Costa Rica is a small country in Central America, long and narrow between Panama to the south and Nicaragua to the north. Yes, that means below Mexico and above Colombia, there in the middle.
Often, in the common imagination, the words to which it is associated are: “mojito”, “tax haven”, “skirt and beach”, “rain forests.”
But no, they do not prepare the mojito and the country has just recently come out from the black list of economy.
On the other hand, apart from drinking a beer chosen between Pilsen and Imperial, the two domestic beers, what you will encounter are definitely the beaches and the forests, as well as palm trees, surfing, volcanoes, waterfalls, wild nature, mountains, banana plantations and animals, animals, animals … if you want to leave for the sighting of the sloth, to surf in warm waters without a wetsuit or discover the charm of the humid tropics, this is the country for you and I’m right here to give you an idea of itineraries that will allow you to visit the most beautiful and significant places of the country.
Two-week itinerary in Costa Rica
San José – Puerto Viejo – Manuel Antonio – Santa Teresa – Arenal – Monteverde
With a similar journey you can relish the surprising differences contained in such a small country; if by chance you decide to arrive in San Jose and rent a car, everything will be smoother (although you must always drive with great caution and attention, because of the conditions of some roads, of the rain and the way of driving of some people).
However, if like me, you move around by public transport, be aware that in Costa Rica the best way to get around is the bus, which is efficient, inexpensive, punctual (barring traffic problems related to rain or dense traffic, of course) and reaches virtually anywhere in the country.
The only problem is that you will be a bit slowed down in time and you will have to have a clear idea about the times of the means of transport before you start to move. Every major locality is connected to San Jose with direct and fast buses, while to move from one place to another without passing through the capital, you’ll have to change buses after buses waiting for the coincidence … it’s part of the journey!
It is not the most beautiful city in the world,, I have to admit, but having lived in it, I feel a certain affection for this city. I advise to go around it for one day to observe a Costa Rica that you will not see outside the city and that, in the end, absorbs the highest population density in the country.
Take a stroll along the Avenida Central, look for the Parque Morazan to sit and enjoy a bit of cool under the trees and go into the Mercado Central, a nice mix between souvenirs for tourists and traditional market. It is a beautiful glimpse of San Jose, but if like me you love the true markets, look for the Bourbon market : you will not find a tourist, only go there without trinkets, a few dollars and eyes open wide to admire fruits and vegetables .
At the end of Paseo Colon you will find the La Sabana park; if it’s Sunday, pop in for a visit it will surely be full of people and you will find someone to chat with.
Barrio Amon, :in the central area, for me, it is the nicest neighborhood of the city, with colonial houses, interesting restaurants (if you happen to be in the area, drop in to Café Mundo) and lots of green. Definitely avoid the zoo, which apparently will be closed: it is very sad.
If it’s Saturday morning, eventually, take a ride to the Plaza Viquez or to the Barrio Aranjuez park: in the first there is the farmers’ market, in the second the biological fairs, with biological products and street artists.
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
For me it is a must. It was my favorite weekend to escape from the city, plus it’s also the cheapest part of the country. On the coast of the Caribbean, as has happened throughout the whole of central America, live communities of African Americans coming precisely from the Caribbean islands.
Puerto Viejo is a Jamaican enclave, surrounded by banana plantations, mountains of lush rainforests and a dream sea, with fine sand and enchanting colors, from postcard palm trees and a good dose of idleness. My favorite beaches in the area are Punta Uva, a divine corner, and Cahuita, which offers the beauty of a natural park behind the beach.
Here you can spot Capuchin monkeys, sloths, various insects, mapache (species of raccoons), birds … besides you can go snorkeling and visit the orphanage of sloths, where the puppies who have lost their parents are accommodated.
Other beaches in the area: Playa Cocles, if you are experienced surfers, Manzanillo, where you can visit another natural reserve.
The Caribbean coast is served by a direct line from San José, which takes about 5 hours to reach Puerto Viejo. Between Puerto Viejo and Cahuita there are 30 minutes by local bus, although the direct San José – Puerto Viejo stop in Cahuita ( for the return, in any case, take it in Puerto Viejo because it might fill up quickly). From San José, reach the Caribbean terminal by taxi: from here depart all the buses for this part of the country and these are the time-tables.
Warning! You have to take transportation to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, not Puerto Viejo Sarapiqui
In addition to being a (perhaps the only) friendly gay location in the country, Manuel Antonio offers many opportunities to try different activities. From surfing to walks in the wonderful nature park, to the sighting of colorful birds, monkeys, frogs, spiders, iguanas and more … up to the shameless beyond time limit rest on light-coloured fine sandy beaches offered. Do not miss the sunset, it will surprise you, depending on the different points of view: if you like walking, the hills that act as amphitheater to the beaches will be your delight and from here you can see breathtaking views.
From San José, head to Tracopa station, near Plaza Viquez (it is a new station, before the departure was from the Coca Cola station). The buses that you can take are those directed to Manuel Antonio or to Quepos: from Quepos to Manuel Antonio there are only a few kilometers and frequent local buses. Be careful to avoid the “ordinary” buses: it’s like saying “regional trains”, they cost slightly less but make all the stops!
