Pura Vida- Travel Diary and Guide to Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a beautiful and underrated travel destination; it’s filled with rainforest paradises and waterfall dreams. It has to be one of my favorite trips to date and I wouldn’t hesitate to book a flight right now! Not only is it roughly 3 hours away from where I live, but it’s also very affordable. We spent 6 days in Costa Rica (December 1-6) and of course, for me, it was too short. Nonetheless, we enjoyed our trip and as we usually do, packed our itinerary to make the best of our time there. I gifted this trip to my husband for his birthday and I’m so glad I did!
The food was one of the highlights of the trip and so were the relaxing gorgeous views. They have endless delicious choices when it comes to food, ranging in variety and in budget needs. So without further ado here is our itinerary, I hope it helps you plan an unforgettable trip if you do visit Costa Rica and that it inspires you to travel. I wanted to see as many waterfalls as possible in our limited time. Please note that my itinerary to Costa Rica has many activities and hiking opportunities that often require one to be in good physical shape. But don’t let that stop you, because there are so many things to see and do, even for those not fond of hiking. And remember “Travel is never a matter of money, but of courage.” –Paulo Coelho
Sorry for the newspaper! Hope you’re ready! I’ve recollected to the best of my brains abilities all of the memories from our trip, it may be lengthy, but it is worth reading if you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica. Enjoy! (P.S if you want a quick summary of the itinerary just scroll to the bottom.)
Day 1:I booked the flight through Spirit Airlines, one for their competitive price and two because we were traveling light with just 2 carry-on bags. We arrived on time to San Jose Airport around noon and picked up our rental car from Budget. We then drove for about an hour to our first location of choice in Costa Rica, Villa Caletas Hotel, located in Jaco beach. The drive was easy and the views of the mountains were beautiful.
I chose this location not only because of the beautiful view from their infinity pool, but because I’m a sucker for sunrises/sunsets, even more, if they are on the beach. So for me, it was the perfect place to unwind and enjoy our first day in this tropical paradise. Here we saw some wildlife including toucans, woodpeckers, and monkeys.
The sunset was one of the most gorgeous scenes I have ever seen; we sat at their restaurant “Anfiteatro” to enjoy the scenery. The restaurant wasn’t crowded that day and the service was spectacular, the food was overpriced but it tasted great. The next day we wanted to wake up early for the sunrise but we had too many piña coladas (best ones I’ve ever had!) and we missed it.
Day 2:Our hotel room was a villa with a balcony and the views were splendid, as well as the rooms’ amenities and décor (I loved their bath products made from lemongrass).
We spent most of the day relaxing and enjoying the infinity pool at Villa Caletas.
We then went to explore the grounds of the hotel which are beautiful. They have a gorgeous joint hotel property called Zephyr Place where they also host weddings. After walking around and exploring Jaco and Villa Caletas I can say I would recommend this hotel for a relaxing getaway. The beach is not one of my favorites, but it’s still worth a visit, especially if you like to mingle with the locals.
Now it was time for us to head out to the mountains to our next destination, Rio Celeste Hideaway. The drive from Jaco to Alajuela took about 3.5 hours. The last half hour felt like an eternity because the road that leads to Rio Celeste Hideaway is very bumpy and needs to be driven with caution. When you drive to this hotel the location is so remote that you will not have any cellular network. You are literally on top of one of the highest mountains, so high that the fog, which could have been clouds, rarely ever dissipates. Also, although it was the tail end of their rainy season, while we were here in Rio Celeste, it rained every day for about 4 hours, especially in the morning and night.
We closed the evening by enjoying a delicious dinner at Rio Celeste Hideaway’s restaurant. Their passion fruit ceviche was to die for (ordered it each time we sat for dinner), and every meal and dessert that we tried here was definitely high end and pleasing to the palate (we dined here 3 times during our stay). There isn’t much to do or many places to eat around this area so it was time for us to unwind, enjoy each other’s company, and rest for the next day to make the most of daylight. Our room here was a bit outdated, but what could you ask from mountain lodging in the middle of the rainforest. We had a Casita Deluxe, which was equipped with an outdoor shower(where you could hear the birds and enjoy the beauty of nature) and a deck that faced the rainforest. We would see birds daily and even hear them chirping and singing from all the windows in the room. If you love to connect with nature this is an amazing place to do just that.
Day 3: We woke up bright and early to see the sunrise but the clouds and fog had overtaken the sky so there was nothing to be seen. We made our way to breakfast, which was included at this hotel, and was very good, we had a “desayuno tipico” with plantain, beans and rice, eggs, and tortillas. From there we drove just down the street to Tenorio National Park (12$ p/p), which is where Rio Celeste is located. The hike to see the river was pretty difficult around this time because of the rain. There was a lot of mud accumulated from previous rainy days and this made the hike a bit strenuous.
