Costa Rica was my little dream of Central America, a little corner of paradisefor nature lovers. As the last country before I returned to Europe, I wanted to enjoy it as much as possible, although I was a bit scared by the cost of living in the country (and indeed, prices are almost the same as in Europe). I still spent a month in Costa Rica, and it was a blast. I have visited quite a few places, it is only a small part of what this small country has to offer. So here are my unmissable (totally subjective of course) in Costa Rica.
La Fortuna and the Arenal volcano
First step of this stay in Costa Rica, La Fortuna, very close to the Arenal volcano andthe lake of the same name. The Arenal volcano is the youngest volcano in Costa Rica (it is around 7000 years old though). Until 1968, everyone thought it was just a lovely green hill, before the volcano woke up after more than three centuries of inactivity and ravaged the villages on its west side, killing dozens of inhabitants. The volcano remained in permanent activity until 2010, when it fell asleep back again. The Arenal Lake, meanwhile, is anything but natural, it was created as a result of the construction of a hydroelectric dam in 1974, which produces 20% of the country’s electricity!
Did you know?
In Costa Rica, 99% of the energy consumed in the country comes from renewable sources (e.g. hydropower, geothermal or wind turbines), making it the third greenest country in the world, after Norway and Sweden.
But back to our subject: what to do in the region? We booked a one day tour to discover the volcano and the surrounding forest with the Jungle Tour agency. The tour lasts all day and is really worth it (transport and lunch are included). After a small hike in the forest with frequent breaks to learn more about the history of the volcano, the fauna and the flora, you can swim in a small lake at the foot of the volcano before lunch. Then, we make a second hike, always very accessible, to go to a waterfall where we can once again dip and even pass behind the waterfall (in Europe, swimming at this place would certainly be totally forbidden seen the sharp rocks and the power of the current, but we do not have the same notions of security everywhere haha), before going back to the bus to chill in hot springs, totally free (accessible at any time), in the light of flashlights and with a small beverage offered . We go back to the hostel exhausted but happy!
Another attraction of the city, the waterfall of La Fortuna. From the center, you can take a taxi for about 10 dollars. The entrance to the waterfall is expensive ($15), but the site is worth the effort. The view is breathtaking! Swimming is also allowed, so do not deprive yourself! If you have the time, on the other side of the waterfall, you will see a path that meanders in the mountain and overlooks the waterfall: Cross (you have water until mid-thigh), and let’s go for a mini hike without anyone (it’s steep though), with the impression of being alone in the world, we hear the life that is swarming in the forest, and we are even cross a suspension bridge!
Where to stay in La Fortuna?
Without any hesitation, go to the Arenal Container Hostel, where Daniel, Jonathan and Irena (and Toby) will be happy to welcome you! During our stay, the hostel celebrated its one month of opening, everything is super comfortable and clean, the staff is adorable, Daniel and Jonathan really became buddies, they offered us big discounts on a whole lot of activities and transportation, including after we left La Fortuna. In short, this hostel fits easily into my top 3 of the best hostels on this trip!
You can also go to El Salto, a river under a bridge, where you will find a rope swing, and will be able to swim. And besides, the place is only frequented by the locals!
The Tenorio Volcano Park, Rio Celeste can easily be visited in one or two days from La Fortuna. We made the mistake of taking a tour as we read everywhere that the roads to get there were impassable without 4×4, but it turns out that they have recently been redone and that renting a car is the best option to get there. You will be able to take all your time.
It is said that when God had finished painting the sky, He rinça his brushes in the Rio Celeste.
Indeed, the color of the Rio Celeste is truly amazing and you will not regret the two hours drive from La Fortuna. This color is due to the suspended minerals in the water.
Rubber boots are offered for rent at the entrance of the park, and it is for a reason: the ground is extremely muddy! Style 0, practicality 1.
The Caribbean coast
My second favorite place in Costa Rica is the Caribbean coast, especially the small village of Cahuita, and the natural park of the same name. This is where we have finally been able to observe the famous sloths, and many other animals, very close, and in their natural environment. Moreover, the advantage of this park is that it works on donations: so you give what you want at the entrance. If you have already done guided tours in other parks before, taking a guide is not necessary. On the other hand, walking close to a group that has taken the services of a guide can be useful for spotting more animals 😉
Also to visit, the village of Puerto Viejo, for its good Caribbean and Jamaican vibes. It’s quite touristy, but still nice. It is also the ideal starting point for an excursion to neighbouring Panama, especially in Bocas del Toro.
Carefull however to the weather! In the region, the weather is much more humide and records the most precipitation of the country! So think about carrying a rain-coat for your excursions!
Where to stay?
In Cahuita, I recommend the Cabinas Palmer, a charming little hotel, which offers simple but comfortable rooms with a small terrace and a hammock for each room. A kitchen is also available.
The Corcovado Park
Rather difficult to access, the park of Corcovado is however a must, and one of the best places of the country to observe the fauna and flora, with species that can be found only in this part of Costa Rica.
Access to the park is only possible with a tour, so we chose theOsa Wild agency, which respects the environment and with local guides.
The day starts very early, from Puerto Jimenez, to get to the park, with bird watching along the road, including the famous Macau, the Macaw parrots, and many others.
We then walk all morning, sometimes in the forest, sometimes on the beach (think about taking a hat and lots of water and sunscreen, the heat is really overwhelming), while observing the animals and the flora. We were fortunate to have a guide for two (thank you Arlette for transmitting your passion), before you picnic and then turn back. It is also possible to spend a couple of nights in the park, it is expensive but it seems that it is definitely worth it.
Not far from there, and if it’s at the right time, go to Uvita to watch the humpback whales! There are two seasons, from January to March and from August to December. We were there at the beginning of March, at the end of the season so the chances to see them were not optimal, and given the price of the excursion, we did not take any risks. Too bad it will be for next time…
If you like adventure tourism, go to Monteverde Park! From La Fortuna, take the formula Jeep-boat-jeep, more expensive but (much) faster, and which offers a great ride on Lake Arenal, with a breathtaking view of the volcano. So let’s go for suspension bridges, ziplines and bungee jumps!
Finally, another emblematic park of Costa Rica but (very) touristy, Manuel Antonio. Last stop before we returned to the capital, we did not visit the park (we had already done a lot), but it is a good option if your time in the country is limited and you do not have time to lose in transportation.
Latest tips before taking a plane ticket to Costa Rica
- Rent a car! This is the easiest/fastest/cheapest way to get around the country and see the most. For optimum experience, avoid the highway.
- TAvoid the capital, San Jose: it is ugly and polluted.
- The cost of living: indeed, prices in the country are much higher than in neighbouring countries and are sometimes closer to European prices, but the natural wonders that you will see are worth it.
- In Costa Rica you can pay in colones, the national currency, or in American dollars, convenient if you want to have some money on you when arriving in the country.
- To eat cheap, go to sodas, small restaurants very cheap, which serve you local food.
Costa Rica is the last country in America I have visited, and it has closed this trip in beautiful way. This is the kind of destination I needed, and that missed a bit at the beginning of my trip, as I realized later. I can only praise the beauty of nature (in Costa Rica, 26% of the territory is classified as protected area), the diversity of fauna and flora, and the kindness of its inhabitants. A small country, with a lot to offer.