6 Days in Costa Rica: La Fortuna and Guanacaste

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Welcome to our Costa Rican escapade.

Gorgeous landscapes, lush rainforests, fresh food – every day brings a fresh dose of excitement, tasty finds, and adventures that'll make you want to come back for more.

Let's dive in...

DAY 1: Arrive in Liberia, Costa Rica

The day is here!

Our journey kicked off with a flight from Austin, Texas, bound for Liberia, Costa Rica (a steal at around $350 round trip each, thanks to Skyscanner). But, surprise surprise, our flight was delayed and threw us a curveball. So much for our sunset plans at the Hanging Bridges, right? Cue the spontaneous pivot.

We picked up our rental near the airport and headed towards our own little slice of paradise. But before diving headfirst into adventure, our stomachs led the way: La Choza de Laurel, a gem not too far from Liberia's airport, stole the show. Trust me, it was the perfect kickstart to our escapade.

I ordered the traditional meal—your choice of protein, rice, beans, and those irresistible fried bananas I can't get enough of. And their 'De La Casa' juices we beyond amazing. We had the Maracuya and Pineapple blends, both absolutely phenomenal.

We also ordered the house coffee, which was a whole experience; they brew it right next to you. And, of course, we unnecessarily (but necessarily) added a giant banana split that did not disappoint. I did not expect it to be so massive. Beware. It was bigger than my head.

After filling up our tanks (literally and figuratively), we hit the road and made our way to La Fortuna.

The highway felt calm and completely safe.

Halfway through our journey to La Fortuna, we became surrounded by pasture, windmills, hills, cows on hills (side note: I had no idea cows were so balanced).

Suddenly, the vegetation begins to change and you’re now driving through the (extremely) windy hills of Lake Arenal – the biggest lake in Costa Rica!

We arrived in Lake Arenal around sunset and before we knew it... darkness swiftly enveloped us. We found ourselves amidst the rainforest, navigating winding hills in pitch-black conditions. It was difficult to see; cars blind you, the roads have poor (to no) lighting, and it's a long way to La Fortuna.

Driving this road at night is not for the faint of heart, but it is doable. Just be very careful!  

We arrived at our hotel around 10pm with our stomach rumbling; we were hungry – but the city was asleep.

All we found was a "Mexican" restaurant-bar, which we ordered take-out from; but I'll admit, the food was a 2/10. The bright side was that we finally made it... and we could finally call it a night.

What we’d do differently:

We actually enjoyed driving around at night. At one point, we pulled over to the side, turned the car off, and rolled down our windows to hear the breathtaking sounds of the rainforest. After a few seconds, it felt eerie and I made my husband roll the windows back up because I thought something was going to jump in and eat me (LOL).

Had we arrived earlier, we would’ve loved to see more of Lake Arenal's rainforest during the day. The Hanging Bridges would've been nice, too. So, if you’re luckier than us and have time to spare, check the bridges out and/or hike the 1989 trail.

DAY 2: La Fortuna Waterfall

My 30th birthday.

We walked to a nearby restaurant called Soda Los Rodriguez; it was a quick walk from our hotel and the vibe was intriguing.

Side note: "Sodas" are what Costa Ricans call their local, family-owned restaurants, so if you're looking for a traditional meal, go to a Soda restaurant!

We ordered another traditional plate, delicious milkshakes, and a quesadilla-type of snack (so good). While we waited for our food, the kind waitress handed us a small, wooden sign and blue paint for us to decorate it with (they hang these signs all around their restaurant).

After breakfast, we drove (and hiked) to La Fortuna! I suggest buying your tickets ahead of time to avoid the line(s).

While we were waiting for entry, it started pouring – but it only lasted a few minutes. Lesson learned: carry an emergency poncho (because a strange lady might aggresively/awkwardly take the last one at the souvenir shop).

The hike was easier said than done (but then again I wasn’t in the best shape back then… oops). It takes 500 stairs one way. It’s doable, but it BURNS on the way up!

