#10 Travel to Costa Rica

December 28, 2011-January 8, 2012

*While traveling to Costa Rica, I kept a daily journal to remember my adventures.  Rather than a summarization of the entire trip, I have decided to post the whole thing here.  Although, it’s lengthy, I figured it would be helpful for those who desire to travel to this country in the future.  I have highlighted six different cities that my husband and I traveled to in 12 days!  Hope you enjoy hearing about my latest adventure!


Day 1: December 28, 2011 

All packed up for my 1st ever backpacking trip & another bucket list item to tick off!  Thanks to my friend, Evan, I have a bag that is bigger than me.  I’m not quite sure how I will find anything without unpacking the entire bag, because I stuffed it to the brim.  I’m surprised I am able to carry it; thank God it’s a great backpack!  Our flight was smooth, and we stopped in Panama on the way which looked gorgeous from the air with lush greenery.  I will have to go back there someday!  We flew Copa airlines, which I have to note–it rocks.  Two flights with two meals–and one flight was only an hour!  There was also no charge for checked luggage which is impossible to find these days.

Upon arrival in San Jose, we checked into Mi Casa Hostel, which was right near a beautiful park and a brand new professional soccer stadium.  Having never been to a hostel, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but I assume this place was pretty standard in terms of hostels.  Nothing special, but not bad either.  Just your average hostel.  It was super quiet, very clean, and had a friendly staff.  We freshened up and then took a taxi to the area of California to grab dinner and drinks.  We ate at Rayuela, which was a divey rock bar near a cool park with the best Christmas decor!  Speaking of–the entire city of San Jose was strung with amazing Christmas lights.  We bar hopped to La Esquina and Bar Morazan (by Morazan Park).  The latter bar played throwbacks ‘NSync & the Macarena–what’s not to love?  It was a slow night for nightlife, but it was Wednesday and we found out later that the whole country pretty much had off for the holidays, so everyone was traveling to the beaches.  After some drinks, we headed back to our hostel to get some rest for tomorrow’s travels. 

Day 2: December 29, 2011 

Woke up around 8:30 and took a hot shower.  At the time, I thought this was a luxury in Costa Rica since Zack didn’t get many warm showers the last time he traveled here, but I later found out that in terms of third world countries, Costa Rica is top of the line.  We packed up and headed to the bus station for our journey to Montezuma.  In order to get there, you take a bus to Puntarenas, a ferry across the gulf, and then another bus ride before getting to the final destination.  We grabbed some juevos fritos con arroz (fried eggs with rice) for breakfast, and headed on our way!

It was a longggg ride to Montezuma.  Upon arrival at the ferry, a tico (local Costa Rican) jumped at the opportunity to rake in tips from unknowning tourists, and bustled us to a different ferry that would put us in Paquera (and closer to Montezuma.)  Aside from the fact that this guy was really creepy, pushy, and sweaty, he did actually point us in the right direction.  We made it to the ferry which was a nice calm ride, and followed that up with a bumpy but beautiful bus ride to Montezuma.

We had no place to stay upon arrival, because we waited until the last minute to book anything.  Being sick before Christmas, the holidays sprung up rather quickly, and before we knew it, Costa Rica was a day away and no plans had been made!  By the time we tried to make a reservation, most everywhere was booked, because New Year’s Eve was only a few days away.  We followed some local advice to walk up a hill and ask around for a woman.  We found her, but she was booked, and pointed us to a shit hole called Pension Jenny.  They had a private room, which we took for fear of not finding anything else (although I would have almost rather slept on the beach!) 

Regardless of a sub par sleeping situation that night, we very much enjoyed Montezuma!  It is a small, hippy, beach town with a lot of friendly locals.  We ate some good food, danced at Chico’s, the local bar (there is only one), and watched an awesome fire dancing show in the street.  We also found a new place to stay for the 2nd night up the hill called BosqueZuma.  THANK GOD!  A local tico named Roger helped us make the reservation, and he also booked us a shuttle to Playas del Coco, which was our next destination.  After a very uncomfortable sleep, we were looking forward to day 3, and getting out of Pension Jenny!

