Updated: Aug 22
Happy New Year! What better way to kick off 2022 than to travel to a new destination? This month, I headed to San Jose, Costa Rica with my boyfriend for a weekend of fun and new adventures. We left from Chicago and had a very short connection in Houston. The total travel time was about 5 hours to get to San Jose.
Costa Rica has two international airports: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO), located in San Jose, and the Guanacaste Airport (LIR), located in Liberia, Costa Rica. San Jose is the capital city of Costa Rica. Flying into the capital city means heavy traffic in both the airport and on the roads, especially during peak tourist season. We waited in customs at SJO for almost two hours. The lines in customs are long, as many tourists are visiting Costa Rica to escape the winter temps in other parts of the world. Superstar actress Emma Roberts recently described Costa Rica as the "most beautiful reset," and I couldn't agree with her more.
Expect to wait in the customs line for at least an hour or two. Have your passport and travel documents ready.
Book your flight as early as you can, preferably one with an early arrival time.
We stayed in an Airbnb in the gastronomic area of San Jose called Barrio Escalante. This section of San Jose has plenty of restaurants and bars within walking distance of most of the condos and host homes in the area. Our driver, Luis, picked us up from the airport and took us to the Airbnb which took about 40 minutes with traffic. Our Airbnb was a renovated condo equipped with a rooftop hot tub and exercise equipment. We walked around and enjoyed trying different cuisines and drinks from the wide selection of restaurants and bars.
For my vegans and vegetarians, Samadhi is an excellent choice for dining in. The aesthetic is cozy-chic, as you are surrounded by plenty of greenery and low lights. All of the meal options that say "pollo" are actually meatless, with "chicken" made from soy protein. I had the "pollo shawarma," and it was absolutely delicious...it tasted like real chicken. We ordered fried pickles or "pickle strips," for the appetizer. I would also recommend Casa Baula for the vibes and Sasta Pub for the food and drinks.
Fun Fact: Guaro is the national liquor of Costa Rica.
Costa Rica is known for its greenery and rich vegetation all around the country. The tropical rainforests make for the perfect grounds for countless plants to grow and thrive. The air was fresh and the weather was absolutely perfect. January is a great time to visit Costa Rica, as the dry season is mid-December through April. You may need to bring a light jacket for the evenings, as the temperature dropped slightly, but never lower than 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Costa Rica is known for its beaches, rainforests, volcanoes, and...hot springs! I couldn't leave Costa Rica without visiting the hot springs. Natural hot springs are formed at the bottom of volcanoes and are heated by geothermal heat. Countless resorts boast their hot springs as a popular tourist attraction, but be sure to double check that the hot springs are natural and non manmade. There are many tours you can book that include stops at the Arenal volcano (one of seven active volcanoes in Costa Rica) and the hot springs. Most of the tourist stops at the hot springs are at resorts built on the grounds of the hot springs. We traveled to Baldi Hot Springs Resort Hotel & Spa, which is in La Fortuna, home of the Arenal Volcano.
To get to Baldi Springs (and mostly all of the natural hot springs in Costa Rica), it takes about 2.5-3 hours by car from San Jose. You can take the local bus or book a shuttle to get there too, but it will take longer (about 4 hours). The other option is to book a tour that includes hotel pickup and drop-off to and from San Jose, which will cost more but will likely include multiple stops on the all-day tour. If you have a short stay in Costa Rica, I recommend that you book a tour to get the most out of your experience.
Baldi Hot Springs has 25 different thermal pools. Each pool is labeled with its own sign that describes the temperature of the pool in Celsius and Fahrenheit.
Relaxing in the hot springs was the highlight of our trip. The weather was perfect, the water was refreshing, and the views of the volcano were spectacular. Several of the pools are equipped with swim-up bars, fully stocked with all of your favorite drinks. It felt good to relax in the pools and then cool down with some of the signature drinks.
