I recently traveled across the Pacific half of Costa Rica, so this page details all the amazing experiences I had and some advice to plan your own trip!
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Our first stop after touching down in San Jose was to pick up our rental car from Adobe Rental Car. We had booked this online ahead of time via a few quick google searches. They made it super easy to find their shuttle at the airport and had our car ready as soon as we pulled up with our luggage. We originally had rented a Garmin GPS with the car, but Kaira had service on her phone so we ended up using Waze the entire time to navigate around Costa Rica. This is an important recommendation: I would suggest at least one person in your group to have service and to not rely solely on a Garmin GPS. It came in handy to contact people at our hostels and to have directions whenever we needed since there are no road signs and sometimes the Garmin GPS gets confused by that.
Another tip: make sure you rent a car that is able to fit all your luggage and your entire group COMFORTABLY!!! The roads in Costa Rica are horrible at times and if you cover over half the country like we did, you will need all the comfort you can get. Also, we had an automatic car that was not a 4x4, believe it or not. It worked perfectly for us and was extremely cheap: $400 for 9 whole days! This was so much cheaper and more convenient than if we would have used public transportation….100% worth every penny.
Once we had our SUV, we left San Jose and started making our way to La Fortuna. The views were amazing during the trip, but the winding roads and narrow bridges were slightly terrifying since we were not yet used to them. I was exhausted by the time we got to La Fortuna simply from gripping my “Oh shit handle” for the previous three hours. (Yes, it’s a three hour drive from the airport to La Fortuna, so be prepared for that and pack snacks!).
As soon as Arenal Volcano comes into view, about 20 minutes out from downtown La Fortuna, you will be amazed! The rest of the drive is a breeze and truly breathtaking.
Our first hostel we stayed at was called: Arenal Container Hostel. Let me just say that this was probably my favorite hostel of the entire trip for two reasons: 1) it was extremely clean and 2) the owner Danny was AMAZING! (If you’re reading this, Hi, you’re great! hehe) Oh, wait I forgot to mention...there were 2 DOGS THERE!!!!! You know me and dogs hahaha. Okay back to the point, the Arenal Container Hostel is an absolute must. Very cheap, has wifi and AC, extremely friendly staff, great location, and Danny will help you book all of your adventures for the entire trip via his travel agency called VARCO Travel!!! Just tell him you want to do what I did and he will hook it up for you.
Places you should eat in La Fortuna:
-My Coffee for breakfast (delicious coffee and platos tipicos)
-Organico for breakfast or lunch (amazing vegan and gluten free options!)
-Restaurante Nanku for dinner (honestly there’s lots of options for dinner, this is just where I went and it was pretty good)
Things you should do in La Fortuna:
-Hike the La Fortuna Waterfalls (even if it’s raining)
-Hike the Arenal 1968 Volcano Trail (you will see TONS of wildlife and it’s a pretty easy hike)
-Go to the Salto watering hole (it’s free and a neat local hangout)
-Go to the free natural hot springs at night (couple notes here: yes it is actually called that. Also, be sure to bring a flashlight or phone to find your way and don’t bring any valuables! But it’s super cool and you need to do this… you will thank me later)
Things you should NOT do in La Fortuna:
-Baldi hot springs (Unless you have nothing better to do and money to blow, don’t go here. It was cool, but not worth the price in my opinion. It was nice and relaxing to do after a long day of traveling the first day, but I recommend the free hot springs over these all day!)
I think that about covers La Fortuna, so next up is Monte Verde! This is another 3 hour drive from La Fortuna and is not too bad of a drive in terms of road conditions. To be honest, the first day was definitely the worst because you slowly get used to driving like the locals and then it isn’t so bad! The hostel we stayed at here was called Camino Verde and it was amazing! I would highly recommend it. It was slightly more expensive, but this place definitely had the most comfortable beds and a really gorgeous view overlooking the mountains. The only downside was that the wifi kind of sucked. There was no AC, but in the mountains it actually gets really cold at night so it was not necessary. Huge plus side: breakfast is included in your stay and it is quite delicious!!!! I would highly recommend staying at Camino Verde.
Places you should eat in Monte Verde:
-Taco Taco (PLEASE GO HERE!!!! Get the tortilla salad and the baja burrito. Thank me later. I promise you guys this was the best meal of my whole trip. Just do it.)
