud forests that are both rare and unique, covering only about 1% of the world’s forests.

The high altitude brings the clouds down among the trees, so there’s a mystical atmosphere, which you can even experience from your hotel. I recommend staying in this amazing and affordable jungle apartment.

3 weeks in Costa Rica itinerary - Sloth

Day 7: Explore the hanging bridges and zip lines

Start with a guided walk through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in the morning.

We hired a guide to help us spot incredible wildlife and explain the importance of this unique ecosystem, and I highly recommend the same for you.

After lunch, head to Selvatura Park and check out the canopy walkways.

You can also zip through the treetops and see the cloud forest from up high – it’s a unique experience!

Selvatura Park Monteverde

Day 8: Local culture and flora

Take a slow morning and enjoy the cloud forest sounds over breakfast.

Today, you can hit the Butterfly Gardens or the Orchid Garden to appreciate Monteverde’s smaller inhabitants.

Don’t miss the El Tigre Waterfall which you can get to by horseback riding or 4×4 – you decide.

Wind down with a night walk. Many critters in Monteverde are nocturnal, so here’s your chance to see a different side of the forest.

Monteverde Cloud Forest

Day 9: Monteverde to Tamarindo

It’s time to say goodbye to the cloud-kissed highlands and hello to the sunny Pacific Ocean on the Nicoya Peninsula.

Next stop is Tamarindo, the surfing gem down south! The drive takes about 3.15 hours.


Tamarindo is a popular beach town in Costa Rica, known for its awesome surfing and pura vida beach vibe.

I recommend staying at the Ten North Tamarindo Beach Hotel – it’s a 3-minute walk from the beach.

Day 10-12: Go surfing and see leatherback turtles

After more than a week of adventuring, you’ll be ready for some downtime. Tamarindo’s beaches are the place to start.

Sign up for surfing lessons at one of the many local surf schools and catch your first waves. If surfing isn’t your thing, there’s plenty more to keep you busy.

You can also take a day trip to see the leatherback turtles at Playa Grande, part of the Las Baulas National Marine Park, just north of Tamarindo.

Playa Tamarindo

Day 13-14: Explore shell and black beaches

Close to Tamarindo, you’ll find two unique beaches – one made of millions of crushed conch shells, and another is made from lava so it’s all black.

Playa Conchal is north of Tamarindo and Playa Negra is south, but you can take an ATV tour to explore one of both of them.

In the evening, make sure to enjoy the sunset at the beach with a beer in hand.

Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Day 15: Tamarindo to Manuel Antonio

It’s time to leave the surf behind and prepare for the next leg of your journey.

It’s a five-hour trip, so pack some snacks and enjoy the views of the Costa Rican countryside.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park is known for its diverse wildlife, beautiful beaches, and lush rainforest.

It’s a must-visit spot on your 3 weeks in Costa Rica itinerary, especially if you’re keen on spotting sloths, monkeys, and various tropical birds in their natural habitat.

The Falls at Manuel Antonio is one of the best hotels.

Day 16: Beach time in Manuel Antonio

To make the most of your two days in Manuel Antonio, start early to avoid the crowds and up your chances of spotting wildlife.

Since the park is not too big, you can cover the key spots in just a few days.

First, head to Manuel Antonio Beach or Espadilla Sur Beach for some beach time. They’re known for their gorgeous sands and clear waters, so pack your swimsuit and sunscreen.

If you haven’t had enough adventures, you can try the longest twin zip line in Central America right here, too!

3 weeks in Costa Rica itinerary - Manuel Antonio Beach

Day 17: Discover wildlife

On day 17, hire a guide to help you find monkeys, sloths, toucans, butterflies, tree frogs, and occasionally snakes or even a surprising ocelot.

You can also hit the Perezoso Trail on your own to watch out for the playful white-faced capuchin monkeys, but your chances of catching wildlife is higher with a guide, who knows where and when to look.

If you’re into hiking, explore trails like the Punta Catedral loop for awesome ocean views. Make sure you’ve got comfy shoes and enough water for your adventures.

3 weeks in Costa Rica itinerary - Wildlife

Day 18: Manuel Antonio to Uvita

Today, you’ll transition from the jungle-clad hills of Manuel Antonio to the coastal town of Uvita.

The journey takes about an hour along Route 34, and the scenic coastal road offers stunning ocean views, so have your camera ready.

At Oxygen Jungle Villas & Spa in Uvita, you can get that iconic jungle setting with an outdoor spa and infinity pool.


Uvita is a coastal town that really stands out for its gorgeous beaches.

The one that catches everyone’s eye is the Whale Tail Beach. But what makes Uvita truly special is the chance to witness incredible humpback whale migrations, which is a big deal here.

You can go whale watching in two seasons: from mid-July to mid-November and again from mid-December to April.

3 weeks in Costa Rica itinerary - Uvita

Day 19: Whale watching and the Whale’s Tail Beach

Uvita is known for the Marino Ballena National Park where, if you time your visit right, you can witness the majestic humpback whales during their migration.

Walk the famous Whale’s Tail at low tide – a natural sandbar shaped like a whale’s tail. Pack your sunscreen, water, and good walking shoes for the day because you’ll spend a lot of time outdoors.

Another must-do is a visit to Uvita Waterfall. Bring your swimsuit for a refreshing dip in the waterfall’s pool – it’s a real treat after the hike.

3 weeks in Costa Rica itinerary - Uvita whales tail

Day 20-21: Drive back and departure

On your final day, drive back through the stunning Costa Rican countryside to San Jose.

The drive takes 3.5 hours.

Make sure to allow plenty of time for the return trip; you don’t want to miss your flight because of unexpected delays.

Costa Rica travel guide for first time visitors

FAQ – 3 weeks in Costa Rica itinerary

Is three weeks too long for Costa Rica?

No, three weeks isn’t too long for Costa Rica. You’ll have enough time to really see everything, from rainforests and beaches to the local culture and wildlife.

How much do 3 weeks in Costa Rica cost?

A three-week trip to Costa Rica typically costs about $4,350. This includes car rental, activities, hotel stays, and more.

How many weeks do you need in Costa Rica?

You’ll need around two to three weeks to enjoy Costa Rica thoroughly.

This gives you enough time to explore the diverse landscapes, engage in various activities, and soak in the culture.

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Planning 3 weeks in Costa Rica? Check out this down-to-earth and detailed Costa Rica itinerary. It's packed with everything you need for a full 21-day adventure, from jungles to beaches. Perfect for anyone looking to get the most out of their 3 weeks Costa Rica itinerary. #CostaRicaTravel #AdventureReady #ExploreCostaRica

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