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When you think of Costa Rica, you think of green nature, wildlife and beautiful beaches: Pura Vida! Together with my husband and a good friend I went to Costa Rica for 3 weeks! I would like to share our route with you. During our 21-day road trip we visited many beaches, went zip-lining and hiking through the Corcovado National Park. We have spotted lots of wildlife. You can easily make a self-driving trip through Costa Rica. You can book the flight, hotels and car separately. I would like to share our route from day to day with you and some tips.
Below is a map with our travel itinerary Costa Rica. This road trip by car starts in Liberia, not in San José. Unlike all other travel routes. You can of course also start this trip in San José and then drive the route. The prices mentioned in this route are indicative and may vary depending on travel dates. The listed hotel rooms are for two, unless stated otherwise.
Our journey starts – unlike many other itineraries – in Liberia. We chose to fly to Liberia and not to San Jose because it was cheaper and because you’re right at the beach near by Liberia.
There is a good chance that you will arrive in Liberia in the evening. From the airport we were brought to our hotel with the hotel shuttle bus service. This bus leaves every 15 minutes and it is only a 5-minute drive.
We slept one night in Liberia. Because we did not visit the city itself, we slept close to the airport.
We think a good bed is very important after a long flight, so we chose the Hilton Garden Inn Liberia. This accommodation is a 5-minute drive from the airport and has a free shuttle service . The rooms are spacious, clean and air-conditioned. You sleep here from €125 per night including breakfast. This hotel was rated with an 8.5.
+/- 37 km and a 40 minutes’ drive
We get up early to pick up our rental car. Then we drive to Playa del Coco, a beautiful beach and close to the Las Baulas National Park.
You can rent a car through Rental Cars. If you go to Monteverde, then a 4×4 (4-wheel drive or jeep) is very nice. Through Rental cars you can rent a 4×4 car (Suzuki Jimny SUV) for 3 weeks for €600 including good insurance. In the high season prices are higher, around €900 to €1100 for three weeks.
There are many nice accommodations in Playa del Coco. We stayed there for two nights. It is better to book hotels in Costa Rica in advance.
Hotel M&M Beach House overlooks the beach. The location is ideal, close to the beach and restaurants and bars. The rooms are clean and the staff very friendly. They also gave us some tips on what to see and do in the area. A double room costs € 45 per night. This hotel has been reviewed by other travellers with a 7.9!
Today you can do whatever you want. We drove to Playa Grande to go to the Las Baulas National Park (Leatherback Turtles). Playa Grande is a 1 hour and 20 minutes’ drive from Playa del Coco. Playa Grande has been used as a breeding ground by leatherback turtles for centuries. Unfortunately they were just celebrating the end of the season and therefore we decided to have a day at the beach instead. The leatherback season in the west is approximately from September to February. Of course you can also just go to the beach in Playa del Coco and relax there.
With a detour of +/- 230 KM it is a 4.5 hour drive (directly is a 3 hour drive)
Today we continue to Monteverde, but first we visit the Tenorio Volcano National Park. This park is a 2-hour drive from Playa del Coco. In the park is a beautiful waterfall called Rio Celeste. You reach the waterfall after a short 30-minute hike. Then you can go even further through the national park, you will find plateaus with beautiful views. Entrance to this park is $ 12.
After that we drove to the cloud forest of Monteverde (2.5 hours from Tenorio Volcano park). Our 4×4 rental car was no unnecessary luxury here!
We stayed here for two nights, but if you have more time, you can also stay here for 3 nights. There is plenty to see and do in Monteverde!
Monteverde Inn is a nice accommodation with basic rooms. The accommodation is a 5-minute drive from the charming village, but offers a nice view because it is situated slightly higher. You pay around € 45 per night for a double room including breakfast. From Monteverde Inn you can walk various walking routes. The staff is friendly and helped us book the tours for day 5. There are hammocks where you can chill and enjoy the beautiful view. Other guests rate this property with an 8.9!
