3 Week Costa Rica Itinerary – The Ultimate Travel Guide

Are you looking for the perfect 3 week Costa Rica itinerary?

When we visited Costa Rica on our travels, we gave ourselves 3 weeks to explore this amazing country. I would’ve loved to stay even longer but Costa Rica can get pretty expensive. I did my research and came up with this perfect 3 week Costa Rica itinerary that made sure we go to see all of the best that Costa Rica has to offer.

Costa Rica is most well known for its incredible wildlife and nature, so naturally this was right at the top of our priorities when planning this itinerary. There are few places on earth that are so abundant with wildlife and are so accessible at the same time.

In fact, Costa Rica has 186 different national parks and protected areas, covering 28% of the country! That’s seriously impressive and the best part is we can visit most of it if we want to.

a gorgeous golden sand beach lined with palm trees and a blue sky in Costa Rica

In this Itinerary you will be taken to a famous cloud forest for ziplining, 4 different beach towns, 5 national parks, visit the capital city, snorkel, go hiking and most importantly see more wildlife than you can imagine!

I will also make sure you are fully prepared with how to get from place to place and recommend great places to stay along the way. So if you’re ready to get planning a really epic trip then let’s dive in…

Getting To Costa Rica

Depending on whether you are visiting Costa Rica on a vacation or as part of a bigger trip, you may be flying straight in or arriving by land. I have made this itinerary so that it works perfectly either way.

Arrive by Plane

If you are flying in, I recommend flying into Liberia Airport and spending a night in Liberia.

You could also fly into San Jose but the journey the next day will be a little longer and you will also be spending time in San Jose later in the trip.

When looking for flights I always recommend using a search engine like Skyscanner or SkyScanner to compare prices and find the best deals.

✈️ Find the best flight deals for you with SkyScanner!

You can also search for flights landing in Liberia and flying out of San Jose using a site like SkyScanner.

Arriving by Land

If you are travelling by land from Nicaragua, as we did, then you will also want to take a shuttle that stops in Liberia and spend a night there. From there on, there are a few ways of getting on.

If you are planning to visit Nicaragua as well as Costa Rica, check out my 3 week itinerary for Nicaragua.

Getting Around Costa Rica

Throughout this Itinerary, I will explain how to get from one place to the next by public transport but ultimately the BEST way to travel around Costa Rica is by Rental Car.

By Rental Car

The absolute best way to get around Costa Rica is by Car. Preferably one you are driving yourself. This way you have total freedom and in the long run it can even work out cheaper.

We left it too late to book a car and they were all sold out (around 3 weeks before we arrived). You ideally want to be booking your rental car as far in advance as possible. We are talking, many many months in advance.

But don’t worry, if you use a site like Discover Cars then you don’t actually pay for the rental until a couple of days before your trip or even when you pick it up. They also have free cancellations so you won’t be charged if your travel plans change.

🚙 Don’t leave it too late to get your Rental Car at a Great Price! Click this link to see what is available.

With a site like this, you can also compare all the different rental companies at once to see which ones are offering the best prices and best cars.

TOP TIP*** Try to get a 4×4 if you can because some of the roads can get quite bumpy.

For this Itinerary, all you will need to do is make sure you have downloaded costa rica to your offline google maps before you leave. This way you will still be able to navigate from place to place if you don’t have any internet.

By Public Transport

Getting around Costa Rica by Public transport is super safe and usually pretty easy. However, the prices can vary hugely and travel times also.

For this Itinerary and for those who don’t drive or don’t opt to rent a car, I will explain as I go along how to get from one place to the next by the best form of public transport for that journey.

This can involve public buses, tourist shuttles, private drivers, taxis, boats or even internal flights.

a couple taking a selfie in the clear blue sea in costa rica

3 Week Costa Rica Itinerary Overview

Having spent around 3 weeks in Costa Rica and after a lot of research, we ended up doing this exact itinerary. I thought about changing it up for this post but in the end we had such a great time, we saw and did so much that there really isn’t any need to change it.

