With only a slight amount of sunburn to keep me warm, and officially no sand left in my suitcase, it seems time to reflect on our week we spent surfing, hiking and exploring the great land of Costa Rica.
When deciding what we wanted our Costa Rican vacation to look like, we read copious reviews and talked to a lot of folks about their time spent in the country. Barton has already been to Costa before and had a really good idea of an area that would have a local feel but also provide tons of activities near by. We decided to stay on the Central Pacific side for the week and just take mini day trips around the area so we could spend ample time relaxing.
DAY 1: We flew into San Jose mid day and snagged our rental car to make the two hour drive to Esterillo Este. Let me just say driving in Costa Rica is pretty adventurous. Not really because of the road conditions but because of the different speeds everyone insists on driving which results in a lot of passing and getting passed on the road.
A few other things to note if you think you want to rent a car in Costa Rica: First, go with a local company. We got set up with Adobe Car Rental and they made everything super easy. Secondly, you will get charged an extra $15/day insurance. You will not get around it so don’t try, just accept your car rental is an extra $100 than it normally would be. Finally, go for the 4×4. You don’t necessarily need it for that much, however, it prevents you from ever having to say no to an adventure because you might get stuck. Alright, moving on…
In Esterillo Este we booked a hotel at the charming Encantada Cottages. I really can’t say enough about how much we enjoyed our stay there. Encantada is a small B&B made up of cottages that sit oceanside to an almost private beach. The owners who skipped town from LA to open this lovely hotel are as interested in getting to know their guests as they are in accommodating them. The hotel itself provides daily yoga, surfing, volleyball and a different hammock for prime naps anytime of the day. We loved how small it was making it easy to chat with other guests, get to know the staff, and easily have an entire pool and beach to ourselves. We ate breakfast daily which was included at the outdoor restaurant. On the menu you could have anything from a Tico Breakfast to Banana Pancakes. Dinners were a mix of fresh veggies, and grilled meats served off of an outdoor wood-fired grill and covered in homemade salsas and sauces. Everything was legitimately amazing.
DAY 2: We spent our first full day getting our fix of surfing and hammocking before planning our adventures the rest of the week. We also managed to find a Superbowl party at the hotel next door in which we attended if only to see who goes to a super bowl party in Costa Rica. Don’t worry the concept of football, beer and nachos still thrives in Costa Rica. While chatting with some locals we found out that the brewery of the beer we were drinking was just a 20 minute drive away nestled in the rain forest.
DAY 3: So the next day we drove to the brewery called PerroVida in a conservation hike, Rainmaker, where we walked among the rainforest and sipped some beer. We hiked along waterfalls and over suspension bridges stopping to take a dip in the water a couple of times.
There was also a tilapia farm at the exit of the road that allowed you to catch your own lunch and they would prepare it for you on the spot. It was unfortunately closed when we got there so we drove into Quepos to grab lunch instead. Quepos is a larger town that is very tourist friendly. Many people pass through Quepos on there way to Manuel Antiono. We strolled around and were pleasantly surprised to find some great food and amazing coffee at Cafe Milagro. As it turns out, Cafe Milagro has an award winning roast of beans that they make into cups of iced coffee or a few shots of espresso.
Each evening we returned to the hotel around 4pm which I swear is the prettiest hour in Costa Rica. The sun is setting and a mist creeps out of the mountains and settles on the beach making the sea side look like mystical jungle. We would hop on the beach for these golden hours to catch the end of the surf for that day and watch the sunset. I think out of all the adventures we had this was my favorite part of Costa Rica.
DAY 4: The next day we ate a big pile of banana pancakes at our hotel and headed west to Manuel Antonio National park. The park is renowned for its white sand beaches, tropical rain forest and vast wildlife. The drive into Manuel Antonio is straight up a windy mountain full of hotels, restaurants and shops. When you get close to the park you get a lot of people trying to convince you to pay to park in their lots to enter the park, don’t do it. Parking in the national park is free but a lot of tourists get trapped by people convincing them otherwise. Entrance into the park is $20 a person, and you can also opt to pay a guide to take you around and point out wildlife with the use of their binoculars. Or you can stop when other tours stop and look at what the guide is pointing at with your own free vision. The hardest thing to spot in the park are the sloths, even with a guide. The capuchin monkeys however are everywhere and way smarter than they look. With multiple signs to not feed the monkeys many toursits forgo the warning in order to get a selfie with this endangered species. Only to have a capuchin steal their lunches off the beach.
The beaches in this park are constantly grazing the top 10 beaches in the world list, and are the main highlight of the park. Manuel Antonio also has a lot of great snorkeling opportunities so bring your flippers if you have them. After hiking around and lounging on the beach we called it a day in the park and went in to the town for a snack. We lucked out by randomly stopping at Agua Azul in which we grabbed a drink and took in this amazing view. I am still kicking myself for not taking a picture of the food we ordered but it was fantastic. We also just casually saw a sloth and a bunch of monkeys hanging out in the tree in front of us. Who needs a tour guide?!
We then headed back towards Encantada to claim our hammocks and surf boards, but not before stopping to grab some fresh coconuts. Fruit stands are a common road side sight in Costa Rica and you can often just ask for a slice of a melon for a snack.
DAY 5: The last adventure we took was down to Nauyaca Falls which is right before Playa Dominical if you are coming from the north. These falls are on private property so after paying $8 entrance fee to Don Lulo, we made the 4km hike to the falls. If you do not have four wheel drive you will not be able to make it down to the base of the hike, or back up for that matter. Also if you are not prepped to actually do a hike you might want to consider the horse back ride tour instead. The hike, while a little strenuous, was beautiful. We saw more capuchin monkeys and macaw parrots on the way up. The falls were gorgeous and really refreshing after the hike.
On our way out of the area we noticed a bunch of these ceviche stands along the coast. We picked one we noticed all the truckers had stopped at and used our best toursty spanish to order two ceviches. This was probably my favorite thing we ate in Costa Rica. So fresh, so delicious, and so only 2 dollars.
DAY 6: The last full day we spent in Costa Rica was full of lounging, yoga and surfing. Since the hotel was so small I ended up getting a private yoga class with Connie beach side. We spent our last dinner dining at the hotel which was great as usual and went to bed already missing the adventures we could be having if we could have stayed longer.
DAY 7: We were pretty thankful that we had left ample time to get back to San Jose because there was a lot of construction going on on the roads. A lot of people say to avoid driving in Costa Rica when you come to visit but the road conditions are really great on main roads and we didn’t have any problems getting to any of our adventures. The thing that makes it difficult is that no one has addresses in Costa Rica. In fact I don’t think many people get mail. So if you are trying to research places to visit and their address is literally 2 buildings past the fruit stand or behind the house with the red roof, it’s because that is actually the best direction you could get. Being pretty relient on google maps in the US it does take some getting used to but once you throw your directional control to the wind and change your mindset to Costa Rica time, you’ll have no problem getting around.
We left the country already furiously planning our return. Something about living on Costa Rica time just sounds like something we could do year round. Really the best way to describe the trip is with a phrase that has been in the Costa Rican dialect for some 50+ years, Pura Vida. The simple english translation is “Pure Life,” but this phrase has a far deeper and more profound meaning to locals. I hope everyone gets to experience a little Pura Vida in 2016!