Pura Vida week in Costa Rica!



  • When: 18 March – 26 March, 2023
  • Where (accommodations): Punta Uva: aWá beach hotel, La Fortuna: The Royal Corin Thermal Water Spa & Resort, Tamarindo: Capitán Suizo Beachfront Boutique Hotel
  • Transportation: 2hr55 min flight on JetBlue flight from Ft Lauderdale, FL (FLL) to San José, Costa Rica (SJO)
  • Sights/attractions: Playa Punta Uva, Cahuita National Park, Puerto Viejo town, La Fortuna Waterfall, La Fortuna town, Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges, Arenal 1968 hike, Zip lining at Sky Adventures Costa Rica, Playa Hermosa, Playa Flamingo, Playa Tamarindo, Surfing, Playa Langosta
  • Food/drinks: Restaurante Selvin, Soca, Hot Rocks, Stashu’s Con Fusion, Pollo Fortuneño, Lava restaurant at The Royal Corin Thermal Water Spa & Resort, Chocolate Fusion Cafe y Brewing, Piura Restaurante, Antichi Sapori, Noi Bistro Tamarindo, Nalu Bagel & Café, Dragonfly Bar & Grill, Green Papaya Tamarindo

Pura Vida direct translation from Spanish means ‘pure life’ or ‘simple life’. However in Costa Rica this is more like a way of living. This phrase is used interchangeably for ‘hello, ‘good bye’, ‘thank you’, ‘you’re welcome’, ‘have a nice day’ etc. It’s something that you hear and it makes you instantly happier.

Costa Rica is located in Central America, bordering Panama on the south, Nicaragua on the north. Rainforests in the center, Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea washing its coastlines, this country was a lot harder to plan for than we initially thought. Geographically it’s not huge, but when we started plugging destinations into Google maps, we realized that there will be A LOT of time spent driving. It probably would’ve been a lot less if we just picked one side. But knowing Kristina’s way of planning you might guess how it went.

We could not decide on the coastline, so chose to spend three nights on the Caribbean side, near Puerto Viejo town, Punta Uva beach. Then for two nights enjoy the thermal baths and Arenal volcano at La Fortuna. Finally, for some surfing to check out Tamarindo on the Pacific side (two nights) and the last night overnight near the airport of San José before the flight back to Boston.

We worked from Miami Beach for the six weeks leading up to the Costa Rica vacation and didn’t have a car. So Sean went from not driving for 1.5 months to driving 20 hours in this one week.

We heard about the roads being bad and needing an SUV, so we rented one. All of the roads that we took (except a short detour on the Pacific coast near Playa Flamingo) were great, well paved, smooth highways. The problem was not the quality, but mostly the slow traffic due to construction, especially going from San José to the Caribbean side. Lots of reduced speed, heavy trucks blocking the way. To drive 60 miles (almost 100km) took over 2hrs on average.



We landed in San José on Saturday around 11am, after an early morning flight from Fort Lauderdale. Knowing that we’ll have a five hour drive, we wanted to hit the road as soon as possible, so we grabbed our luggage and went to look for the Avis counter. When we rented a car it was advertised as being ‘on site at the airport’, but that unfortunately is not the case.

I am giving all these details, so that if possible you rent from another company, because Avis did not leave us with a great experience in Costa Rica. We met a person outside the airport and had to wait a bit until they had enough people to fill up their mini bus, which then brought us to the actual Avis office- about 10 min away from the airport.

Here, of course, there was a line and a slow process of the paperwork (despite booking the car well in advance online). When we finally thought we’ll be getting our vehicle, we were told that it will be another ‘around 40 minutes, because it’s being washed and disinfected’!

We immediately told them that we do not care if the car is not clean- we just need to get going so that we can reach the destination before dark (sunset is early in CR, around 6pm). Our pleas went to deaf ears- one person said that they told the guys to not clean the car, the other said he can’t do anything about it- at the end we waited another 30 minutes and left AVIS extremely frustrated. It gets better- car’s AC stopped blowing cold air a few hours into the hot (think 90F/35C) drive.

Not the best way to start the trip, but luckily it all worked out. Several calls to Avis later (one of them they asked to send a VIDEO as a proof that AC is not working), we finally arranged to have the car exchanged in La Fortuna. That meant another five hours of a hot drive, but at least the new vehicle worked well and we didn’t suffer during the hottest travel time on the Pacific coast.


Very tired, but we arrived to paradise! About 10 min past Puerto Viejo town is Playa Punta Uva and aWá Beach Hotel is tucked in away from any town noise, but close enough to easily go for dinner if needed. Right on the beach, but also felt like the jungle, this boutique hotel is a luxury oasis on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.

