If Costa Rica isn’t on your vacation list, you should go ahead and add it! Trust me! The country is incredible for so many reasons – the beaches, wildlife, waterfalls, jungle, hot springs, incredible people and relaxation. It is also well known for it’s adventure activities, which is what drew us to it. Rappelling. Skydiving. Canyoning. White Water Rafting. Surfing. Waterfall Jumping. Hiking. It’s all there! We created our 2 week itinerary around doing some of the best known adventure activities in their respective areas. Ziplining in the cloud forest of Monteverde. Canyoning through the jungle ravines of Arenal. It was one of the best trips we’ve taken, and I’d love nothing more than to share our Costa Rica itinerary with you! Also, click here to take a look at my other blog post about Costa Rica on a budget to inspire you even more!
Without further ado, here we go!
First stop: Arenal
We flew into San Jose airport and wasted no time getting to Arenal! We arranged transport through our hotel for pickup and it was about a 3 hour drive from San Jose to La Fortuna (Arenal). Arenal is known for its hot springs, volcano and hanging bridges. We stayed at the Volcano Lodge and Hot Springs and had a great experience. Highly recommended! Our first night was spent lounging in the hot springs sipping cocktails at their swim up bar.
The next day, we ate a big breakfast to fuel up for our busy day. We started off at the Hanging Bridges in Arenal National Park. The entrance fee is $26/person and it was well worth it! We were immersed in the jungle, exploring waterfalls, rivers and wildlife. They offer guided tours, but we didn’t use a guide since we were on a budget. We walked through the National Park for about 2 hours and then had lunch at their restaurant, Sal y Pimiento.
After lunch, we made our way over to La Fortuna waterfall. One of the most popular waterfalls in Costa Rica, it is over 230 ft tall and has a large swimming hole at the bottom. The entrance fee is $15/person. It’s in the bottom of a ravine, and there’s several hundred steps to get down to it (and then climb back up!) Be sure to wear good water shoes, as the steps can be quite slippery. We stayed here for about 1.5 hours. The water was VERY cold and I’m too much of a pansy for cold water, so I got in for a few photos and then people watched the rest of the time!
After playing in the waterfall, we went back to our hotel and had dinner at the restaurant. We went to bed early to prepare for our first adventure activity the next morning!
We woke up on day 3 bright and early for our canyoning excursion with Desafio Adventure Co. We did the Gravity Falls Waterfall Jumping, which is titled “Costa Rica’s Most EXTREME Tour.” They weren’t lying. The tour started off with a 140 ft rappel down a waterfall. No better way to jump in, I guess! We spent the next 3 hours jumping and flipping off waterfalls into pools through the ravine of the Costa Rican jungle. What. A. Blast! Unfortunately, we don’t have many pictures. Desafio’s crew takes photos of you along the way, but we opted not to buy them but we will always have the memories! After canyoning, they took us to a local restaurant for a wonderful lunch. The whole day was well-organized, safe and tons of fun! I’d highly recommend Desafio! Price: $125/person
When we got back to our hotel, we opted for a spa day. The Volcano Lodge has a beautiful spa and they were offering daily promotions, so we spent the afternoon getting a couples massage, mud wraps and facial. That night, we went into the town of La Fortuna and had dinner.
Day 4 started off with another adventure. We are always looking for a great hike. While researching, I came across Cerro Chato. It’s described as one of the most challenging hikes in Costa Rica, so naturally, we wanted to give it a try! Cerro Chato is a dormant volcano that lies right next to Arenal Volcano and has a stunning emerald green lake in the middle of it. The hike is very strenuous. The terrain was entirely mud and at times you have to climb over bulging tree roots through an elevation gain of about 3,000 feet. I would only recommend this hike if you are in fairly good shape and have appropriate shoes! Our tennis shoes were covered in mud and we wished we had our hiking boots.
It took about 2 hours to get to the top, where you can see the emerald green lake from above. Unfortunately, it was too overcast for us to view the lake from this perspective. Another (very steep downhill) 20 minute hike and you’ve finally made it to the lake. You can jump in and enjoy a refreshing swim and/or have a light lunch.
The hike back down Cerro Chato is just as exhausting as the hike up because you have to be so careful about your footing, but another 2 hours later and you’ve finished! The entire trip for us was about 6 hours and I’m not going to lie, our legs were jello by the end of it. Definitely one of the more challenging hikes we’ve ever done, but so worth it!
After a nice shower and resting our legs, we decided to spend the evening at Baldi Hot Springs. We got the day pass with entrance to use any of their 25 pools/hot springs and included a delicious buffet dinner. The price was $57/person. I could write an entirely different post about this place. It’s that amazing. Since this post is focused on adventure activities and Baldi was nothing but total relaxation, I’ll just note that it was amazing and if you’re in Arenal, GO.
The next morning, we were off to our next location!
Second Stop: Monteverde
We decided on Monteverde because it’s known for its world-famous cloud forest, with an abundance of wildlife and a great place to get in touch with nature. It also has some of the best zip lining in the world. We were excited to explore this part of Costa Rica, but Mother Nature had entirely different plans for us. The weather was awful and, according to the locals, very uncharacteristic of the area. Monteverde gets a lot of rain, and we were prepared for that. Not only was it raining, there were winds upwards of 40 mph and CONSTANT torrential downpours. Everything in the area was closed. The cloud forest, ziplining, and even several restaurants because the power went out. We spent 2 days playing games at a local coffee shop and watching movies on Shawn’s laptop at night. The afternoon of the second day we did a Don Juan coffee tour, which was very interesting and interactive. We got to pick our own coffee beans, learn about sugar cane, cocoa and coffee production in Costa Rica, and got to sample a lot of their products.
