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Volcanoes, jungle, rice with beans - dream destination Costa Rica


Kratersee Poas Costa Rica
You can only stay at the crater lake of the Poas volcano for 20 minutes.

Costa Rica is called the Switzerland of Latin America for several reasons. Firstly, the country, which borders Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south, is relatively small, secondly, it is politically and socially very different from other countries in this region and thirdly, it is quite expensive. We were here mainly because of the fourth reason: Costa Rica is beautiful and easy to travel around.


Steffi and I never thought we would come back here 16 years after our first three-week trip to Costa Rica, but traveling is like skydiving: you often don't know where you'll end up. As early as 2008, we were captivated by the incredible diversity of this small country between the Atlantic and Pacific. We also find Costa Rica politically very friendly. The country has a particularly pacifist history and has been spared the usual dictators of Latin America.


Graffiti in San Jose, Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a very colorful country in many ways.

The death penalty was abolished in Costa Rica as early as 1877 and since 1949 the constitution has even banned any standing military in peacetime. José Figueres Ferrer (1906-1990) is considered a pioneer of modern democracy in Costa Rica, a country in which there is no budget for national defense. The financial resources saved are used for education and health and form the foundation for a social welfare state that is still unique in Central America. You also notice that when you travel this country.

 

“Whoever wants peace should prepare for peace and not for war.”

José Figueres Ferrer, multiple president of Costa Rica


You should definitely visit Costa Rica

On our first visit in 2008, we took a self-planned road trip almost across the country. We were on both the Pacific and Atlantic sides, also called the Caribbean side. We drove from Samara to Manuel Antonio, from Tortuguero to Puerto Viejo and visited the Arenal volcano and the area around La Fortuna, the cloud forest of Monteverde and the Irazu volcano. We only left the “wild west” of Guanacaste due to persistent rain out of. Costa Rica made a lasting impression on us not only because of a long-term intestinal infection. It is a travel destination that has learned to treat its greatest asset with care: the magnificent nature.


Pura VIda Flughafen San Jose
"Pura Vida" ist der oft benutzte Leitspruch, das Lebensmotto von ganz Costa Rica.

Costa Rica now generates almost 100 percent of its electricity needs from renewable sources and 27 percent of the country's area is protected. Ecotourism is strongly promoted here. After our stay in the Dominican Republic, which was sometimes heavily littered, our stay in Costa Rica was a real treat for us. We especially wanted to show this country to our son, who is particularly interested in life in other countries - his passion for travel is as great as ours, so we didn't want to withhold the “Rich Coast” (Spanish: “Costa Rica”) from him. He will remember this for the rest of his life. Us too! 


Arajet Flugzeug
We flew from Santo Domingo to San Jose with the Dominican airline Arajet.
Third stop on our trip

After a stopover in Paris, four weeks in Guadeloupe and two weeks in the Dominican Republic with pure beach feeling, our two children and we went to Costa Rica in mid-March. The flight time from Santo Domingo to San Jose was almost exactly three hours and the flight with the Arajet was very entertaining and not expensive. After picking up our rental car from Europcar - a pretty lame automatic Hyundai - we went straight to the Aparthotel La Sabana, an accommodation not far from the La Sabana Park of the same name, the largest local recreation area of ​​its kind in San José. The small hotel with pool and sauna (!) immediately appealed to us, at least online. But we already know: Not only paper, but also the Internet is patient and things often look much better online than in reality.


At the Aparthotel La Sabana it was the other way around. Quietly located on a side street, the small complex impressed us with its exceptionally friendly and attentive staff, loving furnishings and a pleasantly spacious room with a small kitchen and dining area. Although we actually wanted to save money, we decided to have lunch at the hotel. We had been walking since five in the morning and were pretty famished. The cuisine at La Sabana did not disappoint us, as both the children's menus and our typical local food with meat, rice, beans, plantains and salad were excellent. The breakfast the next morning topped that and was one of the best breakfasts of our trip so far. We give the Aparthotel La Sabana the full number of points in the internet reviews. Gladly again!


The La Sabana Inn is one of the best hotels on our trip. We recommend.


