Day 1: Fly into San José
Let me start by saying that flying into San José was not the problem. Entrusting Spirit Airlines to handle over $1000 worth of surfing equipment was the problem. We started off our 10 day Costa Rica surf trip strong with zero surfboards and no luggage. I also happened to book our airbnb for the wrong date so day one we also didn’t have accommodations.
Aside from the chaos of our lost luggage we had probably the most pleasant rental car experience of my life. We booked a rental car through Wild Rider Rental Cars & they came through! They picked us up for free from the airport & took us to their headquarters where they gave us juice and water while we filled out all of our paperwork from a COUCH! Not to mention the entire place was wall-to-wall aquariums & had cute puppies running around.
We ended up renting a Jimmy 4x4 which worked perfectly for the rugged muddy terrain which cost us about $400 to rent for 10 days - so about $20/day per person! We got in pretty late & ended up renting a room from some random person on the street because of my booking mistake... oops!
Day 2-6: Santa Teresa
We decided to skip San Jose in order to spend the majority of our time on the coast. It is about a 5 hour drive from the capital to the surf town of Santa Teresa located on the South tip of the Puntarenas Peninsula. Rather than drive the length of the peninsula, we opted to take a car ferry across the bay which cost us about $15 and saved several hours of driving. The ferries operate 6 times a day & leave from the Nicoya Peninsula - you can pre-purchase tickets online. The ferry takes about 70 minutes, but it is a relaxing ride where you can get out of your car & enjoy the scenic views!
The AC on our car ended up breaking once we got about an hour after we got off the ferry. Once again, Wild Rider rental cars came through & literally delivered us a new car - despite the fact that we were already 3 hours out from them. While we waited we stopped at a little beach restaurant on Playa Gigante where we were literally the only customers.
We had about 6 beers & two giant platters of fish and our total came out to around $40. It is pretty common for fish to be fried head and all - It might look a little scary, but trust me, it is delicious & definitely worth a try. This was just one of our entrees.
Once we got our car switched over, we checked into our hotel in Santa Teresa! We splurged a little and booked a room at Mint - an adults only boutique hotel with only four rooms and a 9 guest max. We loved getting to spend some quiet time in nature and getting to know the owners of the hotel personally. Every room was equipped with a private rooftop terrace, ocean views, & a completely removable wall of windows. One of our favorite activities was napping during the afternoon rainstorm with the windows open & feeling like part of the jungle as we listened to the flocks of parrots fly around the neighboring trees.
In total our room was around $200/night ($1000 for 5 nights) and included access to the pool & a free breakfast of freshly baked bread, fruit, coconuts & coffee. Can you tell we enjoyed our time here? As a budget traveler I was hesitant to splurge at first, but our experience here was one of the highlights of the trip. As a couple who is very adventurous, coming home to a peaceful room at the end of a long day of surfing and ATV-ing felt like heaven.
5 days in Santa Teresa might seem long, but trust me, there is no shortage of things to do here. We ended up renting surf boards from Somos -a cute surf cafe which is a great place to stay for budget travelers. Although there are plenty of places to rent cheap boards, we wanted performance boards and Somos had a nice selection. It was around $250 per person to rent a board for the week - it was expensive but we were hoping Spirit would reimburse us for our lost boards (news flash... Spirit sucks & didn’t give us shit). We spent most of our time surfing at Playa Carmen & Playa Hermosa - two of the best beaches with sandy bottom breaks.
Another thing we recommend doing is renting ATV’s to explore some of the backroads and
waterfalls that are hard to access by car. There are flooded rivers & valleys all down to coastline making travel by car basically impossible. We rented ATVs for two days and explored the coastline & the Montezuma waterfalls. You can rent them pretty much anywhere along the main strip in Santa Teresa at the pretty standard price of $50/day. One thing to know when driving around Costa Rica (wether by car or ATV) is that there are often self-proclaimed “parking attendants” you will have to pay to “watch over your car” when you park, toss them a Colón and you should be good to go. Essentially you are paying them not to steal from you.
Because we were visiting during the rainy season, the water at Montezuma was pretty murky. We skipped the main waterfall and took a small twisty path up the mountainside to the right of the main waterfall. WEAR SHOES - we made the mistake of making this treacherous hike barefoot and I could literally hear bugs squishing under my feet with every step. It is a miracle we didn’t come home with some horrible jungle infection.
I don’t think many people realized the path continued, so we had the entire upper falls all to ourselves. The water up top was much cleaner & we enjoyed being the only ones in our jungle oasis! The falls up here were shorter and the perfect height for jumping, we spent most of the day sunbathing on rocks, swimming, and finished the day with a muddy ATV ride.
Day 7-9: Tamarindo
On day 7 we packed up and headed north to the slightly more tourist-y Tamarindo Beach where we stayed in a private room at Selina Hostel. It was a great budget option at $40/night, and included surfboard rentals. The room was comfortable & had AC, but the bathroom was about a 5 minute walk through a gravel courtyard filled with iguanas - not the walk you want to do at 3 AM. Tamarindo offered a nice variety of restaurants and shopping within walking distance of our hostel as well as much easier surfing. The break was further out from the beach, but you could walk almost the entire way out - making it much less exhausting than the break at Santa Teresa. We spent most of our time surfing & drinking Pina coladas at the beach bars.
Day 10-12: Volcan Arenal & La Fortuna
We spent the last three days of our trip exploring the highlands around the Arenal Volcano. It was around a 5 hour drive to the volcano but we spent the day stopping to eat at SODA’s (open air restaurants offering a selection of local dishes at GREAT prices) and hiking waterfalls we saw along the road.
Our favorite way to find non-tourist attractions is to use google maps on satellite mode to scope out rivers, beaches, or waterfalls that look interesting! One of our favorites was the Viento Fresco Waterfall system. Once again we found ourselves completely alone with beautiful 100ft waterfalls surrounding us. If you visit this waterfall there is a small “visitors” shack close to the entrance - we recommend driving past it as the man inside will try to get you to pay $20 each as a “visitor fee” - there is no signage stating fees so we just ignored him & no one bothered us:)
When we left Tamarindo we had not yet booked accommodations for the next several nights and decided to take our chances. We stumbled upon the Finca Luna Nueva Lodge - which ended up being an amazing experience. We had booked a basic room online for around $88/night before we arrived & ended up getting a free upgrade to the “dome suite” - a private jungle oasis inside a beautiful dome structure that is normally $300+/night! There was a restaurant on property that offered free breakfast & a unique farm-to-table dining experience where all the food was grown on the premises!
We enjoyed staying at the eco-lodge so much we didn’t even leave the grounds the next day! We spent all day swimming in the pool, relaxing in the hot tub, taking a tour of the farm, sneaking up into the observatory, and taking a chocolate making class where we learned how to make traditional Costa Rican chocolate!
The next day concluded our trip & we drove 3 hours back to San Jose where we dropped off our muddy rental car & headed home! Once again Wild Rider Rental’s was the best & didn’t bat an eye at our disgusting car and gave us a lift to the airport.
We would love to know if this article was helpful! Comment below with what questions you have & what else you would like to know about travel in Costa Rica!