Day 3: December 30, 2011

We rushed out of Pension Jenny as fast as we could and made our way to The Bakery for breakfast.  It was really delicious, and we saw tons of Capuchin moneys playing in the trees which was so cool!  We checked into BosqueZuma which might as well been the Four Seasons compared to what we had just left behind!  Heaven on Earth.  We dropped our things off, and headed right back down to the beach!  We tried to hike to the waterfalls, but quickly realized that we did not have the right shoes or apparel for this kind of hike, so we snapped a few photos, and turned back.  We discovered a cool beach to spend the day at with an awesome freshwater pool!  It was such a gorgeous day, and I was happy to be basking in the sunshine.  We grabbed a lunch of Casados, which is a typical Costa Rican meal of rice, beans, some type of meat, salad, and plantains.  Yum!  We then headed up to our pool at BosqueZuma to relax.

Because this place was a little farther away, we had some trouble getting a taxi back to town (and the walk was a little too far in the dark, and way to steep to walk back).  Luckily, a family from Montreal had just arrived to our hotel and wanted to check out the town.  They offered us a ride, and we were able to enjoy a delicious seafood dinner at Montezuma Restaurant where we were served by Carlos, a local we met at the swimming hole earlier that day!  We spent the rest of the night with more drinking, dancing, and fire dancer watching in the street and on the beach.  I’m definitely going to miss Montezuma!

Day 4: December 31, 2011

The staff at BosqueZuma  (Juan Pablo y familia) was really awesome, and we got a free breakfast before our shuttle arrived to take us to Playas del Coco.  We were headed here to meet Brandon, an old friend from high school, who now lives in Costa Rica.  The shuttle was a nice, comfortable, air conditioned ride, and we met lots of travelers from the States & Canada.

When we arrived in Coco, I knew right away that this was going to be a party town!  It reminded me of the Costa Rican version of Dewey Beach, DE.  The streets are lined with huge outdoor bars, restaurants, and shops.  Brandon met us in town, and we went back to his place in Ocotal to enjoy some beach time before getting ready to celebrate the new year. 

Coco was NUTS for New Year’s!  We met up with Brandon’s friends, other ex-Pats who were all really nice, and we then bar hopped to Beach Bums & Zi Lounge which were both a blast.  There are no open container laws in Costa Rica, so people would park their cars in the street, pull out a cooler, and party the night away.  When the clock struck midnight, colorful fireworks lit up the sky from every direction!  The bars had a bunch of shells to set off, but people were also lighting roman candles from straight out of their hands!  It was insane!  The streets were crazy packed with people, and it was an awesome place to ring in the New Year! 

Feliz Año!

Day 5:  January 1, 2012

Today was a lazy day.  New Year’s Eve was so intense that we all needed to catch up on some much needed sleep.  We eventually made it into town to grab lunch at Coconuts with Brandon and his friends.  Brandon stayed to watch the Ravens game, and Zack and I went back to chill on the beach for the rest of the day.  That night, Zack cooked up a delicious dinner of stewed tomato chicken with rice and beans along with some fresh watermelon and papaya.  Bedtime came early for all of us as the next day we would be on the road again.  

Day 6: January 2, 2012  

We got a slow start out of Coco the next morning, but Brandon was extremely helpful in renting us a car for the next three days.  In addition, I want to offer many thanks to Brandon for all the local info he provided and for hosting us at his amazing condo on the beach during our stay.  We really appreciate the hospitality, and it was so much fun catching up after so many years!  

We drove to La Fortuna which was about 3 hours away, but it was a nice drive through the mountains and the jungle.  We stopped at a coffee house called Cafe Macadamia for some amazing coffee and sandwiches along the way.  It was located right on Lake Arenal, which had a beautiful view.  Once we arrived in La Fortuna, we checked into Arenal Backpackers which was a super cool place with lots of travelers.  Our room was actually a glorified tent/cabana with a king sized bed.  Really awesome!  

It was starting to get dark by the time we got to La Fortuna, so we decided to check out some hot springs–another bucket list item!  (Note: If you read my last post, this paragraph is repetitive!)  There were many options and price points, so we went with a reasonably priced one called Baldi.  It was seriously the Disney World of hot springs!  Although it didn’t really look that natural, it was pretty awesome.  They have 25 pools (more like hot tubs) with gorgeous stones, lush tropical plants, and waterfalls all around.  We hopped from spring to spring and had a blast.  I would definitely recommend that people visit the hot springs at night, because it’s cooler outside and the hot springs feel that much more amazing.  The pools ranged in temperature, and one was ridiculously hot!  I found Baldi to be very romantic.  Some of the pools had waterfalls.  Some had beds to lounge on, and some had cool pools to refresh.  One pool had three awesome water slides that were a ton of fun.  After we were completely relaxed and had our fill of the hot springs, we went to grab a bite to eat–casados for me and pizza for Zack–at Lava Lounge.  Yum!  

