There are countless rewarding road trips you could take in Costa Rica, but this time, let’s focus on those who are short on time and hungry for adventure. To maximize flexibility and minimize time loss, we’d highly recommend you pack a carry-on, rent a car and hit the road. So whether you are short on time or are just tagging a few days onto the end of a destination wedding, here we go!
Day 1: San Jose to Uvita - 4 hours - 110 miles (178 km)
Point your car south on Route 2 and set your GPS to Uvita, a charming little seaside village that sits on the southern fringes of the Ballena Marine National Park
. The town itself hosts a smattering of accommodation; from upscale eco-lodges to budget beach-bungalow joints, plus several fantastic food options. Yet the one thing, which really reigns supreme here, is Mother Nature. Visit the National Park in the months between July and October and you’ll have the enviable chance of watching majestic humpback whales and dolphins on migration.Bahia Aventuras
offers marvelous sea kayaking and whale watching trips right off the beach for just $78 (great if you drive here early in the morning and are looking for an afternoon activity). If you would prefer to be under the water, Costa Rica Dive and Surf
can take you scuba diving or snorkeling with one of their fantastic guides from either Uvita
or nearby Dominical
. Or if you want to work up a real sweat, head off into the heart of the jungle on a stunning day long trek with Rancho diAndrew
. You’ll be guided on a relatively challenging 3 mile (5 km) hike through lush rainforest, but don’t worry, you can take a break and try cliff jumping along the way.
Day Two – Uvita to Manuel Antonio National Park – 1 hour - 43 miles (70 km)
Next, head north along the coast and you’ll find Manuel Antonio National Park
, a protected sanctuary brimming with wildlife, where you’ll get the chance to see countless native birds, sloths, monkeys and ring-tailed coatis. Please be careful, because the latter will try and steal food right out of your hand!
Manuel Antonio is one of Costa Rica’s major highlights and alone is reason enough to travel here over a long weekend. The close and personal wildlife encounters are second to none, and you’ll also find a variety of activities such as eco-tours, zip-lining, hiking, stand up paddle boarding, canyoning, river rafting and so much more!
The park is open from 7am to 4pm (closed Mondays from July 1st to November 30th.) and, while you can’t actually stay in the park, you could either overnight in nearby Quepos, or stay in one of the many lodges just outside the gates. If you can’t bear to tear yourself away from Uvita (who would blame you!) you could also just visit on a day trip. Travel time is just over an hour after all.
Hikers will discover a few short trails of between one and three kilometers in length, anglers will find more heavenly fishing spots than they could ever dream of, and sun lovers will delight in one of the sensational beaches for which the park is so renowned.
Stand up paddle board expeditions with Paddle 9
are one of the most popular group tours to enjoy here. Yet if paddling seems like too much physical exertion for you, then head off with H2O Aventuras
, and let them guide you down Class IV and V rapids in the mighty Naranjo River. Either way, you are out on the water in one of the most beautiful parts of Costa Rica!
Day Three – Manuel Antonio to Jacó – 1 hour 19 mins – 46.6 miles (75 km)
Jacó is renowned for being the birthplace of tourism on Costa Rica’s western shores, and although the place is well established, it does offer some superlative comforts. You’ll find the sand of Jacó’s beaches to be a beautiful terracotta hue; a color credited to relatively recent volcanic activity. The ultimate surfer’s paradise, this idyllic spot is ideal for those who love to live it up both by day and
by night. Spend your last two nights here if you want to add some social vibe to your weekend.
It’s quite incredible to discover that this whole region boasts a taste of everything Costa Rica has to offer. You can take an off road ATV tour with Jaguariders
to discover remote beaches and hidden villages. Costa Rica Waterfall Tours
is another great option in the area if you are interested in a little more adventure with a little less horsepower. They will take you canyoning, horseback riding, rope swinging and more.
Day Four - Jacó to Playa Herradura & Tarcoles – 27 mins – 13 miles (21 km)
When you leave Jacó for Tarcoles, be sure to stop at Playa Herradura on the way. This is a stunning beach where big waves roll into calmer shores and wide sandy beaches meet roadside jungle. If sitting on the beach isn’t your style, you can try out a zipline canopy tour. The excellent guides from Vista Los Suenos Rainforest Tours
will help you negotiate more than a dozen exhilarating ziplines; zipping sideways, upside down and perhaps even the wrong way around!
From here you can drive the short stretch to the Carara National Park
and join Vic Tours
for an afternoon hike through the rainforest. Their knowledge of this incredible place is truly outstanding and what you’ll learn about the endemic fauna and flora makes the trip rather priceless, even though it only costs a very reasonable $45 anyway. It is unlikely that you would spot the colorful toucans, frogs, iguanas and monkeys without a seasoned guide. The walk is reinvigorating but not too challenging, so bring the kids if you’ve got em.
Tarcoles to Juan Santamaria Int’l Airport (SJO) – 1 hour 11 mins – 43 miles (69 km)
If you spend your last night in Tarcoles,
it will take you just over an hour to drive to the airport in the morning. We would suggest that you book a flight in the afternoon so that you don’t have to rush and can take your time getting to the airport. Plus, that will give you plenty of time to enjoy one last breakfast with strong Costa Rican coffee and some of the freshest fruit around!
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