-Restaurante D’Thomas (tbh it was kind of expensive, however it was very delicious...definitely more high end food with great wine)
-Choco Cafe (you must go here for Tres Leches after you get dinner!!! The owner is the sweetest man alive and tells really amazing stories, please ask him to catch some bugs for you and show you them because he will tell you more than any tour guide will and he’s just adorable ok. Also they have great coffee and chocolate!)
Things you should do in Monte Verde:
-100% Aventura Zip Lining Tour (one of my favorite parts of my entire trip even though it was pouring rain for most of it! Seriously you guys have to do this and don’t chicken out for the Superman or Tarzan part!!!! The Tarzan swing is absolutely terrifying but 100000% worth it! So freaking awesome. Do it.)
-Kinkajou Night Walk (ok I could write about this all day but I will save you the time. Just please do this. You will see sooooo much wildlife it’s ridiculous. The tour guide is amazing and will do anything you tell him. Even hold a scorpion. Yeah enough said. Oh, wear warm clothes and put on lots of bug spray!!)
Things you should NOT do in Monte Verde:
-100% Aventura Hanging Bridge Tour (not really worth the money in my opinion...I saw more wildlife on the La Fortuna hike and the kinkajou night walk. Also, the bridges are neat, but you get to see similar ones during the zip lining so I would just pass on this part if I were you.)
So the first couple of days are full of fun adventures, lots of hikes, some thrills, and really great views of the rainforests of Costa Rica. Once you get to the Pacific Coast, it is more beaches and chill vibes. I think it’s great to set up the trip this way so that you aren’t exhausted by the end of it and you have time to relax and take it all in before heading back home. Tamarindo is a really great beach town that is slightly more developed and touristy compared to all the other places that I went in Costa Rica (aside from Jaco). Here we stayed at the Pura Vida Hostel. Please do not make the same mistake that I did by staying here. It was DISGUSTING! I won’t go into detail, but unless you are a gross person that wants to be high on drugs the entire time you’re here, just stay somewhere else. We found some friends staying at La Botella de Leche right next door and that seemed way nicer with better vibes all around. So stay there instead!
Places you should eat in Tamarindo:
-Nordico coffee for breakfast or lunch (this is where you can get the infamous Acai bowls that I so often crave!!! Also, delicious dishes for breakfast and lunch. Def go here.)
-Falafel Bar (my mouth is watering just thinking about this place...mmmmm yes go here! Get the falafel plate!)
-La Oveja Negra (mexican food with great live music, happy hour specials, and vegetarian options. Actually, most restaurants I’ve listed so far have really great vegetarian options just fyi.)
-Rumors (for coffee)
-DO NOT go to Bamboo Sushi Club (we had horrible service here and the food was mediocre...nothing to write home about. Although, the passion fruit cheesecake was to die for so maybe just go here for dessert once you’ve already eaten dinner!)
Things you should do in Tamarindo:
-Go to playa tamarindo (beautiful at sunrise and sunset)
-Go to playa conchal (this beach is about a 40 minute drive from Tamarindo and it is BREATHTAKING!!! This was my #1 favorite part of the trip. Pretty much all of my pictures were taken here lol. The water is crystal clear and bright blue, the sand is the softest I’ve ever felt, and the view is almost as great as Trunk Bay on St. John...it’s a must see.)
-Horseback Riding (we did this on playa conchal with a random guy that had his horses with him to give tours. It was super cheap, relatively safe, and an AMAZING time!)
The drive from Tamarindo to Montezuma is a pretty solid 4 hours with relatively crappy roads. Just take your time and enjoy the views. Let me tell you, if I could only go to one city during my next trip to Costa Rica, this is it. The vibes are amazing, the people are amazing, and if you’re as lucky as I was you will meet some really great friends that share inspiring moments with you while you’re here. Montezuma definitely has my heart and changed the way I look at things now that I’m back in the states. So, first things first where should you stay? Hands down, no questions asked you MUST stay at Proyecto Montezuma. The views here are like nothing you can imagine, the people you will meet here become your family, and it is a 5 minute walk from anything you could possibly want to do in Montezuma. The one downside is that there is no AC, which really blows in Montezuma because it is very hot and humid there. But everything else really makes up for that so don’t worry about it my friend. (PS. Kevin,Tommy, and Eric if you’re reading this: where does it say McLovin?)
Places you should eat in Montezuma:
-Soda tipica las palmeras (Go here for breakfast/lunch and get the vegetarian burrito! Thank me later! It was in my top three meals of this trip. Also, this is where monkeys literally come up to your table while you’re eating!!!)
