I would like to say I crossed Costa Rica off my bucket list. It has been at the top for a very long time. In reality, I have only scratched the surface of this incredible country. I am yearning to go back even more now that I have been. Part of the problem for us was deciding where to begin. The idea of going to Costa Rica was completely overwhelming for me. There are so many different regions. Nothing is close to each other and there are so many different things I want to do I could not pin down what I wanted to do most. I could not even figure out which airport to fly into!
Let me first explain how we ended up even going in the first place. A friend of mine invited us to fly to Cuba with him and his fiance on their private plane. We were originally scheduled to go in April. It was going to be an epic adventure and I was pumped! Work got in the way for my friend and the trip had to be postponed to October. I just had a gut feeling that the trip just wasn't going to happen. We were very excited for an adventure, a real adventure. We started talking to my Greek friend, whom we had been trying to plan a trip to Greece with, for years. My husband always has a difficult time getting extended days off. He put in for a vacation and once he got approved we tried and tried to plan a trip to Greece. Now mind you, if I go to Greece there are things I am not willing to budge on doing and seeing. The only time he could get off the flights literally tripled in price. His boss would not budge to let him take a day earlier or later to save us literally thousands of dollars. This basically foiled our plans for going to Greece.
I was feeling pretty defeated. I suggested taking the whole family to Universal since my son has recently become obsessed with Harry Potter and has been begging to go. My daughter on the other hand balked at the idea of Florida in July, between the crowds and the heat she knew we would be miserable. Shane was one the one who said, "Screw it, let's go to Costa Rica!" We have been talking about it since before we got married.
You would think that would have had me super excited, it did, but...oh my gosh I wasn't prepared for how overwhelming it was going to be to plan it. Since we had concrete dates that put us in the rainy season. It also narrowed down half the country as the Caribbean coast is impossible to get to in the rainy season. It also prevented travel along much of the southern coast of the Nicoya peninsula. We were lucky in respect as we were traveling in the dry part of the rainy season. I prepared to basically slosh around in the rain and eventually opted to not even bring my full frame Nikon D750 for fear of water damage and just bring my back up Nikon D300s (that I have since sold) my go pro and my iphone 7plus (which I used mainly). I regret immensely not having my D750 but there were a few times the moisture was a serious issue. That was about as much as I could figure out on my own without having a panic attack. I have been dreaming of this trip for so long I didn't want to screw it up. I was worried it was not going to live up to the hype. So many of my friends had been there, lived there or were even from there. It has been calling to me for so long. When you are told over and over again how great a place is and that you would love it there, you have pretty high expectations. I tend to get let down when my expectations are overly overt.
Nick to the rescue! I swear it was like I had my own personal tour guide! My dear friend that I have known since I was a teenager met a girl in Costa Rica, and married her. He was one of those friends that had my expectations through the roof. Many messages and suggestions and tips were given by him. I basically planned my entire vacation around what he has done, recommended, where I should start, what I should not miss. He saved me from having a heart attack and truly gave me a Costa Rican experience that felt like I was more of a local than a tourist. With his help I was able to see and do so many things in 8 days and really make the most of our trip. I also have to give a shout out to my friend Allison who told me about the Bat Jungle. That was amazing and will rightly get it's own post! There were many other tips and suggestions, some we got to do, some we plan to do on our next trip, because there will be a next trip! So after lots of help from friends we decided to fly into San Jose, which was also cheaper than Liberia but also was less driving for the route we opted to do. San Jose is crazy busy! All the things you hear about driving in Costa Rica is true x1000. It is an adventure in it's own right. The traffic circle outside the airport for the main highway intersection with Panamerican Highway is not for the faint of heart. Also, there are not road signs, or road names or addresses! That is scary of you are using a map. Pro tip: We used WAZE on my phone and never lost signal but one time, and that was in a very remote area near Barra Honda National Park. WAZE got us anywhere we needed to go. Once we picked up our 4 wheel drive Daihatsu Terios we hit the road for a 3 hour drive to our first of 3 hotel destinations. Pro Tip : Opt for a Toyota. It is worth the extra money to have some passing power. You will be doing nothing but passing on narrow roads with hills and Costa Rica is where Japanese imports go to die. Not exactly known for their 4wd power. You will thank me later. Anyhow, I kept reading that you did not want to drive anywhere in Costa Rica at night so I was hyper aware of the time and I couldn't really settle down until we got out of traffic in San Jose. They do not observe daylight savings and it gets dark early. I did not want to get caught on these infamous bad roads with no names or signage in a foreign country at night no less, not knowing if I was going to lose GPS signal, even though I read WAZE was going to get me there just fine. I was pretty nervous. When we finally got out of the chaos of the city, I finally got my groove back. It wasn't 3 days before we were driving at night with reckless abandon on pothole ridden, sketchy roads and most fear was gone from driving, though it was still extremely harrowing, it just became part of the adventure. I say this because, I actually never drove. My husband drove the entire time while I navigated since I had been studying Spanish for 6 months. I could tell him where to go and read the local signage. I am so brave.
