Category Archives: Exploring Costa Rica

After living in Costa Rica for more than two years, I consider it my second home. While living there, I was working during the week, but every weekend I was out and about, exploring a new part of this beautifully diverse country. This section of Traveling with Joy it meant to share the joys of Costa Rica.

A Weekend Guide to La Fortuna and Arenal

You know those weekends where everything is just perfect? You set out without an official plan, but everything falls into place just as it should? Well, this is typically how I travel, and that’s exactly how the weekend went when I recently made my way to Arenal and La Fortuna, Costa Rica.

Hot River remote side

I set off with my friend, Bryan, and we made our way from Santa Ana of San Jose, to the town of La Fortuna near the famous Arenal Volcano. We used a GPS application called Waze to direct us, and the trip took around 3 hours. The roads are in good condition, albeit quite curvy and mountainous at times. On this route, you pass by the airport, and shortly afterwards you will see signs from several years ago that point you right towards “Arenal”, but there is a new route which goes straight past these signs and shaves off a few hours, and this is what we took.
Along the way, we had a few fun pit stops to explore and stretch our legs. One place we visited was called “Lands in Love”, and if you’re looking for lodging that is in the middle of no where, but encompasses the best of Costa Rica, this could be a cool option for you. This mountain resort had access to white water rafting, rappelling, zip lining, hanging bridges, gardens, and much more. They are also know for their restaurant, which can be accessed right off the road, with mannequins hanging right over the road to call attention to their zip lining offers.
After walking around the grounds for a bit and enjoying the beautiful surroundings, we were off again, on the road for another hour or so, until we saw a group of tourists stopped alongside the road, looking up into a tree. Sure enough, there were two sloths in the tree, and both were fairly active. You never know what type of wildlife you will see along the roads of Costa Rica, so drive with caution and with your eyes wide open!


Just before entering the town of La Fortuna, we passed over Rio Fortuna, and my friend told me there was a swimming hole and rope swing, so we decided to stop for a swim and a picnic. It was SO much fun, and 100% free! When we arrived, there were some local boys already swimming and jumping from the rocks, and when they saw we were interested in using the rope swing, they used one of the nearby sticks to grab it for us, and then demonstrated where to jump in. It’s quite self-explanatory: let go when you’re as far out as possible! Sometimes the river can be quite strong, so swim with caution and always have a buddy. Once you’re in the river, you can climb up the steep rocks to get out, or drift down a bit and climb out on a less rugged path.
While there, we made friends with these boys, and they told us how to find the free natural hot springs, and also how to access Cerro Chato without paying. Both the hot springs and climbing Cerro Chato were on my list for the weekend, so it was excellent to receive the inside scoop of how to get to them. After our swinging and swimming, we decided to walk the path down into the jungle, which brought us to a beautiful area where we enjoyed our picnic. Moments like thees are why I love Costa Rica. There we were, literally just off the side of the road, enjoying the most lush vegetation and pure, clean river, eating our picnic in peace and harmony with the nature around us. This is Pura Vida!

Rope swing Rio Fortuna

From Rio Fortuna, we decided to continue on to the hot springs, as this was the reason we had come to La Fortuna! We drove towards Tabacon Hot Springs, a beautiful and ritzy resort with access to the natural hot springs as well, and once we passed the main entry and the curve, we parked on the side of the road in front of a yellow triangle off-road gate. There were quite a few cars there, as this place is not exactly “‘secret”, and although the river is free, you will be expected to pay 1,000 colones ($2) to park your car and have the guys watch over it for you. Along the road, they are typically selling pipa fria for 500 colones (cold coconuts for $1) and sometimes sandwiches and other drinks. Enter through the yellow fence and walk down a few hundred feet until you reach the river. As soon as you step in, you will delight in the luxuriously warm water!
If you have hiking sandals, or waterproof shoes, you will probably be happier using them as you navigate the rocky river, but it is not a “must”. Once at the river, make your way under and through the bridge tunnel, and when you reach the rocky opening, you can either fight the current and climb right through, or you can walk off to the right and hop through a hole in a chain link fence.

Hot river entrance

In this direction, you will find many people sitting and relaxing in the river. Despite the fact that there is typically a crowd, it isn’t a bother, because the rushing sounds of the water drown out the conversations of those around you, and there are tons of places to choose from where you can sit and enjoy a bubbling, hot water massage. If you want to find your own private oasis, simply walk in the opposite direction of the bridge when you enter the river. It is by no means an easy trail, but you will find beautiful areas with the same hot water and have it all to yourself.
We left the hot springs just before dark, and as we were leaving I spotted a hand painted red tomato sign advertising rooms for 10,000 Colones ($20) at a place called Cabinas Arsol and vegetarian food at a place called Flying Tomatoes. It was located 200m North of Banco Popular, so we decided to check it out. The road that Cabinas Arsol is on looks practically abandoned when you approach it from Banco Popular, and when we pulled up, it had conflicting signs saying “Cerrado” (Closed) and “Abierto” (Open). It had funky cat sculptures on the roof, and other animal cut outs on the walls, and there were two little dogs in the front yard as well as a young child.
My friend laughed and then looked at me, “You said you wanted a ‘Mom and Pop’ type place!”

Cabinas Arsol

We went in to ask about rooms, and they had one for us. 10,000 Colones each ($20) for a private room with a shower and even a kitchen! It was a bit dark and shabby, but with perfect Costa Rican charm, and a toucan painting over the bed whose eyes followed you anywhere you went in the room- we called it TucaLisa.


The hotel was one block away from the main street, so we changed out of our wet bathing suits, hung our clothes on the line to dry, and made our way over to a fantastic restaurant called Restaurant Los Nenes. It’s down the street from the Musamanni, and you an see a big sign for it on the road, even though it’s up a tiny side street. There were quite sophisticated displays of food, with more than one entree coming out on fire. My favorite part of the restaurant was the back wall which was painted with all sorts of Costa Rican birds. After dinner, we made a little ice-cream stop, mistakenly stopping at a Pops, when right up the street there is an excellent gelato place, with much more savory and sweet flavors. You won’t be disappointed.

Restaurant Los Nenes

The next morning we were up early, and made our way out. I had slept well, but my friend had not. He said he was attacked by mosquitoes and that the bed wasn’t good on his lower back. I’m guess I’m lucky I can sleep anywhere, because it was fine by me! We had breakfast at a great little restaurant called Soda Mima, right off the main street in La Fortuna. There were two options, one of which was a “typical” breakfast, including eggs, gallo pinto, and coffee. We had a fun time reading the signs drawn by people from all over the world, and I even found one from some Michiganders!

