Welcome to Costa Rica!
This country has been on our bucket list for a long time, but we could never make our way there. Finally, plans fell into place last December, so we could make this trip happen. There is a right time for everything, and this was the right one for this trip. Our trip unfolded entirely differently than we thought when planning it.
The original idea was to travel around the country for about a month. However, just after the first week, we were completely smitten by everything we were seeing and the people we were meeting that we could not see ourselves leaving anytime soon. Also, our initial idea of driving around Costa Rica changed entirely in a very short time. In just a few days, we entered a very relaxed mood and had no interest in moving too fast but preferred taking our time in the places we visited, also if it meant seeing less. Costa Rica will do that to you!
When planning your trip here, remember that Costa Rica isn’t the cheapest country in Central America. Actually, I think it is one of the most expensive, so we did have to make some choices on things to do and places to see, but honestly, we were delighted with how our trip turned out in the end.
Costa Rica was such a unique experience for us, and I would like to give you all the information you need to have a great trip here and transmit you more of a feel of the country through our videos, so make sure to check them out too because words in a blog just aren’t enough!
Unique Facts about Costa Rica
Before delving deeper into our trip to Costa Rica with some information on places we saw and details about the activities we did, I want to share a few incredible and lesser-known facts that make this destination truly unique!
No army in Costa Rica. There has been no army in Costa Rica since 1949! This makes it one of the few countries in the world to abolish its armed forces. This decision has allowed the country to allocate resources to education, healthcare, and environmental conservation. Honestly, while we were there, we felt completely safe and maybe a bit more relaxed due to that!
The Pura Vida Lifestyle. Costa Ricans embrace the “Pura Vida” lifestyle, meaning “pure life.” This philosophy emphasizes a positive outlook, gratitude, and a simple and relaxed way of living. It is inevitable not to embrace the Pura Vida spirit during your visit and experience the warmth of Costa Rican culture. A remarkable fact is that often when locals say bye to you, they say “pura vida.” I love it!
Abundant Biodiversity. Costa Rica may be small in size, but it’s a giant in biodiversity. This lush land boasts a mere 0.03% of the Earth’s surface, yet it houses an astonishing 5% of the world’s biodiversity. From rare species like the red-eyed tree frog to the majestic jaguar, every step is a chance to encounter nature’s finest creations. Its diverse ecosystems include rainforests, cloud forests, beaches, and mangroves, making it a prime destination for nature lovers. There is something for everyone here, and it is stunning to see! We had a chance to experience a bit of it all, and it was indeed amazing to think that it was all in such a small country.
Sustainable Tourism. Costa Rica is a pioneer in ecotourism and sustainable travel. The country is committed to preserving its natural beauty and has implemented various initiatives to promote environmentally responsible tourism practices. For example, Costa Rica has made significant efforts in reforestation to counteract deforestation and carbon emissions. Also, strict guidelines are in place for observing wildlife to prevent animal stress and disruption. Certified guides educate visitors about respecting animals’ natural behavior and habitats.
Blue Zone Nicoya Peninsula. The Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica is one of the world’s five Blue Zones, regions known for having a high concentration of centenarians. The residents of Nicoya attribute their longevity to a combination of healthy diets, solid social connections, and an active lifestyle. We didn’t have a chance to go here, but it is interesting to know; they must be doing something right!
The Land of Eternal Spring. Costa Rica’s climate is nothing short of heavenly. With no distinct seasons, it’s often called the “Land of Eternal Spring.” This description highlights the country’s lack of extreme temperatures and different seasons, providing a consistently comfortable and enjoyable environment for residents and visitors alike. Every time of the year is an excellent time to visit Costa Rica!
Some places we suggest you visit in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is rich in natural wonders and diverse attractions. Here are some of this stunning country’s most worth-seeing places and activities. Unfortunately, we could not do them all, but we tried to cover enough for a good feel about this fantastic country.
