In January 2018, I left freezing and snowy Canada for a two-week vacation in the jungles and on the beaches of sunny Costa Rica. It proved to be exactly what I needed and if I could have, I would have stayed an extra month! Costa Rica has so many options of activities that you could easily stay for a whole year without running out of things to do.
Even though Costa Rica is a tiny little country compared to Canada or Mexico, the roads are mountainous and it takes a while to go from one town to another so we tried to spend at least a few days in each town so we wouldn't be spending most of our trip on a bus.
San Jose - Arrival day and day 2
On our first day in Costa Rica, we landed in San Jose at about 1PM. By the time we made it to our hostel it was almost 3. We had nothing planned for our first day since we knew we would be tired from traveling and didn't know if our flight would be delayed or if it would take longer than planned to arrive at our destination. We spent the afternoon and part of the evening walking around town. We bought some snacks and lunch for the next day and spotted some nice places we would like to spend some more time at the next day. We went back to the hostel, ate some nachos, talked with our host to plan the rest of our time in San Jose and went to bed early to get an early start the next morning. It took two minutes after our arrival for our host to let us know that there were pineapples and bananas in the backyard and we could take what we needed: I was already in love with Costa Rica!
On day two, we went to Irazu volcano. We took the bus early in the morning so we had time to explore the park for a while and then go back to town for more exploring. We came back to town early, had a shower and then went back to the downtown area to the places we had spotted the day before. We had dinner at a restaurant, had the biggest ice cream cone I have ever seen and took lots of pictures. For more information about San Jose or to know how our visit to Irazu Volcano went, click here.
La Fortuna - Days 3-4-5-6
On day 3, we took an Uber from our hostel to the bus station, and took the bus to La Fortuna. It looks really close on the map, but it's actually a 3,5 hour bus ride! We arrived in La Fortuna in the middle of the afternoon and walked to our hostel to drop off our bags. We spent the evening walking around the small town and looking at all the different restaurants, souvenir shops and tour companies. Since there were so many activities we wanted to do in La Fortuna, we compared prices and offerings before choosing Red Lava Tours for our activities. We booked with them for a hike around the Arenal Volcano, a hike in Rio Celeste, the Jeep-Boat-Jeep tour to Monte Verde and the ziplining in Monteverde, but more on that later.
On day 4 was our hike around the volcano. We had to be up early again because they were picking us up at 9:45 AM. We stopped by the Red Lava office to pick up our lunch and then we were on our way. Since we were a pretty big group, they split us into two groups of about 12. Our tour guide Emanuel was great. He explained a lot about the insects and trees and snakes we saw along the way and then gave us some information about the volcano. We stopped for lunch by a river and had time for a quick swim. Since it was very humid, we jumped at the chance to soak in the shallow refreshing water. We continued our hike through the jungle, walked on some hanging bridges and made it to the view point for sunset. We had an amazing view of the Arenal Lake and Volcano. Before they brought us back to our hotel, we had to stop by the hot springs. While relaxing in the warm water, Emanuel brought us a drink and some lava mixture to make a mask and exfoliate our face. What a great day!
On day 5, we went to Rio Celeste. The park is outside of the town and about an hour drive away. During the drive, our guide Mauricio spotted some monkeys and sloths and we got to observe them in their natural habitat for a while before getting back on the bus. When we arrived in Rio Celeste, it was cloudy and very humid. We started hiking, but the trail was very muddy. At first, we were trying to step around it, but at one point we all accepted and embraced the fact that we were going to be covered in mud by the end of the day. We had so much fun running around that it didn't really matter in the end. The hike was worth it anyway because the river and the waterfall are absolutely gorgeous. It reminded me a little bit of the lakes in Banff, but without the snow obviously. The water was a pale, milky shade of bright blue. After the hike, we stopped at a small restaurant on the side of the road and had a delicious Costarican meal. Usually on this tour, you get to go for a swim in the river, but since it started raining during our hike, our guide told us it would be dangerous to swim as the current could unexpectedly get stronger. Instead, we asked if it would be possible to be dropped off at the hot springs and they agreed! So for a second night in a row, we got to soak in the river and relax. We stayed there for hours looking at the stars and the moon and just enjoying the moment.