It’s on the pricier end (we found Costa Rica pretty expensive overall), but it had breakfast buffet as well as a la carte included, and you could order lunch/drinks on the beach as well. They did not start breakfast until 7.30 am, which I found a bit odd, given the fact that a lot of travelers were jet lagged (us included) and were up well before this time.

They also do not have a spa, but when we asked about massages, front desk was able to arrange masseuses to come to our bungalow (they brought massage tables) and we enjoyed couples massages on our patio/room. Overall it was a very nice stay, we didn’t feel like the staff was going out of their way, but everyone was polite and helped with organizing a tour, answered any questions we had.


We came here to enjoy the beach, so we made sure we accomplished this mission! On our first day I woke up before sunrise and walked around the property. I heard howler monkeys, lots of birds, and saw the little animal right near our hotel called agouti. During the day we mostly swam, relaxed near the hotel, and did nothing- rare on our vacations.

By the afternoon we decided to take a walk towards the pointy part of the peninsula and see what’s on the other side. We admired the natural cave, climbed some rocks and reached another gorgeous white sand beach.

Of course I had to get on the leaning palm tree- can’t pass up this opportunity! The water was super warm, but not very clear- there are waves and a lot of sediment from the sand. Great beach overall, not too crowded either.


We didn’t have any set plans, but looking at the excursions offered by the hotel decided to do a half day snorkeling/Cahuita National Park tour. The driver picked us up at 8.30am, collected the rest of the group along the way and brought us to Cahuita. Based on the tide, the guide recommended that we start with snorkeling and do the hike after.

To be completely honest snorkeling was not worth the time. The sea was wavy and the sediment made the visibility very limited. We could see that there was some healthy coral, but the variety of fish was not great. If the tour was only for snorkeling, then we would’ve left very disappointed. Luckily we stopped at the beach to eat some fresh pineapple and then did a fun hike where we saw A LOT of animals.

There were raccoons, white faced (capuchin) monkeys, howler monkeys, snakes, spiders, iguana and finally a sleeping sloth! The guide was super fun and informative, spoke great English and we really enjoyed this tour. Lunch was included, so we ate at one of the restaurants in Cahuita- Sean’s chicken was good, I chose fish and it was quite terrible. So hit or miss I suppose 🙂 .

This was the most animals we’ve seen in one short period of time while in Costa Rica. If not for the beautiful beaches, then for this tour alone it was worth coming to the Caribbean side.


Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is a coastal town with a black sand beach (Playa Negra) and a lively nightlife (Hot Rocks bar). It has a laid back, casual vibe, cute little stores and restaurants- we took a tuk-tuk from the hotel couple nights for dinner, because we didn’t want to drive/look for a parking spot.

For our first dinner we were too tired to even make it into town, so we ate at Selvin Restaurante– a few steps away from the hotel. Local food was delicious and an unexpected bonus- a sloth hanging out across from the restaurant!

Our first night in CR and here is a sloth fairly close to us. What a treat!

For a more upscale dinner experience we went to Soca– beautiful restaurant, extremely nice staff, delicious food. Very expensive. We are still wondering how our bill ended up being over $150 USD.

Last night on the Caribbean side we went to Stashu’s Con Fusion– great food, good prices, relaxed atmosphere- highly recommend.

Three nights flew by and we are on the road again to the middle of the country- time for volcanoes and waterfalls!



Car AC was still broken, but going away from the coast and closer to the Arenal volcano the temperature dropped a bit, so it was manageable. We got up super early and were on the road by 7am to try avoid traffic as much as possible. It was still around 4.5 hours drive, but we reached La Fortuna at noon, which gave us most of the day to enjoy this town, the hotel and the nature around us.

La Fortuna is a small town, but charming and lively with the restaurants, cafes and shops in the main street. It’s gateway to Arenal National Park and famous for it’s thermal spas. There are some places where you could make appointment to visit the spa, but to avoid the hassle and to save time, we booked the hotel that already had thermal water spa in it. The Royal Corin Thermal Water Spa & Resort was incredible. Easily our favorite hotel on this trip.

From being greeted by the super knowledgeable David, to the front desk that went out of their way to book activities, to the swim up bar, multiple jacuzzis and a state of art spa- we loved it all. We got a couples massage and they were amazing too. The only downside was that we were here for only two nights.


