In this read, we want to help you to make your way around Costa Rica in a relaxed way. As a tourist it's not always very clear where to start, but we're here to help you out!
First of all we advise you to install the application ‘MapsMe’ on you smartphone. We really like MapsMe because of four reasons:
The offline maps work great. Without internet connections, you’re always able to locate yourself very well, and thus find your way back to your starting point. Make sure you download the app and the offline maps in a place where you have access to a Wifi network.
You can make the elevation meters appear on the offline maps. This is very recommendable in a hilly country as Costa Rica. On the ‘flat map’ it often occurs that two places are very close to each other. Taking the elevation meters into account, it gives you a way more realistic idea about the actual distance between two points. Only in that way you can estimate well if a certain route is doable for you and how long it will take you to get from point A to B. This is also important considering the weather conditions in Costa Rica. For example: If you expect heavy rains in the afternoon, it’s advisable to hike throughout the morning. Taking the elevation profile into account, you can calculate well when to take off to have less chance of getting wet!
The maps also shows small roads that you can’t find on Google Maps. This can help you to orientate yourself in your surroundings, and to discover some ‘off the beaten track’ paths. In the screenshot below, we show you a piece of the map around ‘Punta Uva’, near Puerto Viejo de Talamanca in the South-East of Costa Rica. It shows a dotted pathway towards the viewpoint of Punta Uva. We were curious and decided to check out if we would be able to find this pathway. We ended up discovering this wonderful lagoon:
We do advise you to use Waze for driving around with your car in Costa Rica though. We find that MapsMe is more suitable to orientate yourself while walking around in a certain area. Using while driving in a car, MapsMe sometimes directs you to take roads that are only for 4x4 vehicles for example, while the algorithms of Waze actually show you do fastest and safest routes to drive around. Waze is also a brilliant way to didge the traffic jams in the surroundings of San José, Costa Rica’s capital. We do also prefer Waze over Google Maps for driving around.
4. MapsMe will sometimes allow you to discover certain places by yourself, instead of going there with a tour operator. Our best example is our hike to the top of Cerro Chato. Cerro Chato is a dormant volcano and is located right next to the impressive conic Arenal Volcano, inside of the Arenal Volcano National Park. Normally you would only be allowed to go there under the supervision of a certified guide… But by studying the map of the area with MapsMe (see image below) and matching this information with things we found on the internet, we discovered that the hike to the top of Cerro Chato starts at the Green Lagoon Arenal Waterfall Villas and that it’s possible to get to the top by yourself. So… We drove up to the Green Lagoon Hotel, asked and started our hike. Read more about this adventure over here (coming soon).
Access to Costa Rica’s nature: Expectations vs. reality.
Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse and bio intense places on earth. Therefore, ecotourism is the main reason for many people to visit this beautiful country. Maybe you expect the nature in Costa Rica therefore to be very accessible, and in fact, there are tons of places in Costa Rica for you to visit, but… It’s not like in Europe, where you can get up in the morning and be like: oh, today I go for a hike in the forest… In reality it’s actually quite hard to find public, free and marked hiking paths in the Costa Rican nature. It’s because almost all the land in Costa Rica is private owned and divided in so called ‘Fincas’ and nature reserves. During your time in Costa Rica you’ll soon notice that almost all the land is enclosed by kilometres and kilometres of fences. This makes a random hike through the countryside or a forest on ‘of the road’ paths or wild camping for example really hard.
Many owners of fincas have opened their doors to the public though and receive tourists to discover the beautiful waterfalls, natural pools and other natural attractions that are hidden on this private owned properties. It also means that you, in most cases, have to pay to enter a finca. In terms of ‘hiking’, this means that the distances to walk are often not that large. The walking paths on a finca classically lead you directly to the point of interest (waterfall, natural pool, … etc.) and you hike the same path back to the entry.
Considering the nature reserves in Costa Rica. In general, they are quite pricey to visit as a foreigner, but you have to keep in mind that this money is also well spend on preservation. The walking paths are often very defined and you’re not meant to leave them. That is actually very understandable considering the amount of venomous snakes and other animals that call these reserves their home…
We also experienced that if you would like to do something more adventurous like hike to ‘La Chiripa’ in San Jerónimo or climb Central Americans highest mountain ‘Chirripó’ it will cost quite some money and most of the times, bein accompanied by a guide is required to get there. We do feel like that in Costa Rica sometimes it’s better to pay for a local guide with knowledge about the area. They can often tell you a lot of interesting facts and point out animals that are hidden to the unexperienced eye and, also not unimportant: in many cases it’s just a lot safer to be accompanied by someone that knows the area. You have to know a bit which tours to pick though.
On Instagram and Facebook, you can find several interesting companies that organize hikes or customized tours. We recommend the follow options:
You can always ask us at Mangífera Hostel about the possibilities to take you to the most interesting places in the surrounding of Grecia. If our work allows it, we can take you on a day tour to places like Cerro Tinajitas, Playa Blanca, Las Minas del Aguacate… You name it. Since we have a lot of experience exploring these areas, we know where to make pit stops and how to make sure you enjoy the experience to the fullest. We’re happy to help you find and get to your places of interest.
Jale_crtours with Joaquín Castro Porras. This guy works in a backery ‘La Panadería de Grecia’ just 100 meters away from Mangífera Hostel. His phone number is: +50688643713. He organizes tours on Sundays all over Costa Rica. Get in touch with him without compromise and inform about the possibilities and prices.
Hiking Tiquicia. Through a link in their bio on Instagram, you can open a catalogue with all their scheduled tours, dates and prices. Transport and food is often included in the package price. They normally have several pickups around San Jose and the Central Valley.
In the end, we just want to point out here that in Costa Rica it’s quite hard to find public and free activities/hikes in nature like there are in other countries. Besides, fenced fincas and enclosed nature parks mean that there are no long tracking / hiking routes that connect different areas. As a tourist it’s extra hard to find these few free and thus extra special places that you can explore completely by yourself, without having to pay for the entry or a guide to get there. In these blogposts, we explain how to get to some of our favourite free natural attractions around Costa Rica.
We have to admit that the situation is a little bit different in the areas close to the beaches since all the beaches are public in Costa Rica. Wild camping is allowed on almost all the beaches, so that gives you some opportunity to stay away from the crowd. Where the beach meets the jungle, you can also find some really nice and accessible places to spend time in nature. These are also the places where you can encounter many wild animals. One of the most interesting places to wild camp and have the opportunity to see a lot of wildlife are the beaches between Puerto Jimenez and Corcovado National Park. Read more about it in this post (coming soon).
Travelling through Costa Rica: Which type of transport is most suitable?
Although we, for many reasons, are normally very much fan of moving around by public transport, we prefer to take the car in Costa Rica… In our experience, it’s a lot more flexible to travel through Costa Rica with your own vehicle. Although the bus connections between the bigger cities and towns are quite ok, it gets a lot more complicated to get to more remote, and often: the more interesting parts of Costa Rica. When you’re travelling through Costa Rica without a (rental) car, you’ll soon notice that it often feels like you can’t get to any interesting / remote area without booking an (expensive) tour. Although very expensive, in the end investing in a rental car is worth it.