Have you ever seen a man walking down a city street with a rooster on his head?
Standing in the middle of San Jose, Costa Rica… we saw such a sight and I thought “ I am so glad we planned this trip!”
Costa Rica is a stunning country! It’s perfect for outdoor enthusiasts with its wildlife and natural beauty. There is no shortage of things to do in Costa Rica. But, it’s ease to get to, delicious food and wonderful people make it the perfect destination for families and individuals who just want to disconnect.
If you have just a few days to get away, a Costa Rica vacation is still possible. We did six days for less than $650. We loved the country so much and will definitely return. To encourage you to add it to your list, I will outline our Costa Rica travel itinerary with tips and guides that you can follow…or adjust for your own travel preferences. Plus, I will even show you how we did it so cheap!
Day 1: Travel Day/San Jose
We flew out of Orlando directly to San Jose on JetBlue. The flight was just shy of 3 hours and JetBlue is very comfortable.
We were able to pack in carry-ons only… though we did check a bag coming back due to the coffee rum we were returning with.
In San Jose, we spent two nights at the Sleep Inn Hotel Paseo Las Damas. The hotel was conveniently located within walking distance of downtown San Jose and attractions like the National Theater, Jade Museum and Central Market.
We also ate our first evening at the nearby Magnolia restaurant. It’s located in a casino, but is open 24 hours and the food was good. Fair warning, though, prostitution is legal in Costa Rica. The Sleep Inn was very family-friendly, however later in the evening, you may see more and more ladies of the night soliciting services. It’s sad and eye-opening…and something to be wary of if you happen to be getting in later in the evening.
Day 2: San Jose
When visiting any new city, I always suggest trying to see if a free walking tour is available. We did one in Venice and loved seeing the city through the eyes of a local.
The free walking tour of San Jose leaves every day at 9:00 a.m. There is an English and Spanish speaking tour available and you do not need to pre-register. You can simply show up.
Ale was a wonderful guide. The three hour walk took us through some of the historic areas of San Jose and gave us insight as to the city’s rich culture and gave some insight on things to do.
Even during the rainy season, the walk was pleasant as it was a light drizzle and not overly hot.
Our favorite stop was at a local chocolate shop where we were given a brief lesson on how chocolate goes from bean to bar in Costa Rica.
And, yes…the tour really is free. You are free to tip what you think the tour is worth at the end. We try to tip generously and it is still cheaper than booking a pre-priced tour.
Day 3: Visit La Fortuna and Take A Coffee Tour
La Fortuna is about three hours northwest of San Jose land marked with the amazing Arenal Volcano.
Prior research led to some horror stories regarding renting a car in Costa Rica. Stories of hidden fees and ridiculous upcharges almost made me go with the bus option. Fortunately, I came across this super helpful post about renting a car in Costa Rica from My Tan Feet and booked with Adobe in confidence.
In short, the experience was wonderful. The car was great, I knew the cost up front AND they delivered the car to the Sleep Inn on time and picked it up on our return trip at NO EXTRA CHARGE.
The drive from San Jose to La Fortuna is relatively easy on all paved roads. Traffic can be a bit tricky getting out of San Jose and prepare for winding roads…but the scenery is beautiful.
Plus, if you drive… you can take detours— like a tour of a coffee plantation!
We knew we wanted to take a coffee tour and you can easily book tours through sites like TripAdvisor or Viator. However, since I like sometimes doing our own thing, I did some research to see what was available on the way to La Fortuna and came across positive reviews for the Espiritu Santo Coffee Tour in Naranjo.
I simply emailed the plantation through the contact page on their website, asked what time tours are and let them know when we would be arriving. It isn’t really clear on the website, but the times are 8:00am, 9:30am, 11:00am ,1:30pm and 3:00pm.
They responded to my email with a confirmation and then we just showed up.
We were fortunate to be the only two who had signed up for that particular day and time. Ronnie was an amazing host who greeted us and offered us with, of course, coffee.
The hour and a half or so tour took us through the process from plant to packaging and, let me just say, I will no longer take my morning coffee for granted.
