The capital isn’t considered one of the Costa Rica’s most impressive destinations, but it proved to be an excellent introduction to one of the most verdant, laidback and adventurous countries I’ve ever been to. A city tour took us through the main attractions of downtown San Jose including the maze-like alleys of the central market, the principal cathedral, and the ornately-designed National Theatre that dates back to the 19th Century. A guided tour of the exhibitions at the Museo de Oro Precolombiano showcased Costa Rica’s rich heritage.
National Theatre, San Jose
Next, we took a meandering drive up into the Valle Central where the Doka Coffee Plantation is located. We were welcomed with a traditional buffet lunch with fresh Gallo Pinto, plantain, mash potato and seasoned vegetables. Our guide imparted his deep knowledge on how the coffee beans would become the various blends of Costa Rican coffee we all know and love. The mechanisms and techniques of the factory have been used for over a hundred years, and produce an aromatic brew that we tasted at the end of the tour, along with some coffee-flavoured liquor.
Our evening was spent in the Amon district, which is lined with vibrant street art and bohemian buildings. We enjoyed a tasty Vietnamese meal in Cafe Rojo followed by Tico Mules cocktails - a delicious combination of Costa Rica’s national sugar cane liquor with ginger syrup, mint and lemon. I couldn’t help but feel more time would have been welcomed in this unassuming yet relaxed and ever-growing city.
Hotel: Marriott Hacienda Belen (Superior)
An outstanding hotel a 30-minute drive from city centre, but very close to the airport. There was ample choice of activities on the beautiful hacienda-style grounds including tennis courts, a spa centre, a driving range, and its own chapel. There were also several restaurant options including Asian-fusion, Latin American and a steakhouse. It was a combination of comfort with traditional decor and stunning grounds.
Hotel: Park Inn by Radisson (Standard)
Our final night was spent in the Park Inn, conveniently located near downtown San Jose (approximately 20-30 minutes by foot, or a short taxi ride). If you’re keen to explore the city’s many restaurants and bars after the San Jose City Tour & Coffee Plantation tour, this hotel is a great place to do it from. Whilst we couldn’t indulge in the buffet due to an early flight, the hotel staff were kind enough to provide us with a boxed breakfast which we appreciated.
A network of jungle waterways filled with luscious flora and incredible wildlife, our time in Tortuguero marked an unforgettable introduction to Costa Rica’s wildlife. Part of the excitement was reaching the lodge itself, with a 90-minute speedboat journey weaving through the wide canals. When you realise how far you’ve come, it makes you appreciate the remoteness of the area, situated on the vast Caribbean coast.
Much like the rest of Costa Rica, preservation and national protection efforts allow wildlife and plants to thrive. We were blown away by the iguanas, basilisks, howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, turtles, and a baby caiman! The bird life was equally impressive, as we spotted various species of heron, the mesmerising toucan, egrets, kingfishers, vultures and nesting anhingas.
Without a doubt, the most memorable moment was seeing a sloth attempting to ascend a tree just outside our room. We couldn’t believe our luck. The elusive Hoffman’s two-toed appeared to be struggling but was grinning away, and with a bit of branch guidance was able to reach his next napping point. The guides provided by the lodge were informative, engaging and very knowledgeable of this area of pure natural beauty. I won’t ever forget our time in Tortuguero, the only thing that could’ve elevated the experience would’ve been combining it with turtle hatching season which takes place between July and October – but beggars can’t be choosers!
Hotel: Manatus Lodge (superior)
An unforgettable stay, with faultless staff who made us feel instantly at home. The 12 casita-type rooms are surrounded by jungle, so seeing animals in their natural habitat was common. The canal tours were led by our excellent guide, Luis, and the exceptional service continued in the restaurant with Joseph and Jason, who were charming and incredibly accommodating throughout our stay. The menu had a solid range of meals from ceviche and Caribbean fish soup starters, seared tuna and filet mignon for mains and chocolate mousse and tropical fruit for dessert. The breakfasts were fresh and a great way to start the day too.
Situated in the heart of the country, Arenal is the hub for activities in Costa Rica. From ziplining through the luscious canopy, to sampling some of the finest chocolate at a family-run hacienda, to wandering through dense forest on hanging bridges or taking a dip near the stunning La Fortuna waterfall, Arenal is the place for adventures.
La Fortuna Waterfall, Arenal
You can also enjoy the numerous hot springs dotted around the area, naturally heated by the Arenal Volcano. It’s in Arenal that you will cement some of your most unforgettable memories of Costa Rica. Both Arenal hotels boast beautiful grounds that blend perfectly into the green surroundings, and there is the chance to view the magnificent Arenal Volcano from your hotel room.
