This is post 1 of 3 about Costa Rica.
Our engagement was during a canyoning trip to Utah, so it seemed like a nature fit that our honeymoon should be to Costa Rica, another canyoning destination. Jon, my personal travel agent, planned every aspect of this trip. We wanted to go immediately following the wedding because my job was more lenient about my vacation days that way. This put us in Costa Rica a during the middle of the ‘green’ (or wet season) when tourism is low, which was actually perfect for us.
No trips are without their hiccups. For this trip our hiccup occurred before we even left the country when our plane was delayed for hours in Miami. It was dusk by the time we arrived in San Jose, and too late to make the drive to our first destination Arenal. The rental car company recommended a small B&B in the Cathedral District of San Jose. La Guaria wasn’t much to look at and felt more like a hostel than a B&B but was fine for one night. At the owner’s recommendation, we walked to El Balcon (the balcony) for dinner. We wanted Costa Rican food so we had the first of many casado’s this trip. Casado is simply a platter with a meat, rice, beans, and salad.
The drive to Arenal, and our first hotel, was approximately 3 hours and because we were paying for a luxury resort there (that we hadn’t even gotten to) we decided to leave San Jose very early that morning. The drive to Arenal was much better than we’d expected after we heard rumors of Costa Rican roads (although those rumors would be justified later on in our trip). We got to our hotel in Arenal, Nayara, around 9am and in time for breakfast.
Arenal is named for the Arenal volcano, an active volcano in the rain forest around which a resort town of hot-springs, spas, and outdoor adventure activities has developed. Nayara is a world-class resort known for catering to honeymooners like ourselves and was probably one of our largest travel splurges. We were greeted with cool drinks and taken to our room on a golf cart. We loved the room (or should I say cottage) which was amazing. It was a single round cabin building divided down the center creating two living areas, a bedroom and a luxurious bathroom. Outside, a wrap-around covered pouch had loungers, hammocks, and a jacuzzi. We also had a private outdoor shower. Although there were cabins just feet from ours, from the porch you couldn’t see anything but just lush rainforest. We made it into our cabin just as it started to rain. We were worried the rainy weather would prevent us from enjoyinh the volcano view we’d been looking forward to; luckily the weather cleared up for a while on our second day and we had an amazing view of the smoking peak.
After our rough start we decided to do something relaxing and went to some hot springs. We had heard a lot about Baldi Hot Springs, but Nayara advised against it and instead recommended a cheaper one that would be less crowded. Eco Termales had 5 pools of different temperatures. The place was completely empty except for two other couples also from our hotel. To continue our relaxing day, we booked a romantic 5 course wine pairing at Nayara for dinner. My biggest regret of the entire trip was stopping by the resort happy hour before dinner and filling up on big fruity drinks. Dinner was semi-private (as they seat 3 tables a night) and was a very long 5 courses. I didn’t particularly care for the wines; perhaps they were too refined for my 2 buck-chuck taste. The food was elegant and exciting.
Finally it was our canyoneering day! We booked a canyoneering/rafting combo trip with Desafio. Desafio picked us up at the hotel before breakfast even started. After some check-in items at the main office we were transferred to the ‘jungle limo’ and driven to base camp. The first repel was about 50 ft long and in a waterfall so there was no avoiding getting soaked. The second repel, my favorite, was approximately a 100 ft drop but the last 50 feet are ‘guided’ (a zipline). Hiking through the lust canyon was one of our favorite parts of the adventure. Especially where we were asked to canonball into a narrow canyon pool. The canyoneering ended with two more repels. In general we enjoying canyoneering in Utah better, as it was longer, more technical, and felt more genuine. This was definitely the family friendly version, but fun none the less.
Back at base camp we were given a ‘breakfast’ of Gallo Pinto (another meal we’d be eating a lot of this trip, also a platter of beans and rice but with eggs and fried plantains). After canyoneering we had our rafting trip. On our way there it started to POUR cold rain; but rain doesn’t stop anything in Costa Rica, in fact the guides swear it makes the rafting better. Our raft trip was down Rio Balsa, a dam controlled river. Our guide Fabio was great. On the first rapid the boat in front of us flipped and we got to ‘rescue’ those tourists, pulling them into our raft. The rapids were rated 1-3 but were more intense than similarly rated ones we’ve done in The States. Rafting ended up being one of our favorite parts of the trip. After rafting Desafio took us to La Casona de Rio Fortuna for a cultural lunch (more casado) which was our favorite meal of the trip. We also got to know another couple on our rafting trip who we’d see again later in Manuel Antonio. Back at Nayara we indulged in another honeymoon splurge, a couples spa package including a Swedish massage, facial, and milk bath.
The next morning was our last few hours in Arenal and we decided to take a morning hike to La Fortuna Waterfall. We were some of the first people to arrive at the waterfall trail entrance. Of course it was chilly and raining when we got there. At the start of the hike is a nice overlook of the 75 foot falls. We climbed down the many stairs to the bottom where you can swim at base of the falls. The rain was only starting to let up but Jon couldn’t wait to swim. He had heard that the force of the water was so much that it was impossible to swim to, and it was for him but he tried a few times. Finally it was time to leave Arenal, our next stop would be Monteverde.
Arenal was a wonder destination in Costa Rica with everything we could have wanted; relaxing spas and hot springs, jungle hiking, and water sports. Nayara was beautiful and romantic and the perfect way to start any honeymoon. If you go when we did, be prepared for rain, but don’t let it stop you from anything you want to do while you are there!
La Guaria $60/night – I got the impression this was recommended to us because the car rental trusted them to have a secure (enclosed) parking space for our vehicle. It’s no thrills hotel and room but was great for us in a pinch.
Nayara $400/night – Travel+Leisure’s #4 ranked hotel in 2013. Our biggest planning error of the trip was not having more time to spend on the resort’s grounds, pools, and restaurants.
Eco Termales ($35/person) – A private retreat if you just want to get away. No need for reservations.
Desafio Adventure Company – Expect a full day of outdoor activity that the whole family can keep up with.
Badi Resort and Hot Springs – If hot springs and spas are your calling, this is the place that’s recommended.
Horse back to Monteverde – It was suggested to us that you can take horseback rides around Lake Arenal as the first leg of the trip to Monteverde.