I feel very fortunate to say that I’ve been able to travel, and travel safely, over the last year. Starting at the end of June 2020, I was back in the air as I began to make monthly visits to my family in Ohio after my mom’s passing. Fast forward to February 2021, I was even more fortunate to spend time abroad in Costa Rica.
Of course I’ll talk trip details soon, but first I need to share that this wasn’t my first time visiting the country. At the end of my high school career, but before I really started my college journey, I went on a trip abroad to Costa Rica (think: summer 2013). Throughout my week in San Jose, I stayed with a local family, went to language school, and volunteered with at a local school. We explored markets and made day trips out to key sights around San Jose, I even wrote a blog post a while back about the experience.
It’s shocking to me to think that was 8 years ago already! The two experiences were very different, and I’ll be diving into those differences in this blog post. If you’re planning to head to Costa Rica, whether it be in the near future or farther out, I hope you can use my experiences as a guide.
COVID Travel Tips
As I mentioned, I’ve been able to fly safely since last year (I’m blessed to say I’ve never tested positive for COVID and I’m fully vaccinated now). Since I have been on the travel scene since all the COVID changes, I wanted to throw out a few travel tips for those who are ready or thinking about getting back to their wanderlust.
- Hydrate: It’s pretty much always a good idea to keep yourself hydrated the day before and day of travel. But hydrating ahead of time, especially before getting on the plane, can minimize the amount of time you have your mask off on the plane.
- Eat before: This is another way to minimize the amount of mask off time, but also consider that snack and drink options are more limited on flights currently.
- BYOS: Bring your own hand sanitizer for your travels. While there should be dispensers throughout the airport they’re not always reliable, plus there won’t be any provided on the plane. Remember to make sure your bottles are travel-sized!
- Consider double masking: Prior to being fully vaccinated I chose to double mask while traveling, including going to and from Costa Rica. This is just something to consider for those cautious travelers.
- Going international? Make sure you check for any travel requirements for your destination! When traveling to Costa Rica, we had to fill out a specific health pass, have proof of travel insurance, and a negative COVID test within the last 48-72 hours. With loosening restrictions and vaccinations happening, these requirements are constantly changing, so be sure you’re up to date for your travels.
As always in airports and while traveling, it’s important to remember to just be aware of yourself and surroundings. Traveling is becoming increasingly safe & accessible, and from my experiences I would say don’t be afraid to get back out in the world!
Cities to See and Places to Stay
When I first visited Costa Rica back in 2013, I had an immersive experience living with a local family. Most of my time was spent in and around the area of San Jose, which I’ve certainly found is a lot different from the whole of Costa Rica. If you visit the country, I’d recommend getting outside of the city for the beaches and rainforests. This is where you’ll discover far more of their culture.
Luckily this time, I got to experience unique bungalows with breathtaking views in diverse locations, from rainforest to ocean side. I’m going to share my top three, must see (or must stay) hotels & AirBnbs. But first, here’s a quick round up of all the cities we hit during our trip (don’t worry, more details for each location to come):
- San Jose
- Manuel Antonio/ Queppos
- Tajo Alto
- Monte Verde
- Del Coco
- La Fortuna
1. Igloo Beach Lodge: Manuel Antonio/ Queppos
This trendy hotel offers unique igloo shaped bungalows for a beachside stay. Not only are you right near the beach and Manuel Antonio National Park, you can immerse yourself in the hotel’s amenities with full access to the secluded pool and cabanas. The hotel’s restaurant and bar, Casa Planta, had a satisfying menu accommodating to a range of dietary needs. My favorite part? Being greeted with a a fresh coconut cocktail!
2. El Finca Mirador: Tajo Alto
An absolute hidden gem in the mountains of Costa Rica, experience the jungle in these upscale camping domes. The common area is a well-kept garden with hammocks swinging between the trees, a pool and large bungie hammocks that overlooked the forest. This place has full amenities: wifi, showers, and a kitchenette. A true “glamping” experience.
3. Tifakara: La Fortuna
Situated right in the jungle of La Fortuna, the Tifakara is actually a birding oasis. When we arrived, the amazingly kind woman who greeted us (again, with cocktails) told us we could see their resident sloth up in a tree near our room. It was an incredible experience to feel so close to nature, one of my favorite amenities was the outdoor shower!
Beaches & Excursions
Located on the western coast, Queppos is home of the charming Igloo Beach Lodge. While the lodge is a great getaway on its own, it’s located a very short walk away from Playa Espadilla. Here is truly where mountains meet the sea, vendors sell fresh coconuts and shaved ice on the beach. The views are breathtaking, the beach wide and clean with large rocks that create coves to play and cool off in. The sunset over Playa Espadilla is an experience in itself. The sunsets throughout our time in Costa Rica
Tucked away on the Pacific, Samara is a beach village that felt local and intimate. From the beach, we hopped on a boat we chartered with Samara Local Fishing. We spent the day out on the water, reeling in five Sailfish and a Mahi Mahi! After an exciting day of fishing we ate locally, a beach front spot associated with a hotel called Locanda. It had a great aesthetic, we sat under a giant palm umbrella around a large tree stump table with our feet tucked into the warm sand, eating the freshest seafood and listening to the calming sounds of a village beach.
Though we did take the time to relax and enjoy the beaches, we were certainly out for adventure on this trip. We visited Rincon de la Vieja National Park in Liberia where our first big adventure took place. The national park itself offers tours, and we opted for a day long excursion of horseback riding, white water tubing, zip lining, and finally enjoying hot springs & a mud bath along the Rio Negro.
Prior to this, I had never been white water rafting. Let alone white water tubing! Guides fixed us with helmets and life jackets before a downhill hike to where we launched our (heavy) tubes. We traversed class one and two rapids, 26 of them according to the guides. The tubes had somewhat of a bottom, trampoline like mesh was fixed with bungie cords in the middle of the tube.
Getting into the water the first thing I felt was the shock of the rather chilly Rio Negro. The first rapid came up quickly, careening us down a mini waterfall. The guides were experts, tubing with us, navigating tubes in the right direction and preventing us from getting stuck. It was its own natural water park, a lazy river with twists and turns and drops at times. We traversed about 3 miles of the river, hollering down the rapids the whole way.
Our thrill seeking continued in the rainforests of La Fortuna, where we booked another adventurous excursion with Desafio (translation: challenge). Our first activity was a combination of canyoning, river trekking, and waterfall repelling. After we’d go white water rafting. Remember when I said Desafio meant challenge?
I had never done anything like repelling before, it’s not all that similar to zip lining. More like climbing but in the opposite direction. It was simple enough, once we were hooked into everything by the guide, we were in control. We did 4 repels including down a 200ft waterfall, with interesting and surprising river trekking in between.
If you’re a thrill seeker, you can certainly get your fill while visiting Costa Rica. Whether it’s in the rainforest, cloud forests, or around a volcanic mountain, there’s plenty of nature to explore and immerse yourself in!
Culturally Rich Costa Rica
From the food to the countryside, mountains and jungles, there is so much of Costa Rica to explore physically and culturally. Most of this trip consisted of being on the west coast. I’ve heard that the east coast is another experience in itself! To hear more about the trip, you can listen to both Tori and myself recount it all on this bonus episode of Wait, Why? podcast!