Many other Itineraries go to popular places such as Santa Terese and Tamarindo but in this one, we don’t. I opted not to include those places in favour of some lesser visited places and trust me, you will be so glad you do too if you stick to this Itinerary.

So here is a quick overview of my 3 Week Costa Rica Itinerary;

Day 1 – Arrive in Costa Rica (Liberia or San Jose)

Day 2, 3 & 4 – Monteverde

Day 5, 6 & 7 – Manuel Antonio

Day 8 & 9 – Uvita

Day 10, 11, 12 & 13 – Drake Bay

Day 14, 15 & 16 – San Jose

Day 17, 18, 19 & 20 – Puerto Viejo

Day 21 – Leave for Panama or Fly Home

a map of costa rica showing all the places mentioned in the itinerary

If you are torn between visiting Nicaragua or Costa Rica then check out this detailed comparison.

3 Week Costa Rica Itinerary Details

Ok, Guys and Gals you are in for a treat. Time to get stuck into all the juicy details of all the fun you can expect to have during your 3 weeks in Costa Rica!

Day 1 – Arrive in Costa Rica (Liberia or San Jose)

Day one is simply arrival day. Take the whole day to get to the country and spend a night before heading on to the next place in the morning.

Day 2, 3 & 4 – Monteverde

On Day 2 you will be travelling to Monteverde. I set aside the whole day for this because it is a long journey and doing anything after would be super tiring. Also having 3 weeks means you don’t need to rush quite so much.

How to get there

If you are travelling to Monteverde from Liberia, you can also check out our detailed guide for this journey. But I recommend getting a driver to take you to Monteverde from Liberia, especially if there is more than one of you.

There is a shuttle service that goes in the morning from the airport and also public buses that would take the whole day. Trust me, spend a tiny bit more money and get a driver. This for us was the trickiest journey to figure out and would’ve been so much easier with a rental car.

What to do in Monteverde

Once there you will have all of day 3 and day 4 to explore.

Monteverde is most famous for its lush green cloud forests and adrenaline-packed activities such as ziplining. I have a specific 2 day itinerary for making the most out of your time in Monteverde.

It includes spending a day up in the trees on the ziplines and hanging bridges, enjoying nature and keeping an eye open for sloths and the illusive Quetzals.

⭐️ This is the exact Ziplining & Hanging Bridges tour we did and it was AMAZING!!

a man smiling while he ziplines through the trees in costa rica

You can also spend your time doing the following;

  • A beautiful waterfall hike to El Tigre Waterfalls
  • Visit a hummingbird garden
  • Hike to a natural bridge made entirely by a tree’s roots
  • Visit a Butterfly garden
  • Watching the sunset from great viewpoints

We loved Monteverde for the awesome views, nature and of course the ziplining.

Where to stay in Monteverde

🏠 Best Budget Option – Hostel Paco House

This is where we stayed and it was perfect. A simple budget guesthouse with nice clean rooms and really welcoming hosts. What more could you need?

🏠 Best Mid-Range Option – Cala Lodge

These beautiful jungle lodges are hidden away in total peace just a short distance from the town.

girl standing on a green hanging bridge in a forest in costa rica

Day 5, 6 & 7 – Manuel Antonio

On day 5 it is time to head down to our first Costa Rica beach town; Manuel Antonio.

How to get there

The best way to get from Monteverde to Manuel Antonio is to book a tourist shuttle. We saw many hostels in Monteverde with signs offering shuttles, so we just popped into one and booked our spots.

It is super easy, they will pick you up from your accommodation in Monteverde and drop you off at your accommodations in Manuel Antonio. The shuttle cost us $52 each.

What to do in Manuel Anotonio

While in Manuel Antonio the number one thing to do is visit the national park. You will have all of day 6 and day 7 to explore this area and I highly recommend having one of those days inside Manuel Antonio National Park.

This park is one of the easier ones to explore independently, which is exactly what we did. It costs just $16 per person to enter the park but you do have to book your entrance time slot in advance. This is because they limit the number of visitors who can enter the park and spread them out throughout the day.

beautiful empty beach in costa rica's manuel antonio national park lined by palm trees

TOP TIP*** Book the earliest time slots just after the park opens. This way you will have the beaches all to yourself. Trust me this is pretty special. We absolutely loved spending the morning on Manuel Anotion Beach, the other side of the park and for hours there were only a few of us there.

