Time and time again I’ve heard A-M-A-Z-I-N-G things about Costa Rica – the volcanos, beaches, wildlife, people, and food! So when I heard my sister and her husband were heading to Costa Rica for a week-long escape from the cold, I knew we had to join. I can now say for myself, Costa Rica lived up to all its praises!
A few weeks ago I headed to Liberia, Costa Rica with Mark, my sister, and brother in law. Lucky for us, there is a direct flight from Minneapolis to Liberia and if you know anything about me…I’m all for efficient travel. I will always pay $100 more for a direct flight solely because I’ve had horrible experience time and time again with stopover. I’m happy to report back, that we had absolutely no glitches in our travel to and from Costa Rica. WOOT. From the moment we booked our flights, we knew that this trip was going to be special. We didn’t want to do the typical resort thing in Costa Rica, rather explore the country by car and stay in local Air bnb’s. Yes yes and yes. We only covered a small part of Costa Rica on the western coast. Like I mentioned, we flew into Liberia and then headed east towards Arenal and Monte Verde and then back west to Guanacaste.
Parque Nacional Volcan Arenál
Our first stop in Costa Rica was Parque Nacional Volcan Arenál, which is home to an active volcano, waterfalls, and hot springs. The Volcan Arenál area is truly picturesque – the volcano is surrounded by Lake Arenal, rolling hills, and morning mist. We stayed in the nearby town of El Castillo (Check out our Air BnB property HERE), which was a short 20-minute drive to the entrance of the National Park. During our two day stay, we hiked in the park, swam at the base of the La Fortuna Waterfall, got massages at Baldi Hot Springs, and went canyoneering with Desafio. Things to do in this area aren’t cheap, which surprised me a little bit, but if we had to do it over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I highly recommend the canyoneering tour with the company Desafio. You get down and dirty in the rainforest and it’s only a quick 4 hour excursion.
In terms of food, we enjoyed burritos at La Ventanita Cáfe (located in El Castillo) and casado at La Mesa de Mama (located in El Castillo). We stopped at a local grocery store to stock up on breakfast items for a quick morning at home.
Our second stop in Costa Rica was Monte Verde AKA the Cloud Forest! The Cloud Forest is basically like Jurassic Park but with monkeys, coati, and 400+ species of birds. We stayed walking distance from the Forest Reserve entrance (Check out our Air BnB property HERE). And while we only spent one full day in Monte Verde, we covered a lot of ground – we hiked in the Cloud Forest, visited the Women’s Artist Co-Op, and sampled coffee at Cáfe de Monteverde. We were also able to try out a few local restaurants including Morphos (downtown Monte Verde), Trapp Family Hotel (near the Forest Reserve entrance), and Stella’s Bakery (downtown Monte Verde). The one thing I wish we would have done is an actual coffee tour, but we didn’t have the time or energy!
I want to make one note if you are driving from Arenal to Monte Verde. There is really no easy way to get from one to the other because the roads are very windy and sometimes not paved. There’s also Lake Arenal that you have to drive around (unfortunately there is no bridge). To drive 72 miltes it took us almost 3.5 hours. BLAH!
Our final stop in Costa Rica was the highlight of the trip on an INCREDIBLE coffee farm in Guanacaste. Words cannot begin to describe how beautiful this property is. Close your eyes and imagine driving 20 minutes up a steep, dirt road. When you arrive at the top, you can see the ocean in the distance as well as stunning hills and mountains. The property itself has orange and coffee trees, beautiful flowers, an infinity pool, hot tub, three-season kitchen (yes, the kitchen opens to the outdoors), and hammocks. This place is a dream. The Air BnB we stayed at is actually a guest house to the main house, but we had full access to the pool and property. I got TONS of questions on Instagram for more information on this property and guys guess what? The 2 bedroom guest house sleeps 4 and goes for $88/night. $88 flipping dollars. We’re thinking about renting both the main house and guest house because in total it would sleep 12. Can you say family Thanksgiving or Christmas?
While in Guanacaste we largely stayed at the property because it has so much to offer. The pool for one is incredible, but the property is filled with beautiful views and so many trails. Coffee and orange trees line the backside of the mountain and dirt hiking trails weave in and out. Of course, we made these trails part of our daily workout because they were actually super steep and got your heart rate pounding. During one of the days we did venture out of the mountains and visited Playa Coyote the closest beach to the property, which was a 45-minute drive. We were absolutely the only ones on this beach for miles. It was so peaceful and HUMID. For lunch we ate at the only restaurant on the beach owned by a German couple called El Barco Restaurante and Bar (hello pina coladas!).
ROAD TRIP! We rented a Hyundai Tucson for our week-long travels through Costa Rica, which gave us the flexibility to travel on our own terms. While we had heard some cautionary tales about road conditions, we were excited to get to explore Costa Rica by road. The Tucson was able to navigate some of the burliest terrain and comfortably fit the four of us and all our of luggage.
5 TIPS FOR TRAVELING IN COSTA RICA
- Be careful while driving at night… IT IS DARK! It is not impossible to drive at night, but you will need to take it slow.
- Know where you are going and how you are getting there. We recommend using an app called maps.me, which provides offline GPS navigation. Remember to download your maps ahead of time!
- Pack for a range of temperatures. While the temperatures near the Pacific Ocean were sweat-inducing, temperatures in Monte Verde were surprisingly brisk in the morning and evening. You won’t regret packing a variety of layers!
- Practice your Spanish skills! While many Ticos (Costa Ricans) speak English, don’t forget to dust off your old Spanish-English dictionary before you head to CR. (DuoLingo is the best!)
- Find yourself a cup of coffee, a good book, and enjoy your visit #PuraVida
As always, let me know if you have questions :)