I wanted to take my rain boots but we decided to listen to a hotel employee who said the boots would just weigh us down (bad idea). I definitely recommend rain boots, or hiking boots, for this hike because the mud will be slippery and there are also rocks. The paths will be better, safer and faster hiked if you have the appropriate shoes (they even rent rain boots/hiking boots at the entrance of the park).
Although a little difficult, the reward of experiencing one of the most beautiful waterfalls is totally worth each step of this hike. The waterfall was a pretty blue due to the sulfur and volcanic reactions with the river water. In some areas of the park, you can smell the sulfur which is not a good smell at all, but you win some you lose some.
We were blessed and so glad we went on this day, because the next day they had to close the park due to the damage on the hikes path because of the rain/tourists from the previous day (my advice is to try and have your hotel call the park before you make the trip and ensure it will be open, we saw a lot of tourists being turned around after making a day trip from La Fortuna). After enjoying the park and river for about 3 hours we left and went to eat across the street from the park at a “soda”, the food was great and affordable (a soda is what Costa Ricans call typical cuisine that is “home cooked”). All of the food service places in Costa Rica that we visited were super clean and well kept. So finding cheap eats was always a win-win. From there we drove back up the mountain to the hotel and dipped into their Jacuzzi. The pool area was not crowded during this time, which is a plus for us.
Day 4:We woke up early and drove to La Fortuna which was about 2 hours away. The views of the Arenal Volcano are gorgeous and you can’t miss them as soon as you drive into La Fortuna. The day was a bit cloudy so you couldn’t really make out the peak of the volcano, but it was still beautiful. During our drive, we traveled through a huge bridge that is above the Arenal Lake and the view was breathtaking! We planned to do the hanging bridges there which were 26$ p/p; 16 bridges total and a lot of beautiful scenery including a waterfall and plenty of birds and monkeys. We ate at their restaurant Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges called “Sal y Pimienta”. The food was great!
We had a fun time here and the hike was very safe and easy per my standards. From here we went to La Fortuna Waterfall and spent the rest of the day there until they closed (5 pm). The waterfall was PERFECT! The water was a bit chilly but that didn’t stop us from going in. The hike is basically a lot of steps upon steps, and it’s great going down, but when you come up, that’s another story. They have a lot of “rest stops” because going up the steps gets very tiring. Overall this hike was easy and very safe. When we went they were not allowing guests to go right underneath the waterfall, do to the strength of the water pressure coming down at that time. We were still able to experience the waterfall through a side passage. We were very careful not to fall and used caution when navigating through the rocks. The water as a bit cold, but it felt refreshing after the hike. After we had our adventure with the waterfall we exited the park and there was an orchid garden with gazillion types of orchids, but since it was not their season none of them were bloomed (I was a little disappointed since orchids are such pretty flowers).
When we got back to Alajuela we tried to hike the hotel’s trail to Rio Celeste (which you can actually swim in, at Tenorio they won’t let you swim) but the trail was under construction and there was a bridge down. This was a bummer because it was one of the reasons I booked this hotel. The part of the trail we did do (which we shouldn’t have since there was a CAUTION sign and tape at the entrance hahaha daredevils we are) was very easy and woodsy (of course). But it came to a halt when we got to the fallen bridge which was only 100 meters away from seeing the waterfall! There was a dog at the property that followed us through the whole trail; it was kinda fun even if bathing in the fall didn’t happen! Defeated and tired we went back to our room.
Day 5: This day was my husband’s birthday! He was so happy to know we were going to our own private villa with a hot spring pool! We woke up early and drove back up to La Fortuna and arrived at Nayara Springs Villas, an adults-only resort. I had informed the hotel that it was his birthday only once, and every single encounter we had with staff none of them failed to wish him a happy birthday. They really made it special for us and even decorated the room and provided us with champagne. Our stay here was nothing far from PERFECT! I felt like I was in a dream every time I opened my eyes.
The hot spring pool was unbelievable; we literally stayed in the room the WHOLE day. This was amazing but also took time away from all the things I wanted to do. It was my husband’s birthday so I let him have his way. For dinner, we made reservations to one of the many marvelous restaurants this hotel had to offer; “Amor Loco”. Dinner was to die for, and of course, I had a passion fruit ceviche AGAIN! I loved this dish here in Costa Rica and it didn’t disappoint in this restaurant either. As my love for passion fruit has no boundaries I also ordered a passion fruit cocktail! Delicious and beautifully decorated with a Moroccan flair! It was so good I still think about it and try to find it in menus in my hometown, but no such luck. The entertainment was also great; live music always makes the atmosphere ten times better for me. We didn’t really explore any nightlife in La Fortuna either, usually, we love to party, but this trip I didn’t really find much nightlife to my interest; we basically stayed in the room and conversed for hours. This resort itself has a lot to offer, it’s all-encompassing and amazing (coffee and ice cream shop on site, can it get any better?).
