Costa Rica itinerary in 7 days
We chose to stay in a beach area called Playa Grande. Because this is mainly a residential area, with private homes and privately owned small boutique hotels, even during peak season you feel as though you own the beach.
Located in a gated community, this quaint hotel has comfortable rooms, a delicious restaurant, lush tropical grounds and a nice swimming pool.
There are five rooms at the hotel - one in the main building and another four in a separate building on the property. Although the rooms are not luxurious, they are clean, bright and have all the amenities needed.
It is a two-minute walk to a beautiful stretch of beach.
The breakfast which is included in the price of the room, can keep you going for most of the day – fresh fruit, yogurt, bread, jams, cheeses, salamis and eggs made to order. In the evenings the restaurant is open for dinner and serves the best food in the area.
Family winter vacations were often a toss-up for us - ski or sun? After a series of ski holidays we decided it was time for some fun in the sun. What better place than Costa Rica, where we could lay on the beach and have some adventure at the same time. My sister-in-law and her family couldn't resist and decided to tag along. Off we went - a group of ten.
Beautiful beaches, gorgeous sunsets, tropical weather, white water rapids, jungle animals and lots and lots of sunshine make Costa Rica a great combination of relaxation and adventure.
If you want a beach holiday but don’t like laying around for a week in an enormous resort complex with hundreds of people while waiting in line at buffets, Costa Rica may be the beach holiday you’ve been looking for.
There are many areas of Costa Rica to explore. This itinerary explores the Guanacaste area, the Pacific coast, which has beautiful beaches. Although parts of Guanacaste are very popular with tourists and are made up of large resort-style hotels, there are many parts which are less crowded, with small privately-owned boutique hotels.
Since we decided that we didn't want to move from hotel to hotel we chose Playa Grande in the Guanacaste region as our base and did day trips from there. This small beach town is quiet and peaceful – no large hotels or resorts. The beach is spectacular. It is a surfers’ paradise.
If you are planning to stay in the Guanacaste area, the most convenient airport to fly into is the Liberia airport. Most areas along the coast are approximately one hour drive from the airport.
Many of the roads in Costa Rica are unpaved. Signs are scarce. There are animal crossings at every corner.
Car rental: If you choose to rent a car, ensure that you have good road maps or updated GPS navigation systems, rent from a reliable car rental company and ensure that all insurance has been purchased.
Hiring a driver: There are many taxi services and tour companies that offer group or private drivers. Although more expensive, this can be a more relaxing way to travel. Let someone else do the navigating while enjoying the scenery and getting an inside explanation of the country, history and nature. Most hotels can arrange the transfer from the airport with reputable services.
Arrived in Liberia and drove to the hotel using a pre-arranged driving service. We checked into the hotel, Hotel Cantarana. Located in a gated community, this quaint hotel has comfortable rooms, delicious restaurant, lush tropical grounds and a nice swimming pool.
There are five rooms at the hotel - one in the main building and another four in a separate building on the property - our group took up four out of the five rooms. . Although the rooms are not luxurious, they are clean, bright and have all the amenities needed.
It is a two-minute walk to a beautiful stretch of beach. We walked around the area, had lunch and went for a swim. We arranged for the kids to take surfing lessons the next day.
We woke up to sunshine and beautiful weather. After breakfast we went for a walk and then headed to the beach for the kid's surfing lessons. Playa Grande is a very wavy beach. Those who weren't surfing went into the warm ocean and jumped the waves.
We walked out to a local restaurant and had a typical Costa Rican lunch of rice, beans and chicken. We got back to the hotel and went for a swim, relaxed by the pool and read our books on a hammock.
We had an early dinner at the hotel followed by an evening Turtle Nesting Tour. This was one of the many highlights of our trip. We were picked up by a private driver and guide at 6 pm. Although Playa Grande is known for the leather-back turtles, it is rare to spot one because they are endangered. Black turtles are more abundant. The tour guide took us on a drive (approximately one hour away from Playa Grande). The drive was bumpy, steep and dark. Once we arrived we hiked down to the beach. We had to remain quiet and only used our flashlights when the guide said it was ok. We were lucky and saw many turtles but the best part was seeing one female turtle lay her eggs. We were able to get very close. We were all blown away by the experience.
