Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Costa Rica

On Presidents day weekend in 2011, Christian and I left for Costa Rica. We both had never been there but had heard many great things about this country. The flight was pretty short, which was nice. We had a layover in Atlanta & then on to Costa Rica. Christian got upgraded to first class, so being the wonderful husband that he is, he made me take his seat. In less than three hours, we landed in San Jose, Costa Rica. We had rented a car through Hertz so we found the booth at the airport & the shuttle took us to our car. We had asked for a SUV/crossover because we had heard the roads weren't too great there. We had heard they were a little bumpy so we needed something potential for close to off-roading. They gave us a little Japanese car called a BeGo, pretty much like a Honda Rav4 or something. The thing that cracked us up was the spare wheel was locked & then there was a lock through the shifter in the car. The people at the Hertz place said that they put them on all cars but at no time during the entire trip did we feel unsafe or have any problems for thieves. You are going to have that anywhere you go but because they do have so many tourist that they are just being overcautious.
We didn't arrive until night time so we took the map they gave us and found our way to the Holiday Inn where we were staying for the night. There really is not much in San Jose other than the airport. It's in the middle of the county so no ocean & it was very dry, almost like Arizona.

That night we walked across the street to a casino/bar to grab some dinner since we got in so late. It was a Friday night so it was pretty busy. There were so many people there having a blast; dancing, drinking, eating, everything. Boy these guys could dance too, I'd only wish I could dance that good. We had a couple beers & ordered some appetizers. The one thing they do a lot with bottled beer there is wrap a napkin around the bottle because it sweats so much from the humidity, I had never seen that before. The seviche was the best seviche I ever had. This pretty much became my meal of choice in Costa Rica because it was delicious every single time I had it! Probably the most common meal there was chicken & beans. The food there was always delicious & the seafood was so fresh & yummy.

The next morning we got up & headed towards the first city we were going to called Puerto Viejo. The worst part was just getting out of San Jose, lol. We had a map with street signs but the only thing was, there were not any street signs! So we had to use points on the map & try to count out the number of streets. Needless to say, it took us a little bit & a few detours to get out of San Jose & on our way.

Once we got out of town & through a little construction, we were on our way. With a couple stops I believe it took us about 3 1/2 -4 hours to get to Puerto Viejo. Once we got a little bit out of town, it was not really a freeway anymore but more just a road. It was beautiful driving through the mountains & enjoying the scenery. You are literally driving through the rain forest, it was amazing. A supermarket chain that you will see is one called the Maxi Bodega. We stopped there & stocked up on water, beer (we drank mostly Imeperial or Pilsen, both the local beers) & some snacks. We stopped at one of those in the mountains & continued on our drive. Also, as you get closer to towns, there are always little restaurants along the road (they call them sodas) that you can stop at & grab a bite to eat. We stopped at one when we were just outside of Limon, which is a Cruise Ship port. Pretty much any of these sodas that you go to are gonna be good. They are usually locally owned with local foods.
You have never seen a street covered in potholes until you have driven in Costa Rica. We had heard that it was bad near Manuel Antonio (the 2nd place we were going to) but most tourists don't come to Puerto Viejo. Once you get closer to the city, the pot holes seem to get a little worse. You literally are swerving across the whole entire road to avoid them. I believe because they get so much rain down there, if they repaired them, it simply would not be worth it because they'll just come back again. So give yourself a little more time if you are driving & be prepared for a little bit of a bumpy ride ;) They weren't scary of course just more funny than anything.

That afternoon we arrived to the town of Puerto Viejo & found where we were staying called The Shawandha Lodge. This place was beyond awesome! Everyone gets their own open air bungalow back in the jungle with no phone or TV, perfect. You are literally staying in the jungle. It was so peaceful & beautiful there.
After we got settled in, we threw our swimsuits on & walked down to check out the beach, which was just across the street. Puerto Viejo is on the Caribbean side so it reminded us a lot of being on Jamaica or the Virgin Islands. The water was very blue with lots of palm trees & beautiful sunsets. There was always a lot of reggae playing & everyone there seemed to have that nice, down to earth vibe.

