Tomer and I have just returned from a magical 2-week trip to Costa Rica, and I wanted to share everything we did and our travel itinerary with you so that you can plan your own Costa Rican vacation too! If you’re not traveling to this paradise any time soon, just save this post for future reference.
My goal is for this post to be extremely in depth and give you all the tips I wish I had before traveling! As you know, when you travel to foreign destinations it’s really hard to predict all the details (like roads, weather, and more). Knowing these things will make your trip a whole lot more enjoyable!
If you’re the adventurous kind, and are not a fan of hanging out on the beach in a resort all day, then I know you’re going to find this blog post mega helpful when you plan your trip to Costa Rica.
In this post I’ll share the exact details of what we did in Costa Rica each day, and then give you some extra tips about weather, driving, and more! I’ll mention what we particularly loved, and what we would do differently next time.
What I Learned from Costa Rica
When I travel, I take my trips as a learning opportunity. I firmly believe that traveling makes us grow in a very special way, because when we encounter a new place, a new culture, and a new way of thinking, we are challenged, and this has always made me develop personally and even professionally.
Because this trip was so long (2 weeks), I feel like I really got a taste of the Costa Rican culture and the land. Of course there is so much more for me to learn, but even this experience has made me grow in ways I never predicted. And I want to share them with you.
My first lesson: the people
I don’t exactly fully know what pura vida means for local Costa Ricans, and I think I will keep learning as I visit this magical place again and again. What I do know is what it means to me, and what I am taking away from it.
The calmness, peace, hard work, and pure kindness all converge in my heart when I hear “pura vida”. When we rented a kayak and did not need to pay or even leave a collateral until after we returned it. When every family we rented an Airbnb from answered every question with a smile, and guided us generously. When we were stuck in traffic for 40 minutes because one side of the road was getting built, and I didn’t even mind it.
All of these mean pura vida to me. And now, sitting in front of my computer at home, I am still impacted by pura vida. It has taught me how stupid and silly my concerns in life are, and how important my heart is. It has taught me to love and deeply value my own kindness, and to prioritize love and kindness in others – to value it entirely.
It has taught me to just chill the f**k out haha! Truly. Because what really matters is love, compassion, and the small moments of just being blissed out on life.
My second lesson: the land
Although I am a vegan for the health of the planet, among other things, I have never cared so much about the earth as I do right now.
Seeing the monkeys, the lush green forests, the beaches, the life that bubbles up in every part of the jungle, from the leaf cutter ant to the massive tapir, made me truly appreciate how precious life is, and how magical our planet is.
It made me so much more excited to be eating vegan, because as a vegan, we have over 80% less impact on the environment in so many categories, including land use, water use, climate change, and more (according to this study in the prestigious journal, the Lancet, among many other studies published in peer-reviewed journals).
Leaving the jungle in Costa Rica (which, in Corcovado, is the most biologically-diverse place on the planet), I saw hundreds of cows grazing. The backdrop was the lush, green forest. It was obvious that all of this forest was being cut down so that the cows could graze.
Going vegan, or at least cutting down your consumption of animals, impacts our planet tremendously. There is an immense beauty in this planet, and I’m not willing to see it all disappear without a fight. I urge you to join me, and this lesson I take home with me after observing all this sparkling beauty with me (the photos of which I will share with you in this post).
Our 2-Week Itinerary in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a very small country, yet it has a whole lot to offer for travelers. I don’t recommend planning to span the entire country during your vacation, unless you have about a month.
We learned that Costa Rica is divided into the following regions: north (Guanacaste, Nicoya, Zona Norte), center (San Jose, Valle Center and the highlands), the Caribbean coast, and the Zona Sur (southern Costa Rica and the Pacific coast).
For our trip, we decided to explore central and southern Costa Rica, as well as the pacific coast. We will definitely be back to explore the north and the Caribbean coast.
In general, I’d highly recommend staying away from big cities, unless it’s the night of your flight or you want some really great vegan food at a restaurant. Otherwise, get out of there fast!
Here is our full itinerary of our 2 weeks, including notable places to visit and sleep:
Day 1: landing in San Jose airport late at night, and sleeping in San Jose
As mentioned above, we wanted to get in and out of San Jose as fast as possible. We simply spent the night at a place close to the hotel and car rental, and got out in the morning
Day 2: driving to San Gerardo
On this day, we drove from the Airbnb at the airport to San Gerardo, the village closest to Cerro Chirripo. On the way, we stopped at RAW CO. JUICERY AND FOOD in San José Province, San Rafael: make sure to check out this post for more details on that and all of our vegan food adventures in Costa Rica.
