October 13-29, 2017
We were on our honeymoon for two weeks starting October 13-29. We were looking for a chillaxing kind of vacation, with beautiful islands and beaches, jungles and nature, exotic animals, and an overdose on pineapple and coconuts.
I'm happy to say that this was accurate with reality!
Costa Rica and Panama are both convenient to travel. Almost everyone speaks English or when they don't, it's easy to learn some basic Spanish words to get along. The food is very nice and nutritional. It's easy to navigate with Waze or Google maps. The attractions are well organized.
Before booking your flight, check if it's a rainy season and plan accordingly. If you are planning on seeing turtles, check for the eggs hatching/laying seasons.
Initially, we planned on going to both the Pacific and the Carrebean side, but since it was the rainy season on the Pacific side, and dry on the Carrebean side, we decided to only go for the latter. Also, some will say that the Carrebean side is more rural and less touristic.
We altered the Pacific side with Bocas del Toro, which I highly recommend visiting! Even if it's a little bit of a overhead, it was totally worth it, and Cayos Zapatilla was my favorite place of our trip!
Although we were on the dryer period, we did have some rain, which is common in these tropical areas.
As this was our honeymoon, most of the places we slept in were on the higher priced side, raging at $185-$300 per night. But those are for suites and at some cases there are cheaper room options in the hotels. I try to review the hotel in general and not only the room.
I will write the price that we paid per each attraction (which may vary with season or different tour companies), but I am not going to write the prices for the stays. That is because hotel prices are dynamic, and because that could be easily found on the web and search can be adjusted to the price range you are looking for.
My top 5 Recommendations
- Cayos Zapitilla in Bocas del Toro
- Tabacon in Arenal
- Canopy in Monte Verde
- Baby turtles hatching In Turugero
- Playa Negra in Peurto Vieju
*The people of Panama and Costa Rica are very friendly people. But we heard of cases of theft and robbery, so although this is common sense it's still important to emphasize: Always keep an eye on your belongings. Don't carry around too much cash or valuables.
*The weather is very unstable and unpredictable. In a single day you can get some blasting rays of sunshine followed by heavy showers of rain. Always prepare for both!
Check if rain can affect your desired attraction - for instance, sometimes heavy rains gush the sand in the water and makes it impossible to snorkel for a few days until the sand sinks back and the vision is clear again.
*On some islands you can only pay with cash, but in some cases there's only one ATM at the city. For security reasons, it's best to not carry a large amount of cash on you, so always check in advance what are the paying options and prepare ahead. Most places will accept dollars, but the convertion rate is not always accurate.
*At restaurants, a minimum of %10 tip is automatically included in the receipt and it's up to your judgment if you'd like to add more.
*More than one bathing suit - as this will be your main attire, it's nice to have an extra one that's clean and dry at hand.
*Flip flops and sports/hiking shoes
*Sunblock, bug/mosquitoe replant and other sun blocking essentials
*Bionaclers or camera with a high zoom lens - we had neither but since plenty of the attractions involve seeking for animals it could be a good idea
*Portable phone battery and USB cable cord for phone (for the car). The outlets there are American.
*Go Pro camera - as most of the attractions will be surrounded by water I highly recommend having one to document your trip.
*Goggles and snorkel - this is not a must since the snorkeling I'm going to recommend provides you one. But if you're interesting in doing more or elsewhere I would suggest bringing your own.
*I wouldn't say that rain equipment is a must since when it rains you can buy a rain poncho for around $4. We didn't carry any umbrellas with us and when needed, the hotels provided them. But that's up to your fre luggage space. If you're visiting Monte Verde I would suggest bringing some warm clothes.
*Ear plugs & eye covers - if you're a light sleeper like me you might find it challenging to sleep in the jungle. Sometimes the frogs, howler monkeys, roosters and insects can get loud! Also at most places there's only a white curtain so the room gets bright with sunrise. I didn't use any of this gear but I did suffer from some sleepless nights.
*If you're not going to read the whole list and you're looking for the best part, skip this one down to Cayos Zapitilla*
When we initially planned this stop, we intended to go to Poas volcano. Before arrival, we found out that the volcano is closed due to eruption. We didn't bother changing this booking and decided we'll just do something else instead. But as we later found out, the volcano is the main attraction and it was pretty much everything that's holding up the village - and tourism was lacking.
