My girlfriend, Nicole, and I visited Costa Rica in December 2022.
It was both of our first times visiting, and had been on my list forever.
It was a blast! I loved the lush jungles, all the wildlife we saw, the delicious food, and everyone we met was so friendly.
I cut together this video of the trip:
We did our trip in three legs:
- Ojochal area
- Quepos area
- Arenal area
Driving in Costa Rica
A few quick notes on driving in Costa Rica:
We got our rental car from Adobe. I’d done some research and that seemed to be the car company that everyone recommended. As a perk, they dropped it off at our hotel for us. If you’re reading this and are planning a Costa Rica trip, be sure to use the discount code offered by this website, which has a partnership with them.
The one thing I’d do differently if I had to do it again was to spring for a 4x4 vehicle. We weren’t planning on doing any off-roading, but we ended up in a couple situations that required traction anyway. So I highly recommend that. Book well in advance, because there weren’t any 4x4 vehicles even available when I booked about a month ahead of the trip.
I’d been told before our trip that drivers in Costa Rica tend to be a little reckless and to drive defensively. We didn’t find the first part of that to be the case; Driving there was fine as far as other people goes. Obviously, driving defensively is good advice wherever you are. What we did find, however, was that the roads tend to have a lot of potholes, it’s often very foggy at night, and street lighting isn’t always present. So make sure you have a spare tire (we got a flat repaired quickly at a local gas station), and I’d avoid driving at night if you can.
Ojochal was a fun, quieter area that seemed to be a favorite of expats.
We quickly discovered a favorite bar just up the road from our AirBnB called Los Gatos Locos. Having drinks here one night, we met a guy who spoke highly of taking a tour of Corcovado, and recommended a travel agency called La Perla del Sur. Oh man. This ended up being a highlight of the trip.
For a bit of background, Corcovado is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. Its 41,800 hectares are home to 3% of the world’s biodiversity and 50% of the species in Costa Rica. We departed from Sierpe, which was an easy 45-minute drive south. They took us on a fast boat down the Sierpe River. On the boat, there were dedicated guides who spotted wildlife, and the boat would pull in close so we could see monkeys, sloths, crocodiles, and birds.
The river spit us out into Drake Bay, and we hugged the coastline until we got to a lodge. We had a delicious lunch here and then got a guided tour of the surrounding jungle. We spotted even more wildlife here, including toucans, howler monkeys, macaws, and snakes. I really appreciated how knowledgeable the guides were. I highly recommend visiting Corcovado if you’re in the area.
Another highlight of Ojochal was visiting Playa Ventanas, a quirky, quiet beach that was a favorite of locals and had several caves you could walk into (“ventanas” means “windows” in Spanish).
We just stayed here for a night on the way to the Arenal area, which is not enough time to get a sense for a place, but we weren’t fans, overall. Coming from the quieter Ojochal, Quepos felt more noisy and touristy. We did tour Manuel Antonio National Park. It was cool seeing the wildlife here, but it was packed with people, a stark contrast to our small group we explored Corcovado with.
This was the final leg of our trip, and we stayed about half of our total time in Costa Rica here because there was so much to do. We stayed in La Fortuna, a small town at the foot of the Arenal volcano that was recently featured in an episode of the Reluctant Traveler with Eugene Levy. We loved it here; The lush jungle and volcano were beautiful to wake up to, people were all incredibly friendly, and there were tons of outdoor activities to do.
We stayed at Hotel Roca Negra and Villa Tucan here (both are owned by the same family), and can’t speak more highly of them. We were very comfortable here and the hosts at both places were so friendly and accommodating.
We went ziplining on one of the days. This was more of a bucket list thing for me that I wanted to check off because the idea scared me but was barely in the threshold of “things I might consider doing.” We went on an 11-line course. After traversing 3 of the lines, I was pretty comfortable with it and thought, “this was fun, but not something I need to do again.” But I still had 8 lines left to do. C’est la vie. If I had it to do over again as a bucket list thing, I recommend opting for a shorter course. Haha. For what it’s worth, we did the ziplining through EcoGlide and they were great; they were very professional, had good senses of humor, and they even gave us a set of photos afterwards.
The Mistico Hanging Bridges hike was beautiful here.
Another highlight was taking a night wildlife tour. There are several places which offer this in the area. There are so many species that are nocturnal that you’re missing out if you only view wildlife during the day. We were also blessed(?) to be able to witness a sloth performing his sacred weekly bowel movement.
We wrapped up our stay in Arenal by having a relaxing couple days lounging at hot springs. Since the area is so volcanic, there are several of these around.