Travel: Adventurous Costa Rica

2022 marks the end my staycation after two years of pandemic. Costa Rica has been one of the first countries to open up again so I took my first big trip outside Europe in years. And what a trip that was. Costa Rica is a little country in Central America that contains a world’s worth of landscapes, adventures and exotic wildlife of all kinds. After spending two weeks travelling around the country by public transport and taxis, I have concluded that it’s never enough time to experience everything Costa Rica has to offer. It’s also the place I ticked lots of boxes in my bucket list of ‘Things to do before I die’.

Pura Vida

Get used to greet everyone with ‘Pura Vida’ instead of hallo. It literally means ‘Pure Life’ and represents the Tico mantra for a life lived with joy, authenticity and pride.

Relaxing on the beach watching the most spectacular sunsets is one of those Pura Vida moments. In Santa Teresa Beach, be prepared to share that moment with lots of surfers.

 

Waterfalls

One of the things in my bucket list was swimming under a waterfall. In Costa Rica there are some of the most spectacular and swimmable waterfall spots in the world.

Under the waterfall wrapped in water I closed my eyes to feel in tune with my surrounding in front of the powerful force of nature. Intense. Magical. Memorable.

 

Whale Watching

I headed to Uvita in the in Marino Ballena National Park for the breath-taking whale watching experience with whales and dolphins swimming before your very own eyes. Humpback whales pass by through Costa Rica officially between December and March and July to December. Uvita, a small beach town in the South Pacific coast is the only place that has a great abundance of humpback whales during both times of the year. Costa Rica has the longest humpback whale season in the world!

It’s common to see mum and baby whales together as this is the time where mothers nurse their young and teach them how to breach, dive and feed. A few days before I arrived, my friends saw the babies splashing their fins around and eagerly jumping out to practice. I saw a group of males showing their fins. During the tour lots of dolphins were swimming next to our boats. It was very emotional. I shed a few tears of joy. I love the fact that Costa Rica doesn’t allow swimming with dolphins or whales. The tour costs between $45 and $75 USD and lasts 5 hours. Be prepared to negotiate the best rate. The experience is priceless, though.

 

Whale’s Tail

Uvita is a quieter off the beaten path beach town, ideal for long walks on the uncrowded and huge beach. Situated on the Southern Pacific coast, Uvita borders the Marino Ballena National Park. The beautiful golden sands and swaying palm trees feature tropical rain forest right up to the sand. On the same whale watching tour, we made a stop at the Cano Island for snorkelling.

I took a long walk to The Whale’s Tail, which is a naturally formed sand and rock spit extending over a mile and a half of the Uvita beach. During low tide, I managed to walk out on the actual strip that from above looks like a Whale’s Tail.

 

Hiking in the jungle

I am generally an urban chick and hiking in the jungle was in my bucket list because it makes me get out of my comfort zone. Knowing that my surrounding is wild and dangerous is worrying for me, so learning how to feel calm and happy in the forest was a great experience. My tour guide Wilson was so clever and brave. A guy who faced jaguars and snakes all by himself, whose ‘office’ was the jungle. I found him reassuring. He showed me a super colourful viper which was so well hidden during the hike and despite my snake phobia I managed to look at it without panicking. 

My favourite hike was in La Fortuna which offers lots of activities, for the total enjoyment of the family. Around the Arenal Volcano, there are natural attractions, such as waterfalls, hot springs, birdwatching, tropical flowers and wildlife. 

During my three hours hike uphill deep in the forest I loved contemplating the majestic Arenal Volcano from everywhere in the trails. The hike through the rainforest took us to a solidified lava flow, product of the last big volcano eruption in 1968.
Bring your sturdy comfy hiking shoes and  hiking trousers! 

 

Hot springs

You don’t need to spend a huge chunk of money to enjoy the hot springs in Arenal La Fortuna. The free ones were my favourites, naturally warm from volcanic activity. On Google Maps, it is called “Free Natural Hot Springs River”. You’ll see mostly locals here and it gets super crowded on weekends so make sure to go early so you can grab a spot!

Montezuma and Isla Tortuga

Off the hippy Montezuma beach, Isla Tortuga is one of the best tourist attractions in Costa Rica for its incredible landscapes, perfect sand, crystal clear waters, large palm trees, and wildlife. As the island, you need to go there by an organised boat tour. At weekends it’s full of tourists so it’s best to avoid that time. This island has a paradise under the sea. It is one of the best places to snorkel where you can see reef sharks, manta rays, turtles, a variety of fish, and coral species.

My tour guide William took me to snorkel above a sharks’ cave, dived down and took great footage of the sharks while I was swimming above. Scary but amazing how these small sharks seem harmless.

