After years of living in and traveling to every corner of Costa Rica, I put together an app – for iPhone, iPad or android phone – that gives an insider’s perspective as you plan your trip there. The app has over 1000 full-color photos and more than 180 entries, covering beachfront villas, jungle lodges, national parks and reserves. There are 16 detailed Trip Ideas, organized by theme (wildlife, yoga, surfing, sea turtles, tree houses, indigenous culture, birding, hot springs, volcanoes, etc.) and by trip length (like Hot Spots in 10 Days).
Here’s a sample itinerary. Of course the actual app entry would be riddled with links, to other more detailed entries, from specific beaches or towns to Traveling by Small Plane.
10-Day Whirlwind Tour of Costa Rica
I always tell people to leave ambition behind when they plan a trip to Costa Rica. If your itinerary is too chock-full you’ll never have a chance to relax.
That said, there are times when a whirlwind tour (like the one outlined below) is exactly what you’re looking for. So what if you’ll need two weeks to recover from a ten-day vacation?
Day 1: San José
Fly into Juan Santamaría International Airport just outside of the capital city. Walk the downtown pedestrian mall (the Paseo Colon), have coffee at Cafe Britt in the historic National Theater, and check out the nearby Pre-Columbian Gold Museum or the Jade Museum. Dedicated musicians may want to make a pilgrimage to Guzman Guitars.
An extra day in San José means you could take a day trip to Irazú Volcano, Poás Volcano, or the colonial city of Cartago.
Rent a car for the rest of your trip, or decide you’ll rely on buses, shuttle services, taxis, or small planes.
Days 2 and 3: Zona Norte
Arrive in the bustling town of La Fortuna. Nearby you’ll find Lake Arenal, famous among windsurfers, and active Arenal Volcano, with the luxurious Tabacon Hot Springs at its base. Check out other lesser-known and less expensive Arenal-area hot springs (see the Explore Hot Spring and Volcanoes itinerary for details).
Book a rafting, kayaking, or canyoneering tour with a La Fortuna tour company like Desafio Adventure. Off-the-gridders will want to check out Rancho Margot; birders will appreciate Villas de Cary (eat next door at celebrated Gingerbread Restaurant).
Days 4 – 6: Nicoya Peninsula
Head for the party surf town of Tamarindo; if you’re not too hung over get up in the wee hours for a turtle tour at Las Baulas National Marine Park.
If you have an extra day or two, head for the mid-peninsula to chill in the Nosara and Playa Samara area–Nosara has a respected Yoga Institute and lovely miles-long beaches; Samara has a protected half-moon beach good for learning to surf.
drop down to either Montezuma or Mal País/Santa Teresa at the southern tip of the peninsula. Montezuma is a hip little alternative-flavored beach town; Mal País/Santa Teresa are surfer’s paradises with lots of yoga and sushi. Both areas are close to Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve, which offers forest walks and a pristine white-sand beach where you may be the only one there.
Days 7 & 8: Central Pacific Coast
Kick into high tourism gear in the mega-popular beach town of Jacó (surf contests are held here) and/or Quepos (sportfishing mecca) and nearby Manuel Antonio National Park, the smallest but one of the most-visited park in all of Costa Rica. Although crowded in high season, the park is also beautiful. Tangled jungle spills down the hill to meet white-sand beaches, and the trees are full of monkeys and sloths.
Days 9 and 10: Caribbean Coast
Head back to San José and then east to the other coast—wetter, less developed, and more racially diverse; most of the country’s blacks and indigenous people live in the Zona Caribe. Laid-back Cahuita has a lovely beachside national park; in Puerto Viejo surf, party, and take long flat bike rides to beach. About 8 miles (13 km) south of Puerto Viejo are the stunning beaches and tangled jungles of Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge.
So where do you get this app? You don’t, not right now, anyway, because the app publisher (Sutro Media) went under. Ah, new media. Stay tuned for how I’ll bring this trove of information (IMHO) back into the world, maybe on a mobile-friendly, easy-to-update website. Suggestions welcome!