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The Central and Southern Pacific coasts of Costa Rica are full of wonder, wildlife, immense beauty, and endless adventures to be had (we also have an itinerary for you if you’re heading to the Nicoya Peninsula in the North). A two-week trip to this region can be as action-packed or as laid back as you desire but if you’re looking to do and see as much as possible, here is an itinerary to help inspire your trip planning.
For this particular itinerary, it is best to take a Nature Air flight from San Jose to Quepos to start your adventure and then return to San Jose via Puerto Jimenez or Drake Bay. Nature Air is the world’s first carbon-neutral airline, so you can feel good about cruising around Costa Rica on a plane that doesn’t hurt the environment. In between the bigger cities, you can get around on a private shuttle and most tours provide transportation to and from your accommodations. Anywhere that you stay in Quepos, Manuel Antonio, Drake Bay, and Puerto Jimenez will be able to recommend the best local transportation shuttles and guides.
Fly into the Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose, then fly Nature Air from San Jose to Quepos. You will be spending several days in the Manuel Antonio/Quepos area for the first portion of this grand adventure. Arenas Del Mar and Hotel Si Como No are two excellent accommodation choices, but there are several other boutique hotels in Manuel Antonio to choose from.
Take a tour and explore the world-famous Manuel Antonio National Park. The park is open to visitors every day except for Mondays and is famous for its white-faced capuchin monkeys, two- and three-toed sloths, and 180 species of birds. There are three gorgeous beaches, a waterfall, and multiple hiking trails. It is easy to spend the entire day in the park on a guided or self-guided tour.
Take an estuary tour through Damas Island, which juts out of the Manuel Antonio shore. On this tour, you will explore the estuary and mangrove forests of the island where you will see monkeys, crocodiles, iguanas, birds, and other fascinating wildlife. After all your traveling and a day in the park, this will be a relaxing activity where you will get to explore another ecosystem in Costa Rica.
Spend the day at Santa Juana Lodge. Santa Juana is just an hour inland from Manuel Antonio, but visiting this area will give you a chance to step away from the beach for a day and spend some time in the mountains. While staying at Santa Juana Lodge is an extraordinary experience, you’ll be tempted to get out again with one of the several wonderful tours offered like canopy zip lining, bird watching, waterfall hiking, and a coffee tour.
Go catch dinner. Quepos is known as the “Sailfish Capital of the World” and the 2014 Offshore Championship was held there. While sailfish are catch-and-release, this area is also well known for snapper and dorado, which are quite delicious. There are half-day and full-day fishing tours that leave from Marina Pez Vela in Quepos. This is an amazing way to see the oceanside of Costa Rica while catching your own dinner.
Have a private picnic. Just south of Manuel Antonio is Playa Matapalo (also known as Playa Linda). This beach is what you might call a “hidden gem”. Made up of light colored sand and lined with palm and almond trees, it’s a scene straight off a postcard. This is the perfect beach to pack a picnic and spend the day swimming in the calm waters, relaxing in the shade of the palms, enjoying a beach lunch, sipping on cold coconuts or icy beers, and just letting all your worries and stresses drift out to sea.
Go whale watching. The Marino Ballena National Park in Uvita, an hour south of Manuel Antonio, is one of the best places in Costa Rica to spot humpback whales, along with dolphins and other marine life. Playa Uvita is even shaped like a whale’s tail! Taking a whale watching tour is a spectacular way to increase your chances of observing these mammoth animals.
Move south. For the next three days, you will be on the southern end of the Osa Peninsula. Drake Bay and Puerto Jimenez, both on the Osa Peninsula, are each about a three- to four-hour drive from Quepos. You can choose to stay in either area as both have a small airport and have relatively easy access to your last two tours. Aguilla de Osa Inn and Lapa Rios Ecolodge are two spectacular places to stay. The southern end of the Osa Peninsula is like no other place on earth. Its beauty and biodiversity is unrivaled!
Go diving. Caño Island Biological Reserve is one of the top snorkeling and scuba diving destinations on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The island’s reefs are home to an abundance of fish and marine life, including mollusks, sea turtles, manta rays, devil rays, parrotfish, starfish, white-tipped reef sharks, and 19 types of coral. Dolphin and whale sightings are also quite common. Most tours include snorkeling and a beach picnic on the island where you will have time to swim, sunbathe, and just take in the awe-inspiring beauty of your surroundings.
Explore the Corcovado National Park and the surrounding beaches. It is now required that you go with an experienced and certified guide in order to explore the Corcovado National Park, which you will definitely want to do. Corcovado National Park is home to over 500 types of trees and approximately 140 species of mammals, 370 species of birds, 117 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 6,000 species of insects. There are four ranger stations and multiple ecosystems within the 100,000-acre protected park. You can definitely spend more than one day exploring this biologically rich and breathtakingly beautiful national park.
While staying between Drake Bay and Puerto Jimenez, you can also go paddle boarding, kayaking, do yoga, explore the beaches, go dolphin and whale watching, check out some waterfalls, go horseback riding, and just spend some time relaxing in the rainforest and on the beach.
Depending on where you stayed, you can take a quick Nature Air flight from Drake Bay or Puerto Jimenez back to San Jose.