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Costa Rica

5 Most Favorite Experiences

Spider Monkey Canyoning @ Arenal

Rappelling? Through Waterfalls? Oh and zip lining! I had never done anything like this before my friend, and I did the Spider monkey canyon tour. An increasing heart rate mixture of descending to the bottom of a canyon in the middle of the jungle, where the crystal clear waters of Rio Arenal form, where the best idea seems to be a refreshing dip. After a serious of easy, and some challenging but fun rappels, its time for some zip lining speed to finish off this truly unique experience.

Horesback Riding Costa Rica

Horseback Riding @ Rincon De La Vieja

Rincon De La Vieja National Park is just a short 20-30 minute drive north of Liberia. The area is beautiful, the park hosts a mix of tropical forests and dwarf cloud forests. There are many waterfalls located on the premises of the park, each and one of them is very unique. Our choice was Catarata Oropendula, and we visited it uniquely- horseback riding. We booked a tour through the Rancho Guachipelin, it took about 2h30m, of course, it rained, but it was an unforgettable experience. The horses were very tame, and even inexperienced riders will be very comfortable.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

La Paz is the closest waterfall to San Jose, just 1h away from the capital. Close to it, a beautiful 28 hectares nature park houses a large number of animals that have been previously illegally taken out of their natural habitat as pets. One of the best exhibits here is the Aviary , where you can have a one in a close, one in a lifetime experience with Toucans, Parrots, and the cute two-toed sloth. There is also a reptile, wild cats, hummingbirds, and orchid exhibits. The best part is that it feels like you are out in the cloud forest of Costa Rica, not in a zoo.

Diving in Catalina Islands, Costa Rica

Scuba Diving in Tamarindo

I love scuba diving, and everywhere I travel, I look for an opportunity to practice my underwater skills and observe the “other world.” Diving the Catalina Islands with Tamarindo Dive Adventures did not disappoint. We even got to test out the brand new boat the dive shop bought. From Playa Tamarindo, it takes about 30 minutes to get to the islands. I couldn't wait to get into the water. Down there large schools of fish, white tip reef sharks, lots of moray eel and beautiful invertebrates were waiting for us. What a lovely place.

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Islands

On our 3rd day in Costa Rica, we made our way to Puntarenas. After spending 2 days in Manuel Antonio and talking to some locals about recommendations on what to do in Puntarenas. We ended up booking a tour to Tortuga Islands, which is very famous and has been run by Calypso Cruises for 40 years. Upon arriving at the port, we were served breakfast at the Shrimp Shack, which is owned by the same company. In less than 30minutes, we were on our way to Tortuga Island. Many dolphins and at least 10 ginormous migratory humpback whales escorted us to our destination. It was a true National Geographic show. At the island, we had fun activities organized by the tour guides- snorkeling, banana boat, great lunch, and live music. Glorious sunsets, we all love them. That was absolutely the best part of the trip- the way back to Puntarenas under the dying dark orange sun. A sunset to remember forever.

Other SEEs and DOs worth mentioning

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  • Llanos de Cortés Watefall
  • The Rainmaker National Preserve
  • Lake Arenal, Arenal Volcano
  • Hot Springs
  • Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
  • Manuel Antonio National Park
  • La Fortuna Waterfall

All I remember is the rain, a lot of rain. We arrived at the waterfall around 130pm, it turned out to be too late. The waterfall is very easily accessible, you can drive all the way there, park your car and go down about 200m. We were told by locals that this is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Costa Rica, let me tell you, they were right, it was beautiful, not your ordinary waterfall but a whole wall pierced by tiny rivers. I couldn't complete my quest of taking a photo because we had to evacuate, the rain was that strong, but the trip was definitely worth it.

Well, now that we are back from it, we can confirm that the name is 100% correct and quite descriptive. Apart from the heavy rain that you might experience, what makes the Rainmaker Conservation Project special is the abundant biodiversity. You can enjoy river walks, hike through a primary rainforest, and bird watching tours. The park is located just 20 minutes from Quepos and the entrance fee is about $20 and you can opt for lunch, that is delicious.

Currently, the largest lake in Costa Rica offers tons of fun activities to its visitors. The South end of the lake borders with the town of La Fortuna, which is the base camp for all around the volcano activities like canyoneering, zip lining, hot springs, ATV, horseback riding and more. The fun on the lake never stops. Fishing, jet ski, speed boats are just to name a few of the most popular experiences. There are also a number of great restaurants in different cities around the lake. Our favorites are the Cafe y Macadamia on the north end of the lake and Rancho Tinajas in Nuevo Arenal.

The town of La Fortuna and the lands around it are close to Arenal Volcano, the largest in Costa Rica, hence geothermal activity in the area is quite intense. Numerous hot springs can be found in the area, some of them like Tabacon hot springs are quite famous on Instagram and thus very crowded, even though the entrance fee is quite steep at 85 dollars. There are other not so fancy springs that can set you back only 20-30 dollars. Great relaxing experience after a day full of hiking and adventurism.

Monteverde means "green mountain." What a perfect name for the area home to a Natural Cloud Forest Reserve. Up in the mountains, you can enjoy a coffee plantation tour, hike through the rainforest, zipline through it or take a really unique tree climbing tour, where you will climb a tree as high as 60 feet. The area sits on the continental divide and locals say that if a raindrop lands on the east side of the mountains, it will drain in the Atlantic, and vice versa, if it falls on the west side- in the Pacific Ocean.

