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Hot rivers are hot springs on steroids. Fast, furious, and so addictive it should be illegal. The very fact that they exist kind of boggles my mind. I mean, isn’t it cool enough that naturally hot pools of water exist? But entire RIVERS that heat themselves with the power of volcanoes? Wow. Props, Mother Nature. Props.
You haven’t lived if you haven’t sat under a hot stream of river water, breathing in the steam, while letting the flowing water massage your back.
This is what you will experience if you go to La Fortuna, Costa Rica.
Oh and did I mention that as soon as you look up, you’ll see spider monkeys swinging from branch to branch and hear prehistorically sounds of creatures in the jungle?
No wonder Michael Crichton decided to set Jurassic Park here. Take one walk through the Costa Rican forest and you’ll hear what he heard when he envisioned a prehistoric world where dinosaurs roamed the earth.
We climbed a volcano, trekked through a rainforest, and relaxed in a hot river. And I’m not even that much of a nature person! I’m more of a food person.
But in Costa Rica, I didn’t need food to nourish me. My brain was on hyper drive from all the dopamine hits I got from all these fascinating nature experiences.
Like this trek towards the Arenal volcano (you can actually see the smoke rising up inside the peak):
Or this trek through the rainforest:
Or this visit to the most photogenic waterfall:
Or this visit to the beach at Puerto Viejo:
Before coming to Costa Rica, we had heard rave reviews from friends, but one of the things everyone agreed on is that Costa Rica is THE MOST expensive country to visit in Central America.
That didn’t stop us though. I may be an Optimizer with an unhealthy spreadsheet obsession (or as Wanderer likes to call it, “INSANE”), but I’d never let expenses deter me from going to a place. Especially after going to Switzerland, one of the most expensive places on Earth, and realizing it was the best money I’d ever spent.
And after travelling the world for $40K Canada (30K USD) a year, I’ve realized that going to expensive places don’t really affect your budget that much. All you need to do is just add inexpensive places (like Southeast Asia, Mexico, South America, etc) to balance it out and you’re good to go.
Since I had been in Mexico and Panama for a few months before coming to Costa Rica, I had enough “cheap countries” averaging my cost down enough to counteract any sudden spike in expenses, so the rise in cost didn’t impact our budget much at all.
Sure, you had to pay to see a waterfall. Or had to rent a car because public transportation in La Fortuna was pretty much non-existent. But because experiences like the hot river (which ended up being my favourite experience there) was completely free, it all totally worked out in the end! I was so glad we didn’t end up going to Tabacon, which is the fancy resort charging $90USD – $150USD a day, when it uses the EXACT same water and is actually across the street from the natural hot river.
If you’re picky, Tabacon might be a better choice, but for someone like me, the free hot river across the street was exactly what I needed. And we got to drink beer and chat with locals, which I consider a much bigger draw than being at a touristy spa.
Now as much as I loved Costa Rica, there is one thing about Costa Rica that made me want to tear my hair out.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The buses that ran within a city were fine, but the second you try to find a long-distance bus going from San Jose to La Fortuna, it’s a whole different story.
We’ve taken buses all over Europe, Mexico, Panama, and some places in South East Asia, and by far the worst were the buses in Costa Rica.
Are you a fan of sitting with your knees touching you ears? Can you deal with having NO air con in sweltering heat? Would you prefer your bus windows to open? Do you expect a 3 hour ride to take 7 WHOLE HOURS?
No? Then don’t take the Costa Rican bus! I’ve ridden buses in rural China that were in better condition. And that’s saying a lot.
When travelling between cities in Costa Rica, fly or drive instead.
Try as I might, I couldn’t find a first class bus or anything that offered more comfort for more money. I have no idea why the buses in Costa Rica suck! It’s the most expensive city in Central America for chrissake!
If you HAVE to take a bus between cities in Costa Rica, make sure you
a) take the expected arrival time and double it
b) pick a seat at the very front, right behind the luggage holding area, or at the very back because those are the only seats with leg room.
