1 Week Exploring the Rainforests of Costa Rica: Experience "Pura Vida" With Me
Updated: Jun 4
Costa Rica is a country in the middle of Central America that is best known for its beaches, landscapes, and incredible biodiversity of plants and animals. A large section of this country is categorized as protected jungle and the people of this country are very proud of the natural wonders that are within its borders. I spent a week traveling within this naturally beautiful country with the major focus being on the jungles and activities within them, and will take you through what my experience as a possible layout for your own trip to Costa Rica.
This itinerary leaves out the Pacific Coast and the incredible surfing that it offers and is the reason that tons of people visit Costa Rica. I live at a beach and during my trip I was personally interested in visiting the tropical rainforests this beautiful country had to offer instead.
Day 1 - Arrival to Juan Santamaría International Airport
The first thing to do after arrival is to head over to the rental car area and pick up whichever car was pre-booked. I went with Enterprise, the company that I have used primarily for most of my rental car bookings through the years. I personally rented a 4x4 Toyota SUV. A 4x4 vehicle isn't absolutely required, but if driving the "roads" in Monteverde, it will greatly reduce the chance of damaging the car from the basically off-roading type of roads in that area.
Major Tip- Costa Rica has a national currency, the Costa Rican Colón that is roughly 537:1 in comparison to the USD. The United States Dollar is universally accepted within Costa Rica and the CRC is provided as change when not given an exact dollar amount. You honestly do not need to withdraw any local currency, the USD will be sufficient in almost every circumstance you will be in.
Drive from San Jose to Monteverde
After picking up your rental car, the next step is to drive the roughly 80 miles or 129 Kilometers from Juan Santamaría International Airport to Monteverde. Due to various road conditions, this drive should take roughly 2.5-3.5 hours. There are two main ways to begin the journey. The first is the No Tolls way where you begin on Route 1 until jumping onto Route 3 which is a twisty road in sections. You then get on Route 131 for awhile before you merge onto Route 1. The other option involves Tolls but is a quicker way to reach the Route 1 merger. For this one you take Route 27 off of the Route 1 start. You are on Route 27 for 41 miles until it turns into Route 23 and you drive along the coast. You will then merge onto Route 1 and the path becomes the primary option after that. You ride Route 1 for a short bit until turning onto Route 606. Route 606 is was a fairly frustrating experience driving as it was in horrible shape at the time that I was there and I was never really able to go more than maybe 15kph as it is up and around a mountain on horribly pot-holed roads.
The hope is that if you take this route, you will not have to deal with the unfortunate traffic situations that I had to in my experience. The preference was to reach Monteverde before sunset, but because of an accident completely stopping traffic merging onto Route 1 with no alternatives for 2.5hrs, that was no longer possible. Driving Route 606 with the poor road conditions and then adding driving in the dark and pouring rain was a struggle.
Arriving in Monteverde, you are welcomed by a small quiet town with a shop and an awesome restaurant called The Tree House. I stayed in an AirBnb just up the hill from town at Studio Carambola which is a 1 bedroom with 1 bed and a private bath accommodation hosted by Adrián.
Day 2 - Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
The next morning, it is time to get up, have a good breakfast, and explore the absolute number one reason to visit the Puntarenas Province, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve! It is about 3.5 miles or 5.6 Kilometers from the main area of Monteverde by The Tree House Restaurant listed above. There is an official parking lot that costs $5 and offers a free shuttle to the entrance gates where you will also purchase your entrance tickets. You also have the option of purchasing your tickets online $25 for non-national adults and $12 for non-national children.
Once you have entered the park, you have a plethora of hiking trails to choose from which allow you to experience the beauty of the forest. There are plenty of signs available keeping you up-to-date with the trails, you would be well off to have the trails saved to your phone or printed out, which you can access here.