-El balcon del mar (Go here for dinner. Carlos the owner is hilarious and incredibly friendly. He will shower you in free tequila...literally lol.)
-Soda montesol (Go here for breakfast. Get the montezuma plate with avocado. Your belly will love you.)
-Moctezuma surf shop (the freshest smoothie you will ever drink)
-Chelo (If you love italian food then you will love this place! Go here for dinner)
Things you should do in Montezuma:
-Hike the Montezuma Waterfalls (there is a free trail that you can hike...find a local to show you the way or go with some experienced hikers that you will surely meet at the hostel because it is somewhat difficult to find your way. However, it is 100000% worth it! You can climb the waterfalls and jump off them into the water below. There is a safe place to keep your things and plenty of places to take cool photos! Do it!)
-Go to the beaches that the receptionist at the hostel tells you to go (self explanatory...do this)
-Bioluminescence at night (ask the receptionist about this...if you go to the natural pools right by the hostel super late at night with no light, just stir the waters around you and watch what happens. You literally feel like tinkerbell. The best part is that you’ve probably never seen this before and no one will be able to experience it unless they’re there because you can’t video record it. It’s truly a neat thing to do and absolutely beautiful. Just make sure you don’t shine any light on the water because then the luminescence will go away.)
-Do NOT do the Isla Tortuga Snorkeling (in my opinion, this is not worth the money. You basically ride a boat for about 45 minutes to a random little island that you snorkel around for an hour. It has dirty water, very little coral, and lots of the same types of fish. Once you get to isla tortuga, it’s incredibly touristy and doesn’t have very much to do. The staff was extremely friendly so I hate to say this, but I think it is kind of a waste of an entire day so just skip it. Hike down the coast and see all the pretty beaches of Montezuma instead!)
Jacó (pronounced Ha-Co...thanks for teaching us Eric)
In order to get from Montezuma to Jaco, you must first drive an hour and a half to a ferry (which is an hour long ride from the peninsula back to the mainland that you can take your car on) and then another hour and a half from the ferry to Jaco itself. Jaco is a party town on the beach with some really great places to eat and lots of shops to buy souvenirs. I only spent one day here, but I think it deserves a little more than that. I wasn’t able to go to the beach, but I’d like to think it is nice! I can not give advice on that though since I did not see it. We stayed in a hostel called ISAS. It was incredibly clean, had super comfy beds, and was located right downtown. Downsides included the fact that the wifi was awful and the rooms were dorm style rooms so usually it would be filled with up to 10 people. We got lucky that we had the whole room to ourselves. I should note here that at all the other hostels we got private rooms, since there was 4 of us and we did not want to have to leave our stuff in dorms with strangers.
Places you should eat in Jaco:
-Green room cafe (Go here for lunch or dinner. Definitely the most American place I ate on this trip...AMAZING drinks and even better food with great vegan and vegetarian options. Highly recommend 10/10)
-Costa juice (Go here when you’re craving an acai bowl like me (: lol)
Things you should do in Jaco:
-Bargain for good prices on souvenirs (Not kidding lol. Don’t pay whatever price they say. Also since I was only here for one night I didn’t do much other than shop and eat sooooo that is all I have to say haha)
The morning that we had to leave to go home, we drove from Jaco to San Jose to drop off the rental (about an hour and a half drive.) Then we took the Adobe shuttle to the airport and made our way back to the states.
Overall, I would highly recommend traveling to Costa Rica and staying in hostels. I think the route that we took was ideal to see the Pacific side of the country. We were there for 9 days and saw almost half the country, so I would suggest reading through all this advice if you want to do something similar (: All I have to say now is: PURA VIDA!!!!!!!!
Things you may forget to bring, so I am warning you ahead of time that you must not forget!
-Lightweight rain jacket
-Berkey or LifeStraw water bottle (so you can literally drink out of a stream if you have to)
-Water socks (search on amazon)
-Sunscreen with a high SPF (you’re near the equator people...you will burn even if it’s cloudy)
-Copy of your passport (in case you lose it)
-Ziplock bags (to store your money and phone while hiking)
-A lock (some hostels had cupboards that you could keep your important belongings in)
-Cash (don’t worry about converting it to colones...every single place accepts USD)
-At least one warm outfit (Monte Verde is pretty chilly because of the high elevation)
-Hiking snacks (granola bars, peanut butter, granola, trail mix, pistachios, etc.)
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