Costa Rica is paradise on Earth and my friend Nac0le’s favorite destination. I decided to get her to write about her experience visiting Costa Rica so she can help you get the most out of your trip. Here’s what Costa Rica is like from Nacole’s viewpoint:
Every person I met who has visited has spoken of Costa Rica as a paradise untouched. So many people are now settling down here and I can see why. Life is different here. Schools are half-day, families meet up throughout the day to get their kids from school and then they surf, garden, clean, cook, walk (a lot of walking), eat together, and live a simple life without the need for so much because they have so much beauty around them. Even though I don’t speak Spanish, it was their smiles that welcomed us! They looked like they haven’t aged a day in their life.
How to get around in Costa Rica
After exiting the airport – You can always find transportation from the airport, so no worries. Seriously you can get HUSTLED THE MOST in this area – there are taxis everywhere!
Taxis – The red taxis (these taxis are all over Costa Rica) are part of a major chain and hence, they are the highest priced ones. Then there are the local taxis, which are a lot cheaper and drivers are usually very friendly and helpful. Service can be $1-$150 for a ride inside the city (San Jose Airport is about 20 min outside the city capital).
Uber – One of our favs was using Uber. It works well in the major areas! Most all the Costa Rica UBER driver’s cars smell like flowers lol and they always have local candy to give out. Very happy when they receive a tip too!
Public bus – Our MOST top fav means of transport to get around from city to city is the public bus! Yes, it was super cheap, mostly smelled clean. Like it was cleaned very often. The windows were HUGE (people often opt for natural air when not raining and it is quite amazing). Windows were down and the smell of the rainforest and views are OUT OF THIS WORLD. The roads are windy and the drivers drive with precise knowledge of their land! The bus felt safe and the bus rides were relaxing, comfy, fun, and efficient.
Things I loved/noticed about Costa Rica
- Costa Ricans are VERY hard workers, they are jacks of ALL trades. The tour guide that followed us from the bus to the beach told my hubby he was a chiropractor and would crack his back after the guided tour and rock climb he took us on— I fell out! Everyone is well versed with their land and many tour guides are also surfers that teach lessons, instructors of some craft, cook, cleaner, massage therapist, house builder, housekeeper, landscaper, driver, you name IT!!! Lol
- Don’t flush toilet paper. Costa Ricans are all very active in ensuring their land stays pure (hence PURA VIDA is what they live by, which means “Pure Life”).
- You’ll love the SMOOTHIES I had one with almost every meal. They’re only like 3 bucks for all fresh local tropical fruit and no additives needed because their fruit tastes sweet and pure!
- I would stay for a day in San Jose to get to know it, but try to immerse yourself in both the upscale and local living in San Jose. The experience is fun and eye-opening. With that said, don’t stay too long in San Jose as there’s wayyy too much to explore outside the hustle and bustle of the city! There are still areas in the city that are mountainous; in the morning the sounds of loud birds awake you and the smell of fresh rain is relaxing.
- There aren’t many fast-food chains in the city. We saw only two McDonalds the entire time. Local delis, bakeries, meat markets, chocolate, and coffee shops are the way to go!
- The inner-city is a bit dingy and crowded as any big city, it has very run down areas that are dark, dirty and windows and doors have bars on but this is probably where you’ll find the best food!
- In the more upscale areas, you’ll find high-end shops, malls, and amazing mansions overlooking the city on the mountains.
- Make sure to check out the Barolo District. Barolo Escalate and Barolo California (reminds me of a San Francisco/LA Beverley Hills feel). The CEVICHE is unexplainable! This was a great melting pot of expats from Argentina, Venezuela, Switzerland, Ireland, China, the list goes on and on.
- They have a HUGE China Town in the city which is a very fun area to see.
Favorite Costa Rica Destinations
Esterillos Oeste is a small and quaint city home to the very famous mermaid statue in the sea. We stayed at an Airbnb with a treehouse-type feel to it ($40 a night with many extras massage, local resort, and spa nearby). Things aren’t far from one another and there are very few tourists. We hiked and met local expats from US Canada that retired and live off the grid in Esterillos Oeste.
During the rainy season, everyone is up and at 5 am and chilling out by 2/3 PM (drinking, laughing, dancing, and hanging out) till late night hours! Every day!
Surfers from all over the world come to this amazing town to surf and catch some wild waves at high tide. Fishermen go and pull fresh ocean fish up to the edge (we bought fresh fish daily for like 5 bucks for a few pounds). It was filleted and cleaned, and it was great to see how our food is actually cared for.
We also ate nothing but raw fruit from the mangoes for free, papaya trees, and fresh avocados that don’t resemble what we have in the states. Vanilla beans, rice, coffee, fresh bread, and pastries. The ceviche is to die for. We had smoothies and more smoothies.
We were set up nicely with some tours and directions to catch the bus outside the city. The best thing about this town is you can leave your windows open at night and feel a sense of old-fashioned safety and a carefree vibe.
Oh, and did I mention there are miles and miles of virgin black sands where I daily had runs on the beach and talks with myself as to why the hell I live where I live when this place exists?! I seriously saw so many iguanas sunbathing that I lost count. Tree monkeys watched as I collected volcanic rocks.
In the mornings, the sound of monkeys swinging and playing from tin rooftop to tin roof top (it brought tears happy tears many times throughout my day). My soul was full here. I truly felt like I died and went to the real-life Garden of Eden!
Quepos and Jaco were places we frequently visited. Jaco is a party city and rebuilt with a San Diego type of vibe! Lots of modern architecture but again, no chain American food or shopping places – just good smoothies, coconuts, beaches, tour deals, music, dancing, and plenty of more smoothies! If you visit Jaco for a night out, make sure to order a local drink called Guaito (melon mint and rum) YUM!!!!!!
Manual Antonio is right outside of Quepos and is another must-see – You’ll experience my fav beach! Wildlife self-guided walks are the best way to explore the national park. Throughout the trail, you’ll spot monkeys, deer, raccoons, sloths, toucans, sleeping plants, canopies, and waterfalls. You can have lunch by the purest white sugar soft sand beach ever.
I didn’t get to explore the Caribbean side of Costa Rica but I hope to do so the next time we visit. I was told by locals that the culture on the other side of Costa Rica is a totally different vibe and boasts that Caribbean flare.
Your Costa Rica Bucket List
- I loved the zip lining through the canopies while cute sloths and toucans stared at us!
- White water rafting was amazing. The water was so fresh. We went through some great big currents and subtle currents. We also stopped to pick mangoes, play with monkeys, and had lunch under a palm tree.
- Do a catamaran cruise and experience life on private islands where dolphins and whales will come and say hello.
- Flamingo Beach is a must-see. Bring your own snorkel gear if possible so you can explore coves and caves to view sea life without the pressure of time… because in CR there is no time. Literally, everyone is chill and late to everything.
- Mal Pais, St Teresa offers uncrowded beaches, high-end yoga, surfing, and life without the hustle and bustle.
- Cabo Blanco is the oldest National park and a must-see.
- Fresh farmers markets, fish and ceviche, and smoothies.