Whohooo! My first travel blog post 🙂 I am so excited to write about this trip. Costa Rica has been on my wish list for many years for places to visit. Rainforests, volcanoes, ziplines, year-round tropical weather and cute little sloths. Oh yeah! I was all about Costa Rica, it was my dream country. I would have moved here site unseen given the chance. Come and find out if the reality lived up to the dream.
This past December, because of my occasionally awesome job I got the chance to visit for the first time. Overall it was a fantastic trip, made extra special because I got to meet some of amazing coworkers face to face for the first time.
My trip to Costa Rica quite literally came together less than two weeks before I was ready to leave. Due to a lot of boring details, I booked the flight and hotel 1 week before catching a red eye, three hours after completing my final exam in Java Data Structures. Most travel mags will tell you December is the absolute best time to visit Costa Rica. The rainy season is almost over and the weather is fantastic. I arrived on Dec 13th just before noon at Juan Santamaria International Airport which is in Alajuela (not far from San Jose). My first impression leaving the airport was how lush and vibrant everything looked. The mild humidity was wonderful coming from the dry desert air, and the temperature couldn’t have been more perfect.
Pura Vida means simple life or pure life or something to that affect. That saying is like their country motto, it’s on everything and everywhere. Ticos (that’s what they call themselves) seem to really live by it. I never heard of the saying before my trip but it spoke to me. I am all about the simple life and was looking forward to becoming one with nature and in 100% chill mode. I didn’t have any real expectations before going. I just wanted to have a good time and experience is much as possible but that pesky little thing called work kept getting in the way.
I stayed at the Hilton DoubleTree in Cariari, approximately 15 minutes from the airport. The hotel was pretty nice especially for what I paid but I got stuck in a room that was buried on the far end of the hotel away from anything. The staff was polite enough even if not overly helpful. My part of the hotel seemed fairly empty but the closer to Christmas it got rooms started filling up pretty quick. There was also a casino and dance troupe? on site that I assume were performing at the casino. I didn’t participate so I couldn’t say what it was about but it looked entertaining from afar. There were the usual restaurants, gift shops, tourist companies, and transportation services (more on that later) at the hotel. None of it was cheap. I knew this before I came but it bears repeating. Your MONEY WILL NOT GO FAR in Costa Rica. The cost are on par with average prices in American tourist towns. So if you are looking for a bargain, you likely will not find it here.
The Great. Costa Rica is just a gorgeous country. I was only able to see a small part because of work but there was so much natural beauty everyone I looked. There’s so much to do and see I found it challenging to stay inside and focus on work. I really need a much longer (non-work) trip to go off exploring. But the highlight of my trip was a stop at La Paz Waterfalls Gardens with my work friend and coolest chica I know 😉 La Paz is located somewhere in the vicinty of Alajuela. It’s a rainforrest nature park with 5 major watefalls and a wildlife preserve for monekys, and birds and big cats, etc. I think La Paz is part of the Cordillera Central mountain range but not entirely sure. The weather near the park was cooler and cloudier than the rest of Alajuela. We got some rain but nothing insane. The entrance to the park is up in the mountains, near the entrance is where you will find all the animals. There were so many different species and you could get really up close and personal with a few. In some areas, like the bird aviary, you can enter their cage and walk through. There were several species of Toucans flying around just doing their thing. They didn’t seem to be bothered by people.
Outside of the bird area, there was a small section where the sloths were kept. I think were 3-4 there but they all appeared to be sleeping. A me-hugging-a-sloth picture was high on my must-dos list for this trip. I was going to frame it right next to my me-hugging-a-koala pic. Unfortunately this is as close as I came to hugging any sloths on my trip. But these were very cute.
After the bird and sloth fun we spent some time in their creepy crawly exhibits checking out the insect and snake collection. They had the usual variety of venomous snakes housed at the Serpentarium but there were some species I never heard of before that were pretty but deadly.
This one is the Eyelash Palm Pit-Viper, native to the area. It was goregous but it can kill ya.
Our last stop before coming to the waterfalls part of the park was at the cat habitat. There were Jaguars and Pumas and a few others I didn’t recognize.
Several of the cats were awake so we got to see them in action. Most of them seemed unfazed by the crowds, except for one that seemed really anxious. It kept pacing back and forth looking for a way out. I think he/she wanted to make a 2-piece snack out of the visitors.
Next we were off to the waterfalls. There are trails throughout the park that lead to all the falls. Of the 5 waterfalls, we were only able to make it to one, the Magia Blanca. The stair step path to the waterfall was almost a vertical climb down and back. I injured my back before coming on this trip but I was still able to make it to the base and back. I believe the walk is doable for most folks, but I’m not sure if it was handicap accessible. Magia Blanca is the tallest of the falls, over 120 ft. It had an observation deck near the bottom of the falls to get really close to the water. It was spectacular! Just tons and tons of water rushing over a tall cliff all tucked a way in this dense green forest. It seemed unreal, like something out of Jurassic park. The experience was amazing and when I go back I want to hike the entire park.
