Looking for warm weather, stunning beaches, and incredible waterfalls? We have just the place- Costa Rica. Read ahead for our one week road trip itinerary for the very best of Costa Rica.
If the beaches aren't enough to reason to pay Costa Rica a visit, here is a list of reasons why you should forgo more crowded equator hugging destinations and book your flight.
- Short flight from the USA
- Same time zones as parts of the USA, making it great for shorter getaways
- secluded jungle engulfed beaches
- Sloths and jungle wildlife
- Cost effective
- The kindest locals ever- read ahead for a story!
- Easy to navigate by car, GPS works wonderfully
- Bed and Breakfasts with fruit platters to die for... seriously
- Sloths (again)… have you seen this baby sloth video?
- Hot springs- we have an insider tip!
- Magical pineapples (that you can eat endlessly and never get a sore tongue)
- Volcanoes- and a cool crater hike!
BEST WAY TO GET AROUND COSTA RICA
Without a doubt, rent a compact SUV and upgrade to add a GPS. Car is a great way to see Costa Rica. The roads are good, easy to navigate, and you can cover a lot of the country in just a week. You’ll want to see everything Costa Rica has to offer.
THE ROAD TRIP ITINERARY:
We landed in San Jose, rented a compact SUV, and set the GPS for Manuel Antonio National Park. First things first, jungle beaches and sloth snooping. We stayed at a B&B in Manuel Antonio and hit the park the next morning. Parking is easy, we paid a buck to a fella that may or may not have had authority over the parking lot and walked in. There are a few trails, and if you follow them you will see several tour groups bird watching (which, if you like birds, is amazing here). Keep your eyes up in the canopy for sloths and monkeys while you hike to the most stunning secret beaches in the country. One of them had a huge iguana sunbathing, it was an incredible sight. Side note, the monkeys are quite inquisitive but keep a safe distance.
Set your GPS for Punta Arenas, you’ll drive up the coast on route 34. At Punta Arenas, take the car ferry across the Gulf of Nicoya. We bought tickets on the spot. Load the car up on the boat and enjoy the ride.
Once across the gulf, head south towards Tambor Beach area. We stayed at a B&B in Tambor Beach called Vista Hermosa. Of all the places we stayed, I recommend this one the most. While in Tambor, visit waterfalls, zip-line, and hike. You can jump off Montezuma falls or hike up to the base of this massive tiered waterfall. We zip-lined Montezuma falls while we were there, and it was the most incredible zip-lining experience we have had to date. Enjoy a drink and sunset at Vista Hermosa while you ponder what it must be like to live here all the time.
Time to set the GPS again, headed north up the coast to Playa Hermosa. You can take the road the whole way, or you can take the beach highway near Cabo Blanco. If you rented an SUV, this beach driving, off-road, river crossing trek is an adventure all of its own. Playa Hermosa is near great surfing, so surf yourself silly! Take a lesson and finish the evening with brick oven pizza, it's remarkably good.
One last stop, Arenal Volcano National Park. You’ll see the massive monolith of a volcano ahead as you near town. When you do, it’s time to start thinking about hot springs. Sure, you can go to a resort for the day… but we suggest an alternative. Right before driving into town you will see pockets of local cars parked on the side of the road. Park your car off the road and find a footpath down to the river. This, my friends, is a hot spring… Locals have built beautiful rock walls creating natural pools in the hundred degree water. We came across several opportunities to access the river right off the main road, all marked only by a few parked cars.
While in Arenal there are a few hiking options. We chose to hike Cerro Chato to find the teal water filled crater aside the main volcano. The hike was muddy and full of wildlife, and that teal water? It's just as teal as the pictures. Take a dip, you will probably have it all to yourself! From Arenal, it’s time to head back to San Jose. The city is worth touring for an afternoon before catching a flight home.
EATING IN COSTA RICA:
Costa Rica has pretty standard fare... Rice, beans, and chicken are served 3 meals a day. It’s a mild culinary culture, but very satisfying and cost effective. We stopped at roadside food stands and ate lots of local fruit, including the sweetest pineapple ever. You can practically eat a whole pineapple and your tongue won’t feel tingly! If you get smoothies (and you should), make sure you ask for fruit only with “no ice” to avoid travel belly.
COSTA RICA LOCALS:
If you are looking for wonderful people, you have come to the right place. Everybody is so kind and willing to chat with visitors. English is not widely spoken, but a little bit of Spanish will go a long way! The B&Bs all spoke English, most of them were retired US folks living the good life on their plot of paradise. It won't take much convincing to have you dreaming of living here too.
A little story from our adventure....
Just west of Playa Hermosa, we pulled off at a fruit stand in a little town and hid our bags in the trunk. I put the key into the door to lock the car and turned it, only to have the key beak in half with the toothy part of the key stuck in the lock. The car made a locking noise and… whoops… we were locked out of the car with all our money and identification inside.
Deflated, we walked to a little to a convenience store and showed the owner our broken key. He immediately offered to help us. We figured he might make a phone call, but that’s not Costa Rican hospitality. He instead called one of his employees to drive us around town in search of a locksmith who would be willing to help us... even though it was Easter Sunday!
The third locksmith was the charm. The locksmith broke into our rental with a hanger in about 2 seconds (which was educational) and promptly disassembled steering wheel with a screw driver and mallet. He left us there, locking cylinder in hand, to make us a new key. We figured we were really hosed at this point. But, several hours later, he reappeared with a hand cut key that worked to unlock the doors and start the car. We paid the locksmith and thanked the store employee, who informed us that his boss instructed him that he could not take pay for helping us. He smiled and we all parted ways. That is Costa Rica in a nutshell: great people!
So go on and book those flights! Maybe make it a one way ticket, because once you spend some time in Costa Rica, you might be tempted to stay for good!