Chris and I travelled to Costa Rica with some friends in December 2011. We flew from Vancouver into San Jose then rented a 4x4 from a local dealer and continued 4 hours south to the little town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca in Limon province.
We’d rented a completely open air jungle home overlooking a large ravine filled with monkeys, toucans, and other amazing tropical wild life. I loved it!!
Upon arrival on Christmas Eve, we visited the local mercado so that we could pick up the essentials for Christmas morning breakfast. Celebrating Christmas has always been an important part of my life and so I like to celebrate it wherever I am. I even took up precious packing space with a box of Christmas crackers to really make it feel like the holidays while away.
Our adventurous jungle home was about 2km up from the main road via a very steep and rough hill. One night we walked into town for a delicious dinner at a local restaurant. I don't remember the specific dish I ordered, but I do remember that it came with a side of arroz con coco. The rice was so delicious that I've been trying to re-create it ever since but never to quite the same taste as at the restaurant. After a great meal, we decided to catch a taxi back to our jungle home. The taxi got us part of the way there, but it couldn't make it up the steep hill and we needed to get out and walk the rest of the way. The first time we walked up the hill it was quite challenging but at the end of the week, it was a piece of cake - sort of.
As you may have noticed from my exclamation points earlier, I loved the jungle home we were staying in as well as the town of Puerto Viejo. It was what I always pictured the perfect Caribbean beach town to be like - small and filled with locals, white sand beaches that go on forever, delicious restaurants, and local beach bars with thatched roofs.
While enjoying our time on the south eastern coast of Costa Rica, we discovered a few things:
Bugs are everywhere. If we didn’t want to wake up with large welts in the morning, we had to use the mosquito nets around the bed. However, unlike in the movies where mosquito nets are loosely draped around the bed, we learned it’s important to pull them taught and tuck them in under the mattress. Otherwise you risk the mosquito net drapping over you and not offering any real protection. Related to mosquitos, leaving the light on in the kitchen at night in an open air home will cause all the bugs in the area to flock to the wall under the light. Also the BB ants....
Costa Rica is very humid. When we arrived at the jungle home, all of the bedding had been placed in large plastic garbage bags and we quickly figured out why. Any clothing or linens left out will become damp. I made the mistake of unpacking some of my clothes and leaving them on the shelves. The next day they were too damp to wear. BBQ night was equally difficult with it taking a very long time to be able to get a fire going when all the kindling is damp from the humidity.
Minor fender benders can take your full afternoon. In Costa Rica, if you get into a car accident, however minor, you cannot move your car and you must wait for the police to arrive and make a report, otherwise the insurance will reject your claim. We decided to travel to Panama one day and ended up in a small accident on our way there. We ended up waiting hours for the police to arrive and give us the report – and we never made it to Panama.
Wake up alarms are not needed. A friendly monkey will come along and bang on the roof with a coconut every morning to help get you out of bed.
The fish tacos are amazing. Eating fish tacos at a restaurant located directly on the beach is amazing.
Canyoning is an adventure. Canyoning is super fun but a little scary too. But the guides make it look easy, doing everything in flip flops.
After spending Christmas on the east coast, we headed to Arenal Volcano in the north central part of the country for New Years Eve. We spent one night there, soaking in the hot springs and celebrating New Years Eve. We almost missed the New Years Eve party going on at a huge warehouse up the road from our hotel, but a local couple offered us a ride when they saw us walking on the side of the road and we took them up on it (not one of the smartest choices we’ve ever made but fortunately for us they were very nice people!). The next morning we walked up to get a better view of the volcano but just like most days it was too cloudy to get a great view.
On January 1, we got back in our 4x4 and continued on to the beach town of Tamarindo on the Pacific. We spent the next week there in full luxury! The home we rented had a private swimming pool and each room was its own fully appointed suite. Quite different from the mosquito netting jungle home – though I was glad there weren't any bugs, I did miss the monkeys.
The town of Tamarindo was quite different from the local town of Puerto Viejo. There were a lot more tourists and ex-pats here, with many activities and restaurants to choose from. One windy morning, Chris and I decided to try SUP for the first time. Due to the conditions and lack of experience, I could barely stand up on the board and we ended up ending our time early and having to drag the heavy boards back up the beach to the place where we rented them. The sand and heat made the experience of carrying the paddleboards even more difficult and I was glad when we finally returned them.
We spent the remainder of the week taking in the 35 degree temperatures, walking along the beaches, taking a boat cruise, trying the local restaurants, and watching the sunsets. As with most vacations, I cried a little on the last night, not quite ready to go back home.