As a girl living in LA, I boast about all the things one can do here. But Costa Rica showed me the things I was living without – the rainforest, the tropical weather, forest animals, and the natural hot springs. I think I could retire here.
I went with my girl Fidel aka GlobeBeyondYourself, who is quite the travel blogger. I’d live and die by my friend’s advice on travel since she’s always managing to go on some cool trips around the world. She is legit #travelgoals.
She suggested Costa Rica for three reasons: 1) the flight was direct 2) cheap-ish ($400 from LA) and 3) it was like 5 hours away. We both had the Thanksgiving holiday days off so it was like a day or two off of work. I took her advice and we went.
We were only there for 6 days, so we had to limit our destinations to two places: La Fortuna & Tamarindo (see you next time Monte Verde). Here’s the scoop behind each one, broken down to the 4 major things and you MUST DO in Costa Rica!
1. The Rainforest
Ahh the rain. And forest. One of which Los Angeles rarely sees, the other doesn’t exist here. To say I was in awe is an absurd understatement. Not only are there TONS of activities to do in the rainforest (more on that later), but even just being in the midst of 500-foot trees in the rain, crossing hanging bridges was something so primal and yet probably my best time.
In fact, our hotel was in La Fortuna – the same city that houses the rainforest, Arenal (now inactive) volcano, and the subsequent natural hot spring (ahhh) that I enjoyed so much. That said, our hotel was surrounded by lush green trees and shrubs, and the rain poured like 90% of the time. I was in heaven. Fidel who is from Washington was not so impressed with the rain, but I reveled in it. I basically took ownership of our hotel room’s patio hammock the whole time we were there because it was so damn relaxing to lay swinging watching and hearing the rain amidst all those large trees.
Part of what makes Costa Rica unique and beautiful is their commitment to environmental conservation. They refuse to make commuting easier by cutting down trees in favor of highways. It’s fantastic and admirable, but it makes everything so long to get to. That said, after our 5 hour flight, Fidel and I had a three and a half hour car ride to our first destination: La Fortuna. We checked into our hotel and went to our first excursion – a chocolate and coffee tour. It was a good small enough activity that wouldn’t be too daunting for jet lagged travelers, and came with coffee!
I was admittedly half awake for the explanation of things, but the gist of it was that Costa Rica produces premium coffee and cocao beans because of its tropical environment and altitude. We even got to taste the coffee beans, which kind of tasted like bananas, but more bitter. We also got to grind the cocao beans, and create our own hot chocolate. It was bitter though and not as enjoyable as the sugary artificial stuff I get at Whole Foods to tell myself it’s healthier.
At the end of the coffee and choco tour, they gave us coffee. I had been sleepily waiting the WHOLE time for it. But it was worth the wait – and that’s not just lip service. The Costa Rican coffee was so smooth and rich, without the effect of making me feel jittery or too caffeinated. I bought a bag of coffee from there and though I have ran out since I’ve been back home, I found a comparable blend at Coffee Bean that didn’t disappoint.
Get mud on your face or at least get wet!
Waterfalls. Ziplining. Rapelling. They’re more than just cool and cliche – they are powerful, humbling, and aw-inspiring (I used that adjective already didn’t I?) In the interest of keeping this post digestible, I’ll spare you the details of each, plus by now I’m sure I’m in the minority not having ziplined before now. If you haven’t yet done it, do it. It was exhilarating, especially because the lines were wet from the rain, and therefore faster than other ziplines.
Rappelling is not for the faint of heart. I almost backed out of doing it because when your mind goes to “what would happen if I lose control?”, you lose your nerve. But the sweet staff from the activities company wouldn’t allow me to turn back.
And waterfalls … well there’s no need to be brave to sit in the beauty of these cascadas.
I’m mixing days 2 and 3, because not all this was done in one day. The second day we went to see the Arenal volcano, and went to the waterfall, and had lunch, and capped off the day by walking in the rainforest in the rain. Day 1 was the coffee and chocolate tour and the traveling.
Day 3 we did the ziplining and rappelling, and capped it off by the best part of the trip: Hot Springs.
2. Get thee to a Hot Spring
Maybe it was the alternating mist and rain. Maybe because it was set outside in a backdrop of twilight. Maybe I just love me a good warm bath (remember my Turkish bath experience?). Whatever the reason, this experience was one of my most favorite things to do EVER. After two days of pretty intense outdoor activities, Fidel and I earned the 25 varying-degree pools of Baldi Hot Springs. Though there are many hot springs, this one was one of the top-rated and has a kid area and large adult slide. But aside from being so relaxing and so cool with the poolside bars, I found the contrasting cold rain and hot bed of water to be the most satisfying. It’s like when you have the air conditioning on very cold but like lay under a bunch of blankets — only a thousand times cooler.
3. The Beach – Tamarindo
I’d be lying if I said I was as enchanted with the beach views of Tamarindo as I was of the island views of Greece. While I do recognize that Tamarindo was beautiful, and that our hotel was one of the nicest I’ve ever stayed in, this beach is known as being a hotspot for surfers because of the waves.
Think of it this way: I’m from Los Angeles, we are the living epitome of the beach culture – we get to wear jeans and sandals to work for goodness’ sake! So, definitely I thought the beach was pretty, but in retrospect, Fidel and I should’ve at least opted for the Caribbean side to experience something different than Tamarindo’s Pacific. But on a brighter note, look at the view from our hotel!
Tamarindo was a nice relaxing ending to our adventures in Arenal. It’s community was more tourist friendly in that more people spoke English and there were more shops. Arenal still felt like a town of locals where there were grocery stores, Spanish-only speakers, and fewer visitor/souvenir shops, unless you’re in the national parks.
Our last full day there, we rode back to San Jose to fly the next morning. The drive was 6 hours! But despite the long drives, we got to see parts of the country we wouldn’t have seen if we flew. Also, if I’ve learned anything about traveling, sometimes the best memories are created on the way to your destination – whether its laughing with your best friend on the ferry rides through the Greek islands, failing at Turkish in a cab ride, or awkwardly admiting you have to pee to a group of fellow international travelers on a shuttle ride through Costa Rica.