Happiness in Costa Rica is a lifestyle! This is what we found out while visiting the happiest and greenest country in the world according to the Happy Planet Index. Why we fully agree with this ranking you can read here. In this blog, we share the highlights Costa Rica has to offer based on many tips from the happy locals. At the end of this post, we explain how to get from Nicaragua to Costa Rica as this may need some extra preparation.
Highlights Costa Rica worth visiting
When we visited Playa Tamarindo everything was fully booked due to the Tamarindo Beach Marathon … yes, some crazy people run 40 km in these temperatures. That’s why we only stayed in Tamarindo for 1 night and didn’t really experience it to the fullest.
The vibe is relaxed and there are plenty of options for food and drinks.
We didn’t have the chance to surf here but the waves were looking very good and there are many many options to rent a board or get some lessons.
Hotel Nahua – a very nice hotel just a 5-minute walk from the beach. Our room was spacious and looked very modern. There’s a pool an plenty of monkeys in the trees.
Dragonfly Bar and Grill – A great outdoor restaurant away from all the loudness of Tamarindos’ main street. Food is finger licking and service is great. Maybe a bit more expensive but worth it.
La Bodega – Fresh, local and organic is what this place stands for. We had our breakfast here which was delicious. They also have takeaway so grab some food here and go for a beach picnic.
La Ovega Negra – This hostel, shop, restaurant, and bar is a great place for food, drinks, and shopping. If you stay long enough you can roll straight from dinner into a night full of party! They often have live music to spice up the place.
If you’re looking for the real Pura Vida vibe then this is not one of the highlights Costa Rica has to offer, it is the number one place you should visit! Walking the streets in laid-back Samara, often referred to as the black hole of happiness, a few random strangers greeted us by yelling Pura Vida, accompanied by a cool, hipster-like hand gesture. You automatically get a big smile on your face and want to experience this greeting again and again. In our blog ‘why happiness in Costa Rica is a lifestyle,’ we elaborate a little more about this village and why to us it is the happiest place in the whole world. One tip for those of you that travel by car. The roads at Nicoya peninsula are not the happiest in the world and depending on the season there are some challenging rivers to cross. We had a Toyota 2-wheel drive which was almost caught by the flow of the river….the next time we’ll take a jeep!
villas tangerine – Villas Tangerine is a lovely place on the outskirts of Samara. The icing on the cake is Susan, the New York native who made her dream come true here. Only a few cabins that are very comfortable and a small pool, but you don’t need anything else here. Susan is the greatest host and will prepare breakfast for you every morning in her outside garden kitchen while you wake up feeling happy.
Luv burger – For vegan and beach lovers only! And if you’re not vegan you will be in doubt after tasting one of their burgers. The food is awesome and it is all very well priced. Go here before, during or after surfing and you won’t regret it.
Choco’s – There are a handful of places where you can rent a board or get some lessons. We choose Choco’s. Lessons are not really cheap but good and intensive. Samara is one of the best places in Costa Rica for improving your surf skills!
Gusto – A very nice place for Italian food with your feet in the sand. Always nice to have dinner with the sound of the sea in the background…
There are so many nice places here and the best advice is to just go with the flow and go wherever it takes you. You won’t regret!
Highlights Costa Rica – Samara
La Fortuna / Finca Luna Nueva
Finca Luna Nueva – To be honest, we didn’t stay in La Fortuna. We really wanted to stay in the midst of the jungle at this organic farm just 15 km outside of La Fortuna. Read all about our experience in our blog ‘Why happiness in Costa Rica is a lifestyle‘.
Finca Luna Nueva was not our your cheapest stay in Costa Rica but it was more than worth it. You will have your own luxurious but traditional wooden private cabin in the jungle. The Eco Lodge ‘Finca Luna Nueva’ is an oasis in the midst of the tropical jungle near La Fortuna. It is both a recreational paradise and a living classroom as they call it themselves. They offer a delicious “farm to table” experience of regenerative agriculture, together with miles of hiking trails through rainforests, farmland, and herbal gardens. Not only the food over here keeps you healthy, there’s a collection of roughly 300 medicinal plants that can be plucked when strolling the farm.
