After a long 12-hours surrounded by nothing but the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean, land was finally in sight. As the clouds parted, the vast blue waters were greeted by a lush, emerald carpet sprawled out into the distance as far as the eye could see. Tributaries cut through the dense vegetation, meandering their way into the horizon like silver bolts of lightning surging their way through a dark night sky. I had finally reached the rich coast, Costa Rica. 

Made up of large swathes of protected jungle and teeming with wildlife, Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet. The Central American nation is nestled between Panama to the south and Nicaragua to the north and embraced by the warm Caribbean Sea to the east and the wild Pacific Ocean to the west. 

In recent years, Costa Rica has risen in popularity amongst travellers for its stunning biodiversity, nature, wildlife and adventure travel opportunities. As a solo female traveller, exploring Costa Rica for 2 weeks was an exciting and unforgettable experience and one I highly recommend to anyone in search of their own adventure. 

Below I have set out how I spent my time there with recommendations on how to spend 2 weeks exploring this beautiful country.

Day 1: Exploring San Jose

My adventure in Costa Rica began in San Jose, the capital city. I had only scheduled to spend a day here but I feel this was sufficient as the city is relatively small with its main attractions centrally located.

Whenever I’m in a new city, I tend to join an organised walking tour as it’s a great way to get your bearings and to get to know a city through the eyes of a local. I opted to go with San Jose Free walking tour which departed from the city centre at 9am and lasted for around 2-3 hours. It covered many of the city’s highlights including the National Museum of Costa Rica, the Gold Museum and the Teatro Nacional whilst also allowing me to meet other travellers from all around the world who had just arrived in the city.

The tour concluded at the bustling Central Market which offers ample opportunity to try some authentic Costa Rican cuisine and pick up a few souvenirs. 

I was staying at the Boutique Hotel Casa Orquídeas, a 3* hotel located in the eastern part of the city within walking distance of the main city centre (around 25 mins) and was in very close proximity to various bars and restaurants including ample choice for vegetarians and vegans.

Days 2-3: Manuel Antonio National Park & Quepos

The following day, I headed out to Manuel Antonio National Park, a beautiful park located on the central Pacific coast and a must-see destination for nature enthusiasts (as is the case with most of Costa Rica!). 

The park covers an area of 1,983 hectares and is home to a diverse array of wildlife, including monkeys, sloths, and colourful birds. You can take a guided tour to learn more about the park’s flora and fauna and hike the park’s trails to spot wildlife which wind through dense tropical forests and lead to picturesque white-sand beaches and turquoise waters. 

If you are keen on spotting wildlife, I highly recommend hiring an experienced guide and visiting the park in the morning. Guides know where to see the best wildlife and come equipped with spotting scopes which offer a great close-up view of monkeys and birds high up in the canopy which you would probably miss if you ventured out alone.  

Snorkelling and scuba diving are also popular activities, as the park’s waters are home to a variety of colourful marine life. One of the main highlights of the park is the stunning view from the Mirador lookout point, where visitors can take in breath-taking panoramic views of the coastline and surrounding mountains. 

The park is open every day except Tuesday from 7 am to 4 pm. Entrance tickets can only be purchased online here, and your passport number is required for registry at the national park. When booking a guided tour, the tour will include the entrance fee and the guide will have your tickets.

Days 4-5: Monteverde Cloud Forest

Monteverde is a cloud forest reserve located in the northern part of Costa Rica.

Cloud forests are a type of tropical or subtropical forest that are characterised by persistent low-level cloud cover, high levels of humidity, and abundant rainfall. They are typically found in mountainous regions at high elevations, usually above 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) above sea level, where cool, moist air is lifted by topography and condenses into clouds and fog.

Cloud forests are highly biodiverse, hosting a wide variety of plant and animal species that are adapted to the cool and moist conditions. The mist and fog that shroud these forests provide moisture for the plants, and also serve as a source of water for streams and rivers that flow through the forest.

The Monteverde reserve is home to some of the most diverse and rare plant and animal species, including the endangered Resplendent Quetzal. You can spend your days exploring the forest canopy by ziplining or walking on the suspension bridges or visiting the butterfly and hummingbird gardens.

The best way of exploring the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is by taking a guided walk. The guides are extremely knowledgeable and will explain the ecological importance of each species you encounter along the way.

Another exciting way to explore the Monteverde Cloud Forest is through the hanging bridges and canopy tours. The hanging bridges offer a unique and thrilling perspective of the forest, and the canopy tours are an adrenaline-pumping experience where you can zip-line through the treetops, allowing you to witness the stunning beauty of the forest from above.

A cloud forest night walk is another unforgettable experience in Monteverde where you can observe the nocturnal creatures that come to life after dark, including owls, bats, and other animals that are active at night. The experience is truly magical, as the forest takes on a different dimension under the moonlight.