When trying to sleep that night, I realized the idea of the tent was much more awesome than the reality.  Don’t get me wrong, it was completely comfortable, but the hostel is located right across the street from a bar that was pumping music late into the night.  If we had wanted to go out, we wouldn’t have cared, but we tried to get some sleep, and the music was not helping.  We then got a torrential downpour during the night–I’m talking crazy rainstorms!  Now all the tents were under a big covering, so we did not get wet or anything, but there was really loud pounding down on the tin roof.  I hoped it would be sunny tomorrow.

 

Day 7: January 3, 2012

We quickly learned that the weather in La Fortuna was not going to cooperate.  It’s very similar to Kauai weather in which it pours down rain, stops, then repeats the cycle over and over again.  We decided to suck it up and enjoy our time there rain or shine!  We found a laundromat to dry our soaked clothing (that we left on the clothing line to inevitably get soaked from the rainstorm), and then explored the town which had a lot of shops and restaurants as well as a nice little park.  We booked an ATV tour which was a ton of fun!  I was a little nervous at first, but it was pretty easy to get the hang of it.  We drove through different back roads in town to get to a view of a cool waterfall, and we then drove to a spot for some local cuisine.  Lastly, we drove through the mountains and crossed a river and back.  It was such a blast!  Our group consisted of Zack and I, two Costa Ricans, and four kids from Galludat University who were hearing impaired.  This made for interesting lunch conversation!  English, Spanish, and American Sign Language all at one table.  One of the guys was a really good lip reader, so that was helpful.  I’m still amazed at how well he could speak and communicate without being able to hear.  Also, one of the Costa Ricans, Jonathan, spoke terrific English, and we all ended up having a great time together.  

After the ATV tour, it was time to make our way to Monteverde.  On our way out of town, we FINALLY saw the outline of the Arenal Volcano.  It had been covered in fog and clouds because of all the rain before.  I wasn’t thrilled about traveling at night, but figured we wanted to get a move on instead of leaving the next morning.  Little did we know how crazy this drive would be!  The first half wasn’t terrible–just really dark–but the last half was horrible.  We spent over 2 hours driving ridiculously slow over unpaved mountainous.  Tons of potholes covered the road, and it was dark outside with not much civilization.  We knew we were going the right way, because there were plenty of signs pointing us in the right direction, but I was terrified we were going to pop a tire in the middle of nowhere.  

After a long, treacherous, stressful journey, we finally made it to Monteverde.  We were greeted with insane winds and cold!  Our hostel, Sloth Backpackers, was located in a teeny town called Santa Elena, right outside Monteverde.  We had trouble finding it at first, but the owner Yorle guided us into our “parking” spot which was more or less pulling as far off the side of the road as we could before smashing into the hostel.  Yorle was adorable, and the hostel was very quirky and unique.  It was small, homey, and it felt very welcoming.  It also reminded me of a good friend’s mom, because the place had signs EVERYWHERE!  There were four signs alone just in our bedroom, about four in the bathroom, ten in the kitchen, etc.  Too funny!  The hostel is also co-owned by Yorle’s sister, Gaby who is an AMAZING cook!  Both of the girls were very friendly and helpful with letting us know the fun things to do in the area.  

Day 8: January 4, 2012

We woke up to a delicious breakfast prepared by Gaby of banana pancakes with fruit that was to die for.  We then set off to the Monteverde Cloud Forest for a hike.  The weather was not great, and it rained almost the entire time (even when the sun was out), but then again–what is a rain forest without the rain?  We saw a couple different birds on our hike, but not as many animals as I had hoped.  We hiked up to the Continental Divide where you are supposed to be able to see the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, but it was too cloudy, and all we saw were clouds. 😦  We then hiked to a sweet waterfall.  The trails were very well taken care of, and we enjoyed them a lot.  

After our rainy hike, we stopped at the Monteverde Cheese Factory to grab some fresh local cheese and some ice cream.  Nom nom nom.  We then rested for a bit before making our way up the muddy hill to a Peruvian restaurant for dinner.  Unfortunately, it didn’t have anything good to offer except for the cinnamon plantain dessert.  After eating, we headed back to bed, because we had an early call time the next morning.  

