I recently returned from a 3 trek to Costa Rica and wanted to share some of my favorite stops along the way. This entry is dedicated to recommendations for places to visit in Costa Rica, complete with hotel, restaurant, and activity reviews.
In July 2012, my boyfriend Chris and I headed on a trek to Costa Rica that tracked down the Atlantic Coast, up through San Jose, along the Pacific Coast, and finally down to the Osa Peninsula. We planned the trip ourselves using Frommer’s Guide to Costa Rica 2012 edition and by mapping through route for travel by shuttle, boat, rental car, and plane.
Cahuita (CR), Bocas del Toro (Panama), San Jose (CR), La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano (CR), Rincon de la Vieja National Park (CR), Montezuma (CR), San Jose (CR), Playa Carate (Osa Peninsula, CR), and San Jose (CR).
About Us: We’re a 28 year old couple living in Denver, Colorado. We’re both active and enjoy hiking, camping, skiing, and playing with our two dogs. As outdoorsy adventurers, the places we chose to stay in Costa Rica catered to couples getaways, hiking, zip lining, horseback riding, kayaking, and other active options.
First Stop: Book a direct flight out of Denver using Frontier Airlines to San Jose. Share a ride in a shuttle (www.caribeshuttle.com) from San Jose to Cahuita. Book a room at the El Encanto Inn (www.elencantoinn.com), which is a charming hotel with private bungalows, a secluded pool, and is run by a friendly French couple. The beach access to Playa Negro is about a 5 minute walk, and so is the walk to town. Eat lunch or dinner at La Fe (try the camarones al coco and you won't be disappointed) and then head over to Coco's Bar for a nightcap or some dancing.
Second Stop: Wake up early and catch a shuttle (www.costaricajust4u.com) from Cahuita direct to Bocas del Toro, Panama. You'll have to get out and cross the border by foot via a rickety wooden bridge, and pay $3 to the customs agents. You'll hop in a shuttle on the Panama side of the border, pick up a water taxi shuttle at Almirante, and then flag down a $3 water taxi ride to Bastimentos Island. Check into Eclypse de Mar (www.eclyspedemar.com) and let the exotic adventure unfold. You'll feel like you're like at world's end, soaking up the setting rays from the deck of your private bungalow. After waking up with breakfast in bed, spend the the day snorkeling right off the porch or take a water taxi over to Red Frog Beach. Red Frog is, in fact, abundant with red frogs as well as three-toed sloths, monkeys, and a variety of birds. Take the side trail over to Playa Tortuga to have the beach all to yourselves and grab some lunch at the beachside restaurant. For dinner, head into Bocas Town to El Pecado for high-end international cuisine or over to Bastimentos Town to Roots for a home-grown Caribbean vibe.
Third Stop: After detoxing from the island life, catch a shuttle from Bocas Town back to the mainland and onto San Jose (www.caribeshuttle.com). From here, head over to Hotel Aranjuez (www.hotelaranjuez.com) in NW San Jose. If you're hungry (and I'm betting you are), walk over to Vesuvio for some delicious home-cooked Italian. You can't beat a restaurant where the host is the waiter and is also the chef - and the food is amazing!
Fourth Stop: Wake up early and feast on the plentiful buffet at the Hotel Aranjuez (warning: this may be the most gluttonous free breakfast buffet I've ever seen). After that, pick up a rental car from Economy (www.economyrentacar.com) and cruise up to Poas Volcano on your way to La Fortuna. You'll have to get there early to see the crater, but at the very least you WILL see a purse snatching squirrel. Head out by early afternoon and drive to La Fortuna to see the Arenal Volcano. The volcano isn't currently active so there are no lava flows, but the view is still pretty spectacular. This is a very touristy town, so you'll have plenty of options for zip lining, horseback riding, hot springs, and volcano tours. Spend day doing something active and bed down for the night at Arenal Backpackers Resort (www.arenalbackpackersresort.com). This is a clean hostel offering shared dorm rooms, private safari tents, or private rooms.
Fifth Stop: When you're ready to escape the tourist crowds, take the scenic 3 hour drive over to Monteverde to visit the Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. You can spend the day hiking here and exploring the small town of Monteverde. Those on a budget can stay at the Monteverde Backpackers Hostel (www.monteverdebackpackers.com), but be prepared to meet some students and other random wayfarers.
Sixth Stop: Since you're already in Volcano Country, you'd be remiss not to visit Rincon de la Vieja. This "town" is actually made up of a few ranches and hotels bordering the Rincon de la Vieja National Park. The Hacienda Guachipelin (www.guachipelin.com) is a working cattle ranch and offers horseback riding, zip lining, rafting, waterfalls, volcano tours, and more. There are plenty of crystalline waterfalls hiking destinations near the hotel and the Rio Negro Hot Springs are free with your stay. We took a trip over to the National Park and spent the day hiking to hidden waterfalls and volcanic mud pits. For meals, check out the Hacienda restaurant or take the 20 minute drive into Liberia for dinner and shopping.
Seventh Stop: After all this volcano trekking, you're probably about ready for the beach again. Drive down the Nicoya Peninsula's eastern coast to the small beach town of Montezuma. A popular destination for surfers, this beach town has a low-key, authentic vibe. Stay at the Hotel Amor de Mar (www.amordemar.com) and spend your days relaxing on beachside hammocks, shell hunting in their tidal pools, and visiting the local shops. The hotel property is right on the water and the atmosphere is very romantic. They also offer a rental house that might be straight out of Swiss Family Robinson for family getaways. For a small town, you can't beat some of the dining options. For lunches, visit Puggos and ask for one of their shrimp dishes. Delight your senses with an upscale, romantic dinner right on the beach at Playa de los Artistas.
Eighth Stop: The swan song of your visit to Costa Rica has to be the Osa Peninsula. When you're ready to head to the jungle, drive back up to San Jose to catch a flight to the Osa. For an overnight stop in San Jose, visit Casa 69 (www.casa69.com) and enjoy the friendly hospitality that downtown has to offer. You'll be able to walk down Calle Central to all the National Museums, shops, restaurants, and night life. Visit the Mercado de Artesanias on your walk back for some great souvenirs.
Ninth Stop: You'll be able to catch an early morning flight from San Jose to the Osa Peninsula via Puerto Jimenez on either Nature Air (www.natureair.com). From Puerto Jimenez, you'll take the collectivo open back truck through the jungle to Playa Carate. You'll get a real sense of what leaving civilization is like while piled up between sacks of potatoes and rice. Hop off at Finca Exotica (www.fincaexotica.com) and begin your Osa adventure. Finca Exotica is a private ecolodge which features tiki tent and cabin lodging. This is where you'll really tune in and check out (there's no hot water and limited electricity - yikes!). The Osa Peninsula is one of the more remote and pure places to visit in Costa Rica, with an abundance of animal and plant life. You'll be able to surf the waves, kayak through the lagoon, practice yoga to the crashing of the waves, and gallop horses along the beach at sunset. And if you're really lucky, you might even see a sea turtle laying her eggs..
I hope all this information helps you plan your trip. I can't wait to hear about your Costa Rica adventures!