Our Founder & CEO, Melissa's Travel Guide to Costa Rica
Hi! I’m Melissa, Founder & CEO of Cabana Life. My family and I recently vacationed in Costa Rica, hitting three distinct areas in the country of adventure over two weeks! There is so much to do in this country, but I want to share with you what my family and I loved most while we were there. Pura Vida!
What to Pack:
Make sure to travel light! Only pack what is necessary- cool, lightweight clothes that are easy to dry. Cabana Life was truly perfect for the climate of Costa Rica and all the excursions my family and I went on. UPF 50+, breathable, and cute in pictures, our Cabana Life wardrobe made for a stylish and successful sun safe vacay. I especially loved my Unisuit for surfing, and the swim leggings for evening yoga.
With all the adventures we embarked on and different things we encountered throughout the day, layering a performance top and leggings over a swimsuit was key. The kids’ rashguards were perfect because they offered all day UV protection, so we could focus on all the fun things CR had to offer. Sunset dinners were often at open-air restaurants, so the breathable dresses kept me cool and stylish.
Where to Stay:
As a family of five, our favorite way to travel is to explore a new country while staying at a private home. It makes you feel more like a local and everyone has space to spread out. I spend countess hours reading reviews, looking at photos and selecting the perfect homes on AirBNB. It’s a fine art of weighing locations, activities and amenities.
In our first stop in Manuel Antonio, we rented an amazing home in the jungle with an infinity pool overlooking the ocean, yet only steps away from the cute main street of restaurants and shops. Our backyard was teeming with four different species of monkeys, a sloth, scarlet macaws and toucans. “Tico” breakfast delivered to the back patio was a daily treat for our family, plus the curious monkeys who occasionally joined us for a banana NEVER got old. Tico breakfast is a traditional meal consisting of eggs and a mixture of black beans and rice, often with a side of plantains, all with delicious seasonings. The fresh fruit in Costa Rica is some of the best I’ve ever had. It is a great way to fuel up for a day of adventure.
Casa Barba Roja in Manuel Antonio books up FAST but is EVERYTHING when staying in the area. Experiencing the screams of Howler Monkeys in the middle of the night outside of your window is truly indescribable. We all just sat there outside in the darkness in awe.
When we stayed in Playa Flamingo, our Airbnb was also incredible. It is owned by a lovely French couple with exquisite taste who gave us some amazing recommendations in the area.
In La Fortuna, I'd suggest staying at a resort such as The Springs Resort as there aren't as many luxe Airbnb options.
What to Do:
It is VERY easy to get sucked into the expensive tourist traps of Costa Rica, which is a vibe I personally hate. We were very intentional about doing some strategic organized activities while also exploring plenty on our own.
Adventures in Manuel Antonio:
Manuel Antonio National Park: We were spoiled by our gorgeous house in the jungle, but this was a cool place to visit if you hadn’t already seen monkeys and sloths. You can pick up a tour guide at the park if desired (negotiate!), but we wandered around on our own. There are some beaches in the park too. Make sure to bring lots of water.
Waterfall Tour: We took the recommendation of our awesome house manager (amazing concierge service) and spent our first day with a terrific guide. John took us to beaches we would have never found, a secret watering hole with rope swing which our kids LOVED jumping off like Tarzan, gorgeous waterfalls, hikes through the rainforest, local places for coffee and snacks, plus a great dinner off the beaten path complete with hanging swings as chairs. While we rode with him on this tour, we also had rented a car for our 2-week trip, so we noted some of the locations we wanted to come back and visit on our own. It served as a great cheat sheet from a local of both what to avoid (you can get hustled hard on some of the beaches) and what to seek out (the off the beaten path gems he showed us).
Surf School: Don’t miss surf lessons. The waves on Playa Espadilla were incredible and the instructors are literally one-on-one wave valets, helping newbies like us decide on the perfect waves to go after and pushing you off in the right direction so you can catch them like a pro. My Batik Unisuit was a lifesaver! Next time I’d wear swim leggings too. REAPPLY SUNSCREEN every hour on the back of your legs while surfing (think buns up to the sun!)
Yoga: Because the views from our house were so incredible, I arranged for a private yoga lesson by our pool at sunset. It was a beyond magical family bonding experience. Even our six-year-old son got in on the act. Plus we had nine scarlet macaws putting on an airshow while we were doing sun salutations in our Cabana Life tankini tops and swim leggings.
Beach Day: For a pristine beach with gentle waves where you park in the palm trees, be sure to visit Playa Linda. Take an unmarked, long dirt road between two radio masts and escape the crowded tourist beaches.
Adventures in La Fortuna:
After leaving the beaches, we headed into the Arenal Volcano area for a few days. It was very touristy, which I didn’t love, and you can easily drop a fortune in this town on “packages” without feeling like you got a special experience. I'd recommend spending maybe 2 or 3 days here.
We hiked the Arenal Volcano area on our own, which is definitely your best bet, rather than a guided tour. Zip-lining is a must-do in Costa Rica, and Arenal Mundo Aventura had amazing views as you zipped over a waterfall and rainforest. To learn more about the area, we volunteered at Asis Animal Center, which was educational and fun for the whole family. We prepared meals for the animals, got up-close in their enclosures, and learned about their different stories of survival.
Even though we had already seen every animal at our first house, the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridge Park was a cool experience that the kids enjoyed. One of our favorite things we did was experience the sloths, up close and personal. You essentially wait with a Costa Rican family in their outdoor kitchen for their resident sloth to come eat dinner. WAIT is the operative word as it is a sloth, but you start to feel like you are part of their extended family as they cook you snacks, take you looking for exotic frogs in the darkness and wait some more for Flash the Sloth to make an appearance.
Playa Flamingo: Another great beach area with a different vibe than Manuel Antonio, Playa Flamingo was a beautiful and relaxing place to end our trip. This chill town had stunning beaches, good restaurants and the nearby bigger town of Tamarindo for some extra shopping and activities. The Costa Rica Sailing Center gave a great view for a gorgeous sunset and dinner on the beach while the kids can swim in the pool. They also offer dive trips during the day. Another fun activity for the kids was a jewelry workshop, where we left our teen girls to learn macrame while we enjoyed rosé on the beach.
Where to Eat:
Manuel Antonio restaurants:
Del Mar Grill was right nearby after a beach day at Playa Linda, this restaurant, and had wood burning pizza and amazing rotisserie chicken while dining from a swing.
Falafel Bar Manuel Antonio was so good we ate there twice! Our family loved the fresh tahini maker and smoothies.
Café Milagro was one of the best breakfast spots we went to in Manuel Antonio, with freshly roasted coffee!
Le Papillion in La Mariposa hotel had a beautiful ocean view with delicious fresh seafood as well as some traditional Costa Rican food.
Playa Flamingo Restaurants:
The Surf Box is a super cute retro brunch spot.
Coco Loco had great tuna tacos and a yummy signature cocktail, coconut of course!
Beach House Restaurant is a quaint restaurant and bar on the beach, with great fresh seafood.