We wouldn’t be able to do what we do here at Holiday Architects without the hard work and knowledge of our in-house travel specialists. Each HA expert only focuses on one or two countries, meaning they know these destinations like the back of their hand – regularly returning to ensure they can continue to offer the very best and current hints and tips about the place you want to visit.
Our wonderful Costa Rica specialist, Dawn, has just got back from an epic one-month adventure in the country – her fourth time exploring this wild and vibrant nation. Here are her highlights!…
“Pura Vida!” You’ll hear this phrase everywhere in Costa Rica. The locals use it for ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’ or even ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome’. Translated it simply means ‘pure life’ and is all about accepting the beauty that surrounds you. This couldn’t be a more apt greeting for a country that is so lush, green and teeming with wildlife.
Costa Rica is just the most magical and enchanting country. I’ve just returned from my fourth visit and every time I go it wows me even more. With vibrant, colourful jungle overflowing out onto golden sandy beaches, active volcanoes nestled amidst Jurassic landscapes just asking to be explored and nightly sunsets worthy of filling your cameras’ memory card – it really is a special place.
It’s rugged and wild. Prepare to get wet, prepare to get dirty, but more importantly prepare to be absolutely amazed by the biodiversity and the hand of nature at play here. There really are animals and wildlife everywhere you look – Costa Rica is nature’s playground and it’s just waiting to be explored.
Boca Tapada Nature Reserve
The nature reserve of Boca Tapada is really special. The stunning eco-lodge can only be accessed via the water, which gives it a real feeling of remoteness and tranquillity. As the boat drifted across the calm lagoon waters, I felt beautifully isolated and peaceful. The surrounding waters attract an unbelievable wealth of wildlife to the lodge and it wasn’t long before I realised I’d arrived somewhere very unique indeed.
A canopy of colourful trees and a vibrant array of tropical flowers lined my path as I made my way to my home for the next few nights.
There is so much nature to take in here. With such a great variety of flora and fauna helping make Boca Tapada the perfect paradise for birds to call home. There are more than 400 species of bird that can be spotted in the reserve and I was lucky enough to be greeted by a pair of great green macaws and a pair of scarlet macaws flying overhead as soon as I arrived! Nice of them to put on a show!
There are so many activities to dive into here. It wasn’t long before I laced up my hiking boots and took off on a nature hike with my knowledgeable local guide. He really knew his stuff, pointing out things I would never have noticed, talking me through the different plants and trees. The guides use telescopes to help point out creatures hiding high in the canopy above, allowing you to get up close and personal without endangering the animals.
We saw howler monkeys, lizards and a family of coati, caiman, geckoes and small red frogs! But it’s the birdlife here that is staggering and just everywhere, they even give you a list to tick them off!
Ignite your adrenaline in Arenal
I guarantee that Arenal will be all you hoped it would be, and so much more!
Arenal is the activity and adrenaline capital of Costa Rica. There’s white water rafting, ziplining, hot thermal springs, horse-riding treks to thundering waterfalls – and the endless wildlife spotting opportunities of course (but that’s a given in Costa Rica!).
Most famously though, Arenal is home to one of Costa Rica’s most famous landmarks – the Arenal volcano. Standing at an impressive 1600 meters high, you’d assume it would be quite easy to spot – not quite! Due to the weather conditions in the area, it’s quite a rare treat to see the summit. So, as you can imagine, I felt quite smug when I captured this….
Hiking the Arenal Volcano
Spotting the summit is one thing, hiking up to it is another achievement all together.
The hike was gruelling, especially under the 42-degree heat of the relentless Costa Rican sun (and the sweatiness of the humidity!). But without doubt, worth every second.
Hiking through the lava fields and clambering over volcanic rock, I felt like I’d stumbled into a scene out of Jurassic Park. The landscape is so prehistoric and almost eerie at times. But with Lake Arenal in the background and the summit of the volcano in front of me, there was beauty everywhere I looked. I just kept repeating to myself; ‘I am going to do this!’.
The sense of achievement I had when I made it to the top was huge, I was so proud of myself for conquering it… it was a real magical moment and one I won’t forget in a hurry.
Soaking in the hot springs
Where there’s a volcano to hike up, there’s usually a few hot thermal springs to soak your weary limbs in afterwards! Arenal doesn’t disappoint on this front.
Scattered throughout the rainforest and around the town of La Fortuna are multiple hot spring pools that vary in temperature from 35 degrees all the way up to a muscle-soothing 65 degrees Celsius.
It’s THE place to congratulate yourself on a good full day of hiking. The water was blissful and my legs absolutely thanked me for it in the morning!
The Sloth Tour
Arenal isn’t just about the adrenaline – it’s also about the sloths!
I’d ALWAYS recommend a sloth tour in this part of Costa Rica. On the walk, not only did I get to see both two-toed and three-toed sloths, but a pregnant sloth and a sloth with a baby on her tummy!
It was a spectacular afternoon; the guides were first class and really make so much effort to teach you things about these gorgeous animals… Did you know, although they get a bad rep for being lazy, sloths actually only sleep for 10 hours a day?!
Being that close to those incredible animals, was such an honour. Take the sloth tour and be guaranteed multiple pinch yourself moments.
Fly through the rainforest on a zipline
If you’re after a bit of an adrenaline rush – ziplining through the jungle has got your name all over it.
We chose to hike up to the start, but there is an aerial tram available if you’d rather not build up too much of a sweat before your flight through the trees! (I think I’d opt for the tram if I have the chance to zipline here again!)
