Pura Vida is the phrase that greets you the second you land in Costa Rica. In Costa Rica, Pura Vida is “hello”, “thank you”, “welcome”, “how are you”, and even “I’m good”. As friendly ticos (as Costa Ricans like to call themselves) will tell you, it’s not a phrase, it’s a lifestyle. A lifestyle that connotes a laid-back pace of life and smiles by the dozen. They’re not lying. Costa Rica epitomises the Pura Vida philosophy.
With both Pacific and Caribbean coasts, the cloud forest, misty volcanoes, and hidden waterfalls there is definitely no shortage of things to do in Costa Rica. Irrespective of where you stay on your road trip in the country, you’ll find a dozen things to do. We rented a car with EconomyBookings.com and drove around Costa Rica. Here are 10 of our favourite experiences in the country:
1) Devour Galle Pinto
There is no better way way to kick off your road trip in Costa Rica than a legendary breakfast. The country’s speciality is Gallo Pinto – rice and black beans, traditionally served with fried or scrambled eggs and fried plantain on the side. Locals can have it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and once you’ve tasted it, you’ll find it easy to understand why that is the case. Onions, coriander, tomato, and peppers are chopped and stir-fried before being added to boiled black beans. Eventually rice is added to the mixture. Everything is allowed to cook together, which lends it a special flavour. We had Galle Pinto for breakfast every single day in Costa Rica – it’s filling, it’s delicious, and we miss it so!
2) Go Ziplining
Who doesn’t enjoy the occasional rush of adrenaline? Ziplining is popular throughout Costa Rica but some of the best views can be found in Arenal, Monteverde, and Manuel Antonio National Park. We went ziplining over Costa Rican jungles at Manuel Antonio National Park and saw plenty of monkeys and colourful birds. We started with shorter stretches but our tour ended with two 1000 feet long ziplines across the forest – being suspended mid-air with a whole canopy of trees stretched out beneath your feet is an amazing experience. Highly recommended!
3) Stay in a coffee plantation
It’s no secret – Costa Rican coffee is prized as some of the best coffee in the world. Most tourists take a short day tour to a coffee plantation to learn more about the ways in which coffee is grown, roasted, and consumed in the country. But if you, like us, love your coffee, then we would highly recommend going a step further and spending a couple of days in a coffee plantation. We chose to spend 3 days in a luxurious boutique hotel located on a 12 hectare coffee plantation. Finca Rosa Blanca is just 20 minutes away from San Jose International airport and makes for the perfect pitstop on your road trip of Costa Rica. Spend your days walking through the coffee plantation, taking a coffee tour, picking fresh coffee berries, sampling different kinds of coffee, or hiking one of the volcanoes in the area.
4) Visit a local soda
Food is usually the quickest (and yummiest) way to acquaint oneself with a culture that is entirely new. If you want to eat like the locals, make sure you visit a local Soda (restaurant) in Costa Rica. These small hole-in-the-wall eateries can be found in most Costa Rica towns and villages. Just look out for a sign saying ‘Soda Tipica’ – if it’s jam-packed with locals, then just park yourself there for a meal. Opt for a buffet or just order a couple of dishes off the menu. Try the Platos fuertes (main course of meat, chicken, or fish), galle pinto, or chorreadas (thick pancakes made with corn). Don’t forget to add Chileras (spicy picked vegetables) and salsas that can be found at all tables at local sodas. A wholesome meal at a humble soda will never set you back by more than £3-4.
5) Catch an epic sunset at Playa Del Coco
A small fishing village in the Guanacaste province, Coco has burgeoned as one of the most popular spots for both foreigners and Ticos (as Costa Ricans like to call themselves). There are shops, restaurants, and supermarkets in the village centre, so it’s perfect if you want a drink or two. During the day the beach front is a hub for water sports. Personally it’s not our favourite beach during the day. However we love it during the evening – our favourite part is driving to a secluded spot at Playa Del Coco to watch the sun set. You can actually drive all the way up to the shore and park your car on the beach – pack a picnic spread and beers, some music, and watch the sun go down. Playa Del Coco’s sunsets aren’t popular without reason – look at this gorgeosity!
