By Heledd Jones
In April I spent two weeks travelling around Costa Rica and loved it – the happy, friendly ‘tico’ people, the wildlife, the scenery – and it was all so easy to get around with English widely-spoken.
So where’s best to go if you have two weeks in Costa Rica? For a relatively small country there are lots of options, but the roads aren’t great so it can take a while to get around! The route we took seems like a well-trodden path covering the highlights, but you may want to tweak it if you want to go a bit more ‘off-the-beaten track’…
Start ►Tortuguero, Caribbean Coast
Getting to Tortuguero is an adventure in itself. As we visited during dry season, the local boat packed with locals, travellers and supplies took around two hours to get from Le Pavona to Tortuguero. It got stuck a few times as water levels were low, and we even passed a huge croc sleeping in the sun.
The journey reminded me of an Indiana Jones adventure, meandering through the river watching out for iguanas and birds, dropping off and picking up locals and goods at the tiniest little jetties.
As we got closer to our destination, the river opened out into a wider lagoon… the captain put his foot down and what a great feeling, the beautiful wide lagoon straddled by rainforest, with spray hitting our faces, perfect start!
We had a great three nights here, chilling out in the sun, wandering around the village (worth a look as we realised its heavily-Caribbean influence was unlike anything else we’d see in Costa Rica) and walking around a forest where we spotted literally hundreds of red (poisonous) red dart frogs!
Our two main highlights were:
- Kayaking – nice and relaxing due to the lack of current, we saw (and heard) howler monkeys and white faced monkeys, a few Cayman crocs that we were able to get really close to, as well as a load of birds and butterflies –we felt closer to nature doing it this way instead of the motorised boat tours we saw.
Cost: kayak rental is around $10, there are loads of different rental shops to choose from.
- Buddha bar/café – a beautiful place to eat, drink and watch the world go by… boats coming in and out of the village and birds swooping in. You could lose hours of your life here and wouldn’t regret a second.
►Arenal, Volcano region
After passing through miles of banana and pineapple plantations we reached our second stop. La Fortuna is a small town most famous for being at the foot of the Arenal volcano, which until a few years ago was still active and spewing lava! There are lots of activities on offer here e.g. horse riding, zip wires, rafting and canyoning.
These were our (highly low-cost!) highlights:
- Swimming in La Fortuna waterfall – just outside the town, there’s a gorgeous waterfall we hiked down to, with pools and a stream to splash about in – very refreshing! Although there were quite a few other people there, it still felt pretty magical to me – like something from a shampoo advert!
- Walking on old lava – we took a taxi and then an unguided walk to the bottom of the volcano. The terrain is quite flat so not too strenuous although it was very hot so take plenty of water! Walking on old lava from the 1960s was quite surreal!
- Great local food – we experienced our first ‘soda’ here. Soda = local restaurant. For a couple of dollars each, we both had chicken, rice, potatoes, plantain (my new favourite food!) and a beer which tasted great and gave us a chance to speak to some locals.
- Lava lounge – reminded me of being back in Thailand, with friendly rescued dogs and fire dancing all forming part of the attraction of a great place for an evening meal and drinks!
- Hot springs – as it’s a volcanic region, there are natural hot springs everywhere – we were lucky enough to have some in our hotel, but there are loads of options here to suit all budgets including some free ones if you speak the right taxi drivers: bliss after that trek on lava!
►Monteverde Cloud Rainforest
A boat and a jeep took us across to a couple of nights in Monteverde; a small town high up in the cloud rainforest and another great place to partake in adventures and catch some wildlife – our highlights here were:
- SkyTrek – despite my nerves and lack of adrenaline-junkie genes, we did the Skytrek zip wire which was fantastic. The activity offers about ten different zip wires high up across the rainforest with amazing views and a sense of freedom like nothing I’d experienced before!
Cost: Zip wire experience $53 per person
- Night walk – our guide for the evening poked a tarantula out of its hole on the way to the night-walk so I knew we were in for a good night – when we pulled into the car park we saw a sloth hanging from a tree munching on leaves! Finding sloths can be quite difficult so to see one so close and awake was something special. We also got up close and personal to some raccoons –a novelty for us Brits but just vermin to our American friends!
Cost: Tour $17 without transfer service, $22 with transfer.
End █▌ Manuel Antonio, Pacific Coast
On the coastal road to our final destination we stopped at the infamous ‘crocodile bridge’ and saw at least 30 or 40 big crocs bathing in the water or on the banks in the sun – another surreal wildlife find! After our mini-adventure around Costa Rica, it was time to chill out at Manuel Antonio.
We’d heard mixed reviews so weren’t sure what to expect but found it to be a cute little town – busy, but not overwhelming or built-up like Jaco. The beaches here were stunning and it reminded me of Cape Tribulation in Australia where the rainforest meets the coast. Our highlights here:
- National Park – as well as the large public beach which attracts surfers and sunbathers, there is also a national park which contains three beautiful beaches. While there were lots of people around, it still felt like our little piece of paradise, with hundreds of friendly monkeys in the mix and cheeky raccoons stealing picnics – entertaining as well as scenic!
Cost: Entrance fee $10, $2 for Costa Rican residents (present residency card).
- Sunset at the Mariposa – this was a top tip from a taxi driver and I’m so glad we listened to him. The Mariposa is one of the highest hotels in Manuel Antonio and the views are breath-taking, even more so with sunset on its way and a cocktail in your hand on their roof terrace. Apparently it’s listed in the book ‘1000 places to see before you die’ and I can see why, it beat Ibiza’s infamous sunsets hands down!
Have you been to Costa Rica? Share your tips…
Author bio: Heledd Jones backpacked and blogged around South East Asia and Australia, has since visited Sri Lanka, Dubai and now Costa Rica, but spends most of her time working in the Confused.com marketing team to fund her travels!
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Thanks to Bordas for the image off Flickr. Please note, the mage was held under the Creative Commons licence at the time of publication.