5 / 10 / 15 Reasons to visit Costa Rica!
As if anyone needs an excuse to head to this beautiful country! Located between two oceans, with rain forests, cloud forests, arid lands and mangrove swamps, there is something here to suit absolutely everyone.
We met several visitors from the USA who travel to the coastal resorts for long weekends. For Europeans like ourselves who have to travel a bit further (and indirectly in most cases), a two week break will certainly cover several of the highlights and also allow time for relaxation at the coast.
We visited for 13 nights in April which is one of the high seasons. We rented a car at the airport and our route brought us from San Jose to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, onwards to Arenal and Monteverde, before heading to the coastal resort of Tamarindo and finally back to the capital.
1. The Flora
Costa Rica has the largest percentage of protected areas in the world through a system of national parks. It is home to a vast array of plants and trees all adapted to their ecosystems. You don’t have to be a plant enthusiast at home to appreciate the lush green vegetation, the trees and the vibrantly coloured flowers.
2. The Fauna
Its not just about the birds you know! Costa Rica is home to 500,000 species of wildlife, of which a mere 850 species are avian.
(Large – Tapir, jaguar and deer are rarely seen but you will see plenty of cheeky black howler monkeys, foraging coatis and even the odd shy sloth )
(Not so large – Lizards, Turtles and poison dart frogs!)
(Camouflaged – Can you spot the Stick Insect on the leaf!!)
(Or not camouflaged enough!)
(High in the Trees and Canopies – The spectacular male Quetzal and the Toucan)
(And all around you…)
3. The Sunsets….
(The Pacific Ocean at Tamarindo)
(The terrace at Arenal Observatory Lodge)
4….and the Sundowners!
5. The Outdoor Activities
(Hanging Bridges across the forest canopy)
(Early morning Bird walks, River trips, Night walks)
6. The Landscape
7. The Walking Trails
8. The Water
(Hot Springs and Waterfalls)
(And, of course, the Ocean)
9. The Towns you Drive Through
(Small sleepy towns with their distinctive architecture)
(Larger towns like La Fortuna that cater for visitors passing through en route to Arenal)
10. The Food
(Stop at a ‘SODA’ at lunchtime for a Casado – a dish of rice, black beans, salad, vegetables, served with either chicken, fish, pork, etc.)
(If Sodas are not for you, there are plenty of finer dining experiences in the resorts, towns and San Jose)
(Seafood – Ceviche from El Patio del Balmoral in San Jose or Prawns in Garlic from the Shrimp Hole in Tamarindo – yum!)
11. The Towel Sculptures!
(Ah! the anticipation each day …what would we find on our bed!)
12. The Lodges
Selva Verde Lodge is set in a rainforest reserve beside the Sarapiqui River. It has its own nature trails and offers early morning birding walks as well as night treks (with torches and wellies!) The restaurant has a terrace overlooking bird tables and is a great setting for breakfast. We had a bungalow in the forest about a 10 minute walk from the main lodge. Between morning and night time guided walks, a river trip and just wandering about on our own, we still had time to enjoy the pool. We stocked up on drinks and snacks in nearby Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui and had our main meals in the lodge restaurant.
Arenal Observatory Lodge and Spa is about 20 minutes from La Fortuna. The terrace offers amazing views of the volcano and lake and is a great place for sundowners! There are 11 km of marked hiking trails on the property. As well as the usual birding and night trips, its a base for Hanging Bridges tours and Ziplining. There are several hot springs resorts in the area but we found free springs that are frequented by locals and visitors alike. We had breakfast and dinner at the lodge but preferred the sodas of La Fortuna for lunch.
Hotel Fonda Vela was our base in Monteverde. Its located just 2km from the Cloud Forest Reserve. The gardens are well maintained with a covered pool and jacuzzi. The rooms are large and spacious with great views. We had breakfasts and one lunch at the hotel. Otherwise, we preferred the buzz of the cafes and restaurants in nearby Santa Elena
13. The Roads!
Well its all part of the travel experience!
Preservationists in Monteverde have delayed the paving of several stretches of road to date so prepare yourself for some bone shaking and just enjoy the views!
(You get to drive a section of the Pan American Highway)
14. The Resorts
We spent a few nights in Hotel Cala Luna just outside Tamarindo. The resort is popular with surfers and offers the usual range of water activities. The town has some great restaurants. The hotel itself has a lovely pool area and offers free sundowners on the beach every evening
15. The Cityscapes
If flying in or out of its international airport, then chances are you will spend a night in San Jose at either the beginning or end of your trip. From its colonial era architecture to its red taxis, there is a certain charm to the place and between galleries, shopping and restaurants, there is enough to justify a short visit.
(Plaza de la Cultura)
(Red taxis at Plaza de la Cultura)
(We were privileged to catch the Cecilia Paredes exhibition ‘el Perpetuo Errante’ in the Central Bank Museum)
(We stayed in Hotle Presidente in the city centre which had parking facilities andwas within walking distance of shop, museums and restaurants).
Still not convinced ..
Did I mention the surfing, coffee plantations, river kayaking, scuba…………
Pack binoculars and of course a camera. We only had our phones on this trip and I really envied all those visitors with their zoom lens…..
Costa Rica is an expensive country to visit. Be selective with your guided activities and eat in the Sodas when you can
If driving around Monteverde you will need a 4wd. Make sure you photograph your rental before you leave the airport, especially any preexisting scrapes and dents.
Accommodation in remote areas may be limited in peak season so make sure you prebook.