After exploring Costa Rica on tour, Go Ahead staffer Lauren came home with rave reviews—and a memory card full of stunning snapshots. Here’s why she fell head-over-heels for this Central American country. (Spoiler: It had a lot to do with the animals!)
When it comes to the most beautiful things I saw in Costa Rica, the only question is, where to start? The lush landscapes, rolling hills, rainforests full of the sounds of wildlife, beaches, volcanoes, waterfalls, coffee and banana plantations, THE FLOWERS, hot springs, architecture, rivers—beauty is truly everywhere.
Tortuguero was like a world I had never been to. Once we stepped onto the boat to take us to the Aninga Hotel & Spa, we were whisked away to a fantasy world. We were IN the rainforest. The hotel was so peaceful, and each cabin had screens instead of glass windows so that we could hear all the sounds from outside. It was amazing and truly an unforgettable experience.
Another can’t-miss was the hiking tour of Arenal Volcano National Park. The panoramic view of the volcano and Lake Arenal was pure magic. And the Monteverde Cloud Forest? Wow! With the mist, all the hummingbirds, and the landscape, it’s a nature lover’s paradise.
Costa Ricans are some of the nicest and most kindhearted people I have ever met. Everywhere you go you’re greeted like old friends. Pura vida is heard repeatedly. Simply translated, it means “pure life,” but in Costa Rica, it’s more than just a saying—it’s a way of living. It’s used for greetings, farewells, best wishes, thanks, and so much more.
No matter where we were, the people were welcoming and kind. If we needed directions or recommendations, everyone was so willing to help and engage in conversation. If we wanted a photo taken, locals were quick to ask if we needed assistance. I’ve been to a lot of places and have never seen such kindness toward tourists. The locals chatted and joked with us as if we’d known each other for years.
There were so many itinerary highlights, but planting trees at the Monteverde Heliconia Ranch was very special to me. Everyone got to plant a tree to work toward offsetting our carbon footprint. The holes were already pre-dug for us, which was super helpful, and it felt great knowing we were doing something good for the planet. It was also cool seeing all the other trees that were planted by past travelers and how they’ve grown.
Also, watching the traditional Costa Rican dances performed by children from the community at Monteverde Heliconia Ranch was spectacular. It was cool to not only see the children learning their culture's dance but to see them dressed in their traditional garments. It was even more fun when they pulled us up to dance with them!
I love animals. I can’t get enough. So, when choosing which Go Ahead Tour to go on, I knew that it had to be full of wildlife. Costa Rica, you did not disappoint.
I was amazed by how many birds there were. We saw everything from toucans, parrots, and herons to resplendent quetzals, which are considered the most beautiful bird in the world. Two macaws even said “hola” to me from in the trees! In the Monteverde Cloud Forest, there’s a spot with hummingbird feeders, and there are SO MANY hummingbirds. You can put your hand in front of a feeder and they’ll land on your finger.
Other animal highlights included seeing monkeys, iguanas, crocodiles, frogs, coatis, and two- and three-toed sloths—we even saw a baby sloth snuggling up to its mom!
Without our amazing Tour Director Rafa, I would have overlooked so many things while exploring this incredible country. Who knew there were so many backstories to plants and animals? Or that you could literally be walking right by (or right under) some extraordinary creatures that can only be spotted by a trained eye?
Rafa helped me find the resplendent quetzal, which is famous for its majestic coloring and long-feathered tails. They’re a near-threatened species, making them challenging to find. I’d dreamed of seeing one of these magnificent birds for months leading up to this trip.
In Arenal, Rafa pivoted slightly from our itinerary because he knew that if we waited a bit longer to go, we’d get a clear view of the volcano—and he was right. He also had us go to the Monteverde Cloud Forest earlier, which allowed for optimal viewing from the hanging bridges. I’m so grateful to have had him there to guide us. The wealth of knowledge he brought to our tour completely blew us all away.
I also made friends with some of the people in my group, and we still keep in touch. I even visited a few of them over the holidays. Who knew a trip of a lifetime would also lead to forever friendships? Not this girl. I’m so glad that I got to experience group travel and the extra memories it helped create.