The Manuel Antonio National Park is just 2h away from the capital, sitting quietly on the Pacific coast, just outside of Quepos. Stunning features of the park are the amazingly rich in life rainforest, the 2 white sand beaches- Playa Espadilla and Playa Manuel Antonio, and healthy coral reefs. It’s renowned for its vast diversity of tropical plants and wildlife, from three-toed sloths and endangered white-faced capuchin monkeys, that actually tried to steal our backpacks, to hundreds of bird species.

600m, moderately steep hike, through right about 500 steps, will take you to a waterfall that drops 75 meters. It is the base of a dormant volcano named Chato and near the Arenal Volcano. On our way back we saw a beautifully colored anteater, strolling through the rainforest under the sounds of howling monkeys.

What/ Where to Eat?

Patacones

The patacones remind me a little bit of a deep fried pancake. The difference though is that those yellow patties are made entirely from plantains. This vegetable looks a whole lot like a banana, but it's bigger, and the texture is different, chewier. The patacones are used instead of bread, and with just a little bit of salt and pepper, they are so tasty. In this particular case, they were partnering a beautiful bowl of seafood ceviche.

Sopa Negra

As you might already suspect, this is soup. And before I here agh… ufff… let me tell you this soup is fantastic. Very simple black soup made out of black beans, vegetable broth, fresh cilantro and dropped in the middle of that a hard-boiled egg. Absolutely great lunch dish. PRO TIP: Add patacones!

Costa Rican Coffee

Costa Rica is not one of the largest producers of coffee, but the country is known for quality coffee. We were in Monteverde, a beautiful, mountainous region in the heart of Costa Rica sitting on the Continental divide. The farm we toured is called LIFE and is part of Cafe de Monteverde company. The tour was excellent, and if you are a coffee lover, you will enjoy learning a lot about the whole process of growing, picking, washing, drying and roasting of the coffee. It finishes with a coffee tasting of 5 different sorts of coffee roasted to perfection.

Rondon

Another soup! There is something about coconut sauces, that can make every dish tasty. This soup is not a Costa Rican native dish but its very popular all over the country. It is a Jamaican seafood soup. It is made in coconut broth, with all kinds of seafood, shellfish, crab, octopus, squid, some fish, red peppers, and some chili peppers to give it a sting. The Costa Ricans’ version of the soup is made with water or milk and it is not spicy.

Casados

You can get more traditional Costa Rican than this. Casado is a preferred quick meal choice for all locals for either breakfast and/ or lunch, dinner. Consists of Gallo Pinto which is a mixture of beans and rice with fresh cilantro, some sort of salad, a piece of the local cheese, and optional a source of protein- beef, chicken, pork or fish. Casado is a very quick, casual dish, you cannot go wrong with.

Insider Tips United States

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Transportation

Our transportation of choice was a rental car. For us it made the most sense since we went all over the place and gave us great flexibility. What was really surprising was the road the conditions. They were great, a lot of the highways- brand new. Of course, that is not the case once you go off the highway and for example, when heading to the Rainmaker, the road is quite rough.

We saw a lot of Jacos (locals on bikes) driving around on their motorcycles. Seems to be quite a convenient way to explore Costa Rica

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Budget

In Costa Rica, your US dollar can go surprisingly far. You can use it almost anywhere and get change in colones or even USD and its not a rip off.

Accomodation cost can vary greatly from free backpacking camping to stay at a luxury resort for $200 a night. We found that the average, quite decent room overall goes for about $25-$30 a night. 

Food can be very cheap or the same as in the US. It depends on what kind of "shack'' you'll chose.

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Documents

Not all visitors will need to obtain a visa for Costa Rica. The requirements are based on international agreements or treaties. However,  the visa does not guarantee entry to Costa Rica and, as in the United States, this depends on the immigration officer upon arrival, which is quite standard. You can check here if you are required to get a visa in order to visit as a tourist.

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Currency

The local currency is not what many people think (the Peso), it is called Costa Rican Colones. Bring heavy duty pants and wallets because they coins are huge and heavy!

One USD can be traded for about 550-570 Colones. Get your math refresher or the ELK app, it will convert it for you, so you always know how much you spend in your own currency.

Cash is king but credit cards are widely accepted except for very small street food shacks, fruit carts or coffee shops, but other than that Visa, Master and AMEX would do a good job.

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Etiquette

Tipping in restaurants in coffee shops is not really a big thing like in America, however tipping your tour guides if you are satisfied is a common practice. We don't really know what an appropriate tip is, but anything between 5000-10000 ($10-$20) colones should do.

The locals are very friendly, the service is excellent too. Timeliness is taken very lightly here, the natives often jokingly refer to Costa Rican 8am meeting time, for example, which would actually mean around 830am.

One phrase that you need to learn, and you will hear a lot is "Pura Vida." It is used for hello, bye, you are welcome and thank you. People here say that it is an ideology, rather than a greeting. Pura Vida encapsulates the culture of Costa Rica with its meaning of pure life and the broader meaning of finding the good in life and enjoying it to the fullest.

Travel Tips and Resources

We have put together original articles to further help you with your travel planning! In the links below, you can find information about transportation, lodging, insurance, planning and booking tips and tricks that we use to make our trip ideas come to life.

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