Oct 25, 2010

COSTA RICA Travel Blog

This has to have been my wildest trip yet! OMG! It was sooo unbelievably fun & at the same time super tiring. Here's how it began; my siblings & I all had about 2 weeks of vacation left before going back to school, work, life (in general), etc. We wanted to go somewhere but couldn't decide where! That was when our crazy neighbor, Julio- just randomly said "Hey, my sister went to Costa Rica & she said it was beautiful, we should go there!"... I know what your thinking, "Wth? Really... that easy, huh? Let's just stop what we're doing & take a trip down to Costa Rica?!" Well, that's EXACTLY what we did! We had to tour, no guide, no nothing! We planned it all in a weekend’s time! Here you will find a short summary of places I visited on our trip, some travel tips, along with some of my own suggestions that I wish someone would have told me before my voyage. *Please note all prices are in Colones (CRC). At the time of my visit, $1 US= 710 CRC. This exchange rate changes daily. Make sure and check out the XE Universal Currency converter for current actual amount.

San Jose, CR
We flew into San Jose, Costa Rica on TACA Airlines. Our round-trip ticket was VERY reasonable and the airline itself is clean, safe and the attendants are very friendly. For some reason, Costa Rica was where I was given the most hassle in regards to immigration. Probably because we didn't have an "actual reason" for wanting to visit the country, besides just to visit. But you'd think the immigration officers would be used to tourists on vacation. I mean, that is the MAIN source of the country's income. idk. Maybe the immigration officer was just having a rough day. Any who- San Jose in general is just like any other industrial city; buildings, workers, convenience stores at every corner (Mexico style), & LOTS of GREEN! We were planning on spending a night in SJ before heading down to Manuel Antonio, which is 4 hours south of SJ & right next to the jungle (literally), but we decided it was best to get going, especially since we were taking a public bus.

 4 words: Coca-cola bus terminal… It’s SUPER packed & awfully scary, but well worth it. Traveling by bus is the most practical and inexpensive way to travel in Costa Rica. When we asked a taxi man how much he's charge to drive us down to Manuel Antonio, his rate was $60/per person. When we headed down to the bus terminal & bought our tickets (CASH ONLY) we paid about 2600 CRC/per person (do the math= $4/per person)... hmmm... $60 or $4... I'll take the bus in Costa Rica any day, thank you very much. We were there about an hour before our bus took off, & I would recommend getting there early to reserve a ticket, the bus does fill up! While in the rain forest- you pretty much travel by horse.

*Quick note on safety- Be aware that the Coca Cola bus terminal is located in the red light district in San Jose. What this means is that this place is known for pick pocketing and theft. Since the terminal is packed w/tourists, sadly they are the ones that are often affected. But this shouldn't be a reason to keep you away. We were there for a pretty long time before boarding; we took turns watching our luggage while some of us went out for food, snacks or bathroom breaks. Everything turned out fine, you really shouldn't have a problem. Just keep an eye on your belongings at all times and DON'T let anyone handle your luggage! Well, beside the bus man. Our friend Marina was hesitant about giving her bag to the bus driver so he could toss it down in cargo & it almost didn't get loaded. Also, make sure the driver gives you a ticket for your bag as soon as it’s loaded! You will not get your bag back unless you have that ticket that proves it belongs to you.

Manuel Antonio
 Upon arriving in MA, we had no clue where we were going to stay. As previously stated, we didn't have much time to plan this trip, thus we didn't make any hotel reservations. During the trip down to MA, I mentioned to our Bus driver that we didn't have anywhere to stay & if he could recommend some nice hotels in the area. Although we where worried he would try & take us to his brothers/cousins/aunts, crappy hotel, he actually ended up dropping us off right in front of Hotel Manuel Antonio (this hotel doesn't have a website, but I did grab there business card. 
This is there number (506) 2777-1351). I seriously loved this hotel, its located right at the entrance to Manuel Antonio National Park, & it is literally right across the street from the beach. I honestly believe we where extremely lucky to have gotten an honest bus driver that didn't try to rip off by taking us to some high paying fancy hotel so he could get commission. We ended up grabbing 2 rooms (one for girls, one for boys) each with double beds, & full amenities (private bathroom, AC, cable, balcony). We bargained our rate down to $60/night- compared to other hotels in the area, this is a great price! That's something new I learned about not reserving online, you can bargain your rate down once your there :)

Manuel Antonio National Park
 We woke up the next day refreshed & ready for our trip to the National Park, which was conveniently located next door to our hotel. The entrance fee is $10/person, although once we were inside it was easy to see that one could have easily "snuck in" and no one would have noticed or said anything (Gosh, I’m such a bad influence). The park itself is amazing! This is one of the most beautiful and bio-diverse National parks in the world! The forest is home for sloths, iguanas, the rare squirrel monkeys and millions of colorful little crabs. There's a trail that winds around Punta Cathedral, which we hear offers some spectacular views, but we didn't get to hike it. We where actually unprepared, we visited the park in shorts, bathing suits & sandals. During our visit we where told we were just an hour shy of witnessing an alligator taking a bite of a man. After hearing this we were a bit hesitant about going in the water, but overall it wasn't enough to scare us. Plus, the water is super warm & tempting. 