Day 9:  January 5, 2012

We awoke before sunrise today for an animal tour with Freddy, the most amazing bird watcher I’ve ever seen.  Okay, so maybe he is the only bird watcher I’ve ever seen in action, but I’m telling you this guy is good!  Much to my delight, the sun was surprisingly shining as we jumped in Freddy’s Jeep at 6:30am along with two other people in our group.  We were not even in the car two minutes and Freddy was already on the prowl.  He stops the jeep on the side of the road and says, “There is a sloth.”  So we jumped back out to discover a huge hair ball sleeping up in a tree.  

The rest of the tour was mostly bird watching, and we must have seen over 30-40 different species that morning including a gorgeous parrot, an owl, a yellow flytrapper, a king bird, an emerald toucanette, a melodious black bird, and my favorite, the blue crowned mot mot.  We hiked around different areas of farmland and woodland viewing all the birds, seeing water falls, and sucking on wild coffee beans.  I’m really glad we decided to stick around for this tour, and it totally changed my previous opinion of rainy Monteverde.  

For lunch, we stopped at a little joint called La Soda Amistad which was owned by the mother of Gaby and Yorle.  She was also an amazing cook, and I again enjoyed yummy casado.  Shortly after lunch, we got back on the road for our next journey to Manuel Antonio.  I admit, I was dreading the drive on those horrid non-paved mountainous roads with no guard rails.  However, much to my surprise and delight, the roads (although unpaved) were not nearly in as bad shape as they were upon entering Monteverde.  I was not fearful of popping any tires this go round, and I could really take in the stunning beauty that surrounded us.  

The majority of the drive was enjoyable, although we did have one scare that had nothing to do with the terrain.  While at a stoplight with the windows down, Zack all the sudden yells “ROLL UP THE WINDOWS!  ROLL UP THE WINDOWS!”  Confused, and thinking someone is about to attack us or something, I start rolling them up, when I notice a HUGE swarm of bees on a street sign next to us.  They started to swarm around our cars and other cars nearby.  THANK GOD only one straggler was able to get inside the car, and it didn’t do any harm, but if we had waited five more seconds before rolling up those windows, we would have been toast!  

After the scare, we continued on our way down the coast driving quickly through Jaco to take a peek at the town known for beaches, partying, and hookers.  We didn’t stop; we just took a quick peek before continuing on to Quepos where we were to drop off the car.  On the short cab ride from Quepos to Manuel Antonio, I noticed the gorgeous hills filled with hotels, hostels, and restaurants.  We headed into the back part of town in Manuel Antonio to find our hostel, National Park Backpackers.  It was about a five minute walk to the beach, had delicious food, and a fun pool area with lots of people hanging out and listening to good music.  

On our first night in Manuel Antonio, we walked around to some shops and went to dinner at Las Gamelas (twins) for some great Mexican food.  We then headed to El Avion (Airplane) which is literally an airplane that they have turned into a bar.  They also expanded it into a restaurant under the wings and the surrounding area.  This airplane was actually part of one of the biggest scandals in the mid 1980’s known as the Iran-Contra Affair which took place during the Reagan administration.  To read the full history of El Avion, you can do so here: http://www.elavion.net/.  The venue is really cool with an old school hip-hop DJ/bartender, and you are able to take photos in the cockpit of the plane.  After a few drinks and some dancing, we headed back to get some rest.

Day 10: January 6, 2012

We woke up to a GORGEOUS day in Manuel Antonio.  We had panqueques for breakfast, and then called up Jonathan (the Costa Rican we met in La Fortuna–who actually lives in this town).  We met up with him at the hotel where he works which was made up of really cute bungalows.  We made some plans for later, and Zack & I headed to Manuel Antonio National Park where we saw lots of animals including a sloth, deer, raccoon, crazy looking spider, colorful weird bugs, bright colored birds, a blue butterfly, and tons of Capuchin monkeys!  Zack fed berries to the monkeys, and one stole a bag of Cheetos from a beacher!  They were all over the trees near the beach, and it was a ton of fun to watch.  The water here was so clear and beautiful that I could see my toes at the bottom.  We relaxed and were so happy to be back in the sunshine again.  

We met up with Jonathan and his friend later for some ocean kayaking on the Pacific.  There are gorgeous giant rocks/mountains that jut out of the water on the main beach in this town, so we decided that we were going to kayak out to the biggest one.  It didn’t look too far away from the shore, but wow were my arms tired!  We decided to venture beyond and around the giant rock and we paddled for a while before heading back to the beach.  

