Costa Rica Is More Than Just Sun, Sand, And Sea

Welcome to Costa Rica, a paradise on earth that offers more than just sun, sand, and sea. This small Central American country is rich with natural beauty, cultural diversity, and a fascinating history that includes the contributions of Afro-Caribbean descent.

Discover a side of this beautiful country that few get to see. Pack your bags and vamonos!


The Dry Season (December to April) is considered the best time to visit Costa Rica. The weather is warm and sunny, and there is less rain. But beware, this is also peak tourist season, so prices for hotels and flights are higher.

The Wet Season (May to November) can still be a great time to visit Costa Rica but at the risk of heavy downpours that could foil outdoor plans. The benefit would naturally be better prices overall.

I went in mid-May and luckily had brief moments of light rain and no weather conditions that derailed any plans.

Tips for Wet Season:

  • Bring rain gear. It is crucial to pack rain gear, including a raincoat, umbrella, and rain boots.
  • Be prepared for shorter days. The wet season is the time of year when the days are shorter. This means that you will have less time to explore the country.
  • Book activities in advance and come up with backup plans. Plans can often get canceled or postponed due to heavy rain.
Carnivorous plant in Monteverde orchid garden


Costa Rica has two international airports, Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) in San Jose and Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR) in Liberia. 

Many airlines offer direct flights to both airports, including American Airlines, Delta, United, Southwest, and JetBlue. Check to see which airport is offering a better deal. I chose to fly through San Jose Airport as it was a better fit for the itinerary.

Depending on your nationality, you may need a visa to enter Costa Rica. Check with your country’s embassy or consulate for more information.

US residents will not need a tourist visa to enter the country, but you must present a return ticket demonstrating your return to the States within 90 days.

Views of the tree tops on hike to La Arenal viewpoint.


Renting a car is the best way to explore Costa Rica’s many destinations

But you need to choose a reliable rental company and follow local driving regulations.

Booking online is cheaper, but beware that mandatory liability insurance must be purchased per Costa Rican policy. This is an additional fee that sometimes isn’t included when you book online and often will surprise visitors showing up at the office to pick up their cars. Look for this in the breakdown of your rental costs.

This will be listed in several ways: Supplemental Liability Insurance, Third-Party Insurance, or Liability Protection.

Additionally, you will need collision damage protection, which your rental company will likely offer. This is OPTIONAL. The right credit card will include collision damage protection. I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve for this rental. Check which credit card you have would work best!

Adobe is a Costa Rican company, and the rental car service I used to rent a car.

I booked directly through their website. I paid $377 for eight days ($269 for the base car rental price and $108 for mandatory liability insurance). Compare this potential cost to that of using a shuttle service or bus, factor in the extra transit times, and consider the attractions that can only be reached by car, and you will quickly realize the value of renting a car.

You can drive with a US driver’s license or any license with text written in any of the Romance languages (English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian). If your license is in any other language, consider getting an international driver’s license (typically costs about $25).

Do a thorough walkthrough before you leave with the car. Take a few pictures, paying attention to any pre-existing dents or scratches.

The road conditions in Costa Rica are generally good.

Costa Rica has well-maintained highways and secondary roads. However, there are some areas, especially in the mountains, where the roads can be narrow and winding. Choose a vehicle with 4-wheel drive or all-wheel drive for safer maneuvering and better bumper clearance.

Important note: Getting directions in Costa Rica can be a hassle. They don’t use street numbers and likely will guide you by naming landmarks. The gas station is 50 meters north of the old church and 75 meters east after crossing the giant mango tree. When I traveled, I used Google Maps, which served me well. In case I lost service, I downloaded the map to use offline.


Day 1-3: Volcanoes and Hot Springs in La Fortuna

Welcome to La Fortuna, a charming town at the base of the majestic Arenal volcano. This is the perfect place to kick off your Costa Rican adventure; here are some lodging options to choose from:

Where to Stay in La Fortuna:

Arenal Backpackers Resort: For travelers on a budget, we recommend staying at Arenal Backpackers Resort, where you can mingle with other travelers and enjoy various amenities, including a swimming pool, hot tub, and shared kitchen.

The Springs Resort and Spa: If you’re looking for something more upscale, check out The Springs Resort and Spa, which boasts luxurious rooms with stunning views of the volcano and access to natural hot springs and a full-service spa.

