This was the trip I decided to book for myself as my first “solo” trip in and out of the United States. (Of course, it was through a travel company called EF College Break and there were at least 20 other college aged travelers with me, along with our own personal tour guide for the entire trip, so not technically “solo.”) As I had never been to Central America before this point I had no clue what to expect, except that the 10 days I spent there would be hot and humid, and that everything I brought would have to fit in one carry on backpack…
(find more at: https://www.efultimatebreak.com
and remember to ask me how to get $100 off your trip!!)
First things first, I would recommend exchanging your dollars for colones before traveling simply because their money was really cool (they have SLOTHS on them), even though dollars were accepted pretty much everywhere. To start my first day of traveling I flew out of of the MSP airport into Atlanta, Georgia on June 2nd, waiting a few hours before finding out that our flight time into San Jose, Costa Rica, would be a little longer than expected due to a volcanic eruption. My flight arrived late into the evening and wanting to spend as much time as we could exploring, those of us that had arrived together checked into the hotel and walked around San Jose, finding a local place to sit down and eat some fries and shakes. Once we got back to the hotel, and knowing we would have to be ready to go bright and early, I quickly showered and passed out from my day of traveling. Although this hotel was decent, there was no light in our bathroom (so I had to shower in the dark) but on the other hand it had an amazing outdoor pool and complimentary breakfast.
(find more at: www.autenticohotel.com)
The next morning my roommate and I woke up, meeting for the first time. After breakfast we boarded our charter bus and braved the tight, twisty, barely-there roads towards the Alajuela region. Our first stop was at Doka Estate, a coffee plantation that also had a butterfly pavilion on site. We were able to spend some time with the beautiful variety of butterflies (and spiders…) and then take a guided tour throughout the plantation. We learned the steps taken to produce coffee beans, given the opportunity to try our hand at raking up dried coffee beans, and were able to taste many free samples of their coffee. Although I am not a coffee drinker, I enjoyed the tour (who doesn’t love free samples) and bought a bag of their darkest roast to bring home to Tyler, who LOVED it.
(find more at: https://dokaestate.com/coffee-tour/)
We then boarded the bus for another round of twisty roads and headed towards a local dairy and fruit farm. We were originally supposed to visit the Arenal Volcano National Park, but like I had mentioned before the volcano had erupted on our flight in and the park was closed. Instead we were taken to a local dairy farm and all took the “Freddo Leche Tour.” It was very interesting and I enjoyed it, even though it was a cloudy, misty day. We were able to not only feed and interact with the rabbits and chickens, but were also able to milk the cows there and try their raw milk, which was a lot better than it sounds and definitely a once in a lifetime experience. (Just fyi it’s warm and creamy…) We were then driven around the farm and at the end given free samples of their cheeses and strawberries, which we devoured within a few minutes.
Afterwards we continued on towards La Fortuna and checked into the cutest place. The Villas Vista Arenal were these small, bungalow-style rooms at the base of the Arenal Volcano. Although there were a few unwanted guests in our rooms (small lizards and bugs) the outside was absolutely gorgeous, and granted us some amazing views of the nearby volcano. It was also only a few minute walk from downtown La Fortuna and we were able to walk there and explore as we wished. For dinner a group of us went to Las Brasitas, a restaurant in downtown La Fortuna, where a handful of us tried a very popular national beer, the Imperial.
To end our first full day in this beautiful country, our tour guide asked a friend of his to lead us in some dance lessons! We all met at a nearby club that had been reserved solely for us, and although I personally struggled to keep up, it was a lot of fun and we all had a blast learning some new dances.
Up bright and early again to begin our day long work out…literally. We began the day with arms and shoulders-kayaking Lake Arenal for a few miles, taking in the breathtaking views around us. Being the largest land-locked body of water in Costa Rica, it was actually created by building a dam and flooding the valley that was once there. When we reached the halfway point some of us jumped out and went for a swim before turning back. Kayaking across the lake was a little trickier now that we were going against the wind, and a few stragglers struggled to keep up.
(find more at: www.aventurasarenal.com)
We then switched our workout over to legs-taking a hike through the jungle down to La Fortuna Waterfall. A 200 ft waterfall plummeting through the dense jungle is definitely a sight worth seeing, even if it is 400+ steps down and again back up to the top. The stairs are pretty basic, with muddy, slanted steps, but there are plenty of places to take a break and enjoy the views of the waterfall. Although not everyone took the plunge to go swimming in the chilly water (after the hike it felt amazing!) but the majority of our tour group wanted to take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity.
(find more at: www.arenal.net)
Later that afternoon we made our way to a Cocoa and Chocolate Tour. Not only was it interesting to see the cocoa trees and fruits, we were able to learn all about how to harvest the insides and what it tastes like at each step. (Did you know it takes a whole week to properly dry the cocoa nibs??) We were also able to go up and try our hand at grinding the cocoa nibs (which took more muscle than we thought) and eventually resulted in a dance off. At the end we were given unlimited free samples of fresh, warm, melted chocolate and were able to customize our spoonful with any toppings you wanted-coconut, sprinkles, peanuts, marshmallows, even chili powder, you name it they had it.
