My first international trip of 2021, I thoroughly enjoyed Costa Rica! I was looking for a scenic getaway, with great food and tons of outdoor adventure, Costa Rica was all of this! Here’s Part III of my Pura Vida, Costa Rica recap! Click HERE for Part I and HERE for Part II!
First, covid-19 entry requirements!
As of 10/26/2020 tourists visiting Costa Rica do not need to show proof of a negative covid‑19 test and will not need to quarantine. However, I personally encourage everyone to get tested before and after traveling. Despite not needing a negative Covid-19 test to enter, you’ll need to fill out the Costa Rica digital Health Pass form found HERE. You must show proof of this via a QR code when boarding your flight and once again upon arrival at immigration. You’ll also need to purchase health insurance that meets any covid‑19 requirements such as any medical expenses or quarantine related expenses due to Covid‑19. I have travel insurance with my travel credit card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, but it does not cover Covid-19 incidentals, so I was still required to supplement my insurance. This was the best/cheapest option that I found via the Costa Rican Tourism Board website HERE.
There is currently a curfew in place for all vehicles on the road, Mon‑Fri 10pm‑5am, Sat & Sun to 9pm‑5am. Please be sure to check HERE for updated requirements or covid-19 related information.
Day 1: Arrival, Travel to Arenal & Relaxation/Pool/Drinks
We arrived at the Juan Santamaría International Airport in San Jose, Costa Rica around 1pm local time, we grabbed our rental car and made the 2 1/2 drive to Fortuna to our hotel, the Tabacon Thermal Resort and Spa. In the first post of my Costa Rica series I outlined all of the details and need-to-knows of visiting Costa Rica, check there HERE. And in my second post, I reviewed my stay at the Tabacon resort, know that I LOVED it and plan to stay again, check that out, including our video tour HERE.
We rented our car with Payless via expedia.com and I highly recommend everyone visiting Costa Rica to do the same, it makes it easier to maneuver throughout the country!
After checking into the hotel, we were pretty exhausted (and hungry) after the full day of travel , so we decided to head to the swim up bar at the hotel for drinks and food! The property has multiple pools, hot tubs and of course, the hot springs, we went to the only one that actually has a swim-up bar and it’s heated! We grabbed a few (overpriced, but good) drinks and had a pretty chill night!
Day 2: Breakfast, Arenal Volcano, Covid-19 Test, Spa,Tabacon Hot Springs, Dinner & Drinks
Feeling refreshed after a great night’s sleep, we went to Los Tucanes, hotel restaurant, for complimentary breakfast before heading out for a hike at the Arenal volcano. We drove to Arenal 1968 trail entrance from our hotel (be sure to type this exactly into your GPS or you may get lost, like we did) which was about a 15 minute drive- pretty straightforward drive as well! When you arrive, there will be a welcome desk where you’ll pay the $15 USD entry fee and be given more information on the volcano, it’s history and information on the actual hike. We didn’t take a map with us, but I wish we would have, despite there being a lot of signs, we still managed to get a bit lost, but eventually made our way. We opted not to do a guided tour as we wanted to be able to move at our own pace, and in my opinion, a guide was not necessary.
Note: It’s the rainforest, so it will rain, bring proper attire. It started pouring down for about 7 minutes and we just waited it out until it was light enough to walk in. We had rain jackets and wore tennis shoes- which helped for some of the more slick areas.
After completing the hike, less than 2 miles, we grabbed food right on site, at the Arenal 1968 cafe! This surprise café ended up being one of the highlights of my trip, Raul and staff were great and so was the food/drinks! Definitely stop here at the end of your hike and get the shrimp/chicken fried rice!
Once the hike was over, we had to head back to the hotel to take our Covid-19 test. Check HERE for more information on organizing my covid-19 test and feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any additional questions. Needing a negative covid-19 test to enter back into the U.S. we prioritized this appointment! The appointment was quick and we wrapped up in enough time to head over to our spa appointments with the Tabacon spa!
At the Spa: I opted for the Corporal Deluxe, which was 75 minutes of heaven, a combination of an exfoliation (I did the Cocoa Exfoliation) and a wrap (I did the Volcanic Mud Wrap). There was a special running, so we received 25% off the usual $170 USD price. The massage was heavenly, from the actual services to receiving said services in a bungalow, nestled in the rainforest, surrounded by the sounds of nature, where my massaged concluded with an outdoor shower with the thermal waters, heated by the volcano. It was AMAZING! Check HERE for the spa menu and plan to book ahead if you want to receive a service-which you should!
Note: Our appointment was at 5pm and it was getting dark and cooler by this time, if I did anything differently, it would be booking our appointment for earlier in the day!
After the spa, we finally were able to check out the hot springs, though it was evening time, it was still a great experience. As guests of Tabacon, we got unlimited access to the hot springs, but if you just want to visit for the day, they have several day-pass options, check HERE to review options and confirm your pass.
After freshening up, we decided to grab dinner at the hotel restaurant, Los Tucanes, where we got the “rock” steak and decided to split it. The steak was great and so were the drinks, the “potatoes” that came with the steak were more cheese than potato so we weren’t huge fans! We had a few drinks, dessert and then bed!
