Pura vida, dude. That’s basically the way to say, “coolio, dude” and so much more in Costa Rica.
Callie and I had such a baller time on our San Diego vacation that we thought, “hmmm, let’s take this thing INTERNATIONAL.” So we did. We researched forever (so like a week) and finally landed on visiting Costa Rica during Labor Day Weekend. We found reasonably priced roundtrip tickets just 2-3 months before our trip, which we later found out was due to the fact that September is the rainy season.
I like to always play it safe and maximize time when traveling internationally by spending a night in the layover city. Luckily our layover city was Miami! We got to ball out at Callie’s dad’s apartment in South Bay that is completely surrounded by a balcony. By ball out I mean we slept because we had an early flight, but the views were beautiful.
After a few hours of sleep and a few hours of flying we landed in San Jose, Costa Rica. Customs and baggage claim were both fairly easy and only took about 45 minutes when everything was said and done. To maximize time again we had a driver from Transunshine pick us up at the airport to take us to Manuel Antonio. Unless you’re a pro at driving stick and have an international data plan I do not recommend renting a car in Costa Rica because:
- There aren’t that many streets signs
- Tiny roads and highways and some are still gravel
- Stick shift
- They hit you hard with insurance
Having a driver take us from the airport to Manuel Antonio, which is a 3-4 hour trip, gave us the chance to stop and see attractions on the way and get some intel about the country itself. Our driver was awesome and took us to stop at the crocodile bridge (yes, the crocodile bridge), showed us our hostel in Jaco, AND bought us empanadas. The trip cost us $150 plus… and it was totally worth it for the empanadas.
As I mentioned, September is the rainy season so I over-prepared myself with a dry sack, poncho, etc. because I thought it would be raining every day. Well it didn’t. It only rained on the first and last day of our trip! Don’t let the rainy season scare you from visiting this beautiful country with incredibly nice people because flights are cheaper, it’s less crowded, hotels/hostels are cheaper, and tours are usually smaller.
Since we only booked a trip Thursday through Tuesday we decided to jam pack as much activity as possible. Check out all four cities we visited below!
The main attractions in Manuel Antonio are the Manuel Antonio National Park and the beaches. Of course it was raining hardcore when we got into Manuel Antonio, but that didn’t stop us from exploring. Our only night in Manuel Antonio we stayed at Hotel Vela Bar, which is an adults only mid-tier hotel. The staff was super nice and they had delicious made-to-order breakfast. This was the only place we stayed with a legit bathroom and shower… and A.C.
After our rainy night, we awoke to a beautifully sunshine hot day. We hit the national park around 10 a.m. and found a guide right outside of the park. A park guide is a must because half of the animals in the rainforest are nocturnal so the animals that are awake are definitely harder to find on your own. A guide costs about $20 a person and you can negotiate for a little bit cheaper if you’re in the mood. Park entrance will run you about $16 a person. Not pictured below: sloth, boa constrictor (a HUGE one), butterflies, and some lizards!
Besides the nature, Manuel Antonio National Park has PRISTINE beaches. They were sooooooooo breath-taking. These are private beaches and a lot nicer than the public beaches in Manuel Antonio. These beaches are what dreams are made of with white sand, palm trees, and monkeys howling off in the distance.
Just north of Manuel Antonio up in the mountains is Quepos! After we frolicked at the beach for hours, we grabbed our stuff from Hotel Vela Bar and got a taxi up to Quepos. We stayed in the middle of the rain forest at Hostel Plinio. Everyone there kept calling it the treehouse and that’s because it’s literally in the middle of a ton of trees and each room has breathtaking views. Everyone at the hostel was ridiculously friendly and helpful. The hostel also has a pool and restaurant/bar attached to it!
Our one night at Hostel Plinio consisted of a ton of pizza, ceviche, pina coladas, beer, and making friends. One of the friends we made, Ashley, convinced us to go out dancing at a local discoteca. Ashley is basically fluent in Spanish and that girl can dance…. Callie and I on the other hand not so much. Damn, people in the states really cannot dance in comparison to other countries. Callie and I tried put our best dancing feet forward, but eventually left after two girls starting throwing glasses at each other. Yolo, right?
In the morning we fueled up on some delicious Tico breakfast (aka rice and beans) and the hostel and then went ZIP LINING IN THE RAINFOREST. COOL! We went zip lining with Safari Adventures. All of the guys working with Safari Adventures were hilarious and made this such a great experience. To finish up the zip line tour you can get dunked into a waterfall (you can just get your feet wet or go for the full monty… I went for the real deal) followed by a delicious lunch in the mountains.
Jaco is known as a surf and party town. It definitely met both of those standards because there were hot surfer dudes everywhere and nightclubs. Although Callie and I had every intention on surfing we ended up focusing on the party aspect of this town. In Jaco, we stayed at the Buddha House Boutique Hostel, which I HIGHLY recommend to anyone passing through Jaco. It’s off the main party strip, but is somehow quiet and serene with a phenomenal space. A two bed bedroom with a fan and a shared bathroom will only run you $35 a night at this place.
The staff at Buddha House Boutique Hostel made all of our food recommendations and they killed it. The night we spent there we went to Green Room, which is a farm to table restaurant with delicious drinks and an incredible craft beer selection. Yum.
Because we like to save money after expensive dinners we decided to take the bus from Jaco to San Jose, which was no big deal since we had also taken the bus from Quepos to Jaco. Taking the bus is a HUGE money saver and was fairly easy considering neither of us speak Spanish. The bus only costs $3-$5 depending on where you’re going compared to $60-$150 for a shared or private shuttle. The staff at Buddha House Boutique Hostel was so nice that they actually drove us to the bus stop.
Hahahahaha San Jose started off with a bang because our cab driver couldn’t find our hotel anywhere. After driving around for 15 minutes we finally foundnd the place tucked away. In San Jose, we stayed at Hotel Casa Leon, which is less of a hotel and more of a big house converted into a hotel. It’s definitely a budget hotel, but a nice place to stay if you are looking to save money and be in the center of the city.
Beware though Hotel Casa Leon has a dog that bites, two ducks, and is next door neighbors to a cat in heat.
Early on Monday morning a tour group picked us up to head to Poas volcano outside of San Jose. Callie and I went on the half day tour for $75 that includes stopping at Doka Estate coffee plantation, the volcano and lagoon, and a strawberry farm/vineyard. The thing that sucks about the rainy season is that it can be hard to see the volcano and lagoon, but luckily we were able to see despite it raining. We followed up hiking the volcano with hella cheese and strawberries from the strawberry farm.
After spending the day on the tour shuttle and hiking, we were looking for some cheap comfort so we headed to the closest Taco Bell in SJ. It’s been a dream of mine to eat Taco Bell in another country and now that dream is complete. Thank you, Costa Rica. Unfortunately, though, my Spanish is so bad that they didn’t understand my order so I ended up with a burrito that just had cheese and potatoes. Oh well, still tried Supreme Fries. Yum.
Costa Rica is a lovely country with so much nature and culture to offer. Everyone is beyond friendly even when your Spanish is subpar. If you can find an affordable flight and affordable accommodations then you can really go all out on everything else in Costa Rica, because food and beverages are the same prices as they are in the states. Don’t be afraid to explore and get in good with the locals to get the best experience possible! Get down and dirty during the day and go dancing with the locals at night.
P.s. hit me up if you want pictures of flowers and butterflies. I have a ton.