After spending 8 amazing, magical days in Costa Rica, Thomas and I woke up a little sad today being back in Seattle. We instantly fell in love with the country (and haven’t stopped looking at real estate there lol). I dream of having a winter home there for when the frigid temps hit here in Washington. I had tons of questions on where we stayed, what areas we visited, restaurants we ate at, etc., so I figured I’d compile a little Costa Rica guide for you guys!
Map out where you want to go and what you want to see
We are by no means an expert to Costa Rica, but we knew we wanted to spend our week on the Pacific side of the country – lots of beach towns, good surfing, amazing food, beautiful beaches. I can’t give any advice to anywhere else as we haven’t visited it yet, but I think it’s important to figure out what you want to get out of your trip and do your research from there, as to what areas might be the best for you!
One of the top reasons I wanted to visit Costa Rica was the surfing. We’ve had a few friends spend quite a lot of time in Costa Rica so we felt lucky to have them to guide us a little. I had heard amazing things about Santa Teresa and knew I wanted to start there for my birthday.
Overview of where we went
We spent two days in Santa Teresa then went to Montezuma for a day, but honestly didn’t really feel like there was much for us there, so we ended up heading to Nosara. We spend two days in Nosara and fell in love. It was nice because we made some friends, we found good surfing and skateboarding, and the vibes were just the best out of all the places we had visited. It was definitely more of a family friendly vibe here, too. After that, we made our way to Tamarindo. We definitely got more of a younger party vibe here. We spent the night there, hiked the next day, and decided we wanted to spend our last two days back in Nosara – we were in love.
Some first impressions
It get’s dark early. Like 6:30pm early, which we weren’t used to as it stays light out well past 9pm at home. But I did love that it got lighter out earlier. People were so lively and active first thing in the morning! I would walk to the beach while Thomas slept and people were already out sun bathing, surfing, on their bikes, all before 7am.
It takes a long time to get anywhere. If you’re traveling the pacific side and want to visit different towns, be prepared to spend quite a bit of time driving. Even though the towns aren’t necessarily super far apart, the roads are so bad that it makes getting anywhere a snail race lol. I’ve never been car sick before but there were a few times the roads REALLY tested me. But it’s 100% worth it! I think we would have gotten bored if we just stayed in one place.
Fruits & Vegetables are on another level. It didn’t matter what we ate – carrots, fruit, broccoli, seafood, etc., everything just tasted better. Carrots were sweet, the fruit was inexplainable, we were in heaven. Thomas and I were saying were pretty sure we ate an entire avocado each a day. They were to die for and SO cheap. No $6 guac here lol.
Be prepared for the humidity. It’s so funny, Thomas isn’t as sensitive to humidity as I am, but being from Washington I’m just not used to it. I remember the first time he took me to the East Coast and I was like what the heck is this air lol. But the second we started hiking, walking for awhile, skating, etc., it’s sweat central. be prepared!
The bugs are a different breed. I think they were obviously worse because we were on the coast, but they are OUT, everywhere. We didn’t see any poisonous animals or creepy bugs, but there’s ants, mosquitos, and tons of other “i don’t know what’s” around.
Santa Teresa was beautiful – a super cute little town. Lots of boho-vibe restaurants and adorable boutiques, I wanted to buy everything. There was also a surf shop every few buildings. I loved that mostly all of the restaurants in Costa Rica were open and outside (with coverings for the rainy season). I felt like it gave even more to the experience.
We ate our way through Santa Teresa.. I was in love with the variety and quality of food here. Almost every restaurant offered plant-based options, paleo options, etc., and organic quality produce seemed to be a huge priority. So here are a few stand-outs:
From left to right starting at the top:
- El Patio Cafe – Perfect spot for a healthy breaky! They have vegan and vegetarian options and everything is super fresh.They have everything from eggs, to superfood smoothies, acai bowls, and super tasty coffee. They also have sandwiches and salad options! We got their tico breakfast (an authentic costa rican breakfast) and a veggie omelette that comes with salad.
- El Patio Cafe – We HAD to try this smoothie the second we saw it on the menu. I swear smoothies just taste better when you pay $8 for them LOL, because I make almost the same exact one at home but this one tasted like they added some type of magic to it. It was banana, peanut butter, and espresso.
