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High Season: Costa Rica’s Endless Sunshine and Abundance of Activity

Metal bridge on the way to Volcano Arenal and La Fortuna, Costa Rica.High season’s  top picks for places to stay and dine, as well as things to do in Costa Rica

Exploring Costa Rica during the high season is one of the best ways to experience the countryside in its days of endless sunshine. While you’re on the road in your rental car,  you’ll have plenty of choices in where to sleep and eat, and things to do to dazzle the mind, endear the heart and get the adrenalin pumping.

Here are a few of our top suggestions.

Where to go

First-class service, ambiance, and amenities make all the difference after a day on the road, sampling all Costa Rica has to offer. These boutique hotels are a refreshing stop along the way.

Grano de Oro, in San José off Paseo Colón, is a Victorian mansion and a fine example of the tropical colonial style. Rooms are uniquely and luxuriously furnished to give you a taste of old San José.

There are many fine restaurants in San José, including the Restaurante Grano de Oro at the hotel, and if you’re feeling like a bit of nightlife you should check out Antik Bar + Restaurant in historical Casa Matute.

Villa Caletas, near Jacó on the Central Pacific coast, has panoramic views, a private beach, and awesome sunsets. There’s no better way to enjoy your time on the beach.

In Jacó, Lemon Zest Restaurant’s uniquely international menu gets rave reviews. If you want authentic Costa Rican, Soda Rustico, just off Playa Jacó, is the place. The cafeteria-style buffet will give you a representative sample of classic Costa Rican dishes.

Capitán Suizo is a luxury eco-hotel on Tamarindo Beach in Guanacaste. Well integrated with its surrounding landscape, its gardens are home to birds, howler monkeys, iguanas, and collared anteaters.

Tamarindo and the surrounding area have several good restaurants, as well as more casual dining. Abbocato is highly recommended for its intimate and elegant environment and its view of Golfo Papagayo.

What to do

In San José, a trip to the Central Market will have you rubbing elbows with the locals. Saturday mornings, you can stock up at the Feria Verde de Aranjuez in Barrio Aranjuez or Escazú’s market near the San Miguel de Escazú church. If you’re in Ciudad Colon of a Tuesday, visit the organic farmer’s market that is associated with Feria Verde.

Olive Ridley and green sea turtles begin nesting during the high season along the northern Pacific coast, while leatherbacks are just finishing up. Time it right and you can watch eggs get laid or the hatchlings emerge; if you’re very lucky, you can catch sight of both.

Go whale watching. From the central Pacific coast, California’s humpbacks are wintering over while their calves fatten up for the trip north.  Farther south around Ballena Marine National Park, the Antarctic humpbacks have come north for the same reason.

Whitewater rafting is a great way to cool off on a hot day. The view from the river is a fresh look at the rainforest, waterfalls, and the local wildlife. River guides tell you what to do and when to do it, as well as provide safety equipment and instruction. The country’s Class III, IV and V rapids are as thrilling as they are beautiful.

Try zip lining through Costa Rica’s rainforest canopy. You get a different perspective of the canopy and the forest floor. Ziplining was born in Costa Rica as an aid to canopy research. One of the best in the country can be found in Monteverde Cloud Forest. Be sure to rent a four wheel drive if you plan to visit this area; getting through can be a bumpy ride, but very well worth it.

Whether you’re a planner or a fly by the seat of your pants kinda traveler, if you follow the road in your Costa Rica rental car, you’re bound to find delightful places to stop and enjoy the Costa Rican sunshine, wildlife, jungle and seashore along the way.

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7 Days on the Road in Costa Rica

There’s no better way to see Costa Rica than a 7-day road trip

There’s nothing like a road trip to get to know Costa Rica; it’s a freeing experience because you can stop where you want, for as long as you want. Best of all, you’re more likely to get a better understanding of Costa Rican culture and customs when you’re traveling around on your own by car.

Naturally, you’ll need to rent a car. Mostly, you won’t need 4-wheel drive, but if you plan to head for some of the more off-the-beaten-path areas (Nosara comes to mind, as does Monteverde), you may find it comes in handy; especially during green season, when roads can be a bit rougher, and rivers (yes, you may need to cross a river!) get higher.