The cloud forest of Monteverde is one of the most beautiful nature reserves in Costa Rica and therefore an absolute highlight of this trip.
This park runs through the north of the Monteverde National Park and is known for its suspension bridges. We chose Selvatura park because this park has 8 suspension bridges and in the Monteverde National Park there is only 1 suspension bridge. We thought it was beautiful! Very special to walk above the treetops with your head in the clouds. Admission to the park is € 30 and the walk takes approximately 1 hour.
It is an option to zip line in Selvatura Park but we chose to do this with 100%Adventure because they have more ziplines (+ higher and longer distances). We had to pay € 40 for the canopy tour. In total there were 9 ziplines of which 2 as Superman (lying down) and finally a Tarzan swing where you make a free fall of 40 meters. Really a super cool experience and of course the view is great.
We ended the afternoon in the hammocks of the hotel with a good beer: Pura Vida!
=> Option! You can visit the famous volcano Arenal from Monteverde. However, the volcano is a 2-hour drive or boat ride from Monteverde. We therefore visited the volcano from La Fortuna on day 15.
+/- 180 KM and a minimum of 3.5 hours’ drive
We leave Monteverde and continue to Manual Antonio. Manual Antonio National Park is the smallest but one of the most popular national parks in Costa Rica. When you are on your way to Manuel Antonio (the village), make sure to stop at Tarcoles on the bridge! Park your car before or after the bridge and walk halfway through the bridge. If you look down you will see dozens of crocodiles chilling in the sun on both sides of the bridge!
We have booked a tour in advance with Jose’s crocodile tour geboekt. This tour departs from the town of Tarcoles. Great to see the crocodiles from up close and a very nice atmosphere on the boat! The tour takes 2 hours and leaves several times a day. The tour costs $ 35 per person. I recommend booking this tour in advance, because the tour is fully booked every day during the high season.
From Monteverde it was a 2 hour drive to Tarcoles and from here to Manuel Antonio you drive a little less than 1.5 hours.
We stayed for two nights in the village of Quepos, at 4 km Manual Antonio National Park. Hotels are fully booked quickly in high season. So book well in advance.
We stayed at: Hostel Plinio
Hostel Plinio is a cozy bed and breakfast. The hostel also has a swimming pool where you can cool off. Manuel Antonio National Park is 4 km away. A bed in the dorm costs € 15 a night, but we opted for a private room for € 30 a night. Other guests rate this hostel with an 8.5.
Manuel Antonio National Park”] Today we visit Manual Antonio National Park. The entrance to the park is $ 16. You can park your car near the entrance to the park, although they want you to park earlier (a 10-minute walk from the entrance). Just drive on, as close as possible to the entrance.
The park has several walking routes where you have to look around to spot animals. We saw a sloth, birds, monkeys, raccoons, and various frogs. Many people hired a guide for this (advisable to spot animals). In addition to the hiking trails, there are various viewpoints and wonderful beaches for a rest! The park is relatively small compared to other national parks, so you can see everything in one day and take a dip.
+/- 215 KM and a 3.5 hour drive
We arrive in Puerto Jimenez, a fishing village where there is not much to do. Puerto Jimenez is a base for tourists traveling to Corcovado National Park.
We stayed one night in Puerto Jimenez, because the following day our three-day tour through the Corcovado Jungle started.
We stayed in Las Islas Lodge for € 50 a night. We got a very spacious room with a nice bathroom. Islas Lodge is a 5-minute drive from the center (or a 15-minute walk). There is wifi, a swimming pool and the staff is friendly. Other guests are also enthusiastic and rate this accommodation with an 8+. You can leave your backpack for a few days at this accommodation.
In the evening we did a night tour with Surcos Tours. A 2-hour tour in a private reserve of a nearby hotel. We saw a scorpion, different types of frogs, spiders, grasshoppers and a snake. Costs are € 30 per person.
