Jungles, beaches, volcanos and sloths. I don’t know about you, but I wanted to see it all. And I did! Read on to learn about the perfect, two-week itinerary for Costa Rica.
A generally safe place for solo female travellers, Costa Rica is all about…“pura vida”. I didn’t get what the big deal was on this saying when I first arrived, but when I left, every second thing that came out of my mouth was…pura vida!
Wiped out on your hike up a volcano? Pura vida!
Got a great seat on the long bus ride? Pura vida!
Got caught in a nasty thunderstorm while horseback riding? Pura vida!
Giant iguana fell out of a tree, landed a foot from your face and scared the living shit out of you? Pura vida!
All of those things happened to me while backpacking Costa Rica. It was awesome.
I flew into Liberia only because I got a great deal flying into LIR and out of SJO that matched my dates perfectly, so I jumped on it.
I struggled to find information on what exactly there was to do in Liberia, which led me to the conclusion that there really isn’t much TO do.
Sure, I could have rented a car and explored Nicoya peninsula, which many do, but I would have wanted at least a couple days to do so. My visit to Costa Rica was only a two-week trip, and I had my itinerary planned out ahead of time (it was over Christmas, so I had pre-booked all of my accommodations), so it wasn’t feasible.
Regardless, I feel good about my decision to not spend much time in Liberia. I stayed for one night and didn’t feel completely safe as a solo female traveller, and the people weren’t overly friendly. On top of that, I wasn’t a big fan of the hostel I stayed at, Hostal Nanku.
Having said all of that, I would fly into LIR again if I got a good deal on a flight. The airport is small, and Costa Rica is easy enough to navigate, but at least now I know what to expect.
From Liberia, I travelled further inland to La Fortuna. Public bus schedules for this route are easy to follow, cheap and safe.
La Fortuna is a world away from Liberia. It is more tourist friendly, has beautiful scenery, and has a much better vibe to it. It is also much, much busier because it is one of, if not the most, touristy place in all of Costa Rica.
I stayed for 3 nights at Arenal Container Hostel and loved it. To sum it up, they are a newer hostel, just passing their one year anniversary in January 2019, but I really liked them and would go back in a heartbeat.
There are Soda’s, restaurants and grocery stores on every block with anything you could want, from local food like, pollo con gallo pinto, to Americanized food like pizza and steak. I ate at mostly Soda’s because they were cheaper and much better, in my opinion.
I had no idea what a Soda was when I first arrived. As I quickly learned, they are little restaurants owned and run by locals that make local food for cheap. I cannot recommend them enough! I ate at many during my vacation in Costa Rica. The portions were always very generous and the food at each tasted different because, of course, everyone makes their dishes their own way. Either way, I was never disappointed.
There are also tour agencies on every corner in La Fortuna, so don’t worry about booking anything ahead of time. I booked most of my activities directly through my hostel and had no issues getting a spot on the time or date I wanted, and I was there during peak time.
The first tour I did was a chocolate and coffee tour at Don Juan’s Coffee Plantation. I had no idea what to expect, but it turned out to be pretty fun and quite informative. Plus…coffee!
Then, I did the Two Volcano Tour. This is basically “the” thing to do in La Fortuna and every hostel, hotel and travel agency will try to sell you this package. Let them, it was worth it. Here’s a quick run down of what the day looks like:
The first thing I should mention is that the Cerro Chato trails are now closed permanently as of late 2018, so this tour is a bit different than its title lets on. The day started with about a 1.5 hour hike up to the lava fields from the Green Lagoon Lodge for great views of volcan Arenal. Expect the top of volcan Arenal to be covered with cloud, it often is. From here, the group hiked back down to swim in the bright green lagoon. If you like rope swings, this is your jam.
Then, we had lunch at the Green Lagoon Lodge, followed by a visit to a waterfall that was really cold, but totally swimmable. After the waterfall, we walked for what seemed like forever through all sorts of landscapes, but eventually ended up at the Arenal Observatory Lodge. From here, we went to the hot springs to relax and enjoy a drink. It was a long day, but a great tour.
Finally, on my last day in La Fortuna, I did the Bogarin Trail. I didn’t book this in advance, but merely showed up at the front desk and asked to join. I had heard about it from a girl in my dorm and since I wanted something low key to do that day, this fit the bill perfectly. It ended up being the highlight of my time in La Fortuna. Definitely recommend you make time for this!
Next, I went to Monteverde. To get to Monteverde from La Fortuna, you have a couple options.
You can take the public bus, which will take forever because you have to go all the way back around the lake again to get to Tilaran.
Or, you can do the most popular, and convenient option…the Jeep Boat Jeep tour. It’s technically not a jeep, but who would book something that was called “tourist van, boat, tourist van”? Doesn’t have the same ring. Am I right?
Regardless, whatever vehicle shows up, the idea is the same. You get picked up at your hostel and taken to a dock at the lake. From there, you hop on a boat and enjoy a peaceful ride across the lake. On the other side, another shuttle will be waiting to take you into Monteverde.