We relaxed by the pool and the beach.
Afternoon and Evening
This afternoon we took a water taxi across the estuary to Tamarindo and walked around. The town is a bit chaotic and very touristy. We had a bite to eat and then headed to meet our captain.
We went on a sunset sailing and snorkelling tour. There are many options to choose from – large catamarans, party boats or private sailing trips. Tours depart from Tamarindo. Our choice was Andre’s sail boat through Xplore Costa Rica. This boat had a full crew and took us out into the ocean. They provided a light meal and beverages. They stopped in a cove for snorkelling and it was gorgeous. We watched the stunning sunset on the boat and then headed back to Tamarindo.
We relaxed at the pool and beach and the boys took another surfing lesson.
After lunch at one of the other hotels, we decided to take a kayak tour in the estuary between Playa Grande and Tamarindo. This was wonderful and very low key. We each had our own kayak. The guide showed us alligators, and we stopped on a small island to walk around. We saw monkeys, birds, several interesting insects and tropical plants. It was really fun. Our guide was a local gentleman we arranged it through our hotel.
We had dinner in a restaurant on a strip near the hotel. We walked there (approximately 20 minutes) and took taxis back.
Adventure Day Trip
Zip lining is a popular activity in Costa Rica. There are many parks and ranches that offer zip lining combined with other activities. Several of these parks are located in the Gunancaste region.
We chose to go to Pura Aventura. This park has lots to choose from. The zip lining is fun with lots of lines and several staff members coming along with the group to assist and instruct.
Following the zip lining, we each had a choice between guided mountain biking, horseback riding or hiking. We all enjoyed our choice. The package included a nice lunch in their restaurant.
We went by taxi to a restaurant in the town of Playa Grande for a nice dinner.
This was a day of rest and relaxation. Most of us chose to stay at the pool, go to the beach and for a long walk. Some people decided to take a taxi to another beach town nearby.
We decided to end our trip with an exciting day of white water rafting and hiking through a national park. We booked this through Xplore Costa Rica.
There are several levels of rafting in the Guanacaste region. Depending on your level of adventure you can choose from a lazy river ride to levels 4-5 of rafting. Our choice was a Level 3-4 rafting ride down the Colorado River followed by a hike and swim under a water fall. On this rafting ride, each person was on a raft with a guide. There were some challenging falls to manoeuvre and it was a bit scary but we were all happy we did it. It is not recommended without a guide.
We stayed at our hotel for dinner which was the best of all the restaurants we ate at.
Depart hotel and head home.
Guides and Tours
Frijoles Surfing School - They are a reputable surfing school on Playa Grande. They will meet you on the beach with all the surfboards and surfing shirts. The instructors will get you riding the waves on your first lesson. Highly recommended.
Turtle Nesting Tour - This was booked through the hotel. They arranged our guide, Christian, who came with his van. Highly recommended.
Xplore Costa Rica - We used this company to book our sailing and rafting trips as well as some of our drivers. They were efficient to work with. The only issue we had was at the rafting facility. Initially they didn't have enough guides but we refused to go out without one guide/raft and eventually they accommodated. It was a good thing because the rapids were too dangerous for inexperienced people.
Pura Aventura - We went to this adventure park for zip-lining, hiking and horse-back riding. They arranged transportation from our hotel and back. Highly recommended.
Dining and Food
Most small hotels in the area provide breakfast. Playa Grande has a couple of areas with 4 - 5 restaurants in each location. Don’t expect fine dining. The restaurants are fine, food is mediocre and not the highlight of the trip. Some of the restaurants will be in walking distance from most of the hotels, but you will need to drive or take a taxi to others.
More dining options are available in Tamarindo, the “big” town in the area. There are many restaurants to choose from. It is a busy town and a bit chaotic. During day-light hours, you can take a cheap boat ride across the estuary into town. After dusk, you will need to either drive or take a taxi which is a 30-minute trip.