My hiking route went as such:
Sendero Camino Trail -> Sendero Bosque Nuboso Trail -> Sendero La Ventana (Beautiful Misty Overlook of the Forest) -> Wrap back along Sendero Camino Trail to The Hanging Bridge -> Sendero Wilford Guindon Trail -> Sendero Tosi Trail -> Quebrada Cuecha Trail -> Sendero La Cascada (Waterfall) -> Quebrada Cuecha Trail with a side trip onto George Powell Trail
This hiking itinerary took me roughly about 3 hours of hiking up and down the routes spending plenty of time stopping to appreciate the views as well as take plenty of photos. You can absolutely spend many more hours hiking these trails, especially if you have a lunch or snacks packed as well as plenty of water. On sight you also have the options of a lodge if you wanted to stay closer to the reserve, food options to eat local dishes provided for an extra fee, as well as a possibility of having experienced and educated guides lead you along the trails.
“A cloud forest is a highland forest characterized by nearly 100% humidity throughout the year. Here in Monteverde, warm North-Easterly trade winds, filled with moisture, blow in over the Atlantic. As the winds sweep up to the Continental divide, they cool and condense to form clouds, bathing the forest in a constant soft mist. The Monteverde cloud forest receives an incredible four meters of rain every year- that is almost twelve feet.”– firstname.lastname@example.org
Day 3 - Drive from Monteverde to La Fortuna
The next day was time to leave Monteverde and take the drive along the not so well maintained roads to La Fortuna. The drive was about 89 miles or 143 Kilometers but about 2/3 of the drive was on incredibly bad roads with deep potholes and made for slow driving. The drive took me from Monteverde Road 619 -> Road 606 -> Road 145 into Tilaran. After reaching Tilaran the road conditions got better as the the only way to reach La Fortuna was to drive entirely around Arenal Lake which would take hours.
Once arriving in La Fortuna I checked in to my AirBnb that was a cozy apartment a comfortably short walk away from downtown. There are plenty of restaurants and souvenir shops to browse around as you walk downtown. Parque de La Fortuna is a small park located in downtown that provides a beautiful view of Arenal Volcano, an active volcano that features hiking trails, lava fields, and hot springs.
Day 4 - La Fortuna
The next morning I got up and drove to Arenal National Park with the intention of hiking the trail to the Lava Flow that provides an up close look at the volcano.
Between the main entrance road being closed as well as the trails I would have preferred to take not being available, the resulting hike was not worth it in my opinion. The side road they required to take with the main road being unavailable was terribly flooded and full of potholes which made for a difficult drive to reach the parking.
After finally arriving and paying the entrance fee, the hiking trail did not provide a view of the volcano that I couldn't simply get from the side of a variety of roads in the area. I am not one to actively seek out tours or guides for the most part, but perhaps with a local guide, visiting the Arenal National Park would be more informative as well as fulfilling.
The next activity of the day was much more enjoyable and is absolutely recommended. The specific heated river that I went to may or may not still be an available option in 2023, but it was very welcome when I visited at the end of 2018. This hot spring river is across the road from the Tabacon Hot Springs, and at the time, was free to access compared to the rather pricey hot springs resorts in the area. I parked on the side of Road 142 just a short walk down a hill to reach it, and there were attendants that would look after your car for you for small fees (very welcome).
This was the perfect place to sit in hot tub temperature waters and relax with the steam and surrounded by tree cover. That was definitely the most budget friendly way to experience this, but there are so many resorts and spas in the area that take advantage of the thermal environment due to the volcano to choose from at a variety of price ranges.
My final activity for the day, continuing with the relaxation theme, was to visit Los Sueños Spa and got a 1 hour massage for at that time, $35. This is a very small spa just outside of downtown La Fortuna that began 23 years ago and is everything you need for a basic massage at a reasonable price.
Day 5 - White Water Rafting
Costa Rica Descents Adventure Company
This was without a doubt the most fun I had ever had on a guided tour up until that point (I've been on a few great ones since). The tour was hosted by Costa Rica Descents Adventure Company which is a family-owned business that has been providing incredible tour experiences for many years, and the experienced instructors/guides perfectly encapsulates that. They offer a multitude of rafting tours, combo tours, adventure tours, and food tours, any of which are handled with passion. They have an office located right in downtown La Fortuna that you can purchase your tour at, as well as making bookings online.
