Costa Rica | December 2016

Happy forecasted 6-10″ snow day in Boston! Hence, the best time to recap on my most recent trip to Costa Rica. I went with my family and two other families from LA.

Below is a detailed version of our itinerary, for any of you wanting to plan a trip soon:

Day 1: San Jose, Costa Rica

  • Direct flight from Houston via Southwest – 3 hours 30 min, easy
  • Reserved a car from Hertz ahead of time via Priceline
  • Checked into our hotel for the night at Hotel La Riviera – a little bit southeast of the airport in a quaint neighborhood

Day 2: San Jose –> La Fortuna

  • Picked up 3 cases of water, fruit, and miscellaneous supplies for the three families at Walmart in Alajuela before heading out to La Fortuna
  • Windy drive & fog made it a 2:45 hour drive of 44 miles to our Hotel Vagabondo
  • Lunch @ Chifa La Familia Feliz ($ – Peruvian/Chinese Fusion)
    • Found out later it was the #1 Restaurant in the area, cha-ching!
    • Chef himself made a curated menu for us with Peruvian Ceviche (appetizer), Calamari/Shrimp (appetizer), Curry Chicken & Potato w/ Rice, and Surf & Turf
  • Spent 4:30pm-8:30pm at Baldi Hot Springs enjoying powerful waterfalls and 8+ pools of varying temperatures
    • HIGHLY RECOMMENDED; I think Dad wished we stayed at that resort…
    • the buffet portion isn’t really worth it, so I’d say eat at the restaurant or eat beforehand
    • $6 locker rental + $10 towel deposit

Day 3: La Fortuna

  • Booked a Mistico Hanging Bridges tour (~2 hours) for the morning – great for families with kids and a different way to take a walk in nature
  • Hiked to the 1992 Lava Flow (1.5 hr RT)
  • Accidently skipped lunch, oops.
  • Coffee tasting at North Fields Cafe ($) – with the intention of doing a coffee tour, but it was going to be $30 PP for 2 hours and with the amount of time we had, we didn’t see its ROI.
  • Christmas Eve dinner @ Restaurante Mi Casa ($$ – Typical Costa Rican food)
    • Guaro Sour x2
    • Ceviche
    • Rib-Eye Steak for Dad
    • Churrasco Steak for me
    • Sea Bass w/ Avocado Sauce for Mom

Day 4: La Fortuna –> Santa Elena/Monteverde

  • 10am-noon: After packing up, we went to the Rainforest Chocolate Factory Tour ($25 PP):
    • Extremely informative tour and we got to walk through the cacao tree plantation before we sat down to unpeel cacao fruit –> taste the seeds –> roast the seeds –> taste them again –> drinking chocolate tasting –> melted chocolate tasting
      • Spoon 1: plain sea salt
      • Spoon 2: hibiscus flakes + orange extract + sea salt
      • Spoon 3: almond flakes + almond extract
  • Drove a rough, car-sick filled 4 hours to our lodge Hotel el Atardecer
  • Spent the afternoon settling in and checking out potential excursions
  • Ate dinner at Treehouse Restaurant & Cafe
    • by this time, everyone was craving pizza…so the table ordered 3 pizzas in addition to Costa Rican plates
  • Booked our excursions for the next day at the Tourism Center downtown

Day 5: Santa Elena/Monteverde

  • 8-11am: Started the morning with the most intense ziplining I’ve done in my life at 100% Aventura, home of the longest zipline in Latin America
  • Really worth the $50 per person ~ we had about 30 people on our tour, but it never felt like it because the guides were so efficient and the lines were long enough to not get clogged before/after
  • Had lunch at Taco Taco Taqueria ($), which we were all disappointed that we didn’t have tacos until this point…but it was great.
    • Order everything one size down of what you think you’d consume…I normally eat 3 street-sized tacos, but ordering 3 was a mistake.
  • It’s safe to say everyone passed out for 2 hours afterwards – well-deserved, really.
  • 3-6pm: Embarked a 2 hour horseback sunset tour ($35 PP)
    • Best valued horseback tour I’ve been on
    • Really captured the movie-esque sunset scenes of Central America
  • Had dinner at Trio Restaurante ($$) in Downtown Santa Elena
    • Empanadas + Ribs for Appetizers
    • Sea Bass + Coconut Chicken for Entree
    • Rice Pudding + Mango Trio for Dessert

