When you tell people you’re traveling to Costa Rica, you hear the same statement, “I’ve been there, and you’re going to love it.” Typically I have chosen to make up my own mind about travel destinations, getting lost in the jungles of Honduras (figuratively) or discovering locations in the mountainous plains of Bolivia on my own terms. Costa Rica, however, lives up to its hype. From the cloud-covered slopes of the Arenal Volcano to the stunning fine sand beaches of Samara, the beauty of this country is riveting. My adventures tend towards the more rugged side, i.e. run a few kilometers to a waterfall in the morning, and do a little caving in the afternoon. Costa Rica was perfect for that. The memories and photos I took from this place easily put this trip in the top 5 vacations of my life.
And with that said, I offer you these tips to really maximize your travels in the land of Pura Vida:
Skip the hotel. Rock the hostel.
With private bars and gorgeous pools featuring swim-up bars, the hostels in Costa Rica feel a lot like little private resorts. The real difference will be the wealth of enthusiastic international travelers you will meet and warm friendships you will form.
Listen to the guides.
Known for popular tours like mountain biking and zip lining, it would be easy to miss some of the hidden gems most travelers miss. A twenty minute conversation with a guide after a hiking tour one afternoon turned me onto an incredible cave tour. The tour was so off-the-radar of most tours that it ended up being a private guided tour, through the cave guide’s favorite portions.
Talk to the locals.
Not everything worth seeing is in the guide books. Posting up at a local bar, bumbling through my horrific Spanish, I started up a conversation. As the conversation turned to dating, the twenty-something told me about a unique tree hidden away in the forest near town. Long ago, vines had wrapped the fallen tree creating a jungle-gym-like ladder making it easy to climb into an adjacent treetop. The view from the top as the sun set across the valley was magical, well worth the purchase of two pints of Imperial.
Soda > Restaurant
A “soda” in Costa Rican Spanish doesn’t mean a soft drink, but smaller local restaurant. Common in even the most touristy areas, these little mom and pop eateries offer absolutely delicious meals at a fraction of the prices of nearby restaurants. What better way to get the local flavor, than getting the local flavor.