Costa Rica is a country located in the Central American region. This haven is filled with natural sceneries such as beaches, volcanoes, waterfalls, and national reserves. It is also the hummingbird capital of the world. By spending 3 weeks in Costa Rica, you have plenty of time to see all its beauty to the fullest.
Aside from its biodiversity, some must-try adrenaline-filled activities here include canyoning, cave tubing, ziplining, river rafting, and more. Costa Rica is also filled with diverse gastronomy, has some of the best coffee in the world, and has world-class resorts.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE GOING TO COSTA RICA
Planning a trip to Costa Rica can be an overwhelming task. You’re super excited, but you also know that you must decide when to go, what to pack, how long to stay, and how much to spend, and make travel arrangements. The information below will help you with all that.
When is the best time to go to Costa Rica
The summer in Costa Rica lasts from mid-November to April. The country’s peak season is two weeks before Christmas until after New Year. While the rainy season, which is also called the green season, is from May to November.
The best time to visit the country is between December and April, the driest and brightest season. However, I also recommend travelling during the green season if you don’t mind rain showers here and there. It is the transition season, the national parks are quieter, and the waterfalls are prettier.
Avoid September to October, when the country experiences the heaviest rainfall. This means you won’t be able to do as much anyway. If you need more information about this topic, this post tackles the best time to visit Costa Rica in much more detail.
Are 3 weeks enough for Costa Rica
20 days are perfect for Costa Rica. You’ll see vibrant cities, explore national parks, do fun water activities, try out local dishes, and meet friendly locals. The only thing I recommend you do is to stick to 4-5 cities/locations. Make sure it’s not too complicated to get from one place to another.
Domestic flying in Costa Rica can be annoying because many connect in San Jose. It’s not helpful either that the capital city is right in the country’s centre, making it more challenging to move around.
What to pack
Bug repellent is your first thing to pack for Costa Rica. Mosquitoes are even bothersome in the rainy season but are pretty much present year-round. If you plan to visit cathedrals and religious sites, best to bring modest clothing.
For those planning to do water excursions, don’t forget your swimsuit. And for avid hikers, make sure you pack your hiking shoes, trousers, and other trekking equipment. You can read our packing list for a 3-week trip. But we also have a packing list for a beach vacation.
How to get around
Most people travel by bus because it is inexpensive and easy to follow. It is also frequent, even in remote areas. The bus system even connects Costa Rica to its neighbouring countries. Those who want to reach their destination faster can go by plane.
Shuttle buses are also an option to travel. Although it is five times more expensive than public buses as it is more comfortable and faster. Renting a car is suitable for those who want to reach tourist destinations at their own pace.
Car rentals cost around $40 per day for a regular vehicle and $80 for an intermediate 4-wheel drive. Getting around by taxi, on the other hand, is cheaper if you travel in groups. Motorbikes or scooters are also transportation options. In fact, motorbikes are recommended for seeing off the beaten paths in this country.
Language and currency
Costa Rica’s official national language is Spanish. Still, five indigenous languages are spoken in the country, a part of the Chibcha language family, including Bribri, Maleku, Buglere, Guyami, and Cabecar. English is widely used in tourist spots.
Costa Rican Colon (CRC) is the country’s currency. Except for American Express, nearly all credit cards are accepted in Costa Rica. The most widely accepted credit card is Visa. I still bought cash during the trip because small roadside shops, highway tolls, taxis, and the like don’t accept cards.
Average travel cost for 3 weeks in Costa Rica
On average, you should budget $1,800 for 20 days in Costa Rica if you want a private room, go out for food, and do guided tours. If you’re a backpacker, $1,200 can be done as long as you stay in hostel dorm rooms.
For those with an extra budget, a luxury trip to Costa Rica is around $3,000. This will allow you to stay at four to five-star resorts, dine at more excellent spots, and book premium tours.
These numbers don’t include the flights to and from Costa Rica though, plus travel medical insurance, which is highly recommended.
Costa Rica has a somewhat relatively easy visa. The government offers visa-free to most travellers. If you’re holding a passport from most countries in the Americas, Europe, Oceania, East Asia, and some parts of Africa and Southeast Asia. These travellers can stay from 30 to 90 days in Costa Rica,
Nationalities from most places in Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia must apply for a visa in advance.
Other travel tips
If you’re visiting Costa during peak season, make sure to arrange your flights and hotels in advance since those get booked up fast the prices soar high. For tours and transportation, you can often leave this on last minute except during Christmas, New Year’s, and Easter when tickets are sold out months in advance.
