Costa Rica has become a booming tourist hotspot over the past decade. With landscapes so breathtaking that words and photos cannot fully capture them, thousands of tourists are booking their trips to this Central American country.
However, many of these tourists choose the five-star resorts on the beach or guided day tours from the nation's capital, San Jose, leaving much of the country untouched and waiting for your arrival.
In August 2022, I embarked on a three-week journey to explore the least-visited places in Costa Rica. As a university student, the five-star resorts were not within my budget, and I had no interest in being surrounded by tourists all day. Instead, I embarked on an adventure with just my backpack and fanny pack in tow.
Before embarking on any trip, planning a tentative route, booking flights and accommodations, and exploring transportation options are key to a safe and successful journey.
When it comes to booking flights to Costa Rica, one of the best-kept travel hacks is Google Flights. If you have a flexible schedule within a month or a few months, Google Flights is your best option. All you need to do is search for Google Flights in any internet browser, enter your home airport, and then click on the map to expand it. DO NOT enter specific dates or a destination. Instead, explore all the countries you've had on your bucket list and see what dates Google offers deals on and to where. Using this hack, I was able to score $200 round-trip tickets from the United States.
After you've secured your flight, it's time to plan your route. For reference, I've briefly outlined my route here, but I will provide more details later on. I flew into the capital of San Jose, traveled by bus to Jaco, then continued by bus to Monteverde. Afterward, I took a public bus to Manuel Antonio and finally returned to San Jose to depart.
While I loved every destination I visited, it's important to find what's right for you! San Jose, although a bustling city, didn't have much that interested me, so I only stayed for one night before heading elsewhere. I chose Jaco for its vibrant nightlife, but if you're not into parties, I would recommend skipping Jaco. As for Monteverde and Manuel Antonio, I believe these two cities are must-see destinations for all travelers. If you're looking for more beach life, consider adding Puerto Viejo to your trip
Now, let's talk about accommodation. I pre-booked all of my accommodation because it was my first solo trip, and I wanted to feel comfortable and prepared. However, many backpackers I met along the way booked their accommodation a few nights before, so there are different approaches to consider.
For all of my bookings, I used the fantastic app called HostelWorld. I cannot recommend this app enough. It not only allows you to join a group chat with fellow travelers staying at the same place, but it also provides access to hundreds of reviews left by previous adventurers. HostelWorld truly simplifies the accommodation booking process.
Now, let's talk about transportation within the country. The app I used the most was Moovit, which contains all the bus schedules to get to and from any city in Costa Rica. Additionally, note that most hostels will be eager to help provide shuttle information or assist you in figuring out the bus schedule.
Before my trip, I briefly acquainted myself with the bus system, but I figured out my actual transportation arrangements at each hostel. For in-city transportation, Uber was amazing. I found it to be much cheaper and safer than using local taxis, and it allowed me to track my route in the vehicle to make sure I was being driven the correct way
Finally, a few additional things to consider before you go:
Upon landing in Costa Rica's capital, San Jose, I wasted no time in beginning my adventures. My first stop was Hacienda La Chimba, just a short Uber ride from the airport. This coffee farm provided my first taste of Costa Rican culture and countryside while still being in the heart of the city.
My initial small hike led me to the Manta viewpoint, where a beautiful large wooden hand sculpture overlooked the entire city of San Jose. After exploring the coffee farm, I made a stop at their local cafe to savor the delicious food and locally grown coffee that La Chimba has to offer.
Following my morning hike, I headed to my first hostel, which I had booked through HostelWorld prior to my trip. TripOn Open House was conveniently located within walking distance of downtown San Jose, with over 60 local restaurants nearby. This hostel provided the perfect starting point for my adventures. They offered a free breakfast each morning, had hammocks for relaxation during downtime, and provided a kitchen for preparing any meal I desire, making my trip begin with confidence.
After some rest at the hostel, I ventured downtown to explore, visiting local markets and shops (a local grocery market is pictured on the left). For dinner, I made my way to Calle 33 Escalante, a lively open-space dinner market. Although I spent just one day in San Jose, it was sufficient for my trip, as I aimed to avoid larger cities. Therefore, the next morning, I packed my bags, received directions from the hostel staff, and headed to the local bus station. I hopped on the first-morning bus to Jaco, known as the nightlife capital of Costa Rica.
After a scenic bus ride through the countryside and disembarking at the Jaco bus stop, I walked a short half-mile down the road to my next hostel, Selina. If you're looking for a social, well-maintained, and welcoming hostel, Selina is the brand for you. Selina Jaco, a beachfront hostel with a pool, beachside bar, and restaurant, is home to some of the most sociable travelers I've ever met.
When you first arrive at Selina, they host a nightly welcome drink event where new travelers can meet and bond over a drink of their choice. Throughout the day, the hostel offers a variety of free and fun events such as wine painting, surfing, yoga, and live music. During my stay, I had the opportunity to meet and connect with many other solo travelers through these activities. During the days in Jaco, I spent my time hiking and enjoying the beach.
