Hello, hello, Val here. It’s been about a week since I returned from my Costa Rica vacation with five of my girlfriends from college and well, I’m still fighting the urge to go back!
While that may not be in the cards now, I highly recommend Costa Rica as a destination if you’re in the market for a vacation. You’ll read why soon.
Our five days in Costa Rica were adventurous, enlightening and fun! While this won’t be a day-by-day recap, it’ll still highlight the entire trip. Don’t worry, you’ll enjoy it the same. I promise!
We flew into Juan Santamaría International Airport in San Jose, Costa Rica and connected with our shuttle driver Alfredo, (highly recommend booking airport transportation ahead of time – we were able to book through our condo) who took us to a nearby Walmart to load up on snacks and beverages before he transported us to Jaco, where our beachfront condo was located. It takes between 1 ½ and 2 hours to get from the airport to our condo, so we relaxed and enjoyed the ride and amazing views.
Alfredo even stopped to allow us to see some crocodiles … I mean, they were just hanging out under the bridge. That’s normal, right?
We finally arrived to our condo on Jaco Beach, the Diamante Del Sol, and got checked in. It was a spacious 3 bedroom, 3 ½ bath condo with full kitchen, living room, washer/dryer and awesome views of the beach and the city. The absolute only negatives: we had ants in the kitchen our first night, the Wi-Fi was spotty throughout our stay and the air in two of the bedrooms wasn’t working the first day. But all was forgotten when you woke up to this view.
Now, what were we griping about again?
Costa Rica is known for its volcanoes, rainforests and beaches, so we knew we wanted to do as many activities as time and our money allowed. While we were able to book tours, excursions and activities through our condo, we found it was a little cheaper to book with a tour company a short walk from the condo. Don’t be afraid to shop around a little. Jaco is a popular resort town with lots of young travelers, so the locals know visitors will be looking for things to do. It’s best to find some competitive pricing to save yourself a few dollars.
Our first adventure was ATV riding through the rainforest and visit to the waterfalls. Had any of us ridden an ATV before? Nope. Were we scared? Nope.
And then one of our two guides breezed through the rules/instructions and reminded us that if we did anything wrong, “it would be bad.” It probably didn’t help that we all thought we’d be going on a nice little ride through the rainforest (clearly we didn’t fully read the description; reading is fundamental).
In actuality, our route included main and rural roads, mountains and the rainforest. At times, we had to maneuver through extremely steep inclines, sharp curves and down hills – without running into each other, over each other or plummeting to our deaths. Hey, at least we had on helmets.
But, unfortunately, helmets didn’t protect us from the sand, dust and dirt that slapped us in the face throughout the 3-hour ride.
And something was up with the brakes on my ATV, but I’m here to tell about it, so clearly God was on my side!
When we stopped, we were treated to magnificent views and extremely proud of how far we’d traveled. And then there was the hike to the waterfall … we definitely need to read the fine print next time. Once we reached the waterfall, it was, in fact, beautiful. Our tour guides catapulted off rocks into the water. We declined and took pictures instead. Still fun!
After our short reprieve, it was back on the bikes and on to lunch, which was included in the tour. Though I don’t remember the name of the place, it was a small little restaurant in the rainforest where the cooks prepared each of our meals fresh.
After lunch, we headed back to where our tour began. We were filthy and tired … and still scheduled to go ziplining the same day. We started with six, but only four got on the bus to go ziplining!
But when we arrived to the zipline location, we were told one of the cords was messed up and we were asked if we wanted to reschedule. We opted for a refund until we could determine if we’d have time to reschedule. Overall, ATV riding was an adrenaline rush, a good workout and the views/food made it all worth it. So this is definitely a must-do if you’re visiting.
The following day, we had scheduled a full day trip to Manuel Antonio National Park, known for its wildlife and beautiful white sand beaches. It was about 40 miles away, so we were again able to enjoy the views en route to the park.
Upon arrival, the park was bustling with tourists, guides and of course, animals. Our guide was awesome! You could really tell he loved what he did and was able to spot animals and creatures in the most obscure places. He even let us take pictures through his telescope.
Now, no food was allowed in the park … and here’s why.
We’re told these white-faced monkeys have no problem taking your fruit, food, sunglasses or anything else you have that they want. And, I mean none of us wanted to fight a monkey.
After our tour of the wildlife, we were taken to the private beach (only open to visitors of Manuel Antonio Park). We were warned the tides there can get a little crazy, so we just played in the water and laid out on the beach – and got tans! Those white sand beaches were breathtaking!
After beach bumming for a little while, we were then transported to another quaint restaurant for lunch (also included). On the way there, we were given water and fresh fruit (literally the tiniest apples we’d ever seen, but we were hungry, so no complaints).