Soda Mima La Fortuna

Michigan love in Costa Rica

From Soda Mima we made our way back to the road which leads to the La Fortuna waterfall. The boys from the rope swing had told us that we could find a free trail to Cerro Chato about 3 km up the road, but alas, after driving around and asking around, we could not find it. We settled for entering the hike via a hotel called Green Lagoon. It was 5,000 Colones ($10) for locals and 6,000 Colones ($12) for foreigners, and the hike was quite steep. Other options for arriving to Cerro Chato are to enter from the La Fortuna waterfall site (perhaps a good option if you want to see the waterfall as well), or entering from Arenal Observatory. From the Green Lagoon entrance, we made our way up a rough cow pasture, and then up an intense hike through the forest to arrive at the top. It was a cloudy day, and the mist hung close to the trees, making the forest damp and enchanting. We saw a brown snake coiled up on a tree trunk, and we marveled at all the life growing thick on each tree. We arrived to the top in about an hour, but I would say to allow yourself up to two hours to make the climb, because we didn’t really stop and take breaks.

Hiking to Cerro Chato

Once at the top, we wanted to get down to the green lagoon. The first route we encountered was incredibly steep and muddy, but we took it anyway. On our way down, we saw a young girl and her mother climbing back up, and they told us we had about 10 more minutes until the bottom. We figured if they could do it, we could do it, and we did, but this portion of the hike is not for the faint of heart. We were literally swinging down muddy ruts using tree roots, ropes, and vines, and my friend sat down and slid half the way, as did many others.

Hiking to the Lagoon in Cerro Chato

Whether you take this route down to the lagoon, or not, good, sturdy hiking shoes are highly recommended for anyone who embarks on this Cerro Chato trek, as well as lots of water, snacks, and potentially a towel to wipe your muddy hands off. People do go swimming in the lagoon as well, so you could bring a bathing suit. We opted out of a swim, as it was grey and rainy that day, but on a hot sunny day I can see how it would be the perfect reward to this serious hike.

Happy days on Cerro Chato

Upon returning from Cerro Chato, we made our way back to the hot river near Tabacon for Round 2 of relaxation. It was just as wonderful as the first time, and again we sat in the warm water for hours, talking, listening, and enjoying the partial submersion in the natural pools.

Relaxing and smile

When we left the hot springs, we asked the coconut salesman where we could find a good but inexpensive place to stay, and he recommend a place called Cabinas El Buho. We searched it via Waze, but before we got to it we found a place called La Choza Inn, which was 10,000 Colones ($10) each for a private room, and included a breakfast of eggs, toast, fruit and coffee. Sold. We took it and slept like babies. Dinner that night was at a place called La Choza de Laurel, which makes great typical meals and drinks, and was right up the road from where we stayed.
Our final day in the La Fortuna area, we decided to go kayaking on Lago Arenal. We set off around the lake, in the same direction as the hot river and Tabacon Hot Springs, and just after the dam/bridge of Lake Arenal you will find people along the road renting kayaks. We rented two kayaks for two-ish hours for 15,000 Colones, ($30 total for two kayaks). The lake is a wonderful temperature for swimming, and from the point where you enter the water it takes about 30 minutes to curve around a bend and get a good view of Volcan Arenal. You can see where lava had run down the sides in the past, and it’s cone-shape is quite exquisite, even on a cloudy day.

Break time

After kayaking around, exploring the island and the coastline, we called it good and returned the kayaks. The coconut salesman here told us about a great little restaurant called La Mesa de Mama in a town called El Castillo, which was on the way to the Arenal Observatory. We decided to go check it out, and once we were there we had quite a laugh at the “customer service” provided by this small town operation. At one point the waitress knocked off our water bottle and just left it on the floor, but she was so sweet and smiley it was obvious she didn’t think twice about it.
After lunch, we continued around the lake in opposite direction, until we came to a sustainable hotel / farm called Rancho Margot. This place was completely remote, with bungalows and bunk houses, yoga, cow-milking, farm-to-table meals, and gardens galore. We took a little tour to enjoy the grounds before making our way back to La Fortuna, with one last pit-stop at the hot river, to say goodbye.
Overall, the weekend was magnificent. We experienced the best of what La Fortuna had to offer, on a budget of less than $40/ day, proving that Costa Rica doesn’t have to be super expensive to have a great time.
Although we didn’t take any official tours, we did find a place on the main drag called “Travel Costa Rica Now” and their prices blew the others out of the water. You can look them up at
From La Fortuna, a great option is to continue along the lake and make your way through Nueva Fortuna to Tilaran and up to Monteverde. Around Tilaran, you will see a sign advertising waterfalls, and this private farmland is spectacular. When I went back in 2012 it was $20 to enter, and there are at least four amazing waterfalls on the property, as well as great flora and fauna. While there I found two hummingbird nests- one with eggs, and one with babies. Be sure to check it out if you have the luxury of driving yourself.

The Amazing Race to Bocas del Toro Panama

When I set off to travel to the islands of Bocas del Toro, Panama, I had no idea that I was setting off on a trip that would rival the adventures seen in CBS’s  The Amazing Race. I had been living in Costa Rica just over 7 months when at that time, and I had been hearing about the beautiful archipelago of Bocas for at least half that time, so when my friend came for a visit, I decided it would be the perfect long-weekend vacation for us.


We  rose with the sun, and set off from San Jose, Costa Rica before the clock struck 6. After winding through the gorgeous and dense Braulio Carrillo mountain range for a few hours, we emerged in Limon and drove along the coast until it was time to curve inland to get to Sixaola and the Costa Rica – Panama boarder crossing. This portion of “the race” took us around 5 hours…no problem.

We parked my car at the long term parking yard and then approached the Costa Rican boarder, where we needed to stamp out. There was a bit of a line, so it probably took us around 30 minutes to complete the paperwork and receive the stamp before we were ready to exit the country.


In order to cross from Costa Rica to Panama, we had to cross a bridge…but not just any bridge. This old wooden bridge which we crossed had wobbly boards and spaces between the planks which were so big that a 3 year old child could have fallen right through to the river below! We learned that up until only a few months before, the bridge had still been in use by semi trucks passing between the countries! My friend had a rolling suitcase, so we laughed quite a bit as she tried to drag it along behind her. Eventually we accepted the fact that carrying the suitcase was the better option, and we made our way, suitcase in hand, from Costa Rica to Panama, where another line awaited us.