Hotel: Arenal Manoa (Standard)
A truly excellent hotel that delivers friendly service in a beautiful setting. The individual casita-type bungalows are spacious with personal outside areas nestled the tropical gardens. The fresh and international buffet breakfast can be enjoyed with unparalleled views of the Arenal Volcano. Whilst munching on an omelette, you can peer down on the pond area where iguanas and caimans reside, as birds fly around the property. The comfort of this hotel cannot be understated, only matched by its stunning surroundings and the way they seamlessly blend.
Los Angeles Cloud Forest
The microclimate of the cloud forest makes it a truly unique place to experience. As you are situated in the clouds, there is plenty of moisture in the air which allows plant life to thrive as well as the many colourful amphibians that appear in the evenings. Rolling hills of dense forest surround you as well as colourful plants and a multitude of bird life.
Red-eyed tree frogs
The star of the show is the hummingbird which gracefully glides through the air with an audible flutter. Other notable mentions include the endearing coatis who roam the land for food, and the striking red-eyed tree frogs which possess remarkable flexibility and camouflage.
Hotel: Villa Blanca Hotel & Nature Reserve
This charming lodge, nestled in the heart of Los Angeles Cloud Forest, provided a short-lived but wonderful stay in a tranquil setting. There are self-guided trails that can be explored during the day as well as guided trails in the morning and evening, which give two different perspectives of the fauna and flora. The casitas are full of character, with fireplaces, wooden rocking chairs, bamboo ceilings and warm blankets for the cool jungle nights. Whilst food isn’t included, eating in the Sendero Restaurant by the main building meant indulging in some delicious cuisine. There was a great breakfast service too that you can enjoy outside whilst taking in the breath-taking views.
If you are looking for a relaxing end to your journey then look no further than the Manuel Antonio Beach.
Here you’ll find golden sand beaches lined with palm trees within Manuel Antonio National Park. And of course, with the stunning green spaces, you are joined by a plethora of wildlife. The national park is open between 7am-4pm and tickets must be purchased online in advance (They cost around $18 per person and are valid for one entry). There is a strict no food and no plastic bottles policy so be sure to have a big breakfast and bring your reusable water bottles.
Manuel Antonio Beach and headland
The national park is filled with walking trails that aren’t too demanding and feature maps throughout, so you can pick your own route and go at your own pace. It’s also possible to organise a guided tour either from your hotel or when you arrive at the park, but it can also be explored independently. We managed to see sloths, capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, halloween crabs, agoutis, coatis, scarlet macaws, iguanas and even deer. I’d highly recommend visiting the beaches, but in particular, Playa Escondido was the cream of the crop, offering a quiet option with less-rocky sand and calmer waters. It was idyllic and I’ve never entered a warmer ocean, it was fresh and sublime for the soul.
Hotel: Parador Resort & Spa
This 5-star property combines comfort with outstanding views over the Pacific Ocean. The hotel is nestled its own private rainforest reserve, home to some amazing animal species. Both the town of Quepos, where there are local restaurants and bars, and the entrance to Manuel Antonio National Park are a 10-minute drive away. The latter can be reached with the free shuttle service that the hotel runs throughout the day. There are several restaurants on the hotel’s grounds, multiple swimming pools, and several other amenities including a tennis court, a spa, a self-guided monkey trail and a mini golf course. I’m sure you’ll also be pleased to hear that there’s a happy hour every day from 6-7pm, where you can enjoy one of their freshly prepared cocktails whilst overlooking the deep blue ocean.
Without a doubt the most memorable part of the trip was our time in this idyllic and incredibly remote part of the Pacific Coast. Corcovado offers adventure, outstanding service and breath-taking views, making for an unforgettable experience. The wildlife here was a real highlight, with howler monkeys, Jesus Christ lizards (they walk on water), snakes, crocodiles, toucans, scarlet macaws and other unique bird sightings. We were lucky enough to spot the very playful bottlenose dolphins on the boat journey over to Caño Island and were left mesmerised when swimming with green turtles, luminescent fish species and whitetip reef sharks.
Iguana, Corcovado National Park
Along with Tortuguero, the Corcovado Coast is another example of how much of Costa Rica remains untouched. You can truly enjoy the remarkable wildlife in this unspoiled landscape. Conservation is a heavy focus throughout the country, and this is strictly followed in Corcovado, with expert guides accompanying all activities. Ultimately, this is a major benefit, as their knowledge of the local area is second to none and you realise there is the utmost respect between humans and the nature that surrounds them.
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