In terms of costs, guided tours and activities in Monteverde can vary depending on the provider and duration. Generally, a guided walk of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve starts at around $25 per person, while hanging bridge tours and canopy tours start at around $50 per person. Night walks typically cost around $25 per person, and prices may vary depending on the tour provider.

The best time of day to explore Monteverde and its cloud forest depends on the activity you choose. Guided walks and hanging bridge tours are usually best enjoyed in the morning when the forest is more active, and the wildlife is easier to spot. Canopy tours can be enjoyed throughout the day, but it is best to book them in advance. The cloud forest night walk, as the name suggests, is best enjoyed after dark.

Whether you choose to explore the forest on foot or take part in more thrilling activities such as canopy tours or zip-lining, there is something for everyone in Monteverde.

Days 6-8: Arenal & La Fortuna  

Arenal and La Fortuna are popular for those in search of outdoor adventures and natural beauty and were among my favourite places to visit during my trip. The Arenal Volcano, standing at 5,437 feet tall, provides the perfect backdrop to those staying in nearby La Fortuna town and is a popular excursion for keen hikers.

The hiking trails around Arenal offer stunning views of the volcano and the surrounding tropical forest. The Arenal Observatory Lodge trail is one of the most popular hiking trails, offering breathtaking views of the volcano and Lake Arenal.

Another popular attraction in the area is the La Fortuna Waterfall, located just a short drive from Arenal. The thundering waterfall drops 200 feet into a turquoise blue natural pool, offering a refreshing break from the heat of the day. However, if you are intending to visit, be warned that a hike down to the waterfall is by way of 500 steps and can be challenging (particularly when walking back up!) but the view of the waterfall is well worth the effort.

For those seeking an adrenaline rush, canyoning in Arenal is a must-do activity and one my highlights of the trip. Canyoning involves rappelling down waterfalls and jumping into natural pools of water, a refreshing way to cool off in Costa Rica’s tropical climate. There are several companies in the area that offer canyoning tours, providing all the necessary equipment and expert guides to ensure a safe and thrilling experience. I went with a company called Desafio who were great but a little pricey. There are several tour providers in the main square of La Fortuna town so you can easily find the one that best suits you and book a day in advance. 

After a day of hiking and adventure, spending the morning at the Tabacon Thermal Resort and Spa was the perfect way to relax and recharge. The Tabacon spa is one of the most popular and luxurious spas in the area, so much so that advance booking is required, sometimes several month in advance. The resort offers natural hot springs, lush gardens, and a variety of spa treatments, providing a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of the outside world.  

Although I really enjoyed my time here, I do want to point out that there are other equally impressive spa experiences in the area worth checking out. Tabacon has gained popularity due to Instagram fame and is quite expensive for what you get. Baldi, EcoTermales, Paradise, Tikotu, Los Lagos and Kalambu thermal spas are some examples for you check out. Alternatively, anyone can access the public Tabacon thermal spring which are located right outside of the resort. These are completely natural and free to everyone. If you are staying in La Fortuna, you’ll need to arrange a taxi to take you there and bring you back.

The cost of visiting Arenal and La Fortuna varies depending on the activities chosen and the level of luxury desired. Hiking trails are usually free, but some tours, such as canyoning and hot springs visits, have associated costs. A canyoning tour can range from $75 to $150 per person, while a visit to the Tabacon Thermal Resort and Spa can cost around $80 per person. Accommodations in the area also vary in price, with options ranging from budget hostels to luxury resorts.

Days 9-10: Sarapiqui Rainforest 

Located in the heart of Costa Rica, this lush and biodiverse area is a must-visit for nature lovers and adventurers alike. My time in the rainforest was one of my more rustic experiences in Costa Rica as I spent 2 nights at the Pozo Azul Jungle Lodge. The Lodge offers guests tented accommodation right in the thick of the jungle, fully immersed in uncensored nature. This meant being serenaded to sleep by the weird and wonderful sounds of the jungle at night whilst also having some unwanted visitors in our tent! In my case, this included an entire colony of army ants! 

One of the best ways to experience the beauty of the rainforest is through a birdwatching tour. Early in the morning, I set out with a group of fellow travellers and our knowledgeable guide. We hiked through the forest, listening for the songs and calls of the many species of birds that call this place home. As we walked, we saw toucans, parrots, and other colourful and fascinating birds flitting through the trees. Our guide pointed out each species and provided fascinating insights into their behaviour and ecology.

After our birdwatching tour, we were ready for another exciting adventure: white water rafting down the Sarapiqui River. The river is known for its exhilarating rapids and stunning scenery. We were outfitted with helmets and life jackets and set off with our experienced rafting guide.