We are in the Nicoya Peninsula, the Pacific side. Santa Teresa and Malpais, on one side, Montezuma, on the other, are the beaches on the most southwest point of the peninsula … and they are a delight! Definitely my favorites here.
The difficulty and beauty of it stands in reaching them: from San José there is a minimum of 6 hours by bus. If you are driving you will certainly put far less, but keep in mind that a lot of road are dirt roads (so better to use a jeep).
Santa Teresa and Malpais are the home of the surfers, Montezuma of the hippies. To enjoy your days in this corner of paradise, I give you a very simple tip: strip yourselves of everything superfluous. Breathe, walk barefoot, sleep, be silent, talk to strangers, sit on the beach at sunset and watch the spectacle of the waves swell and the men who ride them as the sun dips into the ocean.
For sleeping you can go to Wavetrotter Hostel in Santa Teresa: the owners are Italian, the hostel is really cool and you can rent boards and take surfing lessons. Then go to Montezuma and devote yourself to yoga at sunset after having wallowed in the fabulous fresh water falls (ask the locals how to get there).
The bus from San José takes a lifetime. You will go by bus to Puntarenas, and then by boat to Paquera, then from there bus again (this time along dirt roads) up to the destination . There are two buses a day, one at 6am and one at 2 pm, and the journey time is oooover the 6-7 hours. If you are in different locations, for example Manuel Antonio, you’ll have to get to Puntarenas, embark on a ferry boat to Paquera and from there take the bus to Malpais.
Arenal and Monteverde
You cannot leave this country without having admired the majesty of the volcanoes. There are plenty in the whole territory, but one of the most famous and spectacular is the Arenal, mainly because its activity is characterized by lava explosions and at the foot of it you can immerse yourself in naturally warm thermal waters.
Arenal is the volcano, La Fortuna de San Carlos is the town at its foot, but you can also sleep in different accommodations surrounded by greenery around the volcano, there are many of all types and prices.
Monteverde and Santa Elena, however, are the two famous resorts of cloud forest (immersed in the clouds!), Where you can try the famous canopy: it’s that beautiful launch from one forest tree to the other harnessed and attached to a rope through a kind of pulley. Thrilling!
But not only: here there is a huge adventure in nature theme park, where you can take walks on wooden bridges, climb up a giant tree from the trunk (!) and much more. Want to have an idea? Watch this!
In Arenal you can relax at the spa. The main structures are two: Baldi and Tabacon.
The first are the cheapest and you just have to walk around the tourist stalls of La Fortuna to buy a package that includes entry to the spa with lunch or dinner, transportation or anything else: it will cost you less than going to the entrance of the spa and buy the ticket by yourself.
If you can, take also a night tour to the observation point at the top of the volcano (many have this included in the package and simply take you there by bus): if, like me, you’re lucky, you will see a splendid fountain of lava erupting magically in the dark!
Around the volcano there are many streams where the water is naturally heated because it descends from the volcano, plus there’s a point of a river with a waterfall and another in which to jump with the liana. Ask for info on how to get there from some locals, you must not lose this emotion.
The fastest connections between La Fortuna and Monteverde – Santa Elena are guaranteed by privates who offer taxis to the lagoon of Arenal (a lake on the slopes of the volcano from which to admire breathtaking views of the Arenal), to be followed by the transportation via boat to the opposite shore and then continue by taxi . To arrive from San Jose head to the bus station to San Carlos : from here buses depart for La Fortuna .
General advice about Costa Rica
When to go to Costa Rica
Saying that the rainy season is from April/May to November/December is an indication a little ‘vague and imprecise. The months to be a avoided absolutely are September to November, when in most of the country descend quintals of water and there are often difficulties moving round.
The months to be a avoided absolutely are September to November, when in most of the country descend quintals of water and there are often difficulties moving round.
Definitely better from December onwards, but the counterpart is that actually in the south caribe area the wet season is in the reverse, and from January to April it rains in torrents! Keep this in mind.
May, June, July and August are humid months, especially in the central plateau region (the mountainous center of the country) and you may run into some tropical storm, which is a wonder of nature that is worth attending.
Other useful information: the Guanacaste region is the driest in the country, while the southern Pacific is more rainy, especially in the rainforest of the Osa Peninsula (it’s pluvial!: D), while the central area is the most fresh, being mountainous .
How to get to Costa Rica
The more comfortable track is offered by Iberia with direct flight Madrid – San José (flight time : about 11 hours). This is also generally the most expensive, especially in hot periods of August and at Christmas. At other times of the year it is possible to find tempting offers.
Alternatively to Iberia, you can fly by stopping over in the United States with any company that flies to New York , Houston , Atlanta and Miami and from there fly to San José ( SJO ): the flights from the States are frequent and cheaper, since the country receives a massive flow of tourism from north America.
The last cheapest option to that of Iberia is the Condor airline of Lufthansa, which offers seasonal flights .
To find low cost flights to Costa Rica from Italy search for the best solutions on: Skyscanner.