Costa Rica was not a country that I had considered visiting until my daughter suggested a trip here. The more I researched this country, the more curious I became. What’s not to love about a country that has jungles, beaches, and amazing outdoor activities, not to mention superb food which we soon discovered! Read on to find out how we filled our time in this beautiful country.
We started our stay in La Fortuna for 3 nights. We decided to start in this area because of the closeness to the Arenal Volcano National Park and the numerous outdoor activity options available. We stayed at a fantastic place called Hotel Bijagua and the owners could not have been more helpful…giving us tour suggestions, and helping us with booking them.
One thing that stood out to me right away in Costa Rica was the spectacular variety of plants and flowers. They were so vibrant in colour and unique in shape!
In this area I would recommend bathing in one of the hot springs (we went to Baldi Hot Springs which has a number of different pools where you can go from one to the next), taking a hike in Arenal Volcano Park (lots to choose from)…
…visiting the Mistico Hanging Bridges where you can walk on trails and over 16 bridges above the tree canopy…
…and just enjoying the city of La Fortuna with its wonderful restaurants and cafes. There is also a waterfall close-by, which we unfortunately ran out of time to do.
Places to eat in La Fortuna….check out Rainforest Cafe, Lava Lounge, and My Coffee
Our next stop…Santa Elena/Monteverde…for 2 nights. The transfer from La Fortuna to Santa Elena involves a bus to Lake Arenal, a 45 minute boat ride across Lake Arenal with spectacular views of Arenal Volcano, and then another bus ride to the Santa Elena/Monteverde area. It’s definitely a great way to see the countryside! Our accommodation here was at Rainbow Valley Lodge, a small lodge with a magnificent view of the valley. We only booked for a couple of nights here as the highlight of this area, and the reason for our stay, was the Monteverde Cloud Forest.
You can book tours ahead of time to view the forest or wait until you have arrived. You’ll see unique plants and animals in this area that are not found anywhere else on earth. The Monteverde Cloud Forest is an area along the Continental Divide where cooler air from the Pacific meets warmer air from the Caribbean creating a biosphere all its own. Our guide took us along the trails pointing out the flora and fauna as we went. He was even able to find a rare bird, called the Resplendent Quetzal, for us to take pictures of. In the evening we did a night tour at Bajo del Tigre which is part of the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest. I would say one of the best tours of our trip!
Places to eat in Santa Elena….check out Orchid Coffee Shop and Morpho’s Restaurant
After spending time in the jungle areas of Costa Rica we headed to the beach areas. Our next stop was Santa Teresa on the Pacific Ocean side of Costa Rica, and to get there we needed to take a bus to Puntarenas and then a ferry to the Nicoya Peninsula and then another bus. We had planned to spend 4 nights in Santa Teresa, however I would say unless you are into surfing it is a bit too long for this area. The beaches are amazing though and are some of the most gorgeous I have ever seen!
If you do decide to spend more than a couple of nights here then I would suggest staying on the beach at a higher end resort as they will have more amenities and restaurants to choose from. Another option would be to stay in Montezuma where there are more eating choices, shops, and tours to check out. In hindsight this would have been a better option for us as well. We ended up only spending 2 nights in this area and then making our way to Manuel Antonio for 5 nights.
Manuel Antonio…this place is spectacular! To get here it was…you guessed it…bus, speedboat, bus. The speedboat is about a 45 minute ride across some pretty open water…not for the faint of heart! We couldn’t wait to get to Manuel Antonio as we’d heard so much about it.
We checked in at The Falls Resort and it was heavenly! Lovely gardens, a pool, and a restaurant where breakfast is included. There is a local bus service that runs up and down this stretch of road to the beaches (small fee).
While in Manuel Antonio we booked a mangrove boat tour which took us to an area where we could see monkeys and sloths from the water. A really fun way to see the animals!
While in Manuel Antonio we planned to mainly enjoy the beach area here and relax, which we did. There are also a lot of souvenir shops and a wide variety of restaurants and cafes to check out in this area.
The highlight of this location is Manuel Antonio National Park and we did a guided tour which I would say is the only way to really appreciate the diverse nature of this park. The guides are also able to point out certain animals that you might miss on your own. We saw frogs, lizards, deer, sloths, monkeys, hummingbirds, iguanas, bats, and snakes. We found that all the guides we had were super informative and passionate about the parks and their jobs!
The local bus runs fairly frequently and will take you from the top of the hill down to the main public beach area at Manuel Antonio…you can walk but some parts of the road are fairly narrow. Places to eat in Manuel Antonio….check out El Avion (pricey but amazing views), El Wagon, Cafe Milagro, Claro Que Si, and Victoria’s Restaurant.
After spending almost two weeks in this stunning country I’ve only been left wanting more! I’ll definitely be going back! Pura vida!!
some things to keep in mind…
-the currency preferred is US dollars and sometimes the local currency was not accepted…have both on hand
-Costa Rica is a developing country and so don’t be surprised if you are asked not to flush the toilet paper!
-beach chairs and umbrellas can be rented at most beaches and are definitely worth the cost
-transfers between areas can be tricky if you try to do it ahead of time…we found the best way to make transfers was to get the hotel staff to take care of this for us
-Quepos is a fair distance from Manuel Antonio and would not be convenient for beaches or the park itself
-spending another night in the Arenal or Monteverde area is a great idea as there is a lot to do in both these locations!