Discover Costa Rica: A 10-Day LGBTQ+ Friendly Adventure Itinerary

Discover Costa Rica: A 10-Day LGBTQ+ Friendly Adventure Itinerary
Playa Mantas, Punta Leona

With so much to offer for a small country, from beaches to a volcano and abundant flora and fauna, when planning our 10-day trip to Costa Rica we had to choose only a handful of the activities and places that appealed to us. We left really pleased with the itinerary we planned, which I will share here with you along with the things we would change if we could plan it again.

Playa Vaca cove

Day 1: San Jose

While Costa Rica has two international airports, most visitors travel through the capital San Jose's airport Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO). Our flight arrived in the afternoon, and we went directly from the airport to Cafe Rojo, a Vietnamese fusion restaurant for lunch. The food and ambiance were incredible and we wished that we had more time to go back!

From there, we still had some time to kill before checking into our Airbnb for the night, so we went to the Municipal Crafts Market to do some souvenir shopping. We would highly recommend stopping here to purchase hand crafted souvenirs rather than beach destinations where the price will be two or three times as much for the same item. It is a partially open-air market with multiple vendors who sell jewelry, hand painted wooden cups, magnets and lots of other craft items.

Day 2: San Jose to Manuel Antonio

We stayed one night in San Jose before heading to our second Airbnb in Manuel Antonio, which is about a three hour drive which takes you down the Pacific coast. We picked up our rental car the morning of day 2, as we opted for Ubers around the city to avoid parking and city driving.

On our way to Manuel Antonio we stopped for lunch at a seaside "Soda" which is what the local restaurants are called. Sodas typically offer a more affordable lunch option, though the place we stopped cost us about $40 for two plates and two NA beverages. August is the rainy season in Costa Rica, and rains typically happen in the afternoon if not all day. By the time we arrived in Manuel Antonio it was raining, so we relaxed at our Airbnb which had an amazing balcony in the middle of the rainforest where we were able to see monkeys and a plethora of beautiful birds.

Day 3: Nauyaca Falls

We originally debated driving further south and renting an Airbnb in Uvita rather than Manuel Antonio because there were a few things we wanted to see there, but we opted to just make it a day trip as the drive is a little under an hour each way. On day 3 we woke up early and drove to Nauyaca Waterfall Nature Park, which is one of the most popular nature destinations in the country. The road to the park is easy to navigate, and the office is right on the side of the main road and not easy to miss. Admission is $10 per person, plus $4 per vehicle to park. We chose to go early as the park is only open until 2pm and the rain worsens in the afternoon.

You can pay an additional fee to be driven up to the falls from the parking lot, but we enjoy hiking and found the 2 mile each way trek to be very mild as it is a low-incline dirt road with only one scramble down steep steps to get to the falls themselves. You do NOT need a 4x4 vehicle to visit the falls, the road to the parking lot is paved.

The falls themselves were incredible, and for me the highlight of the whole trip. Because we went in the rainy season, the falls were very full which made it even more beautiful. The water is pretty chilly, but you can swim and there were some people jumping from a middle ledge of the lower falls. We almost missed the upper falls, which would have been a shame because they are beautiful too! You can only swim in the lower falls, but the upper falls are much taller and worth the two minute walk up the trail. There are bathrooms at the falls, as well as trash and recycling drop offs.

Day 4: Exploring Manuel Antonio

Again getting an early start to beat the afternoon rain, we wanted to find a free activity nearby our Airbnb. Tours and most activities in Costa Rica are very expensive, and so we wanted to find something that wouldn't cost money and would allow us to explore on our own timeframe. We found the Reto MAE, which is a 5 mile coastline hike in Manuel Antonio that traverses the coastline and drops you off at several beaches. See our post on the Reto MAE for a full overview of the hike, where to park, and our thoughts on adding it to your itinerary.

Days 5 and 6: Manuel Antonio National Park

Originally we planned one day at Manuel Antonio National Park, but were unlucky with the weather and the first day we visited we experienced a torrential rainstorm. We still walked around the park for two hours but because of the rain we weren't able to see much wildlife which is a main attraction of the park. In a stroke of luck, the next day was Costa Rica's National Parks day, and we were able to return for a free admission day and the weather had considerably cleared up. Manuel Antonio National Park is a must-see; its dense jungle is the habitat of many of Costa Rica's flora and fauna, and you are likely to see sloths, monkeys, iguanas and birds. We were able to see all of these animals on our second trip to the park, and enjoyed the beautiful beach in the park which has jungle right up to the shore.

Check out Costa Rica's Biodiversity Showcase: Manuel Antonio National Park if you're thinking of visiting the park (and I'd highly recommend it!).

Day 7: Jaco

The main activity we were planning to do in Costa Rica was hiking, but we are beach girls at heart and wanted to include a few days to relax and swim on this trip as well. We traveled to Jaco, an hour north of Manuel Antonio for the last leg of our journey after our second day in Manuel Antonio National Park. We drove to Playa Mantas on the morning of our seventh day where we stayed until midday before having dinner and drinks at the Green Room in downtown Jaco. The Green Room has a great cocktail selection and live music seven days a week; the atmosphere is very laid back and the prices were fair. We ended up coming back here two more times during the trip after trying a few other places in Jaco and finding nowhere that we liked better.

Days 8 and 9: Playa Mantas

If you are a fan of white sand beaches, Playa Mantas and Playa Blanca, which are walkable from each other, are the best beaches in the Jaco area. Days eight and nine for us were spent at Playa Mantas. There is shade to be found under trees at the edges of the shore and a food truck which sells snacks and beers.

Parking at the Playa Mantas parking lot costs 2000 colones for the day (make sure you park in the dirt lot past the gated paved lot which costs 15000 colones), and can fill up early especially on weekends. Playa Blanca is on a private road reserved for hotels, so there is no direct access. To get to the beach you park at Playa Mantas and cross the rocks at the south side of the beach during low tide. It is a small scramble up and then down a well trodden rock path; you will need to scale about 10 ft on either side. Personally we found Playa Mantas to have more space and better swimming as the waters on the Playa Blanca side were choppier.

Playa Blanca

Day 10: Return to San Jose

We had a mid-day flight on our last day so we were able to stay in Jaco our last night and check out the morning of our flight with enough time to drive back to San Jose, return our rental car and make it to the airport. We rented a car through Jairo of Car Rentals Costa Rica & USA, who partners with Alamo; the drop off point is about five minutes from the airport and Alamo has a free shuttle service that will take you from their offices to the airport. If you have some time to kill in the airport before your flight make sure to stop at the Cafe Britt store which has an array of free coffee and chocolate samples!

Playa Mantas, Jaco

What Would We Do Differently?

Even as beach lovers we felt that we spent one more day than we needed to at the beach in Jaco. Manuel Antonio is such a beautiful location and we could have easily spent three (half) days exploring the park rather than just two. If you are looking for more beach time, the itinerary above gave us a great mix of adventuring in the jungle as well as considerable beach time, but if you are more of an adventurer you should consider spending more time in Manuel Antonio or Uvita and stop in Jaco for one or two days.