I recently returned from an assignment in Costa Rica in which I was to experience as much as possible in 10 days. Prior to traveling, I had a lot of emotions: surprise, nervousness, happiness. But being a lover of all flora and fauna, I was mostly ecstatic for the opportunity to explore bio-diverse Costa Rica. The experience was exhilarating. This is an overview of my grand tour of Costa Rica in 10 days.
First Stop: San Jose, Costa Rica
Landing in the capital city of San Jose, I welcomed the balmy night air and a nice chat with my driver, who did his best to point out buildings and parks to me through the darkness. I arrived at Hotel Grano de Oro, which looks like a mansion right out of the New Orleans Garden District. Warm reception and sweet little peek-a-boo gardens located within the hotel made me feel like I had stepped into the Central American version of southern hospitality.
The difference between San Jose at night and San Jose during the day is, well, night and day. In the morning, the city is bustling and full of people. The buildings are vibrant colors and the parks are shining in the sun. But I couldn’t stay and revel in the energy of the city, my destination lay in the central highlands.
Second Stop: La Paz Waterfall Gardens
The La Paz Waterfall Gardens are a fun getaway not far from the action in San Jose. My tour of the gardens was spent holding toucans who were way more curious to look at my face instead of the camera, trying to coerce morpho butterflies to land on me, and marveling at the beautiful big cats. I even got a nice little snack of house made cheese and warm sugar cane juice to get my energy up before moving on to the waterfall hike portion of the gardens. La Paz boasts 5 beautiful waterfalls and the preservation of the nature and forest around the falls is wonderful. Ducking under vines, feeling the mist from the falls, and watching water trickle down the stony walls gives you the distinct feeling you’re on a jungle trek.
Third Stop: Santa Juana
The next morning I said goodbye to San Jose and hello to the airport again. To get to Santa Juana, I first took a domestic flight to Quepos/Manuel Antonio which was easily the most interesting and incredibly scenic flight I’ve ever taken in my life. The ride only lasted for about 20 minutes but I won’t soon forget the lush hills and mountains and sparkling rivers I stared down at.
Before heading to Manuel Antonio, I stopped in the village of Santa Juana to check out Santa Juana Lodge. The moment I got there, it truly hit me that I was in Costa Rica. It was picturesque; there was a slight mist hanging over the mountains that surrounded the hill I stood atop, there were toucans, tall palms, farms, little houses, the smell of freshly brewed coffee, and it was silent- save the cawing of birds. Here I learned about the conservation and rehabilitation efforts that are taking place to repopulate Costa Rica with the famous Red Macaw. I also learned to fish for tilapia with a stick and string, basically making me a professional fisherman. Now if I could just get Nat Geo to give me my own show.
Fourth Stop: Manuel Antonio National Park
I could tell Manuel Antonio was full of wildlife even before I got to the Manuel Antonio National Park, considering when I stepped out onto my balcony at Hotel Si Como No that morning, I witnessed a group of 5 howler monkeys running across the roof of the adjacent building as though they had just been up to trouble.
It was in the national park that I began to understand Costa Rica’s relationship with nature. The environment, the land, the animals are all something that the locals are proud of and they certainly take pleasure in showing them off to travelers. Many of the animals I saw were carrying babies (quite a few pairs of mom and baby sloths!) much to every visitors’ and guides’ joy alike. In another tender moment, I witnessed a hummingbird “school of love” where a mature hummingbird teaches the young males to sing properly. While I was running through nature like a kid on a playground I nearly forgot that this was the only opportunity I had on my trip for a dip in the ocean so I made sure to take advantage of it at one of the park’s 4 beaches.
Fifth Stop: Monteverde Cloud Forest
The next stop in my busy itinerary was Monteverde Cloud Forest. Monteverde was a pleasant surprise. I had heard of Costa Rica’s most famous cloud forest before and expected all manner of fog and rain. Instead I found dreamy misty mornings and warm sunshine in the afternoon.
I must admit to being quite excited about the Don Juan Coffee tour. Costa Rican’s drink a lot of coffee, and after tasting the difference between theirs and the coffee I sipped in the Miami Airport, I was ready to immerse myself in the caffeine culture fully. The Don Juan Coffee Plantation offers a fun, interactive look at the production of coffee, sugar cane, and chocolate, all of which were delicious and I would happily consume again. It also served as a lesson in Tico culture; we, a group of strangers, were encouraged to work together, communicate, laugh, and become friendly as we raced to pick coffee, shared opinions on the bitter notes of 90% cocoa candy, and juiced sugar cane for each other’s drinks.
The true star in Monteverde, in my opinion, is the the town of Santa Elena, a walkable distance from some of the area hotels. It reminded me of a cute little college town with its small shops and cafes everywhere. Tourists and locals blended perfectly in the streets and I felt at ease and embraced as a foreigner.
Last Stop: Arenal Volcano
The final stop on my journey was Arenal, the epitome of vacation. No bit of this town is boring. I found myself present in every moment I spent at Arenal, unwilling to miss anything it offered me.
The Tabacon Thermal Resort served as my mecca. Every day I spent in Arenal, I also spent in the Tabacon hot springs in my free time. The location of the springs feels like a long lost tropical labyrinth of decadence and peaceful seclusion. There are bridges to cross, gardens to admire, waterfalls to discover, and pools to wade in. I let that sweet heat embrace me and all of the intense adventuring I did during the day melt right off.
Speaking of intense adventuring, the Costa Rica Sky Zip Line is something special. I’ve done plenty of ziplines and they’ve all seemed the same so I felt prepared for the ride in the sky that I was about to embark on. That is, until I heard how high up the lines are- 650 ft. For perspective, that is 200 ft taller than the tallest roller coaster in the U.S.! Bring. It. On. Gliding hundreds of feet in the air may sound intimidating but the views are very worth it. I was so focused on the lovely vista that I forgot all about the height and everything else around me.
With Arenal in the distance, my journey came to a close. Waiting for my flight on the morning of my departure allowed me some time for Airport Reflections. If I could give anyone traveling to Costa Rica advice it would be:
- Agree to everything offered to you, you won’t be disappointed.
- Watch and listen, something amazing could be right beside you.
- And if you take one souvenir from Costa Rica, let it be coffee.
Note: We do not normally recommend visiting 6 destinations in 10 days. Our Costa Rica Experts travel to experience as much of the country as possible so we can make first-hand recommendations.
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