A big hello from Today’s Traveller, hope you find what you’re looking for in this blog.
I’ve heard a rumour, whispers in the wind, the message says you are looking to go on an adventure to a land in the west, somewhere in Central America, a place where they speak Spanish and Pura Vida is their way of life, a place called Costa Rica!!!
So first thing’s first, the essentials of what to know before travelling.
The national currency of Costa Rica is the Colon (CRC), also referred to as Colones. You may be thinking, “ok, so I need to convert some money to Colones”, yes you’re right but there’s a twist to the story, another currency is widely accepted almost anywhere that you go in Costa Rica, the US Dollar. Now if you’re from the US then you have an advantage here, but don’t worry everyone else, that’s not the whole story. Although US Dollars (USD) are widely accepted, the conversion rates vary significantly between businesses. When I travelled to Costa Rica the exchange rate between USD and CRC was a little over 600CRC to 1USD. Now when spending USD, the highest rate that I’d received was 600, whilst the lowest was 500, as you see a significant difference. My advice is take some USD and some CRC, if necessary you can always convert USD to CRC at local banks, who will give you a decent rate.
Food is the next thing that you’ll want to know about. A typical meal in Costa Rica consists of rice and beans, which tends to be very tasty indeed, although depending on your tastebuds, tabasco sauce is readily available to add a bit of fire to your meal. Restaurants can vary in price but quite often tend to be expensive with big city prices catering for the large numbers of tourists. An alternate option is to try out Sodas, which are cheaper and a good source of local foods with massive portions in many cases. Even Sodas do vary from place to place but once you start exploring, you’ll soon discover those worth going to.
When setting up an itinerary you should first think about what you want to do on your holiday? Are you a sun worshipper, living for the beach? Are you an explorer at heart, looking for an adventure? For me it was about the adventure so during the early parts of my trip I was on the go a fair bit, but don’t worry, the last few days were spent chilling at the beach.
One last general point to be aware of, this is a country of early risers, don’t lie in or you’ll miss out of valuable time to explore. In all but the towns known for their nightlife, you will see everything close by 10pm, so plan your time wisely.
When in Costa Rica if you are referred to as a Tico or Tica, then they think your a local (latino), take it as a compliment 😉
Location 1 – San Jose – Day 1
San Jose is the capital city of Costa Rica. I arrived at San Jose airport and the flight was a fairly late arrival so it was straight to the hotel. I personally am not a big fan of city stays so exploring San Jose really wasn’t on the cards, meaning it was just a stop over on the way to the next destination, but if this is your cup of tea, then check out the museum, national theatre and markets.
Being my first day, I opted to go for a cab on my journey to Manuel Antonio. In hindsight I should have taken a minibus as the roads tend to be bumpy in this area and a cab is not necessarily the most comfortable method of transportation. Also bear in mind that not all cabbies will be willing to do the on average 4 hour travel between locations.
Location 2 – Manuel Antonio – Days 2 and 3
My first real destination was Manuel Antonio, an ideal location if you are looking for a mix of a national park and beaches. At this destination I stayed at Milennium hostel, which has an amazing vibe to it. This hostel is right on the doorstep of the national park and is a good shout for private rooms.
Manuel Antonio national park entrance is around $16pp and is open from 7am to 4pm but closed on Mondays. I would recommend getting here early in the day if you want to spend time at the beach within the national park, but beware the monkeys and racoons, yes I saw some at the beach. There are two beaches within the national park, Playa Espadilla Sur
and Playa Manuel Antonio, you can take your pick here but it is definitely worth going to at least one of these. While walking through the national park you can go solo or hire a guide but keep an eye out for various animals, with monkeys perhaps being the most common and the sloth being ever elusive.
Night time walking tour is something that you can try for $19pp, this is something that a nature enthusiast will appreciate
as you do get to take pictures through a telescope, although beware, there is a lot of walking involved.
In Costa Rica where ever you go you’ll see they love “happy hour”, which quite often starts from about 4pm.
