What to Expect
Recently, I went back and read through some of my travel blogs from my solo journey to Japan, and I was reminded why I love travel blogging so much. My website may only get a couple of views per month (usually from people who happened upon my Instagram by accident, looked at my blog for one minute, then pressed back), but that's not what it's about for me. My goal was never to become a travel influencer or to grow a massive following. My goal for this website was to document my journeys, to give some advice to the random people who do happen to stumble upon my tiny corner of the internet, and for myself—so I can re-live some of the most exciting moments of my life.
So, this blog series isn't going to be the"Top 10 Things to Do in Costa Rica," or "How to Spend 2 Weeks in Costa Rica," etc. This series is about how I spent two weeks in Costa Rica with my boyfriend. If you are planning a trip to Costa Rica, this may help you get an idea of what you'd like to do—I'd be really happy if my stories help you in any way—but if you're not planning a trip, then just sit back with a coffee and come along for the journey.
I realize this post is pretty long, so if you're here for a certain topic, here are some quick links:
Arriving in San Jose
Because we were both fully vaccinated and coming from the United States, my boyfriend and I didn't have to quarantine or anything like that. We flew into San Jose and grabbed a free airport shuttle to our B&B. When we got there, we were starving, so we decided to take a night walk over to the nearby mall.
Before we came to Costa Rica, we read a bunch of blogs that said things like "don't worry about dressing nice in Costa Rica, most people will be wearing outdoorsy clothes," or "wearing gym shorts and a t-shirt around Costa Rica is the norm."
Well...we took that advice to heart and brought almost exclusively outdoorsy clothes. So, when we stepped into the San Jose mall, we looked and felt very out of place. Everybody at this mall was dressed nice! They had heels and had their hair done up nicely with cute outfits—and we looked like complete scrubs.
We awkwardly made our way to the food court, stumbled our way through ordering food in Spanglish, then took our trays and searched for an open seat like the unpopular kids in a middle school cafeteria. After scarfing down our dinner, we went straight back to our B&B and realized how little we knew about San Jose.
The next morning, we were served breakfast on our balcony and we knew right away that we were going to enjoy this trip. The weather was warm, birds were chirping, and there was a perfect breeze.
We packed up our bags and headed down to the lobby where the car rental employee was waiting for us.
Renting a Car
You cannot get around Costa Rica without a car. This country isn't like Japan, where you can take trains everywhere, or like Thailand, where every hotel rents out scooters for the day. If you don't get a rental car, then you have to rely on public transportation, which I hear is really rough and time-consuming.
We pre-booked a 4x4 SUV through Adobe and our experience was pretty fantastic (I feel like I just need to mention that my website isn't nearly big enough for me to get sponsorships—every company/hotel/excursion I talk about here is just based on our experience—no freebies or sponsorships or anything like that). In the morning, they delivered the car to our B&B, sat down and went through the paperwork with us and, because we got a portable wifi router, they helped us set that up too.
Side note: Yes, renting an SUV in Costa Rica is expensive. It was probably the most expensive part of our trip (at about $1,600 USD for two weeks). It's one of those things that you just need to plan for, suck up, and just do. It's a lot of money but the alternatives were to spend slightly less money on a sedan and struggle on the mountain roads, or to try to rely on local busses, which would've taken away our freedom. So, if you're planning a trip around Costa Rica, just make sure you're prepared for the expense.
And we were off! We're not city people whatsoever, so the first thing on our itinerary was to get out of San Jose and head to La Fortuna.
So, I know I sort of whipped through our first day in Costa Rica, but the first day of any trip is all about getting your bearings and getting set up. The second or third day is where a trip truly begins.
It was about a two-and-a-half-hour drive to La Fortuna and, despite what we read online about bad roads and time estimates not being accurate, it was a smooth and easy trip. (The car rental representative advised us to use Waze rather than Google Maps while in Costa Rica because the routes are more accurate.)
La Fortuna is known for being close to Arenal volcano, so when we booked our hotel, I put a little note on the booking that said, "Could I please have a room with a volcano view?" The hotel responded by saying something along the lines of "We'll set one aside for you!" I honestly didn't think that my request would work. The hotel only had a couple of rooms with views of the volcano, and the rest were behind trees or buildings. I figured those rooms would be the honeymoon suites or something. But as it turns out, it pays off to ask politely.
When we stepped into our room, I literally couldn't believe it. The room had huge windows that gave us the most spectacular view. I can't even put it into words and photos don't do it justice, but I'll put the picture here to help you understand.
I honestly don't think I could've chosen a better hotel in La Fortuna. The staff was amazing, the room was everything I could've dreamed of, and the on-site restaurant was amazing (shoutout to the chef who ran the restaurant with his wife. He had such a good attitude and his food belonged in an expensive restaurant). Just in case you want to stay there as well, it's called Hotel Monte Real.
