Pura Vida! Top Things to Do in Costa Rica

My Australian adventure begins in 3 short months, but first…Costa Rica!  I booked this trip shortly after returning from Italy last summer.  You know those post-travel blues you feel after returning to “real life”?  Yeah, that’s when I decided on Costa Rica.  The photos and stories I’d heard about this little Central American country had been nothing short of inspirational and I was ready to commit.  Similar to my Italy trip planning, I booked this adventure alone but, having scheduled it over 9 months in advance, I had a lot of time to work on convincing someone to join me.  Enter Laura, the pepper to my salt.


We booked our trip through the fabulous and socially-responsible tour company, G Adventures.  I used them for a portion of my Italy trip and had a truly amazing experience and I knew I had to book another tour with them soon!  This trip scheduled us to spend approximately 2 days in 4 different towns in the country: San Jose, La Fortuna, Monteverde, and Manuel Antonio.  To be honest, I wish I had at least another day in each!  They were all so unique and beautiful.  There was hardly enough time to see and do it all.

Our tour featured a few specific activities, like relaxing in the hot springs of La Fortuna and taking a guided tour at a local coffee plantation in Monteverde.  From there, we were able to choose our own activities to do while in each town.  While it was difficult to select a few from the endless list of exciting things to do, I am happy with the choices I made.  Here is my list of top activities per region.  I’ve also included the tour companies we used, all of which were awesome and I highly recommend should you be planning a Tico adventure yourself!

SAN JOSE: Your Jump Off Point for All Things Costa!


You’ve heard and read that San Jose isn’t all that exciting and, unfortunately, it’s true.  Sure, there’s some historic charm to this city but there really isn’t much going on.  I will say that I was pleasantly surprised by the culinary scene there though.  There seems to be a lot of delicious international restaurants.  We went to two different places, a Peruvian (Machu Picchu) and a Cuban (La Bodeguita Del Medio) restaurant, and both were fantastic!

LA FORTUNA: A Small Town in the Shadow of Volcán Arenal


Although the actual town of La Fortuna is rather small, there is an endless amount of adventures to be had here.  Located 6km from the base of Volcán Arenal, this town serves as a gateway to breathtaking views and fun things to do in the area.  Our first day in La Fortuna happened to also be my 30th birthday (yay!) and Laura and I spent the day exploring the area, admiring our perfect view of the volcano, watching the national soccer team play Spain in the Copa America, and enjoying Imperial beer on this particularly hot summer day.  For dinner we went to Restaurant Los Nenes and was treated to a gorgeous cake and flowers from the restaurant in celebration of my birthday!  Such a special treat.

The next day was spent paddle boarding on Lake Arenal in the morning and hiking through the national park to La Fortuna Falls in the afternoon.  Our morning activity was booked with Desafio Adventure Company who guided us through a two-hour paddle boarding and swimming adventure.  Our guide, Gonzalo, was great and challenged us to do some tricks on the paddle board including an attempt to salsa dance without falling in.  We had an excellent time and were treated to some drinks and fresh fruit during our tour as well.  The fresh pineapple was the best I’ve ever had!

For the afternoon we decided to jump in a taxi to the national park.  We “hiked” over to the breathtakingly beautiful La Fortuna Falls and spent some time in awe of it’s grandeur.  I say “hiked” because the path actually consisted of several steep steps down to the waterfall, some paved and some not so much.  We made it down without much trouble but the trek back up was a little more difficult as it started to pour down on us.  It certainly wasn’t a hike for the faint of heart but definitely worth it!

MONTEVERDE: Exotic Birds, Horseback Riding, Ziplining, and Cloudy Forests!


Our next stop was 4,000 feet above sea level and located between two cloud forests.  Monteverde is home to a diverse population of wildlife and plant life as well as extreme adventure activities like ziplining, suspended bridges, and bungee jumping.  This portion of the country was especially beautiful to me and I filled my days with tours.  The majority of our group chose to zipline although most of us had no idea what to expect.  We used 100% Aventura and I am so glad we did.  There are so many amazing things to do in this region, making it especially difficult to choose, and so part of the reason I appreciated 100% Aventura is that they incorporated many different activities in with their ziplining course.  The staff was very friendly and encouraging as well.  The course allows you a chance to warm up with shorter cables through the trees before experiencing the longest cable in Latin America, just over a mile long.  I loved the shorter lines but grew nervous when it came to the grand finale.  I chose to fly superwoman-style for the longer cables — the view and the sensation of flying was incredible!  A definite must-do, even it’s the only time you ever do it in your life (which may be the case for me)!

I also chose to go horseback riding through the mountains with Marvin of Horse Trek.  We had a very small group that day with just Marvin, myself and another woman from my group going on the ride.  Normally when you go horseback riding in the US, you will pay around $50 for 30 minutes, maybe more, but not with Marvin!  My 2+ hour ride through the mountains with Marvin cost me $45 and included transportation as well as a special stop at his home to see the newly born foal and a very well-trained horse that we rode bareback.  It was fantastic!  I was rather sore after but I loved it!

MANUEL ANTONIO: A beach lover’s paradise


Ahhh the beach!  Our last stop was Manuel Antonio and it provided the perfect ending to our trip.  This town offers the best of both worlds with a beautiful beach located next to the sloth and monkey-filled jungle.  We spent time relaxing on the public beaches as well as venturing into the national park to find mas playa!  Our last group adventure was aboard a catamaran in which we spent the afternoon dolphin watching, swimming, snorkeling, enjoying dinner and drinks, and watching the sunset.  While it was difficult to say goodbye, I couldn’t have planned a better way to end our trip.


Costa Rica is all about PURA VIDA and it truly is a magical place.  I hope to return one day and continue to explore this charming country.  Just Go!

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Published by Ali Gaffey

An American girl full of life and adventure!

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