*Note: I lost/misplaced/completely forgot my tennis shoes at the beach so finished my hike in flip flops. It wasn’t that far!
Our last full day in Costa Rica, we carved out enough time to reschedule our ziplining tour, though now it was just down to two people. No worries, we were amped and ready to fly!
And apparently that silly cord from the other day never got fixed, because we were taken to a completely different location for ziplining. But we actually liked the look of this one better: Los Suenos Rainforest Tours.
We got harnessed and met the other adventure-seekers in our group. Several were from Texas. There’s just something about us. Whenever you go on vacation, you’re bound to run into a fellow Texan. Our guide gave us the rundown of how to hold the zipline and then the ominous, “if you don’t do it right, something bad will happen.” Geez, these guys sure know how to plant the nervous energy.
We were transported on a trailer in the back of a pickup all the way up to the first zipline. We would be going on a total of 12 ziplines, one of which was a half mile long.
And of course, my friend and I were scheduled in group one. Welp, so much for watching someone else go first. She went first and then I took a leap and went next. And I promise, I only squealed during the first zipline cord!
It was so cool propelling through the forest. We even did some stretches backwards and with no hands. It was so much fun. And then, you know, nature happened. True to the name, in the rainforest … well, it rains.
We only had two ziplines remaining. But the next was one in which you had to physically brake yourself, because it was so long and there would be too much momentum for the guides to stop you safely. And it was my turn to go first.
So I took off, did exactly what they told us to do to brake … and it didn’t work. I couldn’t brake, so I did what I could to soften the blow – pull my feet in and tuck into a ball and brace for the impact. The guide was able to stop me as best he could, but it wasn’t the ideal landing for either one of us. Turns out the rain made the cord slick so we should brake with both hands, not one. This information was given to everyone after they saw me land!
We completed all the ziplines and were treated to a snack for champions: fresh pineapple and watermelon! We can now mark ziplining off the bucket list!
Our dining while in Costa Rica consisted of casado, casado and more casado. I mean we had tacos, pizza and fried chicken, too, but that’s not near as interesting or traditional. Casado is a traditional Costa Rican dish which typically consists of rice, beans, plantains, salad and your choice of chicken, pork or fish.
The casado we had during the ATV lunch was definitely the best. We also had good casado at a restaurant in Jaco (a 15-minute walk from the condo). Sorry for the lack of restaurant names, but feel free to ask the locals for recommendations. That’s what we did and they certainly knew what they were talking about!
Our condo was located just a few minutes from the bustling streets of Jaco, which was lined with shops and vendors for miles. We spent a whole afternoon shopping and were able to find everything from bags, souvenirs, clothes and jewelry … we were even able to do a little bargaining!
Costa Rican currency consists of colones (compared to the U.S. dollar). While most everybody accepted U.S. money, it’s important to learn the value of colones compared to dollars so that you get the correct change and know how much things cost. By the end of the trip, we were experts – even with the coins!
*Note: If you are planning on purchasing from a liquor store, do so with caution. Prices were very high compared to what you would pay for the same size bottle in the U.S.
With the beach being literally steps away from our condo, we were able to walk down and see the beautiful sunset.
And of course no girls’ trip would be complete without a little nightlife fun. Lucky for us, we had plenty of bar options near our condo. One weeknight, we ventured to Orange Pub. It was pretty empty, but they didn’t charge us admission and to our delight, free drinks started at like 10pm. The DJ even played hip-hop music (for us, I’m sure lol). People began to trickle in a little later. We enjoyed some drinks, a few games of pool and a little dancing.
We decided to visit the Orange Pub again on Saturday night (our last night in Costa Rica) and it was markedly different than our first visit. It was the weekend and everybody was out partying. We were charged admission, but it was only a few (American) dollars. Drinks were affordable (about $5 US). The dance floor was packed and two go-go dancers kept patrons entertained.
While Jaco is sprinkled with bars, we really enjoyed the atmosphere at Orange Pub. If you’re looking for somewhere to go and have a good time in Jaco, we definitely suggest giving it a try.
Back to the U.S.
Are there any words needed here? Eventually our vacation ended and we had to return home.
We had pre-arranged transportation to the airport, where we got rid of the rest of our colones and bought food. Did we mention, there’s like a $29 exit fee you have to pay before you’re allowed to return to the U.S.? Best to pay this in cash if you can, rather than use your card (like I had to do).
Costa Rica was beautiful, relaxing and an all-out good time. I’m currently plotting how I can get back! But, alas, I’m back in the real world and Kim and I are currently planning our next trip. Stay tuned!