Since there are very strict rules on building roads in Costa Rica to protect nature, whenever there’s road construction, you will be stuck for HOURS as they block off one lane completely.
On the plus side, this fierce protectiveness of nature has allowed Costa Rica to not only do a great job preserving their lush rainforests, they’re also pledging to become carbon neutral by 2021. How cool is that?
So even though compared to other Central American countries, Costa Rica is on the pricey side, and the places we visited, La Fortuna and Puerto Viejo, was on the touristy side, I REALLY enjoyed the lushness and incredible nature experience that Costa Rica had to offer. The food was great too! (better than Panama, in my opinion)
Just don’t take the intercity buses. Unless you want your spirit to be crushed into tiny little smithereens and then set on fire.
Here’s how much we spent in Costa Rica:
|Category||Cost in USD/couple||Cost in CAD/couple||Notes|
|Accommodations:||$35 USD/night||$43 CAD/night||We stayed in a hotel called Vagabond in La Fortuna, which included breakfast, aircon, and pool for $49.50CAD/night that we found on Booking.com. In Puerto Viejo, we broke our rule of not staying hostels and stayed in a hostel with an INCREDIBLE pool and walking distance to the beach. The room was the smallest room I'd ever been in in my life. Seriously, I'd imagine this is the type of room that dreams of growing up to become a closet. Never again. Even for $54CAD/night, it STILL wasn't worth it. We also stayed 2 nights in Alajuela, in an Airbnb near the airport for a ridiculously cheap $15-$24/night. So for the 8 days we were in Costa Rica, costs for accommodations averaged out to be only $43 CAD/night. Woohoo!|
|Food:||$14 USD/day||$18 CAD/day ($11/day for eating out, $7/day for groceries)||Food was inexpensive because we mostly cooked, save for a couple of dinners here and there. Even thought I liked the food in Costa Rica, I did NOT feel it was worth it to eat out everyday, especially in Puerto Viejo where everything was touristy and overpriced.|
|Transportation:||$17 USD/day||$22 CAD/day||Even though we saved a buttload of money because we were able to cross the border from Panama to Costa Rica on foot without having to fly, the cost of transportation was still inflated by having to rent a car (around $67/day USD, after gas and taxes) in La Fortuna due to the lack of intracity public transportation. Intercity buses going from La Fortuna to San Jose were cheap, at around $15-$20 USD per person but SO NOT worth it. I would've happily paid more to upgrade for a more comfortable experience but I didn't have the option.|
|Entertainment:||$10 USD/day||$12 CAD/day||Puerto Viejo is a beach town so pretty much everything was free in terms of activities. La Fortuna had activities where they charge for things you never expect to pay for–like a waterfall or entry to a rainforest, but since we also did free activities like the hot river, it ended up only average out to $10USD a day over 8 days. If you end up doing nature tours in La Fortuna, I found that tour company with the best value is the one in the Regina Hotel. They had Spa packages for Tabacon for $79 USD person, including dinner when the full price on the website was $150 USD (PROTIP: If something is priced in USD even though that's not the local currency, you're paying tourist prices). We also got the waterfall tour for $38 USD for 2 from Adventure Mundo including transportation, suspension bridge, and butterfly farm, which was a sweet deal considering how you'd normally have to pay $15 USD/person just for entry to the waterfall plus the taxi ride there and back)|
|Total:||$76 USD/couple/day||$95 CAD/couple/night||This is considered really LOW cost for Costa Rica. You could easily spend double what we spent. I knew Costa Rica was high cost for Central America, going in, so I compensated by avoiding flights, cooking a lot, and doing free activities. No regrets (except for the awful buses)!|
If you like waterfalls, volcanos, hiking, hot rivers, and beaches, you’ll LOVE Costa Rica. Of all the places we’ve travelled to, and all the hot springs we’ve visited, we’ve never once come across a hot river. Now I’m a big fan, and will be on the look out for this weird phenomenon going forward. If you come across any hot rivers in your travels, let me know!