The staff suggested that we'd go to the animal sanctuary and do a coffee tour. We knew we were headed towards touristic attractions but since there's not much else to do, we went with it. We did enjoy those, but this is not something I would say is worth coming to this area for. If you're still interested in going to this area but Poas is closed, there's another volcano that's a 2~ hours drive away.
Hotel Bueno Vista
15 mins from Alajuela
This hotel was decent, but nothing too fancy. There's a nice pool, a small trail with some coffee trees and other plants in the garden, and the food was great.
The staff were happy people, and we got a private show when our driver sang us some serenatas.
La Paz Animal Rescue Center and Waterfalls
$40 per person (IMO poor value for money)
There are plenty of caged wild and exotic animals. Over all, this place is very well maintained, it is highly recommended on Trip Advisor, but we were underwhelmed.
The nice thing about this place were the open cages of the toucans and butterflies, and the beautiful streaming waterfalls at the bottom.
*Later on, I'll recommend another animal shelter that we liked better.
$22 per person
The coffee tours are popular in several locations. We learned about the traditional process of preparing the coffee beans, from the trees to seeds to machines. We tasted different types of coffee and ate some chocolate covered beans. But eventually this did feel like an advertisement for this coffee company.
Bocas del Toro
This is an archipelago (a group of islands) that most of them don't have any transportation besides boats. You basically hop from one island to the other on the motor boats which are $3 per person.
*The islanders only accept cash within the islands and there's only one ATM in the city, so plan ahead.
*Tap water is not drinkable here, care for mineral bottles.
After this stop, we took a tiny plane to Bocas. At the airport, you have to pay approx $50 per person as city tax go enter Panama.
Once we were about to board the plane, they told us that the luggage will not arrive with us because the plane is too small to balance. We were able to grab a few items from the suitcase and the rest was sent to our hotel the following day. It arrived safely on their estimated time.
We weren't expecting this small of a plane so it was a fun surprise. Not going to lie, as it was tilted by the wind it got a bit scary. But we did have a really nice experience seeing at the different view along the way (the plane flew lower than usual planes) and overall just felt like we had a private ride (there were another 5 people or so).
If this was a ride, we would possibly consider doing it as an attraction!
This picture perfect cabin is located on the water, with an open wall that you can jump off straight to the ocean or hang around in the hammock. It's also very beautiful at night where you can gaze at the stars. It is well organized and has a small fridge, Wi-Fi and overall is well thought of.
*The open wall can be closed by glass doors and can be covered by curtain.
We stayed here for 3 nights. This cabin is most suitable for those who can sleep over anything or those who enjoy the simple life. If you are more demanding with your needs or if you're a light sleeper, you may find this a bit challenging. As the cabin is exposed to the elements and the tin roof is loud once rain hits or when a bird is tap dancing over your head. The shower temperature is hard to balance. If you don't mind that, you'll have a great time enjoying this island getaway. But do take that in consideration.
The host was super nice and did his best to welcome us. But since this is an island, there's always a challenge to have everything go smoothly. As you will find out, the residents on this island are very poor and there are only limited facilities.
The owner also owns a restaurant that is on the same location. They offer fantastic breakfast options (I recommend the banana pancakes) and dinner options (ravioli) and also great fresh fruit cocktails (night monkey). But note that the food does take a while to arrive, sometimes an hour, as they hand make everything.
Overall we really enjoyed this place and the hospitality. We met some friends who were staying at the other cabin and hung around together.
This was our second day trip. It is A MUST!!! This is a movie-like deserted island. This was probably the best part of our trip and the most beautiful location we went to!
Our host recommended to take Antuan as a tour guide. As you will later find out, we are not the type of people that would usually choose to take a tour guide, so we hesitated. But in this case, it was great advice. Since this tour is not 'a tour' in the sense of having someone lead the way and point out things, it's more of 'a deal' of a doing a mix of attractions that are organized but then done privately, just so you wouldn't have to put the effort into it.
It also wouldn't necessarily cost less to do this individualy, because the ride to the island is long (not $3) and sometimes even if you get a cheaper ride they might charge an extra $10 per person to enter the island or try to rip you off in a different way. So taking Antuan is a safe bet with promised fun!
