In mid-October, the brilliant plan was proposed to book an impromptu birthday trip to Costa Rica for the first weekend in November. I’m not usually a last minute trip planner, but all that it took was finding the Nayara Hotel to jumpstart my vacation fingers.
Even though flights were ridiculously high, being that I’ve seen them as cheap as $250 RT from Houston to San Jose, work stressors pushed this trip to the top of my self care necessity list. However, I realized fast that choosing the Nayara Resort meant nixing any plans of sunbathing on the beach.
The Nayara Resort is located in the Arenal area, meaning that the nearest beach is more than 3 hours away. However, instead of changing resorts, I opted to make do with hot springs and jungle views.
Being that this was my first time visiting Costa Rica, I was honestly oblivious to the long commutes required to get to some of the best beaches and/or attractions. And if it wasn’t for my obsession with Nayara, I probably would have opted for a ocean view room at the JW Marriott Guanacaste. But I’ve learned through my travels that almost every destination has its gems, and below are some tips to enjoying Costa Rica outside of the beach:
1) Don’t skimp on your resort.
The best part of my stay in Costa Rica was the lavishness of my villa at Nayara. Between the views of the Arenal volcano from my balcony and the exceptional service, I could have easily stayed several weeks. Initially, it was a disappointment to not be able to get one of the Spring Villas, that came with your own pool filled with water from the hot springs, but I got over it the moment that I stepped foot into my Rainforest Villa. One of the best perks of staying at Nayara was the nightly turndown service. Imagine walking back into your room after a delicious multi-course dinner and several drinks to a newly made bed, all of your windows covered, and cookies and chocolates for a midnight snack. Even though the resort has 85 villas, each one was secluded enough for ultimate privacy, allowing me to experience my first outdoor shower without being worried about any peepers.
And yet, while the resort was large enough for privacy, it was still very walkable (even though I opted to call for a golf cart to get from from destination to destination). The staff was dedicated to making sure that your experience was perfect down to the last detail, and a couple of times, the owners could be spotted walking around the common areas just to check on resort guests.
Yes, I know that Costa Rica is a popular budget getaway, and I’m all for minimizing vacations expenses, however, the Nayara is one resort worth being add to your bucket list.
Just two days before I was scheduled to leave for my trip, I was rear ended by another driver leaving me with a sore back to take on vacation. This accident nixed any plans of doing any strenuous activities, but it didn’t alleviate being able to see the jungle from the Arenal hanging bridges.
The most recommended hot springs near Arenal are at Tabacon, but since I waited until the last minute, Tabacon had already reached their 100 guest capacity before I was able to book my slot. So instead, I went to Ecotermales, a family owned hot springs in the area. Both Tabacon and Ecotermales are the closest hot springs to the Arenal Volcano and the only 2 fed directly from the natural source.
The natural waters of the hot springs are said to be rich in minerals and great for rejuvenation, stress reduction, detoxifying your body, and relief from some medical ailments like arthritis or fibromyalgia.
You are only advised to stay in the hot springs in 15 minute increments to avoid dehydration, and there are refreshing drinks available steps away. The buffet style dinner was also pretty tasty and filled with authentic Costa Rican cuisine. Tabacon will be my first stop on my next visit, but Ecotermales was a great option as well.
And if you’re less of a stickler when it comes to your hot springs water source, there are a handful of others to choose from with different amenity options.
When I started this trip, my back hurt because of my car accident, but by the end of the weekend, I’m sure it was because of the amount of food that I consumed each day and having to carry my bigger stomach around.
My favorite dish of the trip was a black bean soup that was made on the resort. There are times when my food choices are limited due to my picky eating, but on this trip, it only took one meal to open up my palates. The fruits and vegetables were also all extremely fresh, since most of the produce is grown in and around the area.
Sidenote: There seems to be a heavy Italian influence in Costa Rica, because there had to be a pizzeria every few feet. And according to a couple that I met at the resort, the pizza was amazing.
5) Channel your inner adventurista.
Costa Rica is a place where the jungle and wild life thrive, but there are many “safe” adventures that can be had in the midst of your travels. The word safe is emphasized due to the number of tourists that have substained injuries by playing off the beaten path.
While I was on my trip this weekend, a group of tourists and their guide were injured hiking on an unapproved route near the Arenal volcano. The terrain near the volcano can be dangerous and unstable making even rescue attempts difficult for those that might find themselves in a bad situation. My brother and his girlfriend at the time were involved in a life-threatening snow mobile accident last winter, and that can be one of the scariest experiences ever. You can click here to read more about that adventure. And let me not get started on the Costa Rican wildlife …. Jumping vipers or Terciopelos anyone?!?
However, there are many tour companies that have capitalized on the growing tourism in Costa Rica for a variety of thrill packed adventures like zip-lining, white water rafting, ATV riding, waterfall climbing, etc, in approved areas.
Costa Rica is an amazing place that stayed on my bucket list for far too long, and I’m looking forward to going back. Have you been to Costa Rica? What are some of your favorite gems?