Back in 2018 I did my first solo long haul flight to Costa Rica, and it was the absolute best thing that I ever did. So I want to share with you what to do with 16 days in Costa Rica – G Adventure style.
Day 1 - San Jose
You will likely land in San Jose as it is the capital of Costa Rica. So spend the day recovering from jet lag and explore it a little. On the streets you’ll see and hear lots of street music. I saw this one guy making music from old drain pipes and some flip flops, it was awesome. The streets of San Jose are covered with art work and life. It’s very interesting to see.
A museum is the perfect way to spend a day in San Jose, there are lots of them around, check on google for the opening times and whether you can enter for free at certain times of the day. I found myself visiting the ‘National Museum’ where I learnt about the culture, animals, history and lots more about Costa Rica, this was a great place to start my trip. The building itself is also very beautiful and if you’re lucky like me, then when you leave you may also see some street artists/musicians playing outside the entrance.
Day 2/3 - Quepos
Travel time approx: 3.5hrs.
This has to be one of my favourite locations in Costa Rica. Home to the famous national park, Manuel Antonio and where I had my first Costa Rican beer.
Manuel Antonio park is a must in Quepos, you see so much gorgeous wildlife in their natural habitats and at the end of the national park is a idyllic beach where you can relax and soak up some rays, be mindful of the monkeys that live on the beach, they will take your food if you aren’t careful.
Entrance to the park is around $18 for adults and $6 for children. If you want a guided tour of the park you can pay a little extra. Be aware that the only way to buy tickets is on the website or in the park itself, do not buy any tickets on the path leading to the entrance as these are not real park tickets.
After exploring the park, if you have time you should explore the small town of Quepos a little, wander into the local shops and enjoy the local cuisine.
On your second day you should take a cruise along the coast of Quepos, on one of the excursions, there are lots to choose from. I went on Manuel Catamaran Adventures, where you get to see dolphins, watch a breathtaking sunset and even swim in the clear waters close to Manuel Antonio.
Day 4/5 - Monteverde
Travel time approx: 3hrs.
This is quite a difference from the beachy vibes of Quepos. Monteverde is a step into the cool mountainous air, surrounded by forests and adventure, you can definitely feel the temperature change here (so make sure you take some lightweight warmer clothes).
Between Quepos and Monteverde, make sure you stop off and walk across Crocodile Bridge and see how many you can count.
On arrival you might want to settle in and then take a nocturnal night walk and learn about the wildlife that live in the cloud forest. Here you will get the chance to see sloths, toucans, frogs, scorpions, monkeys and much more.
Monteverde is known for its cloud forests so you absolutely have to visit them and do some ziplines, or if you’re not a fan of that then you must walk through them on a canopy walk. Again there are many companies to choose from when doing these things, I went with 100% Adventura where I paid $50 for 10 ziplines, including the longest zipline in Costa Rica of 1590m, a canopy walk and transport to and from my accommodation. This is something really fun to do with a group of people, make sure you take your go pro/camera as you can secure it to your helmet and get some amazing footage. The views are absolutely breathtaking!
After you have climbed the cloud forest, explore the town, have some local cuisine and also take a walk up to El Arbol Hueco, which are really old climbing trees that have intertwined over the years.
Day 6/7/8 - La Fortuna
Travel time approx: 3.5hrs.
Home of the famous Arenal Volcano and Pura Vida.
Staying close to an active volcano can be pretty daunting (but I have lived in Lanzarote so this was okay for me). Arenal is one of the younger volcanos, it was thought to be dormant for many years until in 1968 when it erupted unexpectedly and wiped out the town of Tabacon. It’s last eruption was back in 2010 and again has been dormant ever since.
There is so much to do in La Fortuna, it’s a great little town to relax in and also go off to some other places on excursions. Most of these will take around half a day by the time you have been picked up and then dropped back to your accommodation, so do bear that in mind.
You can visit la fortuna waterfall, which I highly recommend. The only thing I didn’t like about this particular excursion is that to get to the waterfall you have a horse ride, and to me the horses didn’t seem to be treated very well.
But the waterfall itself is stunning. Take some time to relax in the natural spring water and take some epic photos with the waterfall in the background. Top tip, take some wet shoes as it’s quite rocky.
You can also go hiking around the volcano with a guide, again make sure you wear appropriate hiking clothes and shoes as it can be quite rocky in parts.
There are so many great restaurants/bars and cafes in La Fortuna, you are almost spoilt for choice. My friends and I ended up doing a bar crawl one night as we were exhausted from our chosen excursions and you can literally go from one to the other as they are all next to each other.
After a jam packed few days and a lot of travelling, if you want to have some time to relax, I recommend going to a hostel pool, many of them will allow you to use the pool if you buy drinks/food from the bar. The hostel I chose was Selina, this is a chain of hostels within Costa Rica and it has a lovely little pool and bar area, the perfect spot for relaxing in the scorching Costa Rican sunshine.
Day 9/10/11 - Sarapiqui Rainforest
Travel time approx: 3.5hrs.