Book ahead of time to get the best price. An intermediate-sized SUV will cost about $50/day during high season, sometimes more; a regular car will be a bit less than that, and insurance is always required. You’ll be able to find complete information about car rental insurance coverage and rates here. Before driving away, be sure to inspect your vehicle carefully.

Check out our suggested itinerary, which is totally adaptable to your whims and desires.

Your 7-day Costa Rica road trip itinerary

First Stop- San Jose, Costa Rica and its surrounding hills

San José and its surrounding countryside is a great place to spend your first day and night. In San Jose proper, there are a number of wonderful hotels, including Grano de Oro right in the city, and Hotel Alta just outside the city in the suburb of Escazu.

If you’re feeling the need to get into nature as quickly as possible, head for the Peace Lodge at La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Even if you opt for less expensive accommodations in San Jose or nearby, the gardens are a great day trip with a butterfly sanctuary, hummingbird habitat, wildlife rescue, impressive waterfalls, trout lake, authentic 150-year-old Costa Rican farmhouse,  restaurants, bars and more.

Next-  Volcanos and hot springs near Lake Arenal!

This morning you’re headed for Arenal. From La Fortuna at the foot of the volcano, you can try your hand at zip lining or your feet on the hanging bridges. Tabacón Hot Springs and Resort is a real treat; the river, straight from Lake Arenal, provides the heat to soak away any lingering stiffness from default life back home.

If you’re looking for an upscale luxury resort to stay in, you can go wrong with The Springs. Those on more of a budget will enjoy Volcano Lodge & Springs; be sure to opt for a suite with a private hot springs Jacuzzi garden!

How about the cloud forest?

The drive from Arenal to Monteverde will take about 3.5 hours via Route 142 and Route 1. Monteverde Cloud Forest is probably Latin America’s most famous cloud forest. It straddles the continental divide with the Pacific on one side and the Caribbean on the other. The area includes several different reserves. It also includes some of Arenal Volcano National Park. Well worth a day’s exploration; or two! The road to get there is a bit on the rough side, so if you plan to include this special experience, you may want to consider renting a 4-wheel drive; at a minimum, you’ll want an SUV that gets you a bit higher off the ground.

Let’s head for the beaches…

Another 3.5-hour drive and you’ll arrive South in Manuel Antonio via Route 34. Manuel Antonio National Park is a gem on the Central Pacific coast.

Here’s a chance to catch some rays on its white sand beaches in this idyllic jungle meets ocean area. The easily accessible park is small but packed with biodiversity. The main trail in the park is flat and wide, suitable even for sandals, and an easy trek for everyone. Monkeys and raccoons are the stars of the show, being so accustomed to humans that they’ll come right up to you. Charming yes, be beware; they’ll grab your bag and make a run for it if they can!

There are dozens of great hotels, resorts, and vacation rentals to be had in the area, most with spectacular ocean views, and ranging from budget to luxury rates. Restaurants, bars, animal rescues, and forest canopy tours are the main attractions in this hillside, Oceanview resort destination.

Want to get even deeper into the rainforest and enjoy even more spectacular ocean views? Keep heading south toward Dominical and surrounding beaches. In this sleepy little surf village, you’ll find a far less commercial vibe. Don’t expect a lot of fancy hotels, resorts or restaurants, but do expect an abundance of authenticity, nature, and tranquility.

Back to San Jose

Sadly, the time will come to return to San José and catch your flight home. From the Dominical area, it can easily take about five hours to reach San Jose.  Now, you can choose to head on in to San Jose and spend the night there before your flight, or you can stop off in the Jaco Beach, Costa Rica area and stay there; after all, it’s only an hour’s drive to the Juan Santamaria International Airport, so why not get one last night near the ocean?

A few favorite hotels, resorts and accommodations in the area? Croc’s Resort & Casino is all-inclusive and right on the beach; it has a Vegas-style casino on the property, four specialty restaurants, a very nice spa, and a huge, free-form swimming pool that is steps from the sand. Hotel Villa Caletas enjoys amazing ocean and forest views, excellent service, a good spa, and great food. Or, check out Airbnb; you’re bound to find just the right digs for the night.