When we walked back past the beach around midday it was packed with people!

The loop you can walk inside the par is pretty small, easily accessible for all abilities, flat and paved. If you keep your eyes peeled you can see lots of wildlife even without a guide. We saw sloths, White-faced capuchin monkeys and more.

To book your independent visit you will need to buy tickets through this official site.

If you do wish to take a guided tour and have an expert find even more wildlife for you then here is one of the best-rated tours;

⭐️ Book the best-rated, guided tour of Manuel Antonio National Park here!

For the other day in Manuel Antonio, I recommend some more beach time. You can either head down to the main HUGE stretch of beach by town (Espadilla Beach), have some food, go for a walk, swim in the water or even do some of the water activities on offer such as surfing and banana boating.

a large empty beach on a cloudy day in costa rica

Or you can explore some quieter beaches nearby such as Playa La Macha or Playa Tulemar.

There are also a couple of pretty cool restaurants on the main road down to the town, El Wagon and El Avion. El Avion literally has an old Airplane as the entrance!

Where to stay in Manuel Antonio

🏠 Best Budget Option – Pura Natura Lodge Manuel Antonio

We stayed in this simple accommodation up on the mountainside with the most incredible views of the sunset.

🏠 Best Mid Range Option – La Vela Boutique Hotel

This gorgeous hotel has a great pool as well as being right on the doorstep of the national park and only minutes away from the sea.

a man sitting at a bench on his laptop overlooking a sea view in Costa Rica

Day 8 & 9 – Uvita

On day 8 it is time to head further south along the coast to Uvita.

How to get there

All you need to do is jump on the public bus from Manuel Antonio to Quepos and then another bus from Quepos to Uvita. This is a short journey and one of the cheapest too. The buses are super easy, you will see the ones going up and down the main road so just jump on the next one to pass you.

It will drop you at the bus station and then ask at the office which is the next bus going past Uvita and they will let you know which one to catch. There are multiple a day so you don’t have to worry about times too much.

You will be dropped off in Uvita on the main road, so you will either want to walk the 15-20 minutes further down towards the beach or grab a taxi down for around $5.

What to do in Uvita

Once in Uvita, you will have a day and a half to explore the area. This will be plenty because it is a pretty small town with not too much to do. It is, however, worth visiting to see the famous beach shaped like a giant whale tail.

a view from the sky of the beach shaped like a whale tail in Uvita

The beach is all part of a national park so you will need to pay a small entrance fee but don’t worry you don’t need to book anything in advance for this one. Once inside the park, the beach is enormous and lined by a jungle that is full of wildlife.

Uvita is also one of the places you can explore Cano Island from. This is where we chose to take a dive trip to the island. Cano Island is one of the best dive and snorkel spots in Costa Rica.

We chose to go with Costa Rica Dive and Surf in Uvita as they have really great reviews. We had a great time but the dive was in strong currents so good to keep that in mind.

underwater image of 2 reef sharks on the bottom of the ocean

You can also go for snorkelling only around the island. It is not possible to go onto the island except for one single beach as it is completely protected. That beach looked pretty awesome though when we came past it on the boat.

Where to stay in Uvita

🏠 Best Budget Option – Cascada Verde Hostel

This wonderful treehouse-style hostel has great budget rooms as well as some stunning social spaces.

🏠 Best Mid-Range Option – Seren Glamping

These beautiful glamping tents are right next to the beach and would make for a really special stay.

Day 10, 11, 12 & 13 – Drake Bay

On day 10 of our 3 Week Costa Rica Itinerary we are heading to Drake Bay. This is a place most people will skip when visiting Costa Rica because there’s if you read most blogs on the internet they make it sound like it’s pretty hard to get there.

Rest assured it is in fact not hard at all. It was our favourite place in the whole country so please trust me when I say it is so worth keeping it on your itinerary.

