Costa Rica was a country I had been wanting to visit for a long time, not only were the draw of it's long sandy beaches and ginormous rainforests enticing me over the Atlantic but the mammal it is potentially best known for, the sloth, had been plucking at my heart strings for far too long to not see one in person. So the decision was made Finn and I were packing our backpacks and heading to Central America for a very ambitious road trip in search of a sloth. Well at least I was.
From the UK you can't fly direct to Costa Rica, the best option is to go through Europe, most commonly through Madrid. We flew with Iberia to Madrid and then onto Juan Santamaria International Airport just outside the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose.
If you fly through the US from the UK then it's far more hassle during the interchange because you often have to go through security and customs again which in big American airports takes a very long time, especially during the summer months.
We'd pre-rented a car online through Europcar a couple of weeks before we left so they came to pick us up from the airport and take us to the rental centre near by to sign all the details and pay a (rather large) deposit due to the fact we're both under the age of 25. Definitely worth checking beforehand whether you're going to be lumped with a deposit on arrival, you get it back at the end but it's often quite a large amount of money to be paying at the start of a holiday!
The Pacific Coast
The first stop on our trip was Quepos, a small town on the Pacific Coast. The town itself isn't anything special but the area it lies in is beautiful. We booked our entire trip through AirBnB and we stayed just outside the centre of Quepos in the rainforest in a little room with a balcony and a resident sloth. Sadly the sloth probably heard I was coming so decided quite cleverly to hide however we spent our days here in Manuel Antonio on Playa Espadilla. Finn decided to try and teach himself how to surf again. The beach itself is beautiful and perfect for a stroll along. The Manuel Antonio National Park is right by here if you want to find some more exclusive beaches and costs around $35-40 to get in.
Next up on the Pacific Coast was Montezuma, which is in the Guanacaste region, about a 5 hour journey north. We stopped off in Jaco (a surf town that's very American-ised) for some lunch along the way and headed on up to Puntarenas to catch the ferry. This is both the fastest and most scenic way to get across to Montezuma, you can either drive on or just get on board this ferry that takes you across the Nicoya Peninsula for around an hour. It's around $15 for 2 people and a car. If you catch the 5pm ferry, as we did, then you also get treated to a spectacular sunset on your way across. There's fresh fruit or fast food, whichever you'd prefer, on board to snack on so just take a seat and sit back and relax.
Montezuma is an amazing old fishing village which over the years has transformed into this hippy haven, only accessible via dirt track. They have a gorgeous beach (pictured above) and a hub of delicious, quirky restaurants. We stayed at the Butterfly Garden B&B which is just outside of town on a big hill, they have their own butterfly garden which is completely tranquil and beautiful to walk around. Whilst you're in Montezuma you must take a yoga session in the morning, it's the perfect setting and will have you feeling all zen like the rest of the town's population in no time, try out Montezuma Yoga which is open air and overlooks the ocean. If you're feeling adventurous then take the small hike up to Montezuma Falls to cool off in the 30ft waterfall!
FOODIE TIP: Eat at Cafe Organico (primarily delicious vegetarian and vegan food) and Puggos which was potentially the best meal we had on the whole trip, huge diverse menu and it's all freshly made and incredible.
After Montezuma our next stop was a town called Tamarindo. It's one of the bigger surf towns in the area and more tourist-y but to us, it still maintained it's charm. We were staying in a beautiful little surf villa a short walk from the huge beach that stretches the length of the town. We rented surf boards and headed out to attempt to catch some waves on the days we were there, I can't say I was particularly great at that however it was fun to try and learn! We drank coconuts on the beach and watched the sun set each evening. My best description of it would be to imagine a ski resort, but then imagine changing the skiing and the snow to surfing and sunshine. It's that type of vibe, very laid back and really fun.
FOODIE TIP: For the best Mexican food go to Green Papaya (the chips & dip and homemade lemonade are to die for), for very reasonably priced lunches and the world's best brownies then La Bodega is the place for you or if you're looking for a spot for an afternoon iced latte and homemade cake whilst indulging in your holiday read then you most definitely need to visit Cafe Tico
Volcanoes and Waterfalls
After a week exploring the Pacific coast we headed inland to check out some of the Central Region, we'd read up about a number of locations to see while you're there and settled upon visiting Monteverde (aka The Cloud Forest), La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano. The central region has weather that's a little more temperamental, it's often cloudy and torrential downpours aren't uncommon, it'll still be warm and humid though so it's not like when it rains in England!
