Many people head to Costa Rica for the black sand beaches of the Pacific coast, or the tropical beachy Caribbean side. Both of these are fantastic vacation options, but inland Costa Rica also has a lot to offer! We left the west coast (read more about that experience here) in search of a volcano, and what was intended to be a 2-day adventure ended up taking over a week of our travel time – and it was awesome!
Tifakara’s outdoor pool nestled in the trees
Tifakara Boutique Hotel
This cute little boutique hotel is the quiet Costa Rican retreat you’ve been looking for. Tucked away just outside of the town of La Fortuna, Tifakara is close enough for amenities but nowhere near traffic or parties or hustle and bustle of any sort.
We stayed in one of the “deluxe rooms”, which is actually a cabin, separate from the main hotel, accessible by a stone pathway and a small wooden bridge, and complete with your own private balcony and outdoor shower! The service here is above and beyond, the food is decent, and the pool is always clean. You may also encounter and befriend the resident parrot in the dining area.
And speaking of animal residents, meet the gorgeous Priscilla. This little cow is a member of the hotel owners’ family, and she hangs out all day, watching people come and go, munching on grass and greeting you with low moos. I want to go back just to visit this girl again!
An extra perk of staying at Tifakara is its proximity to a few really neat things to do. The first is the small restaurant right next door – Gecko’s Waterfall Grill. Yes it offers cold beer and delicious lunches and snacks (breakfast too!), but the big sell for me was that it also runs a dog adoption facility in the back! You can hang out with the dogs on site, or take them for a walk if you want, or even adopt! Such a fantastic place and a cause that’s very dear to my heart. If you’re at Tifakara, or in the La Fortuna area in general, you must check this place out.
The second is La Fortuna waterfall. A quick walk past the horse parking, up to the top of the hill, and 5 minutes later you’ve arrived. I go into more detail about the waterfall below.
And finally, you can drive about 4 minutes (or walk if you want) to a nearby parking lot that offers access to the hiking paths of Cherro Chato (Arenal volcano’s little brother). For about $10, you can access the paths without a guide, and enjoy the 4-5 hour hike at your own pace. And there is also a water-filled crater at the top that some choose to take a dip in! If you do plan to hike this volcano though, please do some additional research, as there are always risks and weather conditions to take into consideration.
La Fortuna Waterfall
This tall glass of water is a fantastic sight and a bit of a hike. Getting down the 512 stairs is easy, the views along the way are breathtaking, the mist from the waterfall at the bottom is refreshing, and you can even take a dip in the water if you don’t find it too chilly. Getting back up the 512 stairs is another story, but it is absolutely, 100% worth it.
You pay a small fee to enter the park, but besides the waterfall and a couple other smaller waterfalls, they have a butterfly garden, massive trees, a rope swing, a souvenir shop, and a small cafe. And if you look close enough, you may even spot a sloth up in the treetops!! (we did, and it literally made my day)
Baldi Hot Springs
This place is my Central American Heaven. I could go on and on raving about it, but I’m going to try and keep this a bit more to the point. While staying at Tifakara, we stopped in at Baldi to get a day pass and hang out in the hot springs just for the night. We fell so in love with it, we came back the next day and booked ourselves in for a week.
Within Baldi, you’ll find 25 thermal water pools, heated by volcanic hot springs, which are hottest at the top of the hill where the water springs from the earth, and cool off as you get closer to the bottom. There is also a steam grotto, a kids park, and several waterslides. Many of the pools have swim-up bars and/or in-water lounge chairs, plus there are two restaurants on site – one buffet and one sit-down, a gift shop, a spa, and a cafe.
The atmosphere here is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. From the view of the volcano peak at the top of the hill, to the lush and tropical landscaping encompassing the grounds, you are definitely in a Costa Rica jungle paradise. The care that the owners and staff have for this property, and for their guests, is bar none. The grounds are immaculate, the restaurants are clean and spacious, the food is delicious, and the employees are welcoming and helpful.
As we booked ourselves in last minute, there were no rooms available, only cabins… which was fine by us. There are a small handful of cabins on the grounds, with large windows, a full bathroom, the usual safe/tv/fridge amenities, and a cute wraparound porch with lounge chairs. (As I’m writing this I am dying inside wanting to go back!). We could see some of the hot springs from our porch, and were near the top of the hill, within walking distance to all of the glorious things around us.
If you don’t want to stay at Baldi’s hotel, you really should at least check out the hot springs for a day. And it looks like a new place at night vs in the daytime, so try to experience both!
Proyecto Asis Wildlife Rescue
A small day trip from La Fortuna, Proyecto Asis is a must for any animal lover. This family has devoted their lives to rescuing, rehabilitating, and reintroducing (when possible) animals to their natural habitat. This is not a zoo, but it is a great opportunity to see some wild creatures up close and personal while they are being cared for.
The best thing about Proyecto Asis is their desire to educate the visitors to Costa Rica. They stress the fact that these are wild animals, that they are not meant to be pets, and that we need to work to live in harmony with these creatures. It was heartbreaking to see the state of some of the animals, and to see how we humans can cause such damage, even unintentionally. Raccoons with permanent brain damage because people considered them ‘pests’ and poisoned them. Tropical parrots who will never fly again, because people clipped their wings to keep them as pets. The list goes on, and it is devastating. I commend these guys for the work they are doing.
One thing to note is that Proyecto Asis is not the easiest place to find. There are a couple places with similar names, and signage is minimal. They are located at 141, Provincia de Alajuela, San Carlos, Costa Rica. I recommend putting the address into your GPS or your phone before heading out, so that you can get there easily.
Aside from the educational tour of the facility, they also offer short and long-term volunteer options, homestay programs, learning programs, and Spanish immersion programs. Next time I’m there I plan to volunteer for a while, and I suggest that you do as well!
Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges
Yet another gem in the La Fortuna area! About 20 minutes outside of town, this collection of pathways and 16 hanging bridges will take you through the rainforest, up and down the hillside. There are many activities available, including guided bird tours, night tours, canyoning, boat tours, horseback rides and more. We opted to just wander around at our own pace, and still loved every minute of it. The rainforest, views, and nature around us was spectacular, and even the bridges themselves were impressive works of engineering / art.
Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park offers breathtaking views of the volcano and the surrounding Costa Rican countryside. The lookout from the parking lot alone is worth the trip. On a clear day, I could stay for hours just taking it all in.
One more VERY important thing to cover is the food! I like food, and I like the food almost everywhere we go, but this place had some of the best dishes we’ve had! Considering it is just a small restaurant within a tourist attraction, you may not have high expectations, but this place (Sal & Pimienta) aims to please. Go for their themed special, the “volcano” of fried rice, and wow was I happy I did. Paired with a clear volcano view from the dining room, this was a fantastic experience.
Have you been to inland Costa Rica? Where did you stay? What did YOU think of the area? I’d love to hear your stories – and if I missed anything that I should check out next time !!