I’m sure this will not be the first, nor the last blog you read about Costa Rica, and that’s for damn good reason. It wasn’t named the “Rich Coast” for nothing. Costa Rica’s wealth is defined not only by it’s friendly people and vibrant culture, but by its diverse attractions: its volcanoes, its coffee plantations, its abundant wildlife, its white and black sand beaches, its dense rainforests, its fresh juice, frijoles molidos and “pura vida” vibes!! As deliciously overwhelming as all that sounds, never fear – It’s conquerable in 7 days! This is a rough guide to show you how you can see much of what this precious country has to offer in just a week’s time.
DISCLAIMER: If you are a solo traveler, you really need to budget for travel once on land. Costa Rica is not like many of the other famous backpacking destinations where you can get around easily and cheaply by bus, train and mini-van. If you want to move around the country, you will either need to rent a car (and be prepared to take on some seriously bumpy roads with a lack of street names) or rely on a driver to take you from A to B, B to C, etc, -which is what we did! I recommend inquiring here: shuttles.transportation-costarica.com
DESTINATION NUMERO UNO: San Jose (Una noche/ 1 night)
Downtown San Jose has tons of culture, from its historical museums to some pretty cool street art, but for a 7 day trip, you may not want to linger here for longer than a night. We found an awesome condo to rent for a great price at Apartotel & Suites Villas del Rio. They offer apartment style rentals, two pools, hot tubs, free breakfast and a complimentary shuttle from Juan Santamaria Intl Airport (SJO). It’s walking distance to local restaurants and cafes, ATMs (which may or may not be functioning on any given time of day) and corner shops. Pura vida!
After a night of relaxation in San Jose, head out to your next stop…
DESTINATION NUMERO DOS: La Fortuna (Dos noches/2 nights)
La Fortuna is home to the largest active volcano in Costa Rica: Arenal – and also to the smaller and less famous, yet give-you-a-hike-for-your money, dormant volcano named Cerro Chato. Cerro Chato and Arenal are neighbors, and you must hike up Cerro Chato for about 1.5 “treacherous” hours to get that magnificent, deep breath view of Arenal. We stayed at GreenLagoon Wellbeing Resort, set right in the middle of the rich rainforest and beside the foot of Cerro Chato, which gave us free access to the paths.
If you are not a guest here, you can pay $10-$15 (I forget how much, exactly) and you’re good to go. Only, do not be like me and try to hike the Cerro Chato with a purse…don’t wear clothes you care about and absolutely DO NOT attempt to go up without drinking water. Someone will likely tell you all of this again before you head up. I have a video, if you want to see how serious this hike is.
I will say, however, that if you are at all fit and NOT AT ALL lazy, you CAN do it. Just be prepared for the journey. You will have to climb, slide, crawl and fall. It makes for a memorable experience! Once you summit, you have the option to go sliding down a steep hill, (and risk scratching up more of your hands and knees) to take a swim in the green lagoon. My sisters and I opted out of that part. It’s chilly up there and the water is literally GREEN… and still. However, many of the friends and supporters we passed on our way up raved about what a cooling dip it was. If you are not into hiking, you can opt to trade in Cerro Chato for a glimpse of the La Fortuna Waterfall. But there are a million and one steps on the way down, and back up.
Bottom line: you need hiking boots.
I should recommend vegan hiking boots, but I fell off my vegan game hard and bought these Columbia ones. They which kept my feet super comfy during the 3 hours total journey up and down.
By the way, once you get to the top of Cerro Chato, you’re breath will be snatched away by this view……
After your hard work climbing the volcano or waterfall, the desire for a relaxing night on the town may lead you right to Don Rufino, a world-class “exclusive” restaurant that fills up superrr fast in the evenings. The atmosphere is sublime and although the service can get slow due to high capacity, the food is cooked with skilled craftsmanship and is surely worth the wait.
After you indulge, go get yourself some sleep in your eco-lodge room, letting the beautiful sights of those volcanoes and waterfalls sink in, because tomorrow you’re off to…
DESTINATION NUMERO TRES: Manuel Antonio National Park (Uno-Tres noches/ 1-3 nights)
This is the place to indulge in la pura vida! Here is where you see the monkeys, tropical birds, creepy reptiles, other creatures whose names you won’t remember and faces you can’t forget and the most popular, my most beloved, sweet spirit animal: the sloth!!!
Manual Antonio National Park also grants entry to one of the most gorgeous and serene beaches I’ve ever known…Playa Manuel Antonio!
So, you can definitely fill your time with activities in Manuel Antonio Park area, but we peaced out to Herradura for maximum relaxation to end our trip. On the way there we stopped at Chiclets for some ziplining along Playa Hermosa de Jaco. ‘Twas amaaazing to zipline through the rainforest (except for tree branches busting you in the face a few times- be brave, young warriors!) You can see monkeys up above in the trees and the astonishing ocean view over to your right & left. This was my second time ziplining and it was just as unique as the first time in the forests of Chiang Mai, Thailand. If you’re a bit of a scaredy-cat, one of the awesome guys working there will let you hitch a ride with them. And they take pictures…I looked a mess so I won’t show mine, but here’s the company site.
DESTINATION NUMERO CUATRO: Herradura Beach (Dos noches/ 2 nights) Los Suenos Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort
Now, to luxuuuriate!!! After one night at a cool backpacker-vibey spot near the park called Tres Bandeiras, we packed up and bounced to Herradura. Here we relaxed at the beautiful and chic yet family-friendly Los Suenos Marriott Ocean & Golf resort. This is one of those places that you walk in and know immediately that everything will be clean and the beds will be soft and the room service will be $$$. This isn’t an ideal spot for adventurers or budget-travelers, but after a lot of trekking in the heat and recovering from our various ailments that hit right at the start of this trip -flu, cold, wisdom teeth extractions- a little R&R was welcomed. They offer great happy hours, massage packages and there weren’t many guests at that time so the pools were virtually empty. Breakfast isn’t included but it’s worth it for the buffet. You wanna taste some bannginnn’ guac??? The other food was good enough and the decor is enough to keep you chill for a day or two. I’ll leave some photos…
Ahhh, the perfect way to end a trip. This modest spot is a short 25-minute drive from the airport and it’s in a quiet, authentic Costa Rican neighborhood. Family-owned and operated, the charm is sickeningly sweet. I feel warm and tingly inside just thinking about this place. When we arrived the owner was out front waiting to welcome us with hugs and a big smile. She described the history and business model for the homestay and showed us to our cozy room. Our plan was to make a few stops on the way from Herradura: coffee plantation, animal sanctuary and the Poás Volcano National Park (which has since been closed to visitors indefinitely due to frequent eruptions). However, we couldn’t decide on a plan until it was too late of notice for our driver. 😦 Instead, we took a walk around the neighborhood and went to a quirky local restaurant that came recommended by the hotel owner. This was my kind of place! So much character in it’s little oddities.
The final morning, we work up early and walked over to the Botanical Gardens. Ending our final moments in pure green bliss. Pura vida!!!
There’s a parrot at this place that talks sooo much when you’re not looking at him. They also have an awesome cafe with fresh juice and fried yuca. There was a food truck lunch party that day, but we had to hit the airport and missed out! But it was a lovely place to spend a peaceful morning.
There you have it! (and that’s not even the WHOOOLE story) Bottom line: Costa Rica is a beautiful country with LOTS to see and do. You can’t get the full course in one week but you’ll get enough SABOR to leave your mouth watering for more. You’ll be planning your next trip before you’re even back home. I know I was!!! Until next time…