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7 Days on the Road in Costa Rica

There’s no better way to see Costa Rica than a 7-day road trip

There’s nothing like a road trip to get to know Costa Rica; it’s a freeing experience because you can stop where you want, for as long as you want. Best of all, you’re more likely to get a better understanding of Costa Rican culture and customs when you’re traveling around on your own by car.

Naturally, you’ll need to rent a car. Mostly, you won’t need 4-wheel drive, but if you plan to head for some of the more off-the-beaten-path areas (Nosara comes to mind, as does Monteverde), you may find it comes in handy; especially during green season, when roads can be a bit rougher, and rivers (yes, you may need to cross a river!) get higher.

Book ahead of time to get the best price. An intermediate-sized SUV will cost about $50/day during high season, sometimes more; a regular car will be a bit less than that, and insurance is always required. You’ll be able to find complete information about car rental insurance coverage and rates here. Before driving away, be sure to inspect your vehicle carefully.

Check out our suggested itinerary, which is totally adaptable to your whims and desires.

Your 7-day Costa Rica road trip itinerary

First Stop- San Jose, Costa Rica and its surrounding hills

San José and its surrounding countryside is a great place to spend your first day and night. In San Jose proper, there are a number of wonderful hotels, including Grano de Oro right in the city, and Hotel Alta just outside the city in the suburb of Escazu.

If you’re feeling the need to get into nature as quickly as possible, head for the Peace Lodge at La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Even if you opt for less expensive accommodations in San Jose or nearby, the gardens are a great day trip with a butterfly sanctuary, hummingbird habitat, wildlife rescue, impressive waterfalls, trout lake, authentic 150-year-old Costa Rican farmhouse,  restaurants, bars and more.

Next-  Volcanos and hot springs near Lake Arenal!

This morning you’re headed for Arenal. From La Fortuna at the foot of the volcano, you can try your hand at zip lining or your feet on the hanging bridges. Tabacón Hot Springs and Resort is a real treat; the river, straight from Lake Arenal, provides the heat to soak away any lingering stiffness from default life back home.

If you’re looking for an upscale luxury resort to stay in, you can go wrong with The Springs. Those on more of a budget will enjoy Volcano Lodge & Springs; be sure to opt for a suite with a private hot springs Jacuzzi garden!

How about the cloud forest?

The drive from Arenal to Monteverde will take about 3.5 hours via Route 142 and Route 1. Monteverde Cloud Forest is probably Latin America’s most famous cloud forest. It straddles the continental divide with the Pacific on one side and the Caribbean on the other. The area includes several different reserves. It also includes some of Arenal Volcano National Park. Well worth a day’s exploration; or two! The road to get there is a bit on the rough side, so if you plan to include this special experience, you may want to consider renting a 4-wheel drive; at a minimum, you’ll want an SUV that gets you a bit higher off the ground.

Let’s head for the beaches…

Another 3.5-hour drive and you’ll arrive South in Manuel Antonio via Route 34. Manuel Antonio National Park is a gem on the Central Pacific coast.

Here’s a chance to catch some rays on its white sand beaches in this idyllic jungle meets ocean area. The easily accessible park is small but packed with biodiversity. The main trail in the park is flat and wide, suitable even for sandals, and an easy trek for everyone. Monkeys and raccoons are the stars of the show, being so accustomed to humans that they’ll come right up to you. Charming yes, be beware; they’ll grab your bag and make a run for it if they can!

There are dozens of great hotels, resorts, and vacation rentals to be had in the area, most with spectacular ocean views, and ranging from budget to luxury rates. Restaurants, bars, animal rescues, and forest canopy tours are the main attractions in this hillside, Oceanview resort destination.

Want to get even deeper into the rainforest and enjoy even more spectacular ocean views? Keep heading south toward Dominical and surrounding beaches. In this sleepy little surf village, you’ll find a far less commercial vibe. Don’t expect a lot of fancy hotels, resorts or restaurants, but do expect an abundance of authenticity, nature, and tranquility.

Back to San Jose

Sadly, the time will come to return to San José and catch your flight home. From the Dominical area, it can easily take about five hours to reach San Jose.  Now, you can choose to head on in to San Jose and spend the night there before your flight, or you can stop off in the Jaco Beach, Costa Rica area and stay there; after all, it’s only an hour’s drive to the Juan Santamaria International Airport, so why not get one last night near the ocean?

