One Week Vacations in Costa Rica
Though many first time visitors to Costa Rica stick to San Jose, the capital, on their first visit, and though there are gardens in the city and natural features nearby that show you glimpses of the natural wonders of Costa Rica, San Jose is still a modern city and quite similar to many other cities around the globe. For a truly memorable brief vacation to Costa Rica, go to the Arenal Volcano instead and stay in the town of La Fortuna, which is close to the mountain’s foot.
The volcano itself forms a spectacular backdrop for your vacation, with vivid orange lava flows shimmering on its flanks at night, and gigantic subterranean thunders to accompany this visual display. The effect is wild, elemental, and exciting, and since the town’s hotels have been constructed to give you a ringside seat of the eruptions, you can relax in the evening and savor the wonder of this volcano in the comfort of your room or in an outdoor dining area under the tropical stars.
Arenal volcano is clad in jungle and this gives you ample opportunity to enjoy some ecotourism as well. You can hike along trails through the rain forest and cloud forest, perhaps seeing some of the rich variety of wildlife, or opt for horseback rides along less ecologically sensitive trails. There are many watercourses and snowy, pristine waterfalls flanked by deep emerald verdure, giving you plenty of viewing opportunities and perhaps some “photo ops” as well.
La Fortuna offers hot springs for relaxing and soaking away your cares, restaurants and bars for family friendly or adult refreshment, and a pleasant atmosphere. The town lacks the sophisticated shopping opportunities of San Jose, but you can always take a last day shopping trip to the capital after basking in the tropical ambiance of the Arenal area.
Two Week Vacations in Costa Rica
If you are staying longer than a single week in Costa Rica, then a detour to one of the coastal areas is a must. You have several options when it comes to choosing your seaside destinations, either before or after your stay in San Jose or La Fortuna close to the Arenal Volcano. The Pacific and Caribbean coasts each have their own attractions, and which you choose is largely a matter of personal taste. Although some people dismiss the Caribbean coast, it is also a very pleasant area to visit.
The north Caribbean coast in Limon Province is a bit more expensive, but is a good spot for nature lovers because of its turtles (during the wet season of July to December), as well as the jungle of the interior with its navigable rivers where you may be able to take a wildlife-rich boat tour. The area is relatively quiet as well, with less tourist traffic. Puerto Limon, the capital of Limon Province, is not the best tourist destination in Costa Rica and should probably be avoided as a waste of time if you are in the country for two weeks or less.
The southern Caribbean coast is an excellent area for surfing and partying, with excellent food, music, and atmosphere found in Puerto Viejo and its environs. The wildlife refuge Gandoca Manzanillo is located close by, which includes natural wonders both on land and sea. The ocean includes dolphin viewing and snorkeling, while the thick landward jungle is inhabited by everything from brilliant parrots and toucans, or scintillating tropical butterflies, to monkeys and jaguars.
The Pacific coast offers a different set of pleasures. The northern extremity is another surfing and sunbathing area with hot, dry weather in the dry season (December through May) and intriguing dry tropical forest inland. The southern area includes more beaches, sea cliffs, and coastal mangrove forests. There are yoga retreats at some of the quieter beaches, and boat tours or kayaking through the mangrove is a peaceful, nature-rich experience for ecotourists.
Longer Vacations in Costa Rica
If you are in Costa Rica for a longer period, or are returning for a repeat visit and want a change from your initial adventures, there are hundreds of possibilities awaiting you in this remote, lush, ecologically sensitive tropical nation. Here are some of the more interesting, exciting activities that you can engage in when you have additional time in Costa Rica:
- Visiting a tropical rain forest or cloud forest where you can either walk along the ground trails or take a zip line tour through the green cathedral of the canopy. The easiest spot to reach is the Braulio Carrillo nature reserve near San Jose, which you can access with a trip of less than 25 minutes. The cloud forest here – and elsewhere – is a hauntingly beautiful place of mists, huge trees, lush growth, rich vegetative scents, and rare animals like quetzals and blue morpho butterflies.
- Boat rides on either the Cano Negro Rio Frio or the Rio Sarapiqui are excellent for those who enjoy photographing animals. Since these rivers cut through virgin jungle and watercourses are frequently visited – or inhabited – by animals, you will have the opportunity to view and photograph such wildlife as alligators and caimans, spider monkeys and howler monkeys, tropical butterflies and birds, lizards, and perhaps even a sloth or two.
- Coffee plantation tours in the north central Heredia Province is a good way for coffee lovers to sample a variety of interesting brews and for history aficionados to glimpse the main industry of Costa Rica prior to the rise of ecotourism. If you time your visit correctly, you can enjoy some more local culture by taking a side trip to see the parades of boyeros – brilliantly painted ox carts – in San Jose (November or December) or San Antonio de Escazu (April to May).
- Visiting Poas Volcano is an interesting alternative to the Arenal Volcano area, though this is more in the nature of day trip than a place for a long stay. The two inactive craters of the volcano house spectacular greenish-blue lakes and are accessible by trails, though the active (and dangerous) crater is not part of the regular tour program. The summit of the mountain is cool, rewarding proper dressing, and sulfur fumes make visits brief and sometimes impossible. However, the sight is amazing and there is a richly forested national park surrounding the peak which is also worth walking through.
- Hiking in Chirripo National Park is a very popular activity, and some bunks are available along the way – though the warm climate means you can sleep comfortably outdoors during the dry season. The mountain of Chirripo itself is worth a climb if you can obtain a permit to do so – its lofty summit allows you to see both the Caribbean and Pacific oceans on a clear day.