Completely drenched, we decided it was time to grab some drinks, so we went to Las Gamelas followed by Hostel Linda.  It was awesome gallivanting around town with a local who knew all the great spots to go and who knew all the bartenders.  We lost some cash in the ocean, and the restaurant employees were nice enough to trust that we would come back the following day to pay them for our drinks (which we did).  While at Hostel Linda, we also met some other travelers named Arthur and Sonja who were on an incredible journey–biking from Mexico City to Argentina!!!  O.M.G. that is over 4,000 kilometers.  Amazing.  They were surviving on $10 per day, carrying all their things on their bikes, sleeping in a tent, etc.  They have started a blog about their experience, so if you are interested in reading more about it, you can do so here:  http://makesensebiketour.org/.  We were then supposed to shower up and regroup for dinner after drinks, but Zack was dead tired, and I wasn’t too far behind him, so off to bed we went.

Day 11:  January 7, 2012

Since the pancakes were so good yesterday morning, we decided to have them yet again!  Our morning was then spent trying to figure out how to get a bus ticket to San Jose.  We rode the city bus to Quepos to buy tickets to secure a 5:00pm bus and came back to Manuel Antonio to enjoy one more day on the beach.  It was another gorgeous, sunny day which made me extremely happy being it was our last full day in Costa Rica.  We paid back all the bartenders from the night before, had lunch at Hostel Linda, and said goodbye to Jonathan before boarding our bus to San Jose.  The ride was smooth, and I made a huge dent in reading “The Help” along the way. 

Our last night was spent at Hostel Pangea (which is owned by the same company as Arenal Backpackers–remember the tents?)  The place was very nice with a great restaurant and bar, but I was so exhausted from the sun and travels that I crashed almost immediately after arriving. 

Day 12: January 8, 2012

Departure Day.  While I’m sad to leave Costa Rica and all it has to offer, I have to admit, I am excited to get a good night’s sleep in my own bed tonight.  We packed up our stuff, ate a yummy breakfast on the hostel rooftop, and set off on our shuttle to the airport.  After saying “Adios” (or more like “Hasta luego”) to Costa Rica, we boarded our flight back to the Big Apple.

Costa Rica was a wonderful adventure–a beautiful country in terms of landscape, people, food, and culture.  I experienced a number of 1sts including my 1st backpacking trip (thanks again Evan!), 1st time staying in a hostel, 1st time in a hot spring (check for the bucket list!), 1st time on an ATV, and 1st time ocean kayaking.  It was a trip to remember, and of course I took plenty of photos to make sure that I do.  Here are some of my favorites below.

PURA VIDA!!!


Feliz Navidad in San Jose

Beach in Montezuma

BosqueZuma

Fire Dancing in Montezuma

Playas del Coco

Happy New Year!

Tent in La Fortuna

Waterfall Near Arenal

ATV Tour Over the River

Monteverde Cloud Forest

Double Rainbow!

"There is a sloth."

Manuel Antonio

El Avion

Capuchin Monkey

Beach in Manuel Antonio National Park




#49 Sit in a Hot Spring

January 2, 2012

I’m not sure when I decided that I wanted to sit in a hot spring, but I think it was a few years ago while reading a friend’s travel blog.  It looked so amazing, and I think it’s really cool that these exist in nature.  On my recent trip to Costa Rica (that blog post is coming soon!), I made it a mission of mine to make sure I found some hot springs.  The opportunity arose when visiting the Arenal Volcano area in the city of La Fortuna.  There were several options of hot springs available in different price ranges, so my husband and I decided to check out a middle priced one called Baldi.  It was seriously the Disney World of hot springs!  Although it didn’t really look as natural as I would have liked, it was still pretty awesome.  It’s located at the foot of the Arenal Volcano and has 25 mineral water pools (more like hot tubs) with gorgeous stones, lush tropical plants, and exuberant waterfalls all around.  We hopped around from spring to spring and had a blast.  I would definitely recommend that people visit the hot springs at night, because it’s cooler outside and the hot springs feel that much more amazing!  The pools ranged between 12 different temperatures, and one was ridiculously hot!  I could only put my foot in for a few seconds, before I couldn’t take it anymore.  Along with waterfalls, some of the pools also had in-water beds to lounge on, cool pools to refresh, and one pool had three awesome water slides that were a blast!  This made for an overall relaxing night after a long drive we had from Playas del Coco earlier that day.  Unfortunately, I was unable to take pictures of Baldi, as I had nowhere to store my non-waterproof camera while hopping from pool to pool.  You will have to settle with these images I found online.

Wet Bar--one of the hottest pools!

The Awesome Slides!

Great for Loungin'

Pure Bliss