POAS VOLCANO, LA PAZ WATERFALL GARDENS and DOKA COFFEE or mebe ZOO AVE...
This is the most likely of the possible day trips . . . get up early (Poas is open at 8am) and is usually clouded over before noon). Take an easy hike to Botos lake and stop at the visitor center before heading down the hill.
You might drop by one of our favorite local schools - the Escuela Poasito run by the marvellous director Sonia Barrantes. Poasito is a tiny rural village badly damaged in the 6.2 earthquake of Jan 8th 2009. From there another few kilometers brings you to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Their butterfly garden is second to none, their hummingbirds profuse, their aviary huge and the flora like none you will see in Costa Rica.
From there if you don't run out of time down the hill - we like the Fresas restaurant for lunch . . . lots of things from the strawberry fields of Poas and then on to Doka Coffee. We like this coffee place - the old authentic water separation method is used. The machinery is from at least 2 eras ago! They have a nice tour and they are only a few km from the Pura Vida Hotel. This is a full day of Costa Rica - no crowds, no silly tourist traps - just a very nice day.
A RURAL COMMUNITY TOUR?
There are many places to visit in Costa Rica but few will compare to the thought provoking experiences of a day spent with Costa Rican families, farmers and artisans in a rural community. In the future Costa Rica can build massive highways leading to disneyesque parodies of golf courses surrounded by all inclusive misnamed eco-resorts populated by loud tipsy Hawaiian shirted tourists who can't tell if they are in Maui or Cancun after getting up at mid day after last nights binge and demanding a taxi to the nearest mall so they can "go shopping" for t-shirts and "indigenous masks" made in China.
OR perhaps you can help support rural tourism for at least one night of your stay in Costa Rica?
There are a number of people involved in supporting rural tourism - ACTUAR, the rural community tourism association of Costa Rica is one of them. For more information, contact Kyra Cruz at firstname.lastname@example.org or see the ACTUAR web site for information about their members throughout Costa Rica. If you want to learn something about the uniqueness of the Costa Rican character and allow nature and a natural environment to touch you in a unique way, then give ACTUAR a chance and then you can maybe help them make a success out of it through your involvement.
If you want more ideas for rural tourism, we highly recommend the guidebook and work of Beatrice Blake who has been providing better access to rural tourism in Costa Rica for years. Beatrice will also be happy to provide advance trip planning services. She is active in local conservation efforts and her guidebook, "The New Key to Costa Rica" contains more such projects.
LOCAL TIP: note that rural tourism isn't a scripted tight choreographed Sturbridge village reenactment about life on another planet. You are visiting local people doing normal daily activities and not everything is always working or available. If you can give us a week's notice we can have something ready for you.
RURAL TOUR NACIENTES PALMICHAL:
Visit with the people of Palmichal, about 90 minutes south of the Pura Vida Hotel. The Nacientes Palmichal lodge and community center is located in the central highlands and is a community association of 26 families protecting the watershed for the villages below them. This is an approximation of what could be available the day of your trip. You will leave Pura Vida around 8am and stop over at the Quitirrisi indigenous area where you can learn a little about the people, the area and the ways they sustain themselves including their crafts.
We will visit Tabarcia which is a traditional Costa Rican community where well have a typical breakfast. Perhaps you'd like to learn how to make the traditional and delicious Gallo Pinto. After that we are going to stop on a farm nearby - the future of the planet depends on how we use our resources and create a sustainable environment. You will see how a biodigestor works (it doesn't always!) and understand the potential of organic waste. Perhaps you'll come away with some ideas of your own on how we can all reduce our impact on the planet.
Lunch is at the Nacientes Palmichal lodge where you can take a nature walk in the reserve, chat about conservation and learn more about what people do with natural resources in this unique area of Costa Rica. At the end of the trip well visit the local dairy and try a freshly brewed local coffee next to a typical stove. You will return to the Pura Vida in mid afternoon.
This trip can be done with one of our English speaking naturalist guides or directly with ACTUAR, the rural community association of Costa Rica.
LOCAL TIP: In addition to Nacientes we have visited a number of the rural communities such as the excellent Isla de Chira, the village of Boruca, the Bribri of the Caribbean and the Maleku above Arenal. Just let us know if you have an interest in these areas and we will put you in touch with local people who know the area.
"BUTTERFLIES AND COFFEE" TOUR
We happen to know a naturalist guides who speaks excellent English and has worked for years in coffee. He has a very nice day trip visiting with butterflies and learning about their propagation and their value to our eco-system. They will take you by coffee plantations (there are many in the central valley of Costa Rica) and visit with old friends allowing you to experience the coffee culture as it was years ago.
Of course somewhere in the middle they will find you an excellent "comida typica" lunch - sometimes it is possible to make this a 1/2 day tour - just let us know what you'd like.
IRAZU VOLCANO AND VICINITY (my fave trip)
Volcan Irazu and Cartago/ruins/ cathedral, Orosi or Lankester Gardens - an excellent day trip starts you out early in the morning - leave Pura Vida by 8am (if private driver).
Drive south of San Jose to the old city of Cartago (check out the "crawling Christians" on August 2nd when maybe a million people walk to the old church in Cartago from across Costa Rica). Your english speaking driver/guide will then drive you carefully up the side of the volcano to the beautiful emerald lake and volcanoes at Irazu (5 craters last time we counted). Since this is your own private tour take as long as you like walking across the big crater or along the lesser visited top rim. The advantage to this volcano tour is that unlike Poas Volcano, even if it is a cloudy day the clouds on Irazu will invariably part long enough to see the spectacular lake at the main crater.
All done then down the winding road to your lunch stop overlooking the Cartago valley. At this point you can choose to go on to Orosi Valley - an "Austrian-like" valley with a pretty little town or maybe complete the trip via one of our favorite gardens on the planet - Lankester Gardens - a great tour with your own private guide.
And yes if you rent a car you can do it yourself . . . just ask us when you get here to show you the route on the map.
My personal favorite for a day trip - orchids, bamboo forests, history, volcano and Austria all in one day - sacre bleu!!