My Top 11 Moments in Costa Rica

* Featured photo of Arenal Volcano by Matt Haase, Pheno Photography

The Riverbank
Iguanas everywhere just chillin’

1. Accommodations in La Fortuna

We left Denver close to midnight on a Thursday night and arrived in La Fortuna at 7 p.m. on Friday. My group of 6 people were looking for shelter and a shower. Instead we got told we had no accommodations and it was “not my fault” by Hotel La Amistad who blamed Hostelworld.com, but still refunded my money (what hotel would do that UNLESS they had your reservation?!) Anyway, my amazing friend Jonny ran around town and found us BOMB accommodations within an hour right next to a creek just outside the city center. It was WAYYYYYY better than the place we would have stayed so I highly recommend http://casadecostarica.com/ We stayed at The Riverbank which has that view of the Arenal Volcano above from the balcony… provided clouds aren’t covering it the whole time you’re there (My friend Matt got the only good view of it). Also, William & Laura, the property managers, were very kind and welcoming and we even had dinner with them on our second night. I would stay there again in a heartbeat, plus they saved our asses from sleeping on benches during high season. The top center balcony on the blue building was ours, it’s like a mini-apartment and was perfect. Luckily our hotel mishap turned into a win.

The greenery and the stairs

2. The La Fortuna Waterfall

After a short taxi ride from La Fortuna (approx. $10) and paying about $11 bucks each to head down to the waterfall you get to walk down what feels like 500 steep stairs through lush green jungle to the base of the waterfall. The greenery on the way down is breathtaking, as are the stairs. Thank goodness for chains to hold on to on the way down, my knees were wobbling near the end. The sounds of nearby zip lines and wildlife can be heard and once you arrive at the bottom there is a viewing platform, as well as a rest area and you can walk down into the waterfall or to the other side of the trees to relax in the blue waters of the stream flowing from the waterfall. It looked like there were more trails to walk, but we didn’t get time to do them. After the long walk back to the top we decided on a refreshing beer and daiquiri. It was a nice place to relax before heading back to town and it was not that expensive.

Colorful architecture
The park in the center of town, La Fortuna.

3. Exploring La Fortuna with Richard, Matt & Annie

We didn’t have any set in stone plans so on our second day in town we decided to just go walk around and check out the town. The park and church at the center of town provide a nice area to explore surrounded by shops, restaurants and bars. We also walked a little outside of town to its edges and saw some colorful birds, a woodpecker and horses grazing on the green land. The brightly colored houses and random dogs everywhere kept it interesting as well. After the stroll back we ended up at Soda Hormiga just as another rain downpour began and had a delicious casado lunch. Check out Soda Sabor Tico as well, they are open 24 hours a day, have a changing menu and super good eats.

The crowded entrance to the free hot springs
Steaming hot springs & a few Imperial beers

4. Free hot springs outside La Fortuna near Tabacon Resort

I saw a video online about the free hot springs and our friends decided to go early in the day and check it out. They returned around midday saying how amazing and warm the springs were and how friendly the locals were there. So we decided to check it out for a few hours. It was a 20 minute cab ride and I wore water shoes, thank goodness, which were really helpful because there are slippery spots and it can be hard to see your footing. It was packed with locals when we arrived, but we made our way down and walked under the road to the other side where we could spread out more easily. The water was so warm and nice and we brought a six-pack of Imperial beer to enjoy as we chilled in the water. We kept our stuff very close to us in a small backpack and tried to be cautious because we heard stories of people stealing, but we had no issues. Apparently many people go after dark with candles, however, it also seems a more likely time to get robbed when you can’t see your stuff and also more likely to not have good footing since you may not be able to see where you’re walking.