On the way back from the falls we stopped at this place called Restaurante Tipico de Fraijanes (I think that’s what it was called) near highway 120. I had a lunch called casado. It’s one of their traditional meals. It came with salad, beans and rice, and pork that appeared to be deep fried. Nothing was particularly spicy but it all tasted pretty good. We also spent some time at the Starbucks Hacienda Alsacia coffee farm before heading home. Apparently Starbucks sources their coffee beans right here in CR. The farm was pretty impressive and you could buy any Starbucks drink you wanted from their cafe. Unfortunately their coffee still had that same weird burnt taste just like back in the states. Some things never change.
The Fun. Without much time for experiencing the nightlife. My coworkers took me to downtown San Jose for dinner at Impar restaurant and for live reggaetón music at a place called El Cuartel de la Boca. It was late Monday night and all the responsible folks were home in bed (hahaha) so the streets were empty. This place seemed to be the only spot open for any evening action. The area nearest the dance floor was super crowded, bodies were packed in tight and kind of hard to do anything but bob your head along with the music. But the band was hot and the vibe was good. I think there was like one bar inside but it was really hard to get to most of the night. So I had to double up my drinks to make the trip to the bar worth my while. As far as meeting new people, it was a pretty standard club/bar social scene. If you’re looking for love or just a good time I don’t think you will be any more or less lucky that you are back home. (Make of that what you will.) Crowd was heavily Ticos (expected) but also more Americans there than I would have thought. I did meet a sweet guy from Chicago who helped me procure my drinks for the night. Shout out to the cutie from Chi-town!
The Interesting. Coffee tour at the Café Britt coffee plant in Heredia. I dont really care for coffee and under most circumstances this would probably not have been high on my list of must dos but I was bored and looking for something to do last minute on Saturday so there I was. It was a lot more fun that I thought it would be and I learned all about coffee growing and blending and how all the different regions affect the taste of the bean. The walking tour was done mostly in a mix of Spanish and English but was fairly easy to follow along. I think the tour guides must have been actors or part of a show, there was some kind of performance theme running throughout the tour. We got to taste a lot of different types of coffee from all over the area that supplies beans to that processing plant. Unfortunately because I’m not a coffee connoisseur the finer points of coffee tasting were lost on me but the chocolate was really good.
The Not So Good. Transportation drama vexed me the entire trip. I made the decision not to get a rental car on the advice of my manager and others. I think that was the right call because the drivers and traffic here are bonkers. I guess you get used to it after a while but I wasn’t in the mood on this trip. I had hoped I could get by with just taxis and Uber (no Lyft in CR). Most of the time it worked out ok, but when it didn’t ye Gods! The lowlight of my trip was a toss-up between the 45 minute taxi ride to sketchville, getting stranded in a part of the city with no taxis or Uber. But I honestly never really felt unsafe for any of my stay in CR with the exception of crazy hostile stalker taxi guy
The Crazy. The hotel taxi drama deserves it’s own space because this was a first for me. It started with the transport group that was working with the hotel. This taxi service was contracted with the hotel (I suppose) so they provided whatever taxi arrangements needed. My second night there and second day at work, I had the misfortune of dealing with these folks and missed the taxi they provided for me. Luckily I was able to hitch a ride to the hotel from a nice person who saw me walking. However the hotel decided it was a good idea to give the taxi driver my room number and phone number after the fact to call me up in the middle of the night and yell at me for missing the pick-up. Seriously? WTF?! Over a 10 minute fare? WHO DOES THAT?? I was half-asleep when raging taxi dude decided to threaten me for 15 minutes about what would happen if I didn’t give him money for a ride I never got. I don’t respond well to threats and was thisclose to going in on this jerk. But I kept my cool and kept it together and just unplugged the phone so he couldn’t call back. I don’t think this was normal behavior for the hotel to give out personal information or for taxi drivers to come looking for you but when I asked the hotel staff about it no one seemed all that concerned. Go figure.
Overall. I really did enjoy the experience and it was awesome to actually have great friends and familiar faces to help me through my first time in CR. I didn’t get to do or see 1/2 the things I wanted and I didn’t get to interact much with the Ticos outside of work. Most folks I came across were polite enough just not as friendly as I thought they would be. However the country is lovely and if outdoors activities float your boat you will find an endless amount of things to do. CR definitely deserves a much longer trip to get the full experience. Next time I come back, my first stop will be at Manuel Antonio’s for a day at the beach and then off to Cahuita sanctuary to find my sloths. I’m getting that picture. Until next time folks……..Ciao!