Dreamy beaches, vibrant rainforests, waterfalls and magical wildlife (we’re talking sloths, monkeys and more!). This is Costa Rica. So whatever you and your girlfriends are into, from ziplining to cocktails at sunset, Costa Rica is the ideal destination for a Girl’s Getaway.
Use this post to plan your most incredible vacation yet: a Girl’s Getaway to Costa Rica.
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Volcanos and hiking in the rainforest? Or a beach vacay? If you can’t decide, you don’t have to. Do it all with Wandering Sophia’s Girl’s Getaway Guide to Costa Rica. Spend a few action-packed days in Nuevo Arenal in the North before heading south to Uvita for some beach time.
The Best of the North: Nuevo Arenal
Where to Stay & Eat
Many people explore the area from La Fortuna, a small town known for its thermal hotels. We stayed in Nuevo Arenal, about an hour away, at the wonderful Lake Gardens Arenal.
Lake Gardens Arenal hilltop location provides a view of Costa Rica’s largest lake, Laguna de Arenal. Accommodations are in adorable one or two-bedroom villas with a kitchen, bathroom and sitting room.
Go for their breakfast option, and fuel your day with warm croissants, delicious Costa Rican coffee, eggs and tropical fruit. We enjoyed eating on our terrace, listening to howler monkeys and watching toucans eat from the bird feeder near our front door.
After the day’s adventure, hang out in the villa’s pool before heading to Tinajas Arenal for dinner. YES, we ate there every night. Not only was the food excellent, but we were welcomed like friends. And every evening, the setting sun took our breath away.
Post-ziplining, we stopped for lunch at The Bistro at the Hotel La Mansion Inn Arenal. They had a lovely patio with a view. And their delicious guacamole was shaped like a volcano.
Lake Arenal Hotel and Brewery is another terrific lunch place near Nuevo Arenal. Not only are they Costa Rica’s oldest craft brewery. Their ingredients are mainly sourced from their organic farm, and they make their own cheese.
And if you are looking for a spot for great coffee with a view, then head over to Cafe y Macadamia. We also loved their gift shop! And what’s a girl’s getaway in Costa Rica without a little retail therapy?
The Best Things to See & Do in Northern Costa Rica
The Arenal volcano dominates the landscape unless it’s shrouded in clouds. But when the volcano, believed to be the “Home of the Fire God” by the indigenous cultures, comes into view, it’s spectacular. Its perfect cone shape resembles a kid’s drawing but without the spewing lava. Arenal stopped erupting in 2010. It is inactive but not extinct.
Volcano hikes & Ziplines
Get up close to the towering Arenal volcano at Parque Nacional Volcan Arenal. Their well-marketed trails are easy to follow and take you through the forest and across lava fields.
There is wildlife in the park, but we saw only birds while dreaming of monkeys and sloths.
Other than the stunning volcano, the highlight was the park’s lovely cafe with a viewing platform at the end of the hike—a great place to relax and refuel.
My first time ziplining was at Sky Adventures Arenal Park. It’s a terrific place for both newbies and thrill-seekers. The whole operation was professionally run and safety-oriented. I felt well-advised before setting off on my first zipline. And then the thrill as you sail from mountain to mountain over the rainforest. Incredible!
And don’t miss the photo opp in the huge hand sculpture hanging off the mountain’s side just before you zip off above the Costa Rican jungle.
Book in Advance: Like most things in Costa Rica, don’t just show up at Sky Adventures; you must book in advance and show your reservation to enter the park. They currently offer a 10% discount code, EARLYBIRD, when you book on their website +15 days in advance.
Mistico Park Arenal Hanging Bridges is another attraction that you need to pre-book. But it’s a great place to spend a few hours walking across 16 hanging bridges throughout the 3.2km (1.9 mile) trail. The walk wasn’t too challenging, and staff monitored the bridges to ensure not too many people got on them all at once.
We chose not to hire a guide as the cost was nearly double the basic entry fee. But this might be the place to splurge on a guide, with so much wildlife to discover, 350+ species of birds, 120+ mammals and 250+ amphibians and reptiles.
Mistico Park was where we saw our first monkey, a howler monkey. And a tiny red and blue poison dart frog. We might not have noticed either if a guide up ahead had not been pointing them out to their tour group. The park also offers bird-watching tours and night tours.
