Have you ever thought about visiting Costa Rica? Picture wandering around rainforests and volcanoes, observing exotic animals in their habitat, or relaxing by the beach, just like I did. If these sound appealing, go ahead and plan a Costa Rica trip. A gal pal and I thoroughly enjoyed a week-long getaway there… during rainy season on the Pacific coast! Costa Rica’s geographical location has it surrounded by 2 water bodies (similar to Antigua). This post shares what we learned + how the trip went, with a max. budget of US$1650 (flying from Jamaica) and little advanced planning.
With the pandemic still going at the time, I knew I wouldn’t want to plan far in advance. Less than a month before my September birthday, I decided to coordinate a Costa Rica vacation… and by “coordinate” I mean book at a resort in Jaco, Costa Rica for 2 + flight to San Jose, Costa Rica then figure out the rest after reaching.
Here is how I spent 1 week in Costa Rica + my first-time Costa Rica itinerary:
Jump to Section:
- How to Plan Costa Rica Trip
- Costa Rica Travel Requirements
- Covid-19 Costa Rica Travel
- Things to Do in Jaco, Costa Rica
- Costa Rica Things to Do (near Jaco)
- Don't Miss Out!
How to Plan Costa Rica Trip
Like when traveling to any country (especially for the 1st time), you should check their Immigration website ahead of your trip for entry requirements.
Costa Rica Travel Requirements
At the time of my first trip to Costa Rica, the world was experiencing its 3rd or 4th wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Generally, Jamaican passport holders require a visa to visit Costa Rica BUT may not need to an additional 1 for this trip. To be sure, review visa exceptions and requirements based on nationality.
Covid-19 Costa Rica Travel
After departing home I opted to enjoy New York City on a budget then Atlanta for a while. Later connected to San Jose, Costa Rica from Miami. Travel to Costa Rica from USA took 3 – 4hrs each way.
- At the time of this trip no COVID-19 test was required to enter the country
- An online Health Pass form needed to be completed up to 3 days before arrival.
- Unvaccinated tourists or those who hadn’t yet received their 2nd dose at least 2 weeks before arriving were required to purchase travel insurance; vaccinated travelers didn’t.
- The Costa Rica travel insurance had to be valid for the entirety of your vacation and cover at least US$50,000 in medical expenses relating to COVID-19 + $2,000 for potential quarantine lodging. Fret not! Though these figures sound hefty this coverage plan in Jamaica was simple to get and costed between US$40 – $70 from the few companies I checked out.
Most of the Ticos I came across wore masks when near others, and requested similar courtesy on entering establishments and when in close contact. There seemed to be a 10pm curfew in the Jaco area, where most restaurants, bars, and businesses closed by then. It eventually became evident that there was a “secret” nightlife scene downtown (which I wanted to check out) but it also became evident that contacting taxi services was harder after curfew hours.
Plan a Trip to Jaco, Costa Rica
Jaco is a town in the Puntarenas province of Costa Rica. It’s considered a beach town, on the Pacific coastline, known for surfing and vibrant nightlife. It seems modest enough for a low-key vacation but buzzing enough to entertain tourists as well as residents; my friend likened it to the tourism scene of St. Elizabeth on Jamaica’s south coast.
How I chose this area for my Costa Rica vacation was ultimately because of the hotel. As a traveler who finds peace in nature and likes a mix of tourist and local life (obviously), I knew that I wanted a boutique hotel.
- I searched Costa Rica hotel options on Google Guides and Hotels.com
- Narrowed options through reading some of the most recent reviews (especially during COVID-19) and looked at unrefined visitor photos
- Made a choice based on budget and proximity to restaurants and bars
Based on the coast, time of year, and online weather forecast I mentally prepared for the possibility of a lot of rain. Thankfully the weather was beautiful throughout the trip; mostly cloudy and sunny with light afternoon showers, if any!
Boutique Hotel Pumilio, Jaco Costa Rica
I spent 6 nights / 7 days situated on the edge of a rainforest at Pumilio Mountain and Ocean Hotel. They arranged a comfortable airport transportation for us via Green Island Tours. Its located 7 – 10 minutes from the downtown Jaco area and a beach stretch. What I loved most about the boutique hotel is how responsive and helpful the staff is. I was in communication with them via Whatsapp, making confirmations and getting answers, before even leaving Jamaica.
Excursions and activities were planned after settling in our poolside room from front desk brochures plus asking staff and guests for personal recommendations. Each excursion booked through the resort granted a complimentary roundtrip downtown, which aided us in exploring the local scene plus saving on transportation.
Costa Rica Itinerary 7 Days
I’ve been asked, “Is 7 days / 1 week enough in Costa Rica?” I would say yes, or at least it was for me. Being able to do excursions across different areas and support venues in the town felt like a full trip, with 2 unwinding days included. I would’ve loved a few extra days to experience more but that’s more of a desire than a ‘need’.
So now you may be wondering, “how many days do you need in Costa Rica?” and if you’re like me who wants some relaxation mixed with adventure, I’d suggest 10 days to 2 weeks for a getaway. Where should you go in Costa Rica for a week? Here’s how I spent 6 nights / 7 days in Costa Rica:
- Day 1: Settle in at Hotel Pumilio (after an early afternoon airport pickup)
- Day 2: Walk around downtown Jaco + Chill & eat at Jaco Beach
- Day 3: Hang out at hotel pool + Dinner then drinks in downtown Jaco
- Day 4: Monkey Mangrove Tour + Manuel Antonio National Park (1.5 hours away)
- Day 5: Tortuga Island Catamaran Cruise & Beach Day (departure point 15 mins away)
- Day 6: Arenal Volcano + Baldi Hot Springs Spa (4 hours away)
- Day 7: Early Breakfast + Airport Run
The drives to various areas allowed us to see more towns and landscape. Each morning began with a satisfying meal at our breakfast-inclusive hotel. The continental dish options were accompanied by local fruits and favourites (Tamal became a comfort food). Lunch and drinks some days were provided by the Costa Rica excursions; we ate at nearby restaurants for other meals.
