Hey all, here is a travel guide for Costa Rica and some fun things that I wish I had known before going there. Let me tell you I did extensive research before going and these are things no one mentioned. So first we will start with something of an itinerary for roughly 10 days in Costa Rica then some fun notes about what to know about the country.
First things first, Costa Rica is beautiful. I fully intend to go back any chance I get. It has been one of the most fun, adventurous and craziest trips I’ve ever done! I came home on Sunday and I feel like a better person for it. I am more relaxed and grateful in my life now than the past year before. Maybe it’s just the benefit of 2 weeks off work or maybe it is from the wonderful vibe in Costa Rica. Pura vida!
This is definitely a whirlwind trip, if you want to see the maximum amount of the country and experience a variety of different landscapes this is for you! If you want to really experience one place or just a few places you will hate this. We went to Jaco, Playa Hermosa, Uvita, Sierpe, Drake Bay, Dominical, La Fortuna, Heredia and Santa Ana.
This itinerary is only feasible if you have a car. I wouldn’t attempt this without one. We went through Adobe Rent a Car and it was roughly $850 CAD for the rental for 11 days.
Day 1: Arrive in the country. We got in relatively late, 8pm so this day was just for travel and settling into our hotel. The airport is not actually in San Jose, it is outside in Alajuela so try and find accommodations that are nearby to Alajuela not San Jose. I highly recommend hotels that include breakfast because it is much nicer not having to worry about where to get food in the morning.
Day 2 – 3: Drive to La Fortuna. In La Fortuna there is a touristy little waterfall, coffee tours, hikes to Arenal Volcano and Cerro Chato where you can swim in the top of a dormant volcano! There are a lot of cool little galleries around the city too. Oh and hot springs. La Fortuna is a really good intro to Costa Rica as the drive is really moderate from San Jose.
Day 4-6: Drive to Jaco/Playa Hermosa. We chose to stay in Playa Hermosa because it is slightly away from the tourist bustle of Jaco while still being close enough to go there. We had a relaxed day getting there and arrived around 12pm before anyone was able to even check us in to our hotel! So we took a nice long beach walk down the black/grey sand beach. We saw so many scarlet macaws and other beautiful birds, enjoyed the sunshine and drank in the beauty of Costa Rica in the sunlight.
Playa Hermosa has some pretty rough waves so if you want to relax and play in the waves this is not where you want to stay, you’d probably prefer Jaco.
Enjoy the waves in Jaco and go to the beach/go surfing and check out the cool little town. There are a lot of awesome places amongst the touristy stuff in Jaco so it is really worth exploring. I would recommend looking at Tico Pod, they have amazing local art. Pizza Pata is great for on the go lunch with enough to leftovers for dinner.
Day 5: Drive to Uvita. Stop in at Manuel Antonio on the way. Manuel Antonio is the smallest national park in Costa Rica but there is so much to see. There is a beautiful beach and you can make a full day of the visit. I would recommend getting a guide, they know so much and will spot so many more things than you will. Without a guide you may see only 10% of all that is around you, still some but not what it could be.
Manuel Antonio National Park
If you are going to Uvita I highly recommend staying at or at least having dinner at Ranchos Remo. The food is incredible and the view cannot be beat.
View from our room in Ranchos Remo
Day 6-9: Drive to Sierpe to catch the water taxi over to Drake Bay. The water taxi leaves at 11:30am and 4:00pm. When you drive in there is a bar called Las Vegas and across the street they have a secure lot to keep your car at. It’s only $6/night and directly behind the police station so it is very safe but don’t leave anything in your vehicle. I would recommend maybe catching the taxi from the restaurant that is just up the road as we were the only tourists in the place and there were a few guys doing coke just at their table behind us. This was actually the only time I felt unsafe the entire time we were in Costa Rice because the Blow Bros were really creepy and kept looking at us. All ended well but just in case I would avoid that potential situation.
In Drake Bay you can check out Corcovado National Park, which we were told by many people is rated the best national park in the world. We went and had a great time but we got to experience the rainforest in it’s full glory trudging in pouring rain through ankle deep water. Yay rainy season! I also highly recommend Caño Island for snorkeling. We go to Maui every year and have gone to Molokini, etc and Caño is by far the best snorkeling I’ve ever seen. They don’t enforce reef safe sunscreen but let me highly suggest it as the reef is okay but lets keep it that way given what is happening with coral bleaching/the Great Barrier reef. Play with the beach dogs, we made friends with this guy and named him Pico and he made me smile everytime I walked to the beach and saw him. He even followed us back to our hostel! He was less welcome there by the owners.
Day 9-10: Drive back to San Jose. Take your time getting back to San Jose area and explore around there a bit. I would recommend checking out Dominical and Nauyaca Waterfall that is there. It’s roughly 1 hours to hike in and is mostly uphill so you will need a base level of fitness but once you’re there it is very worth it. You could stay somewhere on the way but we didn’t want to spend too much time
Nauyaca Waterfall by Dominical
We went to Toucan Rescue Ranch in Heredia and it was maybe my favourite part of the whole trip. Two words: baby. sloths. And you get to support an organization that is doing a great job taking care of some of Costa Rica’s injured, orphaned and rescued animals. There are many animals that they rescue but I’m a sloth nut so those are the photos I’m going to add. We did the photographer tour and it was well worth it.
Our hotel in Santa Ana
Some of the residents at Toucan Rescue Ranch
Day 11: If your flight was anything like ours we left very early in the morning so this is your travel home day.
Some things to note:
- We stayed mostly in hotels on our trip and learned that most places we stayed did not have hot water. It was colder than I would be comfortable standing under for a long period of time so get used to washing up quickly!
- The people of Costa Rica are incredibly helpful and I never felt unsafe while there but you will hear not to leave items unattended. We left all our bags in the rental a few times and there were never any issues. We made some friends from Costa Rica while there and they did mention that the Caribbean side does have more crime and gang activity.
- Many people who work with the animals or in nature are quick to talk about climate change and the changes they are seeing. Our guide in Corcovado mentioned that they have lost 20 meters of park due to ocean rise. Our guide to Caño Island talked about coral bleaching. They as a country seem acutely aware of how the environment is changing.
- The black exhaust from the trucks will make you want to vomit. Driving in San Jose is awful, they have many slow and horribly polluting vehicles that make some of the grossest traffic jams I’ve ever been in. There were times I had trouble breathing in our vehicle from the exhaust of the trucks.
- Costa Rica runs on 100% renewable energy!
- Like any costal area there is a ton of plastic that washes up on the beaches, I highly recommend doing 5 minute beach cleans while you’re on the beach. It’s really quick and can make a huge difference. Plus you can lead by example! We made a habit of doing it on our different treks and noticed that as we were doing it others started to join in and would clean up around their area. Never underestimate the power one person can have.
- Hunting has been outlawed for 6 years in Costa Rica which means the animals are very unaggressive towards humans as they don’t need to fear them. One guide was telling us of his friend who ended up walking behind a jaguar in one of the national parks and the big cat didn’t even bat an eye at him.
I hope this helps other travellers in their trip planning and lets them support a country that is trying to make a difference to reduce their carbon footprint and save their beautiful environment.