Our first week in Costa Rica: Top tips and what to see

Pura Vida you lovely lot! Something I’ve been hashtagging the sh*t out of these past two weeks whilst living it up in Costa Rica with my best friend Sally. It means ‘pure life’ or ‘simple life’ but is ultimately a way of life. The Costa Rican culture and people had us enthralled from the start, and visiting a new place never fails to get me excited and appreciating things outside my little bubble. I’ve put together a post about where we went and some tips for if you go yourself! Why not go and watch the video I created over on my YouTube channel HERE – and I’ll love you forever if you subscribe whilst you’re there 😊
We flew direct from Gatwick to Liberia with TUI and the flight time was about 10 hours out and 9 and a half back. It was so much better going direct and meant our tour started in the Guanacaste region and followed a clockwise route, with minimal stretches of driving between stops – win win!

Rincon de la Vieja National Park – Guanacaste Region
The national park surrounding the Rincon de la Vieja volcano was a stunning first location and full of wildlife and activities. It translates to ‘Old Woman’s Corner’ named after an old local legend about a girl who’s father threw her lover into the crater – brutal – and she then became a recluse on the mountain with healing powers. Some story! We rode horses through the park stopping off at waterfalls with the volcano poking through the trees in the distance. The amount of birds and butterflies you see on a simple hack through the countryside is beautiful. Other activities include river tubing and ziplines but sadly, we didn’t have time for these.


TIP: I spent £8.99 on a bottle of mosquito repellent, used it once and never got bitten. Sally on the other hand used it and got bitten to buggery! I genuinely think that mozzies either love or hate you and you’re either lucky or not. Share repellent to spread the cost.

Arenal Volcano – La Fortuna
We stayed at the beautiful Mountain Paradise Hotel in a gorgeous lodge complete with outdoor tub, indoor waterfall shower and views of the volcano from our terrace! We did a cultural tour of a local village in the Alajuela region which included making our own tortillas, watching the sugar cane to syrup process, being serenaded at lunch (lil bit awks) and watching some traditional dancing. We even left with a bottle of the local version of Bailey’s which I could’ve had 5 glasses of.

The thermal springs are famous in this area and we went for a couple of hours of swimming and a delicious buffet style dinner.
Arenal was also where we saw our first sloth! A gorgeous 3 toed sloth and her baby, brilliantly camouflaged against the tree trunk! We saw them eating and slowly navigating the branches – it really was incredible! Also, you don’t realise how slow they are until you see them moving in real life.
Next was a trip to the Mistico Hanging Bridges park in Arenal (a long drive up very high on a dirt road in a packed minibus was a bit scary!) where walked the paths of the forest with our guide, spotting the different wildlife. This was the only time I used my rain mac, the rain came in dribs and drabs but made it more authentic if I’m honest, what’s a rainforest without a bit of rain?! We saw lots of monkeys, tree frogs, leaf cutter ants and birds here. The bridges were scary but me and Sal faced our fears and crossed them each time, me stopping for photos, Sal just looking straight ahead. I just tried to calm myself by saying I’ve jumped out of 2 planes so this was nothing!


We made a quick stop off in La Fortuna before heading to our next destination.

TIP: La Fortuna is a bit of a tourist town, if you have any free time here like we did, we just bought some cold drinks and sunbathed in the central gardens. Souvenir shops here are pricey so stay away.

Sarapiqui – Heredia
We stayed at the La Quinta resort and it was set amongst a little river and rainforest surroundings. Hammocks were outside every room as well as rocking chairs and colourful lamps, super cute and very relaxing. We went for our second rainforest trek, this time more rugged and ‘real’. The paths weren’t clear and all you could hear was the buzz of the bugs and birds all around you. We saw more sloths here and really were in awe of all the wildlife we don’t have back home.
TIP: Take colones, the local currency. They do accept USD but you end up paying more. Also, you’re only doing the conversion from £s to Colones – not calculation between all three which quite frankly, makes my head hurt! 

Tortuguero National Park – Caribbean Coast
By far my favourite part of the first week, Tortugeuro is a gorgeous national park situated on the Caribbean coast that you can only access by boat. The narrow long boat packed in all 24 of us plus our luggage (I daren’t look back in case it fell over the side of the boat on a particular sharp turn through the canals). On the way to Pachira Lodge, where we’d we staying for 2 nights, we saw crocodiles, turtles and birds – and that was before we’d even had our canal tour! The stark contrast between blue waters, green trees and blue skies was something else. Yeah my thighs stuck to the seat and my bum went numb on that journey, but the view was fantastic. My GoPro got a lot of use on that boat!
Pachira Lodge was a little piece of paradise within the winding waterways. We were greeted with refreshing drinks and a view of the crystal clear pool and well stocked bar. Our lodge was along some cute pathways set amongst beautiful gardens.
Tortuguero town (if it can be classed as that!) is a 5 minute boat crossing away from the lodge and was quirky and quaint all at the same time. The beach was lush, you can tell you’re on the Caribbean side of the country when you step onto it. The long street of souvenir shops, smoothie bars and cafes with men chopping fresh coconuts for you to drink has a real charm about it. No cars, just locals and their children and dogs roaming around made it so likeable and simple. It reminded me of the Gili Islands off the coast of Bali. There is a hostel here for any of you brave enough to backpack.
The canal tour was where we saw some amazing animals up close. Caymans (smaller crocs) were metres from our boat. Spider monkeys were hanging above us in the trees. Turtles were posing on the logs poking out of the water and exotic birds flew overhead. Seeing animals in their natural habitat is a million times better than any zoo or wildlife park.
TIP: Try and stay at least 2 nights here and I would go to Tortuguero at night to enjoy some of the bars. 

San Jose
Just like that our 2 nights in Tortuguero were up and we were back on the boat to the port to catch our coach to San Jose. The longest of the drives as we had to pass over a mountain range. It was so bizarre starting off in sunshine, but climbing into cloud and rain as we reached the top. As we came down the other side, the views over San Jose sitting in the sun were brilliant. We had a walking tour of the city centre where we saw all the old buildings (the most extravagant post office I’ve ever seen) and main tourist sites. I would’ve liked more time there, but our hotel was on the edge and me and Sally didn’t feel safe going out at night so spent our last night of the tour feasting on tapas and wine in the hotel bar. The views from our room in the morning were amazing.

TIP: Plan your time here properly. We rushed this part mainly because of the long drive beforehand.

After the best breakfast of the week, we were on our way to our Hotel – the RIU Guanacaste. It had whizzed past but we had packed so much in! Shoutout to our tour guide Alejandro who was so enthusiastic, fun and informative throughout the whole tour!

If I head back, I’ll definitely be going to:
Monte Verde Cloud Forest – you can walk or zipline the forest canopy and get amongst the clouds
Drake Bay – a beautiful stretch of sandy beach with lots of water activities and the chance to see dolphins
Quepos – close to Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific coast

Have you ever been to Costa Rica? I hope it’s now on your travel bucket list after reading this!

With love (for all the sloths)

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