Road trip Costa Rica: route, tips and highlights

Recently, I was in Costa Rica for the first time. The land of imposing volcanoes (no less than 138), pristine beaches and laid-back surfing villages. Costa Rica is colorful and incredibly green. The country ranks 2nd in the list of cleanest countries in the world in terms of air and water quality, diversity of flora and fauna and energy consumption. In addition, the country is hugely committed to sustainability, and children learn from an early age how important nature is. Costa Rica is a popular surfing destination. In the morning, you are awakened by a symphony of bird sounds you never heard before. Plants, flowers and leaves are so unusual in shape and color that they seem to come out of a Pixar movie. I made a list of the best things to do during your road trip through Costa Rica!

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Road trip Costa RicaThe famous Fortuna waterfall | road trip Costa Rica | highlights

Pura Vida is a term you encounter everywhere in Costa Rica and it literally means “pure life,” but it has also become a synonym for “hakuna matata”. Enjoying life. You are greeted with it or you hear it when goodbyes are said. You wish someone ‘pura vida’: good luck. It reflects on the laid-back lifestyle of Costa Ricans: the ticos. A man is a tico and a woman a tica. A local described it like this: “Pura Vida means living a peaceful, simple, uncluttered life, with a deep appreciation for nature, family and friends.”

Road trip Costa RicaWalking in Volcán Arenal National Park | road trip Costa Rica | things to do

1. Swim at the Fortuna waterfall! After descending about 500 steps via a staircase and working on a very sweaty upperlip, you can cool off in the water of this beautiful waterfall. At another famous waterfall in Rio Celeste National Park, you are not allowed to swim, but here you can! When I meditate at home, I often visualize a waterfall, and my dream briefly became a reality here. The 500 steps back up, on the other hand, were very real…

2. Have lunch in La Fortuna.  After your visit to one of the beautiful waterfalls in the area, sit down at Don Rufino for a fancy lunch. We had a fantastic meal here. Should you want to go for a more budget-friendly option, try Jungle Bowls with delicious acai bowls and Organico Fortuna.

Road trip Costa RicaRio Celeste y Los Teñidos waterfall | road trip Costa Rica | highlights

3. Visit the Ecotermales at the foot of the impressive Arenal volcano. In Fortuna, you can visit many different hot springs, but unfortunately, many locations are a bit like a Disneyland attraction and are very touristy. But these Ecotermales are like a luxury spa! The individual baths all vary in temperature. Order a delicious Guaro Sour from the bar: my favorite drink with local liqueur, and float until your hands are shriveled in the healing water.


4. Visit Rio Celeste National Park and the famous waterfall Rio Celeste y Los Teñidos. The path to this waterfall is beautifully landscaped. We saw monkeys and a sloth high up in a tree! Unfortunately, you are not allowed to swim here. The Tapir Valley Nature Reserve is also highly recommended. Walk with a guide through this beautiful park, spot unusual birds, learn all about the flora and fauna and, if you are lucky, you will find a tapir!

Road trip Costa RicaThe impressive Arenal vulcano and a Scarlet-rumped tanager | Volcán Arenal National Park

5. Try tubing in Rio Celeste with Rio Celeste Aventuras. In inflated donuts, we race down the flowing river like a bunch of lemmings. Sort of like rafting, but just a little less intense. “Buts up!” shout the boys who are with us when some bigger rocks show up in the rapids. With my bum size it’s quite the challenge not to hit anything, but it was really awesome despite the one bruise! I cried with laughter. After tubing, have lunch at La Jarra in Katira and order delicious fajitas.

6. Spend the night at the Rio Celeste Mountain Lodge and take beautiful walks from there. Every evening there is delicious cooking here! The interior of the rooms is not quite my taste, but the location is fantastic. The lodge is run by a Frenchman and the wine here is, perhaps because of this, friendly priced for Costa Rican standards. This man understands what is important. The humidity was 96% during our stay, so keep anything that needs to stay dry inside your suitcase….


Rio Celeste Mountain Lodge | road trip Costa Rica | hotels and accommodations

7. Spot a sloth. OK, to be honest: you have to put a lot of effort into it, because these lazy animals, with an extremely high level of cuddliness (never really cuddle them of course), only come down to poop once a week. How polite that they do this so neatly on the ground instead of unloading the weekly load ‘on the go’ at high altitude on inattentive hikers. Très chique. Sloths sleep as much as 60% of their lives! They love the leaves of the cecropia tree. A kind of McDonald’s among leaves, as the leaves are very poorly digestible. Who knows what kind of life these animals would have if they changed their diet!

