Getting to Costa Rica
Costa Rica is only a two and a half hour flight from Miami with many nonstop options available. We took American Airlines directly to San Jose and returned on Jet Blue to Fort Lauderdale using 24,000 Chase Sapphire points for this one way trip. Don’t have a rewards card yet? Sign up for the Chase Sapphire card today using my referral link!
The best time to visit Cost Rica
The high season for tourism here is November to late April, also known as dry season. To avoid the crowds, try to plan your visit in late April or early May. We visited Costa Rica in May on the cusp of their rainy season, it rained at exactly 2pm every single day!
US$1 = CRC562, be sure to check the current rate before your travel as this may change over time. To calculate a quick conversion multiply the CRC price by two. For example, CRC4000 would be US$8, not an exact conversion but gives you an idea of the cost. Both currencies (US$ & CRC) are accepted throughout the country, however, it is more beneficial to use CRC as exchange rates seem to round-up. Unlike many South American countries, Costa Rica is expensive with food, accommodations, and tour prices similar to that of Miami.
Getting to La Fortuna
The most popular place to visit in Costa Rica is La Fortuna, just over a 3 hour drive from the capital of San Jose. Rent a car and enjoy the beautiful drive into the countryside! There are many options when renting a car in Costa Rica with some companies charging additional fees and scamming customers. I highly recommend using Alamo, they have great rates, are friendly, attentive, near the airport and open 24 hours. We rented a large SUV (Toyota Fortuna) for about US$60 a day as many roads are unpaved and have rocky terrain, added full coverage insurance for US$45 a day and pre-paid to refill the tank. This large SUV was surprisingly economical on diesel fuel, we only used 3/4 of a tank for our entire four day trip!
Our credit card (Amex Platinum) only offers secondary insurance, in case of an accident we would be responsible for all damages up front and have to re-claim our money from Amex. Check with your credit card company for further details on the coverage provided before renting. Alamo did provide us with a Garmin GPS for free, but we quickly noticed this wasn’t always accurate or up to date. Be sure to have data enabled on your phone and use Google Maps for navigation, we got lost trying to use the Garmin GPS provided. You can purchase a SIM card with a data plan upon arrival if your phone is unlocked or activate roaming on your device.
There is the option to fly to La Fortuna aboard Sansa Airlines or Nature Air for about US$150 one way depending on where you come from. I don’t usually say this but skip the flight and enjoy the drive!
Where to stay
We stayed one night in San Jose at the Aloft hotel using 3000 SPG Amex points. The hotel was a 15 minute drive from the airport (without traffic), had ample parking, included breakfast and is walking distance to a shopping mall and supermarket.
In La Fortuna we booked an AirBnb as we were a group of five and hotels were pricey. Our AirBnb was located along the main road, walking distance to all restaurants, bars and local shops. This two bedroom apartment was clean, modern, conveniently located, secure and had ample parking, I highly recommend it!
Where to eat
With one night in San Jose, we chose to dine at Taller Gastronomico El Punto, an upscale restaurant with great food and over the top presentation! Every dish came out with a mini show, my croquettes were swirling in dry ice!
Finding good food in La Fortuna was a challenge, hence my limited recommendations on places to go. Many restaurants were expensive and didn’t offer quality food or service for the price. Most stop serving food as early as 9pm, even on a Saturday night! Get there early for dinner.
Nanku was one of the few places that had good ambiance, decent food and open until 10pm. I recommend ordering local dishes like Casado, a mix of meat (chicken, beef, or fish) with rice, beans, plantains, salad and egg. Ordering anything too complicated may not come as expected!
Before heading to the La Fortuna Waterfall, we stopped at Red Frog Coffee Roaster, the best meal of our stay with large yummy empanadas (get the re-fried beans with cheese!), good coffee, juices, wraps and sandwiches. Everything is made to order, don’t come here if you’re in a rush!
Things to Do in La Fortuna
Not knowing about the 2pm daily down pours, we booked an ATV Tour from 1pm to 6pm and within the first hour got caught in a huge down pour! Thankfully, the tour company provided heavy duty ponchos and small water protective bags to hold our phones and other small items. This two hour ride takes you through pineapple fields and into the jungle, a great way to really feel and explore the beauty of Costa Rica.
