Nine Days in Costa Rica

This time last month my boyfriend and I were flying from Houston to the beautiful country of Costa Rica for an impromptu trip of exploring. Our trip was broken into three parts- one night in the gorgeous Arenal Volcano area, two nights in the relaxing area of Puntarenas and three nights in the funky beach town, Jaco. Here are our valuable insights from traditional Costa Rican meals to where you should and should not be sea swimming.

Travel to Arenal

After a late flight and a terrific stay at the Aloft Hotel in San Jose, Max and I made our way to the small town of Arenal. The 4-hour drive was not as terrible as we presumed and we ended up enjoying the ride through the winding roads of the rainforest.

We had reservations at the Royal Corin Resort and Spa and to our delight were greeted with tropical Mimosas and a lovely bellman who insisted on doing everything for us. After eating at a local restaurant and indulging in a Pina Colada the size of my face, I was ready for a long sleep.

Zip lining in Arenal Rainforest & travel to Puntarenas

Breakfast at the Royal Corin was outstanding and was served poolside by the resort's hot springs. Max and I enjoyed eggs, fresh local fruit, Costa Rican special "Gallo Pinto" and of course, cupfuls of delicious coffee. Before leaving for our much anticipated zip-lining adventure, we took the time to lounge in the natural springs heated by the Volcano.

We spent our afternoon zip-lining with SkyTrek tours through the treetops in the rainforest. We took 5 long zips, one which was over a mile long, and enjoyed the breathtaking views of Costa Rica.

Day of doing absolutely nothing- bliss

Need I say more? We took this day to fully relax, enjoy some good food and some even better cocktails.

Travel to Jaco

Even before we left for the trip, I was talking about my desperation to see or play with a monkey. We had heard from some American pals we met at the resort that there was a local, elderly lady who was able to summon monkeys to her home and for just $1 would let guests at the resort come and play with them. After enjoying a final *free* breakfast at the Doubletree, Max and I set out to meet the mysterious monkey local. The sweet woman attempted to call her monkeys but to our disappointment told us that we had come too late and that they were taking a nap. Although we didn't get the full experience I highly recommend going early in the morning to see this lovely lady and her monkey friends if you are staying in or close by to Puntarenas. 

When we arrived at the stunning Villa Caletas, we were told that we had been upgraded to the Honeymoon Suite due to an air conditioning issue with our booked room...

Extravagant to say the least. Max and I felt extremely fancy. 

Manuel Antonio National Park

If you research Costa Rica, you will find countless reviews of holidayers encouraging you to visit Manuel Antonio, a national park on the Southwest side of the country. It is one of the last remaining patches of coastal rainforest on the pacific coast and is home to a huge variety of mammal species, including numerous types of monkeys, bats, and our favorite, sloths. 

We arrived early and enjoyed breakfast (and a pina colada) on the famous Manuel Antonio beach, a tranquil cove known for its beauty, before heading off for a monkey tour. We spent the afternoon on a private boat cruising through a mangrove and enjoyed seeing snakes, alligators, and finally, monkeys. Our tour guide was fantastic and after an hour of attempting managed to summon a family of white-faced monkeys to come and play on the boat and eat bananas out of our hands! 

Horseback Riding in Esterillos Este

We wanted to make our last full day in Costa Rica extra special so we woke up early and traveled down to Esterillos Este for a morning horseback ride along the beach. Our tour guide from 'The Riding Adventure' was a sweet local who had grown up around horses on a ranch and developed his family life into a business. He took us for a 2-hour ride along the beach, with a stop for some free Costa Rican coffee. 

Later that evening we dined at the Los Suenos Marina at a fabulous Italian. Fresh seafood, meat and a bottle of fab wine in a gorgeous place. 

DAY 7 (+ 53 hours)
Riptides at Jaco Beach & Departure

We woke up on our last morning and treated ourselves to breakfast in bed. Staff arrived at our suite with a tray of eggs, bacon, fresh fruit, plantains and fresh coffee and we ate it on our balcony before heading to Jaco beach for a final dose of Vitamin D. 

Max and I stopped off at the North end of Jaco beach as it was closer to our hotel and seemed uncrowded. We were the only people there other than a local family playing by the water. After a short while sunbathing we took to the sea for a dip. Within minutes, we had been caught in a strong riptide and were both fighting for our lives. The current was extremely strong and with waves crashing over my head every few seconds, swallowing of water and a panic attack, I was really struggling to breathe. I was terrified and the thought of death was extremely present in my mind. Thankfully, Max is a strong swimmer and after a long struggle was able to pull himself and a naked, tired me out of the current to the shore. The next few hours were a whirlwind of emotion but one thing is certain, the near-death experience definitely brought us even closer together. 

Leaving Costa Rica was certainly more of a challenge than expected. You have to pay a $30 fee to leave, wait in excessively long lines and in our case, deal with incompetent airlines. After a canceled flight, a night in an interesting airport hotel and a threat of not being able to fly home for 5 days due to an erupting volcano, we were finally able to get back on US soil. We ended up spending a night in Florida, enjoyed a beautiful meal by the water to top off our trip and flew back to Texas the next morning after a fabulous but adventurous vacation, to say the least.

Takeaways from our trip:

Food & Drink
If you're on a budget, be sure to try traditional Costa Rican food at a local Soda. These are family run, small restaurants that serve a huge plate of local food for very little $. Try the lunch plate which consists of rice, beans, fried plantains (addicted) and a protein. You also get a delicious juice- we recommend Guanabana/ Soursop juice! 

Do your research beforehand. There are between 150-200 drownings in Costa Rica a year and beaches are not very well sign posted with few, if any lifeguards. Figure out which beaches are safe to swim in and stick to them! Be extra careful if you are planning on visiting Jaco Beach.

We rented a car and were so thankful we did. Although Costa Rica is a relatively small country, there is so much to see and thanks to our little rental we were able to get around easily and do everything we wanted to do.

Despite staying in extremely luxurious hotels, we easily paid under $800 each for our accommodation for seven nights in 4-5 star properties. Research before you travel. We found that Groupon, Expedia and price comparison sites were our best friends.
We highly recommend the DoubleTree Resort in Puntarenas for the entertainment value (all inclusive!!)  and Villa Caletas for its beauty and relaxation.

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