PINNED MAP OF MUST-SEE PLACES IN COSTA RICA
Click the enlarge button on the top right corner. Credit: map data: Google
3 WEEKS IN COSTA RICA ITINERARY
Did you know that Costa Rica is on its way to becoming the first carbon-neutral nation in the world? This means that the authorities are working hard to preserve their ecological resources.
In fact, 25% of their land is protected. Travelling and seeing those untapped territories up close in their raw form is an unforgettable experience for me.
I created an itinerary list for a 3-week stay in this beautiful country. The itinerary consists of the must-visit locations. Below is a bunch of recommended places to see, as well as day trips and some activities that can be done during your stay.
San Jose for 3 days
San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica. It is a bustling city filled with greeneries. As I embarked on a road trip, I used my time in the capital city to prepare for my trip, getting a local sim card and currency. There are cheap supermarkets like Pali Oder Maxipali and places that sell salads such as AM/PM.
I also enjoyed San Jose’s city tours and food tours, where I learned more about Costa Rican dishes. It also has a vibrant nightlife, and being an adventurer at heart, I tried water rafting activity. It is a perfect starting point for travelling as it is the central part of the country.
San Jose has many museums, such as the National Museum, the Costa Rican Center of Science and Culture, the Museum of Costa Rican Art, the Pre-Colombian Gold Museum, and the Jade Museum.
There are various day trips, including Bajos del Toro, Poas and Irazu Volcano, Pacuare River, La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Tortuga Island, Arenal Volcano, and hot springs. Other places to visit include The National Theater, La Chimba Coffee Farm, Butterfly Garden, and Toucan Rescue Ranch’s Sloth and Wildlife Rescue Center.
Things to do in San Jose
- Costa Rican Center of Science and Culture
- Spirogyra Butterfly Garden
- Museum of Costa Rican Art
- Jade Museum
- Simón Bolívar Zoo and Botanical Garden
- Plaza de la Cultura
- Children’s Museum
- Day trip to Bajos del Toro/Tesoro Escondido Waterfall
- Day trip to Poas and Irazu Volcanoes
- La Paz Waterfall – combo tour for Poas Volcano and La Paz Waterfall or just the waterfall and wildlife refugee
- Parque Diversiones
- Go whitewater rafting at Pacuare River – see the tour price
- Day trip to La Paz Waterfall Gardens
- Book a walking food tour – check the reviews
- The National Theater
- Excursion at Tortuga Island – join a boat tour
- Pre-Colombian Gold Museum
- Hike the Arenal Volcano – book one with lunch and dinner
- Hacienda y Beneficio La Chimba Coffee Farm
- Sign up for a day filled with thrilling activities – read the itinerary
- Toucan and Sloth Rescue Ranch
- Go on a night tour – dinner and cocktail class or an evening bus tour with dinner
Accommodations in San Jose
- Affordable: Eco Stay Hostel or Nativus Art Hostel or Chillout Hostel
- Mid-range: Casa Mayela Guest House or Hotel Aranjuez or Hotel Casa 69
- Luxury: Bee Suites or Labana Hotel Suites Apartments or Park Inn by Radisson
Monteverde for 3 days
Monteverde literally means green mountain in English, and this ecologically diverse area definitely lives up to its name. This place has an incredible cloud forest landscape, rainforest trails, and treetops filled with exotic birds. Since I am a nature lover and wanted to experience serenity during my vacation, this place became a haven for me.
One of the most notable places here is the Monteverde Cloud Forest. However, the cloud forest trails become quite busy because of its popularity, especially during peak season. Instead, you can head to its alternative, La Reserva Bosque Nubosa, Santa Elena, which is also a cloud forest.
Other locations include Skyadventures, Colibri Cafe, as well as the Frog Pond and Butterfly Garden. Some activities here are canyoning, horse trekking, and coffee tours too. 3 weeks in Cota Rica must include Monteverde for so many reasons.
There are four ways to get to Monteverde from San Jose, and the fastest way to do so is through driving, which could take 2.5 to 3.5 hours. The cheapest way is by riding the public bus, which only costs $6-$7 per person, as opposed to a private transfer which could cost anywhere between $80-$100. Another travel option is a group shuttle.
