Recently I had a chance to visit Costa Rica. For those of you who don’t know where it is (like I did a year ago), it is in South America. I would say it is central america reaching out to meet south america. You can almost miss it in Maps between the Mexico at top and Colombia / Brazil below. My trip lasted almost a week and it was a very interesting one indeed. In some ways it was a trip of firsts. It was my first trip to South America. It was my first trip where I wasn’t on a vacation from work. It was my first trip to a volcano. It was my first trip where I drove a car. It was also my first trip where I felt US was cheaper.
I had been meaning to take a vacation since Gayatri had a week off around this time. The idea was to go somewhere where I can use an old Alaska airline credit but still not in USA. We kind of settled down to 2 main choices: Cuba and Costa Rica. Both had their pros / cons but what did it eventually was that Cuba was super booked. It seemed like every hotel was booked due to President Day weekend and flights were crazy expensive. As usual I tried to avoid crowds and ended up booking the tickets to Costa Rica.
Until that moment (and for almost till a month before the vacation) I had no idea of anything we can do there and did not know names of any cities except the airport. I only knew that Costa rica had a lot of rain-forests so it was going to be green and full of bugs 😛 It was only about a month ago that I thought I should book some hotels since it hit me that President Day would be overlapping and all of America flies somewhere during a long weekend.
So we kind of did hotels for two areas: one on the beach for 3 days, one in the greens (almost at the volcano) for 4 days. That was our total preparation before we actually took our flights. We flew into Liberia, which seemed to be the only other major airport outside of San Jose. I felt like we were not ticking a box by not going to San Jose but seriously I didn’t find a good reason to go to San Jose since our flights were from Liberia. So we got there in the evening and tried to lookup a way to get to Playas Del Coco which was our first destination.
Playas Del Coco is a small beach town on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. It is not as beautiful or as popular as some of the other beaches nearby but it was kind of a quiet place and we took an Airbnb that was there. It was about 30 KM from the airport and we couldn’t find a direct bus to go there. It seemed like we had to go to main Liberia town first and then take a bus to Coco and then would have to walk a bit to get to our place. Since we had an overnight flight and were dead tired, we took a taxi. It charged us $40 which is more than Seattle Uber fares! This is when a few things hit us: You can use $$ here to pay for stuff, things are going to be expensive and public transport is okay but not very accessible. If you are going to go to Costa Rica, you don’t need to exchange money if you have $$ and plan to rent a car if you can drive. For me, the gold standard of vacation is Thailand. I compare almost everything to Thailand.
We got to our Airbnb which was a nice cozy place close to the beach. Beaches in costa rica are public and hence there are no private properties on the beach, or you can’t have your backyard open into the beach I believe. Being tired, we just got some water from a store and ate pizza at the only food place nearby. The pizza was pretty decent at this place called La Caveja. The only other interesting fact was: everything was super expensive. Each entrée was atleast $10 and our meal was $25. The water from the store was $2 for a 600 ml bottle, $6 for 6 liters. At least we reset our baseline of what to expect for food in general.
Our place was about 10 minute’s walk (on the beach) away from town. The 2nd day we decided to walk to another quiet lazy place called Occotal Beach. It was almost a 40 minutes walk and it was a quiet beach by all standards. There were less than 20 people in the water on almost a 500m long beach. There was just one restaurant and that was reserved for a large party. Hence you couldn’t get anything to eat that particular day. We just lazed around on the beach for a bit, walked along the rocks and talked of the future.
Most beaches in Costa rica offer diving and snorkeling and other tons of water activities. We had planned to go Scuba but due to timing issues decided to rather go Snorkeling instead. I would definitely recommend Rich Coast diving in Coco for either activity as they were awesome. And this was cheap compared to some of the other things. The dive was about $150 pp while snorkeling was $45. All the equipment etc was included. The snorkeling was really fun as well. The first dive had low visibility but in my second one I got to see tons of fishes. Side note: There can be small jelly fish in the water and they can sting a bit. I got a few myself!
Later we went to Playa Flamingo for sunset and that was really beautiful. Again it was mostly locals on the beach, nothing crowded, no restaurants with tables on the beach etc. Just a long beach, with sand and water and people relaxing.
The other thing I did realize was that Ticos (as costa rican people are referred) are extremely friendly. I never felt out of place there. Every skin color was just the same. There were white ticos and black ticos and every shade in between. Most times they would start talking to you in spanish, not assuming you are foreigner. You have to ask them to talk in English. I think that was really wonderful because some places you feel like really awkward but CR wasn’t one of them!
Our next stop was to go to Arenal Volcano region and I would be writing about that in the next blog.