Book Antuan -
+507 6873 7262
Bastimentos Alive Tours
The tour provided us:
1. A boat ride to the destination and back.
2. A stop for snorkeling. They also provided goggles with snorkels.
3. An access to the island with no extra charge.
4. Fresh fish that Antwan caught and cooked on the bonfire and fresh coconuts off the tree.
5. On the way back, a stop at 'Blue Coconut' which is a bar in the middle of the ocean. They sell fresh fruit cocktails and the lodge is cool.
6. A stop to see some monkeys and sloths on trees of an island on the way back. We also saw a dolphin in the distance.
How the tour was like:
$40 per person
All day trip- aprrox 10:30 Am - 4Pm~
After what felt like an hour's ride, which really gives you the sense of topography when you understand how big the place is and how many tiny lonely islands there are, we stopped for snorkeling. We saw the beautiful underwater life; bright fish and corals.
After that, we were dropped off at the island. We felt completely alone and walked on the trail and the shore. We took lots of photos and explored the unbelievably beautiful island.
There's literally nothing on the island so be sure to bring plenty of water with you! And obviously there's no place to buy food either, so having the fish and coconuts makes you feel like you get a full experience of being caught on a deserted island, if you were able to survive. Meeting Antwan and his friend makes you realize that we will never be as cool as the Rasta men of the Carribean.
This tour was a whole day tour so plan ahead to free up space for this journey, in my eyes it was totally worth it! Be sure to do this on a beautiful sunny day.
E-bike is around $35-40 per person for a full day.
On this day, we rented some e-bikes and drove around the on roads alongside the forests to the two beaches.
There are lots of uphills and downhills so unless you're a regular competitor at the Tour de France I would not recommend taking pedal bicycles, even for the tempting price of $5 each. TBH although these were E-bikes, we did have a lot of peddling and at the end of the day I was exhausted. We did see a couple with a 4 wheeler so if you're not up for the challenge you can try to check out those, but I'm not aware of the price.
This beach used to have hundreds of starfish in it, but unfortunately, the tourism took a toll on those and there are only a handful left. We got to see approx 4 ones, when 2 could possibly have already been dead.
There are many signs and the locals are very instistive that you will not touch the starfish.
It was nice to see the starfish in their natural habitat but the beach isn't the best one to sit around as it is quite small and the sitting spots are not private.
This is an orange tinted sandy beach where the waves get higher and more suitable for surfers.
Along the shore, there are the richer residents and very impressive houses and properties.
The ride to this beach is rockier and not entirely pavemented.
I wouldn't suggest this beach for bathing as the waves were very storng when we were there but the houses are interesting to see.
Shuttle from Bocas back to Costa Rica
$27 per person
We took a boat which was an hour's ride to the land. From there, our prepaid ticket supplied us with an hour's ride in a van to the boarder. The van drops you off and you go through immigration (passport and fingerprints, free). After that, there's a different stop where you go through customs (free). These both were quick. From there, they load you another van which then dropped each person at their destination.
*Tap water is not drinkable here, care for mineral bottles.
This is a small village with many beautiful shores and exotic animals. I would suggest at least 3 nights here or more to really get to enjoy the beaches.
Stay & Food
Hotel Banana Azul
We stayed at villa #1 which was a beautiful two stories suite with a tiny private pool and a kitchen. The staff welcomed us with complimentary wine and fruit and chocolate basket.
This hotel is located in a beautiful spot between the jungle and has direct access to the black sand beach, which I loved!
The food at the hotel was great and we had most of our meals here. The breakfast is really nice and on top of the meal, there's also an open buffet with fruit, juices and granola.
At this point we rented a car that we used from this point till the end of the trip. We used "Adobe Rentals" as they were the only ones that offered to take a ride from Puerto Viejo and return it to the airport at San Jose. We were satisfied with their services.