In and around La Fortuna there are many things to do. Bathing in hot springs, hiking volcanos, mountain biking, rafting .. we just stayed at our ecolodge so cannot give you any insider tips on the best places. Sorry!
Highlights Costa Rica – Finca Luna Nueva
Cahuita & Puerto Viejo
We also wanted to experience the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and didn’t regret that for a minute! There are so many little and nice villages from Cahuita all the way to the border with Panama that it is hard to choose where to stay. We had a cabin in Cahuita, a little and less touristic village next to the breath-taking national park. We also spend some time in Puerto Viejo and did a mini road trip all the way up to Manzanillo. This is how a happy life feels! Pura Vida all over the place
Cabinas Tito – We spend a few night in a private cabin at this basic place a few minutes from the center of Cahuita. The Donã is very friendly and the quality of the place is what you can expect for this money. Don’t expect a lot of luxury but just enjoy!
Soda Kawe – the best option for breakfast in Cahuita. Filled with locals and tourist so the quality must be good. A nice local place on the main street of Cahuita.
Cahuita National Park – This national park is created in 1970 to protect Costa Rica’s biggest coral reef and thank god they did. Imagine yourself walking in the nicest picture of the Caribbean for real. The entry is free and you have to register before you can get in. They also ask you for a small donation to help to conserve the park.
Panaderia Vida Sana – Exploring the outskirts of Puerto Viejo we were dying to get some breakfast and this place caught our eyes. It is a small place and they have a few tables but it is lovely. Take the road to Punta Uva from Puerto Viejo and you will see it on your right hand.
Madre Tierra – Puerto Viejo has many nice places to have lunch and dinner, Madre Tierra is our favorite. Great food and very nice prices. The restaurant is on the first floor so you will have a view of the relaxed Ticos passing by.
Highlights Costa Rica – Cahuita & surroundings
Crossing the border from Nicaragua the easy way
First .. crossing the border when you come from Nicaragua like we did. We know that to get to the border a bus from San Juan del Sur is an option but then you first go to Rivas and From Rivas to the border. We had a very good price for a taxi so took it the easy way. There are many taxis waiting around av. Mercado / av. Vanderbuilt. This will take you around 40 minutes. Be aware that to enter Costa Rica you need proof of exit. This can be as much as a bus ticket but without you cannot enter. Other options are taking a bus from Rivas or San Juan del Sur or a Tico or Nica bus and be taken all the way to Costa Rica but that is more expensive. Before you leave also take some dollars with you for the entry fee to Costa Rica and the bus ride to take you to Liberia.
At the border, there are many people that want to help you to fill out the immigration form for a 1 dollar fee. This is not necessary so just pass them en go straight into the office. You enter the office on the Nicaraguan side and you will be initially promoted to pay a border entry zone fee of USD 1 per person. You will then walk forward to the actual customs officers and pay USD 1.50 per person as an exit fee for the country. Please take some small money with you and don’t pay wit USD 10 notes or more … they probably won’t have change.
After exiting the Nicaraguan customs offices you will meet a crowd of Tico wanting you to buy anything. From Colones to cigarettes to tickets to enter the country. Ignore all of them and just walk your way into the Costa Rican side of the border, it will only take you 10 minutes. We had to show our passports several times walking to Costa Rica but you don’t have to pay anything until you are at the official customs office.
After this short walk, you’ll see an official looking building which is the customs area. Here you will have to show your passport and proof of exiting the country within 90 days. After this you have to put your bags through an X-ray machine and …. You’ve made it into Costa Rica.
To continue your travel there are buses and of course taxis. We took a bus to Liberia to pick up our rental car. It was the cheapest option and it was a fun bus ride but roads were busy and it took us more than two hours.