7 Perfect Days In Costa Rica
Nestled between Nicaragua and Panama, Costa Rica can be considered nothing less than a paradise for nature lovers, beachgoers, and foodies. It boasts 27 national parks and 1,500 miles of coastline straddling both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. This Central American country checks all the boxes for travelers searching for adventure, couples seeking relaxation and romance, family multi-generational vacationers, eco-travelers, birding enthusiasts, and of course animal lovers.
I was lucky enough to visit Costa Rica recently, and thanks to Hidden Doorways and Costa Rican Trails, was treated to wonders far beyond what I could have envisioned. Costa Ricans live by the mantra, Pura Vida, which translates to Pure Life. Costa Rican Trails, one of my favorite travel partners, takes the stress out of planning, so my clients can simply enjoy their time away and not worry about logistics or if they are missing something significant.
Costa Rica Tidbits
A little background about Costa Rica before I share my itinerary and all the things that I feel make it one of the most unique and fun destinations in the world. It’s comprised of six regions, each having something special of its own to offer. These include the Central Valley, the North Pacific, Central Pacific, South Pacific, the Caribbean, and the Northern Zone.
The tropical climate, sunshine, and essential rainfall create the perfect conditions for wildlife to thrive. A staggering 5% of the world’s biodiversity is found in Costa Rica and half of that is on the Osa Peninsula, including a number of endangered and endemic species.
Did you know that Costa Rica has 110 volcanoes? Or that Costa Rica is a country genuinely committed to the conservation of its natural resources? The country protects 40% of its territory in national parks, biological and wildlife reserves. There are more than 600 miles of unspoiled tropical beaches both in the Caribbean and in the Pacific! Within minutes of driving, you can experience changes in climate, temperature, forest, development, and landscape. Looking for adventure? You can go whitewater rafting, kayaking, rappelling, hiking, horseback riding, snorkeling, canopy, and so much more.
My Trip to Costa Rica!
I began my trip in San Jose, where a driver was standing at the ready to grab my bags and whisk me off to Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation and Inn for one night. It’s a quirky little Inn, offering large individual accommodations and tours of their coffee plantation. Here, I met a small group of other luxury travel advisors wanting to learn as much about the country as possible. We were also introduced to our incredible guide, Erick, who was a Costa Rican pantomath if there ever was one.
In the morning we took a short flight to Puerto Jimenez on a 14-seater plane. I suggest running to the bathroom before you hop on this flight because you won’t find one on board. As soon as we disembarked, we were handed a cold drink in a coconut, which was fun. The drive to Lapa Rios Eco Lodge was beautiful and we stopped along the way to spy on a large family of squirrel monkeys playing in a tree.
We arrived at Lapa Rios Lodge and were greeted with a welcome drink and warm smiles. Sitting on a 1,000-acre private rainforest reserve, expect an authentic rainforest experience, as accommodations are individual villas with only a screen separating you from the wilderness. Several villas offer private pools. Despite their remote location, their multi-course meals, which are included, rivals any culinary experience at a 5* hotel.
The resort offers an evening jungle hike where we saw incredible wildlife like the red-eyed tree frog, a tarantula, a snake, and various other wildlife. It was thrilling to walk with our flashlights.
At 5 AM it was a good morning to me with the sounds of howler monkeys and scarlet macaws. They were the first sounds I heard every morning and I looked forward to it so much so, that I felt their absence on my first morning back home.
We got up early to hike Corcovado National Park. Our guide Luis had a magical way of finding animals hiding in plain sight. The park is filled with four species of monkeys, howlers, squirrels, spiders, and Capuchin. Also found were kinkajous, sloths, bats, agoutis, peccaries, anteaters, and so many more species. What we didn’t see were the big cats including pumas, jaguarondis, ocelots, margays, and jaguars which are shy. Scarlet macaws were so beautiful that they took my breath away. The toucans were stupendous and the gorgeous bright blue morpho butterflies and colorful hummingbirds were abundant. We also caught glimpses of reptiles and amphibians that I have only ever seen on TV or in books.
After taking a fun boat ride, with a stop along the way to snorkel and see dolphins up close, we arrived at Playa Cativo Lodge, located in the Golfo Dulce.
Have you ever imagined what it would be like to enter Eden? As we approached the lodge, all I could think of was that I am about to enter paradise. Standing on the shores, with the jungle as a backdrop, the staff waited to take our bags, offer us a cold drink and welcome us as if we were family. When I asked about a key to my room, the resort manager simply said, “no keys are needed here” and I knew I was going to love this experience. There’s so much to do at Playa Cativo, including yoga, paddleboarding or kayaking, snorkeling, and take a jungle walk. And like the exquisite meals, most everything is included in the price.
One of my favorite things about this resort is that it is farm-to-table and they are proud of it! We took a tour of the gardens and met the sweetest little pig, who they assured me would not end up on the plate of their guests. I also took a hike to the waterfall, which furthered my belief that had reached nirvana.
One night at Playa Cativo simply wasn’t enough. But I had other properties to see, so after our 30-minute boat ride, we spent a few hours in a cool van on our way to Manuel Antonio. And it was worth the wait. Here’s what you need to know about our resort, Arenas del Mar, besides that it is a beautiful beachfront hotel with terrific amenities, gorgeous ocean, jungle views, and absolutely incredible service and food, is that the monkeys in the area are smart. They jump on your balcony and are capable of opening your well-stocked refrigerators if you leave the key in the cabinet. They also are voyeurs and will peek in your windows.
It’s easy to understand why Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular destinations in Costa Rica and a terrific place for first-time visitors. It’s absolutely gorgeous, has a plethora of wildlife, stunning sunsets and lush jungles, and great resort options.
There’s so much to do at this resort including kayaking on the mangroves, ziplining, hiking the national park, bird watching, white water rafting or just sunbathing on the beach.
On our last full day in Costa Rica, we took a tour of Los Altos Private Reserve. What I love about this high-rise hotel was that they offered enormous accommodations taking up entire floors with 3 and 4 bedrooms at what I consider quite reasonable rates. With a host of amenities, this might be the perfect place for large families, a group of couples, or a multi-generational trip. Plus, they offer long-term stays of up to a month+. And they are located in a very walkable area.
It’s always hard to go back to reality after a fun getaway, but it felt especially hard leaving this magical country, my wonderful new friends, and the diverse animals that thrilled me every single day.
• Have a good camera – I came home and immediately bought an iPhone 12 Pro Max since I was disappointed in my 10XR which didn’t take great close-ups.
• Some of the eco-lodges don’t allow blow dryers. Be prepared to be au naturel.
• Pack a hat, not only to protect you from the sun but also, it’s nice to know nothing is going to drop onto your hair while you are walking in the jungle.
• Pack sunscreen, bug repellent, and a raincoat.
• Make room in your suitcase to bring home coffee, because you will miss it if you don’t.
• December – April is the dry season, but a little rain is no big deal.
• Costa Rica is one of my favorite places in the world. Someone said to me, “come for the animals, stay for the people.” I couldn’t agree more.
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Toni McClelland is an affiliate of Brownell Travel and Virtuoso. She can be contacted at 732-233-2721 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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