Tabacon Thermal Resort and Spa: The most famous hot springs in Costa Rica live within this resort. Are you looking for a relaxing getaway with luxuries all within reach on the premises? This place is for you.

Chalets Silencio del Bosque: Be one with nature in this intimate hotel surrounded by lush green.

Airbnbs are also great, cheap options and there are plenty to choose from. I stayed in a very affordable Airbnb for two nights, with a private outdoor jacuzzi and dining area.

Jacuzzi and Dining Area in Airbnb in La Fortuna.
View the private jacuzzi and dining area in a prime location in La Fortuna.

What to Do in La Fortuna:

Take a dip at La Fortuna Waterfall: This waterfall is 70 meters tall, and a natural pool forms at its base. Don’t forget your swim trunks — once you walk down 530 steps to the bottom of the falls, you can dip in the natural pool to cool off.

Cascading waterfall and beautiful lush greenery.
La Fortuna waterfall. Go for a swim at the base!

Go Hiking at La Arenal Volcano: You can hike to the top and enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape or take a guided tour for a more informative experience.

View of La Arenal Volcano
Arenal Volcano from a viewpoint along the hike.

Explore the Ecocentro Danaus: A nature reserve just a few minutes from La Fortuna, where you can see various exotic birds, butterflies, and other animals. Take a guided tour to learn more about the local flora and fauna and their importance to the ecosystem.

Visit the Tabacon Hot Springs: One of the most popular tourist attractions in the area, the Tabacon Hot Springs is a natural hot spring surrounded by lush vegetation and offers a variety of thermal pools, waterfalls, and other relaxation areas. You must pay for a day pass to enter if you are not staying at the Tabacon Thermal Resort (see above).

Tabacon Hot Springs in Costa Rica.
Indulge yourself in the hot springs at Tabacon.

Experience the Sky Walk: A unique way to explore the rainforest canopy, the Sky Walk takes you on a guided tour across a series of suspension bridges and platforms suspended high above the ground. You can enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape and spot various species of birds and animals.

La Fortuna Skywalk
La Fortuna Skywalk offers stunning views!

White water rafting: For those who love water activities, white water rafting is an excellent option in La Fortuna. The nearby Balsa River is a popular spot for rafting. You can choose from various tours that range from easy to challenging. You’ll paddle down the river while taking in the stunning views of the rainforest and the surrounding mountains.

Day 3: Consider A Stop at Rio Celeste

If you’re up for a scenic drive from La Fortuna to Monteverde, make a pit stop at Rio Celeste.

The drive is 75 minutes from La Fortuna, so hit the road early. Be sure to have a full gas tank and be prepared for bumpy roads in certain parts of the route. It will take another 2.5 hours to reach Monteverde.

The Rio Celeste route is a picturesque drive through lush rainforests, rolling hills, and small rural towns. Along the way, you’ll have the opportunity to see stunning views of the Tenorio Volcano. Your final destination, Rio Celeste, is a beautiful blue waterfall at the end of an approximately 3.5-mile trail.

Entrance Fee: $12 for adults, $5 for kids aged 5-12.

Parking: $5 to park just outside of the trail

Cascading waterfall with turquoise blue waters at the base.
After the short hike, you will be find yourself descending the stairs to this beautiful blue waterfall.

Day 3-5: Lush Green Mountains in Monteverde

Welcome to Day 3-5 of your Costa Rican adventure! Get ready to immerse yourself in the lush beauty of Monteverde, where the cool mountain air and misty cloud forests will leave you feeling refreshed and inspired.

Where To Stay in Monteverde:

Monteverde Lodge & Gardens: The gardens are the gem of this magnificent accommodation, which makes it the perfect choice for all couples who love a sense of adventure and romance.

Camino Verde Bed & Breakfast: This one is a comfortable and cozy stay managed by a family and inspired by a Tica House design. A home-cooked breakfast is only one of the things that will make your accommodation more pleasant.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Lodge: Have an epic stay only two kilometers from Santa Elena – this accommodation gives you the essence of this small town!

Valle Escondido Nature Reserve Hotel & Farm: Another family-run establishment that will make you feel most welcome! There is also an on-site restaurant for you to enjoy.