The rapids were thrilling, and we all whooped and cheered as we navigated the rushing water. Along the way, we spotted monkeys and other wildlife on the riverbanks. We also had the chance to jump out of the raft and swim in the refreshing water. Our guide provided plenty of information about the river’s ecosystem and conservation efforts in the area.

This was my first time rafting and I had a great time. I’d therefore recommend it to anyone considering it – you don’t have to have any prior experience to try it. 

After a full day of adventure, we returned to the lodge tired but elated. The Sarapiqui Rainforest and River had provided us with an unforgettable day of nature, adventure, and learning. 

Days 11-12: Tortuguero

Tortuguero is a is a remote village located on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and is only accessible by boat. This area is well-known for its network of canals and waterways and the wildlife that inhabit it. One of the best ways to explore Tortuguero therefore is by kayaking as it offers you a unique perspective on the area’s lush jungle and wildlife. 

This region is home to a vast array of flora and fauna, including rare species of animals like jaguars, ocelots, and tapirs, as well as countless species of birds, monkeys, and reptiles. Visitors can take guided tours of the region’s wildlife reserves and national parks, which offer some of the best opportunities to see these animals in their natural habitat.

Tortuguero is also famous for its sea turtle nesting sites and is home to four species of sea turtles: the green turtle, the hawksbill turtle, the loggerhead turtle, and the leatherback turtle.

The nesting season in Tortuguero typically lasts from July to October, with peak nesting occurring from August to September. During this time, female turtles come ashore to lay their eggs in the sand, often returning to the same beach where they were born.

Visitors can take guided tours of the nesting sites to see the turtles up close and learn more about these fascinating creatures. Sadly, I visited out of season in June so was unable to see them.

A hike up to Cerro Tortugeuro is also worth the trip. Cerro Tortuguero is a small hill located in the northern part of Tortuguero National Park, near the village of Tortuguero. The hill provides panoramic views of the surrounding rainforest and wetlands, and is a popular destination for hikers and birdwatchers.

Days 13-14: Puerto Viejo 

Puerto Viejo is a small beach town located on the southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and was my last stop on the trip before heading back to San Jose. It is known for its laid-back atmosphere, beautiful beaches, and diverse cultural scene. The region is comprised of a unique blend of Afro-Caribbean and indigenous culture. 

Aside from the beaches, the region is also known for its biodiversity. The nearby Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge is home to a variety of exotic animals, including howler monkeys, sloths, and toucans. You can hike through the park’s trails and take guided tours to see these creatures up close.

The town of Puerto Viejo itself is also a cultural hub, with a vibrant music and arts scene. The Afro-Caribbean influence is particularly evident in the town’s cuisine, with dishes like rice and beans, plantains, and seafood being local favourites. Visitors can also explore the town’s street art and murals, which showcase the creativity and cultural heritage of the area.

I was only in the area for a couple of days but spent my time exploring the town, visiting a local indigenous Bri Bri village to learn how chocolate is made and visiting the Jaguar Rescue Centre, an animal sanctuary that rescues and rehabilitates injured wildlife. I have followed the sanctuary’s work on social media for a few years now and had long wished to visit it in person. If you would like to visit, check out their website. Tickets can be bought on the door but I recommend booking online as they can sell out. 

In addition to the activities I have set out above, if you’re visiting the area, you can opt to take a surfing lesson, go on a jungle tour, take a yoga class or go on a horseback ride. Alternatively, you may just choose to relax and enjoy the slow pace of life in this charming town.

Day 15 – Return to San Jose and Departure

I really enjoyed my travels in Costa Rica and felt that 2 weeks was a good amount of time to travel around this stunning country. For those who enjoy a slower pace of travel, I would suggest perhaps visiting only some of the places I have listed above as this is a slightly intense itinerary but ideal for those wanting to cover a lot of ground within a limited space of time. 

Of course, you can never see everything and if I had longer, there are a few other places I would have liked to have visited or spent longer in however, all in all it was a great trip and I felt like I was able to see everything that I wanted to see. 

Something to also keep in mind is that compared to some of its central American neighbours, Costa Rica is not a destination famed for its history and culture. For example, you won’t find any ancient ruins and the indigenous communities and culture aren’t as prevalent as they are perhaps in countries such as such as Mexico and Guatemala. Costa Rica is very much a nature and outdoor lover’s travel destination. 

So if you’re someone who enjoys adrenaline fuelled outdoor activities, wildlife, nature and don’t mind the rain, Costa Rica should definitely be on your list of places to visit. I hope this blog has been useful in helping you to plan your dream trip to this beautiful country. It won’t be long before you’re shouting Pura Vida!

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