11 days / arenal volcano / cloud forest / nicoya peninsula
In March 2016, Joe and I spent 11 days exploring Costa Rica on our honeymoon.
After a busy wedding week, we spent the first three days of our trip indulging in some R&R at the very honeymoon-appropriate Nayara Spa and Resort near La Fortuna. Resorts are not usually our vacation vibe, but we took an exception this time and rented a private casita with views of the Arenal Volcano.
We started our days with the freshest fruit and tastiest Costa Rican coffee in the outdoor dining room, followed by a yoga class in the rain forest.
One day, we visited the La Fortuna Waterfall. To get away from the other tourists, we crossed the river and discovered a trail that led us over swinging bridges and up to an unused zip-line platform. We had a picnic overlooking the valley, with the falls far in the distance.
Another morning, we spent hours dodging iguanas and flopping around the cheesy (but amazing) hot spring waterfalls at Tabacon Springs.
One night, a bellman took us out on his golf cart to explore the grounds and spot some nocturnal rain forest creatures. We zipped around the tropical gardens, and he pointed out these crazy nesting bats under giant banana leaves and identified the different frog species. I went nuts over the adorable red-eyed tree frog.
The next night, after a few cocktails, Joe and I decided we could be nature guides too, and went on our own, much less successful frog hunt.
Leaving Nayara, we drove three hours around Lake Arenal toward Monteverde, making a pit stop to hike down to the Viento Fresco Waterfalls. I took a nice tumble down the trail and created a colorful battle wound on my leg to last me the remainder of our honeymoon.
Our next two nights were spent in a hand-built hideaway near the quaint — yet lively — backpacking town of Santa Elena. There was warm banana bread and freshly squeezed passion fruit juice waiting for us upon arrival, and after just a few minutes on the property, our hosts, Beth and Manolo, asked us if we wanted to see a female sloth hanging in the yard. Yes, please.
Manolo is a naturalist guide, and the next morning he took us on a guided tour through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. We saw the famed Resplendent Quetzal, a white-nosed coati, and hundreds of hummingbirds. Afterwards, we had lunch at Taco Taco in Santa Elena (tempura avocado for the win!) and spent the afternoon on a zip-line canopy tour at Selvatura Park.
Even though our cabin was down a long, bumpy dirt road in what felt like the middle of the forest, one night we had pizza delivered (!!!) via motorbike. We fell asleep under blankets in the hammock with the rain forest buzzing loudly around us.
From Monteverde, we headed west toward the coast; our next destination was Mal Pais at the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula.
It is nearly impossible to drive down the peninsula due to poor road conditions, so we chose to ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera. But with the language barrier, the process of successfully getting our car onto the ferry was an experience in and of itself. (Tip: one person has to sit with the car in line, while a second person goes to a bakery to buy the ferry ticket.)
The couple in the car in front of us was having an equally difficult time figuring the process out, and after putting our four heads together, we all made it onto the boat and shared celebratory beers on the ride over.
Back in the car, we stopped and had lunch in the surf village of Montezuma, before making our way to our home for the next four nights, a hilltop casita with 180 degree views of the ocean.
Our hosts, Phil and Julie, and their three street-dog rescue pups greeted us with a warm welcome. Upon their strong recommendation, we rented ATV’s for transportation during our time on the peninsula, and it was the best call we made the whole trip. We geared up with bandana masks and zoomed over miles and miles of bumpy dirt roads to explore the tiny towns and beaches.
One night, Phil and Julie invited us to the property’s beautiful main house for sundowners, and we ended up sharing stories for hours. The next day, they led us on an ATV excursion across farmland, through the Bongo River, and over beaches, stopping to point out dozens of howler monkeys gorging on mangoes in the trees above us.
Every morning, a fresh fruit, yogurt, and granola bowl was delivered to our casita. I could not get over how incredible the fruit was in Costa Rica, and became mildly obsessed with mangoes and plantains as a result of this trip.
One morning, we sipped coffee and followed a group of Capuchin monkeys making their way through the property.
Mal Pais is next door to Santa Teresa, a vibrant surf town. Although the main strip is just a dirt road, there is a surprisingly impressive food scene in these two towns. We had piña coladas with hermit crabs shuffling around our feet at Carcolas, Vietnamese spring rolls and curry at Katana, and the most delicious salad I’ve ever eaten at the Panaderia in Cuyana.
One afternoon, a couple who had returned to Costa Rica many years after honeymooning there themselves treated us to drinks at the Ylang Ylang in Montezuma.
It was hard saying goodbye to this little slice of paradise. If we ever come back to Costa Rica, we decided Mal Pais would be the place we return.