My favorite hike in Jaco was undoubtedly the Bijagual Waterfall. Located approximately a 30-minute drive from the hostel, Bijagual Waterfall is a lesser-known and less-visited gem of Costa Rica. I embarked on this adventure with fellow female travelers I met at my hostel, and we had the entire trail to ourselves for the entire 4-hour journey. The hike is a beautiful 4-mile out-and-back trail that left me speechless at every turn. Along the path, you'll discover several swimming holes, encounter wildlife like poison dart frogs and butterflies, and experience some of the most unforgettable moments of my trip. The trail is managed by locals, who charge a $5 entrance fee and provide you with directions and a walking stick for your journey. Once you reach the falls, prepare to be amazed by the spectacular waterfall, stretching over 150 feet tall and showering you with mist. This beauty is not to be missed.
Lastly, the main reason I visited Jaco was for its vibrant nightlife. With numerous clubs and bars lining Jaco's Main Street, you can enjoy bustling nightlife every day of the week. However, if you have the chance, experiencing Jaco's nightlife on the weekend is an absolute blast, with clubs and beach parties that are truly unforgettable. I highly recommend checking out XTC on a Saturday evening. The most important thing to remember is to go out with fellow hostel guests to ensure your safety.
After an incredible weekend in Jaco, it was time for my next adventure! I hopped on another public bus, heading to Monteverde, arguably one of my favorite cities in Costa Rica.
A small town nestled in the rainforest, Monteverde is an unforgettable place to experience the beauty of Costa Rica's nature! After getting off the bus, I headed to Monteverde Backpackers, a cozy hostel located at the edge of town. Fortunately, due to the town's small size, the hostel was within walking distance of all the shops and coffee stops. The staff at Monteverde were amazing and assisted me in booking all of my experiences and transportation for my next destination.
First on the to-do list was a jungle nightlife tour, arranged by the hostel. During a guided, hour-long hike through the jungle at night, we encountered kinkajous, sloths, snakes, spiders, and various species of frogs. Many of these animals were active and lively at night, providing an exhilarating opportunity to see species I had only heard about.
Next, I tackled Latin America's highest bungee jump. If you're a fan of adrenaline and excitement, this jump is a must-try! Descending over 500 feet and witnessing the rainforest from this new perspective was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The park also offers the longest zip line in Latin America for those seeking a slightly less intense adventure than bungee jumping.
Another experience I cannot recommend enough is going canyoning, also known as waterfall rappelling! There has not been another experience in my lifetime that can top rappelling down 7 different waterfalls in the middle of the jungle. I booked this experience through my hostel as well, and you are taught and guided through the entirety of the trip.
Monteverde was by far my favorite destination of the trip, with endless experiences available. After six days of hiking, exploring coffee farms, and making great friends with those in my hostel, I packed up and hopped on a shuttle boat to Monteverde (also booked through the hostel)
The final stop of my first solo trip was unforgettable! Manuel Antonio is located at the base of a gorgeous volcano and boasts striking waterfalls, hot springs, and unique experiences. Upon arriving in Manuel Antonio, I went straight to the local Selina and checked in. With options to stay in a wooden tent or in dorms, a poolside bar and restaurant, and daily free activities, Selina allowed me to make great friends and memories
My top two experiences in Monteverde were zip-lining and white water rafting. I cannot recommend the white water rafting experience enough. Booked through Selina, the company picks you up and takes you on a full-day adventure, including lunch, beer, and snacks on the river. I chose the Class 3&4 rapids because, as you may have already guessed, I love excitement. The rapids were the highlight of the trip, with amazing guides and stunning scenery.
Zip-lining in Manuel Antonio was breathtaking, passing over the waterfall to the right and the towering volcano above, it was a sight like no other. After the zip-lining experience, you also receive free entry to hike down to the waterfall!
Manuel Antonio was the perfect way to end my trip. If you're looking for more beach life and have more time, head to Puerto Viejo from here. Otherwise, I headed back to San Jose to close out my trip and head home.
Are you planning a trip to Costa Rica? You can read more travel tips and find travel buddies through the NomadHer. Download the NomadHer app now!
More about NomadHer :
NomadHer is an app for female globetrotters to encourage solo travelling safely. NomadHer has a vision of empowering women through travelling.
Our writer :
👩Hello, I'm Kai Blankenship, a US university student majoring in Science, Technology, and Society, with a passion for travel and writing. Despite a tight student budget, I've explored the world on a dime, opting for hostels, public transport, and local cuisine over luxury. My love for learning fuels my travels, keeping me engaged during class breaks. I'm eager to share my tips and inspire fellow young women to embrace travel, regardless of their age, budget, or experience.
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