Last week I went to Costa Rica as a post-grad adventure with my boyfriend. It was amazing. Costa Rica is one of those places that you can make whatever you want. It can be place where you can have a relaxing, lazy beach-side vacation or an adrenaline rich adventure. I did both. On the first day there my boyfriend and I rented a car (Budget- 80 dollars for automatic/ 50 for a manual). We attempted to drive to Poas without a GPS, bad idea, and better to just spend the extra 10 bucks and get a GPS from the car rental agency. I got to cross off an item on my bucket list as we drove on the Pan-American Highway toward Poas Volcano. The drive there is a little bumpy but easy since there are signs everywhere. On our way back it was a different story. We got lost in Alajuela for an hour because we couldn’t find a sign for San Jose. Eventually we made it back in one piece.
The next day we hired Gray Line Tours to take us to Manuel Antonio for a day trip. Gray Line Tours is a company that you can hire for private shuttles, although the trip we took was a guided tour they now offer. Our guide, Katya, was friendly and spoke English very well. We first went to a place near Rio Tarcoles for a great breakfast.
The traditional Costa Rican breakfast is gallo pinto, which is rice and beans mixed with onions, cilantro and tomatoes. It is a delicious savory breakfast and really fuels you up for the rest of the day. Don’t forget to add Lizano sauce to the gallo pinto. Lizano is a Costa Rican salsa that is essentially added to everything and adds a nice kick of flavor to your meal.
Rio Tarcoles is famous for its crocodile ridden river banks. We saw at least a dozen crocs lying around, including this gigantic 20 foot long, 3 foot wide Godzilla of a crocodile. It was pretty awesome! We got back onto the shuttle and stopped by at Jaco beach. Interesting fact- Jaco beach has black sand due to volcanic ash in the area. Also it is a popular surf spot.
Eventually we made it to our destination- Manuel Antonio National Park. This is the place to go if you want to see animals and relax on a quiet jungle beach. We saw monkeys, sloths, iguanas, lizards, frogs, raccoons, and lots of birds and butterflies. The beach itself was amazing. You have a choice between a calm non-wavy beach and a beach with exciting crashing waves. With my fear of being dragged out into the ocean, I stuck to the calm beach and splashed around. It is definitely an upgrade from the jersey shore. Overall the day was successful. 🙂
That night, we left the Pacific Coast (Manuel Antonio) and got back to San Jose. San Jose is a semi-city. All you really see are lots of fast food joints and small cement buildings. Not much sightseeing to do within the city which is why we left to go to Arenal/La Fortuna. Arenal is northwest of San Jose and is a lush green area that houses one of the most active volcanoes in the world. We took a public bus from San Jose at 6:15 AM. The drive is long but scenic 4 1/2 hours. The one-way tickets cost 2070 colones which roughly comes out to 5 dollars. Buses are a great cheap way to get around in Costa Rica, arrive about an hour to 2 hours before your bus to purchase tickets, as the buses fill up quickly. If that isn’t for you, you can hire Gray Line Tours as a private shuttle which costs about 40 dollars per person to go from San Jose to Arenal. We met up with my best friend who is in San Jose on medical rotation and were off on our journey. We stayed at Hotel Vista Del Cerro- a recommendation from one of my friends. The owner was so amazing helpful and was able to book our excursions and cheap prices and even offered us rides across town since cabs are hard to come by. Each room had a view of the volcano and the hotel is situated right across a supermarket for convenience.
Once we got to the hotel we signed up to go to Baldi Hot Springs- it costs 30 dollars for entrance and a delicious buffet dinner. The taxi ride cost about 4 dollars (FYI always ask the taxi driver to reset or turn on the meter so you don’t get ripped off!). The hot springs were perfect. There are various pools filled with hot water heated by Arenal volcano. Each pool varies in temperature (93 F to 112 F). The hottest water I could manage to get myself into was the 102 F pool. We splashed around on the slides, one of which spits you out at about 45 miles per hour. It’s a great place for young people, if your older Tabacon Hot Springs is probably a better choice for you. Dinner was really great and super vegetarian friendly luckily for us. The springs are open until 10pm so we splashed around some more at night and enjoyed some good salsa music as well.
The next day we booked a canyoneering/waterfall rappelling excursion with DeSafio tours. The price was 85 dollars for 4 waterfalls and one dry wall plus lunch. This trip was really unique in that each waterfall was a different style and in between each rappel there were different things to do. For example, we jumped into a deep pool at the bottom of a short waterfall that was about 5 feet deep (picture of scared me above). The guides were fun and friendly and made this trip 10 times more enjoyable. My friends and I left satisfied with our choice of company. We were picked up at 7:30 am and brought back by 12pm.
At noon we decided to do an ATV tour. It was 85 bucks for a double and 75 for single. We doubled up and were on our way. Rhut decided he wanted me to drive first, I wasn’t so excited about that since I never driven an ATV before. But I decided what the heck, why not and off we went. After a few jerky moments I got the hang of it and sped around like a pro. Our guide was really quiet and didn’t really interact with us much, but since it was four of us just made it fun ourselves. The guide led us to a secluded spot on the Arenal River. We swam around and lounged on the rocks on the river until I spotted a toucan. In Costa Rica, seeing or hearing a toucan means it’s going to rain. And it did. So we left and drove back to the town.
After coming home from ATVing we went to the supermarket and grabbed some tortillas, avocado and Costa Rican snacks (plantain chips, ice cream, basically international junk food lol). I picked up a bag of these addicting coconut cookies, so good that we made a special trip back to the market to get more. Even a week later, I dream of these coconut cookies. We relaxed by the side of the hotel pool and made avocado tortillas (I always carry a spork– comes in handy!) We raced in the pool, and found out my boyfriend is a half otter half dolphin hybrid as he won every race.
The next day we did a half day canopying/zip-lining adventure. It was an extreme zip-lining tour that cost 40 dollars for 6 lines. We went on the longest and fasted lines. Also the zip-lining company we used was Arenal Mundo Adventura . It’s the only company with a zip line that goes above/past the La Fortuna waterfall. The zip lines were super long and the views were scenic. Definitely the best company to go with in La Fortuna. Afterwards we hopped on a bus back to San Jose since Rhut and I had a flight back home the next day.
We stayed at the Marriott in San Jose near the airport for the night. Apparently it is one of the most expensive hotels in the city. Rhut used his Marriott points to book the place, but otherwise our room would have cost us 340 dollars a night. It was a massive hotel, with a gift shop, 2 pools, 2 large restaurants, and spa and tennis courts. Rhut and I hit up the executive lounge and grabbed some snacks before we went to sleep. For people who don’t have a budget I would say this is the place to sleep. Friendly staff, free internet, and a place where you can get pampered. I wish I could have stayed longer, but it was my time to leave and go back home.