Travellers Guide To Costa Rica By Gretchen From mugsandmaps.com
Costa Rica is a land of pristine beaches, lush jungles, and temperate mountain ranges. Every better is the fact that you can travel between these in only a matter of hours, and easily fit many destinations into a short itinerary. With so many locations to choose from (seriously, Costa Rica has almost 300 beaches), how do you decide where to go?! Luckily, I’ve spent the last four months living and traveling in Costa Rica and have narrowed down the list to the three best places to visit.
It’s easy to understand why this is one of Costa Rica’s most famous national parks. All sorts of wildlife can be spotted here including iguanas, monkeys, and sloths – oh my! This park also boasts FIVE beaches, all with white sand and stunning turquoise water. I recommend packing a picnic lunch and spending the whole day exploring the different beaches, trails, and waterfall. Getting to the park early (it opens at 7am) or traveling during low season (May-November) also means you’re likely to have a beautiful beach almost to yourself.
If you want to spend a few days in Manuel Antonio but don’t want to pay the park entrance fee again ($16 for foreigners), Playa Espadilla Norte is a nice public beach along the main road. As a top destination, there is no shortage of places to stay or eat in Manuel Antonio, with everything from budget backpacker options to high-end resorts. A fun nighttime spot is Billfish, a laidback sports bar with giant table Jenga. During the day, Sancho’s has the best fish tacos I’ve ever had.
This tiny beach town is a bit out of the way on the northwestern Nicoya peninsula, but it is totally worth the journey. The main beach, a long expanse of soft sand lined with palm trees, is a popular surf location, and the waves are huge – I only go in up to my knees to avoid getting knocked over.
If you can pull yourself away from the beach, I also highly recommend checking out the Montezuma Waterfall. There are actually two different waterfalls stacked on top of each other, each with a small pool at the base that you can swim in. However, it is only accessible during the dry season (December-April) as flash floods make it too dangerous during the rainy part of the year.
Snorkeling at Isla Tortuga is another popular pastime – I saw hundreds of gorgeous tropical fish and even three small sharks! Cabo Blanco Travelers is a great tour company to book with. For $40, you get an all day excursion with a boat ride, snorkeling at two different reefs, and lunch included on the island. The island itself is absolutely breathtaking, and about as close to paradise as I think I’ve ever been.
As a smaller tourist destination, there are mostly only budget backpacker options for accommodation. We loved Luz en el Cielo hostel and its staff also recommend the delicious Puggos restaurant. Chico’s Bar is the only nightlife destination and is packed on Friday and Saturday nights with both locals and travelers alike.
This small town located in San Carlos sits at the base of the Arenal and Cerro Chato volcanoes. If you want to hike a volcano (and who doesn’t want to say they’ve hiked a volcano?!), these are two of your best options in Costa Rica. Arenal’s last eruption was in the 1990’s, although it’s perfectly safe to visit today and it’s pretty cool to see the hardened lava flows. You can’t hike to the top of Arenal, but there are lots of nature trails, hanging bridges, and even a beautiful lagoon around the base. This hike is fairly relaxing and is definitely suitable for most ages and fitness levels.
Your other option for a volcano hike in La Fortuna is Cerro Chato. I’m going to be honest – it’s a tough climb. The first hour or so actually goes through some of the Arenal trails so you get to see the lava flows. Then, it’s another 3 hours of very steep and muddy hiking through thick jungle to get to the top. Once you finally get there, you can descend into the crater and even swim in the lake that’s formed in it, which is a really incredible experience. If you’re up for a challenge, I do recommend this hike. Just be sure to bring plenty of food and water, and although a park ranger will give you a map (pro tip: take photo of it in case it gets wet or lost!), know that some of the trails are poorly marked. Both Arenal and Cerro Chato have a $10 entrance fee.
After a long day of hiking, be sure to check out La Fortuna’s second most popular attraction, hot springs! There are tons of different spots scattered all over town, but I loved Paradise Hot Springs (a day pass is $28, and they also serve food and drinks). Another great location to visit is the La Fortuna waterfall (entrance fee $12), where you can hike 100 steps down to the base and swim in a crystal clear pool below. At 75 meters tall, the falls really are an impressive sight to see.
Like Manuel Antonio, La Fortuna has a wide range of accommodation available, from dorm style hostels to basic private rooms to luxury hotels. As for places to eat, I recommend Lava Lounge for a variety of cuisine and some amazing sangria.
So there you have it, my top three destinations in Costa Rica including beaches, jungles, and volcanoes!
By Gretchen from mugsandmaps.com