We arrived before the check in time, so we had time for lunch and decided to see La Fortuna waterfall, since it’s very close to town. You do have to pay to enter ($18pp, pretty steep in my opinion) and it’s open I believe 7.30-5. You have to climb around 400 steps to get to the base and, if you feel like it, you also can jump in for a swim. It was not that hot when we arrived, and we left our bathing suits at the hotel, so we did not partake in this activity.

It’s not the most spectacular waterfall that we’ve seen, but I thought it was quite nice. We did not go on any other tours that involved waterfalls, so to be this close to one and miss it would be a shame.


On the following day (and the only full day in La Fortuna) we craved some adventure. We started the day with a good breakfast at the hotel and drove to Místico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park. Online there were no tickets available, but hotel called for us and confirmed that we can just show up and buy the tickets there. One advice- go early. We were there in the morning and already saw a good amount of people.

It’s a beautiful and well taken care of park with 7 hanging bridges. You could spend here a few hours, we did it in about 1.5 walking fairly fast. When a large group reaches the bridge you might have to wait, because only 15 or so people are allowed on one at the same time. That’s why it’s definitely better to go earlier to avoid the crowds. We hoped to see some wildlife, but only spotted a few birds. Still a good walk/interesting activity while in the area.


Arenal volcano was pretty dormant until 1968 when it had a huge eruption. It’s been active ever since, with the last eruption in 2010. There are several hiking trails in the area, we chose Arenal 1968 shorter Lava trail simply because of the time. It took us about an hour, which allowed us to get a hike in, but also have enough time to have lunch before our next activity.

Overall it was an easy and scenic route, especially cool to walk on the lava if you never done that before.

Lunch was also good at the cafe near the entrance- it saved us time not having to go back into town.

I am glad we saw Arenal the day that we arrived- even when the sun came out, the top remained hidden in the clouds until we left La Fortuna.


I did say we wanted adventure, so we really got one today! I’ve zip-lined many years ago in Belize, Sean did a short zip-line a long time ago, but we’ve never had this activity together. Costa Rica has many perfect places to zoom above the tree tops and Arenal is definitely one of the most beautiful ones to enjoy. We booked it through our hotel upon arrival, but when the rain came down with less than an hour left until our appointment, we weren’t sure if we’d be able to do it. Essentially we were going there to get the refund, but as we pulled into the parking lot the sun came out! It was gorgeous throughout the whole 1.5 hours of fun.

While taking the cable car up, the guide noticed a sloth in the tree (wet from the rain and so cute). I got it on the video YAWNING : ) !

Super fun crew, amazing views- it was excellent activity to get some adrenaline going. At times the speed was around 70km/hr!


All these hikes, spas and zip-lines surely increased our appetite. We had no shortage of restaurants while in La Fortuna. I think even if we spent a week, there still would be places to eat at- we had marked so many restaurants to try, but given that we’re here for two nights, we only got to sample a few.

On the day of arrival we had excellent lunch at Pollo Fortuneño.

For dinner we stayed in at the hotel and enjoyed their rooftop Lava restaurant. Nice decor, good food, no need to go anywhere- it was lovely.

For an afternoon pick- me- up we stopped by the Chocolate Fusion Cafe y Brewing– cute cafe, delightful Costa Rican chocolate, great coffee and plenty of other desserts!

Last but not least- Piura Restaurante for a Peruvian dinner on our second and final night in La Fortuna. We really ate like kings.

I have to also mention how amazing the fruit has been in all of the hotels in Costa Rica- papaya, mango, pineapple, watermelon – super sweet and juicy.



Luckily Avis had another car and agreed to exchange it while in La Fortuna. There was an office downtown, so we brought it over and this time had no delays. We are leaving for the Pacific side of the country where it’s HOT! Grateful to have working AC again.

If we only had gone straight to Tamarindo, then the drive would not have been too bad- a couple of hours or so. But because we wanted to see other beaches in Guanacaste province, we started from Playa Hermosa, up north of the coast.

As we were driving we could see the scenery change dramatically. Lush and green was eventually replaced by the desert. Leaving Arenal area we met very cute animals from the raccoon family- white-nosed coatimundis.

It was a scenic drive. A lot prettier than the stretches of road work on the way to the Caribbean side for sure.

We arrived to Playa Hermosa and I went to check out the beach. Lots of space, completely empty, but very windy and the sand didn’t look as nice as I hoped. We decided to continue down the coast.

Next stop- Playa Flamingo. It was a good 45 min drive, some of which was a shortcut through the unpaved bumpy road. It’s the first time we felt like having an SUV was a must. This beach looked gorgeous – very white sand, little waves.

