If you've ever dreamed of traveling to Costa Rica and experiencing the ideal combo of nature and adventure with beaches and relaxation, we're so glad you've found our itinerary! It truly captured the essence of "pura vida" and we hope it'll help you experience the best of the Guanacaste and Alajuela (Arenal) Region in one week.
During our research, we found many amazing resources, but most prescribed a generalized itinerary. What we really wanted was to read about a trip that someone went on so we'd know exactly what was realistic - so here we are, documenting our experience with the hopes that it'll help one of you.
Some details before we begin:
- Our trip Dates: August 11-18
- We planned around two factors:
1) August in Costa Rica is their rainy season ("winter"). Although rain could seem like a trip-ruiner, it was actually such a blessing. The rain brought out the flora & fauna, calmed the hot weather, and made the rapids rush faster for white water rafting. We were only drenched one out of seven days (a win in our books), but for most of the trip, the sun was shining!
2) The sun sets around 6pm in August which meant early nights and mornings (driving on terribly unpaved roads in the dark isn't recommended).
- We are by no means experts, and wouldn't have been able to plan such an incredible trip without resources such as www.mytanfeet.com and www.puravidaeh.ca!
We visited the Guanacaste and Alalueja region and flew in and out of Liberia.
Why didn't we arrive in Liberia and leave from San Jose?
There simply wouldn't have been enough time to do justice to the provinces around Liberia in a week, let alone all the activities on the way to San Jose.
Also, we didn't want to spend the majority of our days rushed at activities and on the road as there were limited hours of sunlight, and we'd need a 4x4 car to drive through the Monteverde region on the way (particularly during the rainy season). But, we would definitely return to visit the other provinces and fly from San Jose next time!
Thanks to Geoff's meticulous expense tracking, these are the exact amounts we spent:
- Accommodations - $173.13
- Flight - $788.30
- Phone - $11.56
- Food - $217.77
- Activities - $451.94
- Transportation (Gas, Toll Roads, and Car) - $297.08
- Other - $66.32
- TOTAL: $2,006.10 CAD per person
This trip was not particularly cheap for us because:
- Costa Rica is not the cheapest Central American country to travel (and Liberia is known to be more expensive than San Jose).
- We combined it with a visit to our family. Flying to Costa Rica (or anywhere for that matter) from our home city is not particularly cheap.
- We also treated ourselves to some pricier excursions (ie. Tabacon Thermal Spa and some nice dinners at Playa Hermosa) because we were celebrating our wedding Anniversary.
Here's a quick visual of the route we took and our major points of attraction:
Our itinerary may not seem intense on paper, but it was pretty packed considering the long distances between attractions and the limited hours of daylight. We always scheduled buffers because roads were in rough shape and weather was slightly unpredictable.
Day 1: Liberia to Rincón de la Vieja National Park
- 12PM: Arrive in Liberia
- 1PM: Rent Car at Adobe Rent-a-Car, buy SIM card at Walmart and activate it at Kolbi in downtown Liberia (make sure you can speak a bit of Spanish if you are doing this and want it to go smoothly. We learned the hard way, but that will be a story for another time!)
- 3PM: Drive to Rincón de la Vieja (1.5 hrs)
- 5PM: Dinner and check-in at Rinconcito Lodge. We would definitely recommend this villa! The hosts were very kind, and they actually run excursions at the resort. We would have tried their activities if we didn't already book Hacienda Guachipelin for the next day (no regrets though).
Activities we didn't get to do:
- Llanos de Cortez Waterfall (near the Liberia airport)
Day 2: Rincon de la Vieja
- 8:30AM - 5PM: Hacienda Guachipelin full day adventure (Cost: $108CAD per person using the PuraVidaEh discount).
We would 100% recommend everyone to do this excursion! This adventure included: Horse-back riding, tubing on the Rio Negro River with Class III rapids, a delicious authentic buffet, ziplining and rappelling through the Rio Blanco canyon, and relaxing with volcano-heated thermal waters, steam, and a mud bath.