The entrance is free but you are asked to give a certain donation to the park. We wore flip flops but looking back this was probably a dangerous decision since there are plenty of vanimous animals there. Luckily nothing happened, this path is very easy, and tracking shoes are not a must here either, it can be muddy though. We were offered to take guide ($20 for an hour and a half / $17 for an hour) but we kind of felt like we wanted to be alone and explore by ourselves. Looking back, we didn't miss out on anything, because once people with a guide see an animal they would point and take photos and you will follow. We also saw plenty of animals by ourselves. Monkeys, a caoti, frog, crazy big spiders, lizards, crabs, hermit crabs, a sleeping snake, and probably more. The only down side of not having a guide was that we were not aware that the trail is so long, so after a couple hours of strolling we decided to go back. We were happy that we could go back on the beach and not do the same trail back and forth because at some point it gets a little claustrophobic. Overall this was a nice experience and we got to see the wild life.
*For this trip you will need all of your equipment: bionaclrs and/or camera to seek animals, snorkel as there are some points for it, swimsuits as you can hop from the jungle to the beach, and mostiquity replantand sun block.
*Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks because once you enter the jungle, there's no place to buy and the next stop is either the exit point which is 3 hours from the entrance, or back at the starting point.
The shore of the Banana Azul hotel is dark grey sand. As you head towards the city the sand gets blacker and blacker. That beach is called Playa Negra which in Spanish means black beach.
It was so unique to experience this and the sand is so soft and mushy and fun to play with. But also very sticky and distoyed my new yellow bathing suit.
This was one of my favorite experiences in Costa Rica and I took so many nice photos!
*The sand is black due to volcanic materials and as we later found out, apparently it would stick to magents. So how about grabbing a magnet with you as you go?
*Avoid wearing a bright bathing suit or one that you care about. It's not that the sand stains, it just is so tiny that it gets into the fabric between the top material and the lining and is almost impossible to reverse.
Fun idea: I didn't do this myself, but I thought it could be a nice idea to collect some orange sand from bluff, black sand from playa Negra and white from Blanco beach and layer them in a small bottle. If anyone ever does this I'd love to see!
Punta Uva beach
This is a nice beach with a mix of jungle scenery and shore. It has a sloth point which I guess is populated with regular sloths.
We got to see a sloth climbing down a tree and oozing itself across the road. They are magnificent creatures.
Jaguar Rescue Center
$20 per person + tip
Only available via tours which run twice a day at specific hours. Morning and before noon.
An hour and a half long.
As I mentioned earlier, I am going to recommend a better rescue center than La Paz - this is the one. IMO this place is nicer than the first since it is much more homey and facing the animals is more personal.
This place started out as a couple of retired biologists met at the beach and built their dream home in Costa Rica. As rumors spread that they were biologist, people started asking them to help endangered animals. Slowly, they built a big sanctuary in their back garden with cages of various animals. They take in any animal that has been hurt, orphaned, or endangered in any way.
The guide tells you a bit of the background of each animal and some about the characteristics. We had Sara who is an English sloth biologist and she has been volunteering there for 6 years.
Some animals are caged while others walk around freely. Some baby animals are let out in their secured area to have an opportunity to learn how to climb trees and handle themselves in the jungle. We had some baby sloths, an anteater and a 3 months old, very curious, howler monkey.
*You are not aloud to touch any of the animals as the goal is to bring them back to the wild and not let them get used to the touch. But you can take as many photos as you'd like and the open cages are very up front and personal.
*They don't get any financial support from the government and exist thanks to the tourist's contribution. The volunteers work free and you will be requested to tip them at the end.
Tortuguero is an island that you're only available to access through water. There are plenty of reptiles here (hence the name, turtoga means turtle in Spanish) which are the main attraction of the area: turtles, crocodiles and iguanas.
We stayed at Tortuga Lodge & Gardens for one night. The balcony is a shared space but the room is private. The view is lovely from either side - jungle and river. The hotel staff decorated our room for the honeymoon. The room is very nice, it's like a wooden hut. Note that it is quite exposed to nature elements and I barely managed to get any sleep. The howler monkeys and rain were disturbing.
*There are two huge iguanas and a few other smaller 'Jesus' lizards living in the hotel garden. At first we were shocked to see how close they approached, but later found out that they are regulars, they have been living there for approx 15 years and apparently they are both named Phillip? They act like stray cats and just wait till the human drops food off the plate.
