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10 Destinations to Visit in Costa Rica

SmarterTravel

Author: Jill Weinlein
Date of Trip: March 2015

With so many destinations in Costa Rica to explore, yet only one week, we broke our trip down to three popular spots and spent two nights at each. My husband and I brought our ten-year-old daughter. She brought her stuffed animal sloth on the trip, hoping to see a real one on our adventure.

Our trip was planned by Adventure Life and our guide Edgar escorted us throughout our trip.

The day before flying from Los Angeles to San Jose International Airport, Costa Rica’s Turrialba Volcano not only erupted once, but a series of times prompting the closure of the airport, as clouds of ash filled the sky and reached the capital city of San Jose. Fortunately, the runways were swept clean for our arrival.

Arriving at 10:30 p.m., we stayed our first night at the Wyndham Herradura. It’s about 15 minutes from the airport. It was clean and offered a breakfast buffet in the morning before we met Edgar. Edgar was a native Costa Rican who spoke English beautifully. He also was a biologist and bird enthusiasts. We saw more birds in one week than most people, as Edgar went everywhere with his tripod and high powered telescope. He had his bird book in his backpack to teach us about some of the almost 900 species that thrive in Costa Rica.

Arenal Volcano

We hiked to the bottom of the La Fortuna Waterfalls and waded in the streams, before enjoying our first authentic Costa Rican Casado lunch at Mi Casa. It’s a plate of white rice, black beans, plantains, salad, avocado and a protein. Driving through the town of La Fortuna we noticed a variety of restaurants, local artisan shops, hostels and very friendly street dogs, before checking into the Arenal Kioro Suites and Spa. It was our first experience with Costa Rican hospitality and we were pleased. A complimentary cocktail was served as we showed the reception desk our passports and a credit card. We were whisked up to our suite 603 and showed in detail how the in-room jucuzzi tub operated. The room offered majestic views of the volcano, two Queen size beds and a day bed. There were floor-to-ceiling doors leading out to a small patio.

After unpacking we explored the various thermal lava rock pools and lush grounds. This spot was popular with other tour groups, such as Crossroads. There were two pool tables and ping pong tables that our ten year old loved to frequent with us before and after meals.

Unfortunately it rained pretty hard when we had our excursion to hike in the rainforest near the old lava flows of the Arenal volcano the following morning. With umbrellas in hand, Edgar enlightened us with stops to learn about the flora and fauna.

Arenal Volcano to Monteverde

The distance between Arenal and the Monteverde Cloud Forest is significant. The quickest way to get there is by taxi and boat. This area is so mountainous and there isn’t a direct route between the two places. By road, it’s 66 miles between Arenal and Monteverde, however the road winds around Lake Arenal and through the town of Tilarán, and takes upwards of 4 hours with a 4×4 vehicle. The roads are dirt with huge pot holes at times.

By bus, it can take up to 8 hours. The taxi and boat takes about 3 hours with one rest stop. Covered 22-passenger boats cruise across Lake Arenal in about 30 minutes. During the ride, there are great views of the Arenal Volcano and the Monteverde mountain range. The boat docks at Río Chiquito and a mini-bus awaits to take guests to Monteverde.
Monteverde

In Monteverde we rappelled and zip-lined along the longest zip line in Latin America with 100% Adventura. Thrill seekers enjoy the canopy tour, while crossing suspension bridges, rappelling down towers and riding the cable Superman-style. The end is a Mega Tarzan bungee-type swing.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Filled with flowers and plants rich in nectar to attract a variety of birds, we saw at least ten different types of birds. Nearby is a hummingbird gallery where visitors can stand next to colorful hummingbirds gathering a drink from various feeders. We saw our first capuchin monkey and followed the curious coati. With a long snout they look a little like a raccoon and make funny grunting sounds. The coaties were not afraid of humans. We were excited to finally spot a beautiful sloth.

Say Cheese

While walking with Edgar to the Monteverde Cheese Factory for an ice cream we finally saw a sloth. Hidden up in the trees, Edgar helped me get a photo using his telescope lens. I thought we would see sloths in every other tree.

We were too late for a cheese tour to sample several varieties of cheese including Gouda, Swiss, provolone and Parmesan. The ice cream store sells cheese, cured meats, caramels, ice creams and milkshakes. Their ice cream selection is made from local crops with flavors such as coffee, coconut, mango, orange and pineapple.

Trapp Family Lodge

This is the closest lodge to the Monteverde Reserve Costa Rica. Since its located on a dirt road, the 15 minute walk to the Reserve is easier and great for bird watching. Our large room #20 had two Queen size beds and walk-in shower. The family-style restaurant in the main building has a large picture windows overlooking the gardens and serves a complimentary breakfast buffet and sit-down dinner.

Monteverde to Manuel Antonio

Edgar secured a taxi to our next destination. We stopped at a local touristy spot, Tárcoles River, on our way to Quepos to enjoy a refreshing cold coconut and fresh juice smoothies. Along the center of the bridge, people gathered to see at least twenty enormous crocodiles basking in the sun along the river bank.

Si Como No

Driving through Quepos, we checked into the picturesque Si Como No with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. We were lucky to be upgraded to the Penthouse Suite Room 38 for two nights. It’s a great place to stay near the Manuel Antonio National Park. The staff is friendly, the inviting pool has a swim up bar, water slide and waterfall. Our room 38 had a outside private sundeck with a jacuzzi tub. The large balcony with lounge chairs offered unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean and monkey corridor. There was a King size bedroom, kitchen and living room.

In the evening the resort shows a movie in a small movie theater every evening at 8 pm.

Across the street is a wonderful butterfly reserve. The hotel gives guests free passes. It’s a fun spot to see wildlife along a path and enter the butterfly pavilion.

Manuel Antonio
Si Como No offers a free shuttle down to Manuel Antonio Beach. It’s public and the water is warm. Walking along the beach back towards Si Como No, we saw lot’s of Hermit Crabs. The waves are good for body surfing. Walking up the hill to the resort, we heard and saw a family of howler monkeys. At first we thought their loud howls were from dogs, however it continued longer and louder than any dog. We also saw adorable spider monkeys.

Finally while walking from the entrance of the Manuel Antonio National Park’s entrance to the private beach we saw sloths. Edgar set up his tripod and telescope to show us a mother and baby sloth high up in one of the trees. They weren’t easy to photograph as they were hidden by the leaves, but we saw the mother’s long claws and sweet Mona Lisa smile.

It costs $16 to enter the park if you are not a Costa Rican citizen, kids under 12 years old are free entrance and it opens at 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. There are knowledgeable guides to help visitors spot animals with a telescope that can be hired.

The beaches have water that you can walk right in for a swim. It’s a warm Pacific Ocean,due to its proximity to the equator. The pathways are extremely well marked to the beach. Keep your eyes up in the trees to see adorable Capuchin monkeys.

Costa Rica provides nature lovers a delightful overview of the wildlife, flora and fauna. We experienced a Pura Vida experience and look forward to returning to see the Caribbean side of the country to complete the true essence of Costa Rica.

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