However, it was VERY hot out- 100F (38C). We realized that there is not much shade, especially for the car. All our luggage with the toiletries was in it. So if we stayed here, it would’ve basically cooked inside. Moving along, now to our final beach destination- Tamarindo.


When we planned this trip, we initially had Jardin Del Eden Boutique Hotel booked for the Pacific coast part. However, two days before arrival, they messaged us that due to some pipe issues in the room our reservation was no longer available. They did not have any other rooms and offered to move us to their ‘brother hotel’. We looked up the other place and saw that it’s a lot different than what we’d signed up for- big family resort, not a boutique hotel like Eden and definitely not even similar cost. Some back and forth later we got the money back and started frantically looking for a place to stay- we never book hotels this last minute.

I don’t know what our experience would’ve been at Eden, but we found Capitán Suizo and loved every minute there! I think it was a blessing in disguise, because Eden is not a beach front, while Capitán Suizo is. It was so nice to not have to cross the street in order to get to the beach.

Not crowded, always plenty of chairs available near the pool or the beach, excellent breakfast- this place is a gem! We got massages in the outside cabana and both ladies were wonderful.

Oh, and I cannot forget to mention- they have, I think, 11 cats and a few dogs! All well fed and happy, they have their favorite spots around the property, and we loved petting some of them.

Since we had such a busy week already, we didn’t do much while in Tamarindo. We lounged by the pool/beach, got some sun and eventually walked over to town for some lunch/boutique shopping.


Playa Tamarindo is famous for its gentle waves, which are perfect for beginner surfers (like us). For $7 per hour we rented boards at our hotel and tried to catch as many waves as possible. I succeeded many times, Sean had a little bit harder time, but we both still had so much fun!

Caribbean side had sunrises, while in Tamarindo we enjoyed gorgeous sunsets.

On our last morning we took a short walk to the nearby beach- Playa Langosta. Similar to Tamarindo, though the water seemed even more clear and some of the sand looked black.

We saw the howler monkeys on the way (they were in the trees at our hotel the night before). We also saw iguana and lots of birds on this side of the country.


Super cute downtown, we walked from our hotel a few times-either along the beach or the nice sidewalk- it was less than 15 minutes. Just like in Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side, Tamarindo also had a lot of boutiques, but same as before, it was hard to find items actually made in Costa Rica. A lot of imports from Argentina and the USA. Either way it’s a very charming town especially at night.

We had two dinners and a couple lunches there- all very good. Antichi Sapori surprised us with an amazing Italian feast- the owners are from Sicily, the place is very small with a few tables outside, but the food was super good.

Homemade pasta, gnocchi with pistachios, fresh bruschetta- we devoured it all. Dragonfly Bar & Grill was a fun happening place with tasty food and drinks.

We always try to find good açaí bowls when we travel, Costa Rica was no exception. We sampled two places in Tamarindo and the one we loved was from Noi Bistro Tamarindo.

At the second – Nalu Bagel & Café açaí was not as good, but they had an amazing bagel burger, so it’s still a great place for lunch.

On our last day before a long drive home we ate at Green Papaya Tamarindo– very big portions, keep that in mind when ordering.

I had papaya salad with shrimp that I really enjoyed. Sean’s tacos were ok, but not our favorite. It was so much food that it kept us full for the whole 5 hour ride back to San José!

We left Tamarindo in the afternoon and ended up driving last two hours in the dark- not advisable. The road was curvy, lots of trucks going towards the city- let’s just say we both arrived pretty tired and agitated. Last night we spent in the Holiday Inn near the airport, which had a pool, so we were enjoying the warm weather until the last minute. Airport being six minutes away meant slow and relaxing morning before the flight back.


We’ve explored one more new country! It was a good trip. Not the best or most favorite one. Very busy, lots of driving, unpleasant Avis experience and hotel cancellation last minute. But it also was a trip where we saw sloths from pretty close up. We surfed and watched the beautiful sunsets. We enjoyed the howler monkeys playing in the trees and ate amazing fresh fruits.

We still could not say which part of Costa Rica was better. Caribbean side gave us the most wildlife sightings. La Fortuna had the most amazing hotel with the hot springs and a beautiful view of the Arenal volcano. Pacific coast had the best waves for surfing and the warmest/sunniest weather.

It’s a beautiful country for sure. Very safe, very tourist oriented, very American in a way. It’s a lot more expensive than any other Central/South American countries that we visited, so be prepared for that too. I would probably say try to either go for a bit longer than a week, or choose one area to explore, because twenty hours of driving in one week is too much even for a very busy travelers like us. Bottom line- we are glad we visited and we’re grateful for all the experiences. Pura Vida!

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