Although I have only traveled to 5 countries, Costa Rica quickly became my most memorable trip to date. Everything about this place screams adventure – the culture, the people, the landscape, the food, the music, the surf!! In the short 12 days we were there we simply couldn’t soak in all the magic this country has to offer…
Like many logical, broke, wandering souls, my roommate and I are constantly browsing Groupon and Living Social escapes when planning a trip. Both e-commerce sites gather trips, flights, hotels, excursions, etc. that have been left behind by the masses and typically sell them in affordable, all-inclusive packages. Sure it’s cheaper because it may be off-season, the hotel locations kind of suck, or the flights are arriving and taking off at ridiculous hours of the day, but if you are trying to pinch pennies it’s definitely worth the sacrifice. Back in December, C and I found a great deal on Living Social for $1200.00 that included 8 days and 7 nights with hotel accommodations for 2 people, transportation, excursions, and a few mediocre breakfasts. This package didn’t include flights, but luckily we selected our travel dates for the winter months which are vastly unpopular in Costa Rica. Although C and I are avid fans of lounging around, aggressively boozing, and baking in the sun, Costa Rica is not for the sensitive, pompous traveler. Known for its engulfing jungles, rough terrain, and insane thunder storms, I would only recommend this trip for the adventure-loving, thrill-seeking travelers out there.
Though traveling without an itinerary sounds invigorating, I would be lying if I said I was actually that brave. The majority of our trip was conveniently mapped out by Monkey Tours (this is a GARBAGE company by the way…but more on this later) and then we had the remaining few days left to backpack alone.
One issue with booking a trip far in advance is the painful realization that you must wait. And wait. AND WAIT. After 5 long, impatient months our trip had finally arrived and we could not have been more excited! Unfortunately our excitement soon shriveled like balls on ice once arriving at the Houston Airport. Sidenote: this airport has royally fucked me and C multiple times. Allowing Houston to bend us over one more time sounded like absolute hell.
Let’s just say I never knew how patient, calm, and collected we could be until our flight to Liberia was cancelled. Not only was it cancelled, they took us on and off the plane three times, practically teasing us, before finally telling us we were shit out of luck and we would need to head to the unbearably long customer service line to adjust our flights. After 9 miserable hours and an invitation to Cabo with some new stripper friends later, we made it to the front of the line and were booked for the first flight out in the morning. Thank you baby Jesus!
Once arriving in Liberia we headed to our first crash pad at Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin. I must say this hotel was pretty great and the rooms were spacious, air conditioned, and very clean.
Big FYI: If you plan on ever going to Guachipelin keep in mind that it’s practically its own remote country, and if you need anything outside of their quarters (i.e. snacks, drinks, mosquito repellent) you are completely screwed. I can’t describe the disappointment when we learned how far away the liquor store was and had to shovel out $10 for a beer. Total BS.
The hotel grounds themselves are pretty incredible and offer all sorts of activities for all ages. We ended up exploring a gorgeous waterhole, ziplining, tubing, meeting a random Boa named Blue, and if you can believe it I actually rode a horse.
My horse was a fucking asshole name “Cucaracha” – The Cockroach. He literally never stayed on the path, faked an injury so I would get off him and then tried to escape, and he constantly stopped to eat whatever was in his path. Including horse shit. I WOULD get stuck with this horse.
Later we packed up and went to Playa Samara for a few days that consisted of ATV’s, hiking to secluded beaches, live music, way too much booze, a boat safari, a turtleLESS refuge, and some bangin fish tacos at this rad restaurant called “The Flying Taco.” This is a must if you travel to Playa Samara. It is without a doubt the best food we have had on our travels, plus there is live local music and a giant dance floor!!
After an amazing time in Playa Samara, we left for Tamarindo to chase the surf! A lot of skeptics say Tamarindo is overly “westernized, bro” and blah blah blah. Whatever it was, we didn’t care. We had the best time and stayed at the sickest hostel called Pura Vida MINI Hostel . I can’t say enough good things about this place to fit on my blog, but I wrote an essay over on TripAdvisor that you can read if you like don’t have anything better to do.
