Ten days

Seeing a cross-section of Costa Rica in 10 days could be tough. Space it out and it could be ideal. After a day in San José or a nearby town of the Central Valley, it's a short trip north to Fortuna taking in the craft capital of Sarchí, and the topiary creations of Zarcero en route. A couple of days in Fortuna allows plenty of time to see the Arenal volcano and the nearby waterfall, and still have time for a day trip north to the wetlands of Caño Negro Wildlife Reserve close to the Nicaraguan border, before heading round Lake Arenal to Santa Elena for a couple of days exploring the delights of the cloudforest in the Monteverde area.

Heading further north you could have a few days' adventure at one of the lodges close to Rincón de la Vieja hiking through the national park, or simply taking it easy.

With just a few days left, head out to the Nicoya Peninsula and find a beach that takes your fancy. Tamarindo is a lively spot, while Playa del Coco is a good budget option. Sámara and Nosara are slightly pricier but offer peace and quiet. Enjoy some genuine rest and relaxation, with the occasional local excursion, before heading back to San José (40minutes by plane or half a day overland).

If you're after ten active days, many options in Costa Rica have been packaged to create two-, three- or four-day trips. By mixing and matching, you create a tailor-made trip to match the pace you want. A suggested itinerary might include: two or three days' whitewater rafting on the Pacuare or Reventazón rivers near Turrialba, followed by a flight down to Palmar Sur or Puerto Jiménez for some trekking through Parque Nacional Corcovado before heading to Drake for some relaxing diving.

Two weeks

A few extra days couple would allow you to tag on a trip to Parque Nacional Tortuguero on the Caribbean to the suggested itinerary, above. Alternatively after visiting Arenal and Monteverde, you could head out to Tortuguero National Park before going south to relax on the quieter beaches and at one of the secluded homely lodges.

Two weeks is long enough to consider doing a fly-drive option. Take the first week to acclimatize yourself to Costa Rica, seeing a couple of places that you can't reach in a private vehicle, and then head out on your own to explore and enjoy the freedom of going left, right, straight on or backwards whenever you please.

Three weeks

You are now moving into the realms of really being able to explore. After a brief foray through the Central Valley exploring the delights of the region, head out to Arenal and Monteverde and make your way slowly south down the Pan-American Highway through San Isidro de El General. Hikers can stop off for a few days to knock off Chirripó, while others can explore the quieter options of this forgotten region. Continue south through the scenic Coto Brus Valley to San Vito and finally to Golfito, where you can step out to explore the coast or tramp through the rainforest of Parque Nacional Corcovado.

Awestruck and amazed, head up the coastal road slowly taking in Dominical, Jacó or Manuel Antonio - depending on whether you like deserted, busy or popular - to enjoy the beach before heading back to San José.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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