We took pictures and swam near the waterfall… I’m glad we did that because it felt amazing! Also, the water in La Fortuna, in general, left my hair incredibly clean and smooth.

After the waterfall (which is stunning btw), we headed to our Canyoning tour – led by Maquique Adventures, who are amazing guides! I’ll be honest, I had some idea of what I was getting into, but once I was looking down the first canyon – relying on myself and a rope – the adrenaline began to rush through my body.

It was one of the most amazing, exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had. We hiked, rappelled down waterfalls, and zip-lined our way down canyons and through the rainforest. The canyons would get taller and more adventurous each time, and while it is a bit scary, the experience was exhilarating and shows you what you’re capable of.

At the end of our adventure we ate some more of the traditional meal! By this point, my husband was getting tired of eating the same (or similar) meal everyday (LOL), but I didn’t mind. I actually really enjoyed its simplicity (and how clean, flavorful, and natural their food was).

After this, we went back to the hotel to shower and get ready for my birthday dinner!

We went to Don Rufino’s, which was incredible. We ordered the Octopus, pasta rigatoni, and NY Steak. For drinks, we had an old fashioned and spicy margarita. The presentation of the food and drinks were beautiful and everything tasted amazing. I also got a free dessert and the staff sang happy birthday in front of the whole restaurant. Post-dinner, we walked around the plaza and called it a night.

Day 3: Whitewater rafting & Hot Springs

Our last day in La Fortuna.

We went whitewater rafting with Desafio Adventure Company at 9:30am sharp. We met at a specified location and they transported us to the river, which was about an hour away.

They placed us with a random group of Spanish speakers (which we volunteered for) and practiced rafting before we hit the water; they give you a detailed lesson beforehand, so don't let your experience (or lack of) stop you from trying this. It's awesome.

We did the II-III level and loved it so much, we wished we would’ve had more time to try the next level! It’s not as scary as it seems – we saw sloths and birds, jumped off and swam in calm waters, and ate the juiciest mangos and watermelon atop our rafts.

The level is perfect for adventurous families and first-time rafters who want a little action.

PS. Leave your belongings in the car. They take photos throughout your journey (and you can split the photo costs with your group – $30 total).  

After rafting, they took us to a cozy Soda tucked away in the rainforest. This is where I tasted the most amazing coffee in my life.

We were on a tight schedule (we needed to drive to Guanacaste that evening), so as soon as dinner was over, we headed straight to Ecothermales – some beautiful hot springs.

I highly recommend these hot springs because they only allow a certain number of people at a time (so book prior to going – spaces fill up quickly). We originally wanted to try Tabacon because everyone speaks highly of them, but really glad they didn’t have room because we probably wouldn’t have gone to Ecothermales otherwise – which we really loved.

They have several pools throughout the property at different warm temperatures. We went 15 minutes before our time slot and it was the best decision ever because we had the whole place to ourselves for a good 20-30 minutes – that is, until other people began showing up for their reservation.

Before we left, we walked around the property and accidentally stumbled upon a beautiful restaurant tucked away in the rainforest. Unfortunately, we didn't have a chance to eat there because we were in a hurry and it was already getting late.

We had to make one last stop before leaving La Fortuna.

We made a promise to buy hammocks from a couple we met earlier that day. We saw a small home-shop with many hammocks hanging and spontaneously stopped to ask for prices.

We didn’t have enough cash the first time, but told them we’d be back for two hammocks after Ecothermales. They hand-make hammocks from recycled materials and sell them for a living. Sure enough, we kept our promise.

I am so glad we came back for the hammocks. Otherwise, we would've missed out on this magical view – a pink sunset painted behind the shadows of a volcano.

Can you believe that's their view?

After picking up our hammocks, we headed to Conchal/Brasilito, which was a few hours away.

We arrived pretty late (around midnight, perhaps?) and were SO hungry. I'm started to see a patten here btw: late night road trips and food.

The problem was that the only food open was an outdoor nightclub in Playa Flamingo that wanted to charge us a ridiculous cover – but we told them we were just there to pick up food (not party) and they let us in without having to pay a cover.