- 6PM: Dinner back at Rinconcito Lodge (the food at our hotel was honestly amazing, and I still remember the triple decker sandwich fondly)
Day 3: Rincon de la Vieja to La Fortuna, and Nature Reserve
- 8AM: Drive from Rincon de la Vieja to La Fortuna (3.5hrs)
- 12:30PM: Check-in at Apartment Colibri (Airbnb villa) (address: Diagonal 319 San Carlos, Provincia de Alajuela Costa Rica). We really liked Carlos' property - it was clean and had a good view of the volcano, and the location was convenient.
- 2PM: After lunch, we headed to Mistico Hanging Bridges. We did the self guided tour, which we’d recommend (Cost: $31CAD/pp using the PuraVidaEh discount).
- 5PM: Grocery shopping
- 6PM: Dinner at Soda Mima in Downtown La Fortuna (The Casados were so delicious and cheap!! It was about $10CAD per person including tips).
Day 4: La Fortuna - relaxation and sloth spotting
- 10AM: Tabacon Thermal Spa and lunch at the Shangri La (Cost: $92.25CAD per person for the day pass and 3-course meal). The skies decided to rain cats and dogs the morning we were there, so the water was lukewarm and super muddy :( but in any other situation we would probably recommend it as it was such a cool once-in-a-lifetime experience! However there are cheaper alternatives for hot springs.
- 3PM: Bogarin Sloth Trail guided tour (Cost: $45CAD per person). We highly recommend this guided experience, and it’s particularly good if it rains beforehand because the sloths come out to eat after. We saw so much wildlife!
- 6PM: Dinner at a random soda in downtown La Fortuna (nothing noteworthy). After dinner, we explored downtown on foot.
Day 5: La Fortuna - White Water Rafting Adventure
- 9AM-4PM: Arenal Rafting adventure - We can't recommend this company enough! The guides took us through some crazy rapids, and partway through, all the rafts stopped on the banks for beer and a fruit feast that the guides hand cut for us. At the end, there was a large Costa Rican feast.
- Cost: about $97CAD per person which is super cheap for white water rafting compared to the other times I’ve done it in Banff. Pictures were only $40 per boat, so the more people you split with, the cheaper it is per person. We paid about $6CAD per person for 100 high-quality photos.
- 5:45PM: La Fortuna Los Suenos spa (would not recommend as the ceiling was leaking water and they overcharged us for the services they promised).
Other activities in the area we didn't get to do:
- Our other alternative for this day was Rio Celeste (the blue waterfall), if it didn’t rain the night before. It ended up raining, which would have made the Rio Celeste muddy coloured, but it was beneficial for white water rafting as the rapids run faster after it rains.
- We also wanted to see the La Fortuna waterfall after the Arenal Rafting Adventure but unfortunately it closed at 5PM and we couldn't make it.
Day 6: Chocolate Class and Hiking
- 8AM: Rainforest Chocolate Tour (Cost: $25CAD per person with student ID). We HIGHLY recommend this tour - it was such good value!
- 11AM: Arenal 1968 hike ($15CAD per person)
- 1PM: Lunch at Arenal Lodge. Wow...words can't describe how magical and unexpected of an experience this was! We had a stunning view of the Arenal volcano and the food prices were excellent. Another reason to love rainy season - there were no other tourists in the restaurant - so we didn't need a reservation.
- 2PM: Drive to Playa Hermosa (“beautiful beach”) after lunch (5 hrs in the car)
- 8PM: Anniversary dinner at Ginger in Playa Hermosa
Day 7: Playa Hermosa - relaxation on the beach
- 10AM: Swim at Playas del Coco (the more commercialized beach).
- 12PM: Have lunch at Ticoffia (our new fave coffee shop!)
- 1PM: Visit some souvenir shops & relaxed for the rest of the day at Playa Hermosa. (Restaurant Aquasport has the best lawnchairs and they let you sit there the whole day if you buy a drink - keep in mind this was during low season).
- 6PM: Treat Airbnb hosts for dinner on the beach at Aquasport. We only rented one room in their MTV Cribs-worthy penthouse but they gave us access to the whole thing! (another perk of traveling in low season)
Day 8: Depart Liberia
- 10AM: Brunch near our Airbnb
- 1PM: Depart from Liberia Airport
Activities we didn't get to do:
- Tio Leo Coffee Tour (it’s only 15 mins from the airport, but we didn't have enough time as the coffee tour is a couple hours)
And that's it for our eventful one-week in Costa Rica! Let us know if you have a question or want more details about anything in particular!