Travel Tips: How to be a local in Costa Rica
Despite the jungle, the smell of the sea, the surfer boys, the nature, the animals, and the activities - the best part of Costa Rica are definitely the people. Their genuine happiness, their smiles, their kindness and willingness to help the next without asking for anything in return. Only after being there you can truly understand what “Pura Vida” means. It's more than just a cool phrase, it's a pure way of living. Costa Rica is like one big family, everyone is your friend and everyone is welcome. I travelled across Costa Rica for 15 days, all with a Dahaitsu from the central area, all across the Pacific coast. We were a group of 11 italians, split out into 4 cars and with an unexplained need for adventure. We landed on the 2nd of August in San Jose and went straight to rent our cars at Hertz. However, due to the 15 hours of travelling, we opted for a night in the capital to then start our trip the following day.
Hotel Grano de Oro San Jose:
We voted for a boutique hotel in the capital, as most hotels were typical massive ‘american style’ hotels, which we believed wouldn’t set the right vibe to the trip. This hotel was very romantic, inviting, with a good restaurant and clean rooms. All of the staff was really friendly and helpful.
Calle 30, between avenida 2 y 4, San Jose 10107, Costa Rica
Octavo Rooftop: We were told by local friends to go try this restaurant which serves typical Costa Rican food. I must say that the food was very good, the atmosphere was very inviting and full of young people. They also have an amazing view of San Jose by night.
Autopista Próspero Fernández, San José, San Rafael, Costa Rica
Costa Rica Beer Factor: For a chilled and cosy vibe. They have a great selections of beers (obviously) and lots of local people.
The following day we drove for 4 hours to Manuel Antonio.
Manuel Antonio, despite being very touristic, was one of my favourite places. We booked a hotel that was literally on the beach, reason why we had a couple of crabs crawling around the room at night, but always better than tarantula's! The vegetation was amazing - the jungle was so thick. I had never seen such a ragged rainforest and so many animals wriggling out from all directions.
Playa Manuel Antonio: If you are craving for a bit of surfing, you can enjoy the waves at Playa Manuel Antonio which offer also multitude of instructors that can easily give you a lesson for a group of friends for up to $30.
Manuel Antonio National Park: The other must do thing in Manuel Antonio, is to visit the Manuel Antonio National Park. You can walk through the rainforest by yourself and encounter multiple animals; including birds, frogs, bugs, butterflies, monkeys, parrots and most excitingly sloths. If you are really keen in seeing animals, I recommend you go there early in the morning when the path to the beaches are still quite. The less noise, the more animals you will probably encounter, and even better if you get a guide. Guides usually go around with a binocolus that allows you to literally see the sloth smiling.
Once you walk within the jungle, you can pick a beach lay your bum on. I recommend you visit all of them, as they truly are all very different. Beware of the monkeys, they love to go through your bag and ran away with some of your items.
Byblos: As I have already told you, Manuel Antonio is quite touristic, so its quite difficult to find good restaurants that don't have only photographic menus. A surfer, however, told us to stop by a restaurant called Byblos, which was the place were locals went. The food was decent, but the vibe was amazing. You will meet lots of local people, pool tables and a huge Jenga to play with your friends. All of this is accompanied by reggaeton music.
We then travelled from Manuel Antonio to Arenal. This was the longest drive we had to do, and apparently also the most dangerous. If you are travelling during the rainy season, beware that many of the roads are not paved, so when it rains heavily the roads get really muddy and difficult to drive. Be extremely safe and cautious, as you might find yourself in difficult situations alone in the jungle, with hardly no light and reception on your phone!
Arenal Volcano: Hard not to see it as La Fortuna town lies around the volcano. You can easily drive to the entrance of the park and do a walk around the Volcano. Please keep in mind that you are in the middle of the jungle, so wear comfortable clothing and closed shoes - preferably trainers. You will find wonderful instagrammable view points on the way.
There are also several different activities which you can do around the Volcano, like horse riding, quads and canopy tours. I would recommend though to leave the last in the list for Monteverde.
Tabacon Gran Spa Thermal Resort: A must do in Arenal, is to enjoy the hot springs. We went to the Tabacon Hotel for their hot springs, as recommended by friends and I must say that the service was amazing. The resort was very clean and the hot springs were endless. You are literally in the middle of the rainforest having hot baths at the feet of a volcano. Not even the rain could dampen the atmosphere. You can roll from pool to pool until 10pm, whilst sipping cocktails - need I say more?
We travelled the day after for 3 hours to Monteverde. This time reaching our destination was not too difficult and the roads were certainly more civilised.
It's like being in the mountains, fresh cold air blows at night and the wildlife completely changes from Arenal. We slept in a small lodge that was close to where all the activities were happening. We had breakfast next to hummingbirds. Probably this was one of the best moments of the whole trip, everything was so calm and peaceful, so casually perfect that it left you speechless.
There are numerous activities that you can carry out during the day. Especially for thrill seekers. From the famous hanging bridges, to zip lines, to bungee jumping to nature exhibitions. We tried them all and I do recommend the zip lines, above all. The experience of travelling at 80km/h, 150m high in the middle of the jungle, suspended in the air just by a cable, is worth doing.
From the peacefulness of Monteverde, we then travelled 3 hours north to Tamarindo, one of the prime spot for surfers.
We decided to book a villa throug Airbnb for our stay in Tamarindo. It was called Villa Artemis, and I highly recommend it if you want to have a more intimate experience with your friends, than being in a hotel. The villa is right on top of a hill, so the views of the ocean are breath-taking and there is no other spot in Tamarind where the sunset look as good. The rooms were spacious and clean, the pool was perfect, spacious outdoor patio to have long card extensions. You can also enjoy lovely night in with your friends, in front of a barbecue.
The main thing to do in Tamarindo is surfing. There are plenty of beaches and surf instructors that can ensure you will have a good experience in the water.
There are plenty of schools at Tamarindo beach, but to be honest, considering there are plenty of alligators to the river next door, I would not recommend it. Moreover, it does not look like a clean beach either.
If you were you were to go shopping, I would recommend you go to Playa Negra, Playa Grande and Flamingo Beach. Please beware that if you are not a great swimmer or surfer, to be careful when you go swimming. The tides are extremely strong and can push you really far away from the shore.
For all the girls, I do recommend you do a small tour of Tamarindo centre as there are two or three nice shop that sell cool bikinis and jewellery.
Bamboo Sushi Club: If you are over eating chicken, beans and rice, this is a good option for a change, especially if you missing your metropolitan sushi. It’s slightly over priced, but I was over fried chicken! The atmosphere was really pleasant, as well as the home made drinks.
Patagonia: If you are looking for a good old steak, this is a great option. If you are a meat fan, it is worth for you to swing by.
The Bakery: Amazing for a quick fresh breakfast before you hit the beach
Cafe Social: The owner of the cafe is often there and loves indulging you with amazing great food. Loved my eggs on toast and the atmosphere is really welcoming.
Banana Beach: This is both a beach club, a restaurant and a nice place to enjoy a drink whilst looking at the incredible sunsets you are blessed to see in Costa Rica.