what to do for a week in costa rica

Orange and yellow splashes of sunset reflecting off of the Pacific Ocean made me forget the sunburn from a day spent on the beaches of Costa Rica. During my daughter’s Spring Break, we flew to Costa Rica for eight days to swim in the ocean and hike near volcanoes. With the slogan “pura vida” (“pure life”), tourists flock to Costa Rica, a country that abolished its military in 1948.

Here’s our itinerary and recommendations.

Day 1

  • Flew Avianca, the oldest airline in the Western Hemisphere, from Dulles to San Jose, Costa Rica via El Salvador. The flight from Dulles to El Salvador was four hours and the second flight one hour.
    • Note: The outlets and Wi-Fi didn’t work on both flights. There’s no in-flight entertainment screen on the back of seats and they charge for everything (water, snacks, etc).
  • Checked in at a hotel near the airport close to midnight.

Day 2

  • Picked up our rental car from Nextcar near the airport.
    • Car insurance is required by law in Costa Rica. If your credit card includes travel insurance like ours (Chase Sapphire Reserve Card), ask the credit card company for a letter proving car insurance, print it out, and bring it with you. Otherwise, you’re left paying hundreds of dollars to purchase car insurance on the spot.
    • Request a larger car to help navigate uneven and unpaved roads.
  • Drove to Santa Teresa via a ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera.
    • The roads varied from a highway to gravel/dirt roads. Tolls are required on the highway, but the toll booths take credit card.
  • Checked into this small house within walking distance to the beach.

Day 3

  • Walked to Playa Ventanitas to swim and watch the early morning surfers.
  • Drove 45 minutes to Montezuma for lunch and shopping at an artisan’s market.
  • Waded through tidepools at the Malpais Tide Pools.
  • Watched the sunset from Playa Santa Teresa, a large public beach.
  • Dined at Eat Street, an open-air food hall with food stands, a bar, and hammocks.
  • Ate ice cream from Gaucha, a small ice cream shop with outdoor seating.

Day 4

  • Spent the morning at Playa Santa Teresa, walking along the sand and building sandcastles.
  • Grabbed sweetened condensed milk lattes from Cafca Cafe, a small cafe with porch and backyard seating.
  • Ate breakfast at The Bakery, a popular restaurant/cafe with a large outdoor patio.
  • Had dinner at Somos, a hotel/restaurant/bar/surf shop with an airstream that serves food and happy hour cocktails.

Day 5

  • Drove 5.5 hours to La Fortuna, a small town near the Arenal Volcano.
  • Walked a small trail to Playa Cocolito, a secluded beach accessible by bouldering rocks with the El Chorro Waterfall, one of seven waterfalls in the world that falls into the ocean.
  • Stopped for lunch at La Perla Negra Resort, a quirky resort with a pirate-themed restaurant.
  • Hiked the trails and hanging bridges at Mistoco Park, a park with trails, waterfalls, hanging bridges, and views of the Arenal Volcano.
  • Ate chicken rice and frozen margaritas at Restaurante Fortuneño, a large restaurant with a small ice cream shop.
  • Checked into this small cabin on a private farm.

Day 6

  • Grabbed coffee and breakfast at Arábigos Coffee House, an entirely-outdoor restaurant and cafe.
  • Spent the day at Baldi Hot Springs, a resort and hot springs with waterslides that claims to be the world’s largest hot springs.
    • Note: The Tormenta waterslide shoots people into the pool up to 27 miles per hour. Read the reviews here and use at your own risk.
  • Ate dinner at La Street Bistro, a family-run restaurant that plays popular movies.

Day 7

Day 8

Day 9

  • Woke up at 2:45 a.m. to catch a 5:05 a.m. flight on Avianca back to Dulles International Airport via El Salvador.
    • Note: Download the Mobile Passport Control app before your flight. It’s the fastest line through passport control at Dulles, including the Global Entry line.

Note: If you visit Costa Rica, keep in mind prices are more expensive compared to surrounding countries. Food and drinks were on par with prices in Washington, D.C. Also, free Wi-Fi is available at most restaurants and cafes.

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