In college, a few of my friends planned an epic trip to Costa Rica, but unfortunately, I was unable to make it. I've always regretted missing out on such an exciting adventure. So, last April we decided to go to Costa Rica!
Planning Your Costa Rica Itinerary
Although I had a general idea of the things I wanted to do and see, I wasn't sure where to start. How could we make the most of the 4 days we'd be spending there?
Thankfully, a friend directed me to Anywhere Costa Rica. They are amazingly helpful and make itinerary planning super easy. We provided our travel dates, desired activities, destinations, and budget, and a personal trip planner arranged our ideal itinerary, including transportation and lodgings.
Getting to Arenal
We flew into San Juan airport around 10pm. We had debated whether to arrange a shuttle or save some money by renting a car. But we soon realized that there was no way we could have made that drive on our own, even with a GPS. Especially not at night. The drive to Arenal took around 3 hours, the dirt roads were narrow, and there were no lights or street signs anywhere.
And the drive was extremely bumpy! By the time we pulled up our hotel, my butt hurt from bouncing on the hard seats and my head hurt from my brain rattling around my skull. Still, I was so glad we opted for the private shuttle.
We arrived at Casa Luna Hotel & Spa around 1am. We were too exhausted to appreciate it at the time, but the place was super cute. Little cottages sit right in the middle of a rainforest! When the windows are open, you can hear the sounds of nature around you: birds, monkeys, and other wildlife. You get a great view of the mountains and rainforest from the balcony as well.
Apparently they have a pool and hot tub, but we weren't able to take advantage. Since Arenal was to be the "adventurous" part of our trip, we were out all day and only came back to the hotel to sleep. I didn't get to take my own photos, but here are some photos from their website:
The Arenal Adventure Begins!
Our morning began bright and early at 6am, starting with a free breakfast buffet and a create-your-own omelet bar at the hotel. We had booked a 4-in-1 adventure package through Anywhere that included guided hiking tours through the Hanging Bridges rainforest, La Fortuna Waterfall, Arenal Volcano National Park, and admission to Eco Termales Hot Springs. Needless to say, our schedule was jam-packed!
Going through the Hanging Bridges Park was awesome! If you're just looking to run across bridges that hang hundreds of feet above the ground and take some cute Instagram photos, you can easily buy tickets and go through the park on your own.
However, the experience is a hundred times better with a guide. They know these rainforests like the back of their hand, and were able to point out animals that we would never have spotted on our own. They carried portable telescopes to zoom in on animals too far or too small to see with the naked eye.
It was insane. They would hear an animal's cry, point the telescope in the general direction, and be able to pinpoint it in a matter of seconds. Their years of experience definitely enhance your experience. We were able to spot colorful frogs, several birds, sloths(!!), and even a pack of howler monkeys!
La Fortuna Waterfall
Stairs. Lots and lots of stairs. Be prepared! There is a viewing spot from higher up, but you can also take 600-or-so stairs down to the waterfall and take a swim! The view from the top was amazing. A lush green mountainside framing a little waterfall. Except when we got close, we saw that it wasn't little at all.
We stopped for lunch at a restaurant run by a local Costa Rican family. The meal was included in our package, and everything we had was delicious. Especially the plantains!!! Afterwards, we headed into Arenal Volcano National Park. Since it *is* an active volcano, we were required to keep a certain distance.
It was still a decent hike. Especially after having gone up and down 600 stairs to the waterfall. We started on flat grassy paths, which then led up to steep rocky inclines.
Our guides pointed out a ton of interesting plant life around us, including a plant with leaves that shrivel up when you touch them!
Once we reached the rocky side of the mountain, our guides pointed out that the ground was black--it was covered with volcanic sand. We could see so much from so high up. Way off in the distance was a huge and tranquil lake. We were told that the lake was created when a huge boulder blasted from the volcano and formed a large crater in the earth.
Our guides from Rainforest Explorers were informative, experienced, and patient. One of them showed us pictures of him with Will Smith and his family, as he was their guide when Will was here shooting the movie After Earth with his son.
While we were hiking down from the volcano, this guide came up to me and said, "Give me your arm." I hesitated, then asked, "Why?" He didn't say, and just motioned for my arm. A little nervous, I let him take my arm.
Okay, it wasn't that hard of a slap, but enough to surprise me. He had pressed a leaf onto my arm, which left a white imprint, like a white tattoo. It was pretty cool!
Here's me with one of our awesome guides. I think his name was Roberto, but sadly, I don't quite remember anymore. He's still awesome though. I highly recommend Rainforest Explorers to guide your trip through Arenal!
Eco Termales Hot Springs
The final leg of our tour package! And boy, was it much needed after all the hiking and walking we did. Josh still refers to this day as "the most active day of his life." We were pretty much on the move from morning 'til night!
There are a number of hot springs and spas in the area, and the water is naturally heated by the volcano. We took advantage of the poolside bar to sip on piña coladas while soaking our sore feet and tired bodies in hot spring water. It was like relaxing in heaven...if heaven were hot and steamy and served alcoholic beverages.
I have no pictures from the hot springs because we had left our phones in lockers to prevent them from getting wet. Also, I was too busy soaking in bliss and enjoying my frozen drinks.
While it was great that we were able to fit all of this into one day, I think I would have enjoyed spreading it out over a few days, and be able to see more of the area. Our next stop was Los Sueños Resort, just off Jaco in peaceful Playa Herradura. This was our relax-by-the-ocean part of our vacation, which I will be writing about shortly!