It’s true that Costa Rica stopped being a traveler’s secret sometime during the Reagan Administration. But who cares? Its relative popularity doesn’t diminish the untouched beauty and adventure that this Central American country offers travelers—especially if you go off the beaten path. Follow these tips for planning the ultimate weeklong Costa Rica experience.
Lose the Tour Groups. There are literally hundreds of highly skilled, extremely professional tour agencies based in Costa Rica that can plan every last detail of your trip. Forget about them. Organize your own adventure itinerary, and you’ll save cash that you can better spend on food, drink, and lodging.
Pick your patch of sand. Don’t flit around the country—Costa Rica is so large and diverse that your experience will feel watered down. Instead, choose one coastal location to base your adventures. You have four main options: The most popular place is the drier Central Pacific Coast, which is easiest to reach by car or plane. Choice number two is the volcano-pocked North Pacific. Choice number three is the wetter but slower-paced and more remote Caribbean Coast. Fourth is the rainforest-covered, sparsely inhabited southern Pacific coast. Costa Rica Undiscovered provides brief descriptions of each area.
Go boutique. If you’re considering an ecolodge with more than 50 rooms, think again. The smaller the capacity of the property, the more intimate and authentic the experience. One of the finest places to stay—in Costa Rica, or anywhere else in the world for that matter—is Lapa Rios, a collection of 16 cabanas on 1,000 acres of private reserve adjoining the Corcovado National Park on the South Pacific Coast (rates start at $380 a night). The blue ribbon budget option is the 12-room Lagarta Lodge, which boasts its own 90-acre preserve on the North Pacific (rates start at $67).
Put your lodge concierge to work. Nearly all eco-lodges will bend over backwards to help you plan daily adventures, from surf lesions, to zipline tours, to whitewater rafting, to mountain biking. Most of these arrangements can be made after you arrive, so you can allow for weather and whimsy to factor into your plans.
Go into town—and we don’t mean San Jose. Spend as little time as possible in the urban sprawl of capital city of San Jose, but do linger in the small towns near your eco-lodge. Costa Rica is an incredibly safe country if you follow all of the standard traveler’s precautions, and the people are warm and hospitable. Enjoy a lunch of gallo pinto (beans and rice) at a local cafe, browse the local shops, and brush up on your high school Spanish.