Our first destination was The Hotel Los Lagos in La Fortuna in the Arenal Volano area. Nick had spent the day here with his family when they were in the area and liked it a lot. I opted to just stay there instead of visiting. That way we could enjoy all the amenities in between exploring the rainforest and area nearby. The hotel had natural hot springs from the volcano on sight. Who doesn't love a hot spring with a swim up bar and water slides overlooking an active volcano? That is exactly where I wanted to spent my birthday!
The room we stayed in was on a hillside with perfect sweeping views of Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna. The hotel provides a shuttle for guests to and from the main area with the hot springs, gardens and restaurant to the upper rooms. We opted to hike down and ride back in the shuttle so we could take in the views and wildlife when ever we could. Our room had a front and back entrance. The back entrance had a huge shared terrace that was so pretty! I did not discover it the first night, but the second I was so excited and could not sleep and walked outside at first light to to take it all in and spotted it. That is when I got to see the top of the Volcano for the first time not covered in clouds. It was amazing. I ran back in and woke up Shane, it was like 4:30 am and made him come look. I never get up early at home but when I am on vacation I can't sleep. Everyday is like Christmas morning!
The grounds of the hotel had a crocodile farm, butterfly garden, ant farm and used to have a frog farm but it has been damaged by a storm. We really enjoyed exploring the trails through all of those areas. There is also a hiking trail to the base of the Volcano from the hotel. We planned on doing that but the day we were going to do it it was cloudy and you could not see the Volcano at all so we scrapped those plans. Our most favorite spot was the open air restaurant. At breakfast we dined with iguanas and tropical birds of all kinds. I even caught a glimpse of a monkey. At dinner both nights, because the food was so good we decided to eat there both nights of our stay, we had a bat fly over our head at dinner. I loved that!
Typical breakfast. I ate plantains everyday, every type of way imaginable. Give me all the plantains!
Typical Dinner - Casado
The building we stayed in.
These ants will get you! Like swelling, fever, chills, vomiting. They are no joke! Beware!
Glad this guy was dead... They say in Costa Rica if you get bit by a snake you have 1 hour to get to the hospital before you die. I am not lying!
And if there is not enough pictures in this post I have to add a few of our most favorite or favorite parts of this portion of the trip, the hot springs!
The volcano heats the nearby river to 104 degrees which creates all of these hot springs in the area. There is nothing better than spending the day hiking and coming back to your hotel to swim around in a large hot pool, complete with swim up bar and water slides! Best birthday EVER!
I know it is taking me forever to finally post about this trip. I took too many pictures and once I got them off the cameras I did not organize them well to go through and edit. Trust me you are going to get sick of these posts soon enough. It is such an amazing place. It deserves not to be rushed through and properly narrated. It has been long enough that I am ready to re-live it again and I hope you enjoy looking at my posts and much as I have had enjoyed creating them.