I know I won’t be the first to say it, but Costa Rica lives up to and exceeds the hype. My wife (Alex) and I made the decision as part of the ultimate compromise that defined our honeymoon. Alex wanted somewhere warm with a beach and I wanted an adventure. Costa Rica fit the bill perfectly.
We chose a quaint little beach town called Samara as our base in Costa Rica. It gave us our beach with the most beautiful sunsets we’ve ever seen. Samara, like most of Costa Rica, is very safe and the locals are incredibly friendly.
Samara beach. Paradise
Our first morning in Samara, we grabbed our coffee and began wandering the beach. It was like a scene out of a movie. Gentle waves lapped the shore as a free range group of horses trotted along the beach without an owner in sight.
The neighbours shared our appreciation for coffee on the beach.
Samara offers plenty to do whether it’s snorkelling, surfing, or paddling. An offshore reef ensures the water is gentle during low tide allowing paddlers to paddle and snorkel around the island of Isla Chora. Make sure to check the tide tables before going out on your own. In town you’ll find a variety of shops and guides. We highly recommend Samara Adventure Company. It’s run by local Costa Ricans and the guides are fantastic.
Just a short drive from Samara is El Carrillo. We chose to do horseback riding with a local guide through the jungle and mountains outside of town. It’s a must do in Costa Rica!
Enjoying the views
Our guide led us through thick dry jungle and up to the top of the mountain where we watched the sun set over the Pacific coast. He told us how he nursed the horses back to health after he bought them emaciated state several years ago. His love for his animals was evident just as his love and knowledge of the jungle. As we made our way back towards his farm, the jungle came alive at night. The sound enveloped you from all sides as bugs, howler monkeys, and birds all made their voices heard. Horseback riding offers a unique way to see the jungle and terrain that the coastal mountains in Costa Rica and all they have to offer.
The town of La Fortuna can be called the adventure capital of Costa Rica. Nestled at the base of the Arenal Volcano, the region offers every adventure a tourist needs. Options include whitewater rafting, ziplining, canyoning, hiking, windsurfing on the lake, etc.
To get to Arenal was about a 3.5 hour drive from Samara down some of the most winding roads we have ever experienced. We booked our tours through Samara Adventure Company to offload any stress. Our guide that day, Ricardo, was fantastic! We stopped for breakfast along the way, he filled our heads with knowledge about Costa Rica and showed us a few sights off the beaten path. He even coaxed out a guide from a sloth sanctuary to point out some sloths to us from the road since I forgot my money that day.
Arenal Volcano looming over La Fortuna
Our first adventure for the day was canyoning in Lost Canyon with Desafio Adventure Company. It became obvious to me that Alex had never actually watched the advertisement for canyoning as her eyes lit up with fear when we reached the tour building. I believe her exact words were “You signed us up for THIS?” The guides at Desafio are fantastic and make the experience enjoyable for everybody.
Alex was a natural anyways! Conquering her fears like a champ!
If you’re not sure what canyoning entails then the simplest way to put it is you descend a canyon in any way possible. This generally involves a mixture of rappelling, cliff jumping, and climbing/scrambling. The sport is huge in Utah and is making its mark in Costa Rica.
The guides at Desafio are fantastic. The biggest leap to make is just trusting the process. Soon you’ll be rappelling a waterfall, scrambling slot canyons, and fighting against deluges of water in the canyon. It will be one of the best experiences in Costa Rica!
After an excellent lunch of ceviche and other local dishes, we decided to take the afternoon to relax. When I signed us up for hot springs I figured it involved a hike into the forest and some hot pools in the ground. I was pleasantly surprised when we pulled up to the massive resort that is Baldi Hot Springs. Instead we got hot pools with water directly heated by the volcano mixed in with luxury bars. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon at all!
Baldi Hot Springs
After a brief sick day (Zika?) we were on the road from Samara to Monteverde. The road to Monteverde is very much 2 hours of immaculate roads followed by an hour (20km) of a single lane mountain road with 1000ft drops in some places. Definitely one of the most epic drives!
Hanging out on the side of the Pan American Highway
The Cloud Forest is incredible. There are no words for the sheer beauty of the biodiversity of the place. Our guide at Sky Zone tree top trekking was extremely knowledgeable and friendly.
The feeling of just being surrounded by life is overwhelming
After spending the morning exploring the rainforest via suspension bridges we took to the skies via zipline. By then the wind had picked up to a pedestrian 80km/h. The guides assured us there was nothing to worry about as they shut down the zipline at 120km/h. For the first time in our lives we were actually nervous to zipline. Sometimes though you just need to take that leap.
Alex making it look easy
Once you take that leap you’re above the trees. Wind blows all around you. You can see the low clouds coming up the valley below you. Smell the jungle as you fly along. These ziplines are truly amazing and one of the best way to see the canopy.
Summing it all up
I could write all day about the amazing experiences we had in Costa Rica. The country and its people are so vibrant and full of life. If you’re looking for that perfect mixture of relaxation with a flair of adventure, then Costa Rica is the way to go!
- If you do decide to drive then be comfortable with defensive driving. Driving can be very aggressive in some areas of the country.
- Ask the locals what their favourite things to do are and where to eat.
- Learn to read tide tables so you can time snorkelling perfectly.
- Tip your guides.
- Learn some Spanish before going. Most people speak some English but effort goes a long way.
- Buy some Costa Rican Colons. Many businesses will charge you several dollars more if you pay in American.
- Best guides around for all your day trips from Samara.
- Run and owned by Costa Ricans.
- They’ll go above and beyond to make sure you have the best experience.
- These guys run everything from River Rafting to Canyoning in the area around La Fortuna
- The guides are knowledgeable, professional, and love to have fun.
- The food they serve is amazing!
- The ziplines and canopy tour are most do things if you’re in Monteverde.
- Very knowledgeable and friendly guides that will share their love of the area with you.