My trip to Costa Rica met and exceeded my expectations. I have not been able to stop thinking about my trip since coming home. I can hardly wait to plan another trip there again. Costa Rica is a magical place, and I wanted to share the highlights of my trip with everyone in hopes that they may help others plan a wonderful vacation.
My boyfriend is currently participating in an immersion program in Samara, so he came to meet me at the airport in San Jose when I flew in. We rented a car from www.wild-rider.com and asked to have the car dropped off at the airport for an extra 20.00. We had researched the car rental months earlier, and this company was by far the most inexpensive (plus, there were no hidden insurance costs!).
We had a 4x4 Daihatsu for the duration of the trip and it got us everywhere without an issue. Another thing to note was that since it was the beginning of the green season, we did not book any hotels and decided to wing it. Mind you, I did a little research on hotels in the area but we booked nothing in advance.
We quickly headed out of town to our first destination: Manuel Antonio. We got lost heading over the mountains, but got back on track when we stopped at a fresh fruit stand on the side of the road while we picked up a huge bag of fresh mangoes. Went over the Croc Bridge and snapped a bunch of pics. While we were there, we saw three pairs of scarlet macaws in flight--amazing! We also stopped in Jaco at the taco bar for my boyfiend's favorite batido, banana peanut butter and raisin (strange combination but fantastic).
We ended up at Manuel Antonio in a rain storm after getting lost in Quepos and started our adventure of finding a hotel. Our first stop ended up being our hotel of choice, La Colina. After going to several hotels, this was by far the best value (and it had a lush backdrop among the hill side!). We ended up in room #10, which had a beautiful view. I would wake up every morning and sit outside to enjoy the tranquil surroundings and view.
This hotel offered free breakfast, which came out quick--the staff was quite pleasant! The staff was also helpful in booking our tour to Manuel Antonio National Park. Our guide was fabulous and we saw a ton of wildlife. We enjoyed the beach in Manuel Antonio for two days and then we were ready to head on to our next destination. On a food note, the first night we dined at Kapi Kapi and had the most amazing marlin. We also dined at Mar Luna one night and had a wonderful fried snapper meal while watching a sloth in a tree next to us. Mar Luna has a great view.
Next on the trip was Malpais/St. Teresa. This was not the hightlight of my trip but I think we just picked a bad location for the hotel. We did go in to Montezuma one day for a trip to Isla Tortuga. I absolutely loved Montezuma. It is like a little hippie town--very cute and eclectic. Isla Tortuga was also a highlight. After a 45-minute boat ride and a snorkeling excursion, they drop you off at an island to eat lunch and enjoy the afternoon. It was beautiful and relaxing--something not to miss if you are in the area.
Next stop was Samara. Since we had the luxury of over a two-week vacation we decided to settle in for a week in one place where we could just relax and not have an agenda. This is also where my boyfriend is in school, so he knew the lay of the land and that was nice. After stopping at many of the hotels to look at rooms and check prices, we stumbled on Villas Papitas and knew we found our week in paradise! It was the most amazing villa style hote--and there were only five rooms! The grounds were so beautiful. We felt like we had the place to ourselves the whole time. The owners were so friendly, and it was also completely secure with a gate and night guard.
I enjoyed Samara immensely. I spent many lazy days on the beach, hiking in the mornings, kayaking to a nearby island, and just wandering around the town. There were lots of fun ways to fill the day--with nothing at all! They also had a lot of terrific restaurants. Coco’s was one of our favorites. We always ordered the snapper for two that came on a huge platter with sautéed veggies and pappas for only 15.00 (try to find that price in the states). El Lagarto was also memorable along with pizza a go-go.
Sadly, and I say this because we had such a great time there, we left Samara after a week and headed in to the mountains. In La Fortuna, we stayed at the Vagabondo hotel which was another great small hotel. There were cute rooms, a pool and a great sports bar/Italian restaurant next door. The staff was also very friendly. We were able to book our sky tram tour and Baldi Hot Springs fee through them. It made it very convenient to not have to deal with it ourselves. The canopy tour was fantastic and top-notch. I felt very safe flying through the trees and our guides were a hoot!
The hot springs were also amazing. However, I have to admit it was at times creepy to wander in to areas where people were having private moments...or seeing a group of four guys--I can’t explain it except that it felt creepy! We were also blessed to see the volcano every day with perfect blue skies. We saw the lava flow at night by driving up near the entrance of the park and parking on the side of the road.
We spent our last day in San Jose and I'm glad we did. It reminded me a lot of San Francisco, the hustle and bustle of everyone. I almost felt like I was in Chinatown. We walked the streets of the cow parade and also experienced the Central Mercado. This is a must do in San Jose. Tons of sodas, shopping and a variety of fresh foods. Alas, we spent out last night at the Mango Hotel by the airport. This was a good option, as it offered free shuttle service to the airport.
I have left out a lot but feel like this is already too long. I can only say that Costa Rica was the most amazing place I have ever vacationed at and I cannot wait to go back. Pura Vida!!
**Things to Note**
1. Pay cash at your hotels to avoid taxes.
2. It is easy to get cash at the bank and more cost-effective to pay colones at restaurants or use a credit card.
3. The travel times in no way reflect the actual drive time, at least for us. We got to all our destinations much quicker than what we were told.
4. It really goes a long way to know a little Spanish. I was thankful to have my boyfriend by my side.
5. If you are going to cross the Punteranas by ferry, find out the schedule from your hotel. It was completely different than our guide book.
6. If you are driving, remember to have fun, stay calm and pay attention for signs. It is so easy to end up going past your turn. And watch for speed traps--they will pull you over!