We didn't plan anything for the first day in La Fortuna so we could explore the town. That turned out to be a bit of a mistake. La Fortuna is located in a rainforest and as the locals put it to us, "We don't have a wet season and a dry season. We have a wet season and a not-as-wet season."
We did thoroughly prepare for the rain—we brought waterproof rain jackets, waterproof pants, and waterproof hiking sneakers—but that doesn't mean it didn't still put a bit of a damper on the day. We explored the area, checked out a sloth viewing trail (we didn't see any sloths that day), and ate. It was a pretty wet and lowkey day.
White Water Rafting in Arenal
Here is where the trip starts to get interesting. We booked a white water rafting trip for the next day and it was one of the highlights of our entire two weeks in Costa Rica.
Like I said before, La Fortuna is located in a rainforest. So, while that may make walking around town a bit more difficult, it does mean that there are a ton of amazing water-related activities in the area.
We booked our white water rafting trip with Arenal Rafting. They picked us up from our hotel and brought us to the base. There, we were split into groups and were put on a van, where we were briefed on the trip.
Okay, so I've never gone white water rafting before. My boyfriend had once or twice, so he sort of knew what to expect, but I was going in blind. So when the guide gave us the safety briefing, you could say I was a little nervous. He quickly explained rafting terms and gave us rules such as, "when your guide says 'left side forward', that also means right side back. And when he says lean in, make sure you hold your paddle away so you don't knock your partner's teeth out," etc., etc. To say I was intimidated was an understatement.
When we arrived at the location, we were geared up, split into groups of six, assigned to a guide, and off we went.
The water was freezing and the river was raging. I'm not sure what I was imagining, but I'll just say that the guide's briefing was completely necessary. We navigated around huge rocks and through insane rapids. People were screaming with fear, joy, and adrenaline.
I told my boat companions that I would be the one to fall out—because that's just the kind of thing that always happens to me. But thankfully, I was wrong. I stayed in the raft the entire time and paddled like a well-seasoned, white water rafting badass.
I'm joking. I was the only person in my raft to fall out—surprise, surprise. It was my turn to "ride the bull" as they called it. This meant sitting on the front of the raft, feet forward, with only a rope between my legs to hold on to. The raft was slippery and the rope was difficult to grasp, so when we went face-first into a huge wave of rapids, I was there one moment and gone the next.
I immediately grabbed onto the ropes around the raft and made my way over to the side where my boyfriend grabbed me by the life jacket and pulled me in. Then the guide told me to grab my paddle and keep going because we were headed towards another rapid.
It was simultaneously a frightening and hilarious moment. And it made for some amazing photos. Here's a picture that captures the chaos of the moment pretty well.
After surviving the rapids, we made it to a rest area where all the rafts pulled over and had a snack of watermelon, mango, and pineapple.
The second part of the river was much slower and most of us jumped into the water and floated down on our backs. It was an absolutely beautiful area—it's actually where they filmed the opening shot of one of the Jurassic Park movies.
We made it to the end of the river, dried off, packed up, and headed back to the base in La Fortuna. Then we had a typical lunch (rice, beans, meat), looked over our photos and laughed at each other, and headed back to the hotel.
The day was full of so many emotions, but when I think back to it, the feeling I'm overwhelmed with is "fun."
We're not the type of people who like to vacation on the beach, drink in hand, with no cares in the world. If we're not doing some sort of adventuring, then we feel like we're wasting our trip. I am in no way judging those who do like to relax and do nothing on vacations, it's just not our style.
So, the day after we went on our rafting adventure, we went on a very different type of excursion: canyoning. I had never heard of canyoning before this trip, but essentially it's when you rappel down canyons wearing mountain climbing gear.
Similar to the white water rafting trip, we were picked up at our hotel in the morning and driven to the canyoning company's base location (we went with a company called Pure Trek). We were given lunch first—which we thought was strange because eating right before hiking and rappelling down cliffs doesn't sound like the best idea—but oh well.
Then we were sorted into busses and driven to the canyoning location. When we got there, we were given safety briefs, instructions, and geared up.
Somehow, I ended up first in line, so it was up to me to take the first leap of faith and jump down the side of a cliff.
I'm not afraid of heights, and I'm somewhat familiar with rock climbing (I've only done it once) so I sort of knew what to expect. I had no problem rappelling down the rocks and, about halfway down, the guides on the ground shook my rope around and swung me into a waterfall.
The next part was what they call the "monkey drop." In this case, I was thankful that I went first because I had no idea what to expect.
They clipped my harness to a rope and when I looked down, I saw a small pool of water below me. They told me, "jump and make sure that you hold your breath about halfway down." So I jumped and freefell until about 2/3 of the way down, then the guides slowed my fall a bit so they could aim me above the pool, and dropped me in the water.
