Last week we enjoyed a fun visit from my wife’s parents who came down for nine days. This is the third time we’ve had family visit since we’ve lived in Costa Rica, and while we really like having visitors, we’ve gotten kind of tired of showing the same sites over and over again, especially when they’re expensive tourist spots. Yes, La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Monteverde Cloud Forest, and the beach are awesome places. But having done them each 3 times in the past year, we decided we’d like to try something new. Fortunately, Costa Rica has no shortage of beautiful and fun places to visit, including many we had not yet experienced.
Puerto Viejo, Limon
The first place we visited together was Puerto Viejo, a small beach town on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. We had never been there before, but we absolutely loved it! The drive was lovely as well – lush and green the whole way (4 hours from San Jose), despite it being the dry season. The weather was warm and humid (just how I like it), and the food was some of the best I’ve had in Costa Rica. We especially enjoyed the Chile Rojo restaurant, where we had some incredible sushi and a coconut crusted sea bass in banana salsa that just melted in your mouth – mmmm!!
Around Puerto Viejo, we toured a sloth sanctuary where we learned all about sloths, got to pet some, and took a canoe ride down a river to spot some wildlife. We encountered monkeys in the trees, some cool crabs, bats, and of course, birds. Later, we toured an indigenous chocolate farm, where we learned how the Bribri Indians used to make chocolate for medicinal purposes. Interestingly, they never really used it for candy until the white man came along. Of course we bought some chocolate and ate it as well.
We also visited the Jaguar Rescue Center, which, despite not housing any jaguars, was very cool. We saw and learned about many different kinds of animals. The kids got to have a squirrel ride on their shoulder as they walked, and they got to hold a red eyed tree frog, too! But the best part, in my opinion was when we got to enter a cage of about 10 howler monkeys, and play with them. They climbed all over us, held our hands, and were very sweet. Fortunately, no one in our group got urinated on, although there was a close call.
Of course we visited the beach while in Puerto Viejo. I especially enjoyed Playa Cocles, which had very clear, warm water and soft sand, with no rocks, and hardly any debris. Just a perfect little beach. We rented a bodyboard and enjoyed the waves until the sun set.
Baldi Hot Springs, La Fortuna
After spending a night at home in Escazu to recover from the long drive, we headed out to Baldi Hot Springs Resort in La Fortuna. We’d been to La Fortuna before, and have stayed at Los Lagos Resort twice, but we love the area and the beautiful Arenal volcano. We also heard that Baldi hot springs was one of the best in the area, so we decided to check it out. It was a really nice place, with fantastic views of the volcano from the rooms. It had over 20 pools of various temperatures to enjoy, and three slides (although two of them were closed for repairs).
Just about every town in Costa Rica has a Canopy Tour (zip line) and if you come to Costa Rica, it’s something you’ll probably want to try. We really enjoyed the one at Selvatura park in Monteverde, but we’d heard some good things about Arenal Mundo Aventura in La Fortuna, which has a zip-line right in front of the La Fortuna waterfall. Since Jen is pregnant, she couldn’t go, and the girls didn’t bring their close-toed shoes, so Don & Michelle (my wife’s parents) went zip-lining together, while Jen and I got a massage at the resort, and the kids watched tv in the hotel room. It was a nice, relaxing afternoon.
From Arenal, we drove around the lake and onto the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. This is a drier part of the country with much less green. We’ve been to a few of the beach towns in the area before, but not Tamarindo, which is one of the most popular ones. We stayed in a nice vacation rental there, just a block from the beach, with its own private pool. We went surfing, relaxed in the sun, played in the pool, and ate at some nice restaurants.
The best part, of course, was just being with Don & Michelle, having great conversations, seeing them interact with the kids, and enjoy our vacation together. I’m glad they had a good time, despite continually getting creamed in foosball and pool. :)
I’m also glad we discovered that some of the best vacation spots in Costa Rica were still available for us to explore. It’s easy for me to start feeling again like I’ve already seen it all, but I’m sure if I look harder, I will uncover some other hidden gems. Or perhaps we could do some repeats. I’m really looking forward to the next time I can get back to Puerto Viejo for more of the best sushi I’ve ever had in my life!