A tour through Costa Rica.
As a nature lover, you must have been in Costa Rica at least once in your life. The whole country is about flora and fauna, and nowhere else in this world so much ecotourism is done. Beautiful! I myself have been there 3 times and Rob even about 6 times! We have been thinking about living there (but unimaginable) for a while. Well, we can definitely recommend it! Costa Rica is actually just a small country. It’s only slightly bigger than the Netherlands. But designing a route is not that easy, it will never be a simple roundabout. This is because not all areas are crossed by roads, and you need to travel through San José on necessary occasions. And especially when traveling by public transport.
We will give you a handy route so that you can see the most important highlights of the country. This can be done in 3 weeks and then you can stay anywhere for 2 to 3 nights. Longer, of course, is always better. And if you have that extra time, we’ll give you some options as well. The given travel times are calculated on traveling by car. Keep in mind that buses usually take a little longer…
San José (I), capital of Costa Rica!
The capital is not the kind of place where you want to spend several days. You can visit maybe a museum, and Mercado Central is worth a visit. In any case, just take a short rest to recover a little from your long flight, but then out of there because there’s so much to see outside the city of San José (I)!
► Next stop: Playa Manuel Antonio (B)
► Distance: 170 km
► Travel time: 3 hours
Playa Manuel Antonio (B)
Our first stop is Manuel Antonio beach village. Yes, it is quite touristy here, but great to acclimatize and throw away the stress from home. In addition, you can walk into the national park and spot animals. Iguanas, dumplings, nose bugs, it’s all there. And do go swimming, because the park has some delicious bays. Tip: Go early as early as possible, as it can get busy with tour groups.
► Next stop: Puerto Jiménez (C)
► Distance: 217 km
► Travel time car: 3.15 hours
Corcovado National Park
Costa Rica‘s most beautiful park, as we see it: undisturbed and wild. Big parrots fly around your head. Make a multi-day trek and stay in the park. Enjoy the pureness of it! It is quite difficult to get there and that’s all right. If not, it would be too busy. You can arrive to the park from different places: most travelers choose to do so from Bahia Drake or from Puerto Jimenez (C).
► Next stop: Uvita (D)
► Distance: 150 km
► Travel time car: 2.15 hours
Uvita (D) & Marino Ballena
The main reason for us coming to Uvita (D), is to spot the huge humpback whale. And with a little luck you can see some dolphins as well. And besides that, there is plenty more to experience. You can ride a quad, rent a horse or walk to the breathtaking waterfall. The beach sand is dark and there is a whirlpool shaped like the tale of a whale: a small joke from Mother Nature. And for the surfers amongst you; you should continue to Playa Dominical, a real surfer’s paradise.
► Next stop: Monteverde (E)
► Distance: 260 km
► Travel time car: 4.45 hours
The misty forests of Monteverde (E)
You’re really into some kind of fairy tale in the misty forests at Monteverde (E). Make a long trek through the jungle with its ancient trees. Bring a rain jacket because it’s raining pretty often there. For a more quiet place, you can choose for the nearby Santa Elena. You are slightly further away from the national park, but it is a laid back base for activities in the area. And for the adventurers: go on a night trip, looking for snakes and mega spiders!
► Next stop: La Fortuna (F)
► Distance: 197 km
► Travel time car: 4.15 hours
Volcano Arenal & La Fortuna (F)
The Arenal volcano dominates the landscape here. Until 2010 this was a very active volcano and there was a constant lava flow. We were lucky enough to see that once, and during a night climb we could even see small eruptions. All very exciting! Nowadays, the volcano has become a little more quiet, but there is plenty of other excitement to experience in the area. You can go hiking, go rafting, or take a horse trip. You will not be bored here at all.
Next stop: Puerto Limón (G)
Distance: 211 km
Travel time car: 3.30 hours
Puerto Limón (G) & Tortuguero NP
We found Puerto Limón (G) itself not that special, but it is a great base for a trip to the Tortuguero National Park. So book your tour here. Try to plan a multi-day trip if possible, so you have the opportunity to sleep in the jungle during a night or two. It’s a delightful experience with all those jungle sounds around you!
Next stop: Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (H)
Distance: 60 km
Travel time car: 1 hour
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (H)
This is the real Caribbean man! Rastafaris, reggae music, colorful houses, and beaches: perfect to relax for a few days. For some action, rent a bike and look for the idyllic bays that the area has to offer. Do a yoga session in the middle of the jungle. Enjoy it at the fullest!
If you have more time left, we listed some other options below to continue. If not, you can return from here to San José (I) to go back home.
Next stop: San José (I), Distance: 218 km, travel time car: 4 hours
Next stop: Bocas del Toro (Panama), travel time: thick 5 hours
If you have some time left…
If you really have a lot of time left, Costa Rica is great to combine with Panama or Nicaragua. To give you an idea: if you have a total of around 6 weeks, then I would go for Panama & Costa Rica. If you have 2 months, then I would choose Costa Rica & Nicaragua. So, for those who have a few days left, we can give you the following tips:
1. Bocas del Toro in Panama
extra time: minimum 4 days
When you some spare time, visiting the islands of Bocas del Toro is a must! They are just across the border. You can spot dolphins, do some island hopping, go diving or just relax on one of the beautiful beaches. Count more or less a day for the trip going from, and coming back to Puerto Viejo. So I would suggest to withdraw at least 4 days, preferably 5 to go to Bocas Del Toro. Check out this mini travel guide for Bocas del Toro to get an impression of the tropical islands.
2. Montezuma & Samara
extra time: minimum 5 days
It takes some effort to get to the Nicoya Peninsula, and especially when you are depending on public transport. Here you will find the colorful Montezuma, a hippie village full of backpackers hostels and bars. Walk to the fantastic falls, visit the butterfly farm, wander around on the beach or have a beer in one of the cosy beach bars. Samara is a bit of a hidden paradise, although recently it has been discovered more and more by travelers. Not the virgin white beach here, but it has such a relaxed vibe that it makes it hard for you to leave it behind…
3. Volcanoes Irazú & Poás
extra time: a day trip from San José
Both Irazú and the Poás volcanoes are easy to do as a day trip from San José. Please inform yourself a little about the activity in advance: when we were there in 2011, we were not allowed to go to the Poás because it was on the verge of erupting!
For such a small country, Costa Rica has a lot of thing to offer. If after seeing all of the previous, you still have time left to do more, the following places are also worth a visit:
In the northwest: Playa Tamarindo, Santa Rosa National Park, Rincon de la Vieja or a boat trip on Rio Frío to the border with Nicaragua.
In the south and southeast: Cahuita is also a nice place near the coast for a few days. And if you want more off the beaten track, I would go into the jungle at Chirripo.