Visit the capital San José. Begin or end (in our case) your Costa Rican adventure in the capital city, San José. Immerse yourself in the local culture by visiting the bustling Mercado Central, where you can sample fresh tropical fruits and shop for handmade crafts. Maybe join a guided walking tour that offers insights into the city’s history, architecture, and culture while exploring its streets and landmarks.
Arenal Volcano National Park. Witness the impressive Arenal Volcano, which offers hiking trails suitable for families, allowing you to traverse through lush rainforests, enjoy the soothing hot springs, and take in panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes. You can also go through the rainforest with horses if you prefer. In our case, we did something different by going on the zipline with Sky Adventures, where you will have the best view of the Arenal while having a great time! While there, we also visited a Wildlife Animal Rescue Proyecto Asis. We learned about their work with animals and the country’s wildlife (keep reading to have more information about it).
Manuel Antonio National Park. You will love the scenic beauty of Manuel Antonio National Park. With its pristine beaches, gentle ocean waves, and abundant wildlife, this park offers a perfect blend of relaxation and exploration. Spot capuchin monkeys, sloths, and colorful birds as you hike through the dense foliage. The best way to visit it is by booking a tour, possibly early morning, to beat the heat! Our tour was about 2 hours long; the guide was great at spotting the different animals and explaining more about the national park. Once finished, you can wander around on your own or enjoy the lovely beaches inside the park, trust me it gets hot; you will need to cool down!
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Do you know what cloud forest is? It is a unique tropical or subtropical forest characterized by its high humidity, frequent cloud cover, and diverse ecosystems. These forests are often found at higher elevations, typically between 2,000 and 3,000 meters (6,500 to 9,800 feet) above sea level, although the specific altitude can vary depending on geographic factors. Unveil the magic of a cloud forest at Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. You can take a guided canopy tour, where you’ll walk across hanging bridges that offer breathtaking views of the forest canopy and the chance to encounter unique flora and fauna. We preferred just walking around and enjoying the peacefulness of the environment on our own. However, you can check here if you want to take the tour!
Tortuguero National Park. Known as Costa Rica’s “Amazon of the North.” This protected area is a haven for sea turtles, and visiting during nesting season (July to October) gives you the rare opportunity to witness these magnificent creatures laying their eggs on the beach. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it here, so it will surely be an excuse for us to return.
Rincón de la Vieja National Park. Experience volcanic landscapes, mud pots, hot springs, and vibrant flora and fauna in this diverse park—another place we had to skip this time. We were close to the area during the high season, so we couldn’t find a place to stay, but we were also recommended to visit it! Next time!
Transportation in Costa Rica
You made it to Costa Rica; how do you get around the country? It isn’t enormous, but the roads aren’t the best, so getting from one place to another takes a while. Remember that getting around Costa Rica can be an adventure, and the transportation options allow you to explore the country’s diverse landscapes and attractions. Here’s a breakdown of the various modes of transportation you can use to move around Costa Rica:
- Domestic Flights: Costa Rica has several domestic airports connecting major cities and tourist destinations. Domestic flights are a quick way to cover long distances, especially if traveling from one coast to the other. Popular domestic airlines include Sansa and Nature Air.
- Public Buses: Public buses are the most common and affordable mode of transportation in Costa Rica. They connect towns, cities, and even remote areas. While they might take longer than private transportation, they offer an authentic local experience and the chance to interact with locals. Remember that they can be packed during rush hour, and it may be hard even to get in!
- Shuttle Services: Shuttle vans and minibusses operate on popular tourist routes, providing a convenient and comfortable option for transportation between major destinations. They’re often faster than public buses and can be pre-booked for added convenience.
- Renting a Car: Renting a car allows you to explore Costa Rica at your own pace. However, roads can be challenging, especially in remote areas, and some may require a 4×4 vehicle. Be sure to have a valid driver’s license and familiarize yourself with local traffic rules. Also, remember that renting a car in Costa Rica is expensive. However, depending on your intentions, it may be the best option.
