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Highlights of Costa Rica – What To See in a Week!

Last updated on November 19th, 2023 at 04:40 pm

If you’re short on time it is still possible to enjoy the highlights of Costa Rica, even in a week!

One of Central America’s jewels, Costa Rica remains a favourite destination for solo and group travellers alike. With its golden beaches, rainforest, wildlife, volcanoes and abundance of outdoor activities, it’s not hard to see why Costa Rica is a major ecotourism destination.

Whatever the length of your visit, here are my highlights of Costa Rica. Use these to help build your perfect itinerary.

San Jose

Costa Rica’s capital and largest city, San Jose is the gateway into the country for most visitors.

A walking tour is a great way to see this city and I can recommend the San Jose Free Walking Tour. From historic buildings to street art (perhaps with a little bit of coffee and chocolate thrown in!), San Jose is an interesting introduction to military free Costa Rica. Check Get Your Guide for other walking tour options.

Arenal Volcano

No trip to Costa Rica is complete without a visit to see Arenal Volcano….provided the rain stays away! The volcano is located in the La Fortuna district, approximately 90km north west of San Jose. Standing 1,633 metres high with a 140 metre wide crater, the volcano has been dormant since 2010.

Hiking at the base of the volcano is a definite must do. The walk will take you through rainforest, over lava fields and through lush vegetation.

When you’re in a rain forest, you expect it to rain and during my visit, it didn’t disappoint! The cloud cover also meant I wasn’t able to get a clear view of the volcano. That said, it was still worth it.

The local town of La Fortuna is well known for its hot pools – a perfect way to relax after your hike! Other outdoor activities can also be booked from La Fortuna including:

  • trips to the La Fortuna waterfall
  • Arenal hanging bridge excursions
  • zip lining
  • Arenal volcano hikes
  • chocolate tours

Monteverde

Take a scenic trip over Arenal Lake en route to Monteverde, home of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve and the Bosque Eternal de los Ninos.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve has its origins with the Quaker settlers who arrived in the area in 1951. They agreed to preserve part of their property in order to protect the watershed above Monteverde.

The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve was founded in 1989 by the community of Santa Elena and the Bosque Eternal de los Ninos Reserve was founded by school children!

There are numerous activities available for visitors to the cloud forest reserves including:

  • hikes through the forest including hanging bridge canopy walks
  • zip lining
  • coffee and chocolate tours – I can recommend the El Trapiche Tour
  • butterfly garden visit
  • night walks through the forest – keep an eye open for tarantulas!

The beautiful landscape, lush vegetation and wildlife make Monteverde one of the premier destinations in Costa Rica so do not expect to be there alone!

Leaving Monteverde you will want to head to the famous Manuel Antonio National Park but first you will need to cross Crocodile Bridge! The bridge spans the Tarcoles River, on the banks of which are any number of American crocodiles sunning themselves. It’s become a bit of a tourist stop and the road it’s on is very busy so take care when stopping here.

Manuel Antonio National Park

At 16 square kilometres, Manuel Antonio is Costa Rica’s smallest National Park. Located on the Pacific coast just south of the town of Quepos, the Park is rich in rainforest, beautiful coastline and wildlife.

There is plenty to do in the Park and surrounding area including:

  • Hiking through the Park – many of the paths are boardwalks and there is good signage throughout explaining the flora and fauna in the area
  • relaxing on the beach – the main beaches are Playa Manuel Antonio and Playa Espadrille Sur
  • spotting wildlife – from sloths and monkeys in the trees to iguanas on the beach there is plenty to see (and hear!)
  • kayaking in nearby mangroves
  • night walks through the forest
  • canopy excursions

Do check the Manuel Antonio National Park website for details of more excursions and up to date entry/visitor information.

A week isn’t a long time in any country but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit. It just means that you won’t see it all or fully immerse yourself in any one part of it. It does, however, mean that you have the chance to experience the highlights and the beauty of a place and, in the case of Costa Rica, sample what the Costa Ricans call Pura Vida, pure life.

I travelled around Costa Rica on a group tour and therefore all transport and accommodation costs and most entrance fees were included. Do check my Resources page here for help in planning your own trip to Costa Rica.

Sunset in Monteverde

Disclaimer: Information correct at the date of publishing, but do check before you travel.

Disclosure – This post may contain affiliate links. That means that if you book something using them, I will earn a small commission but you will not pay anything extra. Thank you for supporting my blog.

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