Pura Vida: Visiting La Fortuna and San Jose in Costa Rica

After completing our time with REI Adventures (read that post first), my mom and I were on our own for the second half of our Costa Rican adventure.

Day 6: Travel from Liberia to La Fortuna

We picked up our rental car at the Liberia airport and started driving to La Fortuna, a small city in Alajuela next to the famous Arenal volcano. I rented an AirBnB so we could have access to a washer and dryer and a kitchen. After an exhaustive day of travel, we got situated and had dinner in La Fortuna. Today was our first experience ordering food without our guide and translator, and I was really proud of being able to complete the transactions mostly in Spanish!

Day 7: Waterfall rappelling, canyoning and hiking

I woke up early to get picked up by Pure Trek Adventures for a morning waterfall rappelling experience. I read about this adrenaline-pumping activity on MyTanFeet.com (thanks Sammi and Yeison!) and knew I had to do it. I am so glad I did! It was thrilling and beautiful. The adventure included 4 rappels (3 waterfalls and one rock wall), a Monkey Drop (zip line and rappel), rock climbing, and hiking on beautiful trails in the canyon between rappels. The first rappel was the highest – we descended over a 165ft waterfall. Next, we rock climbed up 20ft wall, and then continued to the zip line and dunk into the natural pool from the bottom of the waterfall. There was beautiful hiking in between each of the waterfalls, and we ended back at Pure Trek’s office with a delicious lunch. I highly recommend this adventure – it was my favorite activity in La Fortuna!

After lunch, mom and I headed out to Arenal Volcano National Park hiked the Arenal 1968 trail. Sadly, there were clouds and didn’t get that picture-perfect view of the full Arenal Volcano, but it was still a beautiful sight to see. We took the longer Trail Forest 1968 trail and ended up hiking about 3.2 miles. Trail Forest 1968 goes around to the Lake “Los Patos” and through the rain forest. We got to see large lava rocks, tall grass, and a lot of birds. We hiked to the tallest spot to see the panoramic views of Los Patos and Arenal Volcano.

Day 8: Mistico Hanging Bridges and travel

We wanted to squeeze in another hike before departing, so in the morning we visited Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park. When buying tickets, you are assigned an entrance time. I recommend buying tickets in advance or being there when the park opens so you don’t have to wait very long. This park is more developed, and features a paved route about 2 miles around, and you cross 16 bridges of varying distance and heights. We opted to pass on paying for a guided tour and went at our own speed. The guides we passed seemed to be helpful and had high-powered binoculars for guests to see birds deep in the rainforest, but even without a guide we were able to use the posted educational signs to learn about the flora and fauna.

After our hike, we checked out of our La Fortuna lodging and began driving to San Jose. We stayed in another AirBnB in San Jose, and it was another great experience! We were able to walk to a nearby restaurant for dinner and then walk to a nearby grocery store to pick up a few breakfast items.

Day 9: Doka Coffee Estate Tour and La Paz Waterfall Gardens

We drove about 45 minutes outside of San Jose to visit the Doka Estate. The Doka Estate is the largest coffee plantation in Costa Rica and has been family-owned since 1940. The tour covers the traditional method of germination, harvesting, separation of qualities, peeling, fermentation tanks and drying off the beans. Approximately 97% of the beans grown at Doka Estates are sold to Starbucks, and the remaining 3% they roast and keep to sell only to Estate visitors. Our guide, Cindy, was fantastic! The tour ends with a tasting and included lunch, entrance to the bonsai garden, butterfly garden, and hydroponic orchid garden.

After the coffee tour, we continued driving to visit La Paz Waterfall Gardens. True to the time of year and being in the rainforest, it rained our whole time at La Paz. But when in Costa Rica, you embrace and enjoy the rain! There are trails through the animal sanctuary and then winding along five waterfalls. The drive home from La Paz was my least favorite part of the trip. It was dark, pouring rain, and took nearly two hours. I suggest taking local transportation or joining a tour with transportation so you don’t have to white-knuckle it the way I did!

Day 10: Jade Museum, Shopping and Toucan Rescue Ranch

We started the morning with a visit to the Museo del Jade (Jade Museum) in downtown San Jose. The museum features the world’s largest collection of pre-Columbian era jade and provided an interesting perspective on the area. After visiting the museum, we found shopping heaven at the Mercado Nacional de Artesanias. The stalls seemed endless with local artisan and tourist trinkets. My favorite souvenirs I brought home were these beautiful bowls made of a mixture of Costa Rican natural woods like Rosewood, Purple Heart, Palm Tree, Blackwood and Teak.

The afternoon was reserved for a visit to the Toucan Rescue Ranch, a rescue and rehabilitation center that focuses on the care, rehabilitation and study of all Costa Rican wildlife. The name is a bit confusing as they have a lot more animals besides toucans, but the organization started with only toucans and has grown since inception. I was eagerly awaiting our “Slothies and Coffees” tour that I booked well in advance. The tour was about 2.5 hours and was completely guided by a staff member that introduced us to all of the animals on property. Of course, a highlight was the two- and three-toed sloths of various ages and stages in their rehabilitation! We got to sip on delicious coffee while the guide began bringing out sloths for our education and enjoyment of observation. I was so impressed that our guide knew every animal’s name and their story of how they ended up at the center. Some animals were confiscated as illegal pets, some had been brought my local authorities that found injured wildlife, and some were malnourished or sick that were transferred in. Visitors are prohibited from touching the animals, and trained staff member sonly minimally interact with the wildlife. As a reminder, this organization focuses on the rehabilitation and release of healthy wildlife, so human reliance is purposely kept to a minimum. I was so impressed when I researched this facility prior to my trip, and I whole-heartedly believe in their efforts after getting to witness it first-hand!

Day 11: Travel and return home

I can’t believe my time in Costa Rica has come to an end! It was a magical first visit to this country, and I really can’t wait to go back! It was even more special getting to spend two weeks with my mom, and I’m so thankful we got to enjoy this experience together!

Final thoughts on my first visit to Costa Rica:

I loved the Pura Vida attitude and the Tico culture. The food was exceptional and I could eat the fresh fruit, juice, coffee, chocolate, chorreadas, rice and beans all the time! *drooling* My favorite activities were the tubing, stand up paddle boarding, and waterfall rappelling. My favorite tours were at the Doka Estate and Toucan Rescue Ranch. There are several other areas that I want to explore – for example, Manuel Antonio National Park and sea turtle nesting in Santa Rosa National Park or Reserve Playa Tortuga – and I would love to return to La Fortuna for more adventures.

Have you been to Costa Rica? What are some areas and activities that you enjoyed? Drop a comment or tweet me!

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