Frankly, I think the beaches and dunes in Cape Cod are superior to the Pacific Coast beaches of Costa Rica.
That's why I can never understand why people would travel all the way down to this sliver of a country in Central America just to hit the beaches of growing Guanacaste. To truly appreciate the beauty of Costa Rica, you need to check out one of the most active volcanoes in the Western Hemisphere, Arenal, and the emerald-green pasture and jagged peaks of the Cloud Forest in Monteverde. Unfortunately, the road to Monteverde is a rocky, pothole-strewn obstacle course that requires the use of a 4WD.
Rent a car at San Jose's International Airport and weave your way through the city north to the rim of Poas Volcano, where you can spend your first night at the Peace Lodge. The next morning, walk the grounds of the La Paz Waterfall Gardens and you’ll find five waterfalls, the largest butterfly observatory in the country, gardens filled with orchids, and a reptile area holding snakes and frogs. Then drive onward to the Arenal Observatory Lodge, perfectly perched at the base of the cone-shaped volcano. Keep the kids up late to see the nightly light show of lava running down from the crater. In the daytime, you can check out the hot springs in nearby Tabacon. Then you have the long drive around the entirety of 25-mile-long Lake Arenal to Monteverde. The last hour or so is on that nightmare of a dirt road. Simply slow down and enjoy the views of sloping pastureland dotted with sheep, cows, and horses.
Up in the Cloud Forest, book a villa at El Sapo Dorado and reserve trips to go horseback riding through nearby farmland, take an exhilarating zipline trip above the cloud forest canopy with the outfitter Selvatura, and go on a guided walk through the hotel’s private preserve, Sempero Tranquillo, with an expert naturalist. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot the iridescent green quetzal with its red belly and billowing two-foot-long tail feather.
The final three days I would spend at Manuel Antonio, a mix of rainforest and beach on the central Pacific Coast. I would also consider ditching the car in nearby Quepos and flying back to San Jose, connecting to your international flight. The drive back to San Jose goes through a mountainous pass on twisting roads behind rows of trucks spewing their diesel into the air. Not a pleasant way to finish up your weeklong adventure.
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