Exploring Costa Rica
My Costa Rica Adventure
Pura Vida isn’t just a saying in Costa Rica, it’s a way of life. And it’s a feeling that seems to be contagious to those even just visiting. Those who know me know I do not sit still well, yet on this trip I found myself being able to relax and slow down without an issue.
One of the main things you hear about when researching this country is that you need to be careful, lock up your belongings, etc. This makes it sound like a scary place, but the opposite is true. Now, I do not recommend leaving doors unlocked, but just be smart about it. As my dad taught me from his Naval Academy days, if your stuff gets stolen, you are just as much at fault if you put it in plain view and/or did not lock it up. I had zero issues and felt safe walking around at night (albeit with my boyfriend so I was not solo).
I only had 8 days total, including travel, with 3 days locked in at Tamarindo for a cousin’s wedding. So I decided to limit my explorations to the west coast/peninsula area and areas within an easy drive of Liberia where we flew in/out of.
We spent 2 days here. I had initially planned on one of those days spent in Arenal, as there are times of the year were it is an easy drive. However, we were there right after rainy season, which means there are some impassable rivers on the quicker route. And the alternative route would mean 6 hours of driving in a day. So I decided our time was better spent making the most of the area around us. Monteverde is known for having some of the only cloud forests in the country. We stayed at an amazing ecological sanctuary (found on Airbnb) with a local family who treated us like family from the moment we walked in! Mornings were spent wandering around the hiking trails there and seeing wildlife including Koati, Aguti, tarantulas, and all kinds of birds. The family also made us an amazing breakfast each day with fresh eggs, gallo pinto (more on that traditional dish later) and fruit from their garden. The rest of the day was spent doing whatever Chris, the host, recommended. And all of his recommendations were spot on!
Santa Elena Reserve - tons of hiking trails through cloud forest and way less crowded than the more well known Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
Selvatura Park - hummingbird garden, hanging bridges, and a series of 13 ziplines including a 1km long one!
Viewpoint at Hotel Mirador San Gerardo Lodge - Unfortunately, we did not get the best view of Arenal due to some serious cloud cover, but we could tell that this would usually have an AMAZING view of Arenal lake and volcano.
Night walk at the sanctuary - Chris is incredibly knowledgeable with all wildlife and plants, so even though we had to cut this short due to a rainstorm, it was incredibly fun and informative! (1st picture is from a hike in the sanctuary!)
Rincon de la Vieja (and Liberia)
After one final breakfast with the family in Monteverde, we hit the road again. On the way, we stopped at a waterfall mostly known to locals (hence why I’m not giving the name here, but with some research you could find it!)
2 hours later, we arrived at our Airbnb in Liberia, the closest town to Rincon de la Vieja. This family did not speak much English at all, but we were able to manage with the little Spanish I speak and a lot of hand signals. Seriously, everyone in this country is so happy and friendly, and a little language barrier didn’t stop them from treating us like family.
Rincon de la Vieja and the surrounding area is a MUST! The park has 2 main hikes: a 2.5 mile loop around volcanic activity and a 6 mile round trip hike to a waterfall. Since we arrived at noon-ish and the park closes at 4pm, we opted for the shorter hike and to then check out some of the things just outside the park.
On the 2.5 mile hike we saw so much. Boiling mud pots, geysers, volcanic rock, and lush forests with monkeys swinging about!
The surrounding area was absolutely amazing!! One of my favorite things of the entire trip was walking distance from the parking lot of the park. Just next door is the entrance to a 10 min hike to Oropendula waterfall. STUNNING does not begin to describe this place! Somehow we managed to have this place to ourselves for 1.5 hours of bliss! The water was pretty cold, but all the more reason to cliff jump from the side rather than ease in! And just down the road was entry into natural hot springs and volcanic mud masks which was SO relaxing! If I remember correctly, both the waterfall and the hot springs cost around $10 for entry.
The next morning we had one last breakfast with the family, lounged in the hammocks outside for awhile, and then hit the road with fresh fruit our host picked from her backyard for us after we told her we were beach bound!!
We originally planned on stopping at several beaches (Flamingo, Coco, and a few others) along the way to Tamarindo. We did stop very briefly at each, but as we later learned, red tide* had come in that entire side of the country just 2 days prior, which is why all of the water was brown. So we enjoyed looking at the different landscapes (some beaches were more driftwood, others shells, others sand), and quickly moved on to the next before arriving at our final destination: Hotel La Palapa. I found this place through Airbnb, but it is actually a hotel with private rooms right on the beach!
Mike and I settled into our room and immediately wandered the beach looking for somewhere to get some plantains and ceviche, which we found next door at Nogui’s. If you go to Tamarindo, I definitely recommend this place! We ended up back there 3 times for ceviche, yucca fries, and cocktails right on the beach. It’s also really close to where you catch any boat tours, which is convenient since we were going on one that afternoon!