Day 6: Santa Elena/Monteverde –> San Jose

  • Drove another 4 hours on rugged roads to San Jose (by then, I was so over the terrible road conditions)
  • Had an extremely late lunch at Tenedor Argentino ($$)
    • White Sangria (MUCH NEEDED)
    • Spinach Empanada
    • Beef Tenedor Milanese (essentially a giant chicken-fried steak, Argentinian style, with a fried egg + salad, and you bet I ate it all)
  • Walked around Downtown San Jose (extremely 3rd world) and drove back to our Hotel La Riviera for the night, where we stayed the first night.
  • We took an UBER! After we returned our car at Hertz, we needed some way to get back…and here we are, a $5.27 uber with the Zeng family.
  • No dinner necessary thx to the giant Milanese steak.

There you have it, our itinerary in detail. Now see below for overall recap…

Pros:

  • Easy & cheap, non-stop/direct flights from Houston to San Jose
  • Relatively low-cost
    • accommodations
    • meals/alcohol (and huge portions)
    • tours/excursions
  • Mild-climate year-round, with dry season Feb-July and wet season Aug-Jan
  • Full of nature: Arenal volcano, beach parks, rainforest, mountains…etc.

Cons:

  • Extremely rough road conditions – prepared to take 3 hours to drive 60 miles and get really carsick
  • Expensive car rental (due to above) & necessary full-coverage insurance + third party coverage = ~$550 for mid-sized SUV for 5 days

Overall: If you can survive a week of low-maintenance living, enjoy adrenaline-packed activities, and can stomach some rough roading… Costa Rica can be a cheap and easy vacation. Just make sure you mentally plan enough time for travels between towns, if you choose to explore more than one area.

Day 8 | A Day in Lake Tekapo

Before I get in depth for the next few posts, I just want to prelude with the fact that I did A LOT of research before we arrived to New Zealand. We didn’t magically know where to go all the time and where to see, so I mainly read up on TripAdvisor, Pinterest (yes) and fellow avid travelers’ blogs. That being said, I had a very good idea of what I wanted to see and do and how to allocate our time wisely. Though, I did not have an itinerary (for all of you that are wondering and asking if I can send you mine); we planned day by day according to weather and availability of excursions. 

We woke up early at 8am on the 19th (and I can’t even tell you which day of the week it was) to drive ~an hour and half to Lake Tekapo. There were plenty of things to do – from the hot springs to hiking to horseback riding. Our first stop was at the Church of the Good Shepherd. Of course, it was filled with tourists, but it remained so serene even with all the background noises while it sat on Lake Tekapo.

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Then, we walked around the lake, took some pictures with the selfie stick, and enjoyed extremely good weather. These are non-filtered photos!! What you see is almost as breathtaking as what we saw in person. The Lupin was already starting to bloom (apparently full bloom by April) and I wish we could’ve stayed here a bit longer!

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For lunch, we headed to the #3 ranked restaurant by TripAdvisor, Reflections Restaurant. 1) The view was one of THE best! 2) I had no idea what to order, so I just ordered all their lunch specials… It was really nice to soak up the sun while sitting outside by the lake and waiting for our food. I don’t quite remember what we ordered…except I remember the sirloin steak on top of waffle fries. THAT WAS DELICIOUS.

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Then, we headed off to Mackenzie Alpine Horse Trekking, ranked #2 in Lake Tekapo to-do! We picked the 2-hour Mountain Top trek, that took us to the top of Mount John (perfect – we were going to hike it anyway) and downhill to the lake, and finally through the forest back to the stables. I heard plenty about it being a phenomenal view and trek, but WOW my pictures did not capture the full effect whatsoever!

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BTW all 5 of us woke up really sore the next day…also a little bit about my horse: his name is Jeff. He apparently is their ‘cheekiest’ horse…he loved eating and being distracted and he could never keep still. Everyone else’s horses were just chillin’ and mine was running around the stables before we even began. He pooped all the time on the trails and slowed me down while everybody went ahead.Thanks for being my friend for 3 hours, Jeff.

We headed home after what became a 3-hour trek, and the men cooked for us that night! Dad’s fried rice and Mr. Huang’s stir fry brussel sprouts (a close rendition