On the way to the rainforest lodge I recommend stopping off at a Coffee Plantation, as South/Latin America is very well known for its amazing coffee. Mi Cafecito Coffee Cooperative in San Miguel de Sarapiqui is where I stopped. Here you are able to see the process of how coffee is made in these hot climates. You can help pick the coffee beans, and then take them to the drying area, see how they are grounded into coffee and finally have a fresh cup! Whilst you’re here you can also enjoy a typical latin american lunch of rice and beans with plantain and some fresh fish if you want. By supporting this particular plantation, it helps over 200 farmers and their families through the G Adventures good project.
After the coffee plantation it’s time to head into the rainforest. This has to be the most surreal experience of my whole trip. Being completely cut off from the outside world, and totally being immersed in nature. I can’t recommend this experience enough.
In the Sarapiqui Rainforest there are many places you can stay, some more luxurious than others. I stayed in a pre organised location, Magsasay Jungle Lodge which is deep into the rainforest, it took a 2-3 hour tractor ride to reach the lodge.
Again there are lots of things to do when you’re at the jungle lodge, along with being able to have some chill time and be ‘at one with nature’ you can go on a guided early morning hike to look for birds and other insects, you can trek into the rainforest and find the freshwater streams to go for a swim, learn how to make empanadas, play games. Enjoy a night walk around the camp and find more nocturnal animals, such as tree frogs, snakes, howler monkeys and insects. Gather round a campfire, sing songs and drink beer and remember what life was like before technology was around.
Some top tips … make sure you take EVERYTHING you will need, including food and drink as there are no shops you can just pop to. Mosquito spray is a must, do not go into the rainforest without it! Let your loved ones know you will be offline and unable to be reached for a few days and embrace it. Remember that all ‘tours’ in the rainforest will be guided and the guides know their stuff to trust what they say. Sleep in clothes that will stop you getting bitten by insects, eg. sports leggings and a hoodie, yes it will be hot, but it’s better than waking up being eaten alive and be cautious, you are in the middle of the rainforest, in animal territory, you don’t want to disturb them.
Day 11/12 - Tortuguero
Travel time approx: 3.5hrs
Head towards the caribbean side of Costa Rica, by far my favourite part of the island. A place where you can truly relax and feel the difference between the pacific and caribbean side. Tortuguero is known for its national park and because it is home to many leatherback turtles. To get there you need to take a boat across the rivers and large open lakes, you’ll see lots of wildlife on your crossing, including crocodiles and alligators (kinda a little scary but you’re in safe hands). I stayed in La Baula Lodge, almost all accommodation in the national park is on the riverfront, so the views are beautiful and the sunset/sunrise, just wow!
Again there is so much to do in Tortuguero, there is enough stuff to keep you busy for a couple of days. Firstly I really recommend going across to the town, here you can see how different the life and culture is, but how happy everyone is, you’ll see school children playing in the parks and learning outside, monkeys swinging from trees to trees. The locals chop fresh coconuts and pineapples for you to buy off street food carts, the atmosphere really is very different from the other locations in Costa Rica. Head over to the far side of the town to find the beach! This is where (season depending, March-May is the best time) you’ll see leatherback turtles nesting.
One of the best ways to see Tortuguero national park is by boat, so get on a boat excursion and enjoy the ride around, searching for animals in the water, up trees and in the sky. I was lucky enough to see some parrots, some rare spiders, howler monkeys, alligators, more sloths and different types of tropical frogs. Having a good camera is a must, to get some epic wildlife photos.
Day 13/14/15 - Puerto Viejo
Travel time approx: 4.5 hrs.
If I had to pick one place from Costa Rica that I loved the most, it would be Puerto Viejo. It was like no other place I have been to, the atmosphere, the beauty and the locals … everything was perfect. To travel from Tortuguero to Puerto Viejo will take you most of the day, so I advise having a chill evening with some delicious food when you arrive or going for a night beach walk, so you can enjoy this amazing town for everything it has to offer the next day.
Hire a bike, this has to be one of the best ways to get around, cycle around the town and towards the outskirts where you will find some amazingly tropical beaches, like the ones you see in films that don’t seem real. Oh yes Costa Rica has them and they are stunning, plus even on a day where it’s not sunny, the water is still gorgeous and warm. Have a swim in the caribbean ocean and enjoy a rum cocktail or two. In the evening, hit the town, for drinks, dinner and even a cheeky dance if you feel like it. The locals will welcome you into their culture like you are one of them. Puerto Viejo also has the best mojito I’ve ever tried at Madre Tierra! This family run business is a must, they do delicious food and a cocktail you will remember for the rest of your life.
Explore the town by foot, if you want to go off and do some more excursions, I suggest doing a hike in Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge, go surfing or explore the mangroves. Or alternatively enjoy your last days in this amazing country. Soak up some rays at the beach, buy some souvenirs and enjoy the Afro-Caribbean cuisine that this town has to offer.
Day 16 - Return to San Jose
Travel time approx: 4.5hrs.