The line to get into Panama was much longer. We waited alongside the immigration building for at least an hour before finally getting into the office. There, they told us we must have proof that we were leaving the country. My friend had a copy of her return flight from Costa Rica, and I had the ticket from the parking yard for my car and my residency card for Costa Rica, but that apparently didn’t cut it- I had to buy a bogus $14 bus ticket from the bus station at the bottom of the hill. This is obviously a complete scam, but sometimes you just can’t reason with the boarder patrol, so I sucked it up, bought the bus ticket, and jumped back into the passport line to receive my stamp for Panama and continue on my way.


After officially making our way through the boarder crossing, it was time for the next segment of our Amazing Race: catching a mini-van to the coast. There are quite a few vans waiting to fill up with tourists, so once the van we selected was sufficiently loaded, we set off on the 45 minute drive, winding through the breathtaking Panamanian countryside. It was during this van ride, that our party of two expanded to become a party of six. We met four incredible Americans traveling together and they complimented our vibe perfectly, so we offered to share the extra space in our beachside bungalow with them.


Once we arrived at the waterfront, we walked to the docks, and caught a 30-minute boatride to Boca’s main island, Colón. On Colón, we stocked up on some groceries, then made our way to our pickup point where we would catch our final boat to our small island. On this ride, we passed many small islands, stilt houses, mangroves, and even had dolphins swimming alongside us during the final stretch of our Amazing Race.


As we approached our bungalow, we couldn’t believe our luck. With a dock stretching out into the ocean, and the house built on stilts, it stood in the midst of the gorgeous blue ocean, welcoming us. It was beyond spectacular.


The caretakers of the bungalow, Michael and Christine, were from San Diego, and were incredibly friendly and hospitable. We spent the remainder of the day lounging in the water around the stilt house.


The next day, we started to explore the island, finding coconuts to accompany our breakfast.


Michael took the six of us out on his boat, and we made our way through the mangroves, then on to five different spots for snorkeling.


The snorkeling was the best I have ever experienced. The sheer variety of coral alone was amazing, but the quantity of fish that accompanied the coral, and the beautiful sea creatures we encountered along the way, made the experience completely magical.


After hours of snorkeling, we pit stopped on Isla Coral at the Coral Cay Restaurant to enjoy a mid-afternoon lunch break.


After hours out on the ocean and in the sun, we were able to rest easy that night, soaking in the sunset and delighting in the bioluminescence of the waters below the bungalow.


When it came time to set off the next day, Christine brought us back to the main island of Colón, where after breakfast, our party of six shrunk back down to a party of two.


It had started to rain, which is actually quite typical for Bocas, but that didn’t stop us from walking around and exploring the town.


The city was alive with color, and the flowers were blooming all around.


Our hostel for the night, Bahia del Sol, was right on the water, and beautiful within…


but was located in the heart of a typical neighborhood, with houses on top of houses.


Once we had dropped off our belongings, we continued to explore Bocas, stopping for drinks with a view from above…


and delighting in whatever else we happened to stumble upon along the way…




As our visit came to an end, I was extremely happy that we had chosen to pursue the Amazing Race adventure to Bocas del Toro. Each hour of the long journey was worth it, and after it all we were left with memories and friendships that have continued on long past our long weekend in Bocas del Toro, Panama.

Have you ever taken a trip to Bocas? If so, what did you think?

23 Surprising Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Costa Rica

Costa Rica, literally meaning, Rich Coast, is one of the most culturally appealing countries I have ever had the pleasure of visiting, and after living there for more than two years, I proudly call this place my second home. During my time in Costa Rica, I was constantly learning new and interesting facts about this little country and their wonderful way of life. Here are 23 fun things you probably didn’t know about Costa Rica until now…


1. Costa Rica is smaller than Lake Michigan. 

I always knew Costa Rica was small, but one day I was looking up the stats and was astounded to find out that Costa Rica measures in at only 51,100 square kilometers, whereas Lake Michigan measures in at 57,800 square kilometers. Despite the fact that this whole little country can fit inside the the Great Lake which boarders my home-state of Michigan, it is packed with amazing things to do and beautiful places to see.

2. Costa Rica has 5% of the world’s biodiversity and around 20% of the land is protected in the form of National Parks or Nature Reserves.

Come to Costa Rica and there is no question you will see more exotic and colorful plants and animals than you have ever seen in your entire life.


3. Costa Ricans are called Ticos and Ticas.

Following the masculine and feminine endings, a male is a Tico and a female is a Tica.


4. Pura Vida is a popular saying, as well as a way of life.

How are you doing? Pura vida. Thank you! Pura vida. I’ve been waiting for hours…Pura vida. When you come to Costa Rica, you will quickly learn that “pura vida”,  which literally translates to “pure life”,  is basically a way of living happily and brushing away your worries.

5. Costa Rica is rated as one of the happiest places in the world.

Perhaps due to the laid back pura vida lifestyle, Costa Rica has been rated as one of the happiest places to live for several consecutive years. The fact that it is nearly always sunny and 80 degrees doesn’t hurt either…


6. The Ticos are some of the friendliest and most helpful people you will ever meet.

However, sometimes in their willingness to help, Ticos might not tell you that they don’t really know the answer, and this can end up leading you in circles…Especially with directions!

7. There are 7 provinces which make up the country.

These provinces are as follows: San Jose (where the capital is), Cartago (where the capital used to be), Alajuela (hot and in the center), Heredia (beautiful and mountainous), Guanacaste (where you will find the best beaches on the Pacific), Limon (often recognized as the most unsafe area but home to beautiful Caribbean beaches) and Puntarenas (where you will find more beautiful Pacific beaches).

8. Addresses as we know them in the United States do not exist. You must use a point of reference, sometimes referring to a place that hasn’t existed for the last 10 years. 

“100 meters south of the old Suzuki dealership” or “300 meters north of the Red Cross” or “50 meters west of the big Roble tree”… When I first set off to travel Costa Rica, I expected to plug an address in to my GPS and go, however I quickly learned that I needed to use the province, then a “point of reference”, and then hope for the best. Also, there are many duplicate cities in Costa Rica (example: there are four “Playa Hermosa” beaches…) so it is important to know which province you are looking for, and then work from there.

