It was February in Boston again, and having anticipated the disgust and exhaustion we would be feeling with the frigid New England winter, my boyfriend and I had booked ourselves a getaway to a warmer climate. Costa Rica. Recommended by all who had been, Costa Rica seemed like an ideal winter escape: outdoor activities, beaches, wildlife, accessibility (quick flight and USD is often accepted in tourist spots) and convenience (unlike most Latin American destinations, Costa Rica’s water is potable, its fruit and veg are safe to eat, and vaccinations aren’t necessary). Best of all, February is in Costa Rica’s dry season, which meant sun and warmth for our vitamin-D starved, pale white bodies.
We decided ahead of time that renting a car was the way to go. It’s not the best idea for everyone, but if you want to cover a lot of ground and see different parts of the country, I recommend it. For some tips on renting cars in Costa Rica, check out this post.
Aeropuerto Internacional Juan Santamaría (SJO), the country’s main airport, is located about 10 miles northwest of the city of San José. Note: Costa Rica has two international airports, but SJO seems to be the principal one. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Costa Rica is closer than I thought, a mere four hours from Charlotte, NC. Customs went smoothly, as did the rental car pick-up, and we were soon on our way, riding off into the warm Costa Rican afternoon. We had read very little that spoke positively of San José prior to the trip – most sources described it as unattractive and on the dangerous side – so we decided to bypass it altogether and head to more attractive spots. After an initial misstep that led us thirty minutes off track, we managed to get the GPS working and found our way to the Pan American highway, which would lead us toward La Fortuna in the Arenal volcano area. It was about a two and a half hour drive, which put us in La Fortuna around 7:15pm.
Clearly a tourist hub, La Fortuna was teeming with Gringos, and unfortunately it seemed that we chose the Gringoest of Gringo spots for a quick dinner. The Lava Lounge offered decent enough food, but I didn’t spot many locals among the clientele, and the menu featured American-style meals brought by English speaking wait-staff. No matter. The Costa Rican fajitas (not sure what made them Costa Rican), were fine, and we were on our way quickly, ready to get to the hotel for the evening. The Arenal Manoa Hotel is about seven kilometers west of the church in La Fortuna, down the main road. These are typical Costa Rican directions – all seemed to be done with landmarks, and street numbers or names were rarely mentioned. We found it, though, and it turned out to be a lovely end to a long day of travel. Exhausted, we checked in and called it a night.
The view of Arenal from our back patio at the Arenal Manoa Hotel