10 reasons Costa Rica should be on your 2018 travel list

La Fortuna Waterfall, Costa Rica | Helena Alyssa

Costa Rica is an unbelievable destination, full of sights, sounds and climates and voted one of the happiest, most bio-diverse countries in the world. I recently took a trip for House of Coco thanks to the Costa Rican tourist board & British Airways (you can grab a copy of the magazine here now for my full Costa Rica article) to the tropical paradise in Central America to venture into the wilderness and experience what a “Pura Vida” way of life is really like...

There is something for every traveller here - beach lovers, surfers and divers quickly feel right at home along the coasts while there's amazing retreats for couples or those in search of a relaxing break, the country’s natural beauty and diverse spas and retreats are the perfect place to get pampered.  Thrill seekers have met their match further inland where you can head to explore Costa Rica’s volcanoes, rain forests, cloud forests, and rivers primed for white-water adventures. The best time to go to Costa Rica is in the dry season (roughly mid-Nov to April) and cheapest time to travel is either January, February or July and August. Check out Skyscanner to find the cheapest flight.

British Airways club world Costa Rica

1. The flight

British Airways now fly to San José directly from London Gatwick, with a flying time of just under 11 hours. I was lucky enough to travel in Club World as BA's guest where I was treated to access the comfy private lounge, unlimited Champagne and the all-important Club World seat pod which converts into a fully flat bed. Heaven! (Pictured above with the beautiful Clutch & Carry On.)

Zapote Farmers Market, San Jose, Costa Rica

2. The capital

The Costa Rican capital, San José, has been known more as a layover destination and is frequently neglected by tourists. The city is full of historical architecture and flocks of birds that hum through overpowering the sound of surrounding traffic. There's a number of popular museums including the Gold Museum, Jade Museum, National Museum and Children’s Museum, in addition to the architectural jewel of Costa Rica, the National Theatre. Take a trip to Calle 33 in trendy Barrio Escalante for the top foodie destination full of cool restaurants, lounges and bars. You can also find free walking tours or pub crawls and beer tours hosted on GetYourGuide here, which I highly recommend!

Food in Costa Rica | Helena Alyssa

3. The food

The food in Costa Rica is very indulgent with a lot on offer and massive, hearty portions. I found that everyone is really passionate about food especially their traditional dishes. Casado was one of my favourite dishes, beans and rice which are served with some sort of meat or fish and a salad, fried plantains, cheese and corn tortilla. Ceviche is also a popular appetiser consisting of fresh raw fish marinated in citrus juices such as lime with finely diced herbs and veggies. In Costa Rica, the best ceviche is made with local tilapia or corvine (white sea bass) and cilantro, garlic, hot pepper, onion, and celery. Tres Leches is a very important part of Costa Rican culture, appearing on pretty much every menu, a traditional dessert made from three types of milk which can be found on most restaurant menus and it's absolutely delicious!

Monkeys in Costa Rica | Helena Alyssa

4. The Wildlife

Wildlife in Costa Rica is a major part of the country, if you're lucky you can see sloths slumped in tree tops, a range of rare and exotic birds, turtles nesting and hatching, and even a Jaguar or two hiding in the wilderness. I could hear howls of monkeys echoing through the rain forest practically on the doorstep of my hotel room whilst staying in Tortuguero National Park, and I was lucky enough to witness turtles nesting and hatching on the beach in the darkness of the night; which is just the most incredible experience. Check out GetYourGuide for the best day trips from San Jose which cover all things like travel there and lunch etc.

Kayaking in Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica | Helena Alyssa

5. The rainforests

Costa Rican rainforests are filled with all sorts of tropical sights and sounds, the country was once 99% rainforest but today only around 35%. There are different types: rainforests, cloud forests and tropical dry forests. While rainforests are the most common habitat, the cloud forests of Costa Rica are absolutely beautiful, and something you must experience on your travels. Covering the higher slopes of volcanoes and mountains all across the country, these forests are placed within thick enchanting fog and get their names because of how they're surrounded by the clouds. You can hike through majority of the forests in Costa Rica, but there are so many more fun ways really immerse yourself in them, including kayaking, zip lining and horse riding. 

