Our road trip guide from San Jose to Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast includes a stay in a treehouse and stops in the Cloud Forest, La Fortuna, and Manuel Antonio!
The first thing you may notice about Ticos is the, “Pura Vida”. This symbolizes a way of thinking or an idea of letting things go, and simply enjoying life. After everything I had heard of Costa Rica, the people (Ticos) and the beauty, it’s not hard to understand why I have wanted to visit such a place for many years.
Pura Vida: Road Trip Guide to Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast
Our itinerary for our first visit to this wonderful country, came from simply researching online and playing the safe route. If I were to visit this country again, I would definitely do things differently. With that being said, I hope you will be able to learn a little from our mistakes, and hopefully you will be more knowledgeable if you are planning a trip this way.
Flying Into San Jose Airport
From where our flight landed in San Jose, we took a shuttle to the car rental company. Mistake number one for the budget traveler. After all the add-on costs such as insurance, car upgrades and gas, we spent about $350 to $400 for transportation for one week.
This seemed worth it at the time, but I would much rather take the bus, which takes you just about anywhere for extremely cheap, and spent the money we would have saved on fun adventurous things. Although, I must say, driving in Costa Rica was not as stressful as I had imagined. Especially with a GPS, which was one of the upgrades we added at the rental company.
The Cloud Forest
Now, with our GPS in hand, we drove North West, through the Cloud Forest and on to Tree Houses Hotel in the town of Santa Clara. We arrived after dark and had to maneuver our way through the unmarked roads.
Tree Houses Hotel is a unique Bed and Breakfast where the cabin style rooms are built high up in a tree. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. They only have 3 tree houses on the property, so it is VERY secluded. When you are taking a shower, the only thing between you and the outdoors is a screen!
In the morning, everybody gathers in the common area, which is a separate house where innkeeper, Renee, makes you a wonderful breakfast of eggs, toast and fruit. Renee is very informative and eager to answer any questions you may have about the area. There are a few hiking trails on the property, one that leads to a waterfall.
This place is not for the faint of heart or those who get squeamish around animals. We found this out after we got to know our neighbors, a family with 3 kids, who took us over to their tree house to show us the family of bats that were living outside of it. For more info about staying here go to Tree Houses Hotel Costa Rica. The rooms are slightly more expensive than the other places we stayed, but well worth it.
La Fortuna & Arenal Volcano
After our hike we got back on the road to make the short drive to La Fortuna, where the active Arenal Volcano is located. We checked into the Lavas Tocotal. Our large room had a nice panoramic view of the volcano and was right next to the pool. We took it easy the rest of the day. We ate lunch at a small restaurant in the center of town, walked around a bit, and found a good deal on a zip line tour for the next day.
After dinner, we drove about 5 minutes to Arenal Paraiso Resort to soak in their many hot spring pools. We had originally tried to book a room here, but they didn’t have any availability, and after visiting this place, I can see why.
They have 14 pools, 13 of them with thermo-mineral water. The temperatures vary from 78 to 107 degrees Fahrenheit. We pretty much had every pool to ourselves, although I’m not sure how often you will be able to get that lucky.
The next morning we got up early for our zipline adventure. The van picked us up in front of our hotel and took us to the Ranch. After a safety training from the zip line employees, we all piled in a car being pulled by a tractor and climbed up and up the hill to our drop off point.
Our guides helped us get on our gear and we continued our ascent by foot. This trek seemed like it went on forever. I have to admit, I was breathing heavily and was not in the best shape for this climb. Finally, we made it to the top. And do I mean the top!
We overlooked the entire Rainforest from the tops of the trees! It was amazing, breathtaking and scary, to say the least. We had our moment of fear where we consulted each other to make sure we could handle this. And of course, the fear passed once we saw the first brave souls latch on to the line and go!
It was one of the best experiences of our lives and I would definitely do it again! Just don’t get stuck out in the middle of the line like a few of us did, otherwise the guides have to come get you. Which can be a little embarrassing for some.
After the ten or so zip lines of many different lengths, we were met by a guide with horses for everyone and rode the rest of the way down the mountain by horseback. Very fun for those people who like horses!
That evening we drove to a spot where many people gather at sunset to view the active volcano. We were able to see many eruptions and stayed well after the sun had set. Bring your insect repellent!!
Also, a word to the wise, be leery of taking hikes too close to the volcano’s smoke fumes. Just before we arrived, there was a couple who took a guided tour to the volcano and everybody on that hike died from getting too close and inhaling the fumes. Just make sure your guide knows what he or she is doing.
I won’t bore you with the rest of our stay in La Fortuna. We stayed too long and should have spent more time at our next destination, Manuel Antonio. We went coastal for the first time while in Costa Rica and the last part of our trip.
Only 3 days in this magical town was way too short of a visit. I do recommend staying at the villas at Hotel Karahe. Our private villa was at the very top of a hill overlooking the ocean!
I can’t say enough about Manuel Antonio. There are many restaurants within walking distance from Hotel Karahe, all of which we found very tasty, but the best meal we had by far was on the beach. A home cooked Costa Rican lunch with chicken, rice, beans and grilled plantains for under $5.
In addition to the food, we found cheap surfboard rentals on the beach, inexpensive massage on the beach and we even rented Kayaks for a couple hours. I never wanted to leave!
We met a couple from Oregon while eating breakfast at our hotel one morning who invited us to join them on their hike through Manuel Antonio National Park. We had planned to go that day anyway and this guy was like having a guide with us, he was so knowledgeable about the plants and animals!
He pointed out Sloths in the trees, warned us of the Bullet Ants and shared his knowledge of many of the local plants. If you decide to visit this park and you don’t get lucky enough to encounter someone such as we did, I would suggest getting a guide. You will see and learn a lot more than if you just hike around on your own.