Day 6:Because we had a hot springs pool right in our room (and it was that awesome) we didn’t really venture out to any other hot springs. But I did get high recommendations for Tabacon Hot Springs and wish I would have made it there. This was our last day in Costa Rica, big bummer. We lounged around in the room, enjoyed our breakfast(included and perfect!) and snoozed in the hammock while listening to the soundtrack of nature. We did manage to make it out of the room to see the volcanic views around the property. Then later that evening it was time to pack and snap back into reality.
-Mosquito Repellent ( I took a small spray bottle filled with ½ eucalyptus oil & ½ lemongrass)
-Hats & Sunscreen
-Bathing suits & Cover-ups
-Boots/Hiking shoes (if you plan to hike or explore)
-Sweater (for the possible rainy cold nights)
-Shorts & Comfy Tops
-The best time to visit Costa Rica is during the “dry” season which is late December to late April. Although in mid-November to early December you will start to see the shift in weather and there will be fewer chances of rain. Prices for flights and hotels usually go up during the dry season because it is considered summer for Costa Ricans and a lot of tourists visit around this time. Luckily for me, my husband’s birthday is on December 5th so we got to save money by not booking in high season and also had some great weather most of the time we were there.
-The currency in Costa Rica is called Colones (Costa Rican Colon), but they gladly accept US dollars in most places. You can usually exchange money when you get to Costa Rica, and I would recommend that because the exchange rate will be better. We exchanged money in the hotels we stayed at and it was usually 1 USD = 530 Colones.
-Because I often plan my trips way ahead of time and do a lot of research, including restaurants to things to do. I always make a folder for the destination I’m heading to and include all the travel documents from the airline tickets, rental car information to hotel confirmation. That way you stay organized and have everything handy when needed.
-Check with your cell phone carrier about out of country data plans/charges because the best/cheapest way to get around in Costa Rica is by rental car and you will need the navigation system to assist you. Paper maps are great too, but for me, nothing beats Google maps/waze. If not then I recommend renting a GPS from the rental car company. (I have att&t and its only 10$/day for service out of the country). The service in the mountains is sometimes not the best, so if you’re trying to get directions ensure you do so when you have wifi or good cellular service, then even if the service goes down the maps app will continue on with directions to your location.
-“Pura Vida” is a way of life in Costa Rica. You may hear it a lot. It literally means “pure life”, to live in such a way that you’re always in a state of bliss, to live simply, to live happily. At least that’s what I captured. I loved this about the Costa Rican culture. Everyone was very courteous and pleasant. Everyone was happy and helpful! It was beneficial that both my husband and I are both fluent in Spanish, but in most places, there was an English speaker.
-During the time we went it was already dark by 5 pm, so make sure you wake up really early if you want to make the best of your day.
Wish I Would Have:
-Taken more pictures of the properties (hotels), the food, and landscapes. I think I took too many photos of myself, a little narcissist ehhh? (hope there’s a blog learning curve)
-Visited Manuel Antonio and El Rincon de la Vieja.
-Done the volcano hike at Arenal, took a boat trip through Lake Arenal, booked white water rafting in Pacuare, went to Tabacon hot springs or any other hot spring, and I definitely wish I would have ziplined. (there are plenty of companies that you can book all these activities through and your hotel can assist you ahead of time to plan them)
-Stayed the whole time in La Fortuna with a day trip to Rio Celeste, instead of driving back and forth from Alajuela (Rio Celeste).
-Researched nightlife more in-depth.
-Ate ceviche 7 times a day.
-And so much moreeeeee, which is why I need to go back soon!
~700$ round trip from FLL-SJO for both of us
Budget car rental w/ insurance ~150$ for 6 days
Villa Caletas ~316$/night
Rio Celeste Hideaway ~ 250$/night
Nayara Springs ~ 700$/night
Trip Total Spent Roughly: 3100$ / 2 people / 6 days
Disclaimer: Travel bug may be contracted and trip results may vary, all prices are approximate and include taxes.
|Hotel||Restaurants||Things to do|
|Villa Caletas – Jaco||Mirador, Anfiteatro||Jaco Beach|
|Rio Celeste Hideaway – Alajuela||Cantina Delirio, Sodas||Tenorio National Park/Rio Celeste|
|Nayara Springs Adults Only Resort – La Fortuna||Amor Loco, Mis Amores, Altamira||La Fortuna Waterfall, Hanging Bridges, Hot springs|
And with that, I leave you to plan your next getaway! If you need any help or have questions about anything don’t hesitate to ask me. And when you return, please tell me how it went! Did this help you?
Pura Vida! Hasta la proxima aventura,