 

Hanging bridges and ziplining

A great way to explore Costa Rica’s many diverse ecosystems is by walking along hanging bridges through the treetop canopy. The amazing view paired with the adventure of crossing a swaying suspension bridge was on my bucket list.

I experienced the Indiana Jones run on hanging bridges at the Mistico Hanging Bridges Park in La Fortuna overlooking Arenal Volcano. The main trail winds through the hillside jungle over six long suspension bridges. Here you can walk through the mossy canopy and experience some fantastic views. Sometimes the fog even covers part of the bridges, giving you the feeling of walking through the clouds.

My friends went on the adrenalin-fuelled Superman ziplining activity in Monteverde, another great destination to experience hanging bridges. In Monteverde, the cool climate and constant wind and mist create a unique cloud forest habitat.

 

Experience the Wildlife at Manuel Antonio National Park and Beaches

Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most beautiful and bio-diverse areas in the world. Although it is the country’s smallest national park, the stunning beauty and diversity of wildlife is unequalled. Manuel Antonio contains a charming combination of the rain forest, beaches, and coral reefs. These beaches are the most beautiful in the country, lined with lush forest, and the snorkelling is excellent, too. In the forest I saw sloths, iguanas (also on the beach), the rare and adorable squirrel monkeys, white-faced monkeys, capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, a type of racoon called coati, spiders that make a golden-web and lots of colourful birds (like the hummingbird). Costa Rica’s leafy canopies are always bright with colourful creatures like the toucan!

The park’s two most popular beaches, Playa Espadilla Sur and Playa Manuel Antonio are picturesque suitable for long walks on white sand. Standing with your feet dug into the sand and watching the wave crash against the rocks on either side of the lagoon, it is easy to believe that you are a thousand miles from anywhere.

 

Vibrant colours everywhere

These gorgeous pair of red, luscious lips belong to a plant known as Psychotria elata, a tropical tree found in the rain forest of Costa Rica. I feel so lucky to have seen it! 

Affectionately, Psychotria elata is called Hooker’s Lips or the Hot Lips Plants. The plant has apparently evolved into its current shape to attract pollinators including hummingbirds and butterflies. The bracts are only kissable for a short while, before they spread open to reveal the plant’s flowers.

When in Monteverde, after a long hike in the woods I arrived outside the reserve gates to the Café Colibrí. This stop might actually be – with the whale watching experience – the highlight of my holiday. The ‘Hummingbird Cafe’ is a top-notch spot to refuel with the most delicious cold chocolate while watching the thousands of hummingbirds in the garden that arrive to feed on syrup. Bird watching might become my new hobby even in London.

 

Food and drinks

Costa Rican cocktails are second to none. I had delicious Piña Coladas every day, Mai Thai and Monkey Business (a very sweet and Baileys-based cocktail).  

Costa Rican food is tasty but not spicy. The national dish is Gallo Pinto including black beans, rice with onions and cilantro. This meal is traditionally eaten at breakfast, with fried eggs or scrambled eggs, tortillas and sour cream. A Casado is a bowl of rice, red beans or black, and a choice of meat, chicken or fish and vegetables or salad. 

With such a dizzying array of experiences and close encounters with wildlife, waves, ziplines, volcanos, the biggest challenge in Costa Rica is choosing where to go first.

 

I already want to go back to explore the Caribbean side and experience the famous beach parties. Hasta la vista! Pura Vida!

 

 

Essential Costa Rica Travelling Tips

 

Flight

My British Airways flight booked a month before departing cost £600. The ticket is flexible but if booked earlier can be as low as £400.

 

Travel as light as possible

Backpacks are the ideal luggage to travel around Costa Rica. Try to pack only what is indispensable and clothes that are easy to wash and dry. Pack your regular medication, paracetamol plus diarrheic remedies and probiotics.

 

Money

Try to use the local currency, the Colón, as much as possible to avoid being ripped off with varying exchange rates. The Costa Rican money is so colourful full of animals portrayed. US$ dollars and major credit cards are widely accepted, though.

Transport

Driving a car in Costa Rica gives you the freedom to navigate the beautiful landscape at your leisure. But it is very expensive and the roads are not safe. Public transport is not too reliable but if you are patient, you’ll get everywhere at a fraction of the price.

 

Accommodation

I used Booking.com and Airbnb to book hotels or rooms as I went along. This gave me the flexibility to prolong my stay if I particularly enjoyed a location.

 

Language

Many Costa Ricans speak English quite well, but remember the native tongue is Spanish. I suggest brushing up on your Español before departure or you may miss out on local connections.

 

Tourist office

www.visitcostarica.com has lots of useful information about destinations and local event

 

Read and download this feature in the London Mums magazine Spring 2022 issue here.

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