In January 2020, Marjorie and I threw money at a tour company called G Adventures and jetted off to Costa Rica. It was somewhat of an experiment after our Bucket List Galapagos Adventure. We both knew nothing could top Galapagos – but could this come close? And would we find value is someone doing all the planning for us (instead of the intense heavy lifted we did ourselves for Ecuador)?
TL; DR – 3/5 stars overall. Enjoyed our time, would not do a tour again.
First you might be wondering – what the heck is this? G Adventures is a one stop shop – you pay, you fly, you follow the leader. Check it out here.
Day 0: Car Rental and Quepos
Okay so we couldn’t resist a little self planning. We arrived one day early, met in the airport, and then we were off like a rocket. We decided to test the waters with a car rental. (This was a BIG DEAL for two city women who very rarely drive and don’t own cars)
We chose Adobe Car Rental after reading a fantastic review from My Tan Feet. My Tan Feet were SO helpful in the booking and understanding-what’s-next process – I highly recommend you use them as your jumping off point if you plan on renting a car in Costa Rica. Additionally, Adobe Car Rental was top notch. Excellent customer service (English/Spanish) and the worker came to the car with me, checked it, helped me adjust everything, etc. Top notch service I’ve never received with any other car rental company.
We jumped right on the highway and took the 3-ish hour drive down the coast to our ultimate destination – Quepos. For anyone squeamish about driving abroad – this stretch of road was pristine. Yes, some people liked to pass aggressively but there was nothing nerve wracking about it in the least.
Quepos is a cute little spot and we arrived in the midst of a political rally -which sounds ominous but was actually more of a street fest that was really fun to walk around in. We grabbed some ice cream at Pops (a chain that is everywhere in Costa Rica. Not bad but not drool-worthy. Think Chocolate Shoppe or Cold Stone, maybe?) and enjoyed the boardwalk.
We stayed at Las Cascadas in a room up in the canopy. It had an amazing view but no screens (sigh) so we had to stay huddled away since it was dark and giant bugs were not invited to our sleepover. Also the trek up to the room was at least a 50 degree angle, it was intense. Overall, the space was cute but the room and restaurant felt something to be desired. I wouldn’t recommend this place but suggest another!
Day 1: Quepos and San Jose
The following day we heavily debated – do we go to Manuel Antonio or the Spice Farm? We decided a lot of nature was in our future and, even though I’m sure Manuel Antonio is amazing – we skipped it in favor of Villa Vanilla. And, look for anyone who has been in Central or South America, we found this to be a real treat. We’ve see cocoa, we’ve seen coffee, but this to me was truly unique. It’s a very small operation with a jungle of variety of plants. It was educational, beautiful, unhurried, and delicious. I highly recommend this tour.
Instead of trying to shove too much into one day, we hopped back in the car and made it to San Jose for our orientation. Looking back – and with some knowledge, I would have done this totally differently. Our hotel in San Jose was nothing to brag about (El Sesteo). Some rooms didn’t have air conditioning, some did, but all were depressing. The courtyard was cute but it was definitely not a place I would have chosen on my own. Location was fine, but not great either… and here begins the reason why tours are just not my thing. I hate feeling like the money I put into the tour wasn’t used the way I would have used it. That might not be fair, but it’s true.
We had orientation which, honestly, for anyone with an iota of previous travel experience, was unnecessary. We met our guide, Gabriel, who was a lovely human being, but otherwise the information was general and not something that needed walking through. We learned that night that immediately in the morning we were boarding a public bus for about 4 hours to get to La Fortuna.
Here’s where I would have done it differently – since we already had the car, Marjorie and I should have just driven up to La Fortuna and spent the night there. There was NO reason for us to have a night in San Jose at all if we were already going to have a car. We could have skipped the public bus and had that much time in comfort and in La Fortuna.
Day 2: La Fortuna
We started our day on the bus which, if I’m honest, was actually way nicer than anticipated – but still, a long bus ride! (Also at every bus station in Costa Rice you’ll find a chain bakery that is SUPER tasty! Musmanni – check it out!)
When we arrived in La Fortuna we had lunch at the Rainforest Cafe (no, not that one) which was tasty and a place we went back to for breakfast. We decided to try and squeeze in an excursion (and save a little money) and instead explored a little of the town. La Fortuna is tiny with only a few streets around the main square. It’s very cute but it’s really just a jumping off point for all the various activities. And it was going to be home for three nights. On one hand, it’s nice to not move around a lot, but on the other, the hotel was (again) something to be desired. We stayed in Hotel Las Colinas and our room in particular was so small it was literally impossible to unpack (it was our beds and ONE tiny table – no dresser or closet) which defeated the purpose of spending a few nights, in my opinion. Now – it had a few positives with being in an incredible location to walk around and having an amazing view. But the room seriously sucked.