It happened so quickly that I didn't get a chance to get nervous ahead of time. You probably don't know this about me, but one of my biggest fears is free-falling (that's why I won't go on rollercoasters with steep drops or do things like bungee jumping). If I had known that I was going to be freefalling into a small pool of water, I would've been sick to my stomach. But as it was, it all went by like a blur and I ended up having an awesome time.
After the monkey drop, the rest of the cliffs were pretty small. Also, we went with a decent-sized group so after my boyfriend and I completed each rappel (which only took about 30 seconds) we had to wait for a while for everybody else to finish.
So, in conclusion, canyoning was a great experience and I would definitely recommend it to anyone going to La Fortuna. But, due to the amount of waiting around and the fact that most of the rappels were pretty short, it wasn't quite as action-packed of an adventure as I expected it to be.
Chocolate, Jungles, and Hiking
After we came back from canyoning, we ate dinner then decided to explore the small jungle area behind our hotel (it had paths, so it was safe). At this point, it was dark and it was drizzling, so we didn't plan to stay out for too long. But, just when we gave up on seeing anything cool, my boyfriend found a Red-Eyed Tree Frog! And then another, and another! He had a real eye for spotting them and if it weren't for him, I would never have seen them.
They were so vibrant that they almost looked fake. We also ended up spotting some other frog species and a giant millipede. It just goes to show that you don't always need to pay for a guided tour to see amazing things—sometimes you just need to explore the area on your own!
Over the next couple of days, we did a chocolate tour, hiked near Arenal Volcano, and went sloth-watching.
Arenal Volcano National Park
There is a hike you can do in Arenal Volcano National Park that is supposed to give you amazing views of the volcano. There were just a couple of issues:
The hiking path is dirt and it rains all the time. So... the hiking path was actually mud. Like, pure water and mud. Luckily, we always wear our waterproof hiking boots, so we were fine. But we saw tons of people on the path who wore their nice, white sneakers or sandals and totally destroyed them. There are some areas of the trail that are just inches of squelchy mud, so make sure you're prepared with proper footwear.
Since it's almost always cloudy and rainy in La Fortuna, it's not super common that you'll get a clear view of the volcano like we got on the first day. In fact, we didn't see the volcano at all for the rest of our time there. So you'll most likely be paying to hike to a spot to look at clouds (like the photo above).
The coolest part of the hike was seeing the over-400-year-old Ceiba tree located along the trail. Photos do a pretty poor job of conveying the sheer size, but it felt like something out of the movie Avatar. If you do decide to do this hike, make sure you make it a point to loop around and check out the tree, because it's on a separate path and could be easily missed.
My verdict, if it's a clear day, this hike might be worth taking for a nice picture of the volcano. But if you're deciding between this hike and another excursion, you're not missing too much by skipping this.
We had an afternoon free so we booked a chocolate tour in La Fortuna. I highly recommend doing a chocolate tour if you get a chance. We got to try every stage of chocolate—from fruit, to powder, to drink, to cream, to the final product.
We even got to take part in making the chocolate with activities like breaking open the pods and crushing the fermented beans into powder.
It was a ton of fun mixing flavors into unique combinations, and in the end...can you really go wrong with a tour that ends with all-you-can-eat fresh chocolate?
Sloths are my favorite animals, so you couldn't expect me to leave La Fortuna without seeing sloths in the wild.
La Fortuna has a bunch of sloth-watching trails, so you can't really go wrong with which one you choose. And since our first, self-guided sloth-watching walk was a failure, we decided to pay for a tour guide the second time.
We walked through wooded paths and the guide brought a small telescope for us to look through. He was able to spot sloths in the tops of trees that I never would have seen with my naked eye, so it was totally worth the money.
By the end, we saw 11.5 sloths! The .5 was because we actually saw one mom sloth who had a tiny baby on her stomach. I also appreciate the fact that these tours didn't disturb the sloths in any way. We were not able to touch or even get up close to the animals—we watched them in their natural habitat through binoculars and telescopes.
Fun fact: I learned that it's really easy to tell the difference between a male and female three-toed sloth. Do you see that mark on the sloth's back in the photo? Only males have this marking (it's like an oval with a vertical line through it). I just thought that was cool.
Final Thoughts on La Fortuna
We stayed in La Fortuna for a total of four nights and we had a ton of adventures. However, when we finished the trip, La Fortuna ended up being our least-favorite town.
Although La Fortuna had some amazing excursions in the area, we weren't huge fans of the vibe of the town itself. In no way am I trying to insult the town—it was cute and had a lot of restaurants within walking distance. It's hard to describe...but the town itself felt more like a city. It was divided into blocks and it was difficult to find a time to cross the road because of all the cars. So, as a person who likes to explore towns on foot, it was sort of difficult.
La Fortuna is a great hub to access lots of different activities, but there wasn't a ton to do in our downtime in-between excursions.
In my next post, I'll tell you all about our adventures in Monteverde!
If you got to the end of this post, thank you so much for taking the time to visit my page!<3
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See you soon!