Day 3 in Monteverde, the rain started to slow. We were in constant communication with 100% Aventura, the zip lining company, to see if the weather was safe enough to experience this world famous zip lining course. Finally, around 3 pm, even though it was still raining, the wind had slowed enough that we were able to do the course! We zip lined through 8-9 courses over the canopies of the rainforest and the course ended with a completely terrifying, yet oh so fun tarzan swing. The price was $45/person for a 3 hour excursion and was worth every penny.
Again, we hardly have any photos, but head over to 100% Aventura’s website and check out their photos! It was an incredible experience and worth waiting out the downpours in Monteverde for 3 days.
Third Stop: Manuel Antonio
There’s so much adventure to be had in Manuel Antonio! It’s one of the most popular destinations in Costa Rica. The adventure activity we chose here was white water rafting. We have both been white water rafting before, but only on Class II-III rapids, with an occasional IV. We wanted to step it up a notch. I came across Amigos del Rio, as they were highly rated for safety and professionalism on TripAdvisor. They did a tour down a section of the Naranjo River called “El Chorro,” which consisted of Class IV and V rapids with routes so technical that we had to be “cleared” by our instructor, Anthony, before he would allow us to actually raft the river. It was Shawn and I, Anthony and his friend, both of whom were on the Costa Rican professional rafting team. What….?? Basically, that means that Shawn and I were the only people crazy enough to face El Chorro. We also had to pass a swimming test in Class III rapids, because, as Anthony pointed out, “if you can’t swim in Class III, I’m not confident you’ll survive Class V.” Right then and there, I was really questioning our decision. There were absolutely no videos or photos allowed, as Anthony wanted us to stay as focused as possible. We made it down the river without flipping, but I’m not going to lie, just writing a recap of this experience has my heart racing. It was one of those, so terrifying yet exhilarating you almost stop breathing, kind of experiences. The price was $90/person, which included a delicious authentic breakfast and lunch!
I’d also like to point out that Amigos del Rio does all sorts of white water rafting excursions of all difficulty levels!
We did several other things during our stay in Manuel Antonio. We explored Manuel Antonio National Park and enjoyed time on the beach. Note: watch your belongings around the monkeys! If anything is in your bag and they see it, they WILL snatch it. We saw way too many people running out of the ocean chasing their belongings that were being carried away by monkeys!
We also did a sunset catamaran tour and paraglided! There are people all over Manuel Antonio selling these excursions and activities, so it’s easy to book them in the same day.
For a great sunset dinner, I would highly suggest Barba Roja Restaurant. It was recommended to us by the receptionist at our hotel. The food is expensive, but we just got a few appetizers and a cocktail and watched the sunset over the ocean. It was breathtaking!
Fourth Stop: Dominical
Dominical is kind of off the beaten path for a trip to Costa Rica. Most people who go to that part of the island usually go to Uvita or Jaco. We chose Dominical for the surfing and because it wasn’t near as touristy as Jaco and we LOVED it.
The beach was really cool because during the day, when the tide was low, the beach was huge. And empty. You’d see the occasional person walking or running along the sand, but other than that, it was pretty desolate. We spent our days sipping coconut water, reading and getting really cheap massages by the beach. TAKE ME BACK.
The action happened when the tide was high, and all the surfers flocked to the beach until the sun went down. The rest of the town sat on the beach with beers and food, watching the surfers and the sunset. It was such a cool experience to be a part of. Our second day, we decided to give surfing a try. Costa Rica Surf Camp is located right off the beach in the middle of the small town. They have a 2:1 instructor ratio, which was great! For the entire 2 hours, we had an instructor guiding and teaching us. Both of us stood up multiple times! We definitely couldn’t compete with the pros, but we’re off to a good start!
Our last full day in Dominical, we made our way to Nuayaca waterfall. There’s three ways to get to these falls from the trailhead: hike, horseback ride, or hire a jeep. No matter which one you choose, the entrance fee into the falls is $8/person. Horseback riding needs to be reserved in advance and costs $70. A jeep can be arranged at the entrance for $25 and is the easiest and fastest way to the falls. The hike is about 2.5 miles each way. Based on budget and the fact that we love to hike, we chose to hike.
I’d like to give a disclaimer about this hike. If you plan to hike, go early in the morning before it gets really hot. The way down is no problem. It’s flat and, obviously, downhill. The way up is BRUTAL. And by the time we were headed up, it was around 3 pm, so it was very hot and humid. All of the other tourists who hired a jeep and passed us just laughed at us as we were struggling on the insane incline of the road. It is doable, we can attest to that, but again, plan to go earlier in the day and be prepared for a good workout.
No matter how you get to Nuayaca falls, the journey is worth it. There is an upper falls and lower falls, each with several separate cascades and together they’re over 120 feet tall! Truly a sight to see. You can climb up to the upper falls, but cannot swim beneath them. Swimming is allowed in the pool underneath the lower falls and we saw a tour guide helping people climb the lower falls to jump from them.
From Dominical, we headed straight back to San Jose and hopped on a flight back home. Depressed, but with incredible memories. I don’t know of many other countries that can provide as much adventure, relaxation, scenery and overall good vibes as Costa Rica. It’s a magical place and has a little something for everybody, so I hope you all get to make it there someday.
Well, that’s all for now. I hope you’ve been inspired by our Costa Rica itinerary and make it there some day!
As they say in Costa Rica, Pura Vida, my friends!