How to get there

Getting to Drake Bay from Uvita is incredibly simple. First, you will need to take a bus or shuttle to Sierpe. There are public buses that do this journey but to make life super simple I think it is best to book a shuttle.

They are all arranged to arrive in Sierpe about an hour before the boats leave so it is perfect.

We booked our shuttle directly through Easy Ride Costa Rica and they showed up 10 minutes early. This was shocking to us because nothing is ever on time in Central America, let alone early!

We were picked up at 8:30 am and when we arrived in Sierpe we were dropped off right in front of the river where all the boats were. The shuttle cost us $45 each.

The Boats to Drake Bay all leave only twice a day. Once in the morning around 11 am and once late afternoon around 4 pm. I recommend taking the morning boat.

Once you get off the shuttle the guys from the boats will ask for payments of around $22 each and will want to know the name of your accommodation in Drake Bay. This is so they can group people who are staying close to each other.

Around 10 minutes before the boats want to leave it will get a little chaotic as they ALL start shouting names of accommodations and trying to fill up their boats. Hang in there though, try and listen out for yours and if you don’t hear it just ask one of them. They will point you in the right direction.

a bunch of speed boats parked at a pier on a river in costa rica

Once everyone is on the boats you will speed off down the river and out into the open ocean along the coast to Drake Bay.

TOP TIP*** Wear sandals or water shoes because when you are dropped off it will be directly onto the beach/ into the shallows so you will get wet. You will also need to be physically able to get in and out of a boat this way and pretty fast due to the waves.

Then that’s it, you have made it to Drake Bay!

If you have a rental car technically it is possible to drive to Drake Bay however I wouldn’t recommend it. The roads are all dirt tracks requiring 4×4 vehicles and most will cross multiple rivers so if there has been any rain you will likely not be able to cross.

It is best to leave the car parked in Sierpe and take the boats.

What to do in Drake Bay

Now for the best part, exploring Drake Bay and the main reason people visit which is Corcovado National Park.

Corcovado Park is arguably the best place to see wildlife in all of Central America, not just Costa Rica. Well, it certainly was for us anyway.

a squirrel monkey sitting in a tree in costa rica

You will have 3 full days in this area to explore and at least one of those days should be a day trip to Corcovado. This will need to be booked in advance because the park is so protected that they only allow 330 people to enter every day and spots sell out fast.

We chose to visit Sirena ranger station because it is the most remote station with the best chance of seeing wildlife. Getting there requires an hour’s journey by boat along the coast on pretty choppy water so make sure to bring some seasickness pills if you need them.

It is also mandatory for everyone to be accompanied by a guide inside Corcovado to ensure it stays protected. Luckily this is a good thing for both the animals and for us because, with the Guide’s well-trained eyes, you will be able to see far more.

a close up image of a small snake in a tree in costa rica

In a day hike inside Corcovado, we saw Crocodiles, Tapirs, Coatis, Howler Monkeys, Squirrel monkeys, Snakes, Deer and so much more. Not to mention all the different species of birds too. Pushing this to the top of our list of favourite hikes in Central America.

⭐️ To book the exact day trip that we did and have the best chance to see all that wildlife, click here!

Sirena station is also one of the best places to see Pumas. To get the best chance of seeing one of these beauties up close you should consider spending a night inside the park.

⭐️ Check out this top-rated 2 day tour inside Corcovado National Park!

Other awesome things to do in Drake Bay include;

  • Taking a night tour in search of nocturnal wildlife
  • Spending time on the huge empty beach
  • Go for a walk along the Drake Bay hiking trail. This is a great way to spend a day as it will take you to a few different smaller beaches where you can swim and relax along the way.
  • Take a snorkelling trip to Cano Island

Where to Stay in Drake Bay

🏠 Best Budget Option – Casa Tuanis

We stayed here and loved it. Nice clean rooms with aircon which was amazing! The owner was brilliant and it’s in a super central location.

🏠 Best Mid-Range Option – Hotel Cabinas Murillo

These light and airy rooms and located a little further uphill with great balconies and sea views.

a coupe walking down an empty beach with a stray dog in costa rica

Day 14, 15 & 16 – San Jose

On day 14 it is time to head back in land to the capital, San Jose.

