Costa Rica

Beaches, forests, wildlife, volcanoes, and a pretty much anything goes attitude makes Costa Rica one of my favorite destinations. Sometimes called Ticos, the saying Pura Vida really sums up their attitude, which is to live life and have fun. The people are great, have little regard for rules and safety, and the biodiversity is unrivaled. It's easy to go for a short trip or stay for weeks, even months if you've got the time. Costa Rica is very affordable and offers a variety of adventures for every type of traveler.
Last Visit: Jun 2015
Cost: $104/day
Stayed: 7 days
Suggest Staying: 1-3 weeks
English: 4/5
Safety: 4/5
Currency: Colón
Transport: Taxi, bus, car

My Favorites

1. La Fortuna & Arenal

Baldi Hot Springs

Highlights: Volcanoes, hiking, hot springs, nature, wildlife
Suggest Staying: 3-5 days
Stay Around: La Fortuna (Arenal Backpackers Resort or Arenal Hostel Resort)
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Although I only spent maybe a day here, I wished I spent more and will absolutely be back. One of the most popular areas in Costa Rica that isn’t a beach, the area around La Fortuna is gorgeous and right near the Arenal Volcano which you can hike. There are also rainforests where you can walk or zip line through the canopies. The backpacker’s or hostel resort is great, plenty of people to socialize with at the restaurant & bar or the pool. You can have your own private tent or stay in a dorm.

See & Do

  • Parque Nacional Volcan Arenal. Active volcano. You can hike to certain point up the base, which takes about half a day.
  • La Fortuna. The general area and town.
  • Baldi Hot Springs. Not your average hot springs. Get a locker that fits a daypack and wander about the many pools of varying temperatures, man made caves, and water slides. There’s also a fantastic buffet.
  • Monteverde. Cloud rainforest.


  • Monteverde. I didn’t make it there, but was dying to go. The drive up into the mountains and finding your way can be a bit tricky from what I hear, so know how to drive a manual transmission and bring GPS.

2. Poas

Red-Eyed Tree Frog

Highlights: Volcano, waterfalls, white water rafting
Suggest Staying: 2-5 days
Stay Around: San Jose
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An easy day trip from San Jose, I took a small mini-van tour excursion to a coffee plantation, volcano, and waterfalls. I don’t drink or particularly have any interest in coffee, but the plantation was interesting and the chocolate covered coffee beans were great. The hike up the volcano and to the emerald colored lake was incredible and the waterfalls at La Paz were absolutely beautiful.

See & Do

  • Volcan Poas. Active volcano.
  • Botos Lake. Emerald colored lake located at Volcan Poas.
  • La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Exceptional rolling waterfalls in a beautiful forest setting. At the end there are gardens and wildlife. Unfortunately everything is caged, but there are some remarkable tropical animals. Many of the birds you can interact with. There is a butterfly and hummingbird room that is wild. Watch butterflies sipping nectar from fruit and hummingbirds buzzing past you. Then you enter the frog room where you might see a few, some super tiny, and even poisonous. I think they’re too small to kill you, at least so they told us. There is a snake room where upon exit you can hold one around your neck. The buffet was one of the best I ever had. Of course up to this point traveling around through Peru and Ecuador, I hadn’t had real, safe food in a couple weeks so I was also pretty famished. But my tour compadres were all for the buffet too.
  • White Water Rafting. There are a couple spots in Costa Rica for this, I went to Pacuare for an amazing half day adventure down the rapids. For a first timer, I thought it was pretty challenging, but definitely doable. Nothing too insane, but definitely a ton of fun. Unfortunately I have no pictures since I didn’t have a waterproof camera and we were working hard most of the time to get through the rapids. The experience was incredible. The scenery was magical through the tropical forests, occasionally see locals zip lining baskets across the river ad of course all kinds of birds and monkeys. We stopped for lunch half way and then continued.