We did get an amazing ice cream on square and has a really great meal at Yellow Bark – so it’s not like it was a total loss of a day.
Day 3: La Fortuna and our First Group Excursion
I’ll admit, coming onto day three I was getting pretty salty. Two lackluster hotels, a bus ride, and basically nothing happening yet? I was feeling antsy and wondering where my money went.
But then – this! Our first kayak excursion! It was led by Desafio and I loved this. They took us over to Lake Arenal where we split the group into two – one group kayaked out to the peninsula while the other group did SUP (Stand up paddle board) and then we switched. During our break in the middle of the lake we had fruit and beer to enjoy.
This was my first time doing SUP and I was practically giddy I loved it so much. It was a beautiful and amazing spot to the activity and I highly recommend it. One thing to note – you do NOT need to be on this G Adventures tour for this! This is a tour hosted by Desafio and you can buy it one-off if you are in La Fortuna on your own.
After lunch, we went on a hike to get a better view of the Arenal volcano. This was organized through our guide and G Adventures, but it was, again, a tour hosted by Desafio that you can do without being part of a larger group. It was a nice little outing – definitely more “walk” than “hike” but did give some good opportunities to see wild life and pictures of the volcano with some informational tidbits.
Lastly, our group decided to partake in what our guide, Gabriel, called a more “rustic” hot springs experience. This, my friends, was the most unique and hysterical activity we encountered in our G Adventures trip. We stopped by a little market, bought some beer, and then Gabriel led us down some super sketchy steps into was was clearly just a dam run off or something super podunk. I almost lost my suit in a particularly aggressive portion but eventually the group of us set up shop in the back, Gabriel pulled out some candles, and it was downright relaxing and silly. We never would have found it on our own without Gabriel and it was definitely a perk to the trip. If you are in La Fortuna on your own and you ask around, you could find it, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it by yourself.
Day 4: La Fortuna
Our last full day in La Fortuna was unscheduled so we opted to try the boat tour up in Cano Negro. And there was a bit of the problem with the whole “other people plan for you” type of vacation – we weren’t sure what we were signing up for. We thought there was some kind of hiking element… or some kind of really unique situation. It was pretty much just a long, slow boat ride where you almost saw some wildlife. All in all, not our favorite use of our time (though it was lovely… just not quite active enough for us). It did include lunch, but our lunch stop was very awkwardly on someone’s farm property and there was no place to take advantage of the “outdoor commode” without showing your butt to the world.
We spent our final evening in La Fortuna enjoying the weather, walking, and doing a little shopping. It was lovely, but definitely time to go. Dinner at Lava Lounge which was tasty, but expensive.
Day 5: Sarapiqui and the 2nd Kayak Adventure
Welcome to Summer Camp!
Seriously – this was the point in our tour that you have to either laugh or cry. I think I did a little of both. We left La Fortuna in a lovely little private van and made our way to Sarapiqui. My jaw dropped when we pulled into Cinco Ceibas. The painted bus was adorable, the main lodge was fun and campy, but the fact that they housed NINE WOMEN in one of these cabins (with 3 bedrooms… 4 if you count the one that was just curtained off from the kitchen) and one bathroom was, to me, not okay. And don’t get me started on the food (the first included meals ALL TRIP). (Spoiler: the food sucked).
Look -let me back up here. I am not a finnicky traveler. I don’t get grossed out. I understand limitations. I was HOT about this though. I did not pay for shared accommodations. I paid a very decent price for this trip – it wasn’t supposed to be shoe string and, lemme tell ya, this is shoe string accommodation.
Ok – but if I was able to put aside my frustrations and absorb the good – let’s be honest we NEVER would have found this place on our own. And it really was like summer camp – we were the only people there and ate cafeteria style. It was kind of adorable.
We got there early enough to do our kayaking trip in the afternoon and that was a blast. It was a level 1 rapids – basically, a river with a slight current – which made the kayaking trip a LOT of fun. We dumped ourselves but it was a solid workout and an amazing trip. For people who don’t like adrenaline it was the perfect level up from a lazy river and a truly unique experience.