- Happy Bowls – Happy bowls was an adorable food spot inside an outdoor cafeteria-type area called Eat Street. There’s a few different food truck style restaurants. Happy bowls focuses on fresh ingredients and offers gluten free and vegan options! They also had some of the best ceviche we’ve ever tasted, we could have had it every day. It’s usually served with patacones, which are fried plantain strips. Happy bowls has a really diverse menu offering everything from buddha pesto, sushi, or burrito bowls, to watermelon or caesar salads, and a satay prawn bowl that Thomas had and devoured! Pictured here was the sushi bowl with added greens.
- Ani’s Bowls – We wanted something quick to grab that was friendly to eat at the beach. We stopped into Ani’s and it was the CUTEST space. We grabbed one of the best smoothies we’ve ever had. I grabbed a smoked salmon salad and Thomas had a bowl and avocado toast.
- Drift Bar – This was the first stop for us when we got into Santa Teresa and it made a great first impression. First, the service here was amazing. They were so sweet and friendly. Thomas had their veggie fried rice and i’m pretty sure not a grain was left behind. We had their ceviche here as well and still aren’t over it. The menu it says it’s made with tiger milk and I need to know where to get my hands on this magical stuff. They also have a huge dessert bar and fresh juices ready to buy! Their dessert bar has vegan options, which of course we weren’t leaving without. We tried the mini vegan chocolate cheesecake, snickers tart, and pecan tart. Super cute spot for a dinner date.
- The Bakery – We heard The Bakery was one of the best spots to grab breakfast in Santa Teresa. We actually ended up making breakfast the second day we stayed in here, but I wish we would have came here to try it. They had the most epic dessert display, tons of homemade bread and croissants, but for us it was the coffee. It was amazing, we came back three times. Thomas also tried their almond milk and honey matcha and loved it.
Honorable mention – for my birthday we wanted to find a restaurant that was on the beach to have dinner at. Unfortunately, we didn’t find a menu we loved so we randomly stumbled upon a sushi spot – Katana Sushi. I didn’t get any photos because it was pretty dark in there but it was the best sushi we’ve ever had. 12/10 reccommend a stop here. They have vegan and paleo options too! We even tried one of their no rice rolls (it’s wrapped in cucumber) and it was so light and fresh!
Things to do in Santa Teresa
Surfing – There’s surf rentals and lessons EVERYWHERE. I feel like it’d be a crime to come and not try it out! The Costa Rica surf was the main reason I wanted to visit the country. It was a little bummer when I woke up on my birthday to some crazy waves, so it didn’t happen that day but being in the bath-tub temp water was INCREDIBLE.
Enjoy the beaches – The beaches are unreal. White sand, warm water, not super crowded. I could have laid out forever (if I could handle the humidity lol)
Rent ATV’s – Everyone gets around on ATV’s, but even if you’re not trying to get anywhere, just mobbing them around is a blast. They also have ATV tours and adventure excursions you can purchase! They usually take a day so we didn’t end up doing any but they all sounded super fun.
Night life – Thomas & I don’t drink, so we didn’t spend any time trying to find the best night life, but everyone says it’s a blast!
Shopping – They have the CUTEST boutique stores in Santa Teresa, I wanted to buy everything, don’t get me started. There’s an organic grocery store called Green World Store that offers tons of organic groceries, supplements, etc., and a huge beauty section with bulk options which I loved to see!
Nosara was hands down our favorite town we visited. The vibes were amazing, it was family oriented, there wasn’t as much of a language barrier which made things a little easier to navigate, and it was very laid back. We spent two days here, drove to another town, and decided we wanted to drive back to spend our last two there – we fell in love. We’ve even been looking at places there to hopefully one day maybe have a little winter house of our own 😉
The food options here were amazing. There were tons of organic restaurants which was right up our alley. Tons of vegan options, lots of fresh seafood, and a ton of the restaurants focused on organic local produce.
Starting at top left:
- Destiny Cafe – This was an adorable organic spot serving healthy breakfast and brunch! They had tons of paleo options which I thought was really cool, vegan options, and gluten free. The menu was huge and the smoothie was next level. Banana coffee is super popular here so of course, we had to try it (I’m recreating it for you guys because it’s delish, but in the meantime here’s one of my favorite coffee recipes). They add cacao nibs to it and it’s the perfect little touch.
- Destiny Cafe – Their breakfast was amazing. Thomas had a breakfast burrito that came in their homemade coconut tortillas. They were softer, almost crepe like?, and MASSIVE. I’ve never seen this boy take home food, but best believe he got a box. I had their paleo green breakfast bowl. It had this amazing coconut cauliflower rice (I need to figure out how they make it), sauteed bok choy and broccoli, poached eggs, & avocado. We absolutely loved it.