After the tour (and purchasing some coffee from the shop, of course) we made a brief stop in the town of Narnajo to grab an empanada lunch from a soda, a typical local eatery in Costa Rica. ( Read more about the traditional soda here)
From Naranjo, it’s just shy of two hours to drive to La Fortuna. Mind you, the road is very winding through mountains and if you are traveling ( like we did) during the rainy season, it can be a bit nerve-wracking in a downpour. However, the roads are all paved and we found the drivers to be very courteous.
Once we arrived in La Fortuna, we checked into the Casa Luna Hotel and Spa and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening vegging at a nearby nature trail and in the jacuzzi.
Day 4: Zip Line Through The Trees and Chase Waterfalls
I think it’s nearly impossible to talk about a vacation to Costa Rica without mentioning a zip-line. With the amount of jungle and forest, you’ll love feeling like Tarzan swinging through the trees.
We booked our zipline adventure through AirBnb with 7 Tours. We met at Go Adventure Park at 10:00 a.m. for the two hour adventure featuring 12 ziplines and a 60 foot rappel.
I am afraid of heights…but tried to stretch myself. I had actually rappelled before, so that wasn’t as big of a deal. Enjoy this video from our experience…and, yes, I would absolutely do it again.
After the zipline experience, you can either visit the hot springs or grab lunch in the town of La Fortuna. Then, visit La Fortuna’s natural treasure, the La Fortuna Waterfall.
To get to the waterfall, you do need to pay an $18 admission for adults at the visitor center. Then, it’s about a 15 minute hike down 500 or so stairs to get to the waterfall.
It is definitely a workout, but the water is cool and refreshing and definitely a beautiful spot to relax.
After this day, you definitely will want to take a nap and lounge in the pool back at the hotel.
Day 5: Take and ATV Tour and Head Back To San Jose
For the final day of a short Costa Rican adventure, treat yourself to an ATV tour in the morning before leaving La Fortuna.
We scheduled ours at the last minute, but you can ( and probably should) make advance reservations. We had a great experience with ATV Pradera Del Arenal.
We splurged on the private tour and would DEFINITELY recommend that….especially if you have experience on an ATV. I chose to ride with Nathan since he has driven ATV’s before. Due to this, our awesome guide Andres was able to show us some extra areas around the volcano since we were doing well on time.
View clips from our ATV experience in this video ⇓
If you book a group tour, you will save a little bit of money, but may not see as much as they group can only go as fast as the slowest rider.
The experience was fun and offered great views of the Arenal Volcano. Since we did have to check out of our hotel prior to the tour, ATV Pradera Del Arenal was kind enough to let us use their shower facilities so that we could clean up before heading back to San Jose.
The drive back to San Jose took us a different route through the Braulio Carrillo National Park.
We did not fully explore the National Park, but it is definitely worth pulling over at an available pull over spot ( sorry…not sure if there is a more technical term) and taking some photos.
We checked in for the final night at the Radisson San Jose
For a stopover, it was fine. The airport shuttle has a surcharge, so we opted for Uber instead ( see note below). Plus, we desperately needed to do laundry and I was hopeful that there would be a washer and dryer available. Their ‘laundry facilities’ is actually a laundry service that would not have been done before we left. So, we found a laundromat that was opened nearby and took care of it ourselves.
However, the breakfast was good and the price was right after using a Hotels.com gift card earned on Swagbucks. ( Signing up is easy and FREE)
We flew out the next morning, which is why we can’t count a Day 7. However, this was truly one of our most relaxing vacations…and cheapest as compared to visiting Europe. We definitely would go back and would love to spend more time in Costa Rica.
Because I promised a breakdown of what we spent and how we did it, here is a brief snapshot of my travel hacking to get our trip to less than $600. I will also give a glimpse of what we spent on food and souvenirs for the grand total. Food and souvenir spending tends to fluctuate based on personal preference, so please use this as a guideline for planning your own trip to Costa Rica, but understand that your final outcome may differ.