This region is your best bet if you like a holiday to include a little adventure activity such as white water rafting, waterfall swimming, zip lining hiking or even hot springs exploring! Whilst in Monteverde we didn't do the world's longest zip line but we did walk the suspension bridges which was really fun. I'd recommend driving to the start of the walk (if you've hired a car) because the shuttle bus goes back every couple of hours and unless you take an exceptionally long time walking around it's probable that'll you'll be sat waiting for it for a while, as we did!
We only stayed in the central region for a couple of days, it's incredibly beautiful but we were keen to get back to the coast. It's definitely worth visiting La Fortuna Waterfall (pictured below) despite it attracting a large number of tourists, it's incredibly beautiful and the water is the most exquisite turquoise colour.
FOODIE TIP: Go to Taco Taco in Monteverde for potentially the best burrito i've ever eaten.
The Caribbean Coast
DRIVING TIP: To get here you'll be driving along Route 32 which links Limon (one of the main ports) to San Jose, therefore it means you'll be driving along a road with loads of truckers, it becomes a very tiring game of overtaking. It's quite dangerous because of this so make sure you bare this in mind!
We took the 5 and a half hour drive from La Fortuna all the way down to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca which is located on the southern edge of the Caribbean Coast. We adored it there, it felt like it's own little island not linked to the rest of the Costa Rica. Due to it's location on the Caribbean coast there's lots of Caribbean influence in the food and the culture, everything's very laid back and relaxed. You'll most probably be offered weed walking down the road or potentially be sat next to someone rolling themselves a joint in a beach bar at 11am. Whilst the town is always buzzing, for the real treat of the area head one beach down, about 2km south to Playa Cocles. This is where it's truly magical. Rainforest running onto little marbled black and white sand beaches and a huge stretch of white sand which is Playa Cocles. We stayed in another AirBnB here which was potentially one of my favourite, it was a tiny little wooden white hut with a hammock, outdoor kitchen and gorgeous open plan bathroom and bedroom. We spent our days exploring the beach, reading and relaxing. If you don't have a car the best way to get around is via bicycle, there's plenty of rental stores and they're all relatively cheap. Weed and bikes - it's basically the Costa Rican version of Amsterdam.
The best thing about this area however is that it's a 20 minute drive from heaven on earth, the Sloth Sanctuary. You can have a 2 hour tour for $30 including an hour canoe trip round the sanctuary grounds and stroking a sloth! Needless to say I was both completely speechless meeting the sloths and so over excited that I didn't know what to do with myself. Highly recommend a visit, they're doing such amazing work.
We cancelled our other plans for the rest of our time to spend the last week in Playa Cocles because we loved it so much, we were potentially a little too blissed out by the area because we ended up leaving a little bit too late to catch our flight home! Which I would not advise anyone doing in Costa Rica, it's a complete nightmare, we ended up in an Iberia office on the side of a dual carriageway being told a flight home was $2000 (!!!). Fortunately for us, luck was on our side and we ended up spending a weekend in New York at very little expense thanks to Finn having a place to live there while he studies and some very favourable flight prices. So I guess everything happens for a reason right?!
FOODIE TIP: Bikini Hostel for the best homemade pesto pasta and cheap Caipirinha's, The Bakery for breakfasts, OM cafe for delicious smoothies, cacao chocolate and also morning yoga classes, for a more expensive dress-up meal head to La Pecora Nera for some delicious Italian food.
Share your favourite spots in Costa Rica in the comments!
Costa Rica Tips:
1. BUG SPRAY: I cannot emphasise this enough, I was eaten alive even wearing it so make sure you're covered in the stuff!
2. MONEY: use local currency instead of dollars because it's easier and unless you're doing fixed rate activities the chances are you'll end up paying a bit more to use US $.
3. EAT AT SODAS: Ceda's are little local restaurants that you'll see along the sides of the roads and in the towns, they're super cheap and delicious local food.
4. PETROL: If you're road tripping like we did then be sure to top up whenever you see a petrol station (unless you literally have a full tank) because they're very sparsely located. You'll find 4 in one town and then nothing for about 2 hours. Better than finding yourself paying for a man in a local shop to fill you up with petrol because you've almost run out in the middle of nowhere!
5. ROAD CONDITIONS: The roads in the Guanacaste region and also on your way to Monteverde are in appalling condition so be prepared for a bumpy ride and if you're renting a car don't get anything other than a 4x4, we found ourselves driving through rivers that were in the middle of roads!