They advertise that it takes 3 hours, but it’s more like 4-ish. Either way, it’s a fun thing to do, and I was in Monteverde enjoying a lunch of pollo con arroz (chicken with rice) with a group of construction workers at a tiny little place down the street from my hostel by lunch time.
The hostel I stayed at in Monteverde was Hammock House Hostel. It’s a small, quant place, with friendly staff and an outdoor restaurant.
On my first night in Monteverde, I signed up for a nighttime jungle walk. I was picked up at 5:30 (sounds early yes, but it’s already completely dark by then).
This would have been a really cool thing to do…if there weren’t 114 other tour groups and 828 other people out on the trails at the same time. Obviously an exaggeration but my point is, it was not at all peaceful. It was chaotic, and I really didn’t enjoy it.
But wait! We did see what could have been a blob or a shadow in a tree that may or may not have been a sloth, but our guides couldn’t be sure if we had actually seen something. What? It was like UFO hunting to be honest.
I laughed at the whole scene because, what did I care? I already had fantastic photos of a juvenile male sloth eyeballing me suspiciously from a tree in broad daylight.
So why did I even bother going? Because I wanted to see a tarantula. And I did. I ended up getting a cool photo of a baby tarantula…
…then I ran off into the night because I’m incredibly arachnophobic and have no business being in the jungle at night taking spider photos.
The next thing I did while backpacking in Monteverde was a zip line tour at Monteverde eXtremo Park. I’m terrified of heights, but this was SO fun!
I did a package that included 16 zip lines, a short rappel line, and a Tarzan swing that scared the crap out of me, making me scream bloody murder, no doubt scaring off any wildlife in the area. So much for a peaceful morning in the jungle.
I also did a sunset horseback riding tour with Equus Monteverde. I had such a great time with these guys and definitely recommend booking a ride here.
Finally, on my last day in Monteverde, I visited Santa Elena Cloud Forest. Unfortunately it was pouring rain that day, but I thought that because I’d be in the jungle, I’d be covered by the canopy and wouldn’t get soaked. Foolish me. I got very soaked.
But, on the upside, there was almost no one in the park that day, and the jungle was so lush and vibrant because everything was wet, so it made for some pretty cool photos.
The paths were well maintained, well marked, and ranged in distances from 1-5km long. Plus, the jungle was really dense so I can totally see how beautiful this place would be on a nice day.
From Monteverde, I took a shuttle to Manuel Antonio. I don’t recommend a shuttle. It took about the same time as the public bus because it made so many stops and it was five times the price.
Take the public bus.
In Manuel Antonio, I stayed at Selina. Unbeknownst to me, Selina is a chain hostel with locations all over central and south America. The grounds were beautiful, but that’s all that I liked and I wouldn’t return to this hostel.
What I didn’t say in my TripAdvisor review – because I wasn’t sure they would publish it if I did, since it didn’t happen to me directly – is that when I arrived, there was a young guy dealing with management because he had been drugged and robbed the night before at the bar, and had zero money for food or to get home. So, when I mention in my TripAdvisor review to watch yourself and your things…this is what I am referring to.
I was only in Manuel Antonio for a couple days, and it was over Christmas. Manuel Antonio park is closed on Mondays, so I only had Christmas Day to visit. Unfortunately, the lines were so ridiculous, even early in the morning, that I never actually got inside the park. An excuse to go back, perhaps?
But I did spend a day at the beach though and wow, you guys…this beach was fantastic. The water was so calm and warm, I spent hours walking along the water taking photos. The morning was peaceful and beautiful, but the afternoon was really busy, so I definitely recommend a morning visit if you can swing it.
And, I saw a lot of monkeys, toucans, and even a sloth on the side of the road on the road that leads to the beach. So, although I didn’t get to see wildlife within Manuel Antonio, I still saw my fair share outside of the park.
From Manuel Antonio, I travelled to San Jose because I was flying home to Toronto out of SJO.
In San Jose, I stayed at Costa Rica Backpackers.
Unknowingly, I had found myself in San Jose on the same dates that a couple big annual events were taking place. One of them was the El tope de San José!
When I got off the public bus from Manuel Antonio, I kept seeing horses everywhere and I was highly confused…had I landed in a city, or on a farm?! Turns out, El tope is the biggest and most popular equestrian parade in all of Costa Rica.
After that grand welcoming, I wasn’t sure what to do next. I ended up signing up for a free walking tour of the city. The meeting point was in front of the national theater and the tour lasted a couple hours. I love free walking tours when I visit a new city, because they are a great way to get oriented in a new place, and this one did not disappoint.
It was on this walking tour that I learned there would be a huge parade later that day. Yep, I had landed myself in San Jose, Costa Rica just in time for…carnival! Good times!
My flight out of SJO was early morning, so I took an uber to the airport on the morning of my departure with no issues.
And that’s it, that’s how I spent two weeks backpacking through Costa Rica! Now tell me, have you been to Costa Rica? What was your favorite part?
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