Things to do in Monteverde
- Monteverde Cloud Forest – go on a hiking tour or a zipline tour or a night walking tour
- Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve
- Lake Arsenal – go kayaking or paddleboarding
- Monteverde Butterfly Gardens
- Learn how to make traditional Costa Rican bread – through this bread-making class
- La Reserva Bosque Nubosa
- Book a coffee, chocolate, and sugar cane tour – look at the reviews or farm & cheese tour
- Thrill at Sky Adventures Monteverde Park
- Bird watching at Curi-Cancha Reserve – there’s a watching tour you can sign up for or combo Curi-Cancha and Cloud Forest
- Frog Pond Ranario
- The Original Canopy – book a tour
- Hanging Bridge at Selvatura Adventure Park – get an all-pass for all activities or just do the suspension bridge
Accommodations in Monteverde
- Affordable: Cabinas Vista Al Golfo or Freddy’s Place B&B
- Mid-range: The Green Tree Lodge or Tityra Lodge or Hotel Santa Fe B&B
- Luxury: Burbi Lake Lodge or Calathea Lodge or Camino Verde B&B
Santa Teresa for 3 days
Since I stayed for three weeks in Costa Rica, I was drawn to visiting Santa Teresa for at least three days as it is a break from adventures over the wilderness. This place is filled with beaches where one could surf, wander around, go horseback riding, have a picnic by the day, watch the sunset, then campfire by night, and even do yoga exercises.
It doesn’t only have sun, sand, and beaches; it even has a Bohemian village consisting of co-working spots, ice cream cafes, clothing shops, boutique hotels, and eco-stores.
Some other things to do here include a day trip to Montezuma, an infinity pool, naturally carved tide pools in Mal Pais, or even a day trip to Tortuga. Fishing and snorkelling are also famous here as the waters are abundant with tunas, roosterfishes, marlins, and sailfishes, among others.
The cheapest transportation to reach Santa Teresa from Monteverde is by bus, which only costs $8.50 and has a travel duration of around 6 hours. Driving and private transfers are faster, lasting only up to four hours, but more expensive, with prices ranging from $64 to more than $200.
Things to do in Santa Teresa
- Santa Teresa Beach
- Malpais Tide Pools
- Playa Carmen
- Go surfing – you can sign up for surfing lessons
- Reserva Natural Cabo Blanco
- Playa Hermosa
- Day trip fishing – book a fishing tour
- Wild Sun Rescue Center
- Day trip to Montezuma
Accommodations in Santa Teresa
- Affordable: El Gato Rojas Surf Hostel or La Posada Hostel
- Mid-range: Cuatro Vientos Lodge & Apartments or Santa Teresa Surf & Villas or Believe Surf & Yoga Lodge
- Luxury: Hotel Vista de Olas or Vista del Alma Boutique (adults only) or Casa Cecilia Beach Front
Quepos/Manuel Antonio National Park for 4 days
Quepos is a small town in Puntarenas Province well-known worldwide for big game sport fishing. It even earned the title of Sailfish capital of the world. Aside from that, this place also has tons of art galleries, souvenir shops, and fine restaurants. I signed up for some activities like horseback riding, kayaking, rafting, surfing, and canopy tours.
Damas Island Estuary is actually only a 15-minute drive from Quepos and is famous for its unique ecosystem. This is perfect for travellers of all ages, and they offer both day and night tours. Santa Juana Mountain Village is another location near Quepos suitable for day trips.
The tour of this mountain village was an unforgettable experience as I managed to try out tilapia fishing, horseback riding, and traditional Costa Rican cooking.
Manuel Antonio is one of the world’s best National Parks and home to many beautiful walking trails and hundreds of animal species. It has many scenic views, including Sendero Principal’s main route, Biesanz Beach, and Playa Espadilla Norte. Rainmaker Conservation Park half-day trips, Nauyaka Waterfall day trips, and Coffee and chocolate tours are also available.
The best way from Santa Teresa to Manuel Antonio is by a shared van, which costs $98 per person and has a travel time of about four hours. The cheapest mode of transport is by bus for $11 but has a travel time of eight hours. Driving is another option and lasts for about six hours.
Things to do in Quepos
- Damas Island Estuary
- Chocolate tour – check the tour price first
- Biesanz Beach
- Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio – book a wildlife-guided tour and/or do a canopy tour or an ATV tour
- Espadilla Beach
- Try surfing – there are surf lessons you can sign up for
- Manuel Antonio Beach
- Go on a cruise or boat tour – check this catamaran eco boat tour or an afternoon/morning cruise with food
- Playa Las Gemelas
- Naranjo Biological Corridor – where you can do zip lining, rappel, and Tarzan swing
- Skydive Costa Rica at Quepos
- Do whitewater rafting – read the reviews
- Go to a Mangrove – you can go kayaking or a boat tour
- Day trip to Santa Juana Mountain Village
- Half-day trip to Rainmaker Conservation Park or Nauyaka Waterfall
Accommodations in Quepos
- Affordable: Wide Mouth Frog or Bato’s
- Mid-range: Villas Jaquelina or Sueno Tranquilo
- Luxury: La Foresta Nature Resort or Marina Pez Vela Villas
Dominical for 3 days
Dominical is Costa Rica’s hidden gem, a vibrant beach town with a perfect balance of wilderness and modern comfort. It is an off-the-beaten-path town perfect for laidback tourists, with rainforests and beaches that coexist. Some places here offer yoga retreats, craft beers, and scrumptious dining options fresh from the sea.
