Last March, I booked a flight to Costa Rica (my first Central American country) with the intent of attending a yoga and surf retreat. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the retreat was canceled and I was left wondering what to do with a flight to Costa Rica. For the following few months, I was seesawing between traveling solo or simply not going. I had traveled solo before but for some reason was not a huge fan of the idea this time around. Amidst a tumultuous summer, I finally decided in late June that I would explore Costa Rica on my own – I figured I could use the time away. True to the procrastinator I usually am, I hadn’t seriously considered what I’d do during my Costa Rican travels even though my flight was drawing near.
Just over two weeks before my flight – on my birthday – my mom called me to share birthday wishes and to ask me if I wanted her to accompany me to Costa Rica. We’d never traveled alone together, so I told her it was a great idea and we booked her flight shortly after. In a haste, we put together our must-sees and must-dos and mapped out potential itineraries.
Before we knew it, it was July 25th and time to board our flights to Costa Rica. Since we booked my mom’s trip so late, we weren’t able to get on the same flights so once we arrived at the the Orlando International Airport, we went through security together and then said “see you in Costa Rica”!
We arrived and I was blown away by how lush and green the landscape was. The tropical climate reminded me of Puerto Rico (aka the motherland!) since it was warm but somehow cool at the same time … tropical breeze, y’all! We went to the car rental place and spent way too much time there. We made the mistake of not doing our research regarding rental car insurance in Costa Rica and it turned out to be way more than we expected. Turns out that insurance prices are not included in online reservation prices, so we’ll definitely be calling ahead to confirm next time. #LessonLearned
After the hassle that was the car rental place, we made our way southwest from San Jose to Jacó Beach. I was eager to get to our beachfront hotel and sip a tropical drink while listening to the sounds of the ocean. The 2-hour drive was breathtaking, with winding mountain roads, picturesque landscapes and lots of ups and downs – It reminded me of my drives through Bavaria in November 2015.
1) Black Sand Beach – Jacó Beach
We finally arrived in Jacó and just barely caught the sunset before a thunderstorm. We didn’t stay in Jacó long so we only got a little taste of Costa Rican beaches. Jacó beach was particularly fascinating because it was a black sand beach – I’d never seen anything like it.
From day one, I was so impressed by the food. As per usual, my favorite meals were breakfasts. The traditional breakfast in Costa Rica is called a Gallo Pinto and consists of rice (yes), beans (yes), scrambled eggs, fried cheese, and fried plantains. Naturally, I ate this every single day for breakfast. Sooo good!
That morning we were up early (because even on vacation I can’t sleep in) for a walk on the black sand beach. It was the middle of the week so the beach was extra peaceful. Until the afternoon, we did some reading, tanning (aka lying around), tea drinking and pool lounging.
After a relaxing morning and afternoon, we hit the road again to make it to our next stop before the sun set. We ventured ~3.5 hours north to Monteverde. I love driving and also enjoy a challenge but the drive up to Monteverde was probably one of the most difficult drives I’ve ever completed. Gravel roads are no joke, especially when they’re all you have between the mountainside and a cliff! I barely blinked.
2) Monteverde – Cloud Forest
At an elevation of nearly 6,000 feet above sea level, we arrived at the home of the Costa Rican Cloud Forest: Monteverde. Upon checking into our hotel, we saw our first sloth (called a peresoso in Spanish, which literally means lazy)! The lethargic animal is so popular in Costa Rica that it’s even on their currency.
I knew I wanted to zip line and cross hanging bridges in Monteverde, so we booked an excursion for the next morning. After the long and challenging drive, we were starving. We took a “quick” walk into town for dinner at Morpho’s and quickly learned that, in mountain towns, one thing’s for sure: inclines and declines are everywhere. We got a workout!
After a good night’s rest, we were up early the next morning and had a quick breakfast at the hotel buffet. A shuttle picked us up and drove us up the mountain and into the cloud forest – as in “so high up, we’re in the clouds” forest. Zip lining was everything I’d imagined and more. It felt like we were zip lining through the heavens because, at times, I’d look out and see nothing but clouds.
