Costa Rica has always been on my top ten lists of places to explore, so I was absolutely thrilled when Chris mentioned that it’s been on his list too. After months of non-stop planning, the day finally arrived for us to set off on our three-week adventure! Read on to find out why we fell in love with Costa Rica.
Set along the Caribbean Sea in southeast Costa Rica, Puerto Viejo stands out as having a Caribbean feel. It’s easy charm offers unique culture, colorful homes, bamboo bars, and a laid back attitude.
One of my favourite memories of visiting Puerto Viejo was renting a bike and leisurely riding through the quiet jungle roads. As you ride past the main commercial strip, you will find yourself on a quiet coastal road where you will pass seaside restaurants, wide open beaches, and a jungle soundtrack of croaking frogs and singing songbirds. Puerto Viejo is a lively and vibrant place to have a fun and chill vacation.
Bread and Chocolate
If you are looking to get away from beans & rice for breakfast then head over to Bread and Chocolate! It’s an all natural bakery and café just off of Main Street in Puerto Viejo. It’s one of the more popular places for breakfast and lunch, and you will see why once you bite into their yummy food. The options are endless as they offer homemade bread, bagels, eggs and hash browns, waffles and pancakes, sandwiches, sweet treats, granola and yogurt, and much more.
$5-8US breakfast, lunch.
Caribeans Coffee & Chocolate
Did Someone Say Chocolate. Yes please!
If you love chocolate then this tour is for you! The owner, Paul, takes you around his property and tells you his story of how he got into the coffee and chocolate business. His story is fascinating and very informative. As you participate in the easy hike around the beautiful property, expect to see birds, harmless spiders, sloths, and cacao trees.
Check out the thorns on this tree.
The tour ends with a stunning view and a generous amount of chocolate.
Pairing chocolate with ginger, garlic, and cayenne? Yep, you get to use your imagination and find your favourite combination of chocolate, spices and/or herbs. So much fun, and delicious!
A shot of chocolate… yes please!
Puerto Viejo Tips
1. Rent a bike. There are a few place in the small town of Puerto Viejo were you can rent bikes for $8US all day or $35US for a week. They asked for a $10 dollar deposit but you will get it back once you return the bike. All bikes come with a lock, so you will be able to lock it up while you swim or stop for a bite to eat.
2. Never leave your belongings unattended. If you want to swim, take them with you in a dry bag, leave them with a family member, or take turns swimming. Petty theft is a problem in Costa Rica, so leave your valuables at home.
La Fortuna is one of Costa Rica’s most talked about destinations, so naturally we had to go see what all the hype was about. Our first impression of La Fortuna was lacking, but once we got to explore we saw why it was such a popular destination.
Behind the church is a massive volcano lurking behind the clouds. Arenal volcano provides a wonderful backdrop from most places you visit. On one occasion we could almost see the very tip of it.
La Fortuna Waterfall
Get ready to hike down approximately 500 stairs and then back up! It’s totally worth the hike because along the way you will have breathtaking views of the 230-foot waterfall. Once you get to the bottom you can go for a swim in the creek and waterholes near the large and powerful waterfall.
• Be prepared to pay $15USD per person. I’m not going to lie, $15 to see a waterfall is steep, but that is something you just have to expect when you visit Costa Rica. You will be charged for everything. Well, almost all touristy things.
• Wear your swimming suit just in case you decide to get your toes wet.
• Bring a backpack with water and a snack or lunch because you might want to hang out for a while and enjoy the amazing scenery.
• There are benches on the trail so you can take your time climbing back up the 500 steps.
The Springs Resort & Spa
Wonderful and unforgettable!
If you like to soak in volcanic hot springs then this place is for you! Chris and I had our eyes set on this place before we left home and we are so glad we purchased a two-day pass. It did cost us $60USD per person but you are able to arrive after 8AM and leave at 10PM, and you can go back and forth to the property as much as you like during those two days.
You will need to travel down a gravel road to get there, or you can break out of your private chopper onto the helipad (wink wink). A helicopter would have been nice but it wasn’t in our budget, so we opted to travel down the potholed gravel road for at least 20 minutes, but in the end it was worth all the humps and bumps.