9. “Mae” is the Ticos way of saying “Dude”

Open your ears and you will hear this being said in nearly every sentence.

10. The national dish is the Casado and consists of a piece of protein, a salad, rice, beans, and a fried sweet plantain. 

The word “casado” actually means to be married, and this is how the term came to be used for food, because once a man was “casado” he would have food for life.


11. When women get married, they do not take the last name of their husband. 

Everyone typically has two last names- the first last name is from their father, and the second last name is from their mother.

12. Couples refer to their partners as their “media naranja” or the other half of their orange. 

The first time I heard someone use this term, I was beyond confused…

13. Dogs roam about freely. 

Sometimes they have owners, other times they are community pets. They are almost always friendly, and will often adopt you for a walk along the beach.


14. You can’t flush toilet paper. 

They say it’s because their pipes are old and small and clog easily…I didn’t want to test it, so I followed suit and threw the TP in the trashcan like the locals.

15. Many celebrations include mascaras. 

Mascaras are traditional paper mache headdresses, and people put them on and dance around during various celebrations like birthday parties and city anniversaries.


16. There are unlimited parties during a Presidential Election, and the winner must win by at least 40%.

While I was living there in 2014, there were at least 13 people competing in the Presidential Election, and when the top two candidates nearly tied, they had to go into “overtime” and have another election day between the top two candidates in order to determine an official winner. Also, it is fairly easy to have the opportunity to meet the President. Here I am with Luis Guillermo Solis, winner of the 2014 Presidential elections.


17. The police (“policia”) drive around with their lights on all the time, just to show their presence, however they cannot pull you over for traffic violations.

However, the Transito (dark blue vehicles with yellow writing), typically sit along the side of the road, and can wave you over with only their hand, then write you a ticket.

18. They money is called Colones and the colorful bills come in the form of 1000’s.

You can look like a millionaire, but really only have a few hundred dollars to your name.


19. Costa Rica can have snow.

This was shocking to me, but it is true. Near Chirripo, the tallest mountain in Costa Rica, there are times where there is ice and even snow.

20. It is pitch black by 6 pm, year round. 

Costa Rica is close to the equator, giving the country a solid 12 hours of daylight year round. The upside to this, is that the sun always rises by 5:45am, but the downside is that the sun sets by 6pm, year round. Side note: Costa Rica has the most breathtaking sunsets ever.


21. Milk and eggs are sold unrefrigerated, and people wash their eggs before using them. 

Funny story about washing the eggs… The word for eggs is “huevos”. People also refer to men’s testicles as “huevos”. When one of my friends was learning Spanish, she innocently started a conversation with her co-worker about how she was shocked to find out that Ticos washed their “huevos”.  The poor man sputtered in surprise at the statement until he finally understood that she was referring to eggs, and not testicles… Needless to say, my friend was beyond mortified, and this deterred her from practicing Spanish for quite some time.

22. A “Soda” is  small restaurant where you can buy typical food.

They often look like a hole in the wall, but don’t let the appearance fool you- the food is always delicious.


23. People brush their teeth after nearly every meal

Even in the corporate world, after breakfast, lunch, or the afternoon snack, all of my co-workers would flock to the bathrooms with their toothpaste, toothbrush, and sometimes even mouthwash or dental floss and clean their mouths before they would even consider attending a meeting. This was a custom I appreciated and embraced, and I now go everywhere with a toothbrush.

Now it’s your turn…Have you ever visited Costa Rica? What were some surprising things you learned during your visit?


Make the Most of Your Visit to Monteverde Costa Rica

Tucked away towards the center of the country, you will spend several hours driving to arrive in Monteverde, Costa Rica. Despite the fact that it is one of the country’s top tourist destinations, the roads remain unpaved, and they curve along the mountainsides as they climb higher and higher into the luscious cloud forest that awaits you. Take it slow, and enjoy the journey. The drive is worth it- Monteverde is amazing.


When most people say “Monteverde” they typically mean the whole area around the actual National Park of Monteverde. Santa Elena is the city which is a “hub of activity” with restaurants, hotels/hostels, supermarkets, shops and the Amigos bar. Although the area is quite small, it is brimming with things to do. If you love to hike and be out in nature, this is the place for you.


If you decide to take the trek to Monteverde, the following list will help ensure that you make the most of your time in the area…

1. Go zip-lining or walk the suspension bridges

Monteverde is known for its magical cloud forest, and two great ways to experience this forest are either to zip-line through it, or to walk in the sky while crossing the incredible suspension bridges. Zip-lining will take you zooming through the canopies and across open expanses where you feel as if you’re a bird, soaring through the open sky. The suspension bridges will also take you to amazing heights, but with these you will walk through at your own pace, which lets you look around longer and soak in all the details. Both experiences will get your heart beating and will leave your mouth dropping open in amazement…and if you’re really gutsy, be sure to try the Tarzan swing towards the end of your zip-lining experience. This swing will be one of the most terrifying, yet exhilarating, experiences of your time in Costa Rica.

There are several places which offer these services, and you can book a tour ahead of time while walking through Santa Elena. I chose Selvatura Adventure Park and was 100% satisfied with the experience.



2. Hike Curi Cancha Nature Reserve

Curi Cancha Nature Reserve is full of wildlife, easy walking trails, and spectacular scenery. The trails are well-marked and the rangers at the entrance will help you select the route that’s best for you. Every time I have visited this park, I have been lucky enough to see the cute pizotes (they look like a raccoon’s cousin) hanging out around the picnic tables, as well as dozens of hummingbirds buzzing around the feeders in the trees. Curi Cancha is up a small dirt road just to the left of the Monteverde Cheese Factory. You can always stop here before or after your hike for a sweet treat or something more substantial to eat.



3. Climb the hollowed out strangler trees

While hiking around, you will see many tangles of vines covering trees. If you get closer and stick your head into the vines, you may be delighted to find out that some of these masses are hollow within, and very easy to climb. “Strangler trees”, as they are called, start out as a seed in the branches of existing trees, and over hundreds of years they grow down and cover the tree, suffocating it until eventually the tree within dies and decomposes, leaving behind a natural tree-ladder. If you decide to climb up these central tunnels, you can look out the “windows” at the forest beyond and depending on the tree, you may be able to climb all the way up to the top and emerge out in the canopy above for the view of a lifetime. There are strangler trees all around the area’s cloud forests, but I found at least half a dozen to explore in Curi Cancha alone.