After we ziplined, we proceeded to the hanging bridges – they were incredible! This was something I’d seen online and really wanted to do since the views were spectacular. It looked so beautiful and awe-inspiring until I realized how high up they were. The views and the photos we captured were phenomenal but I couldn’t bring myself to look down. My mom kept laughing at me for it. I chickened out on like the third bridge even though there were like eight we had to cross.
We finally rested a bit after the adventure and then packed our bags yet again to head to La Fortuna.
3) La Fortuna – Arenal Volcano
Along the way, we stopped for dinner and a break really. The drive from Monteverde to La Fortuna took us about 3.5 hours. Once we were almost to La Fortuna, we began to see quick glimpses of the Arenal Volcano from amidst the rainforest. At one point we arrived at a bridge that crossed Lake Arenal and the view of the volcano was so stunning that I literally stopped the car and just stared. I’d never seen a volcano before so I was awestruck. I recall a really loud gasp. I instantly knew this would be the most memorable part of the trip.
By the time we arrived at our hotel, we were exhausted, but not too exhausted to admire incredible view of the volcano – I pretty much spent the rest of the night admiring it.
On day four, we visited Arenal Volcano National Park (to feed my newly-sparked volcano obsession that was unbeknownst to me at the time). We hiked about one mile until we reached the portion of the trail where lava rock from a 1992 eruption abounded. We, of course, climbed the rock to get as close as we could for volcano selfies.
4) La Fortuna – Waterfall
Later that evening, we visited the La Fortuna waterfall via horseback. We had to descend/ascend nearly 500 steps each way to reach the waterfall but the view – and the water – was certainly worth it.
After another adventure-filled day, we decided last-minute to spend another night in La Fortuna but had the most difficult time finding a place to stay. It turned out that it was the last week of summer vacation for the locals, so all the hotels were booked. We ended up finding a nice Airbnb – Casa Tica Rio Fortuna – 10 minutes away for a fraction of the price we paid to stay in town. **Click here to get $40 off your first Airbnb ;).** The house was nestled on the tranquil Rio Fortuna and had multiple hammocks, where I spent the evenings reflecting and chit chatting with my friends back home.
The next morning, we visited Restaurante Mi Casa for breakfast before relaxing in the hot springs (thanks to the Arenal Volcano’s geothermal activity) La Fortuna at a park called Termalitas.
5) Poás Volcano
Once we were all relaxed from the springs, we began our drive back toward San Jose and planned to stop at the Poás Volcano (nearly 9,000 ft. above sea level). Although it was a slight detour, we knew we just had to see it. After ~1.5 hours of driving, we made it to Poás Volcano National Park with a mere 15 minutes to spare before park close. At such a high elevation, we were was freezing but power walked as fast as we could to the lookout. We were able to see the volcano for about five minutes and then the cloud cover made it difficult to see. Those five minutes were worth the detour though.
We ended the day with a quiet evening at our hotel in San Jose. I flew home the next day, but almost unbelievably, my Mom’s flight was delayed and later canceled because a volcano was spewing lava nearby. Despite initial frustration, can you even be mad about that? It’s things like that that make me admire life and realize how our little human plans are adorable in the grand scheme of things.
Here is a map of the ground we covered during our Costa Rica trip. Luckily, we got to see most of our must-sees while enjoying “pura vida.”
- I need to go back to Costa Rica
- When I return, I want to spend wayyy more time on the beach
- I ate rice, beans, fried plaintains and cheese for breakfast every day and lost weight
- Visit sodas all over! They’re local, family-owned restaurants with delicious food that’s suuper cheap.
- Rio Celeste was a place on our list that we missed, but I still need to see IRL.
- Confirm your car rental totals before arriving to Costa Rica. 😉
Have you visited Costa Rica? What destinations would you add to my list?