We met up with the entire wedding group for a sunset catamaran cruise. Needless to say of any event involving a boat, 30 people in town for a wedding, and an open bar, this was highly entertaining. Though none of us could have planned just how eventful it would be! After an hour of swimming and diving once we found a spot not too contaminated by red tide, we started to head back to the bay for sunset. And immediately got rocked (pun intended) as one of the propellers got crushed by a submerged rock. Oops. The crew worked furiously to dump out the minimal amount of water we were taking on, calling to get another boat to come tow us, and making sure the bartender was keeping us occupied. It took an extra hour and a half to get the company’s larger boat with 60 people on it over to us, hooked up, and tow us back in after dark. The best part is that at no point did anyone in our group begin to worry or let it mess up the experience. We still got some really good food and drink and enjoyed sunset while laying on nets on the front of a boat in the ocean. And it’s definitely an experience none of us will ever forget.
The next morning, I went to the beach looking for surf lessons. There are multiple people walking along the beach trying to sell you lessons. As someone who is turned off by a hard sell, I walked right past these guys. As I walked up the beach, I saw a guy sitting by a board advertising lessons, yet he wasn’t going up to people and bothering them. I went up to him and discovered that for $30, I’d get a 2 hour group lesson, full day board and rashguard rental. Sold! Turns out the shop was literally next door to where I was staying, too! So I grabbed Mike, and off we went for lessons. This was comical to say the least. I think it took a solid 20 tries before I was able to stay standing more than 1 second. But I was able to get up a few times in those first 2 hours! We were wiped at that point, and decided to take a break to explore town and grab lunch before trying again.
The town of Tamarindo is super cute, albeit very touristy. Tons of cute little stores to wander through. Now, listen carefully, if you go to Tamarindo, you MUST get lunch at The Shrimp Hole!!! It’s a crazy tiny place, more like a shack actually, with a very small menu but all of it is AMAZING!! Seriously, go there.
We returned to the beach, tried some more surfing, I got a ton of rash on my thigh where I wasn’t covered up, read some...the usual beachy activities. Walked down to Volcano Brewing to grab a beer and listen to live music while sitting on the beach for sunset. Pretty picturesque. Topped off with randomly meeting the guy from Endless Summer!
Our last day in Tamarindo was the day of the wedding. I was woken up at dawn by a very loud animal noise that almost sounded like a roar. So of course I jumped out of bed and went outside to investigate. Turns out a family of howler monkeys had set up camp in the tree right outside! I woke Mike and we proceeded to spend the next hour just sitting near the base and watching them. Monkeys had been on my wish list of animals to see, so I was pretty excited. Most of the other animals on my list were sloths, which I had heard are very difficult to spot in the wild due to camoflauge, and large cats that I really didn’t want to come across in the wild. Since we had time to kill before the wedding, we decided to drive a little north to Diamante Adventure Park. There they have an animal sanctuary (all of the animals are rescues or for whatever reason wouldn’t survive in the wild) and a zip line, though we only did the former. It was everything I could have hoped. We got to see jaguars playing and a baby sloth sleeping on its momma.
After a night of good food and fun times with friends at the wedding (including watching the sunset pictured above!), we got up early and started the trek to Montezuma.
This is a place that I did not often come across as a “must-see” on Costa Rica blogs or TripAdvisor, but Mike has a fraternity brother that lives there, so we decided to spend a few days there. I’m SO glad we did! It was everything you think when you think of Costa Rica: beautiful beaches, lush jungles, rocky dirt roads with ATVs flying down them, one guy on the side of the road selling fresh coconuts, waterfalls, and everyone’s just so dang happy! Honestly, I’m not sure this place can be done justice with words, so instead I’m gonna leave you with photos and a list of my top recommended places/things to do:
Rent an ATV for 24hrs and drive down the coastal road to Mal Pais and Santa Teresa
Grab a fresh coconut before or after hiking to the waterfall (if you just ask a local, they’ll point you towards the trail)
Get food at Soda Tipica Las Palmeras!!! Seriously, everything here is amazing
Ceviche at Soda la Naranja
Breakfast at Hotel Amor
Dinner at Cocolores
Simple grilled, but delicious, seafood at Mocha’s Monchis
Stay at an Airbnb - multiple places with Ocean Views and treehouse feels! We booked Mike’s friend’s place. You can find it if you search “Private Home in Montezuma with Ocean & Valley View”
A few photos that will convince you to add this place to your list:
The only hiccup we had the entire trip was a blown tire due to the rough roads in Montezuma. On our last full day, no less! Thankfully, we were able to get the spare on no problem. We did spend about an hour trying to find a replacement tire to just buy, knowing the rental company would charger WAY more. Unfortunately, the rental companies aren’t stupid and have a unique size tire on the cars, so we were unable to find it on short notice. Instead of an $80 tire with labor, it was a $1k charge!! This is why one of my BIGGEST tips for anyone who travels internationally is to have a Chase Visa! Check the fine print and benefits to be sure, but all of them usually come with travel insurance, including rental coverage. You just have to decline the car companies insurance, pay the charge, and then submit the claim for reimbursement. It took a few months, but the entire $1k was reimbursed! I’m sure there are other credit cards that offer this, I just know the Chase Visas do for sure.
All in all, this was an amazing trip, and I’d highly recommend adding Costa RIca to your list if it isn’t already! Feel free to shoot me a message via firstname.lastname@example.org for any other questions! :) Happy travels y’all!!