Costa Rica - in 1 week
The best way to enjoy Costa Rica is a car, and by our experience the overall cost turns out to be not more than equivalent all inclusive experience.
Rent a car and drive from San Jose airport to Quepos
If your timing is not so lucky and you are not able to do that, better plan to stay one night in San Jose and begin your trip next morning as early as possible. Driving in Costa Rica is safe but roads on the South don't have a lot of lights, you share them with bikers, pedestrians and occasional armadillo. And off course you need a GPS. If you don't have one with a map of Costa Rica, rent it with a car. Those rented Garmins are usually very talkative. If you pass by something interesting, it will tell you a story every time.
Assuming that you reach Quepos somewhat between 6:30 and 8PM, you still have enough time to check in your accommodation, take a shower and go for dinner to one of the countless restaurants on both sides of the 618 road going up to Manuel Antonio. El Arado can be a good choice - it's not on the main street, i.e. relatively quiet and cozy. To have first day dinner there with a whole fried fish and a couple of "Bavaria Gold" bears was our tradition for a few years in a row. "Bavaria" by the way is just a local brand, not imported from Germany as one might think, but I like it more than dominating "Imperial".
If you feel that you are late for dinner out and if your accommodation offers a kitchenette or at least a microwave, it makes sense to stop by a Maxi Pali supermarket right at the left side of the fork of Costanera Sur to Quepos, and buy something to drink and to bite. Maxi Pali is a full size grocery store, they even sell grilled chicken which we often take advantage of, it's very good and much cheaper than going out every night. If you cook, they have everything you need in one stop. Even if you plan to go out, it still make sense to load your small fridge with some fruits, soda, bear or even wine. Bananas are cheap, we always take some as a beach snack.
Rainmaker & Manuel Antonio National Park
National Park Marino Ballena & Naujaca WaterfallsToday we have plans for two places:
Long day drive from Quepos to Baldi Hot SpringsMan, this is a long drive. You can even split it in two days if you are not comfortable with all day driving, but there are a few things to consider before you decide to do it or not.
First of all, there are two volcanoes we are suggesting to drop by on your way: Irazu and Poas. Irazu we tried four times and only two times were lucky. The problem is that once your car climbs up to the mountain, it may be so cloudy there that you don't even see the hood of your car. Unfortunately you never know in advance and see it only once you are at the entrance. Off course it does not make sense to pay $20 if you cannot see anything, so in this case you simply make a U-turn and drive to the next stop, and it cuts the overall time of your trip by 1.5-2 hours.
If your luck with Irazu is bad, as it happened to us twice, Poas is your emergency plan B. The iconic green lake is also green at Poas. If Irazu weather cooperates, you have an option either to skip Poas, or to do both and compare.
Second of all, the drive through Dominical and the mountains is very scenic. There are plenty of nice stops you can enjoy on your way, get out from the car, stretch your legs, have lunch break etc. - so it's much more enjoyable than exhausting. We did this one day trip at least twice, so I am responsibly saying: it's doable, you just need to get up with sunrise. Alternatively, you can drive the same way back to San Jose and then through it, it's faster, but less fun.
By the way, for lunch we suggest a nice place right below Irazu, you cannot miss it.
At the end, according to our plan, you check in to Baldi Hot Springs Resort and Spa, and that is where this long trip suffering goes away in a matter of minutes. But don't wash it all off today, leave some fun for tomorrow.
In Baldi, there are two in-house restaurants: Virgita at the front, and Pyramid on the top, where you can enjoy the volcano view. You can pay for a buffet option ($22 pp), and it's not bad for a 1st time eater, but for pretty much the same price you definitely can do better in some nice place outside, and there are many. If you like sea food, try La Caribeña. If you are a steak person - Rana Roja is a good choice, and it has volcano view too if you take a right (well, left actually) table. If you like pizza, go to Italy or anywhere else but don't order it in Virgita.
If you were not able to book a room at Baldi or you feel that stay at Baldi is a little bit out of your price range, there are plenty of cheaper hotels, motels, B&Bs, apartments and villas around. But at least a day pass at Baldi you must try, it includes all day soaking and buffet lunch and/or dinner. But it's tomorrow.
ArenalLots of fun - coming soon
Once you arrive to Santa Elena clouds, the remainder of day you'll spend in the mountains, it probably will be chilly and wet, - have the right clothes.
On your list for today:
Monteverde Sky Aerial
Monteverde Butterfly Garden
Monteverde Orchid Garden
The Original Canopy Tour
Back to airport and flight home
Don't forget to fill up the tank before returning your car.