I went with one of the rafting tours on the Balsa River. The bus pickup was at the office building in town at 8:30am and was then a 45 minute drive to the drop in point. We then proceeded to raft for roughly 2.5 hours on varying level III-IV rapids with a stop halfway through for a pineapple snack and to watch the guides fish for piranhas.
It was an absolutely incredible experience and the guides were all very experienced and competent with all safety measures. After completing the rafting we got back on the bus and rode 25 minutes to their organic farm. Here there was a buffet layout of local foods to choose from and an opportunity to purchase photos that were taken by some of the guides who were beside us during the experience in kayaks.
After our meal we toured the organic farm fields which included cocoa bean, banana, pineapple, sugar cane, organic essential oil plants, and insect repellant plants. We finished with a demonstration of breaking down the sugar cane into juice which we could take a drink of, and for all legal aged participants a shot of 60% sugar cane rum. We were then driven back to the office in town and went our separate ways with fantastic memories of this tour.
Day 6 - Drive from La Fortuna to Alajuela
It was time to head out and continue on to the final stopping point of the trip. It is recommended to fill up on gas at the station in town at this point before continuing on (the stations are not self serve as they are in many states within the USA).
Leaving La Fortuna you take Road 142 -> Road 141 into Quesada before turning onto Road 140 through the mountains. The road conditions are much better than the first leg of the trip (it almost feels like a completely different country with the difference in roads). You continue onto Road 126 along misty roads and through jungle foliage until you reach Alajuela.
Before checking into my AirBnb I stopped at Chubascos for a meal and this was without a doubt the best meal I had while in the country.
I then proceeded to check in to my AirBnb Alajuela Studio which was perfect for just me. They also have a larger option listed as well. It was perfect to spend the afternoon and evening relaxing on the small patio overlooking the beautiful view.
Day 7 - La Paz Waterfall Gardens
The last full day on the trip I spent visiting La Paz Waterfall Gardens which was easily able to take up my entire day. If you have the money to spend, La Paz offers incredible lodging options to stay in as well. The Nature Park is a mixture between animal reserve/zoo as well as hiking area where you can see 5 major waterfalls all within short walks from one another. Exhibits include Jungle Cats, Butterflies, Birds (very interactive Toucans), Monkeys, Snakes, Insects, etc.
The waterfalls can be reached along a trail with stairs down past each and as you look back up, some viewpoints offer a view of multiple waterfalls at once. The entrance into this park for visitors is $50+tax as well as an add-on option of $14+tax for unlimited access to the Buffet while in the park and it includes multiple selections of Traditional Costa Rican Dishes, full salad bar, pizza, rice pudding, fresh fruit juice, coffee, tea, as well as other sides.
Now this was what I chose to do with my final day, if you are following this itinerary and adjust it ever so slightly or even add an extra day, Poás Volcano is a nearby drive from the Alajuela lodging I have provided and would be an absolutely awesome add-on if possible. This is one stop that I wish I had been able to accommodate in this itinerary for myself and if it is doable, I recommend it (although weather greatly dictates the experience you would have at this spot due to a possibility of heavy mist and fog clouding the actual view).
Day 8 - Drive back to San Jose & Fly Out from Juan Santamaría International Airport
The drive the next day is roughly about an hour from any accommodation near the Waterfall Gardens, so depending on the time of your exit flight, you could always swing by into San Jose and grab lunch or stop for something to see. I personally did not stop anywhere within San Jose except to fill up on gas and worked to avoid certain street routes because there were party festivities going on at the time of my visit which led to many roads being closed and diverting traffic. Dropping the rental car off is quite simple and once checked in, the airport is not massive so it is best to simply find a spot over in a corner and wait till your flight out.
The "Pura Vida" Experience Can Become a Lifestyle
This itinerary is not even close to a full list of amazing experiences you can take part of within this central american country, but I hope it can at least be a starting layout from my personal experience that you could perhaps build your own itinerary from. If you have any comments or questions, you can always email me at www.travelinggibson.com or on Instagram @travelinggibson. Thank you for reading and best of luck with all your travels!