There are plenty of animal related attractions. You can sign up for the attractions in the city or via the hotel, they have different options for different prices. The attractions include some like: baby turtle hatching tours, grown turtles laying eggs night tour, kayaks in the national park, boat rides with guide in the national park, trails in the forest, and more. Note that in some cases, you need to sign up prior to the time of the attraction because they plan them out in forms of groups. Some of the attractions are based on lottery that determines to which part of the shore you will be destined to, but that is just the behind the scenes and nothing you will be in contact with.
1. Baby turtle hatching tour - $18 per person via the hotel.
We started at 4Pm and had Norton as our guide. He couldn't find any for a while so as it got darker, we were about to give up. But then eventually we got to see at least 3 of them hatching and immediately run out to the shore! This was such an amazing experience. They are so cute!
*The baby hatching is only available in limited time frames, luckily for us, September-October is the right time and we were able to experience this! Be sure to check the hatchlings times before you plan the trip if this is something that you are interested in doing!
We were thinking about taking the night tour seeking for adult turtles laying eggs but ended up not doing it as it wasn't cheap ($30 ish) and the probability at this time of year was 30%. And that was confirmed as a good decision as the day after, we found out that the night tour was a fail and they saw none. TBH we didn't feel like we missed out on anything because we were more into the baby ones in the first place and we already saw a turtle laying eggs at our home's beach. If this is something that matters to you, I would suggest that you'd check the probability before you book your trip. There are charts for different species of turtles.
2. Boat ride through the national park - $50 per person (includes $15 entrance fee to the park and a tour guide). The duration was 7:30-11 Am.
We sailed through the canals and into the national forest. We got to see many animals on the way and the guide explained about the characteristics of each animal. There were mainly birds, some monkeys, a sloth, and the highlight were the tiny baby crocodiles. A bit overpriced but oh well.
This was my favorite hotel and most relaxing spot!
From Turtogero, we drove for 3.5 hours to Mount Arenal. The ride went by easily. As we got closer, the view of the volcano was beautiful.
Tabacon hotel and springs
*I recommend going to this one specifically and to not cut on budgets or going to a cheaper spring, since this is the far best, biggest and most authentic one in the area.
Although this was pricey, I would say there is a good value for money. As it includes the springs, a beautiful room, a huge breakfast buffet and credit value of a $100 for a couple for drinks or food.
This is a luxurious hotel with access to the hot springs of the volcano. Although there are many hot springs in the area, this is the only one which allegedly has the natural flow of the hot river water directly from the volcano. Supposedly, the others use pumps to get the water.
We had room 706 which is a big pampering suite. It has two big glass doors and a balcony that overlooks a wide green jungle with the sound of a flowing river. The room has a large bathtub.
This by far was the hotel that put the most effort in the honeymoon welcoming.
The breakfast is a buffet which a crazy amount of options. I can't think of a certain food that was not available there.
For dinner we went to the bar. It's nice since you get to play around in the pool and water slide till your food is ready. I recommend the chickens fahittas and the burger.
The hot springs were amazing and beyond our expectations. The water is so relaxing on your muscles, you'll feel like a puddle afterwards! The place is very big and offers a variety of different temperatured pools and different waterfalls. The higher you are, the hotter the water is. There is an exclusive spot called “Shangri-La” which is only for hotel guests at the very top. The pool temperature varies from cool 30 to hot 37-39 degrees celsius.
Being in a hot waterfall with a frozen pineapple cocktail in your hand is the best feeling ever!
(Btw on both nights we were there it started raining at some point, but the cool water drops with the warm water was awesome, so don't let that stop you.)
*You can also access the springs if you're not a hotel guest.
*When you go to the springs, take a robe with you. You can get a towel on the spot but you will have to return it and get back to your normal clothes which is kind of a pain in the butt.
There are plenty of attractions to do in the Arenal location. From easy going trips that can to more extreme options. Things like canopy, water rafting (of different levels), hiking, ATV rides, hanging bridges, horseback riding and more. You can book your trip via the hotel, who has a staff member that can explain about each attraction and show you videos of it. There are also combo options that includes several options and lunch.
Arenal National Park
$15 per person
We were exhausted and in a more of a relaxing kind of mood at this point, so we chose to do the Arenal National Park trail. It is located at the bottom of the volcano, and you get to see the fossiled lava. But to be honest this trail was even easier than we bargained and not very exciting, we walked through the forest and got to see black rocks on the ledge of the volcano which is visible at the final point, and then go back.
