Known the world over for its Eco-conscious and environmentally sustainable ways of living, in addition to amazing coffee and food, Costa Rica is slowly gaining recognition as a top destination for outdoor activities. With both hills and sea, I have seen people take on activities such as surfing, cycleing, hiking, running, to name a few. This was my first trip to the country. What I saw and experienced is tempting me to come back to and explore more of Costa Rica.
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Why I came to Costa Rica?
I travelled frequently before Covid, both alone for business and with family for vacation. But Covid, being what it was, had other plans for everyone. So to reset and have a summer travel, we had wanted to go somewhere different and international for the past year. I had always wanted to travel to South America, but we wanted a beach friendly destination. After research for a few weeks we decided to go to Costa Rica. It had checked all the boxes we wanted – tropical feel, beach, warm weather, good food, and something different. Also something that caught my interest was about Costa Rica being one of the coveted Blue Zone. More about this below.
Between the Mountain and the Sea
Not unique to Costa Rica, but something to plan for, is the vicinity of land and sea to each other. We decided to fly into the capital San Jose and plan our trip from there. We wanted to see the mountains and beaches, so we split the 8 days we were there between these two areas. We rented a 4×4 to get around. Careful research showed us that getting around was easier with a car and that driving around was not an issue if you slow down and follow local laws. Having driven in Asia we knew how unpredictable the traffic can be, so we we tried to be as prepared as possible. Only thing to remember – if you take a toll road, the payment can be made in dollars, but you will get change back in Colones, the local currency.
Resorts in 2 locations - Mountain and sea.
For anyone planning a first visit, I would suggest splitting your stay between a hill resort and beach resort, if possible. That way you get to experience the variety in climate and scenery of both areas. If you are able to rent a car your you will have a very good chance to see more of the country.
In the hills in Alajuela province, we stayed at the El Silencio Lodge and Spa. I have detailed our experience in this post.
At the beach we stayed at Punta Islita, Autograph Collection resort. Check out the resort and the activities we did here.
Food and Drinks
We had no problem getting vegetarian meals anywhere in Costa Rica. In addition to the resorts, we ate at rest-stops called SODAS along major highways. These were our go-to dishes and drinks
Casado – this is a traditional dish that can be your breakfast, lunch, and/ or dinner. Normally this comes with rice, beans, roasted sweet plantains, cheese (queso fresco or local cheese) and tortilla. Protein is usually chicken or steak, but eggs are also normal, which was my option. You can really fill up on this since the rice and beans tend to get heavier. Some places give salad with it. you can’t go wrong with this dish!
Patacones – these are small fried plantain cakes which is eaten both as a snack and an appetizer. As a snack these are very similar to chips. As an appetizer this comes with beans, salsa, and guacamole, which you can use to top the fried cakes.
Gallo Pinto – this is rice and beans, plain and simple. My son’s go-to when he is really hungry as this fills him up. This sometimes comes with salsa, and mayo.
Most of the places make vegetarian versions of items on their menu. So indulge as much as you want!
The Blue Zone
The Blue Zone is something I had read up a long time ago. Little did I know I would be in one till I was in Costa Rica.
Blue Zones, there are 5 of them across the world, are known for being the place where people tend to live longer than those in non-blue-zone areas. The reasons attributed to this are the diet, social and family connections, less stress, an active lifestyle, and a sense of purpose and reason to get out of bed in the morning. A simple life with less things to worry about seems to be the overall theme.
In Costa Rica, this zone is in the Nicoya Peninsula, where our beach resort was located. When arriving at Punta Islita, and even during the drive there, I felt something different about the area but couldn’t pinpoint what. After a day or so I felt kind of a brake being applied on the pace of life. Everyone seemed slower in what they were doing. Even the resort staff took their time. No one was being purposefully slow or lethargic. And there was no indication of frustration or working under pressure on anyone’s face like I usually find in hotels and resorts. Even their reluctance to develop the area where the hotel was located and getting more money is something to be appreciated. Not everything is about money here. People seem content with what they have and with the pace of life.
Now that I look back after the trip and reminisce, the blue zone concept makes sense. I came back home in a more relaxed state. Too relaxed in fact, that I kind of fell into a coma, sort of, re-living the memories made there.
So the local mantra, PURA VIDA, meaning “Simple Life” or “Pure Life”, is in fact a way of life there, that I was luck to experience first hand!
Our beach resort was located in the Nicoya Peninsula facing the Pacific Ocean. The Gulf of Nicoya separated us from Alajuela province where San Jose is located. To get back to the airport to catch our flight back we had 2 options – to drive around the neck of the Gulf, or take a ferry cutting across the gulf. Not wanting another ride on rough gravel roads and to experience something new, we opted for the ferry. This seemed to be the better choice as this was another amazing way to see the country.
We took the rental on the ferry. With the car our total cost was about $30 on coonatramar.com. It took us about 1.5 hours from Playa Naranjo on the Nicoya Peninsula to Puntarenas on the other side. With an open top and a cloudy sky with some drizzle as we ended the ferry ride, we got lucky with the weather and the ferry ride.
Will I Go Back? Should You Go to Costa Rica?
Will I go there? Yes, most definitely. We missed out on seeing the sloth, the Caribbean coast, the volcanoes, and many other things. The rainy season, with its cloudy overcast skies, prevented us from seeing our Milky Way galaxy against the dark sky. There were too many things to cram within a week. Now that I know what to expect I can plan a more thorough trip next time.
As for whether you should visit, that is like me planning your vacation. Costa Rica is a must-see and must-experience for anyone. It has something to offer everyone. What and how you see if up to your individual interests. But it is a visit you will remember for a long time.