9 Days in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is one of the most traveled countries in Central America. The flights are reasonable, you can navigate the country with ease and there's been an influx of English-speaking travelers over the years, so many choose to start their trip here. Though you'll find some creature comforts of home, the landscape is absolutely one-of-a-kind. Rainforests, waterfalls, sandy beaches, mountains, volcanos and rolling hills are all within arm's reach.
My favorite way to see all of what this greener-than-green country has to offer is by renting a car and road trippin' it the old fashioned way. Beware, there are some seriously unpaved roads so this option is not for the faint of heart. But I promise it's completely worth the thrill. Find out how you do it, here.
Tip: If you'd like to have someone else at the driver's seat, you can hire a driver very cheaply, or take a bus system that caters to tourists.
DAY 1 - 3
ARRIVE IN LIBERIA + HEAD TO TAMARINDO
Fly into Liberia & drive to Tamarindo, it’s a rowdy beach town with solid waves (surfers, take note) and is an ideal jump-off point to explore the rest of the country. This is a popular spot for young tourists, so expect a lively bar scene and standard town amenities with shopping and such. Visit Playa Conchal, a private, secluded beach with beautiful blue water, and Playa Langosta, where an on-shore river forms that you can lay in and let the current take you to the sea.
STAY: For private accommodations, stay at Villa Nautilus, a two-story home that's been converted into a B&B of sorts and is run by the sweetest ex-pat family. Rooms are comfortable and the outdoor space is even better: a shared pool plus a tiki bar. Budget travelers should opt for the Oveja Negra Hostel, a lively place with sprawling communal spaces, bars and pool tables, and lots of socializing.
EAT + PLAY: Panda is great for a nice fish meal and strong drinks. Oveja, mentioned above, has an awesome bar scene where you're sure to meet fellow comrades. Sharky's if you're looking for the sports bar feel. Nogui's for poke with a side of sunset.
Tip: Reserve a rental car online ahead of time and they'll pick you up at the airport and take you to the dealership. A warning that the prices will appear very low - this is the price without insurance. Depending on how long you're renting and what insurance package you choose, expect another hundred or two added on to the total. It's still affordable, but just be mindful.
DAY 3 - 6
HIGH-TAIL IT TO SANTA TERESA, THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED
Begin the summit to Santa Teresa, a sleepy surf town with a laid-back vibe and only one, long street that's riddled with cool restaurants, bars and lots to do. Driving there is a challenge: there's 4 hours of rough terrain and roads that aren't quite roads, but in the end you'll see the rural side of this beautiful place and animals galore. Once you're settled, enjoy the beach and the destination. I also recommend renting an ATV and riding to Montezuma. It's a fun drive through the jungle and the town has a huge waterfall that you should hike to the top of… and jump off.
STAY: Canaima Chill House is one of my favorite accommodations to date. This magical place is at the top of a hill so you’re definitely getting your exercise, but that’s what makes it a remote, jungle experience. For shared, there are a ton of hostel options. Check out Proyecto Santa Teresa first.
EAT + PLAY: Product C for the best fish tacos you will ever have... ever. Olam is an incredible, healthy breakfast spot that also offers yoga classes. Banana Beach has the best sunset view (but bring bug spray, especially if mosquitos love you, as they do me). Soda Taquiso is a typical "costada" where the locals grub on the cheap. Caracola for bangin' tropical ceviche.
DAY 6 - 8
MONTEVERDE TO ARENAL
Start bright and early to begin your trip to Monteverde Cloud Forest, a trip that takes about 5 hours with a car ferry from Puntarenas to Monteverde. Yes, it’s a lot, but a rainforest hike with monkeys and sloths followed by some canopy (zip line) is the light at the end of the drive. Plus, the ferry is cool and there’s a chance you may see some whales or dolphins on your commute. After you get lost in the rainforest for a while, stop in the main town for a coffee & a croissant before heading off to Arenal. You can stay in Monteverde if you feel so inclined, but full disclosure, there's not much else to do. If you can push through and drive to Arenal to crash, you can wake up early and explore the volcano.
Arenal Volcano is absolutely breathtaking. Depending on how much time you have, the front desk will recommend a hiking route for you on the map. When the sky is clear the sunset could not be better – whether on the volcano or admiring it in the back drop. The town itself is filled to the brim with backpackers looking to explore... and to party, so seize the day / night.
STAY: Hotel Mountain Paradise has v i e w s for days and an outdoor pool. For hostel vibes, check out Arenal Hostel Resort. It's definitely a party place with a super lively pool bar so if you're looking to meet people, this is the spot, but it does have a curfew that's respected.
EAT + PLAY: Café y Macadamia is the perfect stop for a lakeside lunch. Moya's Place is you need your fill of pizza, pasta, salads and burgers. Soda Viquez for a traditional Costa Rican meal surrounded by locals.
DAY 8 - 9
KICK BACK ON PLAYA HERMOSA
Instead of staying in Liberia the night before your flight, head to Playa Hermosa, which is just 30 minutes away from the airport. The quiet beach town is very popular with ex-pats and has sweet local bars, fabulous sunsets and cheap (yet great) hotels. It’s the perfect way to treat-yo-self to some R&R before it’s time to return the car and fly home.
STAY: Hotel El Valero is smack dab on the beach, has a great bar and restaurant and the price is an actual steal.
EAT + PLAY: Ginger for asian-inspired tapas with some serious treehouse vibes. La Casita del Marisco for a fresh fish lunch a la playa. Roberto's if you're craving ceviche with ocean views. Sandbar for drinks in a sports bar setting.