Known for its rich biodiversity–sheltering about 5% of world’s fauna and flora–Costa Rica is a natural treasure, where emerald-green forests meet the waters of the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. From active volcanoes to rainforests, from the perfect surfing getaways to calm beaches, from tiny poblados to the packed capital of San Jose–Costa Rica is a country of contrasts. I already knew that I would like it here due to innumerous recommendations, but I’m simply in love with the “Pura Vida” lifestyle! The Costa Ricans, better known as “Ticos”, know that living in paradise shouldn’t be anything else besides an everlasting vacation–no wonder I love Costa Rica so much already.
Since I’m not nearly done exploring this country, I have decided to share my experience in a few separate posts, in order to fit all of the tips I have to offer (:
La Fortuna de San Carlos
This outdoorsy little town is one of Costa Rica’s most coveted destinations, the perfect place for hiking, biking, horseback riding, river rafting, swimming in hot springs, and lots of exploring. La Fortuna is located in the fertile region of the Northern Highlands of Costa Rica–about 2.5-3 hours from San Jose’s International Airport–and is composed by a small picturesque town, a big church, delicious restaurants, colorful gardens, and the great Arenal Volcano rising above the village.
We spent a total of three days or so in the region, but I highly recommend an entire week in order to enjoy La Fortuna the most. We parked our house in Termales Los Laureles, one of the hot springs, and from there commenced exploring the area. First, we headed to Catarata La Fortuna, a 70-75 meter waterfall, which lies on the base of the dormant Chato Volcano. The waterfall is fed by the Arenal River, and can be extremely cold to swim in–but so worth it! The admission to the park is $15 per adult (children 6+ pay), and offers a nice infrastructure to tourists and is only a short–yet very steep–walk from the park’s entrance. Another must-go attraction is the Arenal 1968, a private park which offers beautiful views and hikes around Volcan Arenal. Besides having a brand-new infrastructure, well-signaled trails, friendly staff, bathrooms and a cafeteria, as well as tours, the fee is only $15 per person (other public parks aren’t nearly as developed and cost the same price). I urge visitors to take the morning or afternoon to complete some of the trails and appreciate the panoramic views of the volcano, abundant forest, and lakes. Our last memorable adventure in La Fortuna was to zip-line across the mountains and on top of Catarata La Fortuna, a total of twelve lines–some of which were almost a kilometer long. I 100% recommend doing the zip-line with Green Line Costa Rica, which has highly qualified, friendly, and efficient professionals!
As for restaurants, I personally thought La Fortuna to be a bit expensive (many restaurants charge around $10-15 per person); consequently, we ended up searching around for good quality, Costa Rican traditional, and affordable places to eat….Las Flores Restaurante offers really good fish (or any dish for that matter), and each plate costs around $7. Furthermore, I recommend Arabigos Coffee House for those who can’t go a day without freshly brewed coffee!
Once leaving La Fortuna behind, we headed to Lake Arenal. While zig-zagging through the thick jungle—and listening to the screaming monos and exotic birds—we were extremely surprised to find a small Swiss/German community of farmers and business owners. Fortunately, we got to spend a few nights in a lovely, and very authentic, Swiss hotel called Los Heroes. The inn was composed by a milk farm, and a rotatory restaurant, which is accessed by the hotel’s own Swiss-style train (built by the very owner). Besides offering delicious, home-made food—I highly recommend the pork with rosti potatoes—and lake-front and volcano views, my sister and I were able to spend an hour or so milking the cows in one of the afternoons!
Also, half an hour or so after Los Heros Hotel, there’s this German Bakery called Tom’s Pan, where authentic German pastries and breads are served fresh-out of the oven!
Parque Nacional Rincon de la Vieja
Our next destination was the National Park Rincon de la Vieja, famous for its volcano, waterfalls, and wildlife. Luckily enough, we found a campground nearby the park, where we spent two nights; additionally, our Dutch “neighbors” gave us a ride to the park on the following morning. There are a few waterfalls one can hike to, which I would say are “intermediate” level, as well as an easy trail around some geysers (where there’s the most wildlife). The hike to Catarata La Cangreja, the waterfall we picked, is beautiful—large trees, tons of birds and monkeys, panoramic views of the ocean, and a gorgeous waterfall in the end. After almost 5 km of walking under the hot sun, Cangreja’s cool and clean water couldn’t have felt better! Besides the crystalline lagoon of a turquoise color, which forms under the catarata, one can climb behind the 50-meter-drop and enjoy a very natural shower. The total hike is about 10 km long, and takes an average of 4 hours to complete the circuit (including the 1-hour-stop for food and swimming), and the park charges a $15 entrance fee.
Golden Tip: in Liberia, the city near the national park, there’s this restaurant called El Callejero Food Truck, which is honestly SO good!! If you find yourself there, you must get the octopus (I know…but it’s the best), but really, anything there is amazing.
Bajos Del Toro
Another outdoor getaway that left us in awe was the hidden valley of Bajos Del Toro, located between two extinct volcanoes. A not-so-popular destination, it seemed the valley had stopped in time. Besides scenic views, Bajos Del Toro has handfuls of waterfalls to hike to; we hiked in one day Catarata Tesoro Escondido and Catarata Rio Agrio, the latter being situated near a restaurant with delicious trout. Even with a gloomy weather hanging above our heads, the valleys and forests captivated us—a sort of mist lingered over the trails, making us feel like we were in one of those “Jurassic Park” movies. Thankfully we were the only ones in Tesoro Escondido, and not many people were in Rio Agrio either—lucky us!