I did not really want to go to Costa Rica when Michael mentioned the destination as a front-runner in places he wanted to go. I know … sounds bad. But I thought that Costa Rica was too “Americanized” or to “everyday.” We spent four days in Belize a few years back, and I actually thought that the countries would be too similar.
What can I say? Sometimes even very smart people say, think and do not-so-smart things! Turns out that areas in Costa Rica are still very untouched and un-American. It is also true that Costa Rica is very different from its “neighbor” to the north Belize.
We explored the raw, unspoiled Caribbean Coast, quiet roads in Arenal and even some more crowded pockets of Costa Rica over a week and I have to say that Michael did not once say “I told you so.” I’m pretty sure he thought it though.
Day 1 – With the luggage and rental car hoopla done, we opened our paper map and hit the road. We header north and east towards the coast to a small town called Cahuita. We stayed at a charming boutique hotel in the middle of rain forest owned by a Swiss couple who relocated after a vacation to Costa Rica. They said that they just “fell in love with the place.” You think?
Day 2 – We woke up to a sloth, iguanas and toucans day 2 and could not wait to explore the wild Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. It was a wet, humid day spent at the Jaguar Rescue Center. A day of animals and sweet people was not what I expected, but it is what I got! We also drove south to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca for lunch and an Imperial beer at Maxi’s. Worth the short drive!
Day 3 – Our third day in the beach-side rain forest we walked the paths through Cahuita National Park. Travel tip: If a park ranger points out anything to you – a flower, an insect, a deadly snake – anything – tip him or her. The ranger will likely stay slightly ahead of you on the trail and point of other wildlife. We did this and were able to see lizards, insects and sloth that our untrained eyes would have absolutely missed. It was the best $5 USD we spent all week.
Day 4 – We ventured to the Pacific Coast on Day 4. The drive across the country took most of the day as we stopped en route to take pictures of banana groves (farms? plantations?). Anyway, whatever they are called, we found them interesting! We also stopped at a few fruit markets and local stores for fruit and coconut cookies. You’ve gotta have food for road trips. We settled into our comfy room at the fancy schmancy Marriott Los Suenos Resort, near Jaco. It is a little rich for my taste, but free (points) make it worth the sacrifice sometimes.
Day 5 – Day 5 was probably my favorite day as we hiked in the rain forest, watched poisonous dart frogs, zip lined over the trees and rappelled down waterfalls. And that was just our morning. In the afternoon we lounged by the (very fancy, but admittedly beautiful) pool at the Los Suenos Marriott, hung out at the swim up bar, watched wild scarlet macaws fly over head and perch in nearby trees, walked the beaches and collected shells. Ooh! And we had a great meal of plantains, rice and beans and pulled chicken for dinner too. Yes, this was my favorite day in Costa Rica.
Day 6 – We drove south to Manuel Antonio Park on Day 6. We started off with breakfast and coffee at El Patio Cafe de Milagro to fuel up for our day of hiking and swimming. Crowds greeted us at the park; there were so many people everywhere. We almost threw in the towel, but then thought that all the people there were there because of the park’s beauty. We (finally) found parking and were so happy we stayed. We hiked and swam until mid afternoon and then ate a late lunch and sipped cocktails with a dramatic view at EL Avion.
Day 7 – We spent our last full day in Costa Rica driving to the Arenal region and then circumventing Lake Arenal by car. While we did not stay over night in this area, but we loved catching glimpses of the volcano from various angles, sipping coffee lakeside at Macadamia Nut Cafe and eating at a very rural restaurant where we are pretty sure they hadn’t seen a gringo in a while. We managed to stay away from the crowds and get a rather authentic Costa Rican vacation, even in a very “touristy” pocket of the country.
We flew out early on Day 8 and I remember telling Michael “thank you.” Thank you for convincing me that we could experience Costa Rica without feeling like we were still in America. I was not sure it was possible, but we did it. I also told him “thank you” for not saying “I told you so!”