How to get there

To get to San Jose you can either take the boats and then a shuttle. This will all be pretty simple as your accommodation will help you book the boat and all you do is wait on the beach and jump back on to Sierpe.

For example, if you book this shuttle with Easy Ride Costa Rica as well they will collect you from the morning boat and depart from Sierpe at 9:30 am to get to San Jose airport in roughly 4.5 hours. This journey will cost around $80 each.

Alternatively, you could try to navigate public buses back to San Jose. Just keep in mind it will be at least 2 or 3 buses and will take much longer.

We decided to do something a little unusual for us and fly from Drake Bay to San Jose. We don’t usually take domestic flights but Guido is a huge airplane enthusiast and has always wanted to fly in one of the smaller propeller planes so we took this as a chance to have a unique experience.

a small passenger plane parked on the tarmac in costa rica

We booked our flights only a couple of days before leaving and on the day we had to take a $20 taxi to the tiniest airport about 10 minutes away. There were only 8 of us on the plane and we also had incredible views of the coast as we flew back up the country.

It wasn’t the cheapest way to get back but it was a memory we are super grateful for.

If you would like a similar experience then you can search for flights using SkyScanner.

Once you arrive in San Jose whether it is to the airport or the bus station, you can simply grab an Uber to your accommodation.

What to do in San Jose

I have allowed time for 2 days to explore San Jose because as much as I am not a lover of big cities, I can appreciate that many people are. Plus they can be a great way to learn more about the country you are visiting as they are often home to most of the best museums etc.

San Jose is also a great hub for day trips to many of the surrounding areas.

I always recommend joining a free walking tour of any new city as these are one of the best ways to get a really good insider’s view of life in that city.

So here are some of the top things to do in San Jose;

  • Take a day trip to Poas Volcano
  • Visit the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica
  • Explore the Central Market
  • Visit the Jade Museum
  • Visit the National Theatre – Teatro Nacional
  • Enjoy the Views at La Chimba Coffee Farm
one of the many majestic buildings in the city centre of San Jose in Costa Rica

Where to stay in San Jose

🏠 Best Budget Option – Chillout Hostel Barrio Escalante

This super popular and highly rated hostel is one of the best and most affordable places to stay in San Jose.

🏠 Best Mid-Range Option – Hotel Cultura Plaza

We stayed in this relatively low-midrange priced hotel because of its location. Right in the centre and easy to access the bus stations on foot. It was clean and safe so we were happy.

Day 17, 18, 19 & 20 – Puerto Viejo De Talamanca

It is time to head to our last destination on day 17 which is the charming beach town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on the east coast of the country.

beautiful clear wtares and rock pools at the beach in Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica

How to get there

To get from San Jose to Puerto Viejo there is no need to book a shuttle this time. This journey is super easy to do using public buses. You just need to head to this bus station in time to buy your ticket and catch the bus you want.

There are buses leaving every day at 6 am, 8 am, 10 am, 2 pm and 4 pm. These are the times for the bus heading to Sixaola which stops at Puerto Viejo along the way. A ticket will cost around $14 per person.

What to do in Puerto Viejo

Once in Puerto Viejo, my number one suggestion is to sit back and relax because this is the absolute perfect place to do just that.

Let’s face it, you’ve had a crazy, action-packed 2 weeks so you deserve it.

But, if like us, you tend to get itchy feet pretty fast then don’t worry here are all the things you can spend the next 3 days doing;

  • Take a long walk along the black sand beach, Playa Negra
  • Snorkel around the rock pools at Playa Puerto Viejo
  • Enjoy some yellow sand and sun at Playa Cocles
  • Hire a Bike and head to Playa Manzanilla as far south as the road goes
  • Spend a day in Cahuita National Park
  • Take some yoga classes
  • Hire some kayaks or paddles boards and go explore
  • Swim the short distance out to the beached shipwreck by the town
a man walking on a beach in costa rica with a ship wreck in the shallow sea behind him

Puerto Viejo was the perfect amount of bustle and chill. There are loads of great bars, cute cafes and boutique shops to explore. Also don’t forget to look up in the trees around town for the local sloths.