The Hostel itself has a massive lounge area, a huge kitchen, a ton of hammocks, games, surf boards, ping pong tables and other shit to keep you happy. The managers became our close friends on this trip and it honestly couldn’t have been a better experience. Our last few days in Costa were spent fishing, partying, surfing, getting INKED, shopping and exploring.
Since Costa Rica offers some of the best sport fishing in the world, you can imagine I was pretty disappointed when C and some of our fellow hostel friends only caught ONE red snapper. I had high hopes, especially with the high price we had to pay for taking a fishing excursion. I had imagined catching my first Dorado or Wahoo, but those dreams died quickly once the captain let us know that we actually don’t get to throw our own lines and he did it for us…ONE.AT.A.TIME. This had to be one of the most frustrating experiences of my life. However, we still had a blast in the open waters and it was surely beautiful!
Something pretty amazing happens when traveling through hostels, something I had never experienced prior. The people you stay with turn into family, and it feels like you have known each other for years. We made some seriously great friends on our trip. Some that we went on excursions with, some that we got tattoos with, and some that we even made plans to visit in Italy summer 2017.
Tips: Because I’m broke and thrifty at the same time
-Pack LIGHT: Not shockingly, I severely over packed. I pretty much wore t-shirts, shorts and swimsuits the whole time with the exception of a few nice dresses for going out dancing in. Here are some recommended things to pack:
- Literally gallons of bug-spray/sunscreen – it’s twice as expensive there
- At least two swimsuits so one is always dry
- A travel hotspot – thankfully I work for a company called XCom Global that provides Wi-Fi hotspots for international travelers so I was able to stay connected for free. I highly recommend investing in one. Not only is it great for social media fiends like C and I, it’s also perfect for yelping restaurants, mapping out hikes, keeping in touch with friends and family, etc.
- A towel or two-I’m kind of an asshole and ended up stealing a towel from one of our hotels (shhh) but don’t forget that hostels don’t provide these or shampoo/conditioner so try and pack accordingly
- Waterproof backpack
- Zipblock bags to put wet clothes/swimsuits in
- Gopro or better camera than mine (i.e. see pictures in this post)
-Save money by avoiding Taxis and stick to public transportation. We probably got ripped off paying about $80 to get to our first location from the airport. We heard multiple times that buses were the way to go, but we had arranged a lot of our transportation with the travel company ahead of time
-Avoid rental cars. Initially we had planned to rent a car so the last leg of the trip could be spent trolling up and down the coast and potentially making it inland. That quickly changed after my friend Charlie had warned us that the roads in Costa Rica are an absolute nightmare, underdeveloped with potholes everywhere. Additionally, if you look at rental car websites their prices seem fair. But don’t get caught in their tourist trap – the insurance is almost $80/day, so even though most rental cars advertise for $20/day it really adds up to be about $100. There is a whole conspiracy on the internet floating around regarding insurance scams and foul play on the part of car rental companies, be sure to do your research.
-Liberia is pronounced “Lee-ved-ia” by rolling the “ved” off your tongue. If you say Liberia as “Li-beeer-ia” you will be embarrassed and corrected, just like we were…
-Become friends with alllll the waiters, hosts, administrators, attendees, pool cleaners (seriously) that you can. Since we didn’t pay the outrageous $126/day fee for all you can eat/drink, we were genuinely concerned how we were going to party on a budget. Since we became friends with nearly everyone who crossed our paths, we were consonantly getting hooked up with free drinks, free cover for clubs, among other discounts.
-Go during the off-season, preferably late April through November. You will save a shit load of money by sacrificing perfect weather. One of my best memories of Costa Rica was running through the monsoon on the beach. Plus Costa Rica is a god damn jungle, or at least on the Pacific side. Who needs perfect weather while you are gallivanting through forests like Tarzan?!!
– “Sodas” are not shops with exclusively sodas. Which is one thing I learned way too late in my trip. As a soda-hater I really didn’t give much thought of stopping in one of these shops until a local told us that “Sodas” are actually small, family run businesses serving up some inexpensive and incredible local food
-Travel to the Caribbean side if time permits. The one thing on my bucket list on this side is the Tortuguero National Park, a breeding ground for the endangered green turtle. Other travelers have said to see turtles laying their eggs on the beach at night, something I imagine is an incredible site. I also hear the Caribbean side is cheaper and less Americanized, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to explore that area
-Bring a handy water purifier like this one my friend gave me – works like a charm!
