Airfares over spring break were so high that when I saw this (somewhat circuitous) affordable route from New York to Costa Rica, I booked immediately. Three of us (two adults, one child) spent six nights there recently. Note: We did not zipline and sought out hikes and less tethered (read free) experiences. Consider our itinerary anyway.
We landed late at night at Juan Santamaria Airport outside San Jose. We decided to just drive the three hours to Monteverde in the middle of the night. We paid extra for this but it was worth it to wake up and be ready to go in Monteverde, known for stunning vistas, waterfalls, a cloud forest and incredible wildlife. We stayed at an eco-lodge owned by my husband’s college classmate, called Valle Escondido. Honestly, this made our trip so much more educational than we expected. The lodge is really a farm and an experiment in permaculture. I was struck by how much the principles of this regenerative farming method align with the best of building a business and community media. But I digress.
We had breakfast, toured the farm and learned all about compost, ground cover, the nutrients of eggshells, intricate irrigation design, how to listen and integrate local needs, embrace diversity, play the long game and rest on hammocks while worms and microorganisms might save us all. Then we napped and and headed into downtown Santa Elena for lunch at the Tree House restaurant (it really is one) and shopped for souvenirs (like a hammock) and grabbed coffees at Cafe Monteverde.
We returned for an incredible night hike on the grounds of Valle Escondido. We were in awe over the color and proximity of the birds, the sounds of owls and insects, the slime of crickets and beetles, the scurry of rats and tarantulas, the constant labor of ants and the pause it forces when you realize … man, ants work really, really hard.
We ended with dinner at the hotel restaurant overlooking a full moon and streaks of lightning and more stars than we get to see back in New York City.
We woke up to breakfast at Valle Escondido and headed to Selvatura for the hanging bridges experience. I gotta say this was a bit like Disneyland and not quite our vibe. Seeing all the lines around us, we opted for a self-guided tour with hopes of being able to break away from the packs of people. We also decided not to do zip lining.
The hanging bridges were cool, but our highlight of this day was walking a steep uphill path to Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. Our tween was about to lose her mind (two hikes in a day is not acceptable to her) so we did the simple 1-mile loop. No matter: We got to the top of a watch tower that really made us feel as if we were in the clouds, with a clear view for miles around including a view of the volcano. It was breathtaking. Even our daughter agreed.
We caught a shuttle back to town and inhaled garlic shrimp, empanadas, soup and a hamburger at Soda La Amistad. We shopped some more and ran back to the hotel to change and catch the last tour of the nearby butterfly museum. It was decent.
We came back to take a nap and to shower and change. Over dinner (our last in Monteverde) we recapped the day and gazed out onto the valley below.
The adults awoke early in Monteverde, and hiked around the valley starting at 6 a.m. The waterfalls and vistas were beautiful (uphill lots of ways!) We ate our last breakfast and rushed to hike down to Catarata Los Murcielagos-Monteverde Waterfall and back up.
The waterfall is gorgeous. We were fast and just took photos and ran back to meet our car and driver.
We drove to Manuel Antonio with a stop at the Crocodile Bridge in Tarcoles and a buffet lunch at Los Cocodrilos. We arrived at the Karahe Hotel, which has a pool and is on the beachfront, in time to go swimming, read and relax.
A friend had advised us to book a sunset dinner at El Lagarto and we are so glad we did. It uses an elaborate charcoal cooking system for grilled meats and seafood. People warned us the food would not be great in Costa Rica but we ended up really loving our meals — and the sunsets.
Manuel Antonio National Park was crowded but awesome (our guide called it Disney-like before we could). Our daughter loved seeing the monkeys and sloths so close up. I was floored by the beach views. … We were starving by lunchtime and loved a generous spread at the Falafel Bar. We took naps and lazed on the beach. We had a great dinner at La Luna, impressed with the golf carts that get you there.
After breakfast at the hotel, we did one last hike to the beach at Playa Biesanz. Warning: it’s a bit rocky so you might want water shoes. We saw lots of families snorkeling nearby and you can pay for gear, chairs and umbrellas.
On our way out we finally saw a two-toed sloth! We drove onward to the sprawling Hacienda Belen for our last day in Costa Rica and goodness what a way to go out: pool, spa, gym, yoga class, sushi dinner and I finally finished reading my book…