You just can't resist getting in after you've dug your feet in the sand. The best part about Manuel Antonio was the rain forest. The forest sat along the coast, where lush trees gave way to a beach covered with black igneous rocks and moody iguanas. There was a massive rock formation sitting in the shallow end of the ocean. Each time the waves crashed, a huge spray of water filled up a section of the rocks that made it look like a pool, and when the waves pulled back, the pool emptied. It was like God had built a natural swimming pool right into the rocks. Oh & the monkeys! So adorable :) The monkeys happily posed for photos. Manuel Antonio's golden rule: Don't feed the monkeys. I must confess the charming creatures got the best of us and we disobeyed. My brother fed them a piece of a granola bar & they happily followed him through the rest of our visit, but only to be disappointed. After we read a big large sign that said feeding the monkeys could be considered a crime, which was enough motivation to not do it again. Overall this place is beautifully magical. Although it is filled w/tourists, it’s a MUST SEE on every traveler’s trip to Costa Rica.

Arenal Volcano (National Park)
Our next stop on our adventure was Arenal. After Manuel Antonio we took the bus back to the Coca Cola bus terminal. Upon arriving, we were bombarded w/taxi drivers offering us their services. We knew we wanted to head up to Arenal Volcano next but we weren't sure HOW we were going to get there. When we asked when the next bus to Arenal departed, we were told that there was no more departures for that day, we'd have to wait till the next morning. Since we weren't planning on staying overnight & paying a hotel in San Jose, we decided it'd be cheaper (not to mention quicker) to take a cab up to the national park. Upon arriving in Arenal National Park, we decided to book a night at the Hotel Vista del Cerro, which was extremely nice and met our every need. Plus, they had free Internet & phone calls to US via satellite phone. The hotel itself is located in La Fortuna, which is the gateway to Lake Arenal as well as Volcano Arenal NP. Volcano Arenal is one of the most active volcanos in the whole Western Hemisphere. Although this place is packed w/tourists (like every other place we visited), it really is a beautiful sight! If you’re lucky, you may be able to witness an eruption at night. Our first night was very misty and cloudy but the second night we had such a great & clear view, even straight from our hotel room. 
During our stay in La Fortuna, we picked up a canopy special that our hotel was offering. Zip-lining through the Costa Rican Jungle was so much fun, but sooo HUMID! Basically, you go flying through the air hooked up to a cable above the trees in the rain forest. One hand holds on the harness and the other has a special glove and you keep it on the cable behind your head to use as a break. You don't want to let go as you'll go spinning around and then you have no way to slow down when you arrive at the platform. It's definitely a rush. There were 10 platforms, the longest one was over 1 km and took over a minute. That one was the scariest as you need to go fast enough to make it to the other side. There was one line past a waterfall and that was really pretty. We took the tractor to a recreated Maleku tribe setting. They had three tribe members to share their culture and crafts. They greet each other by tapping each others right shoulder twice and saying the words "kapi, kapi". We greeted each one and then listened to them to talk about their culture. Then our friend Marina bought this really neat Drum (wish I would have got one) that was hand shaped & painted. To end the tour, we each were given a horse to ride back through the rain forest to the entrance. Our next couple of days we spent them walking around the small town of La Fortuna. There are a ton of shops where you can buy really well made & inexpensive souvenirs. This was where I did most of my "end of the trip" shopping.   

Costa Rican Food
If your planning on visiting Manuel Antonio, be prepared to spend $ on your meals. Every single restaurant along the beach strip charges like 20% tourist tax. Its ridiculous. Our first night in town, there we were at the most expensive restaurant in town & on a budget. I didn't let that happen again. Don't get me wrong; the food was delicious (I had octopus for the first time), just way to pricey. During our stay in MA, we usually just grabbed some fruit & goodies at the local market & had lunch at the hotel restaurant. During our quick stop in Quepos, right across the street from the bus station, there's this little Cafe shop- I wish I could remember the name, its DELICIOUS! More than anything its someone’s house open for business but they had the most delicious creamy pineapple juice ever! Plus, their grilled cheese sandwiches were amazing. If you happen to stop in Quepos on your way to MA, make sure you’re on the look out for this Cafe!

Extra Time??: All & all Costa Rica is such a small country that it can easily be traveled through. We were on a time limit; unfortunately we had to get back to the states in time for school, work, life, etc. But there is so much to do & SEE! Costa Rica is a beautiful exotic country that should be taken advantage off! If you’re a nature, beach person- this is the country for you! I say beach person, cause in reality, everywhere you look your bound to see the coast in the distant. I myself am not big on the whole beach aspect. Don’t get me wrong, I dived into the Costa Rican coast the first night we were there, but if I were to visit Costa Rica again & just visit the central part instead of the outer, I’d be okay with that. Well my friends, I hope this blog was helpful in some way, & if you have ANY questions, please don't hesitate to ask :)

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