On day 6, we went to La Fortuna waterfall. I have to say it. It is one of the most beautiful places I have seen in my life and you absolutely have to go if you visit Costa Rica. We walked to the park and it's about a 5 kilometer walk from town on a paved road, but it is a hard walk, You are going up the whole time and it is hot and the sun is beating on you, so if you decide to walk bring a lot of water and lather on sunscreen a few times along the way. It took us about an hour to get there. Entrance to the park is 15 USD and then you get to walk down about 500 steps before getting to the bottom of the fall. It was a rough week of hiking for us, but so worth it. You get beautiful views of the fall on the way down and there are water fountains where you can refill your water bottles and splash some water on your face. Once you reach the bottom, on the left there is a little path that leads to a little beach where you can swim in the river. The water is freezing cold and there are fish so I didn't swim, but I did put my feet in it and it was refreshing enough for me. We stayed there for about an hour, soaking in the sun with our feet in the water and taking pictures. Then we went to the actual waterfall to take pictures and it took my breath away. It is very high and surrounded by lush jungle on every side and the water at the bottom was almost as blue as Rio Celeste. It was incredible!
Monteverde - Day 7
On day 7, we were leaving La Fortuna on the Jeep-Boat-Jeep tour and heading to Monte Verde and then we had a reservation for the zipline in Monte Verde. The Jeep-Boat-Jeep tour was convenient for us because otherwise we would have had to take the bus back to San Jose and then another one to Monte Verde, but it was not the best tour we went on in Costa Rica. First, the Jeep is a bus. Second, the bus is not made to climb up a mountain. So, to make the story short, our bus broke down while going up a hill and we got stock on the side of the road for about an hour and a half waiting for another bus to come pick us up. We told them we had reservations for the zipline and they told us we would make it in time, but they were in no hurry. They even stopped at a little corner store on the way to get some lunch and our driver and guide were taking their sweet time. When we understood that we would not be making it on time to our hostel, we asked if they could drop us of directly at the zipline and they said no worries, but still dropped us off at our hostel even when we reminded them. So was it fun? Not really. Was it still convenient even with all this trouble? Definitely! The 4 hour drive to San Jose and then 5 hour drive to Monte Verde would have been infinitely worse. When we arrived at our hostel, we asked our host where the office was for the zipline and went to their office. They were really nice and scheduled us on a later tour. After this not so great start to our day, the bus from the zipline company picked us up on time and the ziplining was amazing! Check out my article about my experience here. That night, we went to the town to get dinner at Sabor Tico. The food was delicious and pretty cheap. We later went to the Tree House for a drink and that was expensive, but the restaurant is really a tree house around/in the tree and there was a live band so it was fun.
MAnuel Antonio - Days 8-9-10-11-12
On day 8, we were once again up very early since we had to walk to the bus station with all of our bags for our 5:30 AM departure. Yes, 5:30 AM... We took a bus to Puntarenas, then another one to Quepos and then the city bus to Manuel Anotnio. It was a long day, but we arrived in mid afternnon at our hostel in Manuel Antonio. We had a nice swim in the pool and then went to El Wagon for dinner for delicious wood oven pizza.
On day 9, we headed to the beach and we were ready for some sunshine and heat after the cold and wind of Monte Verde. We spent the whole day swimming and jumping in the waves and laying on the sand and reading. It was amazing. After a whole day at the beach, we took the bus back to our hotel (we could walk about ten minutes to the beach, but we were exhausted and the bus ride was about 30 cents). That night, we went to the grocery shop and made dinner before going into the town of Quepos where we got chocolate gelato and mango sorbet and walked around the town and marina.
Day 10 was spent at Manuel Antonio National Park. We spent the morning hiking in the park and the afternoon on the park's beautiful beaches. We saw about 30 monkeys either in the jungle or on the beach and even though it was pretty hot for a hike, I was proud that we managed to hike at least a few trails. You really have to be careful with your bags in Manuel Antonio, especially if there is food in them. The monkeys are little thieves! That evening was spent at the restaurant El Avion that overlooks the ocean and where we had an amazing view of the sunset.
Day 11 was spent in the pool at our hostel. We were tired from the day before and a little bit sunburnt so we tried staying in the shade at the resort. But for the evening, we had something special planned! At about 4 PM, they came to pick us up for a parasailing ride. They brought us to the beach and harnessed us to the boat and then two seconds later we were flying again! I think, this whole trip, I spent more time either swimming or flying than on the actual ground. We were in the air for about 15 minutes before we started going down and then we were droped in the Pacific Ocean. It was an amazing experience and I hope to do it again someday! We had a beautiful view of the region. We could see our hostel and the park and the cliffs and beaches around Manuel Antonio.