The hotel is large but very private. The landscape is gorgeous, the views of the Arenal volcano are unbelievable, and the hot springs are heavenly. There are 12 pools surrounding the lush landscape ranging from 83° F to 103° F. The environments around the pools vary from waterfalls to a tranquil and intimate forest experience, but beware of the wild turkeys; they rustle around in the trees, which ended up spooking me!
We even stayed for dinner and dined at Tres Cascadas (Three Waterfalls). I had the grilled vegetable napoleon, which consisted of a variety of veggies stacked on a breaded Portobello mushroom. Everything was delicious!
Monteverde is a small town in the mountainous north-western Costa Rica. It is famous for it’s cloud forests, nature, wildlife, zip lines, and suspension and hanging bridges. But in order to get there we had quite a drive ahead of us!
The scenery was pretty but the long two-hour dirt road to get to Montverde was a bit tedious. Don’t be deceived by the lesser kilometer dirt road way. Take the paved highway even if it seems like it will take you longer.
At least we got to see a rainbow on the way! Actually you will get to see many rainbows in Monteverde because there is a constant mist that blows through town from the mountains.
We finally made it to Monteverde!
The weather is cooler here and there always seems to be a fine mist blowing through town from the mountains. It’s a good thing I brought a scarf.
The Tree House Restaurant & Café
The Tree House Restaurant & Café is a fun place to stop for lunch or dinner in the middle of Santa Elena. It is an open-air restaurant built around a massive tree, so bring a sweater because it can get chilly in the evening. The food was nicely presented, but nothing to write home about. This is a tourist destination so it is a bit pricy. But the atmosphere was nice and the restaurant was unique, so I think it was worth the visit.
If you want a quick bite to eat then you have to stop at Taco Taco. It’s a very popular gathering place for anyone who wants yummy Mexican food. The only downside is that you have to order at the counter and pick it up when it’s ready. There are a few benches outside to sit but when it’s busy it may be hard to find a spot.
Selvatura Park (Treetop Walkway)
The weather changed drastically as we moved from the town of Monteverde to Selvatura Park. I was hoping for sunny weather but I have to admit I was kind of glad it was overcast and misting. It added to the mood.
The Selvatura Adventure Park is set over 1.200 acres of protected cloudforest. Most of this land is not available to the public but there are a handful of activities that allow visitors to experience its beauty. The Canopy Tour (zip lining) is supposed to be amazing and I regret not doing it. It’s cables and platforms are built into the cloudforest allowing you to immerse yourself within the forest environment. We ended up talking to one of the hotel guests later that day and they said that they had a blast and they even saw toucans.
The treetop walkway leads you through and above the rainforest. There are a series of eight suspension bridges, which vary from 150ft to 500ft in length and are suspended from heights ranging from 36ft to 180ft. If you are lucky you may be able to spot monkeys, sloths, and birds. Unfortunately we did not see any wildlife but did enjoy the well-maintained trails and the breathtaking views form the bridges.
We started our treetop walk early and it seemed like we were the only ones there. The trail loop is only 3km long, so we did it twice. The first time we took our time and enjoyed the scenery and the second time we went faster so we could get a bit of a workout in. The trail has a few stairs and slightly inclines in sections, but overall it wasn’t too difficult.
The first bridge was low but as you continue onto on the bridges gradually get higher.
If you love trees then this park is for you.
The bridges do sway a bit when you walk on them so if you are terrified of heights this may not be for you. I’m afraid of heights but the bridges felt safe and sturdy. As you peer over the bridge, you can see that you are hanging just above or in the tree canopy, so it doesn’t feel like you are too high up.
• Bring warm clothes! Chris and I thought it was a bit chilly.
• Bring a rain resistant or waterproof jacket because you most likely will get rained on.
What I liked
• The beautiful scenery
• The trees. If you are a tree lover then you will love this walk.
• Well maintained trails
What I didn’t like
• The trail was too short. It only took us an hour.
• Didn’t see any wildlife
• The cost was $30US per person. Too expensive for just a short hike through the forest.