The cool thing about this city was that it was not very touristy. There were a lot of locals that only spoke Spanish, so thank goodness we remembered some from school ;) This town was very chill & everyone was very nice. We hung out on the beach for a while & then drove into town (it was only about a 5 minute drive or so). We walked around on the beach a little more & in town & found a place called the Beach Hut. It was a cool little place on right on the beach & the water & they had fantastic food.
That night we went to Point Uva to watch the sun set, a lot of the locals had recommended it. The ground was a little damp so I knew it would be a little muddy. It was a little hike up the hill & out to the point but it was a great view of the beach & the sunset. On our way back down I had a little mishap & slipped in the mud. Luckily only my feet got covered.
The next morning we were woken up by this horrific sound at about 6AM. It sounded like the loudest, scariest gorilla or something. To be honest, I was quite scared since we didn't know what it was, the jungle was complete silence but this noise. When we went to breakfast in the restaurant provided by Shawandha, we asked them about the noise. Apparently they were howler monkeys; which turned out to be these little cute things, just have a very loud call apparently. The whole rest of the trip the same thing happened almost every day but we were able to just go back to sleep knowing what it was the next time ;) We finished our breakfast & headed to the beach. It was pretty hot there but otherwise, perfect weather. We just hung out & went swimming, a nice, relaxing day.
The next day we got up & went to the Jaguar Rescue Center, this was a pretty cool place. They rescue animals, rehabilitate them & then release them back into the wild. You pay a donation fee & walk around with a group of about ten people. They had everything there from snakes to toucans to sloths (two and three toed) & monkeys and even large cats called Margay. It was really neat to see the people that work there interact with them. You could go up & pet/hold the sloths & monkeys & they were such loving creatures. The cutest thing is one of the sloths loved his teddy bear so he was just chillin on it. This was really the only place where we saw any wildlife while in Puerto Viejo. We also saw this crazy sharp tree, it had sharp thorns coming out of it.
This spider was not being rescued, he was just hanging out there. This was probably the most common spider was saw there but it was always in the jungle. Never really close to people or buildings, which was fine with me!
After visiting with all of the animals, we went to the beach to hang out and watch the surfers. Puerto Viejo has some great waves so it is a big surfing town. These guys were pretty good, we even saw someone doing a handstand on his board. On our last night, we had a lovely dinner at the lodge.

Unfortunately I can not remember the names of the places that we ate while visiting Puerto Viejo. We always went to little soda during the day & then found places at night by just randomly walking around town. In the heart of Puerto Viejo, there was a very large open aired bar that we hung out at a couple times. It seemed to be the busiest place there, they had a live band every time we were there. It was a fun place to hang out at. I can pretty much say that any place that we found there had wonderful meals. Nothing was Americanized there & you got the real, authentic foods.
Our last day we got up early & headed towards the other side of the country to Manuel Antonio. Unfortunately there was not an easy way to get there so we had to go the opposite way & go back through San Jose. On the map it showed a road that looked like it would have cut straight across the country but we were told by locals that they didn't know if it actually existed the whole way (like it could just end, roads could have been washed away, etc) so we stuck with the way were knew we could get there.

Again, it was a beautiful drive through the mountains. The map looked like we could just take the freeway straight from San Jose to Manuel. After we were outside of San Jose, we almost had a Chevy Chase vacation moment. We were flying down the freeway & all of a sudden large road closed signs were in front of us! We came to a complete stop thankfully before running into the signs & got off at the exit. I'm assuming we missed some signs along the way ;) We found the detour but this took you higher up in the mountains on thin windy roads, boy that was fun. It was cool though because you went through all of the little mountain towns & we saw some beautiful views.
When we were a couple hours away from Manuel, you are driving through a banana plantation. There were banana trees every where on the side of the road & I mean every where! It's kinda funny because there were Dole & Chiquita trucks taking them away so guess they really aren't that different, huh? When we were about an hour away, we stopped in a little town called Jaco at the Tacobar to get some fish tacos. There were signs along the way & fish tacos sounded really good, they hit the spot. This town is known for it's surfing as well. We stopped & grabbed a bite & continued towards Manuel. Below is a picture of Jaco across from the bay.
After about eight hours in the car we made it to our next hotel called La Mariposa, this place was awesome! We waited kinda late to book our room so the lower grade rooms were not available but it worked out perfectly. Even though our room was a little pricey, it was amazing! It was pretty big with large windows all across two of the walls since we were on the corner. We had a beautiful view. You look straight out or to the left off our balcony, you see jungle. You look straight out or just a little to the right & it's a perfect ocean view. In the pics below, the numb of land on the right is the national park.

The funniest view we got was when you look down off of the balcony. Obviously the houses below us had been there before the hotel was built. When you looked straight down, you saw a skylight in the house below. The kicker was, it was a skylight in their bathroom! Obviously these people did not care, lol. It took us a minute to figure out what we were looking at through the skylight but the people that lived there sat on the toilet & took a shower & obviously didn't care. You'd think they'd at least get some blinds for night time of something. Needless to say, we did not look down the rest of the trip!

