I just returned back to the home-base in California after a 10 day excursion throughout the country of Costa Rica. I traveled with my good friend from College, Yasmin, or "Jasmin" as we got used to the name change when said by the Spanish speaking people of Costa Rica.
Costa Rica is a country in Central America, below Nicaragua, above Panama. The beautiful, active, and powerful land has two oceans - the Pacific on the Western coast, and the Caribbean on the Eastern Coast. You can drive from one ocean to the other in about 7 hours. The population of Costa Rica is estimated 4.5 million, and a quarter of the entire population live in the capitol city - San José.
Because of it's close proximity to the equator, the climate is tropical year round. However, the country has many microclimates. Overall, Costa Rica has two seasons: dry season, December to April, and rainy season, May to November. We visited in June/July - which was near the beginning of the rainy season, but rain in Costa Rica seemed to leave just as fast as it came. It never was a problem to us. Plus, swimming in warm, tropical ocean water or lounging in a hotspring while warm tropical rain falls on you, really isn't the worst thing that I can imagine happening to me while traveling. The "Ticos", a term which refers to native Costa Ricans, consider the rain a blessing and not only welcome and appreciate the rain, they continue on with their daily lives and any activities they are doing when the rain comes.
My favorite fact that I learned about Costa Rica on my first day there was that they have no army, and haven't since 1949. When the army was abolished, it was said "The Army would be replaced with an Army of teachers". This, my friends, makes me very hopeful in humanity. So Instead, their government money go towards public health, human development, and education.
And let me tell you, the money put towards other things besides the Army is VERY noticeable while visiting. "School zones" are as common as Starbucks in Southern California. The tap water is completely, and entirely safe to drink. (Visit most other latin america countries, and you'll really, really appreciate this.) Not only is the tap water safe to drink, it is actually good water to drink. In addition, the Nicoya peninsula is one of the few Blue Zones of the world - a place where people have the longest life expectancies. Costa Rica has won first place awards multiple years for having the highest health and happiness per unit of environmental input. Their ecological footprint is one-third the size of the United States.
They are admired as Central Americas great health success story.
I can promise, upon visiting, you will understand why.
The country gives life to some of the kindest, and big hearted people I have ever met in my life. Throughout my travels so far, I have not encountered so many people in one area who are overall as kind as the Ticos, Ticas, and those who have moved to the land from other places and now call it home. There is something magical about Costa Rica that allows people to live a relaxed, simple, and minimal life which in turn, relates to how they act and respond as a person.
Pura Vida is a very real thing.
So back to our travels - Yassie and I rented a car in order to give us the most flexibility and freedom while traveling around the country. I must say, this was the best decision for us, as we wanted to visit 5 different areas of the country; all of which were hours driving apart from one another. We flew into San José airport and immediately went to all the car rental booths at the airport and did some "shopping". We went to every single one of the booths asking and comparing prices. As the booths were all next to each other, this wasn't hard, nor time consuming - and actually worked in our benefit, as the salesmen saw us doing this, so they were all competing with each others prices to give us the lowest price with the most benefits and perks. We ended up with a VERY sweet deal from Dollar Rent A Car.
Our experience with Dollar rent a Car was superb. They had free transportation for us from their airport booth to their office, about 10 minutes away. They included GPS, full coverage, and we got a brand spanking, shiny, new car. A Suzuki, of course. The men working spoke great English, we're knowledgable, friendly, and made sure we were all set to hit the land of unpaved roads and no street names.
I'm not kidding about either - There are literally NO street names for majority of the country. No street names also mean no addresses. We never stopped laughing at our GPS saying "In .5 kilometers, turn left on Unpaved Road".... to be honest, I'm still laughing. Luckily, we never got lost - but I would HIGHLY recommend getting GPS because I don't think we would have been able to navigate around without it.
So, there we went, and FAST, out of San José. We were advised to spend as little time as possible in the big city and head towards the true heart of Costa Rica - the mountains, volcanos, rives, and beaches.
La Fortuna, Arenal Volcano
We went straight from San José to La Fortuna. La Fortuna is the town where Arenal Volcano is located. The drive there was about 3 hours. We took our time, as we quickly adopted the laid-back, no rush, lifestyle that the Costa Ricans are so fond of.