4. Take a night tour

A night tour offers a whole new perspective on the  beautiful forests you have already explored during the day. It is incredible to see the different creatures which come out at night, and to also find the daytime creatures curled into a ball and sleeping in the branches. There are many places which offer night tours in both English and Spanish, and they typically start around 6pm, just after sunset.



5. Stop at Stella’s Bakery

Stella’s is an absolute must if you are anywhere near Monteverde. Located shortly before the Curi Cancha Nature Reserve, it offers a delectable menu with both savory and sweet items, as well as juices, teas and coffees. The best part about Stella’s is the wide variety of birds which come to the feeder just outside of the main eating area. In the time it takes you to drink a coffee, you will probably see over a dozen different exotic birds right outside the window!



6. Catch your own fish dinner

If you’re up for a bit of an adventure, continue past Monteverde towards the town of San Luis and go catch your own fish dinner at the Rancho de Lelo. On the drive, you wind down into the valley and see the San Luis Waterfall in the distance, before eventually passing the school and curving towards the right to find the sustainable Rancho, which is actually a project in conjunction with the University of Georgia. The drive is only about 15-20 minutes beyond Monteverde, but as we made our way there, my passengers began to exclaim that we couldn’t possibly be on the right track… until we came upon the sign below, and then entered our own personal paradise. One thing I learned from my two years in Costa Rica is that you can’t judge a place based on the appearance.




Places to stay:

Santa Elena / Monteverde has many options of places to stay, ranging from hostels to bed and breakfast hotels. Two places I highly recommend, due to their hospitality and wonderful owners, are the Monteverde Rustic Lodge, and Cabanas Valle Campanas. Both are owned by Costa Rican families, and have beautiful accommodations which are only about a 5 minutes drive from the city center.

Many visitors spend a few short days in Monteverde, and if you are one of them, make sure to keep this list in mind. These six suggestions will help you have a unique and memorable experience, and when you leave you will know you have made the most of your visit to Monteverde, Costa Rica.

Have you ever been to Monteverde? What were some of your favorite things you did while there?


Chasing Chirripó

After two years of living in Costa Rica, I was never able to obtain a ticket to enter the most notable National Park of Costa Rica: Chirripó. Five months after I left Costa Rica, I finally succeeded in securing an entry ticket, and thus, in January 2015 I made my way up the most magical mountain in Costa Rica…this is my tale…

I set off before sunrise, with the stars twinkling above, and a sliver of a moon glowing high in the sky. My headlamp lit the areas of the ground which the moonlight left untouched and my ears were alert to every rustle in the brush, sure that a puma was about to emerge in my path. I hiked the first two kilometers in darkness, engulfed by the night, and panting, shedding layers as I made my way higher and higher.

Around kilometer three, the dawn began to break. I looked back on the valley below, with the lights of the city glowing a deep golden orange. I breathed in the fresh mountain air and watched the sky fade from black to blue to a light white, signaling that the sun was just behind the mountains, but the sliver of the moon was still shining brightly in the sky.

As I entered the woods, the sky came alive with hues of pink bouncing off every cloud I could see behind the trees. The birds awoke and surrounded me in a chorus of chirps which sounded like the highest and purest notes of a flute, and delighted my ears from every possible direction.

The forest was dense, and I was alone, until suddenly I heard the voices of people, singing loud. I knew I did not want this ruckus disturbing my moment in nature, so I nodded my hellos and walked on by, leaving this small group behind to again find myself alone with my thoughts and the sounds of the forest.

Each kilometer marker has a name, and as I came upon the different sections of the climb they all made sense. I made my way through the goldfinch sector, with the sharp beautiful songs of the birds dancing in the branches above my head. I passed through sectors of bamboo, creaking in the wind, and walked a kilometer where I could hear a rushing river below, but it left me wondering how far down it actually was, because I never once saw it. I made my way through the Old Man’s Beard sector, where beautiful mossy clusters hung from every branch I could see. I couldn’t help but pause and see how I would look with a beard…

As I came upon kilometer 10, I left the forest and began walking in a desert-like land. The sun was shining brilliantly, and it warmed me to my core. The dense, vibrant forest, faded away, and I was left with a spectacular view of where I had come from, and where I would go to. With each step I took, I heard the satisfying crunch of gravel beneath my shoes, moving my forward in my hike up the mountain.

The last 4 kilometers were beautiful, but more brutal than before. It was hot, and I was high in the sky. I paused frequently, catching my breath, and then losing it again as I took a look at my beautiful surroundings. There were flowers blooming, adding a pop of color to the dry hillside, and there were many wind-warped trees, and also trees which had been burnt to a crisp in fires of past decades.

The trail stretched on before me, and as I looked ahead, I was passed by some very fast-paced French walkers. We spoke brief hellos, but I hung back, maintaining my solitude in the beautiful national landscape. As the climb became steeper, the kilometer markers started to have names like the Arripientes, or Your Regrets. There were also signs of encouragement, saying things like, “As you get tired and weary, know that your will to succeed will prevail.” I can honestly say, I thought I was in decent shape beforehand, but the last kilometer took me at least an hour. I was stopping every few steps, catching my breath and reminding myself to enjoy the scenery.

The last trail marker on the trail to the Crestones Base Camp had no name, simply “14”. The trail leveled out, and within a few steps I was greeted by the glorious view of Albergue, or base camp, nestled below. I made my way into the camp registration with a smile, just in time to take a recovery nap before lunch. The base camp is windy, and quite chilly, but looks right out on the magical rock formations, the Crestones.

I had pre-paid for meals, and after eating a delicious “olla de carne” soup, and reviving myself with a cup of cafe con leche, I felt like a completely new person, ready to take on another hike for the day. I had met a friendly couple in the camp, and they gave me a recommendation on hikes to do, and the order which I should do them, in order to maximize my time on the mountain.

I spent my afternoon hiking Los Ventisqueros. This trail was by far my favorite of all that I experienced. It was another steep climb up a beautiful grassy, flowering hillside up to the rocky trail at the top of the mountain range. Again, I was alone with my thoughts and the most spectacular views you could ask for. The clouds started to swirl in around me, and I had a moment of fear that I might be caught in a “white-out” of clouds. They moved quickly by, and I never lost track of my trail, but instead I was constantly surprised at what the clouds would expose and they flew on by. I saw lakes shimmering in sunlight far below, mountaintops peaking out all around, and too many lizards to count.

