Just Back From: A Week In Costa Rica


We had the opportunity to catch up with Scott Dubois, our senior web designer, who spent an exciting eight days exploring Costa Rica. His stays included our Harper-recommended property Arenas del Mar Beachfront & Rainforest Resort in Manuel Antonio, as well as a family friend's condo in Punta Leona.

In his Costa Rica itinerary, he shares valuable insights, including what traditional Costa Rican meals to try and where to find live reggae music in Montezuma.

Eight Days in Costa Rica

Gayle Ellis

Trip Details

8-Day Itinerary

Atmosphere & Safety

Costa Rica is one of the safest countries in Latin America, has decent roads, and is a great place to take the kids.

Food & Drink

Be sure to eat the traditional Costa Rican breakfast (gallo pinto) and lunch (casado), that consist of rice, beans, fried plantains, and a protein. Try fresh coconut juice, passion fruit, avocado and seafood. Cerveza Imperial is the most popular Costa Rican beer and a good way to wash everything down.

Getting There

Customs was very easy getting in, and more difficult leaving, where you have to pay an exit tax ($30) and wait in longer lines.

Getting Around

There are many good tour operators that will drive you around the country, but we rented a car for the freedom and adventure.


Travel to Arenas del Mar, Manuel Antonio

We arrived at the San Jose airport and went straight to the rental car pickup. The road along the Pacific coast was slow but in good condition.

Once we arrived in Quepos, we drove down a series of windy roads. Arenas del Mar signs pointed the way, and we arrived as the sun was setting. An attentive pair of concierges greeted us with orange flower-flavored water. They loaded our luggage into a golf cart and shuttled us through the coastal rainforest to the lobby.

Capuchin monkeys howled in the trees around our balcony, and we were told to keep our mini fridge locked so that they didn’t steal the local snacks that were stocked for us.

We had reservations at the small Playita’s restaurant on the beach soon after arrival. A reggae band was playing that night which added to the atmosphere.


Arenas del Mar Surfing

The breakfast at Arenas del Mar is wonderful and is served at El Mirador restaurant on the the top of the hill. You're offered a choice of local favorite egg dishes, breakfast classics and a selection of local fruit, many of which – like milk fruit – you'll never find at your local grocery store. The coffee was also good and had been grown close by.

We booked treatments at the Arenas del Mar spa, and the masseuses were very nice.

While we were at the spa, the concierges moved our luggage to the Ocean View Room we had reserved for the next two nights. The view from our wraparound balcony was spectacular and had a hot tub.

We spent the rest of the day walking the beach and surfing at a small break near the hotel.

Having worn ourselves out surfing, we booked a national park tour for the next morning and called-in room service.

Sunset view at Arenas Del Mar
Sunset view at Arenas Del Mar - Scott Dubois


Manuel Antonio & Arenas del Mar

"It is one of the last remaining patches of coastal rainforest on the central pacific coast of Costa Rica."

We rose early the next morning to take a guided hike of Manuel Antonio National Park, a popular national park.

As we walked further, the crowds thinned out, and we were able to enjoy the beauty of the park. It is one of the last remaining patches of coastal rainforest on the central pacific coast of Costa Rica, and is home to a huge variety of mammal species, including white faced capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, bats, and two types of sloths.

Capuchin Monkey in Manuel Antonio National Park
Capuchin Monkey in Manuel Antonio National Park - Scott Dubois

On the hike, we stopped at Manuel Antonio beach. This cove was more tranquil than the other beaches in the area and was worth the price of the trip alone. Fresh coconut vendors await you at the park exit, and I definitely recommend the jugo de coco on a hot day.

The rest of the afternoon we spent body surfing and reading at the resort's small beach.

That night we relaxed on the balcony and enjoyed the view.


Drive to Punta Leona

The next morning we had one last amazing breakfast, and left Manuel Antonio for our next stop in Punta Leona.

After settling into a friend's condo, we headed down to Playa Blanca beach for sunset.

We went hunting for a good dinner spot which proved difficult (it was Valentine's Day). We finally settled on El Pelicano in nearby Playa Herradura. It was overpriced and not that great, so on the way back we stopped at a supermercado and picked up snacks and beer for the rest of the trip.



We were a little tired of the crowds so we decided to take a speedboat across the Gulf of Nicoya to Montezuma for a night.

Zuma Tours will pick you up and take you to the launch spot on Playa Herradura. The ride across the gulf takes an hour-and-a-half and is relatively smooth. En route, we stopped briefly to whale watch and saw spotted dolphin, bottle-nose dolphin, and pilot whales.

Montezuma Beach Landing
Montezuma Beach Landing - Scott Dubois

Montezuma is a small dusty bohemian town with a lot of charm. Expats mingle with tico rastafarians in the dusty streets, small shops, and hostels.

We booked a room for the night at Amor del Mar. The polished hotel is on the water just outside of town and is located directly across the street from the popular Montezuma waterfall trail.

After unpacking, we hiked to the falls that the town is known for. It’s a relatively short hike, but does involve some creek jumping and bouldering.

We stopped in for drinks at Cocolores that evening, and went to Organico for dinner. Las Plantitas, a local reggae band, provided some great live reggae.


Playa Hermosa & Punta Leona

The next morning, we took Zuma Tours back to Playa Herradura. We drove south to Playa Hermosa, a famous spot for big waves and surfing. After lunch we returned to Punta Leona and went to a butterfly aviary. One of my favorite parts of our stay at Punta Leona was the scarlet macaws and blue morpho butterflies you see while exploring the area.

That night we spontaneously decided to leave the coast a day early to go see the Arenal Volcano.


Eco Termales Hot Springs by Wynn Myers

La Fortuna & Eco Termales

It’s a three-hour drive from Punta Leona to La Fortuna.

On the way out of town, we stopped at the bridge over the Tarcoles river to see the famous crocodillos. Around 20-30 large crocodiles sun on the riverbanks daily.

The drive to La Fortuna was harrowing because the Pan American highway was narrower than I had imagined. However, the drive into the cloud forest was gorgeous.

We didn’t have a hotel booked when we got into town, so we had to drive around for awhile. The cinder cone Arenal Volcano loomed over the highway and was very impressive.

After unpacking at the hotel we found, we went straight to Eco Termales hot springs. It had been recommended as the least touristy springs in the area. Eco Termales was small and understated. The 100-114 degree water felt amazing after the long drive. We stayed for the entire afternoon, and saw toucans and howler monkeys in the trees while we lounged in the pools.

After swimming, we had dinner at Don Rufino restaurant.


San Jose & Departure

The drive from La Fortuna to the airport was pretty easy, even though the first half was slow-going through the dense mountain fog.

Leaving Costa Rica is more difficult than entering. You have to pay a $30-per-person exit tax to get your boarding passes and wait in a TSA-style line to get to the gates. Despite that, we had few problems and flew safely home.

Stay up to date with all of our globetrotting travel advisors and staff. See more staff trip reports in our Just Back From series on The Harper Way.

By Scott Dubois Guest Contributor

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