8. Visit Blue Zone Nicoya. Try the corn cakes from the Très Hermanas in Nicoya. There are savory and sweet varieties. Don’t expect cookies like the ones we buy in stores at home; the flavors are quite unique and can’t be compared to anything. Nicoya is a Blue Zone. The life expectancy of its inhabitants is extremely high. Other Blue Zones in the world are Okinawa and Sardinia. Who knows, maybe the cookies have a life-extending effect….

Road trip Costa RicaThe corn cookies by Très Hermanas in Blue Zone Nicoya

9. Have lunch at Locanda on the beach of Sámara. Paradise found! After hiking in rainforests and climbing volcanoes, it’s great to relax here, with your feet in the sand, having a fresh ceviche and an ice-cold corona! You can also spend the night at Locanda.


Have lunch at Locanda in Sámara | road trip Costa Rica | restaurants

10. Visit surf town Nosara. You have to prepare yourself for an adventure when you drive to Nosara by car. In fact, the roads in and to Nosara are so bad that, if you’re not careful, you might give yourself a little concussion by a firm tête-à-tête with the side window of your car. Tip: rent a quad bike when you stay here. Nosara is like Tulum, before Tulum became Tulum and was overrun by tourists and drug cartels. Have lunch at the cute La Ventanita, Destiny’s Café or Howler’s Beach Lounch. Shop at beautiful Love Nosara and WLDFLRS. Book surf lessons at the Nosara Surf School! Watch out for stingrays when you enter the water… Dine at IO- Artisan Food. End your evening with cocktails at the Jungle Cocktail Bar.


Nosara Costa Rica La VentanitaNosara | road trip Costa Rica | restaurants en highlights

11. Stay at Hotel Boutique Lagarta Lodge in Nosara. OK, you maybe have to rob a bank after your stay here, but what a fantastic end to our trip this was! The view of the jungle, the river inhabited by crocodiles, the calming sound of the sea ….. magical! We floated as long as possible in the beautiful infinity pools.


Hotel Lagarta Lodge in Nosara | Costa Rica hotels 


Accommodations in Costa Rica – hotels & hostels
Click on the name of the accommodation for rates and availability.

Hotels San José:
Alta Hotel: lovely 4-star hotel, with a beautiful pool, where you can quietly recover from your jet lag.
Hotel Bougainvillea: hotel run by a 90-year-old Dutchman, with a stunning garden.


Hotels Costa RicaThe beautiful garden at hotel Bougainvillea | road trip Costa Rica | hotels

Hotels in Fortuna:
Nayara Gardens: 5-star hotel with fantastic views of the volcano and beautiful setting.
Selina hostel: hostel with nice rooms, a swimming pool and a perfect location.


Hotels in Rio Celeste:
Rio Celeste Mountain Lodge
Finca La Amistad Cacao Lodge
Castitas Tenorio B&B and Farm


Hotels Nosara:
Hotel Lagarta Lodge
Surf Simply
The Harmony Hotel
Nalu Nosara
Casa Milo de Nosara


Best time to travel to costa rica

Year-round. Even in the rainy season; the months of July and August, there is plenty to do.

Road trip Costa RicaSpot a sloth! | highlights and things to do | Costa Rica


Costa Rica facts

You pay with the Costa Rican colon or U.S. dollars.
The tap water is drinkable and delicious almost everywhere!
The country has no army. 
Of the 138 volcanoes, 9 are active. These are closely monitored by seismologists.
Ticos love rocking chairs.
90% of tourists are North American.

Restaurants Costa RicaHave lunch at La Jarra after tubing | road trip Costa Rica | restaurants

The nature of Costa Rica made a deep impression on me. We saw toucans, beautiful flowers, unusual frogs, mysterious rainforests and, as icing on the cake, some very photogenic sloths. I wanted to sit in my rocking chair for days to come with a refreshing Guaro Sour in my hand. Pura vida!

The best flights to Costa Rica

I love to use Momondo #nospon to compare all my flight options. This website is the easiest to use and has excellent filters to find the flight you are looking for.