You can visit Corcovado National Park in one day, but you can spot most of the animals on a multi-day tour. You can spend the night in the National Park. There are 5 so-called ‘ranger stations’ in the Corcovado National Park. Ranger stations are a kind of registration post to keep track of who enters and leaves the park. Sirena Ranger Station is the only station in the middle of the National Park and has accommodation facilities. Other ranger stations are on the edge of the park and usually have showers and toilets, but no hostel with beds. You can camp with your own tent at some other ranger stations.
You can only visit Corcovado NP with a guide / ranger!
We booked our guide well in advance via Surcos tours via e-mail. Be smart and book in advance: in high season all rangers have work, in winter only the best. But in the summer the best rangers are booked the fastest, which means you have a better chance of an inexperienced guide or even no guide when booking a last-minute. Our guide was Oscar, he has been a jungle guide for over 18 years and was active non-stop. Oscar was spotting animals from start to finish, a real winner!
We had a 3 day tour with 2 overnight stays at Sirena Ranger Station.
The tour costs € 400 per person including private guide, boat trip, taxi there and back, 2 nights and all food. Our tour starts today and we immediately spotted many animals!
The second day of the tour we leave at 5 a.m. for a hike around the station. At half past seven we have breakfast and we set off again. Today’s hikes are less heavy and we have a lot of time to spot animals. Fortunately we saw beautiful birds (including the toucan and the one and only Woody Woodpecker, the beloved hummingbirds and a baby nest), a tarantula, monkeys (Spider Monkey, Howler Monkey), snake (Boa Constrictor), wild boar, swimming tapir, crocodiles, anteater, Jesus Christ Lizard (who can run over water).
Today is the last day of our hike through the Corcovado jungle. We leave early, at 5 a.m. in the morning. After 5 hours of hiking we return to the Sirena Ranger Station to pack our things and then walk to the boat (1 hour by boat) within 30 minutes to go to Drake Bay. In Drake Bay a taxi from Surcos Tours picked us up.
We were dropped off around 3 p.m. in Puerto Jimenez at Los Islas Lodge, where we had left our backpacks in a luggage room. We stayed another night at Los Islas Lodge. Chilling by the pool and taking a rest from the three-day tour.
+/- 515 KM and a 10-hour drive
We have a long travel day ahead. We drive 10 hours to get from the southwest to the southeast. Unfortunately, you cannot drive straight on due to the mountains. We wanted to drive through Panama because this would be 2 hours faster and then we could also catch Panama for a few days. However, with a rental car you are not allowed to cross the border without papers because you are no longer insured. Crossing the border quickly takes a few hours (4), which means that we decided to take the longer route via Costa Rica. Despite the long drive, we enjoyed the beautiful diversity in nature, from roads along the beach, right through the busy capital of San José, then through a mountain pass through a cloud forest and arriving in the dark destination.
We arrived late at night at our accommodation. We stayed here for two nights.
We chose: Cabinas Montesol
Cabinas Montesol offers accommodation in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, a 50-minute drive from Limón and a 15-minute drive from Cahuita National Park. For a double room with private bathroom you pay € 42 per night. Due to a mistake we were upgraded to the very spacious bungalow where you normally pay € 57. This accommodation has been rated with an 8.
Today we have a day off. In the morning we take our laundry away so that we have clean clothes again. You will find different laundry services in the village. During the day we chilled in the hammock and went to the beach. Puerto Viejo de Talamanca perfectly represents what the Caribbean life stands for, a cozy reggae-vibe village. You don’t think you are here in Costa Rica because it has many similarities with Jamaica. You come here especially for the laid-back vibe, for some surfing and nightlife.
You can also visit the Jaguar Rescue Center today. We did this on day 14.
If you are in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, it is highly recommended to visit the Jaguar Rescue Center. All animals that are injured or found are brought here. They are cared for to go back into the wild as quickly as possible. You can get a guided tour every morning for 20 dollars per person. Especially if you want to see the sloths up close, this is highly recommended (in the wild the sloth can often only be admired high up in a tree from a distance). You can also see the cutest baby sloths here! The Jaguar Rescue center does a nice job!
Pay attention! Don’t go anywhere where they promise you can hug the animals, because this is not good for them at all.