You can go snorkelling, scuba diving, whale watching, and whitewater rafting, and shop at a large beach market at Playa Dominical, between Sesame Street and Main Street.
Some of the must-visit places include Nauyaca Waterfalls, Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary, Uvita and Ballena National Park, Plaza Azul, Playa Dominicalito, Rocas de Amancio, Parque Reptilandia, Organic Farmer’s Market, Hacienda Baru Wildlife Refuge, and Diamante Waterfall and Cave, which is one of the lesser-known waterfalls.
I highly recommend bus travel as it only takes less than an hour to reach your destination. There are other alternative options, however, which are by taxi, driving, or using a shuttle.
Things to do in Dominical
- Playa Dominical
- Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary
- Go surfing – book a surfing lesson or rent a board
- Dominical Adventure Treehouse
- Poza Azul Waterfall
- Sign up for river tubing in Savegre River – read the tour reviews
- Day trip to Nauyaca Waterfall Nature Park
- Day trip to Ballena National Park
- Day trip to Uvita to see waterfalls and sunset view
- Half-day trip to Parque Reptilandia
- Hacienda Baru Wildlife Refuge
- Day trip to Playa Hermosa and do a whitewater rafting
Accommodations in Dominical
- Affordable to Mid-range: Rafiki Beach Camp or Casa Aba Matapalo or Hotel Villas Rio Mar
- Luxury: Ranchos Remo Lodge or Hotel Cuna del Angel or Pacific Edge Eco Lodge
Puerto Jimenez/Parque Nacional Corcovado for 4 days
The last stop for the 20 days in Costa Rica itinerary is in Puerto Jimenez. It is also located in Puntarenas province and is the gateway to Corcovado National Park, a rainforest with immense biodiversity, including mangroves filled with wildlife and bodies of water filled with bioluminescent plankton.
It is also near the shores of Golfo Dulce Bay, across from Piedra Blanca National Park and Golfito National Wildlife Refuge. Some magnificent beaches are within walking distance, including Playa Plataneres and Pan Dulce Beach. They offer coffee tours and bike rentals. Other activities include sunrise or sunset kayaking tours, whale watching, and horseback riding.
Now let’s further explore Corcovado National Park. It is one of Central America’s last remaining patches of lowland tropical rainforests. It is home to Baird’s tapir, the largest mammal in Central America. Other rare species, such as harpy eagles, bull sharks, white-faced capuchin monkeys, pumas, and ocelots, can also be found here.
Coming from Dominical, my most recommended option to reach Puerto Jimenez is by bus, which has a travel duration of more than three hours. Other travel options include driving or taking a shuttle and then flying.
It is perfect to end the trip here because aside from being an extremely laid-back town that is filled with wildlife, the transportation, specifically the bus system, is very accessible. Just make sure to head back to San Jose to catch an international flight.
Things to do in Puerto Jimenez
- Corcovado National Park/Parque Nacional Corcovado – you can do an overnight tour
- Golfo Dulce Bay
- Golfito National Wildlife Refuge
- Playa Plataneres
- Mangrove at Preciosa Platanares Wildlife Refugee – book a mangrove kayak tour
- Reserva Forestal Golfo Dulce
- Pan Dulce Beach
- See bioluminescence at Puerto Jimenez while on a kayak – check the tour price
Accommodations in Puerto Jimenez
- Affordable: La Palapa Hut Nature Hostel or Osa Surf Hostel
- Mid-range: Hotel Hoja de Oro Corcovado or Cabinas Jimenez
- Luxury: Corcovado Private Villas or Botanika Osa Peninsula by Hilton
SUMMARY OF 3 WEEKS IN COSTA RICA ITINERARY
Costa Rica is unparalleled in Central America in terms of lush jungles. It is one of the most diverse places in the world because of its incredible conservation and wildlife protection. It has over 615 wildlife species per 10,000 sq km and 27 national parks.
There’s always something to do for everyone. Whether you prefer adventure or family-friendly activities or are fond of historical structures, galleries, sumptuous food, or vibrant nightlife, Costa Rica has got you covered. With everything this country offers, staying for at least 3 weeks in Costa Rica is advisable.