The Ultimate Costa Rica Road Trip Guide

 

A country that’s home to a little bit of everything you could possibly dream of – waterfalls, beaches, hikes, jungle, volcanoes, and pure nature. Not only are the views beautiful, but so are the locals and the culture. A place that is one of the happiest countries in the world because of the simple phrase they live by, “Pura Vida” which simply means “Pure Life”. Costa Rica is also home to 500,000 species of wildlife, which makes it the most biodiverse country in the world. This trip was filled with relaxation, yet thrilling adventures all in one. It is definitely one of my favorite countries I have visited so far. Follow along my guide to experience the best of road tripping in Costa Rica.

Things to Know Before Visiting

San Jose

First, we began our journey by landing in Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose. We didn’t get to explore too much of the city.  Once we landed, we took shuttle from the airport to pick up our rental car from,  Alamo.  If you’re looking to rent a car, I would highly recommend renting from Alamo. The process was extremely quick, the staff was friendly, and overall AFFORDABLE. We paid $449 for a total of 10 days.  Before we began our 3 hour road trip to the west coast, we stopped at a local restaurant, Acuanta. It was my first time trying Costa Rican food, and it blew my expectations. If you love rice and beans, then Costa Rica is the perfect place for you! The local food includes gallo pinto (rice and beans), plantains,  and casado (a plate of beef, chicken, or pork with rice beans, salad, fried cheese, and plantains).

Tamarindo

Our first stop was a beach town on the Guanacaste Region known as Tamarindo. It is located on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.  It is famously known for it’s beaches, surfing, and colorful sunsets. The drive from San Jose was about 3 and a half hours. There is an airport that you can fly into near Tamarindo but it is more expensive (Daniel Oduber Airport). The best way to travel around Costa Rica is by car. I would recommend getting an SUV since you are driving in the mountains and some roads are not paved. 

Where to Stay in Tamarindo

Near the beach you will find Cala Luna. This boutique hotel is like no other hotel I have stayed at before. Talk about having your own pool, being steps away from the most peaceful beach, and fresh food from their local farm. Cala luna is known for being eco friendly and a luxury retreat surrounded in the jungle. My overall stay was nothing but peaceful. Every morning I woke up to the sounds of the birds. This hotel starts at about $300 a night,  so it on the higher end of the scale, but there are so many affordable airbnbs and hotel options in Tamarindo. 

Places to Eat in Tamarindo

Mandarina Tropical Juice Bar

A great place to get smoothies or acai bowls especially after a long day at the beach. It’s steps away from the ocean. From acai bowls, to burritos, to  smoothies, they have so much delicious food to offer. There is also an ATM right next to this restaurant. 

Nogui's

A restaurant right on the beach. A perfect place to eat while watching the sunset. They are known for their fresh seafood. I ordered the ceviche and it was 10/10. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  

El Mercadito

A great place to go when you are with a group of people that all have different tastes.  It is a cute outdoor food market that has everything you could possibly think of, from tacos, to pizza, to sushi, to local food. They have all types of cuisines that you could order from and even dessert!

 

Cala Luna Restaurant

 All their dishes contain home-grown ingredients organically grown at their neighboring farm, La Senda. The food was so fresh and presented beautifully. They have many food options to choose from and colorful cocktails on the menu. The restaurant is outside and overlooks the Cala Luna Hotel.

 

Things to Do in Tamarindo

Surf

 My favorite place to surf! These waves are absolutely perfect for beginners. You can rent a board from Iguana Shop right across the beach. They also offer classes and surf camp. We paid $10 for a longboard rental for 2 hours. There are also so many surf camps located along the Tamarindo beach if you wanted to stay and surf everyday.

 

 

Watch the sunset on the beach

A completely free of cost activity. Costa Rica is home to the most beautiful sunsets. Being on the beach during golden hour while the sun was setting was an absolute vibe. There were locals, tourists, all relaxing and enjoying the view. 

Home to the worlds largest Labriynth. It is a maze full of catci. You can send them a message and book a tour to go visit. They also offer retreats, host musical festivals, and farm to table. It was such a fascinating experience. The owner, Greite walked us around and showed us her home. 

Get a massage

This massage was not your typical massage. Here at Calaluna, they offer all types of holistic massages. They focus on relaxation, recovery, and healing. My masseuse was a young lady named Camila and she has such great energy. She had my repeat my affirmations and intentions. She incorporated sound therapy and essential oils/herbs. The whole experience was magical and I felt like a whole new person afterwards. Most massages at Calaluna range between $100 to $150. 

Potrero

Where to Stay in Potereo

We stayed at the cutest little Airbnb.  It had the most stunning views overlooking the vast mountains and greenery. It was a bit isolated and we had to take a dirt path to get up there. If youre looking to isolate and relax, then this is the perfect place for you. There was a shared infinity pool, an outdoor gym, and a balcony. Waking up to this view and hearing the sound of nature was the most peaceful experience. 