When I finally came to the top of Los Ventisqueros, I left a note in the signature book, along with a picture and a quote that I always enjoy. “A cloudy day is no match for a sunny disposition.” Even though I had been surrounded by clouds the entire hike, I absolutely loved the trail and thought that it made it even more magical and mysterious. I sat on the top of the mountain and surveyed my surroundings, giving thanks for the opportunity to be in the beautiful Parque Nacional Chirripó.

Making my way back down to base camp was fast, and I arrived in time to take a cold shower while the sun was still shining. I watched the sunset illuminate the Crestones, and ate another typical meal prepared by the ever-smiling Chirripó staff. After socializing a bit, and helping a French-Canadian couple plan their trip through Costa Rica, I made my way up to the bedroom I was sharing with the three fast-paced French walkers from earlier. It was lights out by 8am, and I slept soundly.

3AM came around quickly, and after dressing in the darkness, I made my way outside to start my hike up to Chirripó. I was greeted by rain misting down around me, but the air was warmer than I had anticipated. Within minutes, I was passing other groups of people all with the same intention: to be on top of Chirripó to see the sunrise. For different periods of this trek, I was not alone, and I was glad I had people to follow. For a short period, we were out of the rain, and able to see the most starry sky I have ever experienced. I saw a star shoot across the sky and made a wish deep within my heart.

Just before dawn, we were back in the misting rain, climbing up the steepest part of the mountainside. We emerged at the top, with a few minutes to spare, before the sun started to peek out above the sea of clouds which surrounded us. Everyone at the mountaintop was alone in their own world, yet together, celebrating the fact that we had made it to the top, and we were watching the day unfold. After a few more minutes, the sun melted the clouds away, and we were able to fully appreciate our views. We could see to the Costa Rica-Panama boarder, and we were able to see the beautiful Turrialba volcano steaming in the distance. There were many lakes resting deep below us, and mountaintops popping up around us for as far as the eye could see. It was truly a sight to behold.

As we made our way down, it was a trek that required a crab-like crawl, using both your hands and your feet to help keep steady. I made my way ahead, leaving the group behind, and went on to Valle Los Conejos, where I set off on several different hikes. The first hike, to Laguna Ditkevi, took me over many small rivers, and through lands glistening with dew drops in the sun. It was short hike, and I arrived at the perfectly secluded lake in about 20 minutes. The sun shone brightly from across the lake, and the wind created little ripples which danced across the surface. It was so calm and so peaceful. I ate a bit of breakfast and marveled at the wonders of the world around me.

After making my way back to the Valle Los Conejos I set off on another trek up Cerro Terbi. This steep climb took me to the top of the mountains, where I could look back on all the trails I had traversed so far that day. I could look across the valley to Chirripó, and see the trail leading directly to the peak, with the sign perched on top. From Cerro Terbi, I followed the man-made rock piles which led me to the beautiful Crestones. These massive rock pillars are bigger than buildings, and stand distinctly apart from the rest of the mountainside. The area has strong winds blowing through, but the sun kissed my face and kept me warm within.

As I made my way down the steep trail, back to the base camp, I came upon the most tranquil river. I sat there, listening to the creek babble below, and to the wind blowing through the grasses. It was a little paradise, and it was only five minutes away from the camp.

Lunch was served, and I met some wonderful people who had just made it to the basecamp, sweaty and exhausted as I had felt the previous day. We talked, laughed, and enjoyed the warm typical casado meal, before heading out separate ways.

The trail back down was beautiful, but it was almost more difficult than the way up. The dry and loose gravel of the desert section slid out from underneath your feet, so I found that a “light jog” was the best way to handle it. Around mile 7, I came across the singing group from the day before, and one woman had hurt her ankle. They were awaiting a horse to take her back down the mountain. I headed on alone, but after a kilometer of walking I turned back, worried that the horse might not come and the woman would be stranded there. Just as I arrived back to the group, the horse came, and I ended up walking most of the way back down the mountain with them. Rain came down hard, and stayed with us for 5 kilometers, turning the dirt path to a slippery muddy slope, but around kilometer 2, the sky cleared enough for us to catch a rosy sunset. From that point on, I took off again solo, enjoying the sound of the drops falling on the trees, and the frogs croaking in the woods.

I finished the hike in the darkness, the same way I had started it. I was tired, and my legs were shaky, but I felt an incredible satisfaction deep within. I had hiked over 10,000 feet to the top of the famous Chirripó mountain, and I had lived to tell the tale. Finally, my chase for Chirripó could come to an end, and that chapter of my life in Costa Rica could be complete.

2 Days 1 Night – Make the Most of Your Visit to Chirripó

Costa Rica’s tallest mountain, Chirripó, is a major attraction for both locals and tourists alike. It is extremely difficult to get a reservation to hike the park and stay in the lodge, and when you do, it will most likely be for one night only. After trying for more than 2 years to make my way up that magical mountain, I jumped for joy when I finally had permission to spend one night in the Crestones Base Camp of the Chirripó National Park. I made the most of my time there, and here’s how you can make sure you have the ultimate visit as well…

1. Stay in San Gerardo de Rivas the night before your hike and check in at the National Park and Servicio Offices

I took the bus from San Jose to San Isidro, and then caught a bus from San Isidro to San Gerardo de Rivas, in total it cost less than $10. In order to make it there in time, take the 10:30 bus from the MUSOC station in San Jose to be in San Isidro by 1:30, 3 hours later. You will need to walk towards the McDonald’s, then walk up the road about 3 blocks to catch a bus from a different bus station to go to San Isidro, and this bus leaves at 2pm. For this ride, you pay on the bus, and it is typically the last bus in the line. Ask the bus driver to drop you off at the National Park Office, because you need to sign in and get your ticket to enter Chirripó. After this, walk up the road and check in at the Servicios Office by the soccer field and get another ticket for food if you decide to prepay for it. The food up top is a bit expensive, but it is worth it so you don’t have to carry extra weight on your back while walking up, and it is also nice to enjoy a hot and “tipico” meal after your long hikes!

In San Gerardo, there are quite a few places to stay. My personal favorite is the hostel Casa Mariposa, which is the closest place to the entrance of the trail up to Chirripó. Other options are the neighboring, Hotel Uran, and another favorite, El Descanso.