We grabbed our food to-go, found a spot to park near the ocean, and ate in our car as we sat in darkness and admired the moon's light casting shadows behind all the docked boats.

Day 4: Beach hopping around Playa Conchal

First day at Conchal!

We ate breakfast at Conchal Hotel, which was lovely. Even if you're not staying there, I recommend you try the restaurant. Great food, great ambiance.

We saw wild monkeys hanging from the trees right above our room!

After breakfast, we went beach hopping (we LOVE beach hopping btw) – Dantita, Danta, Brasilito, Matapalo, Playa Conchal. Our favorite by far was Dantita! The others felt too busy for our taste.

Dantita felt more tranquil. You’ll still have a few people around, but since it’s a 2km hike around a hill, less people tend to go. TIP: You can cut through Danta beach without having to hike up and down, too – just take good shoes.

On our way to Matapalo. It was a fun ride to the beach, but I don't recommend the beach itself. Too busy.

On the way out, we stumbled upon this cute restaurant and I'm happy we did! Everything was exquisite.

We headed back to Conchal beach after lunch. Everyone says great things about Conchal, but I’ll admit it felt dirty and full of people and vendors. I’m pretty sure I got stung by a small jellyfish, but the burning sensation went away after a few minutes – and it was so small, it really didn’t feel like a big deal.

PS. I read that jellyfish are very common in these waters, so tread carefully.

We bought a piña colada from a street vendor, which comes in a giant pineapple (and is refillable – with alcohol!), but there were lots of bees around these stands and pineapples, so fair warning if you’re afraid of bees like me.  

Also not sure if it’s the most sanitary experience, so approach at your own risk. :)

After swimming and relaxing on the beach, we went to dinner at Ander's Restaurant and it was DELICIOUS! The owner told us they were relocating around the corner, so keep an eye out.

Day 5: Gong Bath Massage in Playa Tamarindo

We drove to Playa Tamarindo the next day because we booked a massage with a woman taught by Shamans. Sound bath, gongs, incense, chanting. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

I wouldn’t call it a “luxurious” experience – it was in a small house/shop – but it was certainly unique and her reviews are phenomenal. I mean, when else would you do something like this? Anyway, if you want a luxury massage – go to a resort. If you want an authentic experience, try a gong bath massage with a lady who spent years learning from the best.

Or both. :)

After the massage, we explored Playa Tamarindo some more. There’s an outdoor food market called El Mercadito with a great ambiance and a bunch of different restaurants, where you can try different food.

We had an arepa from the Venezuelan stand and a crepe from across the booth.

Post-lunch, we explored the town some more, went souvenir shopping, saw the sunset, and voila.

We drove back to Conchal a little after sunset, and ended up sort of accidentally taking dirt roads and small towns on the way back. Good thing we enjoy going off the beaten path. I suggest you keep a close eye to Google Maps. 😇

For dinner, we ate at our hotel since we had to pack! Had some plantains and the most amazing chicken vegetable soup I have ever had; the flavors were so rich.

Day 6: Depart from Liberia

We had to arrive 4 hours before our departure to take the COVID test – but it was straightforward. Arrive at the airport, go to COVID testing area, get tested, wait for results, and voila! Back to the U.S. we went.

What I’d do differently:

I would’ve spent the extra days at La Fortuna instead of the Guanacaste area. Honestly, I was not impressed by Guanacaste (but then again, I’ve been spoiled with crystal clear water in places like Riviera Maya and Greece). I did like the mountains – but if you’re scared of the ocean, this one may not be for you because the water is dark (and I got stung by a jellyfish lol).

But La Fortuna is a 10/10 and I would do it again.

Next time, I’d like to visit Monteverde, Manuel Antonio, and the Caribbean beaches. I’m sure those are much nicer than the Guanacaste beaches! But I had an amazing time, nonetheless.

I hope our experience inspires you as craft your itinerary. Send me a message if you have any questions. :)