Costa Rica is an adventure’s dream and an outdoor paradise. While there are some good museums in San Jose, this is not a country to visit for the museums and city culture. In fact, most locals and travelers will tell you that unless you are flying in and out of San Jose, there is no reason to visit the capitol.
Costa Rica is one of the most green and lush locations I have ever been. Additionally, I saw more animals there than probably any other location besides Alaska or on African Safari.
Monteverde Cloud Forest is place you must stop while in Costa Rica. We were there for two days but could have easily spent three or even four. In Monteverde you can go hiking, zip lining, take canopy tours, enjoy the scenery, and watch for wildlife. Additionally, there are coffee, chocolate and cheese tours available. While in Monteverde was stayed at the Monteverde Lodge and Gardens. While it was more than I usually spend on a hotel, it was worth every penny and I would stay again on my next trip.
La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano is another popular spot. Before my trip, I read lots of blogs and reviews and there was a 50/50 split whether Monteverde or Arenal is better. My group votes Monteverde without hesitation. Arenal earned its place on the tourist route after its eruption in 1968. The eruption killed over 70 people and wiped out 3 villages. However, for decades afterwards the lava continued to stream down the sides of the volcano making it a rare and spectacular sight. Today the lava has stopped flowing, but the volcano is still a venting and provides wonderful photos as a single traditional cone shaped volcano. Additionally, the geothermal activity has provided the area several hot springs and thermal spas. The destruction of the forest is the area also gives a fantastic education on the difference between primary and secondary forest and it is amazing to see nature rejuvenated itself.
I did not make it to the West Coast on this trip. I have read about some amazing nature preserves and beaches and would like to go some day. I gave it up in order to spend a day rafting on the Pacuare River. I do not regret my choice. It was a beautiful, fun, adventurous yet relaxing day outside enjoying nature and the water.
I finished my trip in Costa Rica in Pureto Viejo on the South East coast. I don’t go on beach vacations and I like to be busy and active while out exploring. So while not a destination in itself, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this small Caribbean village. I have never been to the Caribbean Islands, Bali or the South Pacific, but this stop made me consider it as I definitely felt like I could have spent several days (or weeks) hanging in my cabin’s hammock reading a good book or strolling up and down the beaches. And not to be missed if anywhere near the area is the Jaguar Rescue Center. This non-profit organization is doing incredible work to help rescue and rehabilitate local animals. You can visit the center and see the animals up close and learn about their work as well as the surrounding communities and environment.
Travel Tips: I hired transfer services to get around. This was the best option for me as we were a large group which made it affordable and our trip was one way from Nicaragua to Panama (rental cars can’t cross these borders). However, if you are flying in and out of the same airport, renting a car looked very doable. As a crow flies, Arenal is very close to Montverde and San Jose. In a 4 wheel drive it is a long and bumpy ride (I am just warning you). I used Gecko Trail Costa Rica for our rafting trip as well as some advice and booking of some other portions of our tour. I was extremely pleased and impressed and would definitely recommend them to others! The tourist route in Costa Rica is more expensive than other locations in Central America. Like every destination it can be done on a budget, expensively or somewhere in between. Eat and stay local. Many of the “towns” have grown up around the tourist industry and did not exist before Costa Rica became a popular destination. The prices reflect this. However, if you eat and stay in local establishments you will find lower prices and better quality. Our two best meals in Costa Rica were at small cafes that catered to locals. And if you do end up spending some time in San Jose, we enjoyed both the Jade Museum and the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. However, it was National Museum that we wish we had hit first so we could have more time to explore the exhibits.
Books/TV/Movies: When Woman Became the Sea: A Costa Rican Creation Myth by Susan Strauss.
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