2. Get up early the day of your hiking permit and try to make it to the Crestones Base Camp by noon.

I hit the trail around 4:45 in the morning. It was dark for the first hour of my hike, but if you are armed with a headlamp or flashlight you will be fine. It took me about 7 hours to get up to the Crestones Base Camp, but people’s times range from 5 hours to 12 hours depending on their physical ability and determination to get up there. Be prepared to take frequent stops, as the altitude will affect your breathing capacity, and drink lots of water to stay hydrated! There is a place where you can fill up your water bottle just after kilometer 7. Bring snacks to eat on the trail- you will need some energy to keep yourself going! Also, you may want to use a walking stick. I didn’t opt for this, but it would have been nice to have on my hike back down the mountain. Casa Mariposa lends these out to their guests. 


3. Take a little nap once you’re at the Base Camp. Eat lunch. Have a coffee. You will feel like a new person afterwards!

When I finally made it to the Crestones Base Camp, I was tired. It wasn’t quite lunch time yet, so I took a rest in the sun on one of the benches and ended up nodding off for about 30 minutes. When I woke up, it was time for a delicious olla de carne soup (beef and vegetable soup, served with a bowl of rice), and after this I had cafe con leche (coffee with milk). Once I had a little rest, a lot of food and half a tylenol I felt like a new person! I was ready to set out on another hike…


4. Hike Los Ventisqueros 

This hike was by far my favorite hike of the trip. Mind you, it is nearly all uphill, and you walk a trail which winds precariously along the mountain tops, but it is beyond breathtaking. I took it easy on my way up, pausing to breath and enjoy the views, and I made it to the trail end in less than 2 hours. It was a cloudy day, but this only made the hike more magical and mysterious, and the different mountain peaks would come in and out of view as the clouds rolled by.

5. Take a shower, watch the sunset, grab dinner and get to bed by 8pm. 

Even though the water is ice cold, hop in that shower and let the cool water refresh and revitalize you. Watch the sun set over the Crestones, then grab dinner with your fellow hikers. Make some friends, maybe even find a hiking buddy for the next morning, then get to bed by 8pm when the lights go out. Before dinner is over, make sure to ask the kitchen staff for a “take away breakfast” for the next morning, so you can take it with you on the trail. Breakfast stops by 8AM, and if you just go to Chirripó and back, that is fine, but if you want to make the most of your stay and partake in my recommendations below, you will want to bring some food with you on the trail.

6.  Watch the sunrise from the top of Chirripó

Wake up early and hit the trail by 2:30-3:30 depending on your hiking abilities and the time of sunrise. The hike from the Crestones Base Camp to Chirripó typically takes about 2 hours. When I was there, the sun was coming up around 5:45 and I left around 3:30, leaving me a few minutes of darkness at the top of the mountain to fully take in the sunrise.  If you’re able to hike with a guide, I would recommend it because the trail isn’t that well defined and it doesn’t get any easier when you try to tackle it in the dark. I didn’t hire a guide personally, but I stumbled upon a few groups with guides while I was hiking up. It is cold on top of that mountain, so make sure you bring gloves and a hat or headband to cover your ears. Also, a wind breaker/raincoat is a good idea, because it is windy up there, and you may be walking through misty clouds. Once you’re on top of the mountain, say hello to the beautiful day that unfolds before you! If it is cloudy, give it a few minutes and maybe the wind will blow the clouds out of your way. Soak in the experience, give yourself a pat on the back, and enjoy the view from the top, whatever it may be.

7. Hike to Laguna Dikevi then take the trail to Cerro Terbi and Los Crestones to make your way back to Base Camp

You may only make it to Chirripó National Park once, so you want to enjoy as many of the trails as possible, right?

Once you’re in Valle Los Conejos, you come upon a sign pointing you in all sorts of directions. I would recommend making your way to Laguna Dikevi to enjoy the beautiful tranquility of the lake. There you can sit in solitude and maybe bust in to your breakfast. It takes a quick 20 minute walk to get to the lake, and the same to get back to Valle Los Conejos, and while en route you pass over several beautifully babbling streams and walk through a majestic and wide open plain.

After Laguna Dikevi, head on over to Cerro Terbi. This hike is another fairly steep climb, but take your time and enjoy the views. You will feel slightly in awe when you look across the expanse of land and recognize the small winding trail up to Chirripó in the distance. When you finally make it to the top, what you see before you will take your breath away.

From the top of Cerro Terbi, continue up and curve left. This part of the trail isn’t very well marked, but whenever you’re in doubt, follow the rock piles which people have made to mark the trails. Shortly after, you will come to the beautiful Crestones. These massive rocks emerge from the mountainside and tower over everything else like skyscrapers with faces. They are extremely impressive. From here, it’s a short and steep walk down back to the Base Camp. 

8. Pause for a moment to enjoy the beautiful Talari River below the Base Camp 

I came upon this river and it was such a wonderful surprise. It was probably one of the most peaceful and beautiful spots in the whole park, and it was only a five minute walk down the hill from the Base Camp. If you need to unwind, meditate, or search for some inspiration, take a seat on this bridge and let the wind blow your worries away and your eyes delight in the wonders that surround you.

9. Eat lunch before you head back down the mountain. 

I timed my second day’s hikes to be done just before lunch, and I repeated my strategy from the day before. I took a short nap, I ate a hearty lunch, and I finished with a coffee before setting off back down the mountain.


10. Enjoy the “ease” of walking downhill 

There’s no question that walking downhill is slightly easier than walking uphill, but it isn’t a piece of cake. When you’re in kilometers 14-10, the dry gravel slips beneath your feet, and when you’re back in the woods the ground can be soft, slippery and muddy. These are the only times I wished I had a walking stick to provide some stability. The upside to walking downhill? Breathing gets easier and easier. You’re going to be focusing on the ground a lot to avoid slipping, but don’t forget to look around and enjoy your surroundings. Take delight in various birds swooping through the air or pecking at the trees and suckling nectar from the flowers. Chirripó is beautiful- Soak it in!

11. Rest easy in San Gerardo de Rivas

Make sure you have a place booked in San Gerardo de Rivas for when you get down the mountain. Walking down the mountain should take anywhere from 3-6 hours depending on your pace. If you’re staying at Casa Mariposa, they have a wonderful tub for rent, where you can soak your aching body. Casa Mariposa doesn’t serve food (other than delicious brownies from time to time) but the neighboring Hotel Uran’s restaurant, Los Ventisqueros, has a pretty extensive tipico menu, so take a seat, eat your heart out and marvel at what you have just accomplished!

