If you’ve never fallen in love at first sight, chances are very good you haven’t been to Costa Rica. With its many waterfalls, rain forests, volcano views, mountains, and beaches, Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful and most biodiverse places on Earth. For instance, Costa Rica is the hummingbird capital of the world. About fifty-one of the three hundred New World hummingbird species live in the country.
Compared to most of its neighbors, Costa Rica is incredibly prosperous and progressive, with a strong commitment to ecological stability as well as educational excellence. It is a small nation, but it is one that is routinely ahead on the curve on measurements of its citizens’ health and happiness. There is so much to see and do, it’s easy to become enchanted with this country.
The good news is that it’s easy to get to Costa Rica.
While the U.S. cities with the most direct flights to Costa Rica are Los Angeles, Miami, and Orlando, there are also non-stop flights available from New York, Atlanta, and Houston. From Canada, there are non-stop flights from both Toronto and Montreal. Direct flights arrive in either San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital city, or Liberia. Arenal Hills is located about two hours from both airports.
From Los Angeles, it’s about a 5 ½ -hour flight, while it takes about three hours to reach San Jose from Miami. It’s the same time in the air from Toronto as it is from L.A. and takes about six hours of flight time when traveling from Montreal.
Go where you want, when you want.
Renting a car in Costa Rica is appreciatively more cost effective than hiring private shuttles or drivers. To rent a car, you’ll need your passport, a valid tourist visa stamp, and your driver’s license. An international driver’s license is not required. The minimum age to rent is between 21 and 25, depending upon the company you rent from. Plus, you drive on the right side of the road in Costa Rica, just like in the U.S. or Canada, making it even easier to find your way around.
Prepare for a wide variety of weather when you pack.
While a little bit smaller than the state of West Virginia, Costa Rica has an astounding 12 life zones. Each life zone has its own microclimate. Be prepared to pack for the steamy jungles of the Southern Pacific coast as well as the cool, misty cloud forests of the northern mountains. The general rule is to keep it casual. Costa Rica is an extremely laid-back country, so it’s appropriate to dress comfortably in most places. It’s also a good idea to layer your attire because night temps can feel cooler because of high humidity. If you’re traveling to Costa Rica from May through November, you’ll want to pack a light waterproof jacket as well. That’s the rainy season and it rains in many places daily during that time.
Don’t skip the chance to view a volcano.
Costa Rica has 67 volcanoes. Most of them are dormant or extinct (yet still scenic), but there are several active ones that could conceivably blow at any time (including Irazu, Poas, Rincon De La Vieja and Turrialba). Up until 2010, Costa Rica’s famous Arenal volcano had almost daily activity and was one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions. Arenal is also Costa Rica’s best-known volcano. It’s a stratovolcano, which is a large symmetrical volcano built upon layers of ash, rock, and lava. It stands an impressive 5,437 feet above the countryside and can be seen from virtually every home in Arenal Hills.
Here are some of the most popular things to do while visiting Costa Rica.
According to the Getaway, these are the top must-see places to visit while you’re in Costa Rica.
Arenal Volcano National Park. This park is actually a combination of 16 protected reserves and home to two volcanos, Arenal and Chato. Chato has been inactive for more than three millennia and features a picturesque lagoon in its crater. Arenal stopped erupting in 2010, and its lake supplies a portion of Costa Rica’s hydroelectric energy. The park is a great place to hike and view wildlife.
Montverde Cloud Forest. Low hanging clouds hover and provide trees and plants with much-needed sustenance. Monteverde Cloud Forest is a biodiverse ecosystem that was established in 1972. It covers over 35,000 acres with has over 1,600 animals living inside, including jaguars, ocelots, and quetzals. There are over eight miles of trails for visitors to explore alone or with a guide.
Coffee plantation tours. With its climate, high altitudes, and volcanic soil, Costa Rican coffee, called el grano de oro, the golden grain, has become the destination’s main crop. There are several plantations where visitors can not only experience the history but can also participate in the harvesting process. Hacienda Espíritu Santo plantation is located in Naranjo right outside the country’s capital, San Jose. Their plantation is over 600 acres, and visitors get a detailed education on the process of harvesting and roasting. At Finca Rosa Blanca, those who visit from October to January can participate in picking and learning how experts test and rate gourmet coffee.
Kayaking. Costa Rica sits between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea and has more than 20 rivers running through it, so there are plenty of kayaking opportunities. The Damas Island Estuary in Manuel Antonio National Park allows visitors to navigate narrow channels while keeping an eye out for monkeys, pumas and thousands of flocking birds. The Osa Peninsula provides opportunities for kayakers to view dolphins, manatees, and other marine creatures while admiring the tangled jungle mangroves. Anyone looking for more challenging outings can do multi-day tours, such as Curu Sea Kayaking, which includes camping on Playa Quesera.
Marino Ballena National Park. Whale-watchers will appreciate Marino Ballena National Park. Established in 1990, the park covers over 12,000 acres of beaches, rainforest, estuaries, mangroves, and marine life. It’s named after Humpback Whales who migrate there to mate between December and April. There is also another set of whales that come from July to November. Vacationers can enjoy white and golden sand beaches as well as sunbathing marine iguanas. Ballena island is also the centerpiece of the largest coral reef on Central America’s Pacific Coast, so it’s great for snorkeling at low tide.
Lankester Botanical Gardens. Just outside of Cartago is the Lankester Botanical Gardens. It was founded in 1917 by Charles Lankester West. His family later donated the plants and lands to the University of Costa Rica for research and the public. Those who love flowers will appreciate that nearly 3,000 species are blooming year-round. Across 26 acres, visitors can expect to see epiphytic orchids, bromeliads, heliconias and the wildlife they attract.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park & Peace Lodge. La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park is the Most Popular Nature Tour in the San Jose Area featuring Five Famous Waterfalls and The Largest Animal Sanctuary in Costa Rica. It is by far the best place to see wildlife in Costa Rica. The Peace Lodge has been voted The Top Hotel in its region by TripAdvisor repeatedly over the years and is the perfect destination to stay for your first or last night in the country given its close proximity to San Jose Airport and, at the same time, its unique mountain rainforest environment. The property is nestled between Poas Volcano National Park and Braulio Carrillo National Park on the eco-route between San Jose and Arenal.
All of this is in easy reach from Arenal Hills.
Need a lift from the airport? Our community concierge can come pick you up and bring straight to your door. Wondering what restaurants to try in La Fortuna, we can point you in the right direction. Whatever you do, it’s easy to get here. But very, very hard to have to leave this beautiful place behind.