3 Weeks in Costa Rica & Panama


We asked some locals to give us travel tips and tell us what to do in Costa Rica and Panama. The result is this nice 3 Weeks Costa Rica and Panama Itinerary which we did just after Christmas. We started in La Fortuna on the foothill of a volcano, then proceeded to Uvita at the Pacific Ocean, to Corcovado National Park and from there to Bocas del Torro, Boquete and the San Blas Islands in Panama.

Our 3 Weeks Costa Rica & Panama Itinerary
Day 1-5: La Fortuna, Volcan Arenal
Day 6-9: Uvita
Day 10: Corcovado National Park
Day 11-12: Boquete
Day 13-15: Bocas del Toro
Day 16-18: San Blas Islands
Day 19-21: Panama City & Departure


Overall costs

$ 2100


21 days



La Fortuna, Volcan Arenal

La Fortuna is the biggest village near the Arenal Volcano. The area offers a wide range of activities from a jungle sky walk, zip lines, hikes, cycling and so on. There is also a thermal hot spring just outside the city.
La Fortuna is also a good starting point for Costa Rica if you’re coming down overland from the US, Mexico or Nicaragua.

How to get there

By bus: We took a public bus from San Jose to Quesada and changed into another bus to La Fortuna. While it was a cheap and authentic way to travel I would not recommend it anymore because it takes you half a day for this short distance. Instead I would recommend to take private shuttle services like Interbus. It’s focused on tourists and they offer a hotel-to-hotel service.

By car: It will take around 3 hours to drive from San Jose to La Fortuna if you have a rental car.

Things to do

Cloud forest tours: Half an hour away from La Fortuna is a rainforest park called ‘Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park’. You can walk through dense forest and get in touch with treetops when you walk over one of the many suspending bridges. The walk takes around 3 hours and many agencies offer a package with entry fee and transportation.

Hiking around Volcano Arenal: ‘Arenal 1968 Volcano View and Lava Trails’ are some easy trails between the volcano and Lake Arenal. A more demanding trek goes to ‘Chato Volcano’ which is a volcano lake with nice views to Volcano Arenal. The trek is often closed after rainfalls so make sure to get in contact with a local an agency for detailed information.

Coffee and Chocolate Tours: We did a Coffee Tour to a local farm (North Fields Coffee Tour) where they showed us the plants, the process of making coffee and finished with a tasting. During the tour you can plant your own coffee plant which is marked with a sign and they promise to keep you informed via mail about the growing of your plant. We never received a mail but it was still fun and the staff is extremely friendly. We also visited a chocolate farm which was also a fun afternoon.

Night Safaris: It’s a 2 hour walk into the dark forest where the guides will show you some colorful snakes, frogs and spiders.

Zip Lining: La Fortuna is maybe the world’s most famous place for zip-lining with several parks. It’s easiest to book a tour with an agency.

Hot springs: The volcano is surrounded by several hot springs and some of them have nowadays been turned into a spa. You will find a wide range from very basic ones to luxurious wellness temples. Most people choose one of the mid-range baths for an evening with dinner.
The baths are located around 10 minutes out-of-town by car. It makes no big difference in price if you book a tour with transfer or if you go there by yourself.


Most people choose the northern pacific coast of Costa Rica around Tamarindo for a surf trip, but Uvita is definitely worth a visit. It is much quieter and has two wide, long and sandy beaches. Perfect for beginners.
Just south of Uvita is a big mangrove forest which is accessible by an organized tour.

How to get there

By bus: We took Interbus from La Fortuna to Quepos and changed into a local bus to Uvita. The second part is unfortunately a bit slow but it is the only option to get there by public transportation.

By car: The drive from La Fortuna to Uvita takes around 5 hours.

Things to do

Uvita Beach: Uvita has two big sandy beaches which are separated by a fishtail peninsula. The forest behind the beach is a National Park and you should pay an entrance fee if you go to the beach. But we’ve never been asked for a ticket. The beach is a good place to surf or just to hang out. Surfboards can’t be rented directly at the beach, but you will see several shops or private house owners with rental signs on the streets leading to the beaches.

Mangrove Tour: Tours are offered from Uvita into the mangroves of Rio Grande de Terraba which is just south of Uvita Beach. It’s a good spot to see wildlife such as monkeys, birds and dolphins.

Corcovado National Park

Corcovado National Park is an untouched rainforest with dense forests, beaches and steep hills.