We stopped by Los Quetzales National Park, but didn’t have too much time to explore it. I highly recommend checking it out if you’re in the area. It’s lush and green, and apparently has the beautiful Quetzales birds, which we unfortunately never got to see.
The cornerstone of our trip was climbing Cerro Chirripó. It is the tallest mountain in the whole region, 3,821 m (12,536 ft). More on that below.
On this day, we were also supposed to pick up our permits for the hike at the office, located here: https://goo.gl/maps/BGQo8WwCuZ82. The office closes at 4PM, and we were 20 minutes late, so we never picked up our permits. We were never checked during the hike, but please do pick up yours just in case!
The reason we were late was a sidetrack. It did have this insane view, so we were glad, but do use Waze rather than Google Maps on your travels (more on that below).
Also, make sure to go and check out the trailhead a day before you hike, especially if you plan to begin hiking in the dark like we did (more on that below).
We absolutely loved our Airbnb for this night and the next (Casa Motmot in San Gerardo), which was about 5 minutes walking from the trailhead and included an amazing, lush farm and the best host. I will link it at the bottom of this post.
Day 3: climbing Cerro Chirripó (3am to 9:30pm)
The crown jewel of our trip was this hell of a mountain. It is the tallest mountain in the region, with elevation gain of over 7,000 feet (2,000 meters) spanning 24.8 miles (40 kms).
Most hikers who undertake this adventure begin at the base, in the village of San Gerardo, and climb up to Crestones Basecamp, which is a 9 mile (14.5 km) hike from the trailhead. Then, on the second day, they complete 5 kms up to the peak, and back to basecamp, and explore other trails around (Crestones and Ventisqueros trails). On the third day, they hike out from Crestones Base Camp back to the trailhead.
In order to do this, you must get two things: a permit for the park and a reservation at Crestones Base Camp. Reservations for hiking can be made here: www.sinac.go.cr. After you receive your permits, email Crestones Base Camp at email@example.com with your entry permit number. For exact directions on getting permits, please check out this detailed post: https://jameskaiser.com/costa-rica-guide/hiking-chirripo/
The trouble was that when we tried making a reservation, Crestones Base Camp was booked solid! So, we decided to complete the hike in 1 day because we really didn’t want to miss this amazing experience.
I highly discourage you from doing this hike in 1 day if you’re not an incredibly advanced hiker. Not only is it extremely long, but it also starts and ends in the dark and includes miles of non-stop steep uphills that will make you want to faint.
That being said, this is a really amazing trail and I highly recommend doing it in 2-3 days. Make sure to pack enough food and water, yet be advised that there are water stations at kilometer 7 and at Crestones Base Camp, so it’s very easy to refill there instead of carrying so much with you.
Weather at Chirrpo is very unpredictable. We were lucky enough not to face any rain (if we did, the trail would be unbearably slippery, so I was really glad! The downhills were a total killer even without the rain). Make sure you pack a raincoat, and base layers in case it gets really cold. Temperatures at the peak range from 4–18˚C (40˚–65˚F). Nighttime temperatures can drop below 0˚C (32˚F).
Additional things to pack are a headlamp with extra batteries if you’re hiking at night, as well as hiking poles and trekking gloves to prevent blisters. I also recommend packing anti blister tape, as this can ruin your trip easily.
If you are going to complete this thing in 1 day, be sure to leave very early, because even though we are in amazing shape, it took us over 18 hours, and we started at night and returned at night!
Starting the trail before 3AM:
Gorgeous views from the trail:
When we made it to the top (can you tell how tired we were):
Day 4: Exploring the farm and driving to Puerto Jimenez
We woke up after the crazy hike, and surprisingly, felt as good as new! It definitely must be our great shape and most importantly, the healthy food we eat!
We decided to have a lazy day and rest before our next adventure, so we just walked around the beautiful Airbnb farm where we slept, and checked out the flowers, the waterfalls, and the animals. We then drove to our next destination: Puerto Jimenez, which was 10 times more hot and humid than the cool mountains (get ready for that temperature change!).
On the way to Puerto Jimenez, we saw this awesome dude:
Day 5-7: Corcovado
Our next incredible and most exciting adventure was hiking Corcovado National Park. This jungle is massive, and so beautiful. It is not possible to hike there without a guide, and for good reason: you probably won’t be able to spot any animals on your own as this place is very dense with greenery, and it can be very dangerous.