Day 3: Breakfast, Fortuna Waterfall, Canopy Tour, Explore Downtown, Hot Springs, Dinner
Another great breakfast at the hotel was followed by a 20-ish (3.5 mile) minute drive to the La Fortuna Waterfall. We attempted to navigate to the waterfall using screenshotted directions and signs and it was a huge fail. It is not self-explanatory getting to the waterfall so please make use of your navigation system! Once we found it, it was worth the “hassle”. Entry is about $18 USD (all proceeds are reinvested into preserving the area) and there’s a 500 step hike down to get to the views, 100% worth it and about a moderate difficulty level (about 15 minutes and going back up is definitely more tough than going down). The journey down is almost as gorgeous as the scene when you arrive at the base of the waterfall! We arrived around 9am, so it was not crowded, I recommend early arrival to beat the crowds- I believe they open at 7:30am! You can do a guided tour, but in my opinion, if you’re staying in the area and have a car, it is not necessary.
After enjoying the waterfall, and capturing tons of pictures, we drove over to our canopy tour (ziplining), which was about a 15 minute drive! We actually stumbled upon this zipline company by accident, the day before while trying to find the Arenal volcano-then is when we actually booked our excursion! Ecoglide Arenal Park is the company we used and I’d do a tour with them 10 times over! Not only did we have a lot of fun, but our guides were so patient with us and made it a lot of fun. Check here to find out more information and book your own excursion!
We started by gearing up and then did a practice line before heading into the rainforest where we got to zip across 5 lines before heading to the Tarzan swing! Check HERE for a video of us ziplining! The excursion + equipment, in addition to a drink (water or beer) cost $50USD. We were also able to purchase the professional videos and photos that were taken for $20USD, we were emailed a link so that we could download any of the photos that we wanted to keep! If you need hotel pick up, this is something that they can organize with you!
After eating, we actually went into the town to check out a restaurant recommended by our friends at Ecoglide, Casa Fortuna Restaurante Familiar. This cozy, family owned restaurant had an extensive menu full of drink and food options- we asked our server (the owner/chef’s son) for recommendations and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!
After lunch, we hit a few of the local shops in the town for souvenirs before heading back to the resort for quick naps and more time at the hot spring. We decided on dinner in the town and headed to Rancho Perla, another delicious recommendation! Like most restaurants and small businesses around the world, Rancho Perla was experiencing a decline in customers, so our visit was even more worth it. Be sure to check them out if you’re in the area and order the mojito!
This day concluded with a few more drinks and then heading back to the resort for bed!
Day 4: Breakfast, Hot Springs, Chocolate Tour, Lunch, Drive to Alajuela, Sunset/Relax
We made sure to take advantage of our last day at Tabacon by hitting the buffet for breakfast and visiting the hot springs and Shangri-La Gardens, adult only area of the hot springs. Being that we got there between 8:30-9am, it was pretty empty, which was perfect!
After packing up/packing the rental car, we jetted off to our Chocolate tour, which was about a 15 minute ride. We booked our chocolate tour with Rainforest Chocolate Tour La Fortuna in advance of our trip, and this was honestly the most thorough chocolate excursion I’ve been on (and I’ve actually been on a few). The tour, marketed as a “hands on program” was just that, it was about 2 hours of history, learning and then all you can eat chocolate for $26 USD (students are $21 USD and children are $18 USD). Our tour included about 5 different groups, about 10 of us total, not including our two guides and it was perfect! I highly recommend this tour for all chocolate lovers! The tour concluded with us each tasting as many different chocolate concoctions we could stomach- I think I stopped at 7 or 8.
Post the tour, we headed to Red Frog, in the town, for lunch! When doing my research, Red Frog came up in many blogs and websites I reviewed, and I understand why. The staff was not only super cool/friendly, but the food was AMAZING, and a great price. We ended up ordering a few things and had enough leftover for dinner.
We hit the road, after lunch, stopping for gas about a 1/2 hour into our 2 1/2 hour drive to the Alajuela area for our stay at Buena Vista Chic Hotel. Buena Vista was such a cozy, Spanish-style hotel, nestled on a hill with gorgeous views, a pool and beautifully upkept garden area. Check HERE for a mini tour of the property.
Day 5: Breakfast, Flight Back Home
Our Costa Rican adventure ended this day and we were really sad about it. Buena Vista was a short, 15 minute drive from the car rental place and from there, Payless shuttled us over to the airport. We arrived about 2 hours before our flight to allow enough time for baggage, to show our covid results, security, immigration and anything else!
Showing my covid-19 test was a lot more simplistic than I imagined, I just showed the check-in agent the email confirmation of my negative test from my cellphone. From there, no one else asked to see my results, which was a surprise. This will obviously differ by airport, airline and agent. I was also asked to fill out a form provided by the airline, relating to covid-19 information.
I spent some time in the airport lounge while waiting for my flight, where I was able to get complimentary good & drinks before my flight!
I am actively planning my return to Costa Rica with hopes of visiting the Pacific and Caribbean coasts!
Other tips for visiting Costa Rica:
-CR has a tropical climate with 2 primary seasons: Dry Season or Summer from December to April and Rainy Season or Winter from May to November
-It is noted that it is becoming increasingly more expensive to visit Costa Rica, but there are ways to cut costs on your trip, from the places you decide to dine (choose local), the activities you do and where you stay! It is estimated that on average, a week of vacation may cost you in upwards of $1,000 USD.
-The local currency is the Costa Rican colon (1 Colon=.0016 USD) and the official language is Spanish, though you’ll be able to make due with English, I highly encourage you learning a few phrases in Spanish and downloading an app like Google Translate. Other languages spoken are Creole, Jamaican Patois, and some French, Portuguese and German.
-US citizens do not need a VISA to enter Costa Rica, but you’ll need a passport!