Jaco has plenty of great nightlife, so if you want to get out on the town and have some fun, this will be a great stop for your last night in Costa Rica.

Whether you end up falling in love with one special area or want to explore everything you can, a rental car is key to a great road trip, exploration, and adventure in the span of a week in Costa Rica. Reach out today and start planning; it’s time to get your travel on in Costa Rica!




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Six Wonderful Waterfalls in Costa Rica

hiking-costa-rica-waterfallsWaterfalls are a must-see natural wonder in Costa Rica

Given the country’s geography, it’s no surprise that Costa Rica has many waterfalls. A driving tour to see waterfalls is a good way to experience the countryside and its geographic diversity.

These six Costa Rica waterfalls are universal favorites.

Located just over an hour from San Jose, and situated between the Poas and Rincon Volcanos of Costa Rica, Peace Lodge and La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a must do on your waterfall checklist. With 5 waterfalls and assorted wildlife exhibits, it’s a great place to recover and ground yourself in Costa Rica’s natural beauty upon landing in the country.   The gardens and trails—free to lodge guests—include several waterfall viewing areas, including an overlook of 3 waterfalls. You’ll see more than 40 bird species, as well as marmosets, capuchin and spider monkeys, two-toed sloths, jaguars, pumas, and ocelots in the various exhibits and rescue areas.

The 300-foot Catarata del Toro, among the largest in Costa Rica, is in the Bajos del Toro Cloud Forest, a hidden gem in a valley between the Poás and Rincon de la Vieja volcanoes. Most visitors don’t stop here, so it’s a lightly impacted environment with plenty of plant and wildlife to appreciate. The walk down 375 steps to the falls’ base takes about an hour. Go with a guide; a good guide will spot wildlife and point out the best vantage points.

Still farther north, the Tenorio River spills from a cliff at the base of the dormant Chato to create La Fortuna near Volcán Arenal. La Fortuna’s 230-foot drop to the pond below is unforgettable. Two vista points give distinct perspectives, as does the view from the massive boulders on the basin’s banks. A 15-minute walk from the top of the falls, which you can combine with a hanging bridges canopy tour, takes you down the cliff to the basin below. If you remembered your swimsuit, you can enjoy a refreshing dip in the cool water.

The 295-foot falls at Rio Celeste in Guanacaste Province’s cloud and rainforest is an unbelievable shade of blue. Local legend has it that as God painted the sky, he rinsed his brushes in the Rio Celeste and the stunning color was the result. The hike to the waterfall viewing platform is a moderate one. If you’re up for the strenuous hike, make the trip to Tenideros, where the rivers converge. There’s no swimming, but the view is worth the effort.

In Bagaces, 30 minutes south of Liberia, you’ll find squat Llanos de Cortez Waterfall. It’s an easy stop, just off the Interamericana Highway and a good place to stop for lunch and a swim. Wider than it is tall, the river cascades into a pool with small white-sand beach at its base. The trail from the parking lot is short—but steep—edged by verdant forest filled with birds and monkeys.

Bijagual Waterfall is in Bijagual, near Jacó on the Central Pacific Coast. You’ll need to take a guided horseback ride through the rainforest to the dramatic 590-foot fall. The views during your ride are of the villages below and the Pacific Ocean beyond. As always, the forest is alive with tropical birds and monkeys. This is another place to enjoy a swim.

Nauyaca Waterfalls, on Costa Ballena, is just 20 minutes from Dominical. The two-tier falls drop 140 feet to the first pool, which overflows to drop 60 feet into the second. There’s a vault toilet and changing room on-site. Visitors can get to the falls by horseback or ATV or make the hour-long hike via a well-maintained trail shared with horseback riders. Once at the falls, you can continue to the upper falls or head for the lower one. Again, it’s the perfect spot for a picnic lunch and a swim.

There’s no denying its stunning waterfalls draw visitors to Costa Rica; there’s something about water falling over a steep hillside that shrieks “Paradise!” Having a rental car in Costa Rica gives you the best opportunity possible to spot the big, popular falls, and also catch sight of  those that are off the beaten path.

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