La Fortuna Waterfall, Costa Rica | Helena Alyssa

6. The nature

Costa Rica is a haven for animal, plant lovers and bird watchers, you can really just take in the nature of Costa Rica forever. There is so much natural beauty to see, from exotic birds, active volcanoes, deep green rainforests and lakes to laid back golden beaches. The majority of the country remains untouched so even better to take advantage of the natural beauty. I would recommend a visit to a waterfall whilst there, at the La Fortuna waterfall you can hike down the side of the hill for around 15 minutes and then swim at the cooling bottom of the waterfall, it's like something out of The Jungle Book.  People from around the world come to appreciate the natural beauty of the country, not to mention the wellness that it brings. This great tour on GetYourGuide covers the waterfall, volcano and hanging bridges all in a day.

Tabacon Hot Springs, Costa Rica | Helena Alyssa

7. Chic hideaways and spas

One of my most favourite things about Costa Rica were the hotels and spas, I honestly didn't expect much but was pleasantly surprised by the boutique resorts and luxury hotels the country has to offer.  Staying at luxury boutique hotel and spa, Nayara Springs, was nothing short of exceptional; the perfect combination of luxury with adventure. Imagine waking up each morning in a secluded sanctuary in the heart of the tropical rainforest, the sight of the Arenal volcano creeping through the thick palms, toucans and hummingbirds circling the sky and the hearing the sounds of the howler monkeys that call the trees home; a true oasis. The tranquility and feeling of relaxation is incredible at Nayara. Each room is crafted from wood with serene interiors and features absolutely breathtaking volcano or garden views, in addition to your very own outdoor shower, hot tub and hammock on your private deck balcony. Another one of the highlights from the trip was visiting the natural wonders at the Tabacon Hot Springs, this is seriously an unmissable experience. You can really get a taste of the true essence of nature as the thermal water flows through the resort forming cascading rivers and waterfalls. What better way to relax than a warm bubbling dip in the heart of the rainforest, with sounds of wildlife and the beauty of the volcano in the distance. GetYourGuide have a great deal on this tour which covers the La Fortuna waterfall and Tabacon Hot Springs, it’s the perfect way to spend the day, check it out HERE,

Photo credit:    www.wanderlustliving.com
Nayara Hotel, Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica | Helena Alyssa

8. The volcanoes

Costa Rica currently contains over 60 dormant plus six active volcanoes and there are so many things to do exploring the volcanoes. The heat from magma that has risen close to the surface has resulted in hot springs, just like how the Tabacon Hot Springs uses to heat the water, a real draw for spa and wellness enthusiasts. The Arenal Volcano is the most popular, located in the northern part of the country, it towers over the surrounding landscape, and the beautiful Arenal Lake. The symmetrical cone-shaped Arenal Volcano erupted in the past an average of 41 times a day. Unfortunately you cannot hike up the volcano itself, but on the foothills are Arenal Volcano National Park’s two hiking trails where you can experience unique wildlife and find parts of old lava turned into crumbly rocks

Zip lining through Costa Rican rainforest | Helena Alyssa

9. The activities

Costa Rica has activities covered from the relaxing type of trip to the trill seekers, there really is never a dull moment. Zip lining is one of the essential things to do whilst there, the thought of heights and thrill of soaring through the rainforest just tied to a wire is not for everyone, but there are also shorter and lower wires you can still experience. There's also stand up paddle boarding, kayaking along the mangroves, horse riding, bird watching, guided nature walks, the hanging bridges, white water rafting, there's even a water slide that flows through the jungle! Defo on my list for my next visit. 

Nayara Hotel swimming pool, Costa Rica | Helena Alyssa

10. The beaches

Although I was on quite a strict itinerary whilst in Costa Rica, I unfortunately didn't get a chance to lounge on any of the amazing beaches on offer. I did visit the beach in Tortuguero where the turtles nest as well as the black sand beach in Tortuguero, but people don't usually swim in the sea here as it can be quite dangerous. The best beaches seem to be, Manuel Antonio Beach, one of the most popular in Costa Rica. Conchal Beach, which has white sands and is perfect for snorkelling or the family-friendly, Playa Flamingo.