Finally, I am here at my perfect bucket list destination. Surrounded by lush green rainforest, the Macaws and Parrots perch in the massive tree that shades my retreat. I inhale the smell of coffee, warm with a slight bitterness, savoring somewhat like a fine wine. My eyes dart left to right absorbing the beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean. Pura Vida “pure life”.
The search for the ultimate destination holiday led me to Costa Rica. My lust to explore this wonderful planet leaves me intent every year for a new journey. Costa Rica, a common bucket list item, can now be marked off. Envious of the snowbird life I planned a one month excursion.
Costa Rica is known for its eco-lodges and beautiful guest houses. I recommend a vacation rental by owner. The selection and price is phenomenal for the area. My accommodations are nestled in 5 acres surrounded by jungle. The massive pool, a mainstay in Costa Rica, overlooks the ocean and consists of two residences that easily accommodate three couples. I have settled in Ojochal a village in the Puntarena province not far from the Panama border.
As a first time traveler to a developing country my naivety is apparent. Costa Rica has an established tourism base and is costly in the coastal areas. Items imported are significantly higher. Packing and bringing essentials like sunscreen and insect repellent is helpful. 10 degrees north of the equator, temperatures rise to high 30’s or 90’s. The dry season in Costa Rica is mid-December to April.
A quick rule of thumb is 500 Colones approximately $1.30 Canadian $1.00 US. At the time of this article, the current exchange rate is 542.60 Colones for 1.00 US Dollar. Most places in Costa Rica accept the US Dollar and it isn’t necessary to travel with an abundance of Colones, even in the small villages.
Unique boutiques, with stylish sarongs in vibrant colors adorn the outside railings replacing brand name outlet shops. In Nosara, a surf town known for its three connected beaches, I choose from a wide array of colorful ceramic pots she has unpacked from her backpack.
Explore Costa Rica
Near Ojochal travel back in time and visit the Boruca reservation where an indigenous culture known for their distinct masks exists. Driving up the Talmanca Mountains about 20 kms from Panama provides breathtaking views and transports you back to a time the Spanish conquered Costa Rica.
I pause at the sole entrance experiencing uncertainty. A young man approached the vehicle from his vantage point on a verandah “hablas Espanol”. A beginner’s introduction to Spanish will enhance your experience of this wonderful country. The “ticos” appreciate the effort and many do not speak English. Victor, is a tourism student and guide. The cost is $20 US for the vehicle and he spends the day exploring the Boruca culture and meeting the people.
A hike to the three local waterfalls produces amazing views where you can perch high on the top overlooking the falls. The mist and coolness of the water are refreshing and invites you to swim after a day in the sun, surrounded by the sounds of nature and running water. It’s a must. Don’t pass up the opportunity to purchase a mask signed by the skilled craftsmen. Their authenticity evident in the carving and painting exhibited.
I opted to rent a vehicle in my quest to explore. Once experienced in Costa Rican driving it is welcome that the rental is not in superior shape. A thorough, documented pre-inspection is advised. The inability to transfer your own insurance does increase the cost of this luxury. The road system typically is unmarked lanes that can quickly turn from three lanes, where the center lane is shared by both directions to a one lane bridge crossing. You may want to explore the mode of local flight. Many small towns have an airport to accommodate local flights. The drive into Nosara is a one-time experience. The rough and dusty road makes one want to stay close to this surf town. At 255 kilometers away from San Jose the drive is about 4 to 5 hours.
The roads are shared by pedestrians, pedal bikes, service trucks and livestock. I wouldn’t recommend starting for your locale in the evening. Grab a hotel in San Jose and enjoy the coolness and the wind of the city. Navigating through the city is not for the traffic sqeemish. Winding through the core you see many shopping centres and the traditional sites of Subway and McDonalds. This quickly gives way to single lanes winding through the rural landscape and residences leaving behind the remnants of the tourism influence. Unmarked roads make a navigational device handy and they are offered with most rentals when you arrive at your destination.
One of the few toll roads, Route 27 connects San Jose with the province of Puntarenas. Between 2pm and 7pm on Sunday the lanes reverse and flow into the Capital of San Jose. If you are leaving San Jose near these times make sure to remain on the highway and ensure you have plenty of gas. After exiting at 1:30 for gasoline I was unable to re-enter. Each entrance is manned and barricaded allowing only traffic to return to the Capital of San Jose.
Nosara has some of the best surfs and beautiful destination beaches in the world. Be sure to visit Café de Paris, choose the coconut meringue its sweetness melts in your mouth. Walk down the beach from Playa Pelada to Playa Guiones spotting newly hatched turtles making their journey to the ocean. Don your swimsuit many establishments have pools for your enjoyment while you wait to eat. Enter the town at the parking lot off the beach and enjoy a freshly cut coconut water from the vendor on the corner.
If you are adventurous Miss Sky Canopy and River SUP and Kayaking will not disappoint. A bird enthusiasts’ haven you are guaranteed encounter of the howler monkeys. When the tide is out many tidal pools exist to relax tired legs after a hike or yoga. Make a reservation, for the sunset at La Luna and try the bread appetizer. Want to eat like a local? Look for a “soda” the typical Costa Rican restaurant. Tips are unnecessary as restaurants include service charges. The reverse is true for tour guides, maids and drivers tipping here is quite common.
With the vastness of nature comes an assortment of cautions at this destination. Stop and view the crocodiles at the Tarcoles River from the bridge, their powerful bodies bathing in the banks. Many poisonous species exist in Costa Rica and the general practice of being aware is prudent. I recommend you to shake out your shoes and items before putting them on.
The Costa Rican way is relaxed. I remember this as I exit the checkout line and attend to the departure tax for my group. Close your eyes, pick a point, pack your bags. You were meant to explore and Costa Rica checks many boxes off the proverbial destination bucket list. I love “Firsts” your heart rate increases in anticipation of the unknown. Your senses responding to all the new flavors and sights. Costa Rica awaits.