Costa Rica is a country that is often misjudged. The rumour says it’s a den of young drunk students from North America and can be too expensive for budget travellers to visit. Yet, if you are into breath-taking landscapes, pristine nature, huge jungles and wildlife everywhere, you should ignore the rumours and add Costa Rica to your bucket list!
Whilst it is true that activities such as rafting and day tours can be expensive, the rest is up to you. Cheap accommodation can be found in cabinas (guest houses) and delicious local meals are available for less than 8 EUR for a casado, a proper plate with everything you need!
Also, I’m tempted to say that Costa Rica is a country where the activities you pay for are really worth it. I fell in love with this beautiful Central American country and want to share it with you, so here are my top 3 things to do in Costa Rica that are both authentic, cheap and away from the tourists.
CORCOVADO NATIONAL PARK
If you’re into wildlife and nature, the Corcovado National Park might be the highlight of your trip in Costa Rica. Located in Osa Peninsula, on the South West of the country, this national park is only accessible by boat or foot and with a guide, which guarantees very few motivated tourists. Moreover, the number of people allowed inside the park is limited.
Starting in Puerto Jimenez, the foot path can sometimes be walked at night depending on the tides of the river Rio Claro that you have to cross. Boat access is an easier option, but obviously more expensive. Most people fly to Drake Bay, the outer border of the park to catch a craft. But in flying there you are also missing one of the most adventurous parts of the trip, the drive! The journey follows a gravel road through remote villages with young Ticos staring at you, you’ll have to cross rivers and use extremely narrow wooden bridges adding the fun.
During the boat trip from Drake Bay, you finally realise that you’re going into Jurassic Park! Our boat picked us up at 6.30 am and dropped us in the middle of the park, on a deserted black-sand beach surrounded by the jungle. After 1 km walk, we reached the base camp La Sirena, which is a former biological research station.
Various options do exist to discover the park either with a day-trip or overnight stay. We chose the overnight stay in order to experience the night in one of the most famous Rainforests in America. That was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made! The guide took care of everything, spotting wild animals, showing the beauty of the forest through a lot of hikes (even one at night!), finding private spots to swim in rivers without crocodiles, sharing his knowledge and even cooking for us. He taught us how to « feel » the forest and managed to pass on his love for it. He actually succeeded because we’re now obsessed with rainforests!
Opposite to Osa Peninsula is Nicoya. Very different by its climate and landscape, this area used to be a popular hippie place. The village of Montezuma still has this peace & love spirit. Refugio Nacional Curú sanctuary is THE hidden gem of Costa Rica! It is almost unknown, even by the locals out of the peninsula. There are various trails, but you should definitely hike the one going to Playa Quesada, a 4-hour return easy walk which leads you to an empty and isolated white-sandy beach with crystal clear water. We had to hike through a forest, through pastures straight from a Lord of the Ring set, fields of banana trees, countryside with free-range cows… We were the only tourists there, thus we were able to see heaps of wildlife.
If you happen to visit Nicoya Peninsula (I’m sure you will now!), don’t miss the Canopy tour in Montezuma. The trees can reach over ten meters high, which makes it hard to see the sky from inside a forest. The Ticos decided to make the most of this asset and created a recreational activity – ziplining in the canopy. Because the most famous Canopy Tour in Costa Rica is in Monteverde (with a 1 km-long zipline!), the one in Montezuma is cheaper and less busy. Nonetheless, it’s still 3 hours of adrenalin, beautiful scenery, wildlife spotting and waterfall swimming.
THE CARIBBEAN COAST
This is not JUST a name, the Caribbean Coast really is like you’re on a Caribbean Island. Half of the locals are from Jamaican origin and speak very little Spanish, which is the official language in Costa Rica. Reggae, infused rum and cannabis fragrance reign over the wet streets of Cahuita. Even during the dry season, it’s raining almost every day for a short period of time. Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is where the old hippie tourists, nostalgic of the 70s, are still hanging around.
The most famous surf spots of Costa Rica stand on the southern coast and it’s easy to travel from one beach to another by bike (just be careful of the slow sloths crossing the roads!). If you’re looking for a post card view, go to Refugio Nacional Gandoca-Manzanillo, which is an absolutely unimaginable mix of jungle, ocean, sand, rainforest and coconut trees.
Are you convinced now? If you still need a little push, remember these facts:
- Costa Rica is home to around 5% of the world’s biodiversity in just 0.1% of its landmass.
- Costa Ricans are a devoted population, very aware of its natural treasures and understand that tourism is essential for its economy.
- Costa Rica is all about ecotourism.
- Visiting Costa Rica gives the impression of exploring 4 different countries in one: climate, people, landscapes (various types of rainforests, beaches, volcanos, etc) and even food.
Now go ahead and live the « Pura Vida » !
Have you visited Costa Rica? Share your favourite parts of the country with our readers in the comments below! Read Next > 5 Waterfalls You Can’t Miss In Costa Rica
By We Are Travel Girls Contributor Julie Besson
Connect with Julie Instagram