- Taxis and Ride-Sharing: Taxis are readily available in cities and tourist areas. Look for licensed taxis with a red license plate and a yellow triangle on the side. Uber is also available in some urban areas, providing a convenient alternative. Always ask the price before getting in, so you are not surprised once you arrive at your destination.
- Boat and Ferry Services: Given Costa Rica’s coastal and riverine geography, boat and ferry services are used to access remote areas and islands. They’re common along both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts.
- Guided Tours: Many tour operators offer guided tours, including transportation to and from your accommodation. These can be an excellent way to explore specific attractions and activities, especially if you prefer organized travel.
How did we do it? When we arrived, we got a taxi at the airport to take us to Coco Beach, where we were staying for a few days. The taxi took us to the wrong hotel, luckily the right one was a short walk away, but it was so hot! We then moved to Tamarindo (by getting a ride from a friend) and stayed for a few weeks. While there, we moved around on foot, by taxi, and by public bus. They were all great experiences to connect with locals. However, we booked a car for the rest of our stay once we decided to leave. We did a lot of asking and negotiating to get the right price. If we booked online, we would have spent so much more money! Sometimes the best deals are in person!
If you decide to drive in Costa Rica, I can confirm that you might have some surprises along the way with the roads. They are not all good, and there might be moments when you will get stuck, but there is also a lot of kindness in this country. On one occasion, a coffee truck drove me, the kids, and our luggage up a hill because it was too steep to go with our car. Such a unique experience for us all!
Activities to Do in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a playground for adventurers and nature enthusiasts, offering various fun and exciting activities for all ages. One of the reasons we waited a bit longer to come here is that Luca would be older and able to do anything we set our mind on doing. Here are some thrilling and memorable experiences you can enjoy in this tropical paradise:
Zip Line through the Rainforest Canopy. For an adrenaline rush, embark on a zip-lining adventure through the rainforest canopy. Numerous eco-adventure parks across the country offer safe and exciting zip-lining experiences suitable for families, providing a bird’s-eye view of the lush landscapes below. We did the one in Arenal with Sky Adventures.
White-Water Rafting. Costa Rica boasts some of the best white-water rafting opportunities in the world. Take your family on an exhilarating river adventure, navigating through thrilling rapids surrounded by stunning scenery. The Pacuare River is a popular choice, offering various levels of difficulty. Unfortunately, we skipped this activity, but it must definitely be worth it!
Surfing. If your family loves the ocean, Costa Rica’s beaches provide fantastic opportunities for surfing. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced surfer, you’ll find beaches with gentle waves for learning and more challenging breaks for seasoned riders. Our kids took some lessons in Tamarindo and then, while in Domenical, rented boards and had lots of fun on the waves!
Chocolate Tours. Indulge your sweet tooth and learn about the fascinating history of chocolate production in Costa Rica. Join a chocolate-making tour to witness the entire process, from cacao beans to delicious chocolate bars. We did a tour in Monteverde at Don Juan, offering a coffee and chocolate tour. It was fascinating!
Coffee Tours. Dive into the world of Costa Rican coffee production with informative and aromatic tours through coffee plantations. We did a tour in Monteverde at Don Juan; it was so interesting to learn the whole process of coffee making!
Turtle Nesting Tours. Depending on the season, participate in guided tours to witness the incredible sight of sea turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs. We were too far from one of the tours, so we didn’t have a chance to go, but we would have loved to.
Wildlife Spotting. With its incredible biodiversity, Costa Rica is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. Go on guided tours to spot howler monkeys, toucans, colorful frogs, and even elusive jaguars. Many national parks offer guided tours tailored to families, making wildlife spotting an educational and thrilling activity. Honestly though if you look up in most places you go, you will spot beautiful birds, monkeys, and, if you are lucky, sloths! Just look up, and pay attention to your surroundings!