We found ourselves at a butterfly and hummingbird garden, in which I saw the real life blue emoji butterfly in all it's glory. This was the day that I learned that Yassie hates pretty much anything flying next to her. Was she ready for 10 days of wild animals? Probably not. But, she was a trooper, even with the Bees who absolutely adored her floral bikini while at the beach one day.
(for more photos, visit my photo dairy - here! )
After a quick stop at the Butterfly Garden, we drove our way through the winding Costa Rica roads and stopped at a Cafe for lunch. This was where we discovered, Costa Rica is expensive. Being a Latin American country, I had imagined that it would be fairly cheap. This was until we ordered a falafel + hummus plate, which came to be $14 USD. huh?
Welp. It didn't take long to learn that Costa Rica is in fact, not cheap. We also learned quickly, that if you want cheap, local, food - the SODAS are where you will get "typical", cheap meals. They are local mom + pop restaurants that usually offer authentic meals for about ~$6 USD. Live n Learn, right?!
Alas, we made it to Arenal. We checked into our hostel - Arenal Backpackers. If you enjoy hammocks - this is your spot. The was definitely no lack of lounging spots here. It was right on the main street of the town, had clean, nice rooms (with AC!), 3 pools, and a swim up bar in one. It was definitely a great find and stay.
Spent the next full day exploring the area.
Lots of hiking which made me a happy gal.
We visited La Fortuna Waterfall, which is a majestic 75 meter waterfall. The entrance fee is $15 USD and the hike down to the waterfall was short, but consisted of 500 stairs. Thankfully, my daily climbing of Koko Head Crater while living in Hawai'i, which consisted of 1,006 stairs, well prepped me for this challenge.
We spent half the day here swimming in the pool from the waterfall. We also went for another short hike past the river which gave us another beautiful view of the Waterfall.
After, we took our muddy feet and wet haired selves on a little adventure to see what kind of hiking we could find around Arenal Volcano.
This was where I was reminded at how awful, and awkward I am at jumping photos -
and how great, and graceful Yassie is at this very same task -
We eventually ended up at the Tabacon Hot Springs.
Well, we opted for the free Hot Springs, known as Río Chollín. These hot springs are located right behind the resort and is a short walk down the road to the springs.
These were AMAZING!
The water temperature was about 102 degrees Fahrenheit, and there were plenty of natural, nature-formed, pools to lounge and soak in all of the natural minerals from this healing water.
We even found a natural waterfall to play in. I highly recommend the hot springs, they were one of my favorite things that we did while on the trip.
After a full day of adventuring we called it a night early, and planned for an early morning to start driving to Río Celeste. This was the night I ate my favorite meal of my time while in Costa Rica, The Casado - a plate of beans, rice, veggies, salad, a homemade tortilla, and the beloved fried plantains. Little did I know, this was the beginning of it all.
The first (and best) of many Casados to come.
LA FORTUNA / ARENAL SUMMARY:
It was fairly simple and easy to navigate getting here. Well, easy compared to what was to come in the next few days. Paved roads, which was a plus.
It was very touristy and heavily focused on tourism
It was expensive here - the restaurants, bars, supermarkets, and cafes were all on the higher price range
The waterfall and hotsprings were well worth the visit
Unfortunately, no sloth sightings
We spent the next night in the area of Río Celeste which was about 2 hours drive from La Fortuna.
As touristy as it is, seeing the milky baby blue water of Río Celeste was at the top of both of our travel plans. We payed about $12 USD to enter the Tenorio National Park which is where you have a clear path to follow and a moderate hike to the waterfall and lakes. We hiked to both and enjoyed the sights of the beautiful blue water.
RIO CELESTE SUMMARY:
Getting there was the first taste of all the unpaved roads that Costa Rica has to offer. Expect potholes, bumps, delays, and get ready for a bumpy ride.
Bring natural essential oils such as lavender, citronella, clove, lemongrass, tea tree, or Eucalyptus to make a homemade and effective bug spray!
They stop selling admission at 2pm and close at 4pm
Closed toe shoes are not completely necessary, but helpful
Its very remote here - plan accordingly for meals, gas, etc.
With no luck, we saw a total of zero sloths
Nosara + Sámara, Nicoya Peninsula
Another early morning, and about 5 hours of driving to the small surfer town of Sámara on the Nicoya Peninsula. Finally, THE BEACH.