 

Places to Eat in Potrero

Surfbox

The perfect breakfast and lunch spot. It reminded me so much like Bali. They had breakfast burritos, acai, smoothies, bagels, avocado toast, and more. 

 

 

The Shack

A great spot for dinner. (I got a local Casado and it was amazing)

La Forketta

An Italian restaurant. If you ever want to take a little break from the rice and beans, then this is a great place to eat. You must make reservations first, because they are  they are always busy).  

Things to Do in Potrero

Hike in Rincon De la Viena National Park

 

A long and hard hike to get to the waterfalls, took about 7 hours  but the views were beyond worth it. Make sure you come prepared with water, snacks, and a towel! It is mentally and physically exhausting. (an hour and a half drive from la Puertero). 

 

Playa Grande

 Another perfect place to surf for beginners. We rented a long board from Playa Grande Surf Camp for only $10. 

Rio Celeste

Where to Stay in Rio Celeste

In the middle of the jungle, you will find the Rio Celeste Hideaway Hotel.  They have pools, hot tubs, nature trails, rivers, and wildlife on the property. There is not much around that area, so everything you need is in the hotel. 

Things to Do in Rio Celeste

Visit the Rio Celeste Waterfall
(Tenorio Volcano National Park, Costa Rica)

Nearby the Rio Celeste Hotel is a the well known Rio Celeste waterfall. It is one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen. The water is a bright turquoise blue. It is located about a 2 minute drive from the hotel and was about $13usd per person to enter.  It is about a 30 minute walk to get to the famous waterfall (not difficult,  just a couple of uphill steps). I recommend going early in the morning so there are not many people there. If not, it will be extremely packed.  You are not allowed to swim here, but you can soak in the beautiful views.  There is another waterfall in this park, but it is lesser known and further away. We only came to this waterfall and it was so worth it. 

Here at the Rio Celeste Hotel, it is surrounded by nature everywhere you look. Right on the property, there is a stunning nature trail that takes you down to the river. I recommend going early in the morning, so you can see the sun peaking and shinning through the trees. You can even take a dip and go swimming in the river. 

Places to Eat in Rio Celeste

We only ate at the restaurant in Rio Celeste because there were not many options nearby. Breakfast is included which is a plus! They have so many color cocktails to choose from. I highly recommend getting the ceviche and the steak casado. It was delicious and I’ll just let the pictures below speak for themselves. 

La Fortuna

Where to Stay in La Fortuna

This hotel is fitting for a family setting. It has a bunch of pools, water slides, hot springs, and nature.  You can see the volcano from almost any viewpoint here. This hotel is huge and you could easily get lost there. We had to use the map multiple times to see where we were. They have so many wildlife exhibitions on property such as a butterfly garden , frog farm, and even crocodiles. 

 

Things to Do in La Fortuna

Sloth Park

Near our hotel was a Sloth Park. This park was full with wildlife, including sloths and toucans. Most tours are about an hour long, but you will get to see and learn so much from the guides. You are given an option to walk around yourself, or get a guide. I can stress enough that you NEED a guide. If you do not get a guide, you will most likely not see anything. These guides are professionals and have an eye for all these animals. Most of the sloths are high up on the trees and it is hard to see them without a binocular and laser pointer.  We paid $25 per person for the entrance/guide. Fun fact: we learned that Sloths spend 90% of their lives hanging upside-down! 

 

Hot Springs

In this area near the Arenal Volcano, they are known for their hot springs which is a natural hot tub. Los Lagos had many hot springs on their property. You can visit other hot springs but most of them are on other hotel properties so you have to pay for a day pass. Most of the day passes are around $100 per day which is why we just visited the hot springs at our hotel. I would recommend staying at a resort that has the hot springs that you would like to visit. 

Returning Home

Where to Stay in San Jose

After we drove back to San Jose to catch our flight back to Miami. We stayed at a bed and breakfast close to the airport since we had an early flight. This place is a perfect for staying the night before a flight or if you arrive late in San Jose. 

Getting a Covid Test in San Jose

In April of 2021, you had to show proof of a negative covid test. We got tested at Clinica Biblica for $46 dollars and got the results back in 2 hours. You can make an appointment or just walk in . We didn’t have an appointment and waited about 2 hours. There are places that charge about $70-$150 for a covid test in rural areas.

Overall, Costa Rica is the perfect place for everyone (people who are new to traveling, families, couples, friends, etc). It is one of my favorite countries, so make sure to check it out and enjoy everything it has to offer! To see more of my adventures in Costa Rica, check out my youtube video below.

Youtube

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