Hot Springs. Relax in natural hot springs heated by volcanic activity, such as those near Arenal Volcano, offering therapeutic benefits and stunning views.
Snorkeling and Scuba Diving. Dive into the crystal-clear waters to explore vibrant coral reefs, shipwrecks, and marine life on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. In our case, we did a dive in Uvita with Costarica Dive and Surf. What we loved about it was that we could all go together; while 3 of us dived, the other 2 snorkeled. We saw so many fish and also lots of sharks! The cherry on the cake was the whales we saw while returning from our dive!
Did you know that Cosimo, Emma, and I got our PADI Open Water certification together in Mexico a few years ago? So happy we did! Check out our experience here!
Where did we stay in Costa Rica?
During our time in Costa Rica, we combined some hotel stays with Airbnb stays. This approach likely allowed you to enjoy different aspects of your travels, from the convenience and services of hotels to the local and personalized experiences of Airbnb.
For shorter stays, we booked hotels; for example, on our arrival in Costa Rica, we stayed a few nights in Coco Beach to give ourselves time to get our bearings around. Once we moved to Tamridno, we booked an Airbnb for a few weeks to spend Christmas in the same place. Again we book a hotel in San José for a few days before leaving the country.
However, our most fancy stay was in La Fortuna at Baldi Hot Springs Hotel & Spa, which was recommended to us by many people in the area. Their site says the water is the world’s purest and most healing hot spring. Baldi has 25 pools around their property, including water slides and a fun area for kids. It is fun to go all around and try them all, plus you will see the effect at night when you fall asleep immediately. It was pretty amazing! The hotel is a bit pricy, so we stayed just a few nights, but it was worth it!
For the rest of our time, we stayed in 7 Airbnbs in different parts of Costa Rica. We booked each one for a week and, most of the time, extended for more days because we genuinely enjoyed where we were! Here are some benefits and considerations of both types of accommodations:
Benefits. Hotels often offer a range of amenities, including restaurants, pools, gyms, and concierge services, providing convenience and relaxation. They can provide opportunities to interact with other travelers, creating a sense of community. Hotel staff are trained to assist with your needs, from booking tours to providing recommendations.
Considerations. Hotels can sometimes be more expensive than Airbnb accommodations, especially if you’re looking for upscale options. Depending on the hotel, you might have less exposure to the local culture than staying in residential areas.
Benefits. Staying in an Airbnb property can give you a more authentic feel for the local lifestyle and culture. Airbnb offers a wide range of accommodations, from private rooms to entire homes, allowing you to choose what suits your preferences. Most Airbnb properties come with kitchen facilities, which can be convenient for preparing meals and snacks. Airbnb often provides flexible check-in and check-out options.
Considerations. The quality of Airbnb accommodations can vary, so it’s essential to read reviews and communicate with hosts. Unlike hotels, Airbnb properties might not have standardized services or amenities.
By combining hotels and Airbnb accommodations, you can enjoy a diverse range of experiences, blending the comforts and services of hotels with the local flavor and personal touch of Airbnb. This approach can be particularly effective in a country like Costa Rica, where you can explore both urban and natural environments while immersing yourself in the culture and beauty of the region.
More about Wildlife Animal Rescue Proyecto Asis
Going around and doing adventurous activities is fun when visiting a new country. Still, it is also essential to have a deeper understanding of the country’s reality. In Costa Rica, it is easy to see wildlife everywhere, but it must be protected to continue living freely here. This is where Wildlife Animal Rescue Proyecto Asis comes into play. We took a tour for a few hours around the property and learned so much about all the different animals residing there at the moment and what they do to help. Wildlife Animal Rescue Proyecto Asis is a renowned organization in Alajuela, Costa Rica, dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing wildlife species native to the region. Founded in 2006, Proyecto Asis strives to protect and conserve Costa Rica’s rich biodiversity by caring for injured, orphaned, and displaced animals and promoting environmental education and sustainable practices.
