On the one year anniversary (edit: when I started this post, it was February!) of the “Best Vacation EVER”, I thought it only appropriate to finally blog about my trip. In February of 2012, I set off for Costa Rica with my best friend, a small rolling suitcase, and the unknown. For those of you that don’t know me, I am a Planner with a capital “P”. I’m not really one for “spontaneity”, so this trip was very different from any I’ve taken before. My friend, V, and I chose our route carefully. We also decided that we wanted to see and do as much as we could and we were both up for the travel (it’s so important to be on the same page with your travel buddy–it’s the worst when you don’t want the same things!) I used Trip Advisor to book all of our accommodations. I had never used this site before but I found it very helpful in the planning process. We decided to stay in a spa/resort in Arenal/La Fortuna, a hostel, Pension Santa Elena, in Monte Verde, and a hotel in Playa Hermosa. (*Just a quick shout out to Pension Santa Elena: I worked with them throughout the planning process and they were WONDERFUL. I highly recommend their hostel and their staff. You’ll see why in a bit ;-))Other than that, we had nothing planned. We weren’t totally sure how we were going to get from place to place, but figured we would “wing it”. As they say in Costa Rica, “Pura Vida!”
After arriving in San Jose, we waited for our “taxi” (a 8 passenger van) at a small hostel near the airport, Restuarante Calalu. This particular hostel only has four rooms and a small porch/picnic area in the back with picnic tables and hammocks. We had a two hour wait before our taxi came, so we ordered food and had a cocktail. Best food EVER. Highly recommend Restaurante Calalu to anyone who is going. We even stopped back in on our way out of town. The food is made by a little old Costa Rican lady and it is delicious. We are talking the BEST Arroz con Pollo ever. The owner was so nice–I was working on my Spanish since I’m a little rusty (haven’t spoken it in almost 10 years), so he was patient while I tried to order. The woman who made our food even came out and chatted with us. We also took the opportunity to speak to the three other travellers waiting for the taxi. One girl had quit her job and was traveling through Costa Rica and Peru on a three week backpacking trip. She was so interesting–she had traveled all over the world, and recently quit her job in DC to work for a non-profit in NYC. The other couple was a young couple from the West Coast, who had traveled a lot as well. We all boarded our taxi and headed off for Arenal/La Fortuna. I am so glad that we booked the taxi/shuttle instead of renting a car. The roads in Costa Rica are not all paved (in fact, the entire time we were there, I think we only hit a short stretch of paved road on the way to the beach) and the road signals and signs are minimal/non-existent. Roads are often rocky and hilly–I had to cover my eyes more than once during a game of “chicken” with an oncoming truck! Riding the taxi also allowed us to take in the beautiful sights. Costa Rica is absolutely gorgeous. Mountains, beautiful trees, and lakes for miles!
It took us four or five hours to get to Arenal/La Fortuna (and we thought it was only going to take us two or so)–so again, glad we weren’t driving. We had chosen to stay at a spa in Arenal, the Hotel Royal Corin, and I’m so glad that we did because we were exhausted by the time we got there, and were immediately able to relax. We pulled in and they had a cocktail waiting for us (yum!), and we immediately scheduled a massage for that night (a wonderful treat after traveling all day.) The next day, we decided to go for a hike up the volcano. It was cold and rainy (surprising since V and I thought it would be hot the whole time we were there but because you’re so high up in the mountains, it’s actually cool most mornings/nights.) Our tour guide, Javi, stopped along the hike to tell us about different vegetation, animals, etc. We had to climb these huge rocks to get the top (I felt like it was a scene from a movie!)–but it was worth it. So breathtakingly beautiful.
After we got back from the hike, we decided to go to the Baldi Hot Springs (just a hop, skip, and jump) away from the hotel we were staying in. They were expensive (there are free ones, but we didn’t know how to find them) but so relaxing! I would definitely recommend it. You can get a locker for all of your things (it’s similar to a theme park here in the states). They also had restaurants, an area with an infinity pool, and numerous springs to relax in (some had swim up bars!).
That night, we went “into town” and grabbed a bite to eat at this little hole in the wall restaurant in town (I wish I could remember the name of it!) I, of course, got Arroz Con Pollo (apparently, it’s the “kids meal” of Costa Rica)–but whatever! It was delicious!
The next day, we had to get up early to catch our jeep/boat/jeep to Monteverde. The boat crosses Lake Arenal and was so gorgeous, the pictures I took, don’t really do it justice. Once we got to Monteverde, we settled into our hostel, Pension Santa Elena, and went and found the strangler fig–so cool to climb!
The next day, V and I, went to walk the hanging bridges (it was beautiful-even in the rain!)
That night, V and I went on a night hike. The weather had cleared up, and we wanted to see some wildlife. We saw some alright. We saw a bunch of bugs (eww), spiders (double eww), a tarantula (I kid you not. It was as big as my fist and furry. I backpedaled so fast I almost tripped over a tree), and a two toed sloth. The sloth is cute…the tarantula I could live without ever seeing again!
I had been tossing around the idea of going bungee jumping since we left the states. It’s on my bucket list, but I wasn’t sure I had the guts to do it. I’ve skydived twice, but jumping off the highest point in South America with a rubber band strapped to my ankles sounds a little risky, even to me. It also happened to be Leap Day…so I said what the Hell…and I did it. I’m not going to lie, I was scared out of my mind.
It took five “1, 2, 3, BUNGEE!” before I actually did it.
The Verdict: While it was amazing and the views were incredible, I wouldn’t do it again. Glad I did it, but not worth it. The rush doesn’t last like a skydive one does.
That afternoon, we went canyoning, which is repelling down a waterfall. The views in the forest were so incredible. Absolutely gorgeous. I, of course, always the klutzy one, slipped and went face first into a waterfall and scraped up my shoulder. Not sure I would do it again, slipping and falling was really scary.
Our last leg of the trip, we stayed in a little beach hostel in Playa Hermosa. Heads Up: There are THREE Playa Hermosa’s in Costa Rica. Originally, I booked the one three hours from San Jose…oops! We made some phone calls and were able to rebook at the one closest to San Jose. Remember, streets aren’t paved and transit takes twice as long as they say it will. Our hostel was simple, but nice. We took the Costa Rican version of the Greyhound (No AC) and stopped in a little beach town on the way:
We spent the last few days of the trip, laying on the beach, working on our tans (my kind of perfect!). On our last morning in Costa, we got up early and watched the sun rise. So beautiful and peaceful.
I still can’t believe we actually went. I had been wanting to go for years. I’m so glad that we did. I couldn’t have asked for a better travel buddy and a more life changing trip. As they say in Costa, Pura Vida ❤