The local beer in Costa Rica is Imperial, ask for Michelado, which means they give you a glass one quarter filled with lemon juice and a bottle of beer on the side. Another option is to make it a Mexichelado, only available in certain places but has additional chilli tomato juice and definitely gets my vote.
Manuel Antonio is a very small place with one street leading to the national park and various beaches, You are sure to see your fill of monkeys here even when you think you’re just sitting down for a meal at somewhere like Marlins Restaurant, the monkeys don’t shy away, keep one hand on your camera and the other hand on your food….
There are a number of ways to travel from one place to the next in Costa Rica, although for long distances, a minibus/shuttle service such as Interbus is a good option to use. I used a shared shuttle from Manuel Antonio to get to my next destination La Fortuna costing $45pp. Bear in mind if you’re savy, you can get a private shuttle and if there are 3-4 of you, this may work out cheaper (and a lot more comfortable) than a shared shuttle, which would have 7-8 people in it.
Location 3 – La Fortuna – Days 4, 5 and 6
This destination is truly one that must be built into your itinerary.
When you arrive, you see the marvel that is the Arenal volcano. If you had your heart set on climbing to the top of this volcano, you will be disappointed as you can only go up to the base of it. All is not lost though, there is much more to see in La Fortuna.
If taking amazing pictures is your thing then the hanging bridges are not to be missed. The Mistico hanging bridges park is the name of this unmissable location. It contains a 2 mile trail over 16 hanging bridges, it’s a bit of a walk and it’s likely to take around an hour and half to get through the entire trail, but it is worth it and some of the bridges have views that are truly spectacular, get ready to pose…
Another great activity is white water rafting. I did rafting with the company Arenal rafting at level III/IV on Balsa river. As a first time rafter this is terrifying but also a lot of fun. Now if you’re thinking “I can’t swim, let’s skip this activity” I will say don’t worry, you have a life jacket on you and there is a guide with you in the raft, for those times when you “accidentally” fall out of the raft.
Lastly, for me anyway, there was the Baldi hot springs. There are a few hot springs in La Fortuna, the three main ones are Paradise, Baldi, and Tabacon. Baldi is one that I had heard good things about and it’s midrange in price too, when in doubt go for the middle option, and Baldi did not disappoint. Baldi has a variety of springs, hot, cold, a variety in between, and even cold pools within the very hot ones. Keep a couple of things in mind, you’ll need a towel, which you can get for a $10 refundable deposit, and it is best to start a tab at the main bar so you can put your valuables in the lockers.
Now picture this… you’re in a hot spring and you fancy a drink… you may think you’ll have to go outside to the bar, is that so? Not here, you actually have a couple of hot springs with a bar right in the middle, yes yes a crazy thought, but worth experiencing, and while you’re there, why not try a Pura Vida cocktail. When in Costa Rica….
Booking the tours can be a daunting task with stories of lots of scams out there. Jungle tours is one that proved reliable for me and at a good price too. I managed to get rafting, entrance at Baldi along with dinner for a total of $88pp, quite a good price compared to others selling the same activities (remember a degree of haggling is almost expected).
I mentioned earlier that you should try a Soda, where better than Soda Viquez, its a great local restaurant and the portions are ginormous.
You’ve found yourself want to go for a few drinks in the evening, not sure where you should go, definitely give this place a try, its called Restaurante Nanku. Now this is the place where you really have to try a chilli guaro shot, it is literally rocket fuel, (Beware – you must be able to handle chilli, don’t say you weren’t warned…). I know your next question is going to be “what is a chilli guaro shot?”, good question. Guaro is a local spirit and this shot has chilli (tabasco) and tomato juice added to it. Oh and one more thing…. drink sensibly.
Now we leave for the next location Monteverde. The fastest route for transport between La Fortuna and Monteverde is the water taxi, which you can book for $25pp through your hotel. This journey starts with you getting picked up by a bus near your hotel or booking agent. The bus will take you to Lake Arenal, where a water taxi is will take you across to the other side of the lake. Lastly another bus will take you the rest of the way through a scenic rural route into Monteverde.
