Lush rainforests, sensational sunsets, creepy crawlies and adorable baby sea turtles. Yes, I've just returned from an epic trip to Costa Rica. I've got a pretty good idea of what it's like in different parts of the country, seeing as we went to about eight different places in 13 days.
It was a two week, action-packed adventure right into the depths of the rainforest.
I let a giant golden orb spider crawl up my arm, I held a baby snake we found on a night walk, got up close to a poison dart frog and trekked through the forest knowing there was a jaguar closeby. Talk about exciting.
There were a few hairy moments, some incredible experiences and challenging adventures.
You know those trips where you really grow as a person? Well, this was one of them for me. I went out of my comfort zone, and came out stronger and full of gratitude for this incredible country.
My overall thoughts on Costa Rica
Costa Rica is full of colour and character. There's so much to do and so many different types of scenery to feast your eyes upon. This is definitely one of those countries where the people really leave mark, and it's not just because they're friendly. It's because of their attitude to life.
"Pura Vida" is instilled in everything they do, and it makes their positivity positively infectious. You can't help but be swallowed up whole by this country. The amazing wildlife makes you feel insignificant and stop to think about your place in the world.
Heart stopping sunsets greet you every evening, luxury hotels nestled right in the middle of the rainforest take your breath away. It's also impressive to see some of the local people put their soul into the conservation of their land. Yes, overall, I was very impressed with what Costa Rica had to offer, find out the finer details below.
Where did we visit? Our Costa Rica itinerary
Our route took us all over Costa Rica, from the Caribbean beaches and dense rainforest to within reach of active volcanoes and San Jose's urban jungle. I really got to see the entire country. Our trip began at Liberia airport (LIR) and from there we travelled to Monteverde Cloud Forest. After spending a night here getting over the jet lag, we headed to San Jose for a night.
Then we went to Selva Bananito reserve for two nights before heading to Poas Volcano. Next stop was the Osa Peninsula for three nights, then one night in Manuel Antonio and two nights in Playa Hermosa.
We wanted to visit specific areas to film the wildlife, and stay in certain hotels, and that's why we ended up doing a lot of travelling. I wouldn't recommend doing the route we did, but all of the above places are well worth seeing (just not necessarily in that order!).
You can drive around the country quite easily if you hire a car, although the roads can be challenging at times. We had private transfers which were perfect. Some of our trips were seven or eight hours long, but you could easily break this up by stopping off at different places.
You can of course get internal flights, but then you miss out on observing how the scenery changes from place to place, and stumbling upon hidden gems. Like a little roadside local restaurant we came across, a wildlife sanctuary or an amazing view.
Top places to visit in Costa Rica - my favourite spots
Of all the spots we stopped off at, there were a few places that stood out. If you're a wildlife lover then the Osa Peninsula is an absolute dream. Thanks to the sheer density of animals here, you're bound to spot some amazing creatures.
In fact, National Geographic named it:
"The most biologically intense place on earth."
We saw more wildlife here than we did the entire trip. And, wait for it - we got to release baby green sea turtles into the ocean. Now that's definitely up there in the most memorable moments of my life.
Ever stood in a cloud forest? No? Well you can in Monteverde. Stay in a hotel literally in the clouds - it's quite an incredible experience. Plus there are lots of fun excursions you can go on from here. Poas Volcano should also be on your Costa Rica to do list, the air is much cooler here and there are some beautiful hotels.
We stayed in eco cabins in the rainforest in Selva Bananito near Puerto Viejo, an uber cool laid back surf town. This is pretty much as close to nature as you can get. Staying in the rainforest listening to the sounds of the frogs croaking and the monkeys calling is something that should be on everyone's bucket list. I really felt a special connection to the natural world here.
Who should visit Costa Rica?
I think couple who are wanting more than just a beach break would appreciate Costa Rica. Can you laze around on a sunbed for days amongst beautiful scenery? Sure. But if you and your partner love adventure, then you can head off on all sorts of fun trips.
And there are some pretty romantic spots too, like sweeping 360 degree views of the rainforest, remote little cabins surrounded by nature and jaw dropping sunsets.
Say what? Yes, really. As long as your kids are fine with creepy crawlies and strange looking creatures then they'll have a whale of a time in Costa Rica. It's the perfect place to teach the next generation about the importance of protecting our wildlife.
Plus, most kids love animals experiences. They'll get to see monkeys swing from trees, meet sleepy sloths and learn about big cats. Although I would say maybe younger children under the age of five may struggle with some of the jungle adventures.
If you're passionate about our planet and have an interest in ecotourism - Costa Rica is possibly the best place on earth to visit. Here they take green travel seriously and there are plenty of examples of inspiring ecotourism businesses. You can help with conservation projects and visit some of the most biodiverse places on earth, like the Osa Peninsula for example.
Final thoughts on my trip
I'm so glad I got to see the real Costa Rica. Despite the fact that moving around so much was exhausting as we didn't stay in one place longer than 3 days. I didn't mind constantly being on the go. When you visit a destination it's so important to try and pull together all the pieces of the puzzle.
Costa Rica is effortlessly charming, full of surprises and teeming with wildlife. Beautiful beaches? Tick. Opportunities for adventure? Tick. Yep, Costa Rica is pretty damn cool. Will I go there again? I'm not sure, but this place will forever leave its mark on me.
Photos 3, 19 and 25 by Andy Trace.