We chose a 3-day adventurous package with Osa Wild, and I honestly couldn’t recommend it enough! It was an unbelievable experience that we will never forget. We saw loads of animals, practically slept in the jungle, and felt more connected to nature than ever. We had a very knowledgeable guide who was able to point out every animal, from insect to tapir! He taught us a lot about the animals and their behavior.
These 3 days include up to 30 km of walking per day, and sleeping on a farm the first night, and then a lodge common to all Corcovado visitors the second. Both places are very accommodating to vegans, just be sure to let them know. Make sure to join in on any night hikes, or very early morning hikes (5am) because that’s when many animals are active and you’ll see even more than during the day!
The Osa Wild office is in Puerto Jimenez, and make sure to visit a day before to hear about everything you need for your trip. Make sure to pack light because you do carry everything you pack for a majority of your time there.
Here is a packing list I recommend:
- good, sturdy shoes,
- flip slops,
- a towel (optional, they have some there too),
- lots of snacks (but you can choose to buy all meals too and then you don’t need any food),
- some water to start (but many places to refill on the route),
- your camera,
- a waterproof pouch,
- water shoes (you cross several rivers),
- a good hat and sunglasses (which you’ll use just on the third day, as you walk through the beach; other than that, the jungle is very shaded),
- sunscreen for the beach,
- anti-blister tape (I used it! Put it on a rough spot as soon as you feel like you’re starting to get a blister and it’ll save your life),
- and bug spray (this is optional; we didn’t feel any bugs at all there! Our guide said that’s because it’s a very balanced eco system).
To book your 3 days with Osa Wild, email them at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please do let them know that you heard about them through me (Marina at Soul in the Raw) as this will reward me with a commission and help me to continue providing content for you!
Osa Wild has many packages to choose from, and there are shorter options than the 3 days. You can see those here: https://osawildtravel.com/product-category/corcovado-adventures/ (however, I highly recommend going with a 3-day tour because you will see a lot more of the jungle that way, and be able to hike in a lot deeper).
Here are some photos that Dan, who was on the tour with us, took:
Day 8: drive to Sierpe, kayaking, and sleeping in Finca La Puesta Del Sol
On the eighth day, we drove from Puerto Jimenez to Sierpe. Sierpe is a little town, but has several tourist attractions. We absolutely loved the people there, and the vibe of a small town. We chose to kayak, renting the kayak from the small tourist office next to Marisquería, Bar y Restaurante Las Vegas. We kayaked for about 3 hours, for $65 for the both of us. The beautiful Costa Rican attitude: the kayak owners did not even require us to pay for the kayak ahead of time! I’m so in love with these people.
At night, we crossed the Sierpe River using the ferry in order to get to where we were staying: the amazing Finca. To find the ferry crossing, ask around or type “Sierpe River Ferry” on Google Maps. Make sure you yell “bote” once you’re there. Don’t just stand around and wait quietly. The ferry costs 10,000 colones when crossing over with a car, and 1,000 colones if crossing without, per person.
I’d highly recommend crossing over with your vehicle, even if you don’t have a 4by4, because making it up from the crossing to the Finca is no problem. Just remember: the last ferry is around 6PM, so be absolutely sure that you return well before that time each day in order not to miss it.
Once you get to the Finca, you will instantly fall in love. Make sure to get there before sunset, because this will be your best welcome gift!
Here are some photos of the sunsets from the Finca, as well as the amazing hosts:
Day 9: waterfall hike at Finca Del Sol
While we were promising ourselves that we’d rest on this day, that didn’t really happen…
We decided to hike in and around the property of the Finca, with Ramon, the owner, as our guide. This cost $15 per person.
Because we bragged so much to Ramon “caminar Chirripó en una dia” in our broken Spanish, he decided that we were master hikers and that he should squeeze every bit of living breath out of us.
The hike itself wasn’t mega physically challenging. It was absolutely gorgeous: we saw 9 waterfalls! What scared the living daylights out of me was the fact that there wasn’t actually a trail. Ramon made the trail by machete-ing the dense vegetation. In addition, the first waterfall required a serious climb along the slippery waterfall and I just about thought I was going to die. When we finished climbing up (Ramon literally had to pull me up by holding one end of my walking stick and I held the other…), I got stung by a wasp, and Ramon got 3 more stings when he tried to protect Tomer and I from getting more stings!
All in all it was a really beautiful hike. My fear of slippery uphills made me feel like I was going to die, but if you’re cool with being adventurous, you’re going to love this one!