Location 4 – Monteverde – Day 7
Monteverde is a small town with a homely feel to it.
If you’re coming to Monteverde, you’ll probably want to stay at a hostel, there are a very large number of these in Monteverde and the main area where these are located is Santa Elena.
This town is quite high up and my main reason for coming here was to enjoy the zip line experience. There are a few zip line courses in Monteverde and if you want to experience the longest zip line in Latin America, then choose Aventura with its 11 zip lines.
I opted to go for the Extremo zip line course, which I booked for $50pp last minute, literally an hour before I was due to go on the course (I don’t recommend doing this). This course consists of 14 zip lines and amongst these are the option to do two of these as Supermaaaaan!!!! or in other words, its the zip line attached to your back. One of these two goes through a long tunnel quite close to the ground, this one is quite the sensory experience. The more impressive one is the 1km zip line that is in the region of 180m high, soaring above the treetops.
If you’re exceptionally brave you can do a bungee jump here, or even a Tarzan swing, which is like a bungee but with quite a significant swing to it (imagine Tarzan swinging between trees).
There is one thing that you need to prepare for if you’re going to the Extremo course, prepare for a rollercoaster of a ride in the car that takes you there, calling the roads in that region bumpy is an understatement.
After having having an adrenaline packed afternoon, you will most likely want to grab some food and drinks.
Stop off in the town centre on your way back from zip lining and you’ll find small area of shops and a couple of restaurants. I found Amigos bar to have a great atmosphere especially if you go with a couple of friends.
Lastly for dinner Taco Taco is a restaurant I tried and enjoyed. Beware of one thing, as this location is quite high up, standing at around 1,440m above sea level, it can get a little chilli here, especially in the evening.
The next morning it’s time to leave Monteverde en route to Tamarindo.
As you have probably come to know that each of these regions are a significant distance from the next and so transfer is something that needs to be carefully considered. You can use shared shuttles as with Interbus but for this area a company called Casabatsu is a good alternative, providing a minibus transfer $180, and if there are 3-4 of you, this is a relatively inexpensive option that adds a little more comfort to your journey.
If you use this private transfer option, have a word with your driver about San Rafael. This location is part-way in between Monteverde and Tamarindo and has an area where you can stop to see breathtaking views of a picturesque landscape. This is a good place to take some amazing pictures.
Location 5 – Tamarindo – Days 8, 9, 10 and 11
Tamarindo is a beach town, where you come to relax, lay on the beach, swim in the water or even go surfing.
If you want to buy souvenirs, you’ll find plenty here, ranging from t-shirts to painted wooden plaques, various animal figurines or even coffee, pay with cash and you’ll in most cases get $1-2 off the price.
Tamarindo food market El Mercadito has great variety of food, like a food court, with pizza, burgers, Peruvian, and much more.
This town has a small number of beachfront restaurants/bars, one of which is Jonny Tamarindo, which has an amazing chilled out vibe. If you’re lucky you will see Costa Man playing his songs Pura-vida-ville and Chilli Guaro there, definitely a site worth seeing.
If night-life is what you’re looking for, then Tamarindo is definitely a place for you to visit. There is always something going on in Tamarindo, just follow your ears and let the music guide you. Usually you will see one bar having their night when you get everything flocking in that direction. An example of this is Crazy Monkey on Fridays, you won’t see many people going to any other place Friday nights. Sharkey’s, Pacifico and Lizards are other bars that you may want to check out but I won’t give away too much…
Day 12 had only one thing on the agenda, transport to Liberia airport and on my way home. You can book airport transfer from several places in Tamarindo and the options are shared or private transfer. I opted for private transfer again largely due to the convenience of leave at the time that I wanted to as opposed to having a fixed departure based time. If there are a fair number of you then private doesn’t work out expensive either at $70 for the shuttle.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading this blog and you’ve picked up some great ideas for your own itinerary, hope you have a trip that was just as amazing as my own, let me know how your trip went… and oh, one last thing….
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