A few favorite hotels, resorts and accommodations in the area? Croc’s Resort & Casino is all-inclusive and right on the beach; it has a Vegas-style casino on the property, four specialty restaurants, a very nice spa, and a huge, free-form swimming pool that is steps from the sand. Hotel Villa Caletas enjoys amazing ocean and forest views, excellent service, a good spa, and great food. Or, check out Airbnb; you’re bound to find just the right digs for the night.

Jaco has plenty of great nightlife, so if you want to get out on the town and have some fun, this will be a great stop for your last night in Costa Rica.

Whether you end up falling in love with one special area or want to explore everything you can, a rental car is key to a great road trip, exploration, and adventure in the span of a week in Costa Rica. Reach out today and start planning; it’s time to get your travel on in Costa Rica!




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Six Wonderful Waterfalls in Costa Rica

hiking-costa-rica-waterfallsWaterfalls are a must-see natural wonder in Costa Rica

Given the country’s geography, it’s no surprise that Costa Rica has many waterfalls. A driving tour to see waterfalls is a good way to experience the countryside and its geographic diversity.

These six Costa Rica waterfalls are universal favorites.

Located just over an hour from San Jose, and situated between the Poas and Rincon Volcanos of Costa Rica, Peace Lodge and La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a must do on your waterfall checklist. With 5 waterfalls and assorted wildlife exhibits, it’s a great place to recover and ground yourself in Costa Rica’s natural beauty upon landing in the country.   The gardens and trails—free to lodge guests—include several waterfall viewing areas, including an overlook of 3 waterfalls. You’ll see more than 40 bird species, as well as marmosets, capuchin and spider monkeys, two-toed sloths, jaguars, pumas, and ocelots in the various exhibits and rescue areas.

The 300-foot Catarata del Toro, among the largest in Costa Rica, is in the Bajos del Toro Cloud Forest, a hidden gem in a valley between the Poás and Rincon de la Vieja volcanoes. Most visitors don’t stop here, so it’s a lightly impacted environment with plenty of plant and wildlife to appreciate. The walk down 375 steps to the falls’ base takes about an hour. Go with a guide; a good guide will spot wildlife and point out the best vantage points.

Still farther north, the Tenorio River spills from a cliff at the base of the dormant Chato to create La Fortuna near Volcán Arenal. La Fortuna’s 230-foot drop to the pond below is unforgettable. Two vista points give distinct perspectives, as does the view from the massive boulders on the basin’s banks. A 15-minute walk from the top of the falls, which you can combine with a hanging bridges canopy tour, takes you down the cliff to the basin below. If you remembered your swimsuit, you can enjoy a refreshing dip in the cool water.

The 295-foot falls at Rio Celeste in Guanacaste Province’s cloud and rainforest is an unbelievable shade of blue. Local legend has it that as God painted the sky, he rinsed his brushes in the Rio Celeste and the stunning color was the result. The hike to the waterfall viewing platform is a moderate one. If you’re up for the strenuous hike, make the trip to Tenideros, where the rivers converge. There’s no swimming, but the view is worth the effort.

In Bagaces, 30 minutes south of Liberia, you’ll find squat Llanos de Cortez Waterfall. It’s an easy stop, just off the Interamericana Highway and a good place to stop for lunch and a swim. Wider than it is tall, the river cascades into a pool with small white-sand beach at its base. The trail from the parking lot is short—but steep—edged by verdant forest filled with birds and monkeys.

Bijagual Waterfall is in Bijagual, near Jacó on the Central Pacific Coast. You’ll need to take a guided horseback ride through the rainforest to the dramatic 590-foot fall. The views during your ride are of the villages below and the Pacific Ocean beyond. As always, the forest is alive with tropical birds and monkeys. This is another place to enjoy a swim.

Nauyaca Waterfalls, on Costa Ballena, is just 20 minutes from Dominical. The two-tier falls drop 140 feet to the first pool, which overflows to drop 60 feet into the second. There’s a vault toilet and changing room on-site. Visitors can get to the falls by horseback or ATV or make the hour-long hike via a well-maintained trail shared with horseback riders. Once at the falls, you can continue to the upper falls or head for the lower one. Again, it’s the perfect spot for a picnic lunch and a swim.