  • Mountain Driving. Pretty steep and windy roads, so consider taking something if you get motion sickness.
  • White Water Rafting Logistics. While you can go directly from San Jose, I went from La Fortuna on an organized excursion through Red Lava which put me back in San Jose where I was going anyway. So I rafted down the rapids instead of taking the bus. Some things to note. You will leave your stuff with the company and they will bring it to you at your end destination. So, if you have anything sensitive, be mindful of this. Everything was locked up until they brought it to us at the end. I brought a waterproof wallet for money, but be careful to attach it or if you fall in the water it will be gone. There may be a waterproof container on the raft for small bags and electronics. Wear sunblock! You may even need to reapply since you will definitely get wet. You’re in the tropics and out on the river for several hours. Wear sandals or waterproof shoes. Bring water. Don’t touch the plants. I ended up getting some weird rash that must’ve come from our lunch break when I went into the woods for a bathroom break. Pay attention to how they instruct you to hold the oar and position yourself in the raft, otherwise your legs and hands will ache or get blisters. I would recommend finding a reputable company and maybe having someone book it for you. Perhaps ask at the desk if you’re staying at a hotel or hostel.

3. Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio

Highlights: National Park, beaches
Suggest Staying: 1-3 days
Stay Around: Quepos (Casa Buena Vista)
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This is a beautiful area with plenty of beach, forest, and wildlife. It seemed mostly a place to relax and enjoy your natural surroundings. The guesthouse I stayed at was great. Wonderful views, howler monkeys, close to Manuel Antonio, friendly people, nice breakfast.

See & Do

  • Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. Incredible national park with tons of wildlife including several different kinds of monkeys, sloths, birds, snakes (some poisonous so watch out), iguanas, and more I’m sure I didn’t even see. There are also a couple beaches where you can go swimming, several nature trails, and some wooden platforms you can climb up for some great views. The monkeys are not shy and will hang around tourists trying to steal stuff, as will gangs of raccoons (during the day). I would keep your kids away from them. One funny thing happened, when a kid was sitting at a picnic table with his parents about to drink a juice box when a monkey swooped down and snatched it right out of his hand. The monkey raced up the tree, juice box in hand, and sat cheerfully up in the tree just above the crying kid who was now empty handed.


  • Logistics. From San Jose, it’s about a 4 hour bus ride, so you’ll need to stay overnight for the bus to work out. Otherwise, you can rent a car.
  • National Park. It seemed to be hotter farther down south, so be prepared if you’re going to be lugging around lots of stuff. I had checked out in the morning so I was carrying around my backpack all day while sweating profusely. It also kind of sucked because all I wanted to do was go in the water, but my backpack didn’t have a way to secure it from people. Plus, the monkeys and raccoons are very clever in their understanding of how to work zippers, so they were continually getting into people’s things.

4. San Jose

The capital city of Costa Rica, San Jose has some good eats and shops to recharge if you've been traveling around to other places with less in the way of amenities and the like. It is the easiest place to start your Costa Rica adventure, even to use as a home base like I did, taking day and overnight trips. The guesthouse I stayed (Costa Rica Guesthouse) was amazing, I had a huge shower, king size bed, cheap breakfast in the lobby, friendly staff who would hold onto my carry-on during overnight trips until I came back, and a travel agent very knowledgable about all kinds of things to do in the country. The parent company also runs a hostel across the street.

Cost Breakdown

  • Flights: $719 (Quito => San Jose)
  • Lodging: $220 (guesthouses, AirBnB)
  • Transportation: $15 (bus)
  • Activities: $280 (volcano, waterfalls, white water rafting)
  • Food: $210 (estimated $30/day)

Total: $1,444

General Tips

  • Getting Around. The easy way to get around the country seemed to be by bus between cities and mini-van around cities or for day trips and excursions. Of course there are taxies as well. I made San Jose my home base since it's very centrally located and took day trip or overnight trips. It was great because the hostel held my carry-on for me and I just took my backpack. When I came back I picked it up and checked in for another night or two.
  • Rainy Season. I went around June during the shoulder season which was great because it was not at all crowded, but it was pretty rainy most of the time. From what I heard it was just getting into the rainy season there. It is of course the tropics after all, so rain is to be expected. Just be sure to bring rain gear with you, preferably breathable jackets and clothing because it's pretty hot and humid. Farther south seemed to have nicer weather along the coast. I had several nice, sunny days.

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