Revisiting: Costa Rica

map credit: Lonely Planet

Where: Costa Rica (Arenal, La Fortuna, Manuel Antonio, Quepos,  San José)

When: late August – early September 2009

How: direct flight from Newark to / from San José * see Thanks to for note on in-country transport. + There is a $26USD outgoing tax at the Pavas airport in San José.

Duration: 11 glorious days

breakfast companion

Accommodations**:
Gran Hotel / San José
Montaña de Fuego / Arenal
Costa Verde / Manuel Antonio
** Planning your visit to Costa Rica? For a price break, try the rainy season, also known as the “green season” in tourism lingo. Over 11 days we experienced brief sun showers and some clouds, but otherwise: clear skies. Worth it!

Language: Spanish

Currency: – Costa Rican colón

photo credit: Thao Dang

Tourist facts: In the front cover of my journal I wrote the following: Hemos encontrado el paraiso, se llama Costa Rica. Pura vida! Translation? We’ve found paradise, and it’s name is Costa Rica. The term pura vidais widely used throughout the country to mean everything from hello, great weather, have a nice day, and most literally – This is the pure life. And it is! Costa Rica has its priorities straight – recycling, sustainable living and protecting what’s theirs. As ecotourism continues to gain popularity, Costa Rica’s rainforests and beaches truly fit the bill.

If you’re into:

  • SURFING — check out this post from Marco at 25dollartravel on catching waves in CR here.
  • WATER SPORTS — if you like rock climbing and white water rafting, why not try canyoning? We took our trip with PureTrek, and it was absolutely unforgettable.
  • NATURE — this country protects over 10% of its land, rainforests included. Take a horseback ride, a hike or a tour across the Hanging Bridges. But for the love of travel, please pack some heavy duty bug spray!

Frommers.com Links I recommend during trip planning — I used Fodor‘s Costa Rica 2009 edition, hard copy. That’s right: hard copy! Take a look at Frommer’s “When to Go” to better understand the seasons and what to expect.

My absolutes — rainforest, volcano, spa, something sporty (not zip-lining) and, you guessed it: eat!

Arenal: CR's most active volcano

What I saw — After a post-flight siesta, Thao pulled open the blinds at our cabin and what was previously covered by clouds was revealed: Costa Rica’s most active volcano, just outside our hotel in Arenal. We hiked in the rainforest nearby and later rode horses through the farmland at it’s base. My jaw dropped the first time I heard it rumble, and it is still one of the most awesome things I have ever experienced. We saw glass wing butterflies, hummingbirds, marching ants heralding oncoming rain, a toucan (!). And let’s not forget: monkeys. Part of the early morning sunrise in Manuel Antonio meant birdsong, waves crashing on the shore .. and the myriad hooting and hollering of our simian friends.

Canyoning with PureTrek

What I did – Once you read about a few of my trips with Thao, you’ll understand that we like a packed itinerary. Costa Rica being no different, we maxed out. Canyoning, horseback riding, hiking in the rainforest. Make no mistake, we know how to take breaks, too! Time for the spa, the hot springs and the beach were also in the mix. It should be noted we chose EcoTermales hot springs – there are three major contenders in northern CR.

What I ate – traditional Costa Rican breakfast that is To Die For: gallo pinto (rice/beans), fried plantains, eggs, magic. And pizza! I’m not kidding. Pizzeria Vagabundo, keep up the good work. Other delicious dishes include spicy chocolate cake from Agua Azul, crêpes del bosque and high test coffee from Cafe Milagro.

If (when) I return I will – visit some other regions in the country like the Osa Peninsula; tour a coffee plantation.

Sorry I missed – a chance to see the Arenal volcano at night. Late night lava flow is rumored to occur with great frequency, and I’m going back to see it!

Thanks to*: NatureAir for their wonderful air transportation while we were making our way around the country. NatureAir is a carbon-neutral airline that provides 74 daily flights to 17 destinations within Costa Rica. We had three flights between our destinations, and found the prices fair and the experience memorable. Rather than renting a car or riding a bus, we chose this airline – the views alone are worth the ticket! Read more about their efforts for sustainable tourism here.

