Figuring out where to go in Costa Rica is no easy task. There are several regions to choose from, all offering vastly different experiences. Once I'd discovered that Costa Rica was a great destination for a wellness trip I still needed to decide where to go. That took time, research, and an openness for adventure.
Photos by Tawanna B. Smith of MomsGuideToTravel.com
Narrowing down the region where I wanted to visit for my five days in the country meant I had to prioritize what I wanted to do. Since my trip was a sisters-themed getaway, I knew that wherever I went, there had to be a spa. More than that, the area itself had to exude peace, wellness, and nature.
My sister's requirements were to visit a waterfall, a spa, and a volcano. Usually, specific requests like this can be a headache for a travel planner, but, in this case, it gave us some direction and helped us narrow down our choices.
We lucked out. The Arenal area had everything we both desired out of the trip.
Here's where we chose to stay, eat, spa, and play on our Costa Rica wellness getaway.
Spa and Hot Springs
During our first couple of nights in the area, we stayed at La Casa Luna hotel in La Fortuna, a mere seven-minute drive from downtown La Fortuna. This stunning hotel offers an incredible view of the Arenal volcano.
When I asked our driver, Jorge, how far we were from the rainforest he responded, "you're in it." No lie. The hotel is surrounded by lush plant life and a dozen or more species of birds and other rainforest dwellers.
Labeled footpaths lead to the various four-suite buildings, trails, hot tub, pool, and the spa.
Casa Luna's spa is a unique outdoor experience. Neither my sister nor I had ever before experienced spa services in the elements. Theoretically, it's a beautiful and relaxing idea, however, when you are cocooned in a Costa Rican chocolate wrap treatment you're nothing more than a tasty appetizer for mosquitoes. Thankfully we were visiting in September which reduced the number of insects who came out to play.
Ten miles down the road you'll find a completely different spa experience at the Arenal Kioro Resort, where we chose to spend our remaining nights in the area.
The Kioro resort is gated and perched on a hill overlooking La Fortuna area. On the opposite side of the resort, the volcano appears to sit just an arm's reach away. The landscape and grounds at Kioro are perfectly manicured, also complete with labeled pathways and information markers about the trees and plant life that inhabit the property.
Our room was an immaculate family suite with two queen beds, a daybed, beautiful furniture, and most important of all, a Jacuzzi from which we could bask in the best view of the volcano a girl could ask for.
Walking through the grounds on my way to the indoor spa felt like a visit to the botanical gardens.
Twists and turns led to inclines, waterways, a pool, and the creme de la creme experience: the on-property hot Springs.
Unlike other resorts in the area, Hotel Kioro's hot springs are only available to guests. This exclusivity limits the traffic in the area and almost always guarantees that you can enjoy your own personal geothermal outdoor spa. The resort boasts nine hot springs in total, and you can choose from brick cold to piping hot, small and intimate to large or party-style. Whatever your fancy, the experience is guaranteed to be phenomenal.
Apart from visits to hot springs, in the La Fortuna area you can also enjoy zip lining, caving, chocolate tours, rappelling, birdwatching, hiking, hanging bridges, waterfalls, volcano walks, and more. Basically, something for everyone! We opted to go on a day tour with EcoTerra to experience the area waterfalls, hanging bridges, and the volcano.
The La Fortuna waterfall is the most popular in the area. It is protected in a park which requires a small entry fee designed to preserve the area and give back to the local community.
The hike down to the waterfall is an adventure. Once we arrived at its base, we immediately realized the physical effort was well worth the trek.
The Arenal Hanging Bridges Park also has its own waterfall that isn't nearly as impressive as La Fortuna's or as the bridges that give the park its name. Our two-hour hike took us across a dozen bridges and made us meander through the most scenic views of the Arenal region.
You simply cannot come to the area without visiting the volcano. A mostly flat hike took us through both new and old forest. We walked along pathways still covered in volcanic sediment from the most recent eruption.
After a rocky climb we arrived at a peak with a birds-eye view of the Arenal lake and the volcano. Varying species of toucans and other birds populate the trees in the area, making the hike also fun for birdwatching.
Places to eat
There are several local restaurants to dine in downtown La Fortuna. Two of our drivers recommended Los Nenes, but I have to admit that we were so beat from all of our activities that we kept things simple and dined at our hotel every day except for the first night.
On our way to La Fortuna from San Jose airport, we stopped at a small local dive on the side of the road called Bar Chicharronera Mi Rancho. As they say, "when in Rome do as the Romans do," so we ordered the traditional Costa Rican meal of Casado: beans, rice, plantains, and a meat. Delicioso!
I only scratched the surface of this beautiful country on my first trip. Because of my amazing experience and the inviting "Pura Vida" attitude of the Costa Ricans, I definitely look forward to discovering more.