I first stepped foot in Costa Rica in Peñas Blancas after crossing the border from Nicaragua. At the time, I didn’t realize I would spend the next six weeks exploring waterfalls, spotting sloths, and hiking through a majestic cloud forest. From the Pacific Coast to the Caribbean side, Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful countries I have visited. When you get here, you will see and hear the phrase Pura Vida (pure life) everywhere you go. People here are happy; they enjoy life to the fullest and have a very easy-going vibe about most things.
Pura Vida is a lifestyle.
A few days before I arrived, I reached out to my childhood friend Josue to get tips about his home country. He lives in the U.S., and I would never have imagined that when I called, he would be arriving at the airport that day. So we met up in Tamarindo. Naturally, that became my first stop on the trip. I spent the next few weeks making new friends, looking for sloths, crocodiles, howler monkeys, and other wildlife and even camped at a festival for five days.
I also spent a week on my family’s melon farm in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. We had fresh smoothies every day, and I spent my mornings and evenings visiting their horse Octavio and the other animals on the farm. I also worked on the assembly line for a few hours, putting stickers on the melons. The memory always comes back to me when I see those tiny stickers on a piece of fruit at the grocery store.
If you are not planning on renting a car, traveling by bus will be the best alternative. Keep in mind; it can be a bit tricky navigating through the bus system, depending on where you are going. Sometimes you have to wait for hours for the next bus to arrive, or the bus you need to connect to will leave before you get there, but I found Centrocoasting.com to be an excellent resource.
Instead of taking 2-3 buses, sometimes it was easier to head directly to San Jose, spend the night, and leave the next morning from one of the terminals.
SOLO TRAVELING IN COSTA RICA
In my experience, Costa Rica is a safe place to travel alone. I wouldn’t walk around San Jose in the middle of the night, and I would suggest taking a cab if you arrive at the terminal at night. But overall, I never felt unsafe in any of the places I visited. Always keep an eye on your belongings and watch out for pickpockets.
COSTA RICA ON A BUDGET
It’s no secret that Costa Rica is not a cheap place to travel, especially when you compare it to other countries in Central America. Colones are the local currency, but U.S. dollars are also accepted here.
I opted to visit the less crowded and cheaper Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve instead of Monteverde National Forest and spent a lot of time at the beach or hiking to waterfalls. Although you can save money by skipping on tour guides when visiting National Parks, it will be harder to spot the animals. These guides know these areas so well, and you’ll see and learn so much more if you hire one.
If you are traveling on a budget, eating Costa Rican food at a “soda” is a good option. Here you’re likely to find Gallo pinto – rice and beans, plantains, a salad, and either meat or chicken.
PLACES TO VISIT IN COSTA RICA
This is one of my favorite places to visit in Costa Rica. The journey here is long, and the road can be bumpy, but once you get here, it’s well worth the trip. I visited the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, which is run by the community. There are more than 2000 species of plants and many different types of birds. Bring binoculars if you have them, and you’ll want to bring a jacket with you for the rain.
Plan for a day trip and visit the several trails in the Cloud Forest. Also, don’t forget to visit the Ficus Tree in the town of Monteverde. You can also climb the inside of the tree if you are on the adventurous side.
Hard to get to, but also on the top of my list of favorite places to visit in Costa Rica. I took two buses and a boat ride from San Jose to get to Tortuguero. Located on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, this small town is home to Parque Nacional Tortuguero, a park that borders the ocean, filled with wildlife such as monkeys, sloths, and many species of birds. I visited the park twice and spent several hours walking around in the lush jungle. You can also go on a canoe ride with a guide and see caimans, and other species of birds and animals.
If your next stop is a visit to Puerto Viejo, do not miss the boat ride to Moin. The journey takes a few hours, but it’s worth every penny. You’ll get to see crocodiles, sloths, birds, and lizards. From Moin, some cabs will take you to Puerto Viejo for USD 10.
PUERTO VIEJO DE TALAMANCA
If you came to Costa Rica to party, this is the place. Located on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, Puerto Viejo has crystal clear water and some of the most beautiful beaches like Playa Cocles. We rented bikes and rode to Manzanillo, and checked out the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife and Marine Refuge.
While you are in Puerto Viejo, spend the afternoon at the Bribri waterfall. There is a small fee to enter, but it is worth the visit. I stayed in Hotel Puerto Viejo and made life-long friendships with people both working and staying there.
A fun beach town on the North Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. We went on an all-day boat trip to Las Catalinas and got to kayak, snorkel and watch the sunset. I visited Tamarindo two different times while I was in Costa Rica and enjoyed Playa Conchal as well.
Uvita is a small town but gets very busy during the 4-day Envision festival in Rancho La Merced Bahía Ballena. I arrived early and spent five days at this yoga and music festival that takes place where the Pacific Ocean meets the jungle.
Uvita’s main attraction is the marine reserve, Parque Nacional Marino Ballena, famous for its migrating pods of humpback whales. If you like waterfalls, there is a short hike that leads you to a beautiful waterfall that you can slide down.
Located near Uvita, Dominical is a small surfing beach town. I got a massage on the beach, watched the sunset, and shopped for locally made gifts during my stay. It’s also an excellent place to shop for festival clothes if you are heading to Envision.
The capital and largest city of Costa Rica, San Jose, has accommodations to fit any budget. I stayed in San Jose several times to visit family and explore the city. Ride-sharing apps like Uber are available here, and I found it easier to make a stop in San Jose when traveling by bus because you can go anywhere in the country from here.
When you are in Costa Rica, you’ll understand what Pura Vida means. It’s that feel-good vibe embraced throughout the country. With its beautiful white sandy beaches, breathtaking waterfalls, and the Pura Vida lifestyle, there is no place like Costa Rica. I promise you, as soon as you visit once, you’ll be planning your return visit. I know I am.
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What is your favorite thing to do in Costa Rica?