This past January, I took a vacation and unplugged for a couple weeks. During this time, I was lucky enough to spend 11 days traveling with my family through the Central American country of prosperity and happiness, one that truly embodies its most common phrase, ‘Pura Vida’ (‘pure life’). You probably have guessed by the name of this post that I jet-set off to Costa Rica.
This trip wasn’t just any vacation, this was my second time traveling to CR in a decade so I viewed this vacation as a reset in more ways than one. My step-father, Juan, is Costa Rican (or a ‘Tico’ as the locals refer to themselves) and most of his family still lives there, so this is technically my second ‘home’. As such, our experiences were a little more than laying on a beach and drinking Imperial (the most widely distributed and by far the most popular brew in the country, oh and it’s delicious).
To fully appreciate what I mean by reset I must bestow what I like to call ‘fun facts’. Costa Rica is unique. A quarter of the country’s land is protected by the government, preserving its tropical forests, sandy hot beaches, and fields of farmland. There is no army in Costa Rica so its economy relies on its tech-producing industry (think: microprocessors for cell phones and computers), agriculture (think: coffee, bananas, beef, and pineapples) and, now more than ever, tourism. (Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet, and National Geographic have great guides to the country featuring, must-sees and dos as well as the best places to stay. However, my itinerary is below).
We spent most of our trip experiencing what makes this nation special. We ziplined over tree-infested canopies, whitewater rafted down the rapids of Rio Balsa, sun-bathed at Playa Tamarindo, and sailed with dolphins along Playa Flamingo. We ate the sweetest pineapple, devoured the most delectable beef, and consumed some of the best heavy-bodied coffee I have ever tasted. We gawked at wildlife including iguanas, sloths, toucans, lemurs, howler monkeys, and even a jaguarundi. We lived like locals, hugged and spent quality time with our family in person and laughed together until the moon rose. We truly lived the pure life in the country for 11 days, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Keep reading for our itinerary of how to spend 11 days in the tropical country of Costa Rica. You won’t be disappointed!
- If possible, book a longer trip and plan to visit different locations. Though this country is small in comparison to the rest of Central America, there is so much to do and see. In fact, the Atlantic side is completely different that the Pacific side. Plan to visit both, you will not be sorry.
- Hire a driver. Let me tell you, the roads in the country aren’t the best and can be tight and confusing to navigate. Hiring a driver takes the pressure off and allows you to get to your next destination (with all of your luggage) stress free!
- The beaches are world class, but trust me, if you do not plan a few thrill-seeking activities, you will regret it. From suspension bridge strolls to white water rafting and zip-lining, there are so many ways to get out into nature and experience what makes this country unique. And, if you do these at the beginning of your vacation, you can spend the rest of your days hanging out on a beach. It’s all about balance.
Where to stay:
La Fortuna: Tropical weather (cloud cover and rain showers), highs of 75-80 degrees.
We booked two cabins at the amazing Volcano Lodge and Springs. They have actual hot spring pools and streams surrounding the property. Considering soaking sore muscles in one after a day of activities.
Tamarindo: – Hot and humid with temperatures reaching the low 90s every day.
The Diria Hotel, was our home for four days. The property boasts three different pools, five restaurants, a gym and even has direct access to the beach! This place is your standard resort, so get ready to be pampered, relax and get a tan!
Orotina and Tres Rios: – Sunny, mild weather with temperatures in the mid 70s – low 80s.
If you are planning to fly into San Jose, I highly recommend renting an airbnb in the city or one of its suburbs for one night. This city is the largest city in Costa Rica and offers amazing nightlife – live like the locals in either Orotina, Tres Rios or the city itself.
Where to eat, drink, and be merry:
- Sura Bar & Bistro: This is the restaurant on the Volcano Lodge and Springs property. This establishment featured local fare as well as Costa Rican twists on American classics, all while in a space modeled after the traditional architecture.
- La Choza de Laurel: Venture into town to consume arroz con pollo at a local establishment. And when I say local, I mean local! From the waitstaff adorning traditional garb to the music that filled the restaurant, the experience was divine! Traditional cuisine will immerse any traveler into the country’s heritage.
Most of our meals were at establishments owned by our resort, Dira. They were as follows:
- Diria: Start your mornings off right with breakfasts here. Served buffet style with a specialty egg/omelette bar, be sure to order the delicious eggs, rice and beans, and coffee (always the coffee).
- Lagoon: Hit up this swim-up bar for lunches by the pool featuring quesadillas, or anything else you want from the other restaurants on the strip. The best part is you don’t need to leave the cool, refreshing pool waters.
- Nari: Looking for some tastes of home? This authentic joint features pizzas and pastas. It’s worth one visit even if to taste the amazing seafood dishes.
- Gallo Fino: This alfresco family style restaurant features organic roasted chickens – by roasted I mean rotisserie-style, juicy and crispy skin.
- Matapalo: Satisfy your fine dining cravings at this beachside location where you can consume the most gorgeously delectable plates while watching the sunset.
- Venezia: Grab some gelato at this stand if you need something sweet to top off your meal. With over 12 flavors to choose from, they will have something for everyone.
What to do:
- Ziplining: Though we had done this previously, our time with Arenal Canopy far surpassed our last experience. We felt like lemurs and howler monkeys soaring from tree to tree. At one point, we were even higher than the toucans we saw flying below us. I would highly recommend this (even with my fear of heights!
- Whitewater Rafting: Having never done this (and having at least two highly uncoordinated women in our family), I was a little worried about this activity especially considering the heavens were pouring down into the river making it swell. But the men at Desafio Adventure Company took care of us. We all had a blast paddling down the river, hitting the deck, and holding on to each other to ensure we didn’t fall out. I can’t wait to add this to our trips in the future!
- Sunset catamaran cruise with Panache Sailing: Located in Tamarindo on Playa Flamingo, sail the warm waters to a remote area where you can kayak and snorkel. Complete with a full bar, fresh fruit platters, and freshly prepared fish wraps for lunch, this experience is bound to be one of a kind. We even followed a pod of dolphins against the backdrop of the falling sun.
- Horseback riding on the beach: Set off on an authentic beach-bound trip atop four-legged friends. Booked through Dira staff, the excursion starts off with fresh tortillas con queso and a cup of cafe con leche. From there, meet your guide who takes you to a countryside pitstop to grab some water and see a working farm. Then, hit the road to the beach. Gallop along the most picturesque beaches for hours before heading back to your hotel to soak up the sun.
- Shopping on the Strip: This was also the part of our trip that boasted the most amazing shopping. We walked up and down the beach-fronted storefronts occasionally stepping in to make a purchase. My favorite finds were a pair of mugs, handcrafted by a local artist, and gorgeous shells (which I actually found walking/running along the beach every morning).