By the time more guests will visit the Finca, I think there is a good chance that Ramon will create an actual, easy to walk trail for guests. Ask him about it!
To book, just ask Ramon to “caminar cascadas” 😉
Day 10: Playa Blanca
Finally – we relax! We went to Playa Blanca in La Palma (there are several in Costa Rica, so make sure to look up the one in La Palma), which is an absolutely beautiful and relaxing beach. The water was extremely calm and warm because this beach is located in a bay. We did hear from locals that there can be crocodiles, sharks, sting rays and more in that water, but we didn’t see any!
Drive around and find a good picnic table and a spot for relaxing, and enjoy!
Be advised that in order to get from Finca Del Sol to this location, there is another road you must take which requires a 4 by 4 vehicle. You could go around and take road 2 and 245 without a 4 by 4, but of course this would make the route much longer. We were lucky enough to join a pair of guests from the Finca, who drove a 4 by 4.
Day 11: Nauyaca Waterfalls, Dominical, and Uvita
Nauyaca waterfalls are absolutely gorgeous and definitely worth a visit! They are easy to find when you input into your GPS. Pay for tickets at the office on the 243. We chose to park our vehicle on the 243, and walk down to the falls. You can also take your car down the dirt road, and park it further down in the large parking lot if you want to walk less, but the walk was lovely (very steep though!) No need for a 4 by 4 for this one.
The walk to the falls was great and pretty short – suitable for families and kids. Just make sure to check for weather conditions, as the trail can change a lot during rainy season.
Once you get to the falls, make sure to check out both upper and lower falls. The trail is well marked, and there are bathrooms right before the falls too.
We spent lots of time swimming in the lower pool, and just looking at the gorgeous falls! What a sight!
We then drove back down through Dominical and Uvita. We found that Dominical was really touristy, and didn’t want to spend too much time there. We went to “Mama Toucan’s”, which is an awesome health food store in Dominical with loads of vegan options, and even a vegan-friendly deli where you can get some food.
We decided to drive down to Uvita, which is a very unique beach. It was absolutely gorgeous and we loved it so much! Make sure to visit Uvita when it’s low tide, so that you can see the unique whale-shaped tail that the beach forms, visible only at low tide.
We parked the car pretty far away from Marino Ballena National Park, which is where the whale’s tail is, and walked down to it. What a lovely walk! Highly recommended!
Unfortunately, we then had to sprint back because we realized that we might not make the ferry back to the Finca. One of the joys of living in a very remote place – but so worth it! And the sprint was fun and a funny memory!
Day 12: Golfo Dulce
The other guests at the Finca highly recommended visiting Golfo Dulce with Ramon as our guide, and we are glad we did! Golfo Dulce is a small bay where the water is very warm and calm, and people are very scarce. We drove down in Ramon’s car, and he rented a boat. He took us to a little random island, and left us there to hang out for 3 hours. We ate fruit, snorkeled, swam and relaxed. It was absolutely lovely!
Golfo Dulce has very little people at the moment, so you can get it all to yourself! The water is so blue, and the nature around so green. It’s a very unique experience. The trip cost $130 for the two of us.
I will say that the snorkeling was not great at all. We saw very few fish, and I think that’s because for great snorkeling, it’s important to know an exact location where there are corals and perfect water conditions. Make sure to ask Ramon beforehand if he would know where to take you.
We also didn’t get to see turtles and dolphins like the other guests at the Finca, probably because it was just not the right day. But it was a very fun adventure nonetheless!
Ramon and his friend went fishing while we hung out at the beach, and this made me extremely nervous. As a vegan, I am not pro fishing in the least bit, and I felt really awkward about telling Ramon that before we went. Of course it’s his right to do as he wants, but I did not want to be an accomplice to fishing, and he did continue to try to fish on our journey back in the boat (thankfully, he didn’t catch anything! Haha!). I think that if you’re not comfortable with fishing like me, it’s important to communicate with Ramon about this. Do some google translating before you go, and let him know gently that you prefer not to witness this.
Alternatively, you can take a trip to Cano Island, which is supposed to have amazing snorkeling. You can ask Ramon or his daughter Veronica to set this up for you. But this would not be a private excursion, and would cost around $200.
Day 13: Hacienda Baru
We intended on going to Manuel Antonio to check out the National Park, but it was PACKED! Overrun by tourists! And so we decided to visit the quieter Hacienda Baru http://www.haciendabaru.com/, and we are so glad we did!