Sámara is a small town, dirt roads in - dirts roads out. Here you'll find surfers, people selling coconuts, and some places to eat lunch.
We had booked a jungle tent for the next two nights in an area called Barco Quebrado which was in between Sámara and Nosara. It was deep in the jungle. There was tons of wild animals here - toads, spiders, snakes, monkeys - you name it we probably saw it. We woke up both mornings to Monkeys playing in the trees above us.
Not sure how we found this place, as it was deep in the jungle and like I mentioned, no street names or addresses but we did. There was literally nothing around. Our host asked if we wanted to eat dinner at a local restaurant down the road and we ended up at this:
it was so my style! I loved it. Just a pop up kitchen in the Jungle, where a wonderful and kind french woman cooked us dinner from local ingredients.
The next morning we woke up, yep, you guessed it, EARLY. Early mornings were our tomato jam in Costa Rica. Made the days so filled with adventure and activities. Headed up to Nosara - an even more hippie, surfer, yogi area of Costa Rica than Sámara.
Spent the day doing yoga, surfing, swimming, beach hopping, attempting to find acai bowls, finding acai bowls, somehow accidentally managing to order the one thing on the menu that wasn't an acai bowl, and a lot of close calls of almost getting concussions from monkeys throwing mangos at us from the trees above.
Safe to say. I LOVED NOSARA.
It was way less touristy and way more our vibe.
If you know me, you know that Tulum, Mexico is my favorite place in the world and I am always talking about it - well, Nosara was a similar vibe.
NICOYA PENINSULA SUMMARY:
Getting around was bumpy. Only dirt roads, many potholes, roads were closed because the rain had washed them away. Expect detours, massive puddles, and an adventure getting to and from here and there.
Visit all the different beaches in Playa Guiones if you have time - we saw Playa Nosara, Playa Guiones, Playa Pelada. We didn't make it to Playa Bote or Playa Garza.
If you are looking to do yoga, I highly recommend taking a class at Harmony Hotel. It was one of the most beautiful shalas I have ever practiced in, and the class was one of my absolute favorites in the 10 years i've been practicing.
If you are planning to buy an acai bowl at Go Juice, don't order the Bee Bowl - rookie mistake when we got a bowl of fruit expecting acai. Oops.
Make sure you surf here - we rented boards at La Negra Hotel and walked them down to the beach. Reasonably priced and you can talk them down a bit.
I'd recommend trying to find accommodation as close to the beach as possible, as the roads are bad here, so what looks close on a map might take a long time to drive. Our tent was a 30 min drive from the beaches.
Was not graced with a sloths presence
Another early morning to hit the dirt roads. This time, a 4 hour drive to Monte Verde. Yes, we went back to where we came from... Well, kind of. On a map it appears that Monte Verde and La Fortuna are very close, but they are actually separated by the volcano - meaning you need to drive around to get from point A to B. We decided going to Nicoya Peninsula and then making out way back to the general area was our best game plan since ultimately we were on our way back South. It was just one big loop!
Monte Verde is a mountain town that is much colder and has a different climate than the other parts of Costa Rica that we were in. It was much less humid, very rainy, cloudy, and about 20 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the other places as well. It has many coffee and cacao farms, cloud forests, zip lining tours, and hanging bridges.
The road up to the mountain town was the craziest of all the crazy roads that we experienced. Going up a mountain winding road, unpaved, bumpy, bumpy, and did I mention bumpy?
But, it was well worth the drive.
Monte Verde was beautiful. It was also nice to get out of the humidity for a day.
We ended up booking a package of ziplining and access to the hanging bridges. It was definitely pricey for myself, being the very frugal spender that I am, coming in at $75 USD a person. But, since I have never in all my years zip lined before, I justified it by reminding myself what better place to do so - than the jungle of Costa Rica... in a cloud forest?!
It was a total of 15 different zip lines. I highly recommend this for all ages! It was an incredible experience floating through untouched land and drifting in and out of fog.
It began to rain heavily after our zip line, thank you Costa Rican gods, we managed to have perfect timing with our ziplining. We decided to come back the next morning and walk along to hanging bridges in hopes of better weather.
