By Carla Marie Rupp
There are many things to do in Costa Rica, especially for those on a budget, ever more so for a woman traveling alone.
But first of all, just where is Costa Rica? In Central America between Nicaragua and Panama, it’s a Latin American country at peace, where you meet travelers from all over the world and find friendly locals who welcome you. (See the map of Costa Rica below). It’s a safe place to travel, so on my Costa Rican adventure I went budget, going from the big city to small, fun towns I heard about along the way.
Costa Rica is fine for solo traveling but you still need to keep your wits about you, as anywhere. Still though, surprises and amazing moments await at nearly every turn.
Airports in Costa Rica
The airports in Costa Rica are Juan Santamaría Airport (SJO) in San José, and Liberia Airport (LIR) in Guancaste. Both airports accept international flights.
I landed and started my trip in lively San Jose (see the map of Costa Rica below), where my budget lodging reference had come from a friend, and I spent a few days there before moving on to four or five smaller, easy-to-like, lovely and friendly towns. A few days there was a good introduction to the country since it gave me an understanding of the beautiful Costa Rican urban culture and its special Latin and international flavor. I strolled about the city visiting its museums (there’s even a museum for gold) and lingering in coffee shops watching people strolling every which way, just absorbing the culture.
Map of Costa Rica: Where to Go
This map of Costa Rica depicts the tour taken by the author by public bus. It is interactive; press +/- to enlarge it or make it smaller. It can also be viewed, and the route followed, on your smartphone.
Things to Do in Costa Rica
After a few days I decided to move on to some little towns out in the country. My travel adrenaline was in high gear and and I soon found there are many things to do in Costa Rica, no matter what your interest. I was loving every minute of it, just serendipitously finding things to do.
I usually took public bus transportation (the map of Costa Rica shows the bus routes taken) although tour vans can be purchased for more money. I also walked a lot and traveled without hotel reservations, finding rooms as I went. I found that sometimes the low-cost little hotels have their own touts who surround you as you get off the public bus and I learned to give them a chance. They worked out fine, and some even peddled low-cost tours to jungles, horseback riding, spas and trips to waterfalls, and volcanoes.
After a bus ride from San Jose, I arrived in cute Montezuma, a town full of galleries and little shops, including one in which I found a perfect, cool traveling dress and some shirts I couldn’t resist buying. I never wanted to leave this small town since it was filled with fun-loving people of all ages. There was so much to do here, including horseback riding on the beautiful beach. Some restaurants even offered movies in the evening, and I enjoyed relaxing in one that did. In the mornings I would have breakfast at a favorite cozy cafe where I would sit on the deck and watch the monkeys play in the tropical trees.
Other adventures included several boat trips, and one a day-trip to an island with, of course, swimming on a pristine little beach and eating a delicious fish lunch. Another time I took a speedboat (unfortunately) to another town and beach near Jaco Beach across the way. I soon found a resort with a great brunch and took in more of the seashore. In the water, a few Costa Rican families chatted with me, sharing their holiday experiences. We took pictures of each other.
More Things to Do In Costa Rica
I don’t think visitors ought to leave Costa Rica without hiking in the forest. I, for one, couldn’t resist the combination of beach, butterflies, bird watching and lush jungle vegetation, and when I learned about Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio National Park I had to go there for at least a few days.
Quepos turned out to be the most economical town for finding a little guesthouse near the beach and the national park. I loved my sweet room, strolling around the town, which is known for its sport fishing and plenty of friendly people. It’s even a great spot for finding gelato of all kinds!
The world-known Manuel Antonio National Park is only a short public bus ride away from town. I blissfully enjoyed everything the park had to offer, including its amazing blue butterflies and the spectacular landscapes in the forest and on the beach. I admired the European bird-watchers who had traveled here with all their gear. They were in heaven and they even let me view some birds through their lenses, a thrilling experience.
Today in the forests and jungles around the world zip-line canopy trips – “flying through the trees” from platform to platform above the canopy of the forest – are very popular and I did a number of them around Costa Rica. When I first tried it in Quepos I hardly knew what it was, except that it was something I’d be brave enough to try. I totally loved the canopy ride since it made me feel so alive, and the tour included picking me up at my little budget low-rise hotel. There are also trips across the jungle in ski-lift type chairs.
La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano
Finally, it was on to the town of La Fortuna, famous for its view of the Arenal Volcano, which I endlessly enjoyed looking at, even at sunset. What a fun town to walk around in and meet new people, and take lots of tours. If you go, don’t miss the spa just outside the town with the hot springs soaking pools.
I ended up staying longer in La Fortuna to experience more walks into the jungle since I loved looking at all the wildlife. (I even admired the beauty of cows in a field on one nature tour, I was delighting in the animals so much.) The sightings of iguanas provided even more exotic enjoyment. A walk to a waterfalls and horseback riding (and you guessed it, another canopy zip-lining ride) completed my visit here before moving on.
In Playa Hermosa Guancaste (there are actually two Playa Hermosa towns), I was just walking along a lovely stretch of beach and signed up for a snorkeling trip on a boat. What a dream time it was, a fantastic trip with others laughing and joking. Plus I saw plenty of pretty, colorful tropical fish and was able to explore a little island we visited. There’s also some good diving there.
I met several different Americans and a Canadian who stayed and made lives for themselves in this pleasant part of Costa Rica, opening a dive shop (I took a refresher course!), a hotel, and a restaurant. It’s worth visiting the area and relaxing on the rarely crowded beach.
Seeing the spectacular Costa Rican sunset gave me one of my last memorable views of a country I’d come to love after having an adventure easily taken solo as I did. Costa Rica can be a paradise of pleasure in sports, hiking, taking joy in wildlife and fauna and meeting people along the way.
Being there made me feel so alive. I’ll certainly go back one day – and fly through the air again on another canopy ride! Costa Rica, I miss you…especially the small towns I shared with the enchanting attractions all around them.
If you go:
Visit Costa Rica – The Costa Rica Tourism Board
Montezuma, Costa Rica
Manuel Antonio Park, Costa Rica