Where to stay in Puerto Viejo

🏠 Best Budget Option – Kalunai Hostel

We stayed in this super social hostel in a private room and could’ve happily stayed there a lot longer. There’s a lovely big open space outside with a kitchen where everyone could cook and chill together.

🏠 Best Mid-Range Option – Kalawala

For a real treat, you can rent an entire beach house right on the beach on the edge of town.

the social space in a hostel in costa rica with hammocks and travellers relaxings

Day 21 – Head to Panama or Fly Home

And just like that our 3 Week Costa Rica Itinerary has come to an end and it is time to say goodbye.

If you are flying home you will need to just jump back on the public bus from Sixaola to San Jose and grab an Uber to the airport.

If you are heading to Panama next then I recommend heading straight from Puerto Viejo to Bocas Del Toro. You can easily book a shuttle to Bocas Del Toro that includes the boat for around $35. We booked ours with Caribe shuttles and they were great every time we used them.

Don’t forget to plan in some time to do some scuba diving in Bocas del Toro, it is incredible there!

3 Week Costa Rica Itinerary Budget

To help you out a little bit with your budget and planning I wanted to share what our 3 weeks in Costa Rica Cost us. This is not including flights to and from the country.

  • 21 nights Accommodation – $1001
  • Transport (Buses, shuttles, taxis, boats & one internal flight) – $962
  • Activities, tours & park entrance fees – $958
  • Meals and drinks (including alcohol and coffee) – $753
  • Food to cook for ourselves and snacks – $299
  • Sim cards and data – $21
  • Laundry – $15
  • Exit Fees – $18

Total spend during our 3 week Costa Rica Itinerary = $4027

As you can see Costa Rica can get very pricey. Obviously, this will all depend on your travel style but we stayed in the cheapest accommodations with could find with an 8/10 or more rating on booking.com.

We travelled by a range of transport options including some shuttles, some public buses, Uber rides, one private driver and one internal flight. We also ate at cheaper local restaurants or cooked for ourselves, there was no fine dining for us.

A lot of the budget was for activities because the ziplining, Corcovado national park and the diving we did were all pretty expensive.

You could save money by staying in hostel dorms, taking only public buses and only cooking for yourself but it still won’t be the cheapest place to travel.

large white sandy beach completely empty on a sunny day in costa rica

3 Week Costa Rica Itinerary FAQs

Just to make sure I have covered absolutely everything you might need to know, here are a few more answers to some frequently asked questions;

Is Costa Rica Safe?

Yes! Costa Rica is considered a safe country for tourists to visit. We felt completely safe the entire time we were there.

Are 3 weeks enough to visit Costa Rica?

I would say that 3 weeks is the ideal amount of time to allow you to see some of the best places in Costa Rica without rushing. I would recommend no less than 10 days and ideally the longer the better!

Is Costa Rica worth visiting?

Hell yeah, it is! I even wrote an entire post just to explain all the different ways that it is in fact 1000% worth visiting.

Do I need a visa to visit Costa Rica?

If you are from the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia, most of the EU and even more countries then you won’t need to get a visa before you go. All you need is a passport that is valid for at least 6 months and you will be granted a stay of up to 90 days.

When is the best time to visit Costa Rica?

The best months to visit Costa Rica are December to April as this is the dry season. May to October is when you are likely to get very, very wet.

What do I need to pack for Costa Rica?

Packing for Costa Rica can be treated like any other beach vacation only pack a lot more mosquito repellent. I have a full packing list of what I had with me that you can also use as a guide.

a colourful parrot sitting in a tree in costa rica

3 Week Costa Rica Itinerary – Final Thoughts

So there you have it, a fully packed 3 week Costa Rica itinerary.

We truly loved this magical country and all of its inhabitants and hope we get to go back and explore some more one day. As soon as you get there you can totally see why so many people choose to move there.

I hope you have found this itinerary useful and as always if you have any questions feel free to get in touch!