The team were fantastic and took great care in hooking up to all the gear and talking us through what to expect – they’re so safety-focused, you’ll be in very good hands!
I felt like Jungle Jane as the cool air hit my face and I was zooming through the trees. The views all around from the top of the canopy were stunning. I was buzzing with adrenaline by the end…. So if you’re looking for an exhilarating adventure in Costa Rica and a different way to view the rainforest, look no further!
Explore the Wild and Rugged Northern Pacific Coast
The wild Northern Pacific Coast offers a mixture of beaches for all tastes. The wild surfing beaches of Playa Pelada, Guiones, Nosara and Santa Terresa, complement the calm gentle waters of Playa Matapalito, Playas del Coco, Potrero and Hermosa. It’s as beautiful as it is diverse, with white, grey and even black volcanic sands making up the long stretches of beach.
The beaches are stunning, but the sunsets are something else! Without fail, for an hour every evening, the sky puts on a show and everyone stops what they’re doing to take it in. It’s natures’ firework display – such a treat!
With the sky changing from blood red to golden yellow and then candy pink, it’s a spectacle that demands your full attention. I was in awe every night. Sipping on a sundowner whilst taking it all in has to be up there with my favourite ways to spend an evening. Please take me back!
Be Spellbound by the Bioluminescence Phenomena on Isla Chiquita
A visit to the private island of Isla Chiquita off the Nicoya Peninsula is an absolute must. The bioluminescence boat tour gave me the opportunity to witness a breath-taking natural phenomenon that I’ll truly never forget.
When the sun goes down and the night gets dark, a few very privileged locations on earth offer the rare opportunity to see bioluminescence light up the ocean.
Produced by high concentrations of light-emitting plankton, it was like watching fairies dancing in the water. The ocean transformed into a starry nights’ sky before my very eyes and I was absolutely mesmerised.
It was hypnotic to witness and a real first for me! If you’re considering a trip to this incredible country, do try and make sure you experience this!
Manuel Antonio National Park
This is a national park with a difference! It’s generously edged with stunning white-sand tropical beaches which you can surf off or snorkel from and explore the stunningly colourful coral reefs.
As you take your time to explore the park, look out for the mischievous capuchin monkeys with their bright-white faces and the delightful innocent-looking squirrel monkeys. And listen for the haunting calls coming from the threatening troops of howler monkeys that swing their way through the canopy.
Often considered among the most biodiverse parks in the world, spanning several natural habitats, this park boasts more than 109 different species of mammals and 184 species of birds. There’s a lot of wildlife to be seen here, but also a lot of people!
I got a little bit soggy on my wildlife trek – but rain doesn’t stop play in Costa Rica! Rain or shine, the wildlife is out there just waiting to be spotted…
Visit the mystical Monteverde Cloud Forest
Another highlight of Costa Rica for me is absolutely the stunning Monteverde Cloud Forest, one of the last tropical cloud forests in the world. Cool in temperature compared with my other adventures in the country so far, it was a refreshing change!
A completely unique forest, Monteverde is home to a constant eerie mist that drifts across the canopy, consuming the trees below. This mysterious cloud-like fog is what gives the forest its name and is created by the high humidity in this area. 1,600 meters above the ocean, the forest is a very moisture-rich environment which shelters several thousand animal and plant species across its 26,000 acres.
The cloud forest is a bird-lover’s paradise, with more than 500 different bird-species calling it home. Bring your binoculars for a view of the quetzal, whose green plumage contrasts nicely with its red chest and belly, the blue-throated toucanet and the three-wattled bellbird.
I would recommend the night walk here, your expert guide will lead you along a forest trail for approximately one mile in search of creatures such as fireflies, tree frogs and poison dart frogs, bats, lizards, many different sleeping birds and occasionally even tarantulas (from a safe distance!) I was also lucky enough to see a spectacle owl!
Be Wowed by Nature on the Osa Peninsula
It takes a bit of effort to get here but without a doubt, one of the most spectacular places to visit in Costa Rica – the Crème de La Crème if you will! – is the Osa Peninsula.
Declared ‘one of the most biologically diverse places on earth’ by the National Geographic Magazine, the pristine rainforests and the rugged natural beauty make this region a must for any Costa Rica itinerary. It’s so teeming with wildlife that at one point I saw 10 pairs of Scarlet Macaws in one tree!
If you want to see whales in the wild, this is the place to come. Humpback whales spend an incredible eight months of the year (the longest out of anywhere in the world) off the Osa Peninsula.
And my goodness did they put on a show for me! I was just taking a water taxi from Golfo Dulce over to the Osa Peninsula and was lucky enough to see two spectacular whales dancing and playing together. They were hopping, fin slapping, breaching and fluke flipping. It’s a travel memory I’ll never forget.
Costa Rica is a wild and rugged land that will take hold of your soul. Be prepared to expect and embrace the unexpected on a visit here. It’s a place where at times things might not run smoothly, but more often than not, that’ll lead you to the most wonderful adventure.
It’s impossible to visit Costa Rica and not come back feeling more alive, more in touch with nature and more in awe of what our wonderful planet has to offer. The country will inspire you to explore, it will inspire you to step out of your comfort zone and most importantly, will inspire you to book your next adventure and uncover more of this remarkable world we call home.
Do give me a call if you want to chat more about this spectacular destination. I have so many stories and tips to share!