Monteverde Country Lodge: This is a renowned property and an excellent choice for a unique and personalized experience.

What To Do in Monteverde:

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve: One of the most popular attractions in Monteverde, this nature reserve is home to a diverse array of flora and fauna, including several species of orchids, hummingbirds, and monkeys. Join a tour or explore the reserve’s trails independently. They also offer tours through the rainforest at night. Highly recommend!

Night tour with picture of bird in Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica
My first attempt at night wildlife photography in Monteverde Cloud Forest. How’d I do?

Ecological Sanctuary: This private reserve offers visitors the chance to explore the forest on foot or horseback, with guided tours in English and Spanish. The sanctuary is home to several species of animals, including sloths, armadillos, and anteaters.

Don Juan Coffee Tour: Coffee lovers will want to take advantage of a visit to Don Juan Coffee Tour, where they can learn about growing, harvesting, and roasting coffee beans. Visitors can also sample freshly brewed coffee and purchase beans to take home. The tour also includes a chocolate-making demonstration and a visit to a sugarcane mill.

Picture of me with the truffles I made on the Don Juan Coffee Tour in Costa Rica
We did the Don Juan Coffee/Chocolate Tour where we sampled tons of fresh coffee and made our own truffles.

Bat Jungle: This small museum and exhibit are dedicated to the fascinating world of bats. Visitors can learn about the different species of bats found in Costa Rica, observe them up close in their habitats, and even see them in flight during a live demonstration.

Ziplining with Selvatura Extreme Adventure – Now, this was one fun experience. This is considered the more thrilling and adventurous zip-lining between Monteverde and La Fortuna. There also another beautiful skywalk that is included in the price. Check it out and tell me what you think!

Photos of me ziplining in Monteverde
Here are the souvenirs we got after the thrilling zip-lining in Monteverde.

Monteverde Cheese Factory: A visit to the Monteverde Cheese Factory is a must for foodies. Visitors can learn about the cheese-making process and sample a variety of cheeses, including the famous Monteverde cheese. The factory also has a small cafe and gift shop where visitors can purchase souvenirs to take home.

San Lucas Dinner – Head to San Lucas for a unique dining experience at a restaurant perched on the treetops. This place is perfect for a great meal and beautiful sunset.

Food at San Lucas treetop dining in Costa Rica.

Food art at its best!

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Day 5-8: Fun in the Sun in Tamarindo

Welcome to Tamarindo, a vibrant coastal town known for its beautiful beaches, exciting water sports, and relaxed atmosphere. This is about 3 hours away from Rio Celeste and Monteverde.

Where To Stay in Tamarindo:

La Ramona Charming Hotel:  This cute boutique hotel is indeed charming. The accommodations were perfect, and the outdoor shower and bathtub made the stay even better.

La Botella de Leche Hostel: This family-run hostel is the first to have opened up in Tamarindo over 20 years ago. It offers a shared living room with a TV and an outdoor pool.

Capitan Suizo Beachfront Boutique Hotel: This beachfront hotel offers an outdoor pool, spa facilities, and massage services. They also have a restaurant on-site.

The Beach Bungalows: This place is adults-only and purports to be digital nomad friendly with its fast, free WiFi. Also, the bungalows are a unique housing option.

Outdoor shower and bath tub in La Ramona Charming Hotel in Tamarindo, Costa Rica

What To Do in Tamarindo:

Learn How to Surf: With consistent waves and warm water, Tamarindo is a great place to learn to surf or improve your skills. Surf schools and rental shops are plentiful, and there are plenty of breaks for all levels of surfers.

Beach Hop: Tamarindo is surrounded by various beautiful beaches, each with its unique character. Some famous beaches in the area include Playa Langosta, Playa Grande, Playa Avellanas, and Playa Conchal (a beach made of tiny crushed-up seashells).

Take a Sunset Boat Ride: Enjoy a romantic sunset sailing or catamaran tour on the Pacific Ocean while sipping cocktails and taking in the stunning views of the coastline. Depending the company, there may be an open bar and light snacks on board. Some will make short stops at secluded beaches

This sunset in Tamarindo was stunning.

