San Jose|La Fortuna|Monteverde|Santa Teresa|Montezuma|Puerto Viejo
Monteverde is filled with an opportunity of adventures including: night walks in the cloud forest, hiking trails, coffee tours, bungee jumping and zip-lining. Depending on if you are an outdoor adventurist, we found that four days and three nights was the perfect amount of time to enjoy the trails within the cloud forest. The night tour within Santa Elena Cloud Forest is worth the guide as they show you snakes, sloths, birds, insects, and tarantulas that are most active in at night.
If you want to do something extreme while discovering this awesome country, do it in Monteverde at Extremo Canopy. Join in on the zip-lining and tarzan swing experience! We recommend you do the 1km zip-line "superman" style ($5 extra). Also, make sure you get up early as most people arrive mid-day. By going right at opening hours, you will be with a smaller group which will allow you to do the tarzan swing more than once and enjoy more zip-lines. If you are there during "low" season you may be lucky to experience this canopy tour by yourselves (with guides) like we did.
La Fortuna makes a great one night stop over while making the trip towards the town of Monteverde. La Fortuna is home to Costa Ricas most active volcano called Volcan Arenal. It is so active that hiking/climbing is not allowed. If you are lucky you may have a chance to see lava streams and smoke. Unfortunately, we did not see any lava.
Within La Fortuna, you will be amazed by beautiful waterfalls and famous hot springs. One of my favourite memories from Costa Rica will always be swimming underneath the waterfall just outside of La Fortuna. If you choose to visit the country during the "rainy" or low tourist season, you most likely will have the water to yourself. Additionally, be sure to check out the hot springs. We recommend visiting the springs in the late afternoon or evening as it will provide you with more privacy and allow you to relax in silence.
Weird Fact:One thing that you may want to look out for are the large amount of crabs. On the Pacific side, Halloween crabs and on the Caribbean side, Blue "ghost" crabs. The black and orange small "forest" crabs can be found all over the place including your bed! But it is the blue crabs that are the most bizarre. As you arrive into the town of Puerto Viejo by bus, hundreds of these crabs are crossing the dirt roads getting killed. Although it sounds pretty morbid, locals state that these crabs taste awful and are over populated.
The pacific coastline of Costa Rica offers the relaxed "hippie" lifestyle. Visiting the small towns of Montezuma or Santa Teresa are perfect examples of the remote destination any backpacker is looking for. Santa Teresa is home to local surfers and aspiring gringos wanting to try the sport. Like me! Surf board rentals are $10 US without a lesson. However, Thomas surprised me with a surf lesson. After the 2 hour lesson, you get to keep the board until your done for the day. I slept like a baby that night....
Just south of Santa Teresa, lies the true hippie town of Montezuma. The coastline is not ideal for surfing but the crashing waves that hit the rocky coastline is beautiful. With the laid back lifestyle, Montezuma is a great remote destination for a couple days. Be prepared to wake up to loud howler monkeys and mosquito bites! Just outside of the grounds of Montezuma you can check out the main waterfall that makes for a great swimming hole. You will find surrounding locals hanging out here on any nice day.
Costa Rica is known for its lush landscapes and beautiful beaches, however, the country offers a variety of hidden gems. The capital and central hub for all transportation around the country is San Jose. We recommend that this busy city only be a pit stop within your travels. If you plan to stay in San Jose, we recommend staying for two nights as the city itself offers shopping and a variety of yummy dishes but lacks the Pura Vida lifestyle.
Because Costa Rica is the most expensive central american country to backpack, we recommend staying away from developed American "summer" homes. We found that these areas were not only tourist driven but costs were outrageous and not worth the experience.
As we arrived in San Jose, we realized that several guests at the hostel had arrived back from there adventures of the country by rental cars. After consulting with some locals, reading up on our guide books and speaking with some fellow backpackers, we realized that Costa Rica had horrible transportation for time limited guests. In fact, most buses would go from San Jose to the destination but take double the time. The cost of renting a car was actually cheaper for us than taking buses back and forth.
Bego, our beloved rental car allowed us to truly see the country side and I highly suggest you invest the time and money renting a car. The total cost for us (2 people) at the time was approximately $600 CAN (including gas). Many backpackers emerged together to share the rental costs which brought down the expense (4 people). We were lucky to stumble upon small resturants/cafes, several cattle, farmers and a variety of other locals. We stopped by many local shops and even tried sugarcane juice for the first time! The family allowed us to make it from scratch and explain the benefits and different uses of sugarcane. If you do plan to go with a rental, I have two recommendations...
1. Air Conditioning is your friend!!! 2. Get a GPS system. You will need the extra guide as signs are more than often not available.
If you have time, check out the Don Juan Coffee Plantation. Although the tour is a bit over priced costing $30 US per person, it was our first time actually seeing the full process in what makes the that perfect cup of coffee. Don Juan Coffee is only available in Costa Rica and while the tour offers unlimited coffee, you can indulge on light, medium and dark roast brews.
Pura Vida: Enjoying the simple life while sipping on that perfect cup of coffee.
Heading to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica is easy by public transit. Just head to the main bus terminal in San Jose and head east! We recommend checking out the beach town of Puerto Viejo. The hostel that we thought was unique from others is the famous backpackers stay: Rocking J's. But be prepared as this hostel is a party scene that offers different stay options including renting a dorm, tent or hammock.
If you are making way down to Panama, Puerto Viejo is the easy pit stop town that allows you to cross over the border conveniently.
Costa Rica offers anyone a classic desitination filled with staggering beauty and a perfect picture oasis.