- LuvBurger – LuvBurger is a plant based spot with a huge menu. From pizzas and salads, to noodle bowls and the yummy treats. Thomas had their buddha bowl with kelp noodles and grilled veggies. The homemade kimchi was UNREAL and the grilled tofu was delish.
- LuvBurger – This salad was so simple and satisfying. It was so hot and humid the entire time we were there, I found myself gravitating to salads a lot because they’re fresh & didn’t feel too heavy. This one was so simple but so perfect and I can get down with anything involving tahini sauce.
- LuvBurger – Tiramisu. It’s my fave. This one wasn’t the best one we’ve ever had, but we were craving something sweet and it did the trick!
- Organico – I can’t even count how many times we stopped by Organico. It’s an organic grocery store in town that has almost everything you need. They even had some refined sugar free, vegan treats that we tried (If you ever go, get the maple walnut cookie. Life changing).
Honorable mentions – Mahalo bowls was delish for some quick poke. Rolling Waves coffee saw us a few different times, however we found Sunrise cafe our last day and it was our favorite coffee. La Luna had incredible greek food in a beautiful beach setting, overlooking the ocean. We spent our last night here and it was perfect. The beach dog cafe is an organic restaurant offering tons of good breaky options and makes an easy lunch/dinner stop!
Things to do
Get active – There’s so much opportunity for hiking, waterfall repelling, horseback riding on the beach, cycling tours, & kayaking. I know not everyone here will be into these, but they just built a brand new skatepark here this year. We spent manyyyyy hours there. The surfing was also amazing (really big while we were there – humbling, but so fun).
Beaches – They seemed more mellow here. The vibes were definitely more family friendly and so chill! Everyone’s so nice here.
Treat yourself – There’s amazing spas here! And the shopping.. We stopped by this outdoor store on our way out of town. It was beautiful, I made Thomas go in with me. There’s a tree that stands in the center of it and it’s so pretty. Everything felt like it was homemade (not sure if it was) but I ended up grabbing myself a little front-tie shirt and i’m obsessed with it.
Cooking classes – There were cooking classes all over as well. This could be a super fun activity!
Yoga – Nosara is a huge yogi destination. There’s yoga hotels and clubs all over the place!
Check out the wildlife – There’s wildlife sanctuaries you can visit if you want to be one with nature!
Where we stayed
We stayed at air bnb’s the entire trip. Some were great, others were.. ehhhh. The wildlife can be veryyyyy loud, so there were a few places that we didn’t get great sleep because there were animals outside making crazy noises. All about the experience though!
Staying at the Iluminar beachfront suites was a cool experience and had a private trail to the beach. The rooms were massive, The only thing you have to be aware of when staying near the beach on Costa Rica is the CRABS. They were EVERYWHERE. I wear contacts and am almost blind without them. During our first night there, I had gotten up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night and saw something scurry across the floor. I almost had a heart attack thinking it was a massive prehistoric spider of some sort. Nope, just a little crabby friend. They’d scurry under the door so there was no stopping them and we got used to it!
We only stayed one night in Tamarindo because we were doing a hike the next day that was about an hour and a half away from there. Tamarindo was definitely a younger party scene, but the beaches were beautiful and the town was cute. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to spend too much time here but they had some cute shops, an organic store with amazing treats, and nightlife.
Things to do
La Leona Waterfall – This was the reason we drove out to Tamarindo. La Leona is a gorgeous waterfall about an hour and a half away. You do the hike with a guide because you have to swim through caves to get to the waterfall. It was probably one of our favorite things we did on the trip. We were with a small group of others and they were a blast, but you can also do private guides. It was super doable for any age and they’ll even give you life vests if you’re not super comfortable in the water but it doesn’t ever get scary deep. There were a few places I couldn’t touch (but i’m 5″3).
You’re in the jungle, so if you don’t like bugs, bring bug spray. We didn’t use any and didn’t really have any issues but they’re out there! The river is actually run-off from the volcano, which means their is sulfur in the water so there’s no fish. I actually loved this because sometimes it can creep me out seeing little critters swimming by me. You’ll go through some land caves where there’s small bats (they’re actually cute) but they give you options to go around them if you’re claustrophobic. There’s also ropes in the water on the deeper parts so you have assistance if needed.
The end waterfall is stunning and super worth the short trek. You can swim up to it, get underneath it, take photos in it, etc. It was so fun!
Visit costa rica!
I couldn’t recommend costa rica more. Before we decided to visit, we chatted with friends we know that had spent ample time there and every single friend described it using the same word – magical!! Leave any questions below!