+/- 270 km and 4.5 hours driving
After lunch we leave for the east coast to La Fortuna. In the turtle season (April-September) it is definitely worth the drive to the northeast (La Tortuguero) to see turtles. Parismina (island) is also a nice option to see the leatherbacks during a night tour. We skipped this place because the season had not started yet.
You can choose from hostels, hotels and apartments. We stayed here 3 nights.
We chose: Volcano Gold Loft *****
Sometimes you need a little bit of luxury. We slept at Volcano Gold Loft, just outside the center of La Fortuna. This accommodation is in a quiet location and you can already spot many birds in the garden. There is a swimming pool and jacuzzi. The rooms are spacious and slightly more luxurious. You sleep here from € 50 per night (with 2 people). Guests rate this lodge with a 9.
After a fifteen-minute drive from La Fortuna you are at Volcano Park Arenal. There are several walking routes in and around the park. We chose to walk the route from the hotel Arenal Observatory Lodge. From here, according to many, you have the best view of the volcano. There, we were awkwardly searching for the official entrance.
At 50 meters before the official entrance (with gate and security where you get a map and advice on the walks) is a cabin where there is also an unofficial security guard where you can park your car and walk from there for the same price. He tells you that the official entrance is only for hotel guests of Arenal Observatory Lodge and that you have to pay an entrance fee for the hotel. This is not true, so you really have to drive to the official entrance of the hotel Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa to walk one of the beautiful walking routes from there. The costs are $10 per person for the entrance.
Before you start the hiking trails, you have a magnificent view of the Arenal Lake from the viewpoint of the hotel. During the walk we pass a waterfall and we see a lot of breathtaking nature!
Today we did absolutely nothing: nice! Lovely location by the pool of the hotel. At 6 pm we went on a Frog Night Tour through Arenal Oasis for 40 dollars per person. We have seen 12 different frogs and also the most famous frog in Costa Rica: Red Eye Tree Frog. This tour is very worthwhile if you want to see frogs. You set off with an experienced guide and you can see a lot during the easy 2-hour walk.
+/- 200 KM and a 3.5 hours’ drive
These are the last days of our road trip. We want to spend a few more days on the beach. Today we drive 3.5 hours to travel back to the west coast.
We stayed here for three nights.
In Playa Flamingo we stayed in the Guest House. A great apartment with a private swimming pool (if the other apartment is not rented). It was hard to find. It is in front of the supermarket on the left behind the large gray / black gate. The address on Booking.com is correct, but you do not see it immediately. We slept here in a 2-bedroom apartment for 115 euros per night for 3 people (very clean and luxuriously furnished with air conditioning, really American).
Chill out at the pool and surf!
Our last day of chilling. We enjoyed the beach. In the afternoon we drove to Tamarindo where you can enjoy surfing or just relax and enjoy the happy hours. At night we bought some more souvenirs in Tamarindo and we lingered for a drink and a nice night out.
Unfortunately, our last day has arrived. In the afternoon we drove to Liberia within 1.5 hours. We handed in our rental car and were taken with the shuttle service to the Hilton Garden Inn. The same hotel where we also stayed our first night. Here you can also enjoy the pool or use the fitness room.
The alarm clock goes early! Our Costa Rica road trip is done. What a wonderful vacation! If you love nature and animals then Costa Rica should definitely be on your bucket list and of course preferably be planned as soon as possible!
Do you also have plans to tour Costa Rica by car? Let me know what you think of this route!
Do you also have plans to do a road trip through Costa Rica by car? Let me know what you think of this route and leave a comment below!
This article contains affiliate links. You can read more about it in the disclaimer. Photo credits: Anouk, Booking.com and Pixabay.
The cost of this trip are variable and depending on the price of the flight, rental car and hotels of your choice.
Wildlife, hikes through the national parks and beautiful beaches!
Around €1500,- / $1650 p.p. (based on 2 persons). Or €1100,- / $1220 if you choose low budget accommodation and transportation.