I can not tell you how many times in Yahoo Answers, someone writes, ‘Yeah I’m going to Costa Rica … only have a few days … What do I do ?‘
A year and a half ago I took my two ‘very active boys’ down, and got a hold of friend, who puts together custom Costa Rica travel packages, and we enjoyed a ball-busting trip of two days fishing, white water rafting, zip lining, volcano and hot spring tour and more … all in 6 days. Needless to say this dad needed a vacation after the vacation. First, if you are planning a trip, try and spend at lease 10 days and postpone it to do so. Or just call in sick, or what I did years and years ago, “ Hi Boss, nasty weather got our flight delayed … we could not book another flight until 3 days from now … so I will not be in for 4 days ;-).”
Second, I would suggest no more than three destinations for an eight day trip, so do not try and do everything … you will get burned out! Focus on the surrounding area and think “Enjoy and Go with the Flow.” In other words, don’t try and do the Volcano thing in one day, and then in the next day head to Manuel Antonio beach. Just those two you will lose a day in travel. If you got the bucks, try and fly between locations, it’s worth it. The back way drive from San Jose to Jaco is very calanderistic, and should take about 2 hours, but it can take you a full day. Remember, the roads are just plain lousy and driving can be hazardous. I remember one time driving from Jaco to Quepos (about an hours drive when conditions are good) it took us almost six hours when accidents, detours, and heavy rain caused us to spend more time standing still in traffic then getting to Quepos.
Renting a car and doing your own driving may be Okay to some but, if you can, avoid it. Plus, it’s expensive, somewhat risky and time consuming. Rent a car when you’ve reached your destination, and that way you can do your exploring with the freedom to cruise around town and the local areas.
Don’t always believe in Travel Forums, like Frommers and Trip Advisor’s. These sites are good, but do not take them as the Word of God. Only, and I mean ONLY, a tiny percentage of these bloggers and chatters that post HAVE actually been to Costa Rica. I can not tell you how many times I have seen a post/chat that was cut and pasted from some Travel Agency and/or someone “guessed” at the answer to a question.
It is okay to spend time in ONE location. Costa Rica’s towns/cities are full of rich and diverse landscapes, climates and wildlife. To spend an entire vacation at one location or area is not necessary a mistake and can be a good thing. For example, in Punta Jimenez you can get the unreal balance of recreation, adventure. wildlife, and relaxation between the beach and rain forest and spend a month doing it, and still not see a fraction of what Jimenez and surrounding areas and towns have to offer.
Always pre-plan tours. Don’t assume that you will get that White Water tour. The best tours in Costa Rica often sell out, so it’s best to plan pre-pay (deposit, which is usually 50%) a few days in advance. If you are a procrastinator (like I’m at times) force yourself to plan ahead a tiny bit and you’ll be glad you did. A few of the best one-day recreations are the Canopy, White Water Rafting, Rappelling and Sailing tours and they get filled up very fast.
Costa Rica is in a tropical environment, so try and pack light. If you will be spending any time in San Jose or Arenal, you’ll probably need one pair of long pants and a light jacket, fleece pullover or sweater. If coming during green (rainy) season (June-September) a rain jacket or poncho is a must. Pack sunscreen, bug repellent and a light day pack for excursions. Most importantly, if taking domestic flights, DO NOT OVER PACK. You will be nailed for extra weight on the small flights otherwise. All small flights you and your baggage will be placed on a scale before departing.
I get asked all the time on All-Inclusive Trips. Well, that may be good to some, but 80% of all Costa Rica hotels have 30 rooms or less and all-exclusive hotels may not be the deal of the century. Coming to ONLY stay in a mega-resort is a major mistake, because you shouldn’t alienate your stay in a Disney-style hotel. Cost Rica is a safe country, has great food, shops, and nightlife.
Get out, walk the town, explore, and see what the people and culture has to offer and you will come back can’t waiting to brag to your friends and family.