This wildlife refuge conserves 330 hectares (815 acres) of tropical rainforest, mangrove, wetlands, river bank, and beach front. I am so glad we supported this place, because their conservation work is phenomenal and deserves praise!
We saw literally 4 people the whole time we were there, and the walk around was absolutely lovely. I highly recommend you get a map at the main office, and walk all the trails. We saw many adorable monkeys from up close, as they weren’t afraid of people, and still got a bit of jungle feel here (not as much as Corcovado but still…) Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see any sloths but I bet you do if you walk slowly and quietly.
Day 14: San Gerardo De Dota and San Jose
We woke up early and said goodbye to the family. We were so sad to leave the Finca, and I truly hope to be back there sometime soon!
Ramon and Maritza recommended that we visit San Gerardo De Dota (different from San Gerardo by Chirripó) on our way to the airport in San Jose. Wow! We are so glad we did! This place is seriously magical.
Our plan there was to walk down to the waterfall, however we had a little misfortune that turned out to be a fortune!
On our way downhill (it’s very steep, and a very long, windy downhill), we forgot to switch the car from D to D1 or D2. The breaks didn’t like that very much, and very quickly we noticed that there was no more breaks… Tomer was driving and he just said “I think we don’t have a break anymore”. Imagine that… I seriously thought we were about to end up in a ditch somewhere. But Tomer is always calm.
We parked the car, and walked to the nearby gorgeous lodge: Trogon Lodge. We spoke to the guy at the reception, and I said, “carro muerte!” He refused to let us call our car company before we told him what happened exactly (thankfully!) and after we did, he said: “you need to put it in D1 or D2. Just walk around here for 30 minutes, let the break rest, and you’ll be fine”. Have I mentioned how much I love Costa Ricans???
So our plan was to walk around this gorgeous lodge, which is right on the river, and then go back to the car. But we ended up following a trail that starts right on the property, and actually leads you to the waterfall we wanted to visit! I highly recommend going this way – it was beautiful. The trail is very clear and well-marked. Make sure you follow the sign that says “long trail” – that’s how we got to the waterfall within about 1 hour.
We then drove to San Jose – actually, I drove, and I’m very proud of myself because driving in San Jose is nothing like driving along the coast. It’s a bit more like the jungle than the jungle itself ;). We ate at two very delicious restaurants, but more on that in the Costa Rica vegan food post here.
We stayed at an Airbnb very close to the airport, and headed home the next day, so sad but so in love and satisfied with every bit of this amazing trip!
General Helpful Tips About Costa Rica
I heard that there is a great public transportation system in Costa Rica, yet if you want to visit many far-off places like we did, or hike a lot and bring food along, I highly recommend renting a car.
Car rentals are not cheap because they require pretty hefty basic insurance that costs more than the price of the car rental itself. Make sure to bring a very detailed document about your insurance from your home country with you. We got a great tip to rent from Dollar by the airport for a fair price, and that is what we did. We also got an upgrade to a higher insurance plan than the basic, and we are glad we did because we scratched the car and would have had to pay hundreds for it!
I do recommend getting a 4 by 4 vehicle if you can, because this makes getting around Costa Rica a lot easier. It’s not totally necessary, at least in the areas we explored, but it would make it easier because you can then cut through certain roads that would make your journey a lot faster. We plan on getting a 4 by 4 next time we go.
For navigation, using Waze is the best option because Google maps can take you through some 4 by 4 roads. Waze is very accurate and has many places saved. Make sure to download an offline map because internet reception is not great.
Please keep in mind that everyone in Costa Rica happens on Costa Rican time. Roads may be blocked for one side for 40 minutes while they are being built, and many other similar adventures! So always give yourself plenty of extra time to get to your destination, because it will take much longer than Waze claims.
Costa Rica has 2 seasons: dry and wet. I highly recommend visiting in dry season, because then rain won’t ruin all your plans. Rainy season brings a lot of slippery slopes with it.
However, do bring lots of layers on your trip regardless! Weather changes drastically every few meters. For example, it was 80F by the ocean, and 50F in the forest and mountains in the same day! So do bring layers and even a rain jacket to make sure you’re well prepared.
I have an entire separate blog post all about the food we brought with us, and how we ate while in Costa Rica here.
Where to stay
We always choose Airbnb for all of our trips abroad because not only do you get to meet locals, you also get a kitchen where you can cook!
Use this link to receive $40 off a home booking of $75 or more and $15 off an experience of $50 or more on Airbnb: https://www.airbnb.com/c/marinay732?currency=USD
What excites you most about visiting Costa Rica?