Fifty shades of green transported me out of the drought ridden hills of California and into a natural wonderland. The main highway webbed and weaved through boisterous hills that look as if the Pacific Ocean’s waves had caught underneath the foliage. The cotton clouds danced through different shapes in the sky as they tickled the mountain tops and teased us with rain. Central America was once an abstract daydream and as we sped further into the jungle, it still felt surreal.
Costa Rica is quickly becoming the “next Hawaii” for American travelers. With flights from Los Angeles averaging $350 roundtrip, it’s no surprise that this lush, rainforested country is bringing in millennials, backpackers, and families alike. Having the Pacific and Caribbean Ocean bordering both sides of this Central American country, the toughest question that emerged while planning our journey was: Do we go east or west?
Atop a mountain we set out to walk upon the canopies in Monteverde. Roughly a 4-hour drive from San Jose, Monteverde is a representation of how tourism can be sustainably devoted to the magic and biodiversity of the area. My excitement climbed as did the altitude and we made it to the Cloud Forest. Tucked in the forest, our AirBnb sat 800m outside of the entrance to the reserve and was layered with the noise of wind, birds, and rustling trees.
Monteverde and nearby Santa Elena make up 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity, housing birds, plants, and creepy crawlers alike. With high winds and frequent rains, Mother Earth displayed her conscious creations in the most animated fashion. We felt like Adam and Eve as we set out on the serpentine trails to the Santa Elena forest.
As I breathed in damp air, we approached a suspension bridge hanging over the abundant canopies. When the sunlight hit Santa Elena, you had to assume The Wizard of Oz’s Emerald City took inspiration from all the color. And even with the sound of the rushing river, caw-caws of the birds, and gusts of wind, it was serene.
Our surroundings are becoming and being in the natural wonderland that is Monteverde allows the mind to connect back to source. Disconnected from WiFi, cell service, and the McDonald’s of the world gives you a chance to take a step back and become completely immersed in the beauty of nature. The scent of the wet soil paired with the texture of the moss-covered trees makes the Cloud Forest one of my favorite places in Costa Rica.
And off we went…
The terror set in on the shuttle from Monteverde to Arenal. The sixteen passenger van was comprised of myself, Corey, and the driver, who went back and forth from texting to flying down the steep hills of Santa Elena. We didn’t know the roads, but we figured he knew them like the back of his hand as he braced himself before every jagged turn.
Hills upon hills danced on each other illustrating Costa Rica’s sprawling farmland dotted with cows and casitas. Two hours later, we screeched to a halt in front of three small rescue boats and muchas turistas. Backpacks in tow, we scurried down the hill securing our spot on the closest boat.
La Fortuna is eight blocks composed of hostels, supermercados, tour guides, and restaurants. It’s small town charm is incredibly enticing, and with abundant excursions, it’s no surprise it’s become one of the top tourist attractions of Costa Rica. From our hostel, La Choza Hostel & Inn, we caught early morning glimpses of the active Volcano Arenal.
To soothe our tired feet, we made out for Rio Chollín hot springs. I was immediately enamored by the overhanging foliage attempting to protect us from the rainfall. The warmth of the steamy natural springs on my back and the pitter-patter of the rain on my forehead was enough to convince me to stay forever.
Chasing waterfalls, we began a morning trek to Arenal Waterfall where we were greeted by 500 manicured steps that ended with the view of cascading water kissed by sun. Teal in color and lukewarm in temperature, we stood, literally, in the mist of beauty. Our cameras we’re dampened and our smiles were wide as we snapped some photos before scaling the steps again.
Two shuttles and eight hours later…
The crisp smell of salt water stung my nose as we backpacked our way to Villas Jacquelina on a dusty back road in Quepos. Situated ten minutes outside of Manuel Antonio, we found recluse and relaxation in the hammock-covered inn tucked away from the busyness of the small city of Quepos.
Peace and quiet had been begging for an appearance after the constant traveling around Costa Rica and we welcomed it with open arms and swimsuit clad bodies. Sunkissed and filled with cerveza, we admired the song of the birds that surrounded the property.
The road to the beaches of Manuel Antonio are dotted with resorts and restaurants, but if you’re looking for a temporary “check-out” from the tourism industry that is Costa Rica, then look no further than Villas Jacquelina. Fully equipped with a large kitchen and crystal clear pool, the hostel sold the “digital nomad” life to me within minutes. With only the noise of the birds and occasional monkey cry, we found peace and recluse for this leg of the journey.
Manuel Antonio, on the other hand, is decked to the rim with freshly sunburnt tourists. It’s not much of a surprise, as the emerald ocean keeps a warm alluring temperature and the fresh coconuts sold beachside are readily available to cool you off after a hot day hiking, jetskiing, and swimming in the secluded coves. With human-like monkeys and sloths idly relaxing near each woven blanket, we couldn’t help but love the jungle-meets-playa atmosphere of Manuel Antonio.
Only an hour south of Quepos did we find the ultimate escape that is Uvita, Costa Rica. What felt like one road with a few pop-up shops and restaurantes nurtured an off-the-beaten-path vibe that so many of us strive to find in exotic destinations. Rather than checking into the infamous Flutterby House, we opted for nourishment of the mind, body and soul at Selva Armonia.
When you arrive at Selva Armonia, you can feel it’s magical gravitation pulling you in as if they’ve connected instantaneously to your heart strings. The property itself has nine intimate rooms, an azure saltwater pool, gardens filled with exotic fruits, spices and vegetables, and a yoga deck overlooking emerald foliage and the famous whale’s tail of Uvita. This magical retreat space oozes with positive vibrations and gives guests a glimpse of what it’s like to live in an eco-paradise and connect with nature in ways that one can only dream of.
A day of snorkeling took us out to venture upon the fascinating whale’s tail where waves upon waves crashed in opposing direction onto our legs. As we walked to the end, I felt as if I was parting the seas as the tide became smaller and smaller. The beach was desolate and unlike any of the others we had seen in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica welcomes with open arms a variety of travelers that come searching for adventure, relaxation, and excitement. While clear that many areas have been touched by the TripAdvisor’s of the world, now is the perfect time to sink your toes into the warm, soft sand. Get lost in the song of the jungle, fall in love with the warm rain, and create your own story in Costa Rica.