My Costa Rica itinerary and tips for the three cities we visited – Monteverde, Arenal/La Fortuna & Tamarindo – are covered in this post. And if you just want a few starter tips about Costa Rica, check out my beginner’s post for what to know about the country here.
Hotel: El Establo Mountain Hotel, $140 per night. This hotel feels like it goes on for miles, has 2 pools and 2 restaurants, a high-class gym, amazing complimentary breakfast, and we got upgraded to a suite for free. There is zip-lining and night walks available on site. There are peacocks, gardens, and trails, as well as a beautiful place for weddings and events. The higher up you go the further you are from reception, pools, and the city, but the more beautiful of a view you have. The hotel is right in the middle of town. Highly recommend this hotel- seemed to be the most luxurious one around for a great price.
Activities: Monteverde Cloud Forest – did a private walking tour. Don’t necessarily recommend this because while our tour guide pointed out beautiful birds we wouldn’t have seen on our own, I wouldn’t say it was worth the price. He also took us to the hummingbird garden. We had more fun when we walked the trails and saw animals on our own and discovered our first hanging bridge in the Cloud Forest. We loved it so much we decided to do the hanging bridges at Selvatura (there’s eight of them, all of different distances and heights, all green) – and this turned out to be one of most green places I’ve ever walked through in my life. We also zip-lined at this park. The zip-line crew rushed the entire crowd, and wasn’t as friendly as the zip-lining at Adventure Hotel Vista de Golfo, but the cable lines (18 of them) were significantly longer. It was also far more beautiful, and the two highlights were the Tarzan Swing and the Superman. The Superman cable is an extra $10 and totally worth it- it’s the closest I ever came to feeling like I was flying. While the crew rushed us, rest assured: everyone definitely still felt safe and had a great time. Although we didn’t, consider recording your entire experience (with a GoPro or see the options the company offers) because you may not see sights like these often in your life. Although I hope you do! We also did the swimming hole in Monteverde, and albeit short, the hike to get there is not for someone older as the steps can be very steep in certain places. Fun place to stop and take in the beauty. If you have time for a day trip, I hear the San Luis Waterfall (and swimming hole) is a great area to go.
Restaurants: Monteverde Cheese Factory. We didn’t do the tour, but research told me to try the cheese sampler (5 soft or 5 hard cheeses) and a milkshake. Hands down, one of the best milkshake ever.
Hotel: Mountain Paradise, $120 per night. Aside from one arrogant receptionist, the service was great. Again, the higher up you go, the further you are from reception. Walking the grounds of this hotel alone is extremely exotic- from the animals you’ll see, to the gardening and plants. We had our own jacuzzi outside with a view of the volcano (ask for this!), and the waterfall shower was a very pleasant surprise. The pool also has a swim-up bar with excellent food and drinks. The hotel is in the perfect location relative to many activities. Probably my favorite hotel of the three hotels we stayed- please stay here! Also, great complimentary breakfast.
Activities: You can devote at least 4-5 days of activities here. My favorite activity was The Springs (hot springs – we went for 2 days and I’ve had cuts for several years that healed here). There are 18 pools, all with different temperatures and benefits for your skin and bones. There are 4 major hot springs resorts to choose from (this link helped us pick), and countless others. We also did horseback riding and water tubing on the river at Club Rio, affiliated with The Springs. At Club Rio we got a free lunch with our package deal, and were also able to stop by and see toucans, monkeys, sloths, monkeys, pumas, and others. Unrelated to the springs, we also rode the Sky Tram. Hopefully you get lucky like us and get a guide to teach you all about the Arenal Volcano and Arenal’s history. The views of the lake and forest are breathtaking and there is also an observation deck. You can make your way down the tram like we did, or go zip-lining to get down. We also caught sight of some howler monkeys on our way down. We also the Arenal Volcano hike – several paths & companies available to do this through. While the hike was great, there were limited signs for directions and no signs for the observation points, so we never truly knew when to stop. Nonetheless, we got a spectacular panaromic view of the volcano and Arenal lake. Lastly, we took a day trip out to the La Fortuna Waterfall. The waterfall/swimming hole were so much fun. Again, another huge trek down & not the easiest to come back up – 550 steps), but this waterfall was so worth it. You can easily spend a few hours here. The Rio Celeste Waterfall is supposed to be even better- for next time!
Restaurants: Do eat at El Novillo Steakhouse & Seafood. This place was recommended to me, and I will pass the recommendation along. Great steak, mussels, and tuna accompanied by a great view. Do not eat at the steakhouse down the block – Steakhouse Mirador Arenal. Took incredibly long (45 minutes) to get our food, and the chicken I ordered didn’t even have any seasoning. Just NO. Also, definitely dine at Mountain Paradise’s hotel restaurant.
If you want to do more and add to your Costa Rica itinerary, La Fortuna/Arenal is the city to do it in. And I would do it all in this hotel.
Hotel: Diria Beach & Golf Resort, $148 per night for an ocean view room. One of the very few hotels with ocean view rooms, and totally worth it. Otherwise, a beautiful hotel nonetheless with what feels like two separate resorts. Includes 5 restaurants on site, pools with wet bars, amazing complimentary buffet breakfast with endless options, and right in the middle of town. This beach is generally considered a surfer’s beach. We had extremely calm waters the first day, and much bigger waves the other 2 days, so if you don’t enjoy swimming in big waves, unless you plan on utilizing the pools, this may not be the beach for you. Otherwise, it’s a hit.
Activities: My brother and I took the last three days of our vacation to relax, and consequently didn’t partake in too many activities. We did walk around the main street and visit many gift shops (lots of unique collectables), swam in the ocean countless times, got massages facing the water, and ran on the beach. We also took badminton rackets and a frisbee to play with on the beach. While there was a binder full of day trips to places we could have gone to, the only recreational activity we took part in was a catamaran trip along with 35 others. This was a 5 hour boat trip including unlimited booze, lunch, snorkeling, great guides, and departed less than half a mile away from our hotel. With some great new friends and a romantic sunset, this was definitely a highlight of the trip for me as well. On a sidenote, Rincon de la Vieja is a popular day trip out of Tamarindo – however, friends we made along the way said it was one of the more boring things they had done. For next time, I’d look into mud baths as this seemed to be highly recommended by others.
Restaurants: Eat at Witch’s Rock Surf Camp beachfront restaurant (Eat at Joe’s). We ordered ceviche to start and the half-ass nachos (for two people) – very filling and delicious. In addition, this place usually has live music playing. If you’re utterly full afterwards, take a nap in the hammocks beside the restaurant.
I like to go to new places instead of revisiting places I’ve been, but this country will hopefully see me again. Did my Costa Rica itinerary and tips help you? Did I miss something I really should’ve seen? Just throw your two cents or two colones at me below for my trip back!