Omir’s farm
Omir’s backyard fish pond complete with crocodiles

5. Visiting Omir’s Farm

Our super nice driver from La Fortuna to Jaco got to talking with my friend about farming and mentioned his farm was on the way if we wanted to stop and take a look at it. We so did! and wow, was it super beautiful. He built the house himself with some help and the interior ceiling had beautiful wood work and he even introduced us to his family. The lower photo shows his backyard pond which contains fish that he fed as well as crocodiles who were on the far side. The greenery of the landscape was so enchanting, it was hard to think of that being your everyday life and being able to grow up there surrounded by that type of nature. We were so lucky to be able to get that peek into their everyday life and see a different side of Costa Rica we would not have been able to see.

6. Jaco sunsets

Jaco ended up being my least favorite place that we visited in Costa Rica. It was a nice little tourist town with lots of tourist-y stuff to do, but nothing really stood out for me except the heat, humidity and mosquito bites that were never ending. Seriously, the humidity was oppressive and mean, I felt like I could barely breathe and our 6 bed hostel dorm had no air conditioning though it was actually really close to the beach and very clean. Jaco felt like any other beautiful little beach town… and being from Southern California I feel like I’ve been to plenty of those. So I guess it just wasn’t the experience I was looking for personally. However, I have to give it up for those glowing, beautiful sunsets by the beach. They really made the stay there for me and the bright blue of the ocean in the morning plus late night chats with some of my best friends.

7. Jaco & Quebrada Bonita

Not much to say here… we explored the way other side of Jaco beach where the river runs into the ocean. It was near high tide so we didn’t get to go as far as I wanted, but it was still a beautiful little trek to a less populated beach area of Jaco.

View from the highway

8. Bus Ride from Jaco to San Jose

We decided to go the cheap route and bus it from Jaco into Downtown San Jose. It was an excellent choice because it was only about $5 bucks per person. The buses did not have air conditioning, but the windows were open and as long as the bus was moving you got a nice breeze. It was interesting how the climate and terrain change so much on the ride. There was someone trying to sell chocolate bars and snacks near the front of the bus and passing through a few of the smaller towns gave a good context to the area. The downside of using the buses however is that it can be pretty confusing, especially since none of us spoke Spanish and the taxi drivers near the Jaco station try to convince you to go with them instead. Also, we weren’t sure what bus station we would land in in San Jose because there are bus stations everywhere. It was not a big deal though since we just took a taxi from the bus station to the hotel and it wasn’t too expensive.

Stiefel Pub, Costa Rican Craft Beer
my favorite building that night
At Craic Irish Pub with Richard, Megan & Jonny

9. San Jose Bar Hopping with Jonny & Megan

Our first night in San Jose called for going out on the town and checking out the nightlife. We made it to 4 different places; Stiefel Pub, (place I can’t remember because it wasn’t that great anyway), Craic Irish Pub and El Gaff. Good local beer was had at Stiefel Pub along with some super tasty potatoes. Craic was a few more good beers and a great atmosphere and El Gaff was the slightly pricey icing on the cake. El Gaff was a very hip and cool bar with good food and beer. Our waitress was super friendly and helpful and even called us a cab when we were leaving. We walked from Stiefel Pub to all of these and it made for a fun exploration of the city and we felt safe since we were in a group. It was good times.

10. Exploring San Jose

San Jose is really going to need it’s own blog post eventually. I didn’t really know what to expect only that I was excited to have an extra day in the urban center since I love cities. I read a lot about how San Jose is just a stopover, but I disagree with that assessment. It is a majorly busy, vibrant place that should be explored on its own. It isn’t what typical, pretty touristy cities are made of, but it was a little bit of everything which made it an interesting place to explore.

11. Mercado Central

On our last day exploring San Jose we found the Mercado Central. It was awesome. There were so many twists and turns of different little shops, produce, restaurants, flowers, etc. It was like a mish-mash of anything and everything with very tight walkways and I wish we’d just had more time to spend there eating and exploring. We did have lunch at Soda Tapia which is one of the older little restaurants in the market. The arroz con pollo was bomb.

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