If you have more time in San Gerardo de Rivas, check out my post on why I think this city is the most magical place in Costa Rica! Take a day or two and get to know it’s wonders- you will be happy you did!

Costa Rica: A Waterfall Lover’s Paradise

I am a waterfall lover!! Nothing gets me more excited than coming upon a waterfall while hiking. I love watching the water cascade down and splash, crystal clean, into a pool below. I love even more when I am able to swim and refresh in the waterfalls. There is nothing better than closing your eyes, feeling the mist on your body, and getting lost in the sounds of nature…

While living in Costa Rica, I often joked, “Another weekend, another waterfall.” In this land of eternal summer there are hundreds upon hundreds of magnificent waterfalls of all shapes and sizes. Being a freshwater and forest gal, I set out to see as many as possible during my two years living the Pura Vida in Costa Rica.

In this post, I will highlight my top ten favorite waterfalls where you can also swim… The list is in no particular order, because they are all incredible…

Nauyaca, Baru

You can ride in via horseback, but I would recommend to instead take the 4km hike, so you can stay by the falls for as long as you like. This two layer waterfall offers rocky exploration at the top (we spotted quite a few “blue jeans” dart frogs) and a swimming hole at the bottom. Beware of the time of the year. During the rainy season (especially September and October) the river will be strong and flowing fast, so swimming and crossing can be dangerous down below.

(Upper Falls)

(Lower Falls)

Llanos de Cortez, Bagaces

It took me over a year to have the right timing to stop at these massive falls, but when I finally did, it was completely worth the effort. It’s a steep, yet short, hike down to these waterfalls. Once there, you can swim at the base, relax along the water’s edge, walk and sit beneath the falls, or even hike a trail off to the left and look down from the top! On weekends, this is a popular destination for locals, so get there early to enjoy the falls with less people.

Montezuma Falls, Montezuma

I went to these falls with my family when I was about 11 years old, and returned here with my friends when I was 25. It was incredible to have memories flash back as I was taking the hike the second time around. Not much had changed, which is awesome! It’s a short 20 minute hike up the river to the first falls, where you can lay on sun-warmed rocks, swim in the deep pool, climb up underneath the cascading waterfalls, and even watch locals jump into the depths. If you’re in shape and extra adventurous, there is another trail to the right where you can hike up to the higher falls. There, you can again swim, use rope swings, and even jump yourself…if you dare. I did it once, and it was exhilarating, but I don’t have the need to do it again…

(Lower Falls)

Ready to jump!

Bijagua Falls, on the way to Jaco

As you drive south towards Jaco, you will start to pass signs that say “WATERFALLS 8KM” written in blue on a white piece of board. You will turn to the left towards Villa Lapas (coolest place ever) and after 15 minutes driving up and down steep hills on a dirt road you will come to an entrance, on the right, to the Bijagua waterfalls. Foreigners pay $20, locals $10, and then you set off on a steep 2km hike down to the river below. This waterfall is incredibly tall- I’ve been told it’s the tallest on Costa Rica’s Pacific side. What I really like about this area is that it is remote. I always see green and black dart frogs, and oftentimes have other wildlife sitings like toucans, pizotes, snakes and lizards.

Bridal Veil Falls in the Karen Mogensen Reserve

It is quite an adventure to get to the Karen Mogensen Reserve, but this magnificent place in the wilderness holds a special place in my memories. The falls are especially spectacular because there is a layer of water cascading down the wide cliffside, creating a white water “veil” effect when the season is right. There is not much of a swimming hole at the base, but the river has many places to hop in and refresh during the hour-long walk to the falls. Do yourself a favor and stay at the Cerro Escondido Lodge.

Los Chorros, Grecia

This waterfall location is fantastic! I remember when I first visited, I couldn’t believe that there was a waterfall paradise like this only 45 minutes from San Jose! In Los Chorros, there are 2 massive waterfalls, and in between these two falls there is a whole row of small waterfalls shooting out of the walls of the canyon. It is phenomenal. The rocks over which the water flows reminds me of the cool column-like rocks you find at Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. These falls are on private land, but the owner welcomes visitors in for $5-10 entrance fee. The hike is easy and takes less than 20 minutes to get down to the falls. At the base there is even a designated picnic area for people gather and grill.

Natural water slide :)

Oropendola Waterfall, Rincon de la Vieja, Guanacaste

I discovered this waterfall when my friends came to visit and stayed at Hacienda Guachipelin in Rincon de la Vieja. The hotel has several waterfalls on its property, but this one was my favorite. It has one strong and steady fall, which plummets heavily into the swimming area below. To get to the waterfall, you must climb over all sorts of boulders, and once there you can jump off into the crisp and cool turquoise water below, or you can wade in at a lower level. There are also many bats in the cave behind the waterfall which is cool because you can see them hanging in clusters.

La Fortuna Falls, La Fortuna

This waterfall is probably the strongest and most popular on my list. It is located in La Fortuna, near the famous Arenal Volcano, which makes it an easy stop for tourists. The entrance fee is $15 and there are probably a good 200 steep steps down to the waterfall, but it definitely is impressive.

The Secret Waterfall near Lake Arenal

I actually found directions to this waterfall at a pitstop at the old Volcano Brewing beer brewery (which has since moved to the beach town of Tamarindo). I visited this waterfall twice, and both times it was free from other visitors. There is wildlife galore and while there I spotted howler monkeys, toucans, toads and even an armadillo!

Viento Fresco Waterfalls, Tilaran

This privately owned land was a fantastic reprieve after hours of being in the car driving from La Fortuna to Monteverde. Gringo entrance price was around $15-20 a person, but it was worth it. There are 5 waterfalls on this property, some with swimming holes, and others which are only a delight for the eyes. To get to the falls you hike down trails with gorgeous green mountains all around you. There are cows climbing up and down the steep hillsides, and while on the property I even came across more than one hummingbird nest, some with eggs and others with babies!

As you can see, Costa Rica has no shortage of spectacular waterfalls. These ten simply stand out in my memory as some of the coolest I encountered during my time there.

The waterfall lover in me would like to hear from you… Where are some of the most spectacular places where you have been able to swim with the waterfalls?? Leave me a comment through the link by the title, or send me a message!