-Eat Trits. These things are like crack ice cream sandwiches. Eat ALL the Trits.
-I always recommend Living Social or Groupon as you can really save a lot of dough, but FUCK Monkey Tours. Do your best to avoid these degenerates if you can. Why? Four main reasons:
- #1 – They didn’t answer our calls upon arrival to the airport, and since we were late to the itinerary it was imperative to reach them. As we couldn’t get a hold of anyone, we ended up doing the logical thing and referring to the itinerary and going to the hotel they were SUPPOSED to be at that evening. Well, we get to the hotel, they aren’t there, they don’t have a reservation for us, and by the time we get a hold of Monkey Tours they tell us they are over four hours away in Monte Verde. This led us to miss the Monteverde Cloud Forest – ranked as the 14th must see places before you die – which really pissed me off. Luckily one of the bros in our group said the forest was incredibly boring and anti-climatic but regardless they didn’t tell us their status and it was not a great way to start the trip. Changing the itinerary without telling the travelers = STRIKE ONE.
- #2 – One of the pre-paid excursions included a trip to Palo Verde National Park for a “boat safari”, which turned out to be a far cry from the truth. On our way to the park, the tour guide tells us we are “basically” going to the park but not the actual park. WTF does that even mean? Regardless the boat tour was about an hour through some mossy waters with a few gators. Telling the travelers we are going somewhere and we don’t actually go there = STRIKE TWO
- #3 – Our tour guide was a complete idiot. He never knew what he was talking about and he disappeared throughout the entire tour. However, I have to give this man props as he was a part of a love-triangle with one of the chicks we were traveling with and it turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip to watch this drama unfold. Apparently she ended up sleeping with him, he fell in love, she slept with the bus driver, and then he cried to us at the lobby bar about how he felt betrayed. I don’t know if I’m more impressed that my 55 year old, balding, cross-eyed tour guide banged a 24 year old nomadic chick with a nice rack or the fact that this she actually managed to sleep with our tour guide, bus driver, surf instructor and at least one other person in addition to crashing her rental car into an incoming vehicle. Someone should find this girl and make a movie about her. Un-Fucking-Real!
- #4 – Since we were stuck in Texas, we ended up missing a night in a hotel that was included in the package price we already paid for the trip. As such, we ended up asking our tour guide if we could get one night credit for another hotel since our prepaid fees included the night missed. One of our friends got credit so we figured we would try. He told us we needed to talk to another guy, who told us we had to talk to another guy, then we finally found THE guy and we were DENIED. I wouldn’t have been annoyed but we prepaid at least $150 to stay at the Hilton Garden Inn the night we actually slept on the cold hard ground of the godforsaken Houston airport.
Regardless of Monkey Tour’s incompetency, I still had one of the best trips of my life. I would just advise finding another company to go through…
-Brush up on your Spanish, amigo! Although my Highschool afforded me four years of absolutely pathetic Spanish, I’m mediocre at best. But throughout the trip I was challenging myself with the locals, spitballing new phrases and words in an attempt to communicate. I have to say I did pretty well, and ended up catching myself speaking an absurd about of Spanglish upon my return to the states
-Try and get some souvenirs at hole-in-the-wall shops rather than the big tourist baiting shops. Seriously we tried to buy our roommates a bottle opener and they were charging $20. Seriously? $20 for a bottle opener shaped like a cock?! No way this should be more than $10. Regardless some owners are willing to haggle so don’t settle for the first “I Heart CR” shirt on the racks
-Tell your credit card company that you will be traveling overseas that way they don’t panic and shut off your access to funds. We relied almost solely on cash and colones, which I recommend bringing both.
Overall Costa Rica was definitely one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Thank you to all the locals and the other travelers we met along the way, it wouldn’t have been the same without you!
I have never left a trip and felt as though I left something behind. I can’t wait to go back and find out what that is.