The next morning was rain. With limited time, we did the hike anyways. Once you are under the canopy of the jungle trees, you barely feel any rain so it was not an issue. The hanging bridges were truly spectacular. They gave incredible views of the trees from all different levels and the hike was easy, but filled with life. Yassie was terrified that a snake was going to kill her. We had talked with some guys the day before that said they had encountered a viper, a deadly green snake, right in the middle of the trail. A guide had to get it out of the way. Anyways, we didn't see a snake, or the famous Quetzal bird for that matter either. But the bridges were worth the experience.
After, being the survivors of a potential deadly snake attack that we were, we visited a hummingbird garden. Yassie was very stoked.... snakes, hummingbirds, and wasps all in one day?!? It was a definitely a day out of her wildest dreams.
I nearly cried tears of joy when hummingbirds landed on me. I didn't know that was possible! It was so beautiful to admire these creatures from so close.
MONTE VERDE SUMMARY:
Getting here is challenging, the drive was a bit dangerous but we survived. Having a well equipped car with 4 wheel drive can make the trip easier. We didn't need to use the 4 wheel drive, but it put us at ease knowing we had it in case we needed it.
If you are planning to visit here - pack warmer clothes. A light cotton sweater will do. A waterproof light jacket would be best.
They have a few specialty coffee shops in town. The beans are from local farms - if you're a coffee person, you're in luck. Grown, roasted, and brewed all right in town.
They have a restaurant built around a tree in town - tree house style. This was dreamy, and I highly recommend checking it out!
We went to Selvatura Adventura Park for the Ziplining and hanging bridges tour. We had a great time and I would recommend them. They also include free transportation to and from your hotel or hostel.
It is possible to take a boat ride from La Fortuna/Arenal across the lake to Monte Verde. Obviously, we didn't do this but we heard it's possible. Could save time.
Thought for sure we were going to finally see a sloth, but no
Our last stop of the trip! Unlike the other places, we decided to spend 3 full days and nights here. It was nice to settle down in one place after all that driving - and this was the perfect place to do so. This was, personally, my favorite area of Costa Rica. It reminded me so much of the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i.
We stayed at Selina Hostel, and this was the most incredible, hip, and stunning hostel I have EVER stayed in. For only $15 USD a night, it was well worth it. They have locations all over Costa Rica and I'd like to do a trip back solely so that I can stay in every single one. The desk staff was beyond friendly and helpful, the bartenders were so fun and sociable, and the people staying there fit in perfectly.
We were here over the weekend, and decided to have a fun weekend with a few drinks. We par took in happy hour at our hostel and asked the Bartender where we should go to have a fun night, he told us to believe him when he said we're going to want to stay here. Turns out, Selina is the hot spot for the entire town. Score. The night turned into one big dance party with live music. It was exactly what we wanted - and we didn't even have to leave.
After a fun first night, we decided we liked this place, a lot. We then spent the next day lounging and surfing / kook-ing at the local main beach, Playa Manuel Antonio. This beach was special - there were consistent waves to surf, board rentals every few meters, tons of beach vendors walking up selling coconuts and bird whistles, and even monkeys right in the trees behind you!
After a long day of surfing and people watching, we decided to seek a more mellow, laid back, off the beaten path, beach. We quickly found ourselves at Playa Biesanz. A hidden beach you need to hike down to, an easy walk. Reminded me of Kauai, once again. Falling even more in love with Manuel Antonio, as you can tell.
Had a mellow night, and did it all again the next day.
Started with an early morning yoga class at our hostel on a rooftop deck, and then straight to the beach we went.
and I couldn't be happier.
After a long day of hanging out at the beach, and hours of surfing, it was brought to an end with heavy rainfall. We're talking crazy rain, out of no where, that sent everyone into a soaked mess packing up their stuff. It was dumping, but the locals didn't seem like it was anything unusual.
We were able to catch the sunset later and dance around on the beach as the sands turned bright orange, to pink, to purple. Gratitude in our hearts, thanking the Costa Rican gods, once again.
MANUEL ANTONIO SUMMARY:
DO stay at the Selina Hostel, if possible. Honestly, the best hostel I have ever had the opportunity to stay at - and that's saying a lot. It wins every category, all around.
Surfboard rentals from Selina are much cheaper than on the beach and they have brand spankin' new, extremely nice boards to rent. The nicest board I have ever surfed on, that's for certain.