On the road again! And we were so thankful for the heat! We both needed to warm up after our chilly Monteverde adventure.
Of course we hit another dirt road driving to Samara. If you do decide to travel by car around Costa Rica then expect many dirt roads, and apparently cows!
This is typical in Costa Rica. You travel down a dirt road and then hit water. When you are in a rental car you have to be extra careful, so we opted out of crossing and turned around to find another way to our hotel. I still think we could have crossed it. Most people will get out and wade in to test the water, ensuring that it is shallow enough to cross (if it’s below your knees then you are good to go) but that was something neither one of us wanted to do on our first trip to Costa Rica.
The Flying Crocodile
After spending three hours in the car we finally made it to the Flying Crocodile! We had a little trouble finding the hotel because of our detour, but eventually got help from some friendly locals who lead us in the right direction. This hotel was about twenty minutes from Samara, but we found that it was worth the drive. The uniqueness of this hotel is what grabbed our attention in the first place. Each room is its own building with a different theme. The grounds are beautiful and many animals have made it their home. This place is buzzing with wildlife so don’t be concerned when you hear the shrill calls of the howler monkeys at sunrise and sunset.
Our villa was Rancho. It was uniquely designed with a large stone bathroom, and the living room and bedroom upstairs.
This beach is about 4km south east of Samara. As we pulled up to the palm-fringed boulevard we could see the wide crescent beach. This place was deserted! I hear the beach gets crowded with Tico families on weekends and holidays so if you want the beach to yourself then visit on a weekday. The sand was white and clean and we had a nice ocean and jungle view as we sat under a palm tree.
Gusta Beach Restaurant
This restaurant is in a great location. Nice beach vibe and lighting. The best seat in the house!
The food was good but the service was a little on the slow side. But to be honest, when Chris and I go out for dinner we are never in a hurry, so the slow service doesn’t bother us too much. Unless we are both starving and ready to bite each other’s heads off! We were enticed by the great location and the ambience, and we got the best seat in the house… a romantic seat for two!
A Hidden Gem
This beach is off the beaten path, but worth your time. You will travel down a bumpy dirt road to get here, so think about bringing a 4 x 4 vehicle. Chris and I loved this beach; it’s secluded, with nice white sand and lots of trees for shade. The only downside is that the waves are big. Not too nice for swimming, but it is a surfer’s paradise! If you surf, then this is the place for you.
There was no way I was going to dive into that wave!
This was one of our favourite places to eat in Samara. The owners were so friendly and helpful. When our car got broken in to, they took the time to help us and treat us to their wonderful food! The veggie burgers were delicious! If you want healthy and tasty vegan food, then this is the place for you!
Makanda by the sea (adults only)
An exquisite hillside retreat! This hotel is nestled in the forest with an impeccable modern design and a romantic feel for couples. This was by far one of our favourite places to stay in Costa Rica! The location was perfect, the staff was helpful and friendly, the view was amazing, and the wildlife was entertaining, especially the rain forest crabs. Check out why we loved it so much…
The bedroom faced the ocean so we could watch the gorgeous sunset from our deck.
How could you not fall in love with this view from our hotel room? The sunsets are amazing here!
Breakfast was served to us on our hotel room deck. We felt pampered and spoiled.
Who doesn’t like to relax by the pool?
Enjoyed an intimate dip in the infinity pool.
The beach was only minutes away from the hotel.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most visited parks in the country and I can see why; it has the convenience of hiking in the jungle, as well as beautiful beaches and wildlife. The park itself is nice and set in a beautiful jungle with back-to-back crescent shaped beaches. However, we did feel like the park was a bit of a tourist trap. Considering what Costa Rica is supposed to be about, for that reason alone we were a little disappointed. We did however see some wildlife…
A sloth was spotted by one of the tour guides that we happened to pass by. We didn’t spend the money on hiring a tour guide because the park gets pretty crowded, and you will pass groups of people pointing at wildlife. Besides, Chris and I like to move at our own pace and time.
I love iguanas, so when I travel and see iguanas running across the road instead of squirrels, I get very excited. Check out this enormous iguana drinking water off of the table.
