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Exploring Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano Region and Caribbean Coast

Exploring Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano Region and Caribbean Coast

Pura Vida, welcome to Costa Rica. This country has consistently been ranked as one of happiest places in the world, and that statistic is evident from the minute you step off the plane in San Jose. The locals, known as “Ticos and Ticas” are friendly and helpful, and always saying the phrase that represents the carefree lifestyle of the place – “Pura Vida.” Costa Rica boasts beautiful and diverse scenery across all the entire country, but each area has its own distinct and local feel. Read on for a flavor of two areas of this jungle paradise.


Local life and tourism in the central portion of the country revolve around nature’s giant, Arenal volcano. Notice the intentional omission of “sleeping” – Arenal volcano is active as ever, and if you’re lucky you may even catch of glimpse of slow oozing lava dripping down the side of the mountain. Not only does Arenal volcano and its surrounding rainforest offer gorgeous and relaxing views, but it fuels a variety of activities for adventure and solace seekers alike. To get your heart pounding, check out white-water rafting, canyoning (a fancy name for rapelling down waterfalls), and zip-lining through the tree tops. For those seeking a more relaxed vacation, your options are also endless. Popular activities include hiking and animal watching in Arenal national park (the hanging bridges are scarier than I anticipated), swimming in the gorgeous pools beneath La Fortuna waterfall, and of course relaxing in the natural hot springs. There are numerous resorts built around the volcano that offer a dip into the hot springs – the one right for you depends on your budget and personality. This article outlines the details of each. I absolutely loved The Springs Resort and Spa, where you can purchase a 2-day pass for about $60 USD.

When taking a break from the endless eco-tourism activities in the area, make sure to head into La Fortuna for people watching and dining. Multiple locals told us to check out Don Rufino, and I’m so glad we did. The steak and seafood options are fresh, local, and so delicious.


Head over to the east side of the country for some off the beaten path paradise. Less developed and less touristy than the opposite Pacific coast, the Caribbean is a perfect destination for those looking for some local flavor and surf spots – you won’t find many large hotels here. I settled down just south of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, a small town with African influences and a surfer vibe. With both black and white sand beaches nearby, there are plenty of places to catch some rays through shady coconut palms. Multiple reefs off the coast offer potential for snorkeling, but be cognizant of when you travel if this is on your to-do list. Seas are choppy in December and the waves are more conducive to surfing than swimming or snorkeling. To score some comfy lounge chairs on the beach, head to Azul Beach Club and grab a Pina Colada. When the sun goes down in Puerto Viejo, visit The Lazy Mon for live reggae music and dance (or drink) the night away.

Save a day to rent bikes and head to the southern Community of Manzanillo. Along the way, ride slow and look high – you’ll see monkeys, sloths, tucans, and more in the trees. For animal lovers like me, spotting these beauties is a highlight of the trip itself. Make a pit stop at the Jaguar Rescue Center, a non-profit where you can see local animals in need of help being nursed back to health with an aim to re-release in the wild (tip, call ahead and make a reservation if you want to play with the monkeys). When you arrive in Manzanillo, grab lunch at local establishment Maxis or buy the fresh ceviche sold by locals out of the trunks of cars. Then, hike south to find beaches so sparsely populated you’ll feel as if you scored your own private section. For those that tire of beaches, there’s still much to do in Puerto Viejo and the surrounding towns. My sweet tooth drove me to tour a cocoa farm where we learned to make chocolate from scratch (sneak peek: a hairdryer was used, and not for the heat). For even more chocolate endeavors, Pure Jungle Spa offers a luxurious cocoa butter massage that ends with a chocolate exfoliation – this was honestly one of the most relaxing experiences of my life. For all you readers that venture to Puerto Viejo, I urge you to splurge.

All in all, ten days split between Arenal and the Caribbean coast was the perfect amount of time to gain an amazing Costa Rican experience. For now, chao Costa Rica. I am sure we will say Pura Vida again in the future.

Travel tips: Definitely bring water shoes for climbing around in waterfalls. If moving around the country to multiple destinations, renting a car is your best bet as public busses are slow with limited routes.

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