There are few things I like more than a warm escape from the NYC winter. The usual fix is a weekend in Miami, but this past December, a few of us traveled down to Costa Rica for a real getaway from Christmas to New Year’s.
Not only was it one of the easiest places to travel that I’ve been, but the range and diversity of places to go and things to do — even in such a small country — meant that we were never bored!
We planned our trip with an adventurous start – beginning at the Arenal Volcano and then off to the Monteverde Cloud forest – and a relaxing finish – ending at a surf camp in Tamarindo for a few days at the beach.
Here are my recommendations
We flew into the Liberia airport — and boy are we glad that we hired private transport for the 2.5-3 hour drive to La Fortuna, the town outside the Arenal Volcano. The roads were horrendous and poorly marked. Thank you, blogs and friends, for that good advice. We spent 2.5 days in Arenal, which was great – there certainly was more to do – particularly with outdoor activities, but we felt like we got a great overview.
What to do
- Hike the Arenal Volcano National Park and go to the Arenal observatory. Arenal is one of the ten most active volcanos in the world. Note to the non-athletic (like me): the Cerro Chato hike is the devil. Awesome, but the devil. Caveat hiker. You only have to pay an entrance fee to the park, there are free tours at 8:30am.
- Go to the Tabacon Resort geothermal springs – total luxury. Spend the whole day and get lunch. If you want to book a massage, do it ahead of time. Also, get on line EARLY – check in is very slow.
- Other things we didn’t do but heard were awesome: La Fortuna waterfall hike, ATVing, hiking around the lake, bungee jumping, horseback riding, and more hiking (sensing a theme here).
Where to eat
While we didn’t have any particularly notable meals:
- Mediteranneo had very good Italian food (I know!) in La Fortuna, though terribly slow service
- “Sodas” are small, family run restaurants that are a great place to eat local cuisine and offer amazing value – pricing is usually half of that at other destinations. Meals ran at $2-5 each!
- Local food: Casados: you pick a protein (or vegetarian) and get a plate with rice, beans, salads, and plantains.
Where to Stay
- Luxe: We wanted to stay at Tabacon, but alas, we booked too late during peak season
- Budget: We stayed at Selvita Lodge, a Costa Rican B&B run by an adorable family. Located in La Fortuna
From Arenal, we took a van to the MonteVerde Cloud Forest (we used Anywhere Costa Rica for transportation – far and away the safest drivers we found and nicest vans). Note: bring layers for Monteverde, it was much cooler (much!) and windier than anywhere else we were in Costa Rica
What to do
Everything to do in Monteverde centers around nature. Our top highlights
- Incredible guided tour of the cloud forest. Well worth it to have a knowledgeable guide who can point out the different animals hiding and the flora, as well as explain what, exactly, a cloud forest is (I still don’t know). There’s also an adorable humming bird sanctuary on the premises and a great coffee shop.
- Ziplining. Errrrmagad. The scariest thing I’ve ever done (and I’ve zip lined elsewhere). We used Sky Trek for walks along the hanging bridges (can skip, particularly if you do the cloud forest walk). And then we went zip lining. High Winds. Insane Heights. Not for the faint of heart.
Tamarindo was quite the experience. Because we went over Xmas week…and booked late…all of the hotels were booked. So we ended up “Glamping” at the Dreamsea Surf Camp, which was a hilarious (and awesome) adventure. While next time I’ll plan to stay at a hotel on the beach, we definitely had the best food of our trip at the Surf Camp (the chef there is amazing) and had built in surf lessons every day (well, some of us) – and even some yoga. Pack DEET.
The Tamarindo beaches get very crowded – and it’s a young crowd. It’s a bit of a party town with a strong bohemian, surf vibe. During the day, the one street that runs along the beach is wall-to-wall with cars. Despite all this, we were able to post up for free on beach chairs outside La Palapa restaurant every day.
What to do:
- Take a surf lesson
- Those sunsets though
Where to eat:
- Tamarindo Diria for dinner. Al fresco on water with hanging lamps under tree. Great fish dishes.
- Noguis for pie. All of the pies. Seriously though. Fish tacos are also great.
- Mandarina for make your own smoothies
- La bodega for fresh, healthy lunches and breakfasts