Key features and aspects of the Wildlife Animal Rescue Proyecto Asis:
- Rescue and Rehabilitation: The primary goal of Proyecto Asis is to provide a haven for animals injured, orphaned, or confiscated from illegal trade. The organization focuses on rehabilitating these animals to release them back into their natural habitats whenever possible.
- Animal Care: The dedicated staff and volunteers at Proyecto Asis provide specialized care for various wildlife species, including monkeys, birds, sloths, reptiles, and more. This care includes medical treatment, appropriate diets, and safe enclosures that mimic natural environments.
- Environmental Education: Proyecto Asis places a strong emphasis on education, offering programs and interactive experiences to educate visitors, school groups, and volunteers about the importance of wildlife conservation and the need to protect natural habitats.
- Volunteer Opportunities: The organization offers volunteer programs that allow individuals worldwide to contribute to the care and conservation of Costa Rica’s wildlife. Volunteers assist with animal care, habitat maintenance, and educational activities.
- Sustainable Practices: It promotes sustainable practices by incorporating eco-friendly initiatives. This includes waste reduction, composting, and utilizing renewable energy sources.
- Community Engagement: The organization collaborates with local communities to raise awareness about wildlife conservation and promote the coexistence of humans and animals in shared environments.
- Guided Tours: It offers guided tours for visitors, allowing them to learn about the rescue and rehabilitation efforts while observing the animals in their care. Tours often include hands-on experiences that provide insight into the daily routines of the animals.
- Wildlife Release: One of the most rewarding aspects of Proyecto Asis is witnessing successful wildlife releases. When animals are deemed ready, the organization ensures a smooth transition back into their natural habitats.
- Research and Advocacy: Proyecto Asis actively participates in research projects and advocacy initiatives contributing to broader conservation efforts in Costa Rica and beyond.
The Wildlife Animal Rescue Proyecto Asis is a shining example of how dedicated organizations can positively impact wildlife conservation, rehabilitation, and environmental education. By providing support, volunteers and visitors contribute to the ongoing efforts to protect Costa Rica’s precious biodiversity and ensure a better future for native species.
Our Itinerary and final thoughts about Costa Rica
Our itinerary covered various destinations in Costa Rica, allowing us to experience the country’s various landscapes, activities, and cultures. Here’s a breakdown of your itinerary in Costa Rica:
- Tamarindo is a famous beach town known for its surfing, vibrant nightlife, and beautiful sunsets. We enjoyed the beach, took surfing lessons, and explored local shops and restaurants.
- Monteverde: it is famous for its cloud forests, hanging bridges, and diverse flora and fauna. Of course, we explored the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, spotted some wildlife near our house, and learned more about coffee and cocoa production.
- La Fortuna: is home to the majestic Arenal Volcano and natural hot springs. We explored Arenal Volcano National Park, relaxed in hot springs, and enjoy zip-lining.
- Jaco: is a popular beach destination known for its surfing, proximity to national parks, and vibrant nightlife. We enjoyed lots of beach time, surfed, Mass went paragliding, took a day trip to nearby Manuel Antonio National Park, and experienced the local atmosphere.
- Uvita and Dominical: are renowned for their stunning beaches, lush rainforests, and opportunities for whale watching. We relaxed on the beautiful beaches, explored Marino Ballena National Park, took a whale-watching tour (seasonal), and went scuba diving.
Your itinerary allowed us to enjoy the diverse beauty and activities of Costa Rica. From the vibrant beaches of Tamarindo and Jaco to the misty cloud forests of Monteverde and the natural wonders of La Fortuna, we explored a variety of landscapes and experiences. The adventure, relaxation, and wildlife encounters gave us unforgettable memories.
We will carry with us the beauty of its landscapes, the thrill of its activities, and the sense of pura vida – the “pure life” philosophy that encapsulates the joy and appreciation for life’s simple pleasures. Wishing you all happy travels, whatever part of the world you are exploring!