This post was written by Tessa Hessmiller, a newlywed lawyer from Grand Rapids, Michigan, who has been to 29 countries on five continents. Two more continents to go!
For our honeymoon, we wanted to go somewhere adventurous but safe, exotic but easy to get to, luxurious but relatively affordable. Costa Rica ticked all the boxes. We were a bit nervous about going in early November during the rainy season, but we got lucky, and it only rained on our two driving days and once at night. The country is filled with surprises – the good kind you actually want while you’re traveling.
We flew into San Jose International Airport (SJO) and had pre-booked a rental car (an SUV) through Enterprise. The shuttle left from right outside the arrivals terminal. Someone from the Enterprise desk actually walked us straight there. The SUV ended up costing about $700 for the week with full-coverage insurance. The insurance was by far the most expensive part, but we decided we’d rather be safe than sorry. We’re glad we got the AWD, as most of the roads were well-paved but some were very steep and could have been a bit treacherous when wet.
We had an international plan on our cell phone (which I’d highly recommend) and used Google Maps to navigate about an hour north to the Peace Lodge and Waterfall Gardens, near the Poas Volcano. It was a tricky, winding drive on extremely steep switch-backs into the cloud forest. The area immediately surrounding SJO airport is pretty sketchy, and we were driving at night and didn’t feel too safe at all. The only pedestrian we saw was running through the streets, and the only other cars we saw rolled straight through the red lights (which, when I visited Rio de Janeiro, I remember being pretty common practice to avoid carjacking). Luckily, that was the only part of the entire trip that felt dicey.
The Peace Lodge was one of the most amazing and luxurious places in which I ever have stayed. The views of the jungle and mountains were incredible off our private balcony, complete with hammock, rocking chairs, and hot tub.
The entire property is impeccably manicured, but it didn’t feel like a “resort” at all. The property had several short and fairly easy hikes along paved trails, to quintessentially picturesque hidden waterfalls, and a couple of good (and pretty reasonable) on-site restaurants.
We stayed for two nights, which felt like the right amount of time. It was the perfect way to decompress and kick off our trip.
We hopped in our vehicle and drove about three to four hours southwest to the Manuel Antonio/Quepos area along the Pacific coast. On the descent from the Peace Lodge, we pulled over at a Starbucks sign, and, lo and behold, it turned out to be the MOST spectacular coffee farm ever of all time (the Hacienda Alsacia). OK, so it was the only coffee farm I’ve ever been to, but I can’t imagine there being a more beautiful one. The cafe was a feat of architectural genius, perched high above the rolling coffee-growing valleys, complete with a waterfall so well-placed it looked completely fake – but wasn’t.
Neither of us is even a coffee drinker, but sipping that cappuccino with that view, I told my husband to “take a picture of my face because this is my happy face.” Which is weird now that I think about it in retrospect, since we literally just had our wedding three days earlier, and I’m pretty sure he saw my happy face there and would have about 1,000 professional photos to remember it. But, nonetheless, it was a pretty awesome coffee experience. I liked it a latte.
In Quepos, we stayed at Casa Libert’Inn AirBnB. It was a secluded delight, just a stone’s throw down a very steep drive to lovely restaurants with spectacular Pacific sunsets. We stayed in one of three houses on the property, but we barely saw the other guests and had a private detached bungalow to ourselves and an infinity pool we shared with the other guests. We enjoyed sitting on the balcony, watching monkeys swinging from the trees, toucans flying by, and giant iguanas wandering through the branches.
I thought Manuel Antonio National Park would be a bit cringe-worthy and touristy, with buses of tourists clogging the road, telescopes dangling out the windows trying to catch a glimpse of random sloths and whatnot. But, it wasn’t. It was quite a smallish park that was absolutely perfect for a day trip (or two) of hiking and beaching. I was not prepared for how gorgeous the beaches were going to be. They were cove-shaped white-sand beaches with gently crashing waves butting up to mountainous jungle, dotted with protruding tiny island rock formations like I imagine a hidden beach in Thailand to be.
We spent one day very sweatily hiking around the well-marked trails, catching vistas of ocean at the crest of every hill and a second day lazing on the beach. You can’t bring any food into the park – which is good since I got the feeling you’d be shanked for a granola bar by any number of howler monkeys or raccoons wandering around – but there’s a little snack shop to purchase food and bathrooms near the beach.
We had one fun morning doing canopy bridges and zip-lining in a private jungle just outside the town.
Honeymoon bucket list item: check.
In Quepos, we had a few favorite restaurants, although there were lots more we didn’t have time to try. The restaurant at the Si Como No hotel was our favorite – a breezy open-air restaurant with 180-degree views of the ocean – although it didn’t quite have a sunset view when we went in November. This hole-in-the-wall joint up the road, Mar Luna (or Bar Luna??), had the best sunset we saw. Stunning.
On our last night, we treated ourselves to luxury at this gorgeous cliff-side boutique hotel called Issimo Suites Hotel and Spa in Manuel Antonio. It had the views of a Greek island hideaway and the service of a world-class hotel. It was a short walk down the road to an amazing hidden cove with a sandy beach and a warm, calm bay. It was the perfect place to stick a straw in a fresh coconut and soak in the sun.
We reluctantly drove back to San Jose and spent the night in the Hampton Inn near the airport. Traffic was surprisingly awful in San Jose, so we actually bailed on our other hotel on the other side of the city, as it was complete gridlock for miles. So we UberAte some Costa Rican Italian delivery in the hotel lobby and called it an early night. We were sad to end our trip, but happy to be close to the airport for an early flight out in the morning.
Our honeymoon in Costa Rica was rejuvenating, adventurous, and restorative!