Manuel Antonio is where most tourist vacation when they come to Costa Rica. It is on the Pacific side, the the water is a little deeper blue than the Caribbean but it was just as warm on this side. It was a little touristy & pretty much no one even tried to speak Spanish to us. That is kinda part of the experience for us when we travel to other countries, figuring out the language & trying to communicate when you have absolutely no clue what the other person is saying to you. A lot of the waiters, etc didn't even say holla, just hello. The thing that makes Manuel Antonio so cool is they have the National Park & such beautiful scenery. The 2nd & 3rd pictures below are where our room was (not in the main part of the hotel).
We checked into our room & then wandered around the grounds to see everything that was there. We headed out to one of the balconies by the pool just in time to enjoy the sunset with a couple of beers. That night we went to a restaurant right up the street & I of course had seviche.
We had heard a lot about the national park so we decided to go there the next day. He hoped in the car & found parking near the park. If you don't have a car, there is a bus that takes you to the bottom of the mountain or you can walk (but the walk back up is not as easy as the way down). You pay $3 a person, which gives you access to the entire park all day long. The park was probably our favorite place to go there (probably why we ended up going there everyday but one day the entire time).

There are only so many people aloud in the park at a time so you might have to wait to go in, we never waited more than ten minutes. One thing you can do is get a tour guide that will point out various animals along the way & look through their telescope. We, along with a lot of others just walked on our own & stopped if we saw a group of people looking at something. Along the path to the beach we saw a bunch of sloths & monkeys. It was really neat to see the out in the wild, yet be so close. In Puerto Viejo, really the only place that we saw them was at the rescue center, here they were just out in the open instead. Walking down the path was extremely hot. We were there in February, I can't even imagine how hot their summers as there. The humidity from the jungle just put off so much heat.
When you come to the end of the path, it opens up to the ocean. The park is pretty much just a long piece of land that has the ocean on both sides with beaches. We decided to go to the further side first. As we were walking along the path, all of a sudden these raccoon looking things called coati, bolted across the path in front of us with monkeys chasing them. It was like being in a wile coyote cartoon or something. It looked like they were chasing them over food. Soon the monkeys came back & were enjoying the water fountain. They were so freaking adorable. They were smart too, obviously it's hot out & they were cooling off & drinking the water.
After watching the monkeys for a bit, we walked over to the beach. It was beautiful & the water was perfect. It was sandy in the water (no rocks or anything) & we just hung out there all day. It was pretty much too hot to lay out. We would lay there for like two minutes & then get in the water. So we eventually just moved our stuff under trees for some shade.
While laying in some shade we noticed a little commotion, it was some people looking at some monkeys in the trees behind us. These guys are smart, they know there are lots of people there with food (and I'm sure they get fed all of the time) & they had taken a half of a watermelon from someone. They had it laying next to them under the tree & they just came up & took it. We even saw one monkey unzip someones back pack & take off with a can of pringles. It was hilarious! They have park rangers around that try to get the food back sometimes because they don't want them relying on humans for their food supply.
We later saw another one of the coatis. Their body looks the same, it's face is just just come to more of a point than a raccoon. We later walked over to the other side of the beach & hung out there as well. After being at the beach the entire day, we walked back to our car. There is a path along the beach that leads you out (or you can go back the way you came but most go out the beach path). When you exit the park it brings you out onto the public beach. Neither beaches were ever crowded at all.
That night we had dinner at Cafe Milagro. This place was great. We showed up kinda late, so there weren't a lot of people there. The seafood was awesome as usual. Also, had great service there.
The next morning we got up & had breakfast at the hotel again. The breakfast buffet every morning was delicious. They had lots to choose from too, including an omelet station. The view was perfect. It was so amazing to be waking up, sipping your coffee & eating breakfast while overlooking the ocean & the jungle. Wish I could have breakfast like that every morning ;)
We went to the national park that day again. This time, we started to hang out on the other (northern) side. This was the side you kinda walk into once you come down the path, so there were a little more people on this side but definitely not even close to being crowded. After hanging out at the beach, we got a late lunch at a place called El Avion. This place was built around & partially inside an airplane that had crashed back in 1980's & was transported there. It's owned by the people who own Costa Verde too, which is another popular resort in Manuel. The place was cool, the food was OK. It defiantly wasn't bad, just not like the other food we had been eating along the trip. It was probably more of a tourist attraction than anything, they even charged our credit card in dollars instead of colons. After we were done eating, we went to go check out the airplane, it was pretty cool to see that though.
That night we made it back in time to watch the sunset at the hotel. We hopped in the infinity pool & watched from there. The sunsets in Costa Rica were by far in the top three places I've seen then from, they were absolutely beautiful.
That night we went to La Cabana del Chef. This place was two buildings away & we had heard from the hotel staff that this was the place to eat. The chef was from France & used to be the chef at out hotel until he opened his restaurant. The food was fanominal! They had a guy playing a guitar & singing & the staff was great. We had seviche for appetizers & then Christian had the sea bass. I had this four fish dinner, it was four different fish, cooked four different ways, it was so good. This was probably one of the best places that we ate at in Costa Rica. The ambiance, the food, the music, everything was fantastic.
The next morning we got up & went to the local supermarket at the top of the hill called Super Joseth. We stocked up on water, booze & hot sauce. It was fun just wandering around in there too, just checking out everything that they carried. Christian always loves finding the local hot sauce & we love drinking the local beer(s). That day we decided to go to the public beach since hadn't hung out there yet. We decided to walk all of the way to the bottom to the beach. It was a long walk even on the way down, so you can imagine how the walk back up was. We hung out where the path came down & met the beach for a while, there was practically no one there because it was close to the end & not as close to the park.