(find more at: www.rainforestchocolatetour.com)
After working out what seemed like every muscle in my body, we were able to spend the evening at a waterpark and hot springs. The entire evening was spent riding the waterslides and soaking our muscles in the warm water. Not only did the hot water feel amazing, but there was a buffet dinner included as well. I went down the slides probably at least 20 times (take a group of four down the highest one and you might just go right over the side…) and the thermal springs happened to be the perfect temperature, with a waterfall cascading into one side and a bar on the other.
(find more at: www.kalambu.com)
Only day four and I felt as if we’d done so much already! Today was much more relaxed, with not as much on the agenda as the other days. As we rode our coach bus down the muddy roads, many of us became car sick and couldn’t wait for our next stop, Monteverde. Here there were many options for shopping and eating, but a few of us began with the coolest looking one, a tree house restaurant. Definitely worth the experience and not to mention they had good food too (first place I saw with pizza on their menu!). After eating and having a little more time to explore, we did some shopping and found many cute things to bring back home as souvenirs and presents.
(find more at: www.treehouse.cr/?LAN=EN)
We then made our way to an area somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, where we were able to plant a tree. As soon as we got off the bus it started drizzling and even began down pouring once each group had started digging their holes. Although planting a tree in the rain might not sound like much fun, I thought it was a wonderful idea, plus our group’s tree was an avocado tree (who doesn’t love avocados??). The reasoning behind us planting trees as part of our trip was so that we were able to help offset our carbon footprint and so that we are able to help Costa Rica regenerate their forests. (Although this may not be the exact company we used, here is a company that allows you to plant your own tree while visiting Costa Rica.)
(find more at: https://crnature.com)
Still rainy and gloomy we made our way to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest. This was one of my favorites, and although it gave me a gloomy-creepy kind of vibe from the clouds, it was a neat experience and reminded me of somewhere that Jurassic Park might have been filmed. Our trip guide was excellent at explaining and pointing out various plants and wildlife, although we did not see much during this hike. It was a short, easy hike, but very humid, and even though it was raining when we entered and exited the cloud forest, we never would have known while inside because the trees were so dense.
(find more at: www.anywhere.com)
After this relaxing day, our guide treated us to a family style meal at a local restaurant in Monteverde, as well as to a Chili Guaro shot. Consisting of Guaro, the national liquor of Costa Rica, Tabasco sauce and tomato juice, this was not a drink for me, although the consensus seemed to be about 50/50. The food on the other hand was AMAZING.
(find more at: baramigos.com)
As we checked into our fourth hotel this week, it was easy to tell that this would be the nicest one we stayed at during our trip (it even had air conditioning!!). It was on top of a hill with amazing views of the surrounding area, as well as hanging bridges you could explore, and breakfast that was included each day. The room and bathroom was spacious and everything was very neat and clean.
(find more at: www.elestablo.com)
This was one of the days I was most excited for. Horseback riding and zip-lining in the same day in Costa Rica, could life get any better? Although I had been horseback riding in Yellowstone National Park, this time was much different. The horses were not as well trained as I was used to, and as they ran and trotted along the paths and roads, they would kick and bite at other horses, which made me a little tense. Another girl on the trip got kicked in the leg by a horse in front of her, and my horse got kicked and bit once during the ride, almost making it buck. The entire tour was a few hours through the hills in the back country, with amazing views and the first sloth we were able to see thus far! Taking the scenery into consideration, I would still say the ride was worth it.
(find more at: www.horsetrekmonteverde.com)
Before our next adventure, we made a quick pit stop in Monteverde for lunch. Although many of us split up, there were some of us that went to a very small, empanada restaurant. With seating (all outdoors) for only about 10 people, this was one of my favorite places we ate the entire trip. It was very cheap, and the food was amazing!
(find more at: www.tripadvisor.com)
Zip lining was absolutely amazing. However, if I thought the waterfall required many steps, I had no idea what was in store for us for the last and final zip line (we basically had to climb a mountain). My one regret was not bringing my GoPro as you were allowed to attach it to yourself to take some videos without getting charged. The cables were up to half a mile long and were 600 ft high, giving amazing panoramic views of the canopy below.
(find more at: https://monteverdeextremopark.com)
Later that night those of us that signed up for the Night Walk Tour were bussed over to the Wildlife Refuge in Monteverde. We saw the most wildlife during this easy hike and I would have done it another night if given the chance. Even through the thunder and rain we were able to see a wide variety of snakes, insects, and even a brightly colored toucan. Watch out for the ants though, as there are many areas covered with them, and they will quickly find their way onto your shoes and up your legs. Ouch!