There’s no denying its stunning waterfalls draw visitors to Costa Rica; there’s something about water falling over a steep hillside that shrieks “Paradise!” Having a rental car in Costa Rica gives you the best opportunity possible to spot the big, popular falls, and also catch sight of  those that are off the beaten path.

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Get Off the Beaten Path With a Rental Car in Costa Rica

Waterfall at the Rinc—n de la Vieja National Park, Costa RicaSix must-visit places in Costa Rica when you have the freedom of a rental car

Rightly famous for its beauty and charm, Costa Rica can also be flooded with tourists; and, you can avoid the crowds when you’ve got your own wheels via your Costa Rica rental car.

While everyone else is visiting coffee plantations and going to the beach, try these off the beaten path destinations for a different take on Costa Rica.

Rio Celeste

Legend has it that the river got its celestial blue color when God dipped his paintbrush in it while painting the heavens blue. Scientifically, though, it’s a reaction between different volcanic minerals in two clear water rivers in the Tenorio Volcano National Park that come together to create the spectacular turquoise at their confluence. The relatively easy trail up to Rio Celeste’s 295-foot waterfall through primary cloud and rainforest is breathtakingly beautiful. The trail to the Tenideros, where the two rivers merge to create Rio Celeste’s amazing color, is strenuous but provides its own reward.

Punta Uva, Limon Province

When you’ve got the freedom of a rental car in Costa Rica, you can head for its furthest regions to get the very best of the Costa Rica experience. Punta Uva, on Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast, is blessed with 2 beautiful, palm-lined white sand beaches. Mostly located within the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, there’s ample opportunity to see monkeys, sloths, and colorful birds. The Caribbean’s turquoise waters make snorkeling around the sheltered reef a real delight. Playa Punta Uva’s gentle surf is perfect for swimming, stand up paddle boarding, and kayaking.


Dramatic cliffs, reminiscent of California’s northern landscape, define the Pacific Coast to Dominical, which is far south of most modern, skyscraper beach cities. A scenic drive in your rental car, the deep blue Pacific meets a rugged, tropical shoreline, which is remarkable for its small, tucked-away coves and vast panoramic views. World famous for its challenging surf, the experts take on the waves off Playa Dominical. Those without boards should try Playa Dominicalito, to the south of Dominical, for swimming.

Santa Teresa

The vibe in Santa Teresa is as laid back as it is international. Also, world-renowned for its challenging surf, it’s become a favorite beach destination in Latin America. Santa Teresa is everything one might expect for a tropical new-age-meets-hippie locale. Well off the beaten track on the Nicoya Peninsula, Santa Teresa is not a casually arrived-at destination. You’ll need to board the ferry between Puntarenas and Paquera with your rental car, and then drive another 45 minutes to get to Santa.  Only some of the road is paved and most of it is rough, but then again that’s part of the fun when driving through paradise.


Once a small fishing and cattle-ranching village, Malpais is at the road’s end on the southern Nicoya Peninsula. In English, the word Malpais means “Badlands,” and you’ll know you’ve come to that kind of raw beauty when seeing the beaches and surrounding tropical forest. With its next-door neighbor, Santa Teresa, Malpais is one of the best-known surf destinations among the world’s best surfers.

When visiting the Malpais- Santa Teresa area, consider choosing an SUV or 4×4 when you select your Costa Rica rental car. The roads can be bad at any time of year, but in the rainy season, they can be exceptionally challenging.

Volcán Arenal

Arenal is one of the most active volcanoes in the world; its last major eruption was in 1968. The surrounding area is also an important watershed, home to birds and wildlife, as well as a major source of hydroelectric power. The volcano itself is off-limits for hiking, but the Arenal Volcano National Park has many trails worth the time. With a bilingual naturalist guide, visitors can explore old lava flows and wildlife in the many unique micro-climates and ecosystems.

A rental car is a wise idea in the Arenal area, as there is much to explore beyond the volcano. Famous for its grand lake, small lake towns with delightful little shops and restaurants, as well as a multitude of hot springs to choose from, you’ll be happy you’ve got your own ride when you’re in the area.

Whenever anyone asks about the best way to vacation in Costa Rica, we always recommend a car rental. Yes! We are tooting our own horn! And, we think you’ll agree that taking the bus, or flying, just doesn’t compare to the freedom you’ll have to explore, discover and enjoy all of the adventures that this beautiful country has to offer when you’ve got a rental car to get you there.

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