1) Manuel Antonio – You may not see an incredibly large amount of wildlife here. I was lucky and had a friend tell me she did not see neither a sloth nor a monkey at the national park, so therefor I arrived with low expectations, which made it amazingly easy for my experience to exceed my expectations. Know that no matter what, in Manuel Antonio you are going to see one of the most beautiful beaches (arguably the number one most beautiful) that Costa Rica has to offer. You are going to have a day of hiking gentle slopes at your access. You can spend your day both in tropical forest and on a lush beach, so be grateful for all of this. You also may see ample wildlife. I was lucky enough to see two sloths and a million monkeys, but if this does happen to you (as it does not happen to many) don’t let it impact your trip for the worse. Manuel Antonio is an incredible place and should be appreciated no matter what.
2) Montezuma – Make sure you hike up to the second waterfall! Anyone can do it, even if it feels scary. There are ropes to support you on the entire way up and the highest waterfall is so worth it.
3) Monteverde – Get out of your (physical) comfort zone! You are going to be at the highest bungee jump and longest zipline in Central America! I did both and they were two of the most exhilarating things that I’ve done in my life. Understand the prices before you go. Monteverde may be your one unusually expensive weekend, but for a good reason. Spending $100 dollars on ziplining and bungee jumping is worth it if you can plan ahead and have the money saved.
4) Puerto Viejo – Rent bikes and explore! I am currently planning my second weekend back here because I got so caught up in the incredible (and distinctly different) Afro-Caribbean culture, that I forgot to look into anything surrounding the town. While I have no regrets spending my weekend making friends with locals and exploring the beach by foot, I now know of all the parts of this place that I missed! Rent bikes and bike from beach to beach, to the chocolate factory, to little shops, to Punta Uva. Spend a morning at the sloth sanctuary! Stay at Rocking J’s Hostel, spend 7$ on your hammock, and meet tons of other travelers and learn from their stories.
5) Río Celeste – Go on this incredible day trip! Wear hiking sneakers but bring drip flip-flops for the bus ride home because your knees-and-down are going to be soaked in mud (but don’t worry, there are hoses to wash the mud off). If anyone is coming to visit you and plans on renting a car, do this trip with them because a bus to the rio costs between 54-70 dollars, but if you drive there on your own it is very inexpensive. Either way, it’s worth it.
6) Bocas – Wear lots of deet! Bocas del Toro, Panamá, is an incredible island paradise. I left Bocas with incredible memories, a beautiful tan, unbelievable experiences (snorkeling, seeing dolphins, biking through tropical forests) and an insane amount of chigger bites. These bugs, which we also have in the states, leave some of the itchiest bites I have ever experienced. Bring lots of bug spray and put it on during the day.
7) Jacó – This is a beautiful beach. Don’t listen to what anyone else says. If you are staying in San Jose for the weekend and want a day at the beach, Jaco is an hour and a half away, costs 2500 mil (five dollars), and is a gorgeous beach. People say it is an ugly beach and these people are utterly wrong.
8) Nicaragua – Find time to make it here. If you have a long weekend or if you are here over Semana Santa, cross the border and feel how distinctly different Nicaragua is. Ometepe is a dreamland on the volcanic island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. San Juan del Sur is filled with young folk traveling and a large tourist economy. Granada feels like it is out of a different time zone. Find 4 or 5 days while in Costa Rica, choose your Nicaraguan destination, and experience a trip that is beautiful and different.
9) Sámara – Go here! Sámara is not too high on the tourist radar, which is one of the reasons it is an incredible place to visit. Rent kayaks for at least two hours and make it out to the small island right off the coast, which will feel like your own private island for the hour. Embrace the hippie culture and speak Spanish with locals who are used to being patient with North Americans trying to speak the language, because as you will see, many North Americans come to Sámara for a summer and then they never leave.