(find more at: www.monteverdetours.com)
Checking out of this hotel, and some of the only air conditioning of the entire trip, we headed towards Jaco. On our way we stopped by the Tarcoles River for a Crocodile Tour. Although it was sunny now that we were out of the Cloud Forest, it was very hot, and it took us a little bit to get boarded and begin our crocodile encounters. Along our way we saw a wide variety of birds, many iguanas, and crocodiles up to 15 feet long! We also took a little boat tour to the nearby mangroves for bird watching and were able to see the Gulf of Nicoya from our boat.
(find more at: www.junglecrocodilesafari.com)
We then made our way to the beach (FINALLY!!). Although our tour guide told us to be a little more careful and aware of our surroundings in Jaco, it was a very cute town with many places to eat and was only about a 3 block walk from the beach. We began by having lunch at Soda Jaco Rusico, a buffet with very good, fresh food that was pretty cheap too. (We tried going here for dinner as well, but by the time we made it back they were closing for the night so we had to find somewhere else.) We also grabbed some ice cream from their freezer and ate it on our walk to the beach, which was perfect for the hot day.
(find more at: www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant)
Jaco Beach was very pretty, and is known for being a local beach with many water sport activities. Although none of us went swimming, we did take a walk along the beach for a while, which was pretty rocky.
(find more at: www.visitjacocostarica.com)
After checking into the hotel and settling in a little, we made our way back to town for dinner. Although we were dissapointed that by the time we made it back to Soda Jaco Rusico they were closing down, we found somewhere else just as good. Rugula is known as a restaurant with healthier, fresher options, and pineapple juice came included with each meal. The service was a little slow, but the food was definitely worth the wait!
Beach day!!! I was so excited for going to the beach that I forgot the most important thing…sunscreen. Big mistake. We began by driving towards the entrance to Manuel Antonio Park. Once you arrive there you must walk a decent bit, probably about half a mile, until you arrive at the beach. On the way we saw a variety of animals such as monkeys, raccoons, sloths, snakes, iguanas, and lizards. Beware that the park only allows packed food (nothing in plastic wrappers) and only pop and water in order to cut down on littering, and take into consideration that the raccoons and monkeys will literally dig in your bags looking for food. Considered one of the top beaches in the world, I would most definitely recommend making the walk to this absolutely breathtaking beach. We stayed just about all day, resulting in blistering sunburn for a few people. On our way out we stopped and got coconuts, wandering throughout the small shops and seeing one more sloth before leaving.
(find more at: https://manuelantoniopark.com)
Slathering on my roommate’s aloe seemed to do the trick for my sunburn, and our large group went downtown Jaco for dinner and drinks and to watch the Costa Rica vs. Panama soccer game. It was a good atmosphere, and although I wasn’t feeling too hungry, they had very good smoothies!
(find more at: www.tripadvisor.com)
Leaving Jaco, we began to make our way full circle back to our starting point, San Jose, Costa Rica. Being one of the most relaxing days on our trip, our day was spent getting carsick and shopping. En route to San Jose, we stopped at Cooperativa de Artesinias Y Muebles de Sarchi, a local co-op for artists. I found the remainder of my souvenirs and gifts here, and although they weren’t the cheapest place, I thought it was a pretty fair price since everything was handmade.
(find more at: www.coopearsarl.com)
We then made our way to another large gift shop, first stopping to see the world’s largest Ox Cart in Sarchi. The small details and painted designs on the ox carts are beyond belief, and yet you will find these painted ox carts of all sizes throughout Sarchi. We also ate a lunch buffet here, located in the upstairs of the gift shop.
For our final hotel, we checked into the Hotel Villa Tournon, which was full of large groups like us. Breakfast was included each morning and although the beds were not the comfiest and the doors and walls were pretty thin, it was located downtown giving us the opportunity to stop at the nearby Pizza Hut and Starbucks.
(find more at: www.hotelvillatournon.com)
This was the day I was most excited for. Having never been white water rafting, I could not wait to get out on the water, even though I was pretty nervous. On the way we stopped at a fruit stand for a delicious morning snack. We were able to try many exotic fruits and desserts, in addition to taking a bathroom break. Once we arrived to begin the rafting experience, we were fitted with all the correct gear and taught how to raft and what to do if we went overboard. We then split up in groups, making our way down the Sarapiqui River and stopping halfway for a nice treat (only one person in my group went overboard). Afterwards we were given a nacho lunch that you could customize with whatever toppings you wanted. On our last night here, we were taken to a nicer restaurant (of which I can’t seem to find the name anywhere) and served a three course meal.
(find more at: www.viator-partner.com)
Our last day in Costa Rica…and to be honest it barely counted. We were up before day break and arrived at the airport just as the sun came up. I had no regrets visiting this amazing country and would recommend it to EVERYONE. The amount of adventure we were able to experience in the past ten days was amazing, especially with the “pure life” outlook locals take on just about everything. I can’t wait for the day I get to go back, and maybe bring Tyler this time…PURA VIDA!