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San Jose – the capital of Costa Rica

With our bellies full, we finally drove to a supermarket and discovered how expensive Costa Rica has become in recent years. The prices in the very well-stocked and huge store were largely higher than ours. Again, we were only able to withdraw money with our credit card - we'll probably never get used to the high fees. What the heck, we really wanted to go on a trip lasting several months. On the other hand, Costa Rica has developed a lot since our last visit. The roads are much better than back then and so are the surrounding areas. The houses, buses and shops have probably undergone a small quantum leap. A country has done its homework.

 

The second day in San José was all about healthy foot muscles, because we walked from La Sabana in our slippers to the city center, enthusiastically browsed through all the sights and dragged ourselves back to the hotel. We love days like these.


San Jose is very easy to explore on foot - we did it,


Luckily for us, San José is not New York and the highlights are limited, but you shouldn't miss the lively life in the center of this Latin American city. We particularly liked the pedestrian zone with its countless shops, the National Theater and the Braulio Carrillo Colina Park. Afterwards we walked through the La Samana city park and were able to get a good picture of the life of the locals on this Sunday. The good thing about it: Costa Rica is a safe country and you can easily take a walk through the city with children. We didn't feel uncomfortable for a second. A jump into our hotel's surprisingly refreshing pool ended the day and made up for our smoking feet.


Stadion San Jose
You can see the stadium from La Sabana Parque.

Off to the volcano

Costa Rica is known for its volcanoes, some of which are very active. As a tourist, you basically can't avoid visiting one or two lava spewers. After we had already visited the crater of Irazu in 2008, this time we wanted to honor the Poas with our presence. The active volcano with the second largest crater lake in the world is located in the middle of the national park of the same name in the province and emits considerable amounts of gas. Visitors should not spend more than 20 minutes on the viewing platform at 2,708 meters. There is literally thick air here.


The Poas volcano is impressive in every respect.


Our tip: It is advisable to visit the Poas as early as possible. Firstly, people always arrive during the morning and the free time slots become scarce (so you definitely have to reserve online) and secondly, thick clouds often come in later in the morning - then you stand on the viewing platform, but have no view. That's less satisfying. We were lucky and had a clear view of the crater lake. A great experience!

 


Sarapiqui: Our wooden hut in the jungle

After about two hours of driving through a hilly area that reminded us a lot of Austria, we arrived in Sarapiqui, a unique urban and river area in the Heredia province, near Puerto Viejo. A paradise for eco-tourists. There we moved into the Eco-Guesthouse 2 run by the wonderful host Wendi. The rustic but spacious wooden house with incredible 4 terraces is simple, but impresses with its great location. In the middle of the jungle you can watch birds, visit the beautiful Bluefall waterfall and swim in the Sarapiqui River (a great experience!) and listen to the howler monkeys that appear to be roaring just a few meters from the hut. Wendi's two eco-guesthouses are an absolute recommendation and are also something for those on a smaller budget. By the way, you can sleep very well here even without air conditioning, as it cools down pleasantly at night and the house is very open.




Our wooden hut in the forest near Sarapiqui was a special experience.


It is also just a few minutes by car to the small town of Sarapiqui, where there are several restaurants and supermarkets. Several tour operators offer tours and rafting trips. All in all, Sarapiqui is not as touristy as other hotspots in Costa Rica.


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Costa Rica and tourism

While we're on the topic, we should also mention it briefly: Costa Rica is a great travel destination with breathtaking landscapes, friendly people and mostly well-maintained and intact nature. The governments of Costa Rica have been committed to environmental protection for longer than other countries, have set up many protected zones and national parks and introduced strict animal and environmental protection laws - for example, anyone who keeps one of the protected sloths to sell it as a photo opportunity can get up to face six years in prison.


However, 16 years after our first trip, we realized that a lot has changed in this regard. The tourist highlights of this small country in particular already seem a bit overcrowded. The number of tour providers and hotels has increased enormously and there is actually no waterfall, no hiking trail and no attraction that costs nothing more and is not exploited by tourists. On the one hand, this is good because someone obviously cares about the infrastructure and nature, but on the other hand, the prices are very high and sometimes you feel subtly ripped off (e.g. 15 euros per person for a 10-minute walk to a waterfall). There are few ways to escape this development, but there are loopholes.






Our tip: If you like hiking through jungle trails and watching animals and don't always want to pay an entrance fee, you can look for one of the hotels that have their own hiking trails on site. Just outside of La Fortuna, for example, this would be the Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa. The Arenal Observatory Lodge is Costa Rica's only hotel in the Arenal Volcano National Park and offers numerous hiking trails on extensive grounds.