Hot Spring Resorts (with Day Passes)
A requirement for any girl’s getaway is some spa time, and in Costa Rica, this involves a soak in the thermal waters around La Fortuna.
The Arenal Volcano is the source of geothermic heat for dozens of natural hot springs in La Fortuna. They range from luxury to free. The two most famous are the Tabacon Thermal Resort and The Springs Resort & Spa.
Pictures on the resort’s websites look fabulous, and both offer day passes and unlimited access if you stay at the property. But sadly, we did not book far enough in advance and could not snag a day pass.
But we did enjoy a relaxing afternoon at the Baldi Hot Springs Resort. Reservations aren’t required. And you can enjoy 25 thermal pools of varying temperatures, some with swim-up bars. While not as luxurious as The Springs or Tabacon, Baldi is one of the largest hot spring resorts in Costa Rica. Its beauty is slightly faded, but it’s clean, and for the price and flexibility, it is well worth a visit.
However, our most fun at a hot spring was scrambling down a muddy pathway to El Chollin, La Fortuna’s free thermal river. If you are leaving La Fortuna (towards Nuevo Arenal), just past the entrance to Tabacon Hot Springs, you can access the thermal river from the road’s north (right) side. Park on the slight shoulder and pay a local a few dollars to watch over your car. If you have water shoes, bring them!
Parque Nacional Volcan Tenorio
This place is as magical as it looks. It’s also where you’ll get some of your best girl’s getaway in Costa Rica Instagram photos.
Book your tickets on the park’s website and then park at the Pilón entrance. Hiking sandals are an excellent option for this hike or any in Costa Rica.
The jewel of the park is the Celeste Waterfall, with its vibrant turquoise cascade. The walk from the car park to the waterfall is mainly flat and takes about half an hour before you head down the final 150 steep steps. Many amazing photo opportunities if you pause and shoot from the stairs.
Continue on the trail after the waterfall, following a path alongside the remarkable blue river as it meanders through the rainforest up to Teñidero. This is where the clear water meets with volcanic minerals, transforming it into a vivid blue.
Juan Jarquin’s Coffee Plantation & Sloths
Finding Juan Jarquin’s Coffee Plantation was due to a lucky encounter with Bryan from JB Tours. He overheard us discussing our dream of seeing sloths and invited us to join his tour. Just down the road from Parque Nacional Volcan Tenorio is Juan Jarquin’s Coffee Plantation, where three families of sloths live. And we were super fortunate to see sloth babies! And yes, sloth babies are just as adorable as you can imagine.
I honestly cannot express how incredible it was to see these amazing creatures who look like they are permanently smiling. And was incredibly grateful to see them in their natural habitat. After marvelling at their slow-motion movements as they swung from tree limbs, we returned to the rustic plantation coffee shop. Here, we learned about Costa Rican coffee before enjoying an incredible cup and homemade coconut cookies.
Check out Bryan’s Instagram account. I would highly recommend booking a tour with him.
The Best of the South: Uvita
The drive from Nuevo Arenal to Uvita takes about five hours. We took it at a leisurely pace, making stops along the way. One quick stop was at the Crocodile Bridge on Route 34 over the Tarcoles River. Here, you can look down and see a whole lot of massive crocodiles sunning themselves on the muddy river bank while others swim in the river.
Where to Stay & Eat
Unfortunately, I can’t recommend the Airbnb we stayed at in Uvita. But would absolutely suggest you check out Villas Altura. We discovered this gorgeous villa hotel while visiting the Alturas Wild Life Sanctuary. The hilltop resort is close to several beaches, waterfalls and the nearby towns of Dominical and Uvita. We enjoyed breakfast and lunch at their Nfusions Restaurant. And then hung out with cocktails poolside while gazing out to the Pacific. The view, the food and the service were all top-notch.
Dined at Emilio’s Cafe in Quepos for lunch on the drive down from Nuevo Arenal. Liked it so much that we returned after exploring Manuel Antonio National Park. The open-air restaurant serves up great food and gorgeous views of the Pacific and the nearby park.
Dominical is a laid-back surf town about 20 minutes from Uvita. There’s a lovely beach and several cute boutiques, the type you’d expect to find in a beach town.
But the highlight was Feugo Brew Co. It felt a bit like eating in an elegant treehouse and was the ideal location for a girl’s getaway night out while in Costa Rica. And be sure to check out their gift shop, where the whimsical drawings from their beer and coffee labels are for sale on t-shirts, water bottles, prints and more.
