Pacific

Costa Rica: What to See & What to Do

Starting this post is difficult because I could write a 50 page essay on all of the things you should see and do in Costa Rica. Rather than doing that, I'll give you the rundown of what we did each day that made this the best trip ever.

Photo via Susie Roupe

Photo via Susie Roupe

1. Visit Playa Conchal

It is an absolute dream. Playa conchal gets its name from the sand, "conchal" comes from the Spanish word for a type of shell. That's right, the sand is made up of tiny bits of crushed up shells. It exfoliates your feet and may hurt a little but it's totally worth it. There is a luxury resort right on the beach and massages for excellent prices at the top of the beach. To get to Conchal without paying for parking, go to Brasilito and drive on the beach towards Conchal to the free lot. 
Come for the view, stay for the snorkel trip, which brings us to 2.

Photo via Victor Prince

Photo via Victor Prince

Photo via Victor Prince of a starfish found on the snorkel trip

Photo via Victor Prince of a starfish found on the snorkel trip

2. Go Snorkeling/Spear Fishing 

I must admit this part of the trip had me seasick for a while, but it was still incredible. Why? Well, we struck a deal with a salesman on the beach for the four of us to go out on a tiny boat and snorkel while our guide spearfished. The boat was tiny but it took us out to a part of the coast we would never have seen otherwise. Huge caves with waves crashing into them, water a deeper blue than I have ever seen before. The cliffs above the caves towered above us and it was awesome! Tyler and the guide dove into the water and speared fish which we then ate (more on that in the next post) while Victor and Sarah went snorkeling and I sat in the boat feeling sick. Take dramamine if you decide to be adventurous on a tiny boat. 

Image via Susie Roupe

Image via Susie Roupe

Image via Susie Roupe

Image via Susie Roupe

3. Watch the Sunset Every Night

This is the sunset from Brasilito, a small beach right beside Conchal. You can have your dinner directly on the beach and watch the sunset and people ride by on horses. Have I mentioned that it is paradise?

Image via Susie Roupe

Image via Susie Roupe

Image via Susie Roupe

Image via Susie Roupe

4. Visit Playa Negra & Bring a Snorkel Mask

Playa Negra is a black sand beach with tons of volcanic rocks all along the shoreline. The day we went, there was hardly another soul on the beach besides us and professional surfers. It's worth going if only to watch these amazing athletes ride a wave to a break in the rocks and not get injured! We brought snorkel masks with us, not knowing what we would find. As you can see above, the rocks hold little tide pools between them in low tide, and that is where the magic is. In these small pools is a world of small creatures, crabs, eels, fish with legs!, brightly colored fish, octopi and we even saw a fossil!
 

Image via Victor Prince

Image via Victor Prince

5. Take at Least a Day Trip to a Volcano

We went to Monte Verde, a more inactive volcano for a day trip. Tyler and Sarah were able to get us a great deal by negotiating ahead of time in the town where we were staying, so we had a full day of adventure for an excellent price! There are many volcanoes in Costa Rica, but the two most famous are Arenal and Monte Verde. Arenal would have meant another 4 hour drive, and I'm not disappointed that we chose Monte Verde because it was incredible! We went to an adventure resort called Buena Vista on a day pass. 
On that adventure pass we were able to go zip lining through the jungle, down a more than 1/4mile long natural waterslide, horseback riding, and we were even able to enjoy the spa which included volcanic mud baths, sauna, natural hot and cold springs, and lots of animal sightings*. 

Images via Victor Prince

Images via Victor Prince

After you've enjoyed the adventure and the spa treatment, do not miss out on the bar overlooking the valley. This is THE spot to see a sunset. We could see for miles and miles, including the ocean which was a two hour drive away. This valley is the set for the Jurassic Park chase scene and is absolutely gorgeous!

Image via Victor Prince

Image via Victor Prince

Image via Victor Prince

Image via Victor Prince

*We saw iguanas, toucans, "the crested one", and howler monkeys. A howler monkey peed on me and then pooped on me while we were in the hot spring. Gross, but also once in a lifetime experience!

This is just a small taste of the things to see and do in gorgeous Costa Rica. You should definitely start planning your trip now!

Costa Rica: Getting There & Getting Around

Image thanks to Tyler Pearson and his waterproof camera

Image thanks to Tyler Pearson and his waterproof camera

The internet is filled with all-inclusive resort deals for tropical destinations like Costa Rica. This past winter, I visited the beautiful country with a small group of friends and we were looking for a more DIY trip. That week in Costa Rica was easily one of the best weeks of my life. Being in paradise with your best friends, no worries, and the best pineapple ever is hard to beat. We planned our trip on an "adult budget", so it was affordable and budget-conscious, but we didn't stay in hostels and eat Ramen either.

We chose Costa Rica for its weather and location since it is fairly easy to get to, and for its gorgeous scenery. Costa Rica boasts beautiful mountains, volcanoes, beaches, both Caribbean and Pacific, and lots of wildlife adventure so it is a perfect vacation destination! 

So, what time of year is best to travel to Costa Rica?

Photo via Susie Roupe

Photo via Susie Roupe

The best time of year to go to Costa Rica is between mid-December and April. This is the dry season, which is also the tourist season so you wont have the cheapest airline and lodging prices, but you will have fantastic weather and will not need to worry about your entire vacation being rained out! We elected to go December 13-21 which was just before the Christmas rush and saved us a great deal on our lodging. 

Image via Susie Roupe

Image via Susie Roupe

We chose the Pacific side for the majority of our trip with a day visit to a volcano further inland. The Pacific side has bigger waves for those who enjoy surfing, and I had never seen the Pacific before so it was the obvious choice for us! 

Image via Susie Roupe

Image via Susie Roupe

If you decide to stay on the Pacific coast like we did, you have a couple of options for getting there. You can either fly into the airport at Liberia, which is closer to the Pacific or into San Jose (the country's capitol and often more affordable airfare) and drive across the country. It was more afforable for us to fly into San Jose and drive, so that's just what we did!

Image via Susie Roupe

Image via Susie Roupe

There are buses around Costa Rica, but for long distance travel, renting a car is the best option and will give you more freedom for the duration of your trip. When renting a car, get the insurance as you cannot use your car insurance from the USA to cover you in Costa Rica. Also, get a 4-wheel drive car like the one we got above. The roads are not the smoothest, so it's worth the investment.

Image via Susie Roupe

Image via Susie Roupe

Before you depart, we recommend downloading the app NavFree. There are no real road signs when driving through the countryside except the occasional sign like the one above. If you download NavFree and use wi-fi to download your maps, you'll be able to use GPS tracking to find your way. The good news is, it's not that hard to get around because there are not too many roads to get very confusing. 

Photo via Susie Roupe

Photo via Susie Roupe

A bonus of driving through the small towns is getting to see beautiful farm land which extends right up to the roadside and you can enjoy some of the best food ever from small sodaritas along the way. The country towns are chock full of tiny restaurants churning out burritos, empanadas, pastries, and glass bottle Coca Colas.  

For the best prices, book your flight about 5-10 weeks before you plan to depart and always check kayak, expedia, etc for deals. Before you book, read this great article by Nomadic Matt about travel credit cards. You can get some great rates and sky miles if you do your research. He has tons of great travel planning tips and is an excellent resource for those of us who have been bit by the travel bug.