 

Conclusion

We hope that Costa Rica does not stray from its path and become a country of overtourism like other countries before it. Once you take a different path, it becomes difficult or impossible to go back.


You will find out how our Costa Rica tour went in our next blog.

 

We would also be happy if you follow us on Facebook or Instagram,

Best regards,

Steffi, Max and the kids

 

OUR Shopping-Tips for Costa Rica:


Practical travel guide to Costa Rica with a free eBook featuring points-of-interest structured lists of all sights and off-the-beaten-track treasures, with detailed colour-coded maps, practical details about what to see and to do in Costa Rica, how to get there and around, pre-departure information, as well as top time-saving tips, like a visual list of things not to miss in Costa Rica, expert author picks and itineraries to help you plan your trip.


The Rough Guide to Costa Rica covers: San José, The Valle Central and the highlands, Limón Province and the Caribbean coast, The Zona Norte, Guanacaste, The Central Pacific and southern Nicoya, The Zona Sur


Inside this travel guide you'll find:

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR EVERY TYPE OF TRAVELLER

Experiences selected for every kind of trip to Costa Rica, from off-the-beaten-track adventures in San José to family activities in child-friendly places, like Liberia or chilled-out breaks in popular tourist areas, like Limón.


PRACTICAL TRAVEL TIPS

Essential pre-departure information including Costa Rica entry requirements, getting around, health information, travelling with children, sports and outdoor activities, food and drink, festivals, culture and etiquette, shopping, tips for travellers with disabilities and more.


TIME-SAVING ITINERARIES

Carefully planned routes covering the best of Costa Rica give a taste of the richness and diversity of the destination, and have been created for different time frames or types of trip.


DETAILED REGIONAL COVERAGE

Clear structure within each sightseeing chapter includes regional highlights, brief history, detailed sights and places ordered geographically, recommended restaurants, hotels, bars, clubs and major shops or entertainment options.


INSIGHTS INTO GETTING AROUND LIKE A LOCAL

Tips on how to beat the crowds, save time and money and find the best local spots for bird spotting, beach hopping and turtle-watching.


HIGHLIGHTS OF THINGS NOT TO MISS

Rough Guides' rundown of San José, Cartago and Heredia's best sights and top experiences help to make the most of each trip to Costa Rica, even in a short time.


HONEST AND INDEPENDENT REVIEWS:

Written by Rough Guides' expert authors with a trademark blend of humour, honesty and expertise, to help to find the best places in Costa Rica, matching different needs.


BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Comprehensive 'Contexts' chapter features fascinating insights into Costa Rica, with coverage of history, religion, ethnic groups, environment, wildlife and books, plus a handy language section and glossary.


FABULOUS FULL COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHY

Features inspirational colour photography, including the stunning Teatro Nacional and the spectacular Rio Celeste Waterfall.


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Practical full-colour maps, with clearly numbered, colour-coded keys for quick orientation in The Valle Central, southern Nicoya and many more locations in Costa Rica, reduce need to go online.


USER-FRIENDLY LAYOUT

With helpful icons, and organised by neighbourhood to help you pick the best spots to spend your time.


FREE EBOOK

Free eBook download with every purchase of a printed book allows you to access all of the content from your phone or tablet, for on-the-road exploration.



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Improved planning tools for family travelers - where to go, how to save money, plus fun stuff just for kids

What's New feature taps into cultural trends and helps you find fresh ideas and cool new areas our writers have uncovered

NEW Accommodations feature gathers all the information you need to plan your accommodations

Color maps and images throughout

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Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots

Essential infoat your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices

Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sightseeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss

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The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet's Costa Rica, our most comprehensive guide to Costa Rica, is perfect for discovering both popular and off-the-beaten-path experiences. 

 

About Lonely Planet: Lonely Planet is a leading travel media company, providing both inspiring and trustworthy information for every kind of traveler since 1973. Over the past four decades, we've printed over 145 million guidebooks and grown a dedicated, passionate global community of travelers. You'll also find our content online, and in mobile apps, videos, 14 languages, armchair and lifestyle books, ebooks, and more. 

 

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All of our trips and excursions are self-paid - we do not give paid recommendations! Exception: affiliate links. Most of the links in our blog are affiliate links, i.e. advertising. We are trying to recoup some of the costs of our blog and ask for your understanding.




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