Is Spanish, this means “green mountain”, and that's literally what this place is. Since this is higher in the mountains, it can get a bit chilly here, we needed warm clothes. It was also very foggy and rainy. But the view is lovely and the fog adds to the scenery.
My husband, who was in charge of booking the hotels, said that is was hard to find a nice hotel around in this area. So this one was the acception and was relatively nice.
The property of this place is huge and there is a nice view. There is a jacuzzi in the room and a small balcony. We had the 'honeymoon suite' which was nice, but we didn't get any honeymoon welcoming which was a bit disappointing.
Overall the stay here was fine and the food in the restaurant and breakfast was good.
Canopy, hanging bridges, waterfall climbing, horseback riding, tree climbing and more. You can see the list of the hotel's attractions here:
(I was curious about the tree climbing but when we were here it was foggy and rainy so we didn't do it.)
Canopy (zip line)
At %100 Aventura park
$50 per person (IMO good value for money)
*There are plenty of canopy's in the area and also in Arenal. I strongly recommend to do this one specifically because it has the longest zip line in all Latin America and it is highly rated.
Surprisingly, this made it to my top 5 things that we've done. At first, I wasn't rooting for this attraction and even wanted to skip it. I was worried that this would be too fast and scary, but it really wasn't and it was so much fun!
I feel like the scariest thing about this is the unknown. Not knowing how fast it'll go and how it will feel like. But once you get past the first point and realize that it's fun, you'll get over the fear.
The view on the forests from above is so amazing. We had a foggy day but it was still really nice and it was cool to 'fly' through the clouds.
The staff here is very friendly, professional and patient.
Canopy step by step:
1. You cross a hanged bridge.
2. There are 7 'sitting' zip lines. You sit up while leaning slightly backwards, with your strong hand using as a 'break' on the zip line and the other hand is for balancing your body on the rope.
The first zip line is like an introduction one, a short one. They gradually get longer and more exciting. Somewhere in between there's a vertical rope where you get dropped from the top to the ground.
3. An ATV ride takes you uphill to the final two zipping points.
4. The last two are 'Superman' position. You lay with your stomach faceing down and with your hands either to your sides or crossed like a mummy. The first line is 2000 meters long and 200 meters tall, and at the tallest point 350 meters from the ground. The second one is 700 meters long.
If you're too scared to lose control and not having a hand to break, you can do this in a 'sitting' position instead. Though, I strongly advice you not to!!! I was planning on making the alternation at first, but honestly, the Superman was not scary at all. It was a lot of fun and at this point your hands are free so you can also film with your go pro camera.
5. The last one is the Tarzan bungee. This is basically a free fall bungee that's 45 meters over the ground. You grasp your rope in Tarzan position, fall down and then swing around. Before arriving to this point I told my husband that there's no way in hell I'm going to do this. Eventually I did and I'm so glad!!! This is definitely the best part of this whole day and it'll make the zip lines look so boring compared to this. It took me some mental convincing to be able to do this, but I'm so glad I did it!
*Bring your Go-Pro with you. Bring the 'selfie pole' or helmet mount (or both) with you. You will be able to mount it on helmets that previous visitors had already glued on the device that the mount grabs on to. You will be able to hold the selfie pole when in Superman position. You would also be able to fold the pole and place it on your chest׳s harnest.
*The staff will take photos of you as you go. You can to purchase them at the end. It's around $20 (or $14 value in collonas) for a CD, and $30 for a USB. This includes all of you and your partner's photos.
San Jose area
We drove for 3.5 hours to San Jose to spend the night closer to the airport. The ride went by fine but there are a lot of shaky roads on the way. There were 3 tolls on the road we took and each was around a dollar.
This hotel is very hip and it's bar, 'w xyz', had great high quality food and nice staff.
We only stayed here for the night so we didn't experience much of the area accept for the shopping mall that's just across the street.
Overall for what we needed, this hotel was great and had one of the best showers with hot stable water and a strong stream.
You made it till the end.
I really hope I helped in any way, shape or form. And if I did, be sure to leave a comment below! Feel free to share your experience and tips.
Enjoy your trip and safe travels! :)