Costa Rica is a mélange of soaring mountains, volcanoes, beaches, jungles, waterfalls, hot springs- you name it. Every corner of Costa Rica's diverse topography is beaming with natural treasures and hidden gems. There is something for everyone. For this New Yorker, it is a lush respite from the hustle and bustle of city life. A way to re-connect with the outdoors... Costa Rica is where I feel at home with nature! Here is a list of Costa Rica's finest hidden gems from my comprehensive travels around the lovely country.
The very best part about Costa Rica, besides its natural wonders, is its Costa Rican people ("los Ticos"). Los Ticos I've encountered have been extraordinarily helpful and selfless people, never once asking for anything in return-Even when I've insisted. In the countryside, Costa Ricans welcomed me into their home for food and coffee and shared the exotic fruits growing in their backyards with me. When I got lost in cities, I was kindly helped by Costa Ricans, almost to a fault. "I think I got it. No, no, it's OK. You don't have to walk me there."
Costa Rica's highly cherished ecology along with the graciousness of its people make this country the perfect destination for a beautiful adventure and/or some much-needed relaxation. Whether you're touring one part of the country or renting a car and open to exploring it all, Costa Rica offers a myriad of exploration options.
Guanacaste: Puerto Carillo & Playa Carrillo
Nestled between dozens of surf beach towns along Guanacaste's coastline is Playa Carillo. We reached this beach town via the roads from Tamarindo to Santa Cruz/Nicoya. The route to Playa Carillo alone was worth the trip. The road is adorned with mountainous hills, lush meadows, and quaint farms. We drove to the very top of the town of Puerto Carillo and had a wonderful picnic overlooking the mountains.
If you're looking to enjoy a pleasant swim, the beaches along the Guanacaste Peninsula's coast may not be for you. I tried to snorkel here, but it was nearly impossible with the dark waters and constant waves. But out of all the beach towns on the Pacific Coast, Playa Carillo won me over. And despite having the usual flow of tourism and modern re-imperialism by foreign expats, it still maintains pieces of local Costa Rican culture. For example: at the beach, we watched the sunset while taking part in a soccer game between local Costa Ricans. What is travel without local culture? Many other spots in Costa Rica are crowded with tourists and little Costa Ricans in sight.
Punta Arenas: Malpais & Santa Teresa
After moisturizing our pores in the wet jungles of Alajuela, we decided to head back towards the Pacific Coast, where the weather is usually drier. But where to? After a lot of ideas and debating, we brought our car onto a ferry and crossed the Gulf of Nicoya aiming towards Montezuma.Instead, while stargazing on the ferry's deck, we befriended a few travelers who invited us to a place called Mal Pais. With little idea of what to expect of this place, we drove across the Nicoya peninsula. The curvy dirt roads were dark, dusty and unpaved. Our hearts skipped beats whenever we had to turn dark corners or pass cars on one lane roads. Little did we know... the beauty that awaited.
The next morning our new friends took us to a remotely hidden beach behind a fisherman's market and kept out of sight by two giant boulders. I have yet to ever see another beach quite like this. Upon catching sight of the turquoise greenish waters, I couldn't take off my clothes fast enough. I ran into the soft waves like a turtle released from a fishing net. This beach was perfect for snorkeling and leisurely swimming.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Once you arrive at the town of La Junta, you must prepare for one of the toughest drives up swirly mountain roads without guardrails to reach the towns of Santa Elena and Monteverde. These towns are both at the top of the mountains, a short ride away from the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.The Reserve and its mountain towns (Monteverde and Santa Elena) have several options for lodging, restaurants, gift shops, information centers, a lizard zoo, a frog pond, a bat jungle, and butterfly gardens. There are well-paved trails that run through the lush reserve, as well as trees for climbing, rope swings, suspension bridges (pictured above) and most notably, zip-lines. Zip lining in Costa Rica is arguably some of the best in the world. I am not a thrill seeker, but I knew I had to try zip-lining while in Costa Rica. Bucket list item checked!