Outside of the kayak trip though there was NOTHING to do there (they didn’t even have board games in stock) so we chilled out in the main lodge (the only spot with mediocre wifi) until it was late enough to go to bed.
Day 6: Tortuguero
We bid a not unwelcome good-bye to summer camp and made the long-ish trek to Tortuguero. Now, this was a truly lovely place. Only accessible by boat I imagine a lot of solo traveler skip it but I definitely recommend finding your way there. It took a lot of travel but we eventually made it to the Baula Lodge – easily our nicest accommodations on the trip. While no luxury establishment they had cute little rooms in pretty colors, a nice pool, and fun places to hang out near the water.
We took a walk around the little town which was adorable (and honestly larger than I thought)! It’s all water taxis and cuteness around here and I could have spent more time but decided to enjoy the lodge instead.
Day 7: Tortuguero and Kayak Trip #3
We decided to have a packed day and started off with a morning hike to a beautiful look out. We had enough people join us that we had our guide come but it was something you easily could do on your own. It was a lovely little hike with some good stairs at the end.
Then it was straight to our third kayak trip which was delightful. It was a good three hours down the canals. Wide and beautiful at times and super narrow little hidey-holes in others. It was so much fun – we got really close to caymans and limbo’d under fallen trees. A truly wonderful and fun experience.
After a well earned lunch we then went back to the Tortuguero side of the river and took a nice long walk. This was led by our guide and we walked through the jungle, looking for wildlife, and then walked back on the beach side. It was relaxing and energizing and I got all the walking in the surf a gal could want.
Day 8: Back to San Jose
We took out time enjoying some coffee in the morning before heading back to the mainland. The boat trip back certainly seemed to take longer than the way there but eventually we made our way back to San Jose (and my faaavorite hotel. Sigh).
We took a little walking tour downtown, really racking up our steps (and wandering through some fairly sketchy areas) but finding some cute little tidbits in town. I’ll admit, what you read about San Jose in the guide books is pretty accurate. There are a few interesting spots but for the most part it’s not a very desirable city to wander. Half a day was plenty of time to feel like we got what we wanted out of it.
Dinner was a Restaurant Machu Picchu – tasty with HUGE blended drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic).
Day 9: Home
And that was it! There was nothing in the morning at all, just shipping us off to our destination. We walked a few blocks (again, so sketchy around our hotel) but found this adorable place (Hotel Grano de Oro) that had an excellent breakfast. It was a breath of fresh air before getting on our flights home.
All in All
We had a lovely time in Costa Rica. It’s a beautiful country with lots of fun activities. Taking out trip through G Adventures gave us things we could have – and would have – easily found ourselves but also a few extras. The kayak trips – the whole point of the tour was chose – were all exceptional and truly different. We might not have ever done one of them and definitely wouldn’t have done all three – so that was a huge perk. But the let down with the hotels and food was a big one. And – we did the math – but this trip more or less cost the same as Galapagos and Ecuador (well known for being expensive). That was definitely a let down as we figured we’d save a little this way but there were SO many added fees. I feel like ultimately we enjoyed ourselves despite the tour, not because of it, and Costa Rica just held enough positive attractive to keep us positive overall.
Overview Costa Rica Recommendations:
Adobe Car Rental – 5/5 – highly recommend
Las Cascadas (Quepos) – 3/5 – okay but there’s better nearby
El Sesteo (San Jose) – 2/5 – cute courtyard is about the only kind thing I can say.
Hotel Las Colinas (La Fortuna) – 3/5 – if location is your game this is fine, for anything else try another
Cinco Ceibas (Sarapiqui) – 2/5 – I can’t even….
Baula Lodge (Tortuguero) – 4/5 – I’d be curious about other establishments, but this is a solid spot.
Musmanni (bakery, various locations) – 5/5
Los Guarumos (near Jaco) – 4/5 – huge and cute
Soda La Hormiga (La Fortuna) – 5/5 – so cute, so good, so authentic! We ate here twice!
My Coffee (La Fortuna) – 3/5 – fine, but Rainforest Cafe was better.
Yellow Bark (La Fortuna) – 4.5/5 – excellent burgers!
Nanku (La Fortuna) 4/5 – tasty but pricey
Rainforest Cafe (La Fortuna) – 5/5 – tasty and cute
Lava Lounge (La Fortuna) – 3/5 – good but really quite expensive
Restaurante Machu Picchu – 4/5 – decent dinner spot
Hotel Grano de Oro (Breakfast, San Jose) – 5/5 yummy and so nice!
y’all, I have a whole POST for ice cream