And white-faced monkeys were everywhere. They will steal your lunch so keep it packed away. Many of the monkeys were digging through the garbage and eating junk food that was left behind. This was very sad to witness. I know the park is trying to cut down on people bringing junk food in, but I believe it’s also our responsibility to take out whatever we bring into the park. Let’s enjoy these beautiful creatures without causing them harm.
Playa Espadilla Sur beach
The two main beaches inside the park are Playa Manuel Antonio and Playa Espadilla Sur. If you are looking to beat the crowds, like we were, then head over to Playa Espadilla Sur. The beach was deserted when we arrived, so we had our pick of basically anywhere. The beach was lined with trees so we could find a shady spot, the water was calm, the sand was soft and the view was amazing. What else could you ask for? It was a perfect day to relax!
This was our amazing view from Playa Espadilla Sur beach.
What do you do when an unexpected wave hits your towels? You find a couple of sticks and hang them to dry.
1. Watch out for parking scams. For anyone who is driving, keep driving to the parking lot and don’t stop on the side streets. There are men who look like they are wearing the national park uniform. They have a whistle to point you to another spot and tell you to park there if you are going to the beach. They will tell you there is no further parking beyond that point (which is not true) and they will charge you $10. So just keep driving.
2. Arrive early to beat the crowds.
3. Entrance fee is $16USD per person.
4. Bring a lunch, a swimsuit, and walking shoes. After a hike around the park, stop at the beach and enjoy a bite to eat and an afternoon dip. The beach, water and scenery are incredible.
Manuel Antonio Falafel Bar
A friend introduced us to this place and we were very happy she did! We enjoyed lunch here on several occasions and it felt like our own little sanctuary where we could sit back and eat amazing food, sip refreshing smoothies and enjoy each others company. So if you are looking for a quick bite to eat, friendly staff, and delicious food, then we highly recommend that you give the Falafel Bar a try. You won’t regret it!
While visiting Manuel Antonio during our Costa Rican adventure, paddle boarding was one activity we had to cross off our list before returning home. And we are so glad we did it! This was our first time paddle boarding and it was so much fun and easy to learn. We got to explore an inlet while enjoying the gorgeous views of the rainforest. Our instructor taught us the proper stance, paddling techniques, turning, and more. They also provide a dry bag just in case you forget to leave any valuables behind. Not only did paddle boarding provide us with a core workout, but an experience we will never forget.
This is how you shower after paddle boarding – with some pvc pipes and a trickle of water!
Playa Isla Palo Seco
The last couple days of our vacation were special. We stayed at Clandestino Beach Resort and spent our days relaxing, walking on one of the longest beaches I’ve ever seen, and hiding out in our bungalow. This was our time together and we wanted it to be very private. So we did nothing except…
…hang out in our lovely bungalow that included a cute chair swing on the porch…
…chill out on one of the many hammocks sprinkled around the resort…
…and enjoyed an evening picnic, watched the amazing sunset and got cozy on the beach! It was sad to have our vacation come to an end, but our time in Costa Rica will be a memorable one and we will return one day to see and explore more of this beautiful place!
1. Playa Isla Palo Seco is very secluded and a bit of a trek to get here. If you are traveling from Quepos then expect about a 40 minute drive, which includes driving down an isolated dirt road for about 20 minutes.
2. If you want to escape the hustle and bustle then this is the beach for you. The entire time we were on the beach we saw maybe a couple of people. The waves are quite big and there’s a strong undertow so it’s really only suitable for experienced swimmers and boogie boarders.
3. The owner has three dogs that hang around the property, so if you are not a dog lover then this place is not for you.
4. The restaurant is a very large bamboo hut that is beautiful and open, with views of the ocean. The staff members were friendly and the food was good, if a bit on the expensive side like most hotel restaurants. Just remember that there is nothing else around so if you don’t want to eat at the hotel then you will have to drive a bit in order to get a bite to eat.
5. Make sure you bring some insect repellent because the mosquitos come out at night. I brought my homemade bug spray and didn’t get one bite the entire time we were in Costa Rica.
By the way, if you don’t want to leave your footprints in the sand, then leave a proposal.
I said yes.