6) Stay in the Costa Rican rainforest
If you have a soft spot for experiential stays, then do not wrap up your road trip of Costa Rica without spending a few days at a hotel in the midst of the rainforest. It’s amazing to wake up to the twittering of birds every morning. If you have time at hand, head to a hotel in the lush rainforests around the Osa Peninsula. Since we had already experienced a remote stay in the Peruvian rainforest, we chose to skip this.
Instead, we opted for a 3 night stay in the more accessible, yet glorious, rainforest around Manuel Antonio National Park. We chose Arenas Del Mar Beach and Rainforest Resort because it offered the best of both worlds. The luxurious hotel is nestled in the midst of the rainforest on an amazing beach overlooking the Pacific Ocean (nope I’m not making this up). We saw a variety of wildlife including the cutest sloths, bright green iguanas, chirpy birds, and howler monkeys while hiking around the property. But then, this was the view from our balcony:
7) Hike a volcano
If there’s one thing there isn’t a shortage of in Costa Rica – it’s volcanoes. Dormant ones, active ones, easy ones, remote ones – Costa Rica has them all! There are plenty of options but if you want an easy hike and scenic volcano, we’d suggest visiting the Poas Volcano National Park. Entry fee is USD15/person and USD 3/vehicle (as of June 2016).
Poas is one of the largest and most active volcanoes in the country. It takes just 15 minutes to walk to the main crater via a paved road. On a clear day, it’s easy to spot the sparkling blue-green crater lake in the middle. You can also marvel at the steam and smoke coming out from the fumaroles surrounding the lake. If you’re up for a bit of a hike, then make sure you walk around the forest trails around the Poas Volcano National Park. The park is teeming with flora and fauna – all in all, a great day out!
8) Go Kayaking
It’s hard not to be seduced by the rhythmic ways of waves when one is bobbing up and down on a colourful kayak. Most beach side hotels in Costa Rica has kayaks for their guests to use. If not, you can always rent one for a couple of bucks. There are plenty of opportunities to go kayaking in Costa Rica – we loved kayaking in Papagayo Peninsula. Here you kayak in azure waters of the Pacific Ocean. The entire experience affords privacy and some time to connect with nature.
If you crave a bit of adventure, head to the Damas Island Estuary in Manuel Antonio National Park. Here you can observe wildlife – playful monkeys, colourful birds, even pumas!
9) Meet the cutest birds and sloths at Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park is a surreal place, one worth all the hype. It is literally teeming with wildlife – restless hummingbirds, two and three toed sloths, different kinds of iguanas, hundreds of butterflies, and howler monkeys. We spent 4 hours walking around Manuel Antonio with a certified naturalist guide and spend every minute feeling like we’d walked into a National Geographic documentary. The clammy humidity of the rainforest just doesn’t seem to matter when there is an entire eco-system unravelling in front of your eyes. Sample this: As you probably know owls prey on lizards and lizards prey on butterflies. We saw butterflies that resemble owls, so they can ward off their potential predators – lizards – by scaring them off. If this isn’t survival of the fittest, what is? These are the moments when you realise travel truly is the greatest teacher.
There were several highlights of the day but seeing this bright green snake up close was definitely amongst the top 5:
10) Lounge on a beach with wildlife for company
No holiday is complete without a spot of languorous beach bumming is it? There is no shortage of glorious powdery beaches in Costa Rica because of the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Everything from scuba diving and snorkelling to fishing and horseback riding is on offer! But that’s not all – Costa Rica’s charms don’t end at idyllic beaches.
Almost always, there are tumbling rivers and waterfalls, handsome volcanoes, and lush green forests in close proximity. These lend the entire experience a truly distinctive flavour. We loved getting up to the sound of birds twittering and chirping in our balcony, relaxing on the beach right next to bright green iguanas, and spotting entire families of white-faced monkeys while having breakfast in the Papagayo Peninsula.
Want to know how we packed in all these experiences on a 10 day roadtrip in Costa Rica? Check out our road trip itinerary for Costa Rica.