There’s something magical about Costa Rica.
Blessed with unspoilt beaches, biodiverse wildlife, tropical jungles, river valleys, cloud forests and active volcanoes, there’s a reason this beautiful country is widely known for its healing effects. After all, its motto is “pura vida” or pure life, which is everything that encompasses why this place is so amazing. And for this Black girl, I wanted in on everything that it had to offer.
No longer the hidden gem that it was once known as a decade ago, Costa Rica has always been a great place to take a vacation, but it has certainly gained in popularity over the last few years, especially for Black travelers. It’s no wonder, considering that there’s literally something for everyone when you plan a getaway there. Whether you’re looking for adventure, such as canyoning, cave tubing or zip lining; interesting wildlife like macaws, sea turtles, and adorable sloths; hotels for every taste and budget, such as the chic W Hotel in Guanacaste or a hidden isolated retreat such as Origins Lodge in Provincia de Alajuela; or good food such as gallo pinto, ceviche or plantains, you’ll find what you’re looking for in Costa Rica.
So when Costa Rica reopened its borders for U.S. passport holders on Nov. 1 after being closed since March, it was instantly a non-brainer. I got to work on planning my dream Costa Rica trip.
Officially called the health pass, Costa Rica’s user-friendly website has all the information on how to obtain a QR code, which literally only takes minutes to get. The link for the health pass form became available 48 hours ahead of the departure time, and after answering a few questions on previous or existing contact to COVID-19, flight information and proof of insurance, it’s ready to download instantly. Costa Rica currently requires visitors to have insurance that includes coverage of at least $50,000 for medical expenses. It also requires $2,000 of coverage for lodging should the traveler need to quarantine. If you don’t already have travel insurance covered in your policy, the website recommends Sagicor and the National Insurance Institute (INS), which is available via the website. However, any insurance that meets Costa Rica’s COVID-19 insurance requirements will do. Expect to spend approximately $11/day per person.
The beautiful thing about Costa Rica, is that you can have many experiences in one. And they all depend on where you decide to rest your head at night. Here are some of the top destinations to visit in Costa Rica, and where you should plan to spend your time.
La Fortuna, also known as La Fortuna de San Carlos, is without a doubt one of Costa Rica’s most popular destinations. About 3 hours from San Jose’s International Airport, it’s home to Arenal Volcano, which provides the backdrop and can be seen from almost every vantage point. Here, you’ll be truly immersed in understated luxury at Nayara Tented Camp, where you disconnect from the world and connect with nature.
One of the first luxury camps in Central America inspired by the luxury canvas lodges of Africa and Asia, is in the Arenal Volcano National Park. Suites, created in traditional African safari style tents fused with a Costa Rican sense of place, feature canopy beds with a botanical headboard mural, private plunge pools fed by natural mineral hot springs, and double-head outdoor showers. This will be your base as you explore all that La Fortuna has to offer: from Rio Celeste Waterfall, the hanging bridges, zip lining through the jungle, or even a dose of adventure as you go whitewater rafting.
Gallery: The Best Budget Travel Destinations (Reader’s Digest)
A trip to Costa Rica wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the beach. And as such, one of the most popular regions to explore in all of Costa Rica is Guanacaste. With incredible resorts and hotels, access to the beach, and outdoor adventure, it’s the ultimate place to escape while exploring the destination. Remember, the theme is “pura vida” afterall. The region is best reached by direct flights into Liberia Airport, and to reach the popular resort area of the Papagayo Peninsula, you can expect about a 30-45 minute drive. Because this region is so expansive, you can have multiple experiences all in one. Hidden between the mangroves of Guanacaste, for instance, is the W Costa Rica – Reserva Conchal, a modern oasis, surrounded by the white sands of Conchal.
Guests can start the day at Zona Azul Beach Club enjoying the white sands of Playa Conchal and end it experiencing the amazing sunsets in the Living Room imbibing craft cocktails. Here you can get pampered at the spa, go golfing or zip lining, or explore the neighboring Playa Flamingo where you can enjoy attractions like ATV and horseback riding, hiking tours, catamaran rides, fishing, and scuba diving. Don’t worry, you’ll be able to get your dose of adventure on property as well, with its signature “Land and Sea” tours, which gives you the best of ATV riding, and exploring water by jetski.
Meanwhile, just 45-minutes away on the edge of the Gulf of Papagayo along the north-western coast of Costa Rica, you’ll find El Mangroove. Set amid 15 acres of beachfront mangroves, the hotel has a stunning natural setting and a secluded feel, for those who want to become one with nature. A 15 minute drive away to El Coco Beach, you’ll find a bustling neighbor town with restaurants, bars, markets and nightlife. Local adventures also include Rincon de la Vieja Volcano National Park, fishing, surfing, snorkeling, SUP, kayaking & beach hopping tours. With 85 suites, you’ll also be able to enjoy a spa, steam room and hammam, public beach, WiFi throughout, 24-hour gym, kids club, bicycles and watersports equipment to borrow.
If you’re looking for a secluded retreat, for writing, healing or simply as a getaway from any and everything, Bijagua is where you want to be. Origins Luxury Lodge is located in Upala in the mountainside overlooking a valley below in the Alajuela province of Costa Rica, and is the perfect place to feel like you have a second home in Costa Rica. It’s quiet, friendly, and everyone on property has a desire to make you feel welcomed and more importantly relaxed. The resort, which opened in 2018, has remained an under-the-radar hideaway — but it won’t be for long. Here, there are just seven lodges: Six one-bedroom options and one three-bedroom option. Each has over 1,000 square feet of space, 180-degree views of the surrounding landscape (including Lake Nicaragua) and fire-heated baths.
And of course, the amenities are just as unspoiled as the surrounding area. Crafted on site, products include organic oil and botanic toiletries, marmalade from the garden, and honey from the Meliponias bees.
No matter your preference, there is something for everyone visiting Costa Rica. So whether you decide to visit one region, or them all, you will never be disappointed — I know I certainly wasn’t.
Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19, there are restrictions on international travel, and some areas are still under lockdown. Travel at your own level of comfortability and always follow local health advice. A regularly updated list of available accommodation, sights, and transport can be found on the Visit Costa Rica website.
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