What does the ideal girlfriends’ getaway look like? If your friends are adventurous and outdoorsy, it looks like five unforgettable days in Costa Rica.
Sure you can have your chilling-out time at the spa, with umbrella drinks and everything. But you can also: hike in the rainforest, zip-line across the forest canopy, spot sloths in the treetops, and learn to cook amazing local food.
If this sounds like you and your best girls, read on for the best ideas of things to do on your memorable trip together.
Where to Stay in Costa Rica
For a short visit to Costa Rica, it’s handy to base yourself in the area around Arenal volcano and the town of La Fortuna. There are plenty of good, inexpensive places to eat, great hotel options, and lots to do within a day’s drive. Plus, the volcano creates natural hot springs throughout the area.
La Fortuna is a funky tourist town with coffee shops, stylish (but still pretty inexpensive) restaurants, casual local restaurants, and practical things—like grocery stores and pharmacies.
For a laidback Costa Rica vibe, consider staying at the Arenal Paraiso Resort & Spa, a short drive from town. It offers a collection of sustainably built cabins with front and back porches from which to spot wildlife (you’ll hear and see lots of birds in the morning and might see some really big grasshoppers, too). In addition to a pool and full-service spa, it has its own secluded hot springs—the largest of which has a swim-up bar. The springs follow a hillside through the resort, getting warmer the higher you go.
If you’re looking for something more upscale, Stephanie Sheehy, who has been organizing Costa Rica vacations for clients for years as the owner of Il Viaggio Travel Costa Rica, recommends the Royal Corin, a large, modern luxury hotel that’s a bit closer to town.It has three swimming pools and a series of hot tubs—all but one fed by the hot springs—and a natural steam sauna that’s heated by the springs as well. It also has a swim-up bar and the Lava Bar, a lounge that serves tapas and offers live music at night.
What to Bring
Leave those painful high heels home. This is a girlfriends’ getaway that calls for comfort. Just don’t forget to make a packing checklist that includes: a bathing suit, waterproof hiking shoes, bug spray, sunscreen, and a good sun hat.
You may choose to move to a few spots in the country, at which point you need a streamlined system of luggage, daypacks, and gear organization. Consider:
● The Wayfinder Waist Pack is ideal for this type of trip because it keeps your money, sunglasses, and phone close at hand, and won’t get in the way on even the most active days.
● The Gear Warrior 4-Wheel International Carry On is the ideal suitcase for a girlfriends’ getaway. It uses the space between the wheels to squeeze in a bit of extra packing room. Compression straps inside and out ensure it will fit in airplane overheads, even if you pack a bit more than you probably should have. And an equipment keeper strap keeps a jacket handy.
● Use the Pack-It System to organize all of your clothes and toiletries, using separate packing cubes for larger clothing items, and packing sacs for those things that could easily get lost in your bag.
Where to Get Outdoors
For some hiking and nature, Sheehey suggests, “Visit La Fortuna waterfall. It’s a great hike and at the end you can swim at the natural pool of the waterfall.” Much of the hike is down (and back up steps).
There is also the Mistico Hanging Bridges Park, an easy 2-mile (3.2 km) trail through a ravine where you can spot sloths, raccoon-like coates, birds, and butterflies. The hanging bridges are long and they vibrate quite a bit with a few people on them, but the views of the ravine and Arenal are fantastic.
There are couple of places where you can hike down into the ravine if you want an extra challenge. Part of the trail is considered wheelchair accessible.
For a different kind of nightlife, Sheehey loves the Danaus Ecological Reserve for its guided nocturnal walks. You’ll have the chance to spot frogs, snakes, lizards, and other wildlife that is more active in the evening.
Where to Have an Adventure
Costa Rica is almost synonymous with Zip-lining. Sheehey gives EcoGlide Arenal Park high marks for safety practices and quality equipment.
Its canopy tour includes a series of 13 zip lines that range from 328 feet to 1411 feet (100 to 430 meters). The tour also includes a Tarzan swing that’s about 155 feet (35 meters) high. If that’s too much adrenaline for you, there are opportunities to climb down from the platforms and head back to base at one or two points during the tour.
For a different kind of adrenaline experience join PureTrek Canyoning for a day of rappelling down waterfalls and rock walls, hiking, rock climbing, and yes, a little zip-lining, around Arenal.
Where to Relax
After the rope bridges, rappelling, and zip lines you might need to bring things down a bit, which means it’s time to hit the hot springs.
Baldi, The Springs, and Arenal Kioro are resort hotels with extensive hot spring pools where you can buy day passes fairly inexpensively.
Baldi is a sprawling hot springs complex with a Las Vegas hotel aesthetic. The adults-only pools feature a volcano that could be part of a King-Kong movie set. This is where you can soak with a fruity tropical drink in hand.
The Springs is more lush, with pools surrounded by rocks and waterfalls. It’s been featured on “Keeping up with the Kardashians” and hosted a season of “The Bachelor,” so you know it’s Instagram-worthy.
Kioro’s Titokú is smaller and more low-key than the others. Its pools are the most natural looking and the biggest only holds 20 people.
For a more traditional spa experience, Sheehey really likes The Spa at Tabacón. Treatments incorporate Costa Rican coffee, guava, pineapple, and local volcanic clay. The treatment spaces are outdoors, where the sounds of the rainforest and nearby streams will lull you and your best girlfriends into relaxation.
Where to Be Hungry
La Vida Campesina is an organic farm outside of la Fortuna where they grow coffee, sugar cane, and a range of local fruits, vegetables, and cooking and medicinal herbs.
An evening at the farm starts with a tour of what the family grows, where you’ll pick some items for the night’s dinner. You’ll see how they juice sugarcane and try it straight from the plant, as well as sample it fermented into what amounts to Costa Rican moonshine.
Heading inside, you’ll roll out the tortillas they toast on an old-fashioned cast-iron stove and cut vegetables for the side dishes.
After admiring the antiques around the farmhouse (and the local tableware that they sell) you’ll sit down to a dinner of chicken and rice, beef stew, salad, and the sautéed vegetables and tortillas you made. It will be one of the best meals you eat in Costa Rica.
It’s tricky to reserve space with Campesina directly (they don’t have a website), but tour companies can book groups for two or more for this activity.
Costa Rica is a place where there are advantages to using a tour company to help you plan. They can arrange drivers so you don’t have to brave Costa Rica’s rough, poorly-signed roads on your own, and they can direct you to the most ethical, sustainable, and responsibly-run eco and wild-life experiences.
No matter where you and your girlfriends decide to travel, keep adventuring into the unknown.
Wayfinder Waist Pack S
Gear Warrior 4-Wheel International Carry On
Pack-It Original Starter Set
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