Now, you: Are you a surfer? A honeymoon planner? A photographer? What brings you to Costa Rica? What keeps you coming back for more?

lagos & points west

The duration of a bus ride increases as a result of the following things: 1) amount of stops “por pueblo” and 2) nicotine to caffeine ratio of your driver. Therefore, a ride from Seville, Spain to Lagos, Portugal can take approximately five hours. But our driver was a gem and the weather held up, so we spent Friday morning motoring through the countryside, plugged into our ipods and slipping in and out of consciousness.

Upon arrival in Portugal across a massive bridge, the frontier guard comes onto the bus and checks our passports (no stamps when you travel throughout the EU – sorry, stamp fans!). No criminals or fugitives on board, so off we go. It is gray and somewhat dreary when we arrive in Lagos. Item #1 is confirming a return trip. When you leave Sevilla the return is considered “abierta” or open for 6 days. When you reach your destination, you confirm your return to make sure you have a seat. Monday afternoon return – done. Important to note that buses between Huelva / Sevilla and Lagos (and every damn town in between) run twice a day EVERY day, including weekends and holidays. Go, Damas, go!

The bus station is across from the marina so we cross the pedestrian drawbridge to grab something to eat at the Fool and the Pickle, or whatever it’s called. Already, the place is rampant with English. Brits, Kiwis, Australians in all shapes and sizes. I should note for Bethlehem Granny McCarthy fans that my first meal was the ploughman’s lunch and it was glorious (!). We get caught in a deluge of rain and make our way to our hotel in wet jeans and soggy sweatshirts. The hotel is basic and cheap. I would venture a guess that we are one of maybe 5 or 6 occupied rooms in the hotel – hello, winter.

We spend the day wandering around the town of Lagos and playing tourist. The old city is surrounded by huge fortress-like walls and gorgeous old trees. You are never far from the water, as it dominates one side of the town. We make our way to the surf shop and Matt books a spot for us on the next morning’s outing – to be clear, Matt surfs and I spectate :) Randomly, one of the owners doubles as a DJ and will be spinning records later that evening at a local bar. Truth be told, I pass out after a delicious dinner and Matt flies solo to witness this event. A gold star for Don Toro and their pumpkin soup – little taste of fall on this side of the world.

Saturday morning finds us at the surf house and scowling at the weather. We will head out with a group of 10 or 12 people in two Land Rovers. In the same way that all surfing trips begin (as I’ve learned after several years being friends with Matt) – we make for the beach in search of waves. This can mean one stop, or several. In Long Beach Island, NJ – we can hop in the car, pull up at a dead end and Matt will hop out to stand on the edge of the dock like a sea captain, checking for this swell and that tide and all that technical stuff. Here in Portugal, the third time is the charm and our group decides to surf Praia do Zavial. But first, a coffee break at the seaside café.

I froze my butt off photographing my dear friend, although the water was warm it was pretty damn cold outside. Wet jeans do not make for appropriate windy-cold-drizzly beach attire. We had lunch with the group and headed back with plans to shower, siesta and start over – in that order. The best meal in Portugal, bar none, was a recommendation from our guide David. We met up with our NZ friends and headed out to dinner in town, where we ran into David and he led us through some back alleyways to deposit us in front of Casinha do Petisco, and I could kiss him for doing so. The portions were ginormous and the food was out of this world. We spent a little over 3 hours there savoring every last bite, and decamped to a local bar where David works as a bartender. Some time in the wee hours we had daylight savings time and gained another hour in Lagos. This was used for Sagres beer, a cricket lesson and the game of American English vs Kiwi English.

Sunday we met up with two beautiful Global Village* 2008 alumni: Maryna & Hugo, the newlyweds-to-be! I haven’t seen them in two years and it felt like no time had passed at all. It was a great way to end our weekend in Portugal, prior to the five hour twisting, turning bus ride that dumped us into Sevilla around 8:30 p.m.

Back to the grind tomorrow! Photos to follow, as usual.

*if you would like a shameless promotion for Global Village and would like to know more about it, just ask :)