After a while, we decided to move a little further down the beach. It was pretty hot out again so we found a place that rented umbrellas & chairs. We've never rented those before but it was so hot & there wasn't any shade anywhere, it seemed like a good idea. After hanging out on the beach all day, we headed back to the hotel to watch the sunset from the pool again. The sunset was just as beautiful as the night before.

The next day we went to the national park one more time. This time, instead of hitting the beach right away, we went along a hiking path that went out to the edge of the point. It had some really great views & was pretty cool. We saw a lot of lizards & some more coati & some agoutis. I loved this beach.
That night we went back to watch the sunset one more time. We scored some chairs & let it all soak in. There are two levels of decks with two pools that you can watch it from. If you want a lounge chair by the lower pool, you need to show up a little before sunset starts.
That night we had dinner at Barba Roja, it was just a block away from out hotel. We had taken a nap & woke up kinda late so some places had already closed for the night. The food here was very good as well. Had great seafood & great service.

The next morning we got up & hung out at the three pools the hotel had because we had to leave in the afternoon to head back to San Jose for our flight the next morning. We checked out, threw our luggage in the car & headed to the hotel's pool. It was kinda nice because there weren't that many people at the pool since most go to the beach or do excursions during the day. While we were there, there were a bunch of squirrel monkeys that came into the trees right above the pool. They were the cutest little things. We had seen them a couple times leaping/flying from tree to tree in the distance but it was pretty cool to see them so close.
About three o'clock, we left to go back to San Jose. The freeway was still closed on the way back so we had to take the mountain roads again but that was part of the fun. Eventually we made it back to San Jose & dropped of the rental car. The Hertz guys were awesome. One of them was nice enough to drive us to our hotel instead of us having to get a cab. We were staying at the Marriott in San Jose. This was pretty cool because it is an old plantation. The grounds were beautiful & this place was huge. We had dinner there since we didn't get to San Jose until after dark, it was pretty good.
We got up the next morning to fly home & unfortunately I got bumped off of our flight. We had purchased our flights with points & since I don't have the airline status like my husband does & hadn't really paid for my flight since we used points, I was one of the lucky few to get bumped. Obviously Christian was not gonna leave me in another country, so did not take that flight either. Therefore, we got lots of delta dollars & cash so that pretty much made it worth it in the end. The next flight wasn't for another six hours so we had nothing to do but hang out in the terminal. Their skyclub did not take Delta, nor did they have a bar there, so it was pretty boring but we eventually made it home.

Overall, our trip to Costa Rica was so amazing & fun! I loved that we did two different cities on two opposite sides of the country. People have asked me which place that I liked better & it's really hard to decide. Puerto Viejo was a fun & relaxing place on the Caribbean that wasn't very touristy. Then you have Manuel Antonio that is just beautiful, up in the mountain & has the cool wildlife around you on the pacific side. The National Park is one of the coolest places I've ever been. Keep in mind if you are traveling there if it's the rainy season (February is not) & the temperature. That is why we chose to go in February; it only rained twice, which was two nights for about 15 minutes each, that's it. Also, it's freezing cold in the US in February but it is very hot in Costa Rica. I'm assuming if you go in the Spring or Summer, it's a lot hotter. This is such a beautiful & amazing country & not that hard or far to get to, I would highly recommend vacationing at Costa Rica. We can't wait to go back!

1 comment:

  1. enjoyed reading about your adventures!! looks like an amazing place to visit.