At most of the hot springs, you can pay for a day pass that allows you access to the hot springs all day and night until about 10:00pm. For $59, we spent the entire day at Baldi Hot Springs and our day pass included a buffet-style lunch. We had unlimited access to all of the pools, bars, food, and of course...the water slides!
At Baldi, there are three "extreme water slides," each with different speeds, twists, and turns. It was fun to slide down the water slides and land in warm water, not to mention, you're surrounded by such rich plant vegetation. 10/10, I highly recommend.
The buffet lunch was a nice break in the day. The buffet featured a variety of options, including items from the local Costa Rican cuisine. We really enjoyed the Olla de Carne, better known as beef stew. While you're in Costa Rica, be sure to try the rice, chifrijo, and patacones.
Being surrounded by lush and leafy plants while relaxing in the warm pools was honestly a top tier travel experience. We couldn't have picked a better place to relax, enjoy, and adventure all at the same time.
While in Costa Rica, I was hoping to spot a sloth hanging out in the trees. Unfortunately, I didn't spot one this trip, but I did spot a friendly gecko, who was so unbothered by the tourists admiring his cool camouflage.
We traveled to La Fortuna to spend the day at Baldi, but we couldn't leave without getting a good view of the Arenal volcano. Arenal is one of the largest stratovolcanoes in the world, meaning it is a symmetrical volcano, the same on both sides. It's really difficult to get an up close view of Arenal without the clouds blocking the top of the volcano, but if you go early in the day or between February-April to see it, you are more likely to see an unobstructed view of Arenal.
Fun fact: Arenal is still an active volcano and it last erupted in 2010.
There are various tours you can book to see more of the volcano, including canopy tours in the rainforest, horseback riding tours, ATV rides, and hanging bridge tours. Most of these tours include hotel pick-up and drop-off.
The resort wasn't too packed with other tourists, and at times it felt like we had the pools to ourselves. There are lockers for rent to store your belongings and you can also rent towels for $10 USD. I recommend bringing your own towel and even a few snacks to munch on throughout the day, in between lunch or dinner. There is also a souvenir shop and a full service spa at Baldi Hot Springs. If you're interested in booking a spa treatment, you should do so in advance directly through the resort website.
Our time spent at Baldi Hot Springs was worth the time it took to get there. Traveling back to San Jose from La Fortuna took a little longer, due to the rain and traffic. We paid our driver in the local currency, Costa Rican Colones.
Travel tip: download an app to convert your money to the local currency when you travel. The exchange rate changes daily and most of the ATMs will give you the local currency, instead of U.S. dollars.
Many tourists recommend renting a car while in Costa Rica. While it may be a convenient investment, driving in Costa Rica can be a bit scary, with the windy roads and often short heavy rain showers. Should you choose to rent a car during your stay, be sure to drive the speed limit and don't pass too many cars while driving through the mountains and peaks (though you may be tempted to).
Sarchi, is an artisan town in Costa Rica, best known for the vibrant and brightly-colored oxcarts. Oxcarts are a key symbol of Costa Rican folklore and culture. They were traditionally used by farmers to transport coffee beans, and today they are mostly used for display at big events, like parades. Book a tour to explore more of Sarchi and to try the famous coffee.
Sloths, lizards, coati, and plenty of bird species thrive in the rich vegetation of Costa Rica. On our way to La Fortuna, we spotted many tours that boasted of their sloth sightings and toucan-watching. Keep in mind that these animals are in their natural habitat and they may not always come out just for tourists.
For a weekend getaway, Costa Rica is the perfect choice. You can experience a plethora of experiences that you'll be sure to cherish for a lifetime. We didn't get a chance to visit the beaches this trip, but they are at the top of the list for the next visit to Costa Rica. Jaco is one of the most popular beaches in Costa Rica.
Travel tip: Don't be discouraged by the travel time it may take you to get to the popular destinations in Costa Rica. The picturesque views of nature are unforgettable and incomparable, you'll be glad you took the time to go and enjoy all that they are.
Costa Rica is your best option to relax, reset, rejuvenate, and release. Pura Vida!