The Best Things to See & Do in Southern Costa Rica
El Pavon Waterfall
A half-hour drive south of Uvita is El Pavon. A picture-perfect waterfall with a large boulder stuck at the top and tiers of pools to swim in below. If you can get your girl gang up early, you might be lucky enough to have the whole place to yourselves. We arrived around 8 a.m., and no one else showed up for at least another hour.
Alturas Wild Life Sanctuary
The Alturas Wild Life Sanctuary has rescued +210 different species of wildlife. Their mandate is to rescue, rehabilitate and release birds, mammals and reptiles back into their natural habitat.
Highlights were seeing several types of monkeys, sloths and scarlet macaws. This is the best place to be guaranteed to see a lot of incredible wildlife with the bonus of feeling good about supporting a worthy cause.
Manuel Antonio Park
Manuel Antonio is one of Costa Rica’s most popular national parks; you must book well in advance. Unfortunately, its popularity reduces your chances of seeing wildlife, but the park’s Escondido Beach is spectacular and where we had one of our most fun beach days.
If you’re into white sandy beaches, sunbathing iguanas and want a sheltered bay where you can play in the relentless waves, this is the place!
Warning: Be wary of “official” looking scammers dressed like guides and park rangers trying to sell overpriced tours, tickets and parking spots many kilometres away from the park entrance.
Parque Nacional Marino Ballena
At Parque Nacional Marino Ballena, by astonishing coincidence, the very waters where migrating humpback whales come to breed is the exact spot where a massive sandy whale-shaped tail juts out into the ocean at low tide. The natural formation is formed by the meeting of two currents, depositing sand and rock.
The broad beach is a great locale for a beach day. And whale watching tours are available when the humpbacks are migrating. Ideally, plan your visit as close as possible to sunrise or sunset and around low tide so you can walk the whale tail.
You don’t have to walk out at the lowest tide point. There are several hours each day when the whale’s tail is visible and walkable; signs near the entrance will outline the best (and safest) times each day.
Travel Tips for A Costa Rican Girl’s Getaway
Best time to visit
The best time for a girl’s getaway in Costa Rica is during the dry season, which runs from December to April. It is also the busiest and most expensive time, especially from mid-December to early January during the holiday season.
Don’t miss out! Make Reservations
Unfortunately, Costa Rica isn’t the kind of place where you can be spontaneous; you need to book everything in advance, sometimes weeks or months in advance. We missed out on snorkelling at Cano Island because we tried to book our excursion too late.
The official language is Spanish, but anyone working with tourists can speak some English. But a big smile and saying “Hola” (Hello) and “Gracias” (Thank You) will go a long way with the friendly locals.
The national currency is the Costa Rican Colon, but US dollars are widely accepted. Suggest you travel with a few small bills for tipping.
Costa Rica uses A-type plugs, the same as in North America, so your phone charger and flat iron will work perfectly.
Driving is by far the easiest way to get around in Costa Rica.
- Most roads are narrow, twisty-turny, with no shoulder, as the jungle is lush and constantly encroaching.
- Driving during the day was no problem beyond dealing with a few aggressive local drivers. Would avoid driving at night when possible.
- We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the roads, although we did hit a few bumpy, gravelly patches. But 90% of our driving was on well-paved roads.
Be prepared to pay for extra insurance, as many booking sites don’t include all the mandatory insurance required by Costa Rica law. In the future, would book with Adobe Car Rental, a local company that is transparent and receives great reviews.
- Be prepared to pay for Third-Party Liability Insurance.
- You may also have to pay for the Collision Damage Waiver and Loss Damage Waiver, even if your credit card company covers it, as you need to provide written proof to the rental center.
Is Costa Rica safe for a girl’s getaway?
Yes! As two women travelling together, we felt very safe in Costa Rica, but there are a few precautions you should take.
- Never leave anything in your car when you are out touring or overnight. If it can be seen, it can be taken.
- Be prepared to pay for parking to keep your rental car safe either at a destination’s official parking lot or to the personnel overseeing the safety of an area (restaurants, roadside parking for waterfalls and thermal springs).
- Avoid walking alone at night.
Hope you found this guide helpful. And if you want to get away with your girls for a bit of adventure and fun in paradise, put Costa Rica on your bucket list. And to ensure you’re dressed fabulously, check out “Currently Loving: Summer Dresses” for pretty dresses that travel well.