go to Costa Rica

Go to Costa Rica! My review on Arenal, Monteverde & Manuel Antonio: By Jen Oliak

Are you ready to get a bird’s-eye view of some popular vacation sites in Costa Rica?  The unspoiled beaches, volcanoes, lush vegetation, wildlife, great weather and delicious food are just some of the reasons to go to Costa Rica.

If you wanted to go to Costa Rica, how would you plan it?  I read an article about a tour company called Costa Rica Expeditions in The National Geographic.  Upon research, they were rated so highly that we decided to have them plan our trip.

Let me take you through 3 locations we toured in this magical country – and you can plan this trip yourself!

My family visited Costa Rica with the following itinerary:

Arenal:  Volcano and Hot Springs
  • Hotel Arenal Manoa- 2 nights
  • Activities:  Ecological Park, Rappelling, Hot Springs
Monteverde: Ecotourism Destination with Cloud Forest Reserve
  • Hotel La Fortuna- 2 nights
  • Activities: Butterfly and Reptile Museum, Bridge and Canopy Tour, Night Walk through the forest
Manuel Antonio: Oceanside Village
  • Hotel Si Como No- 3 nights
  • Activities: Zip Lining, White Water Rafting

Our trip in detail, along with our thoughts on each location:

Arenal

The Arenal Volcano soars 1,633 meters above sea level and has a crater 140 meters deep. Although the main attraction in this region is the volcano, the area offers a variety of activities including boat tours on the lake, rappelling, hot springs, horseback riding, canyoning, and biking.

Arenal Manoa This is a practical hotel for the budget oriented ($250/night including breakfast)  The hotel rooms were nice and clean. The grounds were lush and green.  For the price, I give the hotel a If you are going to be out all day on tours, this is a good option.  Located 10 minutes by car from La Fortuna, the hotel has 80 Junior Suites with a volcano view, private bathrooms with a small interior gardens and balconies. If you want to splurge, stay at The Springs or Tabacon which are hotels with their own hot springs.

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Hotel Grounds at Arenal Manoa

Arenal Natura Ecological Park

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Natura is located in a section of the tropical rainforest at the base of the Arenal Volcano. The park is home to a large number of species of flora and fauna. The activities include a frog pond, a serpentarium, crocodile and turtle lagoon as well as a walk to the Little Giants. Little Giants is a tropical rainforest trail.  This park was small enough to tour in 1 hour and good for the family.

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Pure Trek Canyoning Tour

We took a 4 hour tour on this rappelling adventure and had a blast.  There were 4 rappels, 3 waterfalls and 1 canyon wall, ranging in height from 50 meters to 20 meters. We took trails that led us from waterfall to waterfall through the canyon.

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Excited.

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

We rappelled down this waterfall! Beautiful.

We ate a “Tipico” lunch in view of the famous Volcano Arenal at the end of our tour.  This company was professional, fun and focused on safety which we appreciated. 

Ecotermales La Fortuna Hot Springs

Owned and run by native settlers and entrepreneurs of La Fortuna, their Hot Springs are an alternative to the overcrowded tourist hot springs in the Arenal Area. The springs consist of 5 free-flowing pools set in a natural river gorge. Water temperatures range from 100ºF to 109ºF depending on the pool.

We enjoyed the Hot Springs but it still felt commercial and touristy to us.  We would have preferred Hot Springs at our hotel where we could visit anytime we wanted during our stay (5 star resorts mentioned above have them but room prices are steep >$500/night).  It was dark when we went to these Springs so we were unable to enjoy the full beauty of the grounds.

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Transfer: Arenal / Monteverde Morning departure on a land and boat to Monteverde. Total transfer time from Arenal to the Monteverde area via Lake Arenal is approximately 3 hours.

Monteverde

Monteverde is a peaceful community made up of dairy farmers, naturalists and tourism service providers who have joined together to create a model for sustainable development and protection of the environment that is becoming known throughout the world. Founded in 1954 by a group of Quakers searching for a peaceful place to live, it is the home of Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest, and the Santa Elena Reserve.  This is a small town with dirt roads where people move at a slow pace.  We enjoyed this natural environment.

Hotel Fonda Vela  Open spaces and gardens surround this hotel. Located just a 15-minute walk from the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, 40 rooms are set within 9 Chalet-style buildings. We enjoyed this hotel and the price was great at about $200/night.  We would also have liked to stay at the Monteverde Lodge, but the hotel was full when we tried to book.  We had a cocktail there and enjoyed the bar and lobby after our night tour.