Things to Do in Jaco, Costa Rica
The transportation around town were done via local taxis and Uber drivers (and walkfoot). Taxis were mostly ordered by the hotel at our request. On 1 occasion we took a taxi from the road after experiencing delays trying to secure any via phone after curfew. Here are the places we visited when we weren’t by the hotel pool or away on tours.
Downtown Jaco, Costa Rica
As 2 females traveling, we were informed that downtown wasn’t the safest place. Being mindful that everyone’s sense of security varies, we stayed alert but never frightened. Maybe because the Downtown Jaco scene didn’t feel much different to me than being in Downtown Kingston, but I personally never felt on edge, day nor night, during trips to downtown Jaco. The beach town is dotted with shops, boutiques, restaurants, bars and pizzerias. We stopped at a small park and fruit market, plus indulged at Graffiti Restro and Jaco Bar. The town bustled with a small mix of tourists amongst locals and SUVs with surfboards.
Playa Jaco / Jaco Beach
The 7km / 4-mile stretch of Jaco Beach has ash powdery tones. The waves were rough and big, perfect for surfing. The force and olive hue of the ocean kept us comfortably relaxing onshore. Ticos by their stands offered surfing lessons and beach chairs for rent.
While catching a sunset we occupied 2 wooden bar stools facing the water at the beach-casual Malecon Restaurante Bar. On another night, we dined at sophisticated El Hicaco Seafood Restaurant on a different area of the beach.
Costa Rica Things to Do (near Jaco)
Considering ‘near’ is a relative term, I’ll share a little information on each attraction visited in order of closeness to Jaco, where I stayed. Transportation to the excursions were all courtesy of Green Island Tours.
Isla Tortuga / Tortuga Island Costa Rica Catamaran Cruise
Tortuga Island tour is a half-day offshore excursion on a private beach. The morning cruise courtesy of Costa Cat started with a safety briefing and light breakfast. Though I have been on a catamaran cruise more than once before (including to a nude island), I surprisingly found myself a bit nervous during the 45min. journey. Why? It was at that moment I realized I had never been on the ocean (vs the Caribbean Sea), and just how huge the OCEAN was lol. After the smooth journey was over, we landed on a white-sand islet shaded by tall palm trees. The ocean looked so blue and inviting, on the sunniest day of our entire trip – my birthday!
It was like a quintessential beach day in the Caribbean. Costa Cat’s Tortuga Island excursion was inclusive of a banana float ride pulled by a speedboat, snorkeling, and a nature hike through the green section of the island. We spent extra time enjoying conversations and peace wading in the ocean instead of doing the offered eco hike (*here are some hiking tips btw). The banana boat ride was a fun 10-min thrill, but the snorkeling wasn’t impressive at that time. I enjoyed snorkeling during my Tropical Cruise vacation, but due to ocean ‘Red Tide’ this water’s surface blue had reddish undertones. Similar to the glowing water in Jamaica, this natural phenomenon is caused by microorganisms. Despite this disrupting the water clarity, nearby fish were still visible. A long-table lunch combatted some of the bottomless rum punches and margaritas while satisfying stomachs. The day was a therapeutic mix of relaxation and adventure!
Monkey Mangrove Tour
Take a boat ride through a nature sanctuary of colourful flora and peeking fauna. A speedboat traverses waterway channels connecting collections of mangroves. A number of animals basking their natural settings can be spotted along the way! We saw iguanas, birds, a crocodile, sloth, boa snake, and groups of white-faced Capuchin monkeys.
Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio / Manuel Antonio National Park
The country’s most famous park can be a haven for forest and wildlife lovers; it’s an expansion of towering trees adorned with critters. If you’re visiting mainly to spot animals in their habitat, I highly recommend opting for a park guide. If you just want to admire the scenery and fresh air, you can wander without one. Our guide undoubtedly had a trained eye, spotting even the smallest creatures to leave me wondering, “How did you even see that?” We saw 2 of Costa Rica’s 4 resident monkeys – Capuchin and Howler, 2 types of sloths, various birds, insects, and reptiles. Inside the park is a pearly sand beach beyond the forest line. You are allowed to swim here; we didn’t because we were a part of a small tour group and didn’t want to keep the [non-swimming] others waiting long.
Until 2010, Arenal was Costa Rica’s most active volcano after its infamous 1968 eruption. At the time of my visit, it was in a resting phase which means it hasn’t emitted gas, ash or lava in a considerable period. That can change, but the volcano structure itself was the main attraction. There are surrounding hills and lakes visitors can hike to if the 10-min trek up to the picture point begs for more. This excursion included a trip to hot springs afterwards.
Baldi Hot Springs Spa
A group of geothermal pools heated by the Arenal Volcano await you. Each hot or cold pool possess a different temperature, getting as high as over 38◦ C / 100◦ F! The heated oasis is complemented with tropical plants, a kid’s water park, and rock sculptures. In addition to the steaming waters, there are a restaurant, bar, souvenir shop, and an elegant hotel on location.
Following the letdown of my 2020 birthday plans due to pandemic concerns (and shoddy ‘service’ from where should’ve been the alternative plan), I knew I wanted to celebrate 2021 in style. After celebrating some previous birthdays with 3-day 3-parish festivities (see Negril & beyond, MoBay & beyond), this time ‘in style’ meant a new country. My decision to plan a Costa Rica trip is probably 1 of the best I’ve made all year! I hope to visit again and experience another area.
How do you imagine you’d plan a Costa Rica trip???
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