Realistic Expectations 101: How Much of Costa Rica Can You See On Your Vacation?

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You look at Costa Rica and are impressed by all the fun things there are to do, all the awesome places there are to go. I mean, there are surfing beaches, swimming beaches, volcano hikes, horseback rides, cushy resorts, whitewater rafting, rain forests, cloud forest, tropical dry forests, zip lines, animal rescue centers, snorkeling, sailing, fishing…and that’s just off the top of my head! You check it out on the map and you see that things really aren’t all that far apart so you make a list of everything you’d like to do during your week of vacation: the west coast, the volcanoes in the central valley, white water rafting, the east coast… You wouldn’t want to miss any of it!

Map of Costa Rica’s National Parks, by Viva Costa Rica
Map of Costa Rica’s National Parks, by Viva Costa Rica

Ok, stop the presses.
Yes, Costa Rica is a small country, often compared to the US state of West Virginia, or the European country of Denmark, but don’t let that fool you. It is a country of secluded beaches, rolling hills, open plains, and river basins split down the center by the towering volcanic cordillera that runs the length of the Americas. This geography, coupled with Costa Rica’s status as a “developing nation” means that here you are not going to find super highways that connect these relatively close locations. Narrow, twisty, bumpy roads designed for the nominal traffic flow of Costa Rica in the 1970s can take longer to navigate than what you think. Expect to travel 60-70 miles per hour down Costa Rica’s freeways? Think again. A 50-100 mile (80-160 km) drive can often take two to four hours on narrow roads that wind through the countryside. It’s beautiful. It’s not speedy.

Cattle is one of the things that can slow down transit on Costa Rica’s roads photo by Christian Savatier
Cattle is one of the things that can slow down transit on Costa Rica’s roads – photo by Christian Savatier

You made the right choice when you decided to base your Costa Rica vacation in a Tamarindo vacation rental. There are tons of things to do in Tamarindo, and lots of fun day-trips and Tamarindo tours are available without requiring you to pack your bags and move to a different location. The planning stage is the right time for you to think about how much relaxing you want to do during your vacation and how much work. Work? Well, yes. Work. Navigating Costa Rica’s roads isn’t difficult, but it can be exhausting. You won’t get lost because there aren’t that many places to make a wrong turn, but you will for sure have your patience tested on a trip of any length.

Stay in Tamarindo staff enjoying a zip line canopy tour staff photo
Stay in Tamarindo staff enjoying a zip line canopy tour – staff photo

Want to explore a place other than Tamarindo during your vacation? Good idea! The key question is, “How much time to you have?” If you’re going to be in Costa Rica for a week, pick one other place. Ten days? You could probably swing two. Two weeks? Now we’re getting into the territory of where you could do something REALLY exotic like surf Pavones, or visit Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, or tour the Bribri Indigenous reserve in the mountains near Cahuita. If you’re the umbrella-drink-in-hand-at-the-all-inclusive-resort-type, though, those remote options might be a little too much adventure for you. Not judging. Just saying it’s not for everybody. You could explore both coasts: first Tamarindo, Flamingo, Coco, Avellanas, Playa Negra, Junquillal, then the Caribbean coast–Limon, Puerto Viejo, Tortuguero…
So, back to how to plan a week vacation that won’t run you into the ground.
Spend a few days in Tamarindo and then a few days on an Arenal tour. Or a Monteverde tour. Or check out Malpais and Santa Teresa. Go to La Carolina Lodge and check out the cobalt-blue waterfall.

Rio Celeste is an fun place to visit during your stay at La Carolina Lodge. Photo from La Nacion newspaper, November 2015
Rio Celeste is an fun place to visit during your stay at La Carolina Lodge. – Photo from La Nacion newspaper, November 2015

Remember, you have to get back to fly out of Liberia and you don’t want to spend half your trip on the road. Or spend the whole time based in a Tamarindo beach resort and let us fill your days with daytrips and local adventures. Unless you refuse to get off the couch, it is impossible that you will (a) be bored (b) run out of things to do. Physically impossible.
Have 10 days? Lucky you. Out of Tamarindo you could see both Arenal and Monte Verde. Or you could go to the Central Valley area and check out the volcanoes like Poas and Irazu. In the mountainous areas there, white water rafting can be quite an adventure. Go see the scarlet macaws and the white-faced monkeys in Manuel Antonio National Park. Or modify the one-week plan with some added day trips to places like Buena Vista Lodge Costa Rica or Diamante Eco Adventure Park and then go spend a few nights at one other spot that’s not too far away.

Sunset at Manuel Antonio Nacional Park staff photo
Sunset at Manuel Antonio Nacional Park – staff photo

Really the best advice we can give you, other than don’t try to see all of Costa Rica in a week, is to contact our Concierge who knows everything there is to know about everything awesome there is to do in Costa Rica. Each group is made up of different personalities, different interests, and has a different number of days to fill. Christina Gonzales from Vacation Rentals of Tamarindo has got you covered. Nicaraguan-born and Costa Rica/USA raised, she’s got the language skills, the cultural knowledge and the vibrant personality to bridge all the gaps and to hook you up.

Tamarindo snorkeling tour photo from Keteka.com
Tamarindo snorkeling tour – photo from Keteka.com

Contact us right now and let’s see what we can figure out for your vacation!


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