Monteverde Lodge and the Ecological Sanctuary Gardens night tour- 2 hours.

Accessible by a 10 min. trail across a ravine from Monteverde Lodge, this small private reserve provides the chance to see flora and the nocturnal activity of birds and mammals. Founded in 1992 with the idea of protecting 75 acres of forest located on the Pacific slope in Monteverde, the Ecological Farm has a great diversity of plants and animals.

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Walking Stick Spider!

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Tarantula

Treetop Walkways Suspension Bridges & Exhibits

Selvatura’s Tree Top Walkways consist of a 1.9 mile trail that crosses through the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Here we walked on eight different bridges with various lengths ranging between 150 feet up to 510 feet and altitudes ranging between 36 feet up to 180 feet. Each bridge had a width of five feet and a capacity of up to 80 people per bridge making them both the longest and strongest bridge systems in the Monteverde Cloud Forest.

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Mama and baby sloths, basking in the trees.

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

This raccoon type animal (coatimundi?) was huge and fearless with the trash! The kids loved him.

Butterfly and Reptile Exhibit

We took a guided walk inside one of the world’s largest live butterfly exhibitions with an area of over 29,000 square feet. A world in which a controlled climate provides the best temperature (82.4º F) for more than 20 species of butterflies. We learned about their life cycle, their special abilities and behaviors that have helped them evolve throughout thousands of years. In the Reptile and Amphibian Exhibition we saw frogs, lizards, geckos and snakes. It is reputed to be the world’s third largest private collection.

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Chrysalis stage of butterfly lifecycle

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Transfer: Monteverde / Manuel Antonio -Approximate 4 hour drive to the Manuel Antonio area.

Manuel Antonio

White-sand beaches, cliffs, promontories, ravines, rivers, rain forests, varied wildlife, beautiful seascapes and a hot climate all describe Manuel Antonio.

Located on Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Coast about 4 miles  south of Quepos Harbor, Manuel Antonio is one of Costa Rica’s most popular beach destinations and is sometimes compared to Key West.

Si Como No Hotel & Resort Located in Manuel Antonio, this hotel has 52 rooms. The have two pools with swim up bars, Jacuzzis, towel service and pool side dining overlooking the ocean. They have spacious rooms overlooking the ocean and jungle coastline with large balconies.  We loved eating breakfast and watching the Toucans lounging in the trees.  This was a great hotel! 

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Great hotel for kids with fun pool and slide

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Monkeys abound and are fearless in Costa Rica. They gladly take food from tourists.

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio Canopy Tour We had a great time on this 10 line and 15 platform tour. The tour also included 2 rappel lines and a treetop suspension bridge. Nestled within over 1,000 acres and bounded by 5 kilometers of riverfront and primary rainforest, MidWorld takes all the adventure the area has to offer and places it in one setting located only twenty minutes from Quepos.

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Savegre River White Water Rafting (Class II-III) with H2O.  Considered one of the cleanest rivers in Central America; the Savegre is an authentic family adventure. This tour started with an early drive south of Quepos in a minibus. We drove 1 ½ hours through African palm oil plantations, teak reforestation projects and landscapes to the river where the guide explained the natives’ way of life.

After a safety briefing, we maneuvered through rapids named “Gringo Eater” and “Boca Diablo”. We stopped for a snack of fresh fruits and cookies at a waterfall. Before the end we hit “Santo Domingo” rapid and then the river calmed down and then we met our mini bus. We enjoyed a hot Costa Rican meal at a local restaurant and then took a 30 minute drive back to Quepos.

The tour duration was 6 ½ hours. Distance on the river: 8 miles. We loved this company, especially our guide.  We saw other groups on the river that seemed less organized and not as fun. When we stopped at the waterfall and were served snacks, we noticed the other tour groups did not provide their guests any snacks!  We were grateful we were with the right company as we were starving!  Our guide was kind enough to share our food with the other tour group.

This was our favorite activity in Costa Rica!

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica Arenal Monteverde Manuel Antonio

So how did you enjoy your bird’s-eye view of our trip?  Doesn’t it look fun?  We had a blast and can’t wait to go to Costa Rica again.  I would love to hear from you if this itinerary helped you plan! Pura Vida!

Flavor Your Life with an Ounce of Salt.  A Lifestyle Blog by Jen Oliak.