On day 12 we went back to the beach for our last day in Manuel Antonio. We tried surfing, but I am terrible at it and it fell on my head so I decided it was not for me and that swimming was better. I'll take a lesson next time! We took so many pictures it's crazy, but we had a lot of fun swimming and playing in the waves and we were treated to once again a beautiful sunset.
San Jose - Day 13
On day 13, we took the city bus from Manuel Antonio to Quepos and then got on the bus to San Jose. It took about four hours to get to San Jose. We then took a taxi to our hostel a little bit outside of the city. We took it easy that night and went to the hostel restaurant for pizza bites, cheese sticks and nachos. Our hostel had a sauna so we tried that and then went to bed early.
Goodbye Costa Rica - Day 14
Day 14 was departure day. I was so not ready to leave and would have rather stayed at the beach, but apparently I had to go back to work. We had an early flight so we had to take an Uber at about 5 AM and when we arrived in Montreal, it was -1000 degrees and we were miserable. I can't wait to go on another adventure!
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17/9/2018 0 Comments
5 must-see Places in Costa Rica
Costa Rica really is a nature lover's dream come true! There are lush forests, powerful and colourful waterfalls, curious monkeys, long beaches, active volcanoes and beautiful sunsets. What's not to love? If you are ready to explore this tropical paradise, keep reading to discover 5 of the most beautiful places in Costa Rica that you really need to put on your bucketlist.
1. La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna Waterfall is located about 5 kilometers away from the town center of La Fortuna. It is easy to reach, altough if you want to walk there I recommend good walking shoes, a water bottle and plenty of sunscreen! The road is paved, but steep and it's a good workout.
The entrance fee to the park is 15 USD, but definitely worth it. Once in the park, just follow the path to the stairs and head down to the bottom of the fall. Don't think about how you're going to have to climb them all up to go back to town and think about the colouful and refreshing river waiting for you at the bottom. There are a few viewpoints on the way down where you can stop and stare at the jungle going for miles in every direction and at that beautiful waterfall cuting the jungle in two. I have to say, I've seen beautiful waterfalls in my life, but this one is special. It is high, surrounded by greenery and the pool at the bottom is a deep turquoise colour. You cannot swim in the main pool as the current is too strong, but on the left, if you follow the river, there is a little beach and the current is not as strong in that part so you can take a refreshing dip before climbing back up the stairs.
2. Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio is not a huge park and you can easily visit in one day, but it is worth a detour. The jungle is thick and the deepest shade of green. The beaches are wide and the water is warm. And most importantly, you are guaranteed to spot some monkey friends along the trail. Watch out though, they are pretty good thieves!
It costs 16 USD to enter the park and it is easy to reach by bus from the town of Manuel Antonio or Quepos. Once inside, you can grab a map and head for the trails or you can go down to the beach. Both are guaranteed to impress you with their beauty and wildlife.
3. Rio Celeste
Cosa Rica is known for its abundance of national parks and Rio Celeste is one you won't want to miss. The park is home to a turquoise river that snakes through the rainforest to a waterfall. Although the trail is very muddy, it is worth it to walk all the way to the end as you might get the chance to spot monkeys, exotic birds or sloths.
The park is located about an hour out of La Fortuna, but there are many tour companies that can take you for an affordable price that includes the entrance fee. Bring sturdy shoes and a full bottle of water as it is not the easiest hike (think lots of stairs, sticky and muddy trails and humid air).
4. Hot Springs
Hidden in the jungle surrounding the Arenal Volcano, there are rivers whose water mixes with water from the volcano to create hot springs. Some rivers have been converted into lavish spas while others have been kept natural and opened to the public for free. Visitors and locals alike can take a dip in the warm waters or just sit down and relax after a hard day of hiking or working. Locals bring candles to make the atmosphere even more magical and you can stay long into the night admiring the stars and listening to the wind in the trees and the roar of the river. I suggest bringing water shoes as the rocks are brand new (the volcano's last eruption ended in 2010) and pretty sharp. Plus it is hard to walk with the current or to see what you are walking on.
5. The beaches on the Pacific side
Although the water on the pacific side may not be as blue as the Carribean sea and the sand is darker due to the volcanic ash, the sunsets are totally worth it. When we visited in February, the water was just the right temperature to be a little refreshing, but still comfortable enough to spend hours just floating and playing in the waves.The waves are big enough to surf and there are plenty of activities on offer like parasailing, bodysurfing, paddle boarding, etc.
No matter where your travels to Costa Rica take you, you are bound to find adventure, nice locals, great food and beautiful scenery. Open your eyes wide and enjoy every minute. For more information about Costa Rica, check back every week, I've got new articles coming up that you are going to love!
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