A couple years ago Aaron and I took a two week road trip around Costa Rica. We started in Liberia and spent time in Monteverde and Arenal before taking a few days to relax at the beaches in Manuel Antonio. From there we headed to Guanacaste and finished our trip in San Jose. Though our road trip route ended up being a bit wonky, we loved every minute of it.
Here are our top seven highlights from the trip:
Horseback Riding in Monteverde
One of the many activities offered to tourists in Monteverde was horseback riding through the surrounding hillsides at sunset. We’d never taken a horseback riding tour before, but the price ($35 per person) was right so we decided to go for it. I’ll admit I was a little nervous since I had only ever been on a horse once in my life.
Our hotel in Monteverde, the Rainbow Valley Lodge, arranged a sunset horseback riding tour for us with Equus Farm, which included transportation to and from the hotel.
Once we arrived we were each given a horse and some very basic instructions. Then we were off! Thankfully, my horse knew exactly where to go, allowing me to relax a little and enjoy the ride.
Though I was nervous in the beginning, this experience turned out to be my favorite part of the entire trip!
La Fortuna Waterfall in Arenal
Aside from some spectacular views of the Arenal Volcano, the highlight of our time in La Fortuna was a day spent at the La Fortuna Waterfall.
This popular attraction was located not too far from the center of town and had well developed locker room and restroom facilities at the entrance. It also had a series of souvenir shops to commemorate your trip to the falls.
Once we purchased our tickets and changed into our swimming suits, we joined the stream of visitors and descended down the nearly 500 steps to the pool beneath the waterfall. Going down was the easy part!
At the base of the waterfall we gingerly scrambled over the slick rocks at the edge of the pool and slipped into the refreshingly cool water. We stuck to the edge of the pool and admired the sheer force of the waterfall as it cascaded down the 200 foot cliff in front of us.
Also, be sure to check out the area below the falls where a drainage stream provides sandy beaches and a more gentle place to swim!
Zip Lining in Manuel Antonio
Costa Rica is well known as one of the pioneering countries for eco-tourism. As such, many of the available tourist activities involve both adventure and spending time in nature. Zip Lining is a prime example and can be done on many parts of the country.
We chose to zip line with El Santiario in Manuel Antonio. Our tickets included pickup from our hotel, a two hour guided zip line tour, and a traditional Costa Rican lunch afterwards.
We didn’t see many animals while whizzing through the trees, but we had a blast! This tour was perfect for anyone who loves a rush of adrenaline in a gorgeous setting.
Sunset at Tamarindo Beach
Who doesn’t love watching a beautiful sunset after spending the day at the beach? Our top pick for sunset viewing in Costa Rica: Tamarindo Beach in Guanacaste on the west coast.
Also, be sure to catch some waves while you’re there. Tamarindo is quite popular for consistent swells that are ideal for beginner surfers.
On our very last day in Costa Rica, we hired a taxi to drive us from San Jose to the Irazu Volcano. It turned into a full day excursion since we made a couple other stops along the way at an unfinished church in Cartago that kept getting destroyed by earthquakes, the Irazu Volcano National Park, and the Basilica of Our Lady of Angels.
The most unique aspect of our trip to Irazu was the fact that we were able to drive all the way to the top of the volcano. I mean, where else can you do that?
The drive was almost as impressive as the volcano itself. Once we got to the top, there were two observatory platforms that afforded us views into the volcano. The views of the adjacent volcanos and mountain peaks rising above the clouds made me feel like I was standing on top of the world.
Anyone visiting Costa Rica is pretty much obliged to go on at least one jungle walk to experience the country’s abundant rainforests and wildlife. We enjoyed these guided tours so much that we did a few during our two week trip.
Monteverde Cloud Forest & Night Walk
We took two jungle walks in the Monteverde area. One was a private tour of the Curi-Cancha Reserve, where we saw the elusive quetzal, and the second was a guided group night walk at Refugio Vida Silvestre.
The night tour was a trip highlight for me. It felt so adventurous and also kind of insane to be tromping through the jungle in the pitch black. We saw a ton of animals including sloths, tarantulas, scorpions, and leaf cutter ants.
Our biggest tip is to ask the locals which reserve you should visit. They will be able to tell you where the most birds and animals can be seen at the time you are visiting based on current available food sources.
Arenal Tropical Forest
If you visit Arenal, it is worth taking a guided tour around the volcano. You will get to see enormous chunks of lava from past eruptions as well as many wild animals in the primary rainforest around the volcano’s base.
On our tour we saw howler monkeys, spider monkeys, a baby pit viper, toucans, and a plethora of frogs to name a few!
This coastal Costa Rican oasis is known for its beautiful beaches and national park. The best part of a visit here is that you can tour the park to view its wild animals and then spend the afternoon at the pristine beaches within the park.
Make sure you arrive early because entrance into the park is limited and tickets sell out fast! Also, we realized many people skip the rainforest tour and head straight to the beach…
Gold Museum in San Jose
San Jose was a bustling capital city with a hopping downtown area full of shops and restaurants. It had some interesting historical sites as well including the National Theater, the Jade Museum and the Gold Museum.
We felt that two days was sufficient to see most of the tourist track, and our favorite stop was the Gold Museum. The main exhibit walked us through the history of how gold was used by the various groups who inhabited Costa Rica over the years from the Olmec to the Spanish Conquistadors.
What impressed me the most was how intricately the gold was worked by hand. The craftsman and designs were superb!
-Annie, Your Friend at Orange Backpack Travel