How to get there

By boat: Best way on this itinerary is a day trip by boat from Uvita.

Overland: You can take a bus or drive to Puerto Jimenez and start your tour from there.

Things to do

The most popular way to experience the nature in the park are walking safaris which last from one to three days. We did a half day walking tour where we saw lots of jungle animals and spent some time at the beach afterwards.


Boquete is famous for its coffee plantations and lies in the middle of the mountains. The most famous one is Volcan Baru from where you can see both the Pacific and the Caribbean.
When we visited the whole park was closed due to a big storm in the Caribbean with lots of rain in the mountains, so the best way to take advantage of the situation was to relax and do some white-water rafting.

How to get there

By bus: Take a bus from Uvita to David in Panama and make sure to book the tickets in advance since the connection is not served every day and it’s sometimes full. From David take one of the many local busses to Boquete. You have to leave the bus at the border and fill out some forms. The whole journey took around 5 hours.

By car: I have no idea if it is possible to cross the border with a rental car. We just met travelers who crossed it by bus.

Things to do

Volcan Baru: The volcano has an altitude of 3477 meters and is the highest mountain in Panama. From the summit you can see the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean at the same time. Tours start in the night to make sure you are at the summit at sunrise when the views are best.

Rafting: There are excellent rafting rivers close to Boquete. We booked a half day tour with transfer and paddled down a river which flows through dense forest. White water currents alternate with calmer parts where you have time to relax and enjoy the views into the forest.

Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro is famous for its laid-back vibe, the many hostels and bars and its wide range of activities. It consists of several islands, on the outer shores you can go surfing while the water between the islands is perfect for snorkeling.

How to get there

By bus: Best option are the tourist shuttles which brings you by bus to Almirante and then by boat to Bocas del Toro. You will find plenty of offerings for the service in Boquete.

Things to do

Watersports: Bocas is a good place to surf for all levels of experience. Between the islands you can also go snorkeling, diving and kayaking.

Island Tours: A nice tour is by bicycle from Bocas Town to Playa Estrella (2 hours one way) where you can see lots of starfishes. There are many bike rentals in Bocas Town.
You can also make an organized tour by boat where you will visit nice beaches, mangroves and see some wildlife.

San Blas Islands

The San Blas Islands is an archipelago consisting of 365 islands in the Caribbean that stretches along the coast of Panama. Only 49 islands are inhabited. The islands are famous for their intact underwater world and coral reefs.

How to get there

Organized tours: The archipelago is governed by the indigenous people of Panama and island tours are exclusively organized by them. Tourist agencies in Panama City combine the local tours with a transportation to the start point.

Private boats: You can join one of the boats sailing between Panama and Colombia on either a private or organized trip. They pass the islands but you won’t be able to spend much time there and its often a rough sea on this route.

Things to do

It’s up to you how many days you want to spend on the islands, we think 3 days are a good choice.
You will sleep in little beach huts of two to five people on a small island. Each day there is a tour going out to the other islands where you spent some hours on a beach, with snorkeling or on a beach bar. You can also stay on the island you are sleeping on and spend the day there by yourself. All tours include food and water.

Panama City

Panama City with all the skyscrapers looks completely different to all the other places on this itinerary. But it also has a very nice old town with colonial style buildings and lots of cool places to eat and drink. With the Panama Canal, nearby beaches, rainforest, parks and culture events you can easily spend two or three days in the city.

How to get there

By bus: We took a night bus from Bocas del Toro to Panama City. The tickets are always sold with the ferry transfer Bocas Town to Almirante. The bus starts around 6 pm and arrives in Panama City around 4 am.

By plane: There are several flights a day from Bocas del Toro to Panama City. It’s way more expensive than the night bus but since the bus was really uncomfortable I would suggest checking prices and decide based on the difference to the bus ticket.

Things to do

Old town (Casco Viejo): The old town has many bars and restaurants, some of them with rooftop terraces. We walked there from our hotel which was between all the skyscrapers along the coast and our first stop then was the fish market Mercado de Mariscos. After that we walked around the small alleys and had a wonderful coffee at Bajareque Coffee House.

Panama Canal: There is a public vista point from where you can see the ships passing and locks working. Go to Albrook Terminal and take the metro bus to Miraflores which stops directly and the canal or to Ciudad del Saber and walk for about 15 minutes.

Taboga Island: An hour off by boat in the pacific lies a little island called Taboga. If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city, this is the perfect place for a day. Ferries start at the Amador harbor.