My time in Costa Rica, admittedly, flew by very quickly. While a stunningly picturesque country with a booming tourism industry, it is also significantly more expensive than the rest of Central America and lacks certain infrastructure that affects locals more than tourists, particularly public transportation. While experiencing more rainy days than sunny days than we had hoped, this is of course not something to blame on your location, rather on timing. Our time there was marked by long, unpleasant bus rides and having to travel an entire day to get to a location not very far. Guatemalan chicken buses flying down the sides of mountains were a significantly better travel experience than anything in Costa Rica. But as we were leaving our fourth stop, Santa Teresa, and making our way to Tamarindo (which distance-wise lies only an hour or two north), we ended up in an increasingly dramatic musical chairs of local buses so frustrating, followed by being stranded for a night in a town with crackheads outside our hotel, that after I paid $10 for a crappy bowl of soup I didn’t order I ended up completely fed up and rather than taking the bus the next morning to the coast we ended up going north to Limon and then straight on to cross the border to Nicaragua.
I also found the amount of foreigner influence unappealing about the country. A lot of people, particularly Americans, move to Costa Rica or visit the country frequently, many not learning any Spanish and often not respecting the locals already there. This was present in most of the places I visited, and makes for a less authentic experience and significantly raises the prices, which has negatively affected the living situation for the locals. The heavy gringo influence also has affected the ways locals interact with foreigners, being understandably tired of them, which after the unwavering openness and kindness of the people of Mexico and Guatemala was a certain change.
Additionally, and particularly as a vegan who aims to eat as plant-based as possible, I was very disappointed by the produce available. Traveling through Mexico and Guatemala we on gorged cheap, fresh and delicious mango, bananas, avocado, dragonfruit, pineapple, tomato, spinach, broccoli, and zucchini. Arriving in Puerto Viejo, the first town we visited, produce was only delivered twice a week, was very expensive and was often less than stellar quality. Considering both the abundant greenery the country is covered with as well as how many gringos live in Costa Rica, the vast majority of whom tout clean living healthy yoga lifestyles, I expected to continue to find the fresh and delicious produce I had become spoiled with so far on my travels.
I have been to Costa Rica twice before, and both trips hold special memories for me. Unfortunately this time around did not live up to my possibly unrealistic expectations. However I did still experience some special moments and some of the most gorgeous nature around.
You may have heard of Puerto Viejo already. Lying on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, it is home to sand, surf, jungle, reggae, yoga and partying. A frequent stop for backpackers and tourists alike, many say no trip to Costa Rica is complete without a stop in Puerto Viejo. I stayed for one night while in Costa Rica last year and after a great night of partying knew I had to come back, which I did. A week of… well, frankly a week of quite a bit of rain (it is rainy season, after all). But this made for a quieter, emptier, more laid back town and when the sun did shine, days spent lazing and swimming at the beach.
I admittedly was not very enamored with Manuel Antonio. We stayed at the Backpackers Hostel, which did it’s job perfectly well though no better than that. Manuel Antonio, known for having a significant population of older American expats, does not really have a center of town, rather a long road running down the hill towards the beach, mostly lined by pricier hotels and restaurants. The best beach by far is the beach within the grounds of the National Park, which costs $16 to enter, so not exactly ideal for visiting every day. The town is certainly one of the best spots for monkey spotting – there were monkeys all along the roads, and loads trying to steal from the tourists along the beach at the National Park!
The town of Montezuma is one of my favorite places so far, and certainly in Costa Rica. Small, cozy and friendly. We stayed in Hostel Parque, which lies right on one of the small stretches of beach. The beach however was not my favorite. It lies in the Nicoya Peninsula, which is known as a popular destination for surfers due to the great waves. As someone who has an interest in swimming and relaxing, a beach with dangerously tall and rough waves and high tides running its way up most of the sandy shore does not make for an ideal beach. If you walk far enough along the shore you can hit some interesting rocky spots and small waterfalls, which can be fun to park yourself at for the day. Be sure to check out the turtle sanctuary if you are there during the right season.
Our time in Santa Teresa ended up being extremely short, only two nights. While we loved our hotel (Beach Break) due to its cleanliness and AC (!!!), the town is just one long stretch along a terrible pothole-filled road running along the beach. The beach was great but it felt incredible unsafe walking along the road to get anywhere, which seems to be a common theme in Costa Rica. As a total New Yorker who is accustomed to walking everywhere and as someone who hates to drive, I tend to rate places on their accessibility to pedestrians, and Santa Teresa came in very low on this ranking. However due to only spending two nights there I would certainly come back (with a car) to give it another go, log more beach hours, drink more fresh coconuts and try a surf class there.
I am currently writing this having already made my way to Nicaragua, specifically from San Juan del Sur, my first stop in the country. Costa Rica has an expression “Pura Vida,” that folks will say to you on the street or as a thank you or goodbye. Pura Vida, which translates directly to “pure life,” is not just indicative of the good times. Pura Vida is for the good and the bad, the hard and the easy, the big and the small. Pura Vida is a model for taking life slow, one day at a time. Pura Vida is a good motto to live by, one that I aim to bring into my life every day. So with that, Costa Rica, we shall meet again. Pura vida!
Have you been to Costa Rica? Did any of my experiences ring true for you? Let me know!