Adventures in Costa Rica

Sunset in Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica.

After a long year of working extra jobs, spending sparingly and saving money, it’s finally time to enjoy all the hard work! I decided to head down to Costa Rica for six weeks and live the pure life. Pura Vida!

The trip got off with a jolt as we flew out a day early before Hurricane Sandy came swirling up the coast. We made it to San Jose on Monday as the worst of the storm was blasting our friends and neighbors in the Outer Banks of North Carolina and later the rest of the country in the northeast. 

When we got off the plane, we were greeted by our rental car’s owner, Eric, who gave us a warm Tico welcome. We ended up spending the afternoon with him and he bought us Chinese food for lunch and showed us his mansion down the street from the rental car office. His house was enormous, and we didn’t get to meet his family because they were on a shopping trip in Miami. Turns out, Eric is in real estate and has several properties across the country. He’s loaded and he sort of seemed like a mobster. Good times.

Our first couple days in Costa Rica, we stayed in San Pedro, a nice, safe suburb of San Jose. Unfortunately, we had to get down to business which left little time for relaxing in San Jose. We wanted to invest in a cheap GPS with Central American maps for the rental car. This entailed navigating without a decent map to two Walmart stores in San Jose until we found a cheap GPS device. We ended up with a Navigator that has the quality and sophistication of Fisher Price toy. It works about half the time, but has succeeded in getting us place to place. We also picked up a cheap MoviStar cell phone, which doesn’t work any better than the GPS. 

Pole dance fitness class as Studio Provacarte in San Jose, Costa Rica.While in San Jose, I got to visit a pole dance fitness studio in Escazu, an upscale suburb far across town from where we were staying in San Pedro. This studio is proof that pole dancing really is getting worldwide recognition as a fitness sport. The girls welcomed me as I took a Poles 2 class. It was my first experience pole dancing on thin, spinning poles and there was no air conditioning, which meant a lot of sweat making it very slippery and hard to stick to the pole! I’m hoping to return to the studio again if we pass through San Jose long enough.

After San Jose, we headed up to the mountains to Poas Volcano, about 2,500 meters elevation. We stayed at a lodge closest to the top of the volcano called Lagunillas, which is impossible to reach without 4 wheel drive. We rented a rustic 3 bedroom cabin on the mountain side with incredible views. The cabin was a reasonable splurge, though temps got rather chilly at night and we had only a small fire and many blankets to keep warm. The views of the cloud forest were gorgeous, but it was too cloudy to ever get a good look at the crater. Desperate for warmer temperatures, we headed down the mountain to find a beach. 

Cloud forest at Poas Volcano, Costa Rica.

We ended up in Manuel Antonio, which immediately rubbed us the wrong way as we stopped for lunch at Aqua Azul, top recommended in our Lonely Planet guide book. The restaurant was listed as serving International cuisine, but it was your basic over-priced American food. We were surrounded by baby boomers from America investing in real estate. It appeared the town had caught on that Americans had money to spend and raised prices and changed menus accordingly. The Ticos were less friendly and our waitress seemed annoyed that we tried to speak Spanish with her. 

If we didn’t learn our lesson from picking Lonely Planet’s top choice restaurant, we did from picking the top choice hostel. (Normally Lonely Planet is dead on, but the Quepos/Manuel Antonio section of the book needs some serious editing!) The book suggested Vista Serena Hotel touting, “A short trail hike through a local farmland leads to a remote wilderness beach.” Let me revise this: “If you aren’t hit by a bus on your 15-minute steep uphill walk on a busy road with no sidewalk, you can hike a mile or so through a dirt road and climb through a farmer’s locked gate to a cloudy-watered beach, possibly full of the town’s runoff.” The only wilderness at this beach was the sweet stray dog who led us there. 

The next day we went to Manuel Antonio National Park, which was indeed the idyllic paradise beach we longed for. We only got to spend a few hours in the park because it started to rain, but we saw a sloth, some kind of massive rodent and many birds and lizards in a few short hours. 

We had our fill of Manuel Antonio so we headed south to Dominical, described as “the old Costa Rica,” still unpaved roads and generally less developed. After viewing several rooms at the beach front, we narrowed it down between a run down hotel room with cold water or a brand new establishment, Piramys, that had beautifully painted walls and hot water, but for some reason smelled like a dumpster. We went for the cold water room because of its proximity to Tortilla Flats, which seemed to be the only restaurant with any patrons in Dominical. After a meal and a few drinks at Tortilla Flats, where the staff was less than friendly, we came back to the room to rest. We switched on the light to see four cockroaches on the bed. Needless to say, we slept comfortably at the dumpster hotel instead. We were awakened at 6:30am by loud, nonstop chatting by hostel staff. Next town please.

Finally we found Playa Hermosa, a small, uncrowded beach town with epic surf and remote black sand beaches. We found a room in a house for rent and stayed for a week, hanging out with local expats.

Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica

Our pad in Playa Hermosa, where we roomed for a week with a crew of expats.We splurged a couple of afternoons in neighboring Jaco and set up two half day tours, an ATV tour and ziplining. I didn't take to the ATV driving at first, but after an hour, I got the hang of it. I found the steep dirt hills with rivets to be a little unsettling. The ziplining was more my style. The platforms were high in the thick, lush canopy of the rainforest. We saw monkeys, birds and bats while zipping over the trees. It was a lot scarier than I thought it would be, but the views were worth it and I found it more exhilerating than anything.

Still not feeling like we had found the perfect beach, we decide to move on up to the Nicoya Penninsula. We reached Montezuma and although the funky vibe and waterfalls were enticing, I needed more of a beach and some surf. We settled in Santa Teresa and made our second home at Don Jon's, a hammock haven just across from Brunelas surf break. 

Life at Don Jon's is simple relaxing and social. We met so many friends to hang out and have drinks with. It seemed every traveler who reached Don Jon's after aimless wandering decided to settle there for a while. We settled there for about 3 weeks and enjoyed every minute. 

Spending Thanksgiving with friends we met at Don Jon's hostel in Santa Teresa.

Thankfully in Santa Teresa I was able to find some yoga each day. I was going crazy after not working out for more than two weeks! But even better, I found a place to take an aerial silks class! The Funky Monkey hostel, just next to Don Jon's has silks for training. Apparently it's the owner of the hostel's hobby. She's got a beautiful set up. 

I was so happy to find aerial silks classes while in Santa Teresa.

We finally found motivation to remove ourselves from the hammocks at Don Jon's and headed north to Tamarindo, where we happened to have friends take us out on a yacht docked in Flamingo! A few days out to sea took us to Ollie's Point, a beautiful remote beach with a prestine surf break and crocodiles combing the beach. We also got to do some fishing and I reeled in my first-ever catch, a Mahi. I'm vegetarian so I didn't eat it, but everyone else enjoyed dinner.

Sadly, our trip had to end. But I came home with a lot of great memories and many new friends. It was an awesome adventure!

Costa Rica-isms

  • 1 ply - Ever wonder why in the States the napkins and toilet paper state 2-ply on the package? Well I did, I wondered did 1-ply really exist. It does, the napkins are thinner than tissue paper in Costa Rica.
  • Gallo pinto - delicious stir-fried beans and rice served at breakfast. I never grew tired of it. In fact, I've figured out how to make it at home.
  • Pipas - Coconuts straight from the tree with a whole cut in top so you can sip delicious coco water with a straw. Sold on the street or find your own. This is my favorite part of traveling to tropical climates. 
  • Trits - My favorite novelty ice cream in Costa Rica, similar to a Chipwich, but better.