At the end of the ride you will arrive at the Termales de Bosque hot springs in the middle of the jungle! The springs were warm and cozy at 43°C or 110 °F, you’re basically in a natural Jacuzzi in the middle of the jungle! The great thing about these springs was the bar service (they bring your drink to the pool) and pineapple Pina Coladas. Using the freshest and sweetest Costa Rican pineapples, you can enjoy this delicious drink for US$5 each. Towels are provided at the gate, be sure to bring a change of clothes before heading back onto your ATV.
The ride back was over an hour at night, I can’t remember the last time I’ve had so much time to just sit and think without a single distraction! Despite loving the experience of driving through the forest at night, the tour was a bit long with over three hours of total driving time just to visit the Termales de Bosque springs. Do this tour in the early morning if possible to avoid the afternoon rain.
This was by far my favorite activity on this trip never experiencing river rafting before! We booked this excursion with Arenal Rafting Company for US$85 which included pick up, rafting and a yummy local lunch. The tour started with a one hour drive to the Sarapiquí River, with a short safety lesson along the way. Each boat holds five to six people along with a captain who will direct you through this level 3 and 4 rapid.
Wear water shoes for extra grip in the raft and bring a change of clothes along with a plastic bag for the wet ones. Don’t forget to pack slippers to change out of those wet shoes! You can wear a bathing suit and dry fit shorts or leggings for this excursion, being comfortable is key. You won’t be able to bring your phone or professional camera onto the raft but you can bring a GoPro with a handle that can easily strap into your life jacket. The tour company will be taking photos throughout the trip and sell you one month access for US$40 per raft, you can split this fee with the rest of your boat to reduce the cost. Request to sit in the front of the boat for the best ride and perfect placement for photos! Towels are provided once you get to the lunch spot, jump out the bus early to get into the bathrooms first!
La Fortuna Waterfall
About a 15 minute drive outside the town, La Fortuna Waterfall cannot be missed! Get here early to beat the crowd (they open at 7am) and get some amazing photos of this stunning bright blue waterfall. You will have to hike down (and back up) about 600 steps to see this beauty but it’s worth every minute! Bring a towel and swimsuit to take a dip alongside the roaring waterfall, a very cold but unforgettable experience! Entrance to the park is US$15 and can be purchased with any major credit card at the gate.
Visit the Arenal Volcano national park
There are two volcanos within the national park, Arenal and Cerro Chato. You can no longer hike up Cerro Chato but can walk many trials in the area with a horse, or on foot. While Cerro Chato is known to be a dormant volcano, Arenal is still active, you can visibly see smoke coming from the top! The last eruption was in 1968, the lava rocks from this eruption can be seen on many trials within the park.
Tickets are US$15 to enter and can be purchased at the entrance with any major credit card. We chose the “Sector Peninsula” trail heading towards the Arenal Lake as this was the shortest hike. The trial was just about 1 mile long and takes you on a peaceful walk through the forest with a few look out spots along the way. Don’t forget to spray yourself down with bug spray before starting the hike, you will be entering the jungle!
Tabacon Thermal Springs
After a long day of hiking we were excited to relax and rejuvenate at the Tabacon Hot Springs. Day passes are available at this resort for US$80 including lunch, expensive for what you get but a nice way to relax after a long day. Night passes are also an option being cheaper and less crowded.
I was expecting poolside drink service and a more upscale environment overall for the price. There was only one bar area with expensive drinks, a Pina Colada was US$11! Lunch was just okay, the locker room was a bit smelly and after an hour I was overheating from sitting in the hot pools. Overall, I enjoyed the relaxation but really felt the experience was overpriced.
There are two main zip lines near La Fortuna, Arenal Mundo and Sky Trek. The Arenal Mundo zip line is unique being the only line that flies above the La Fortuna Waterfall with 7 cables going as high as 360 feet and reaching speeds of over 43 miles per hour. The Sky Trek zip line also has 7 cables but only goes up to a speed of 16 miles per hour, a much slower and manageable zip line for those who are looking for something a little less adventurous. This zip line will only give you a view of the Arenal volcano but reach up to 656 feet. Both options can be booked online in advance or through WhatsApp (messaging the tour company directly will usually give you a better rate for any excursion), pick up from your hotel is also included.
Things I missed
Costa Rica is also known for its beautiful coastline and beaches. I would have loved to spend a few days visiting Manuel Antonio, just over a 2 hour drive from San Jose, a small beach town near the beautiful Nauyaca Waterfalls.
Want to see more?
Checkout this VLog from Roger B Stillz!