Do Some Wildlife Watching: Tamarindo has several wildlife reserves, including Las Baulas National Marine Park and the Tamarindo Wildlife Refuge. Visitors can spot wildlife, including howler monkeys, iguanas, and bird species.

Watch Sea Turtles at Las Baulas National Marine Park: Just a short drive north of the town, a unique and one-of-a-kind adventure awaits! If you’ve always been fond of wildlife, visit the sea turtles that come to nest at the beaches every year. This is such a sight! If you are lucky, you may spot a howler monkey or an iguana in the trees for those who want an extra surprise or two.

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Take an ATV Tours Explore the rugged terrain around Tamarindo on an ATV tour. With options for both guided and self-guided tours, visitors can explore the backcountry and discover hidden waterfalls and natural pools.

Day 8-10: Cultural Immersion in San Jose

Welcome to the Central Valley—the final leg of your journey in Costa Rica! As you wrap up your 10-day adventure, spend your last two days exploring San Jose and its surroundings.

Where To Stay in San Jose:

  • Hotel Grano de Oro: This luxurious hotel was formerly a Victorian mansion. It boasts a rooftop and in-house restaurant that combines Costa Rican and European cuisine.
  • Hotel Casa 69: A beautiful homey bed & breakfast just a short walk from the city center.
  • Isla Verde Hotel: This sleek modern hotel is a family-run enterprise and is pretty affordable.
  • La Sabana Hotel Suites Apartments: These suites offer more in-unit amenities in case you feel like preparing some meals from home.
This luxurious room can be found in Hotel Grano de Oro in Tamarindo, Costa Rica.
This luxurious room can be found in Hotel Grano de Oro in San Jose.

What To Do in San Jose:

Explore the Central Market: The Central Market is a bustling market where you can find fresh produce, seafood, and other local goods. It is a great place to experience the local culture and cuisine.

Central Market in San Jose, Costa Rica

Visit the National Museum of Costa Rica: Located in the heart of San Jose, this museum showcases the history and culture of Costa Rica through exhibits and artifacts.

Visit the Jade Museum:  This museum houses over 7,000  jade artifacts and offers a glimpse into the history of jade in Costa Rica. 

Take a Walking Tour: There are several walking tours available in San Jose that will take you to the city’s most popular attractions. These tours are a great way to learn about the city’s history and culture.

Me in San Jose, Costa RIca.

Roam through the Botanical Orchid Garden: Once you enter this place, you will be immediately swept up by the various scents it gives off. You can discover more than 100 plants while you are walking through the trails and, once again, witness the wonders nature creates.

Orchids in Orchid Botanical Garden seen in Monteverde and San Jose, Costa Rica.

Visit the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum: The Pre-Columbian Gold Museum is a museum that houses a collection of pre-Columbian gold artifacts. It is a fascinating museum that offers a glimpse into the history of Costa Rica.

Enjoy the local cuisine: San Jose has a vibrant culinary scene with a wide variety of restaurants serving up everything from traditional Costa Rican food to international cuisine. Be sure to try some of the local specialties, such as gallo pinto (rice and beans) and casado (a plate lunch).

Food in Central Market in San Jose, Costa Rica


Costa Rica is a land of vibrant celebrations and cultural traditions deeply ingrained in its society. Whether you’re a culture vulture or just looking for a good time, a festival or holiday is always happening somewhere in the country.

Semana Santa (late March/early April)

Semana Santa, or Holy Week, usually occurs during the last week of March or the first week of April, typically a peak tourist season in Costa Rica. Many locals take the week off work to celebrate the holiday, and visitors worldwide flock to the country to witness the vibrant and traditional festivities.

It’s important to note that due to the popularity of Semana Santa, many businesses and tourist attractions may have limited hours or be closed during this time.

Dia de las Culturas (October 12th)

Formerly named Columbus Day, this day has been renamed Cultural Day and is celebrated on October 12th. The day is spent honoring indigenous communities of Costa Rica.

Limón Carnival (mid-October)

Limón Carnival is an annual celebration of the rich Afro-Caribbean culture. The festival spans an entire week and typically occurs during the area’s mini-dry season in October. The festival features parades, street parties, music, dance, and food. The streets are decorated with colorful banners and streamers, and the air is filled with drums and music.

A highlight of the Limon Carnival is the Queen’s Contest. Young women from all over the region compete for the title of Carnival Queen. The winner is crowned at the end of the week, and she is the official spokesperson for the Limon Carnival.

Mascarade Festival (October 31st)

Barva is a town steeped in colonial tradition and is famous for its Feria de la Mascarada (Mascarade Festival), an annual cultural event centered around masks. The festival, held on October 31st, showcases the creativity of local craftsmen and artisans who create larger-than-life colorful characters such as demons, devils, local politicians, and celebrities.

Participants in the festival don these massive headpieces and dance and parade around the town plaza. Though the festival can sometimes become congested and raucous, it is worth experiencing at least once for its vibrant atmosphere and unique celebration of local culture.

Fiestas de Zapote (Dec 25th to Jan 1st)

This is the largest and most famous festival in Costa Rica, which takes place during Christmas and New Year’s. It features carnival rides, live music, bullfights, and much more.


Stay aware of your surroundings: Just like in any other foreign country, it’s important to stay mindful of your surroundings and keep an eye on your belongings. Avoid leaving valuables unattended, and be aware of your surroundings in crowded areas.

Use licensed taxis or ride-share services: When taking taxis or ride-share services, use licensed and registered providers. Avoid getting into unofficial taxis or accepting rides from strangers. Side note, the taxi meter is known as the “Maria.”

Be cautious when swimming: Costa Rica is known for its beautiful beaches, but it’s important to exercise caution when swimming. Be aware of rip currents and follow warning signs and lifeguard instructions.

Don’t leave your belongings in your car: Car theft is common in Costa Rica, so avoid leaving your belongings in your vehicle. Keep valuables with you or in a secure place.

Be respectful of local customs and traditions: Costa Rica has a rich cultural heritage, so take the time to learn about local customs and traditions. Be respectful when visiting religious sites and dress appropriately when visiting more conservative areas.

Stay on designated trails: Costa Rica has many national parks and natural reserves, but it’s important to stay on designated trails and avoid disturbing the environment. Follow park rules and respect wildlife.

Be prepared for the weather: Costa Rica has a tropical climate, so be prepared for rain and humidity. Pack lightweight, breathable clothing and carry a rain jacket or umbrella.

Use insect repellent: Costa Rica is home to many insects, including mosquitoes that can carry diseases like dengue fever and Zika virus. Use insect repellent and wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when possible.

Be careful when using ATMs: ATM skimming is a problem in Costa Rica, so be cautious. Use machines inside banks or other secure locations and cover the keypad when entering your PIN.

Trust your instincts: Lastly, trust your instincts when traveling in Costa Rica. If something feels off, trust your gut and take appropriate action to ensure your safety.

Oxcart in Don Juan Coffee Tour in Monteverde
Oxcarts are symbolic of Costa Rica and its rich coffee culture.


Pura Vida: This is the most famous saying in Costa Rica, translating to “pure life.” It can be used in many situations, such as a greeting, farewell, or expressing gratitude.

Mae: This is a slang term for “dude” or “bro.” It’s commonly used among friends or in casual settings.

Tuani: Means “cool” or “great” in Costa Rican slang. It’s used to express approval or admiration for something.

Diay: This is a versatile word that can express surprise, confusion, agreement, or disagreement. It’s similar to the English word “well.”

Pelado/Pelada: This means “bald” in Spanish, but in Costa Rican slang, it’s used to refer to someone who is broke or has no money.

Chincho: This slang term is used to describe a random object or thing when you can’t remember the name of the same object in question.

Tico/Tica: This is a term used to refer to Costa Ricans. It’s a shortened version of “hermanitico/hermanitica,” which means “little brother/sister.”

Chiva: This is a term used to describe a party bus or a fun outing with friends. It’s a popular activity for tourists in Costa Rica.

Gallo Pinto: A traditional Costa Rican dish made with rice and beans. It’s often served for breakfast and is a staple of the local cuisine.

La soda: This is a term used to describe a small, family-owned restaurant or diner. These are often the best places to try authentic Costa Rican food.

Soda, or family restaurant in Costa Rica
THIS is a soda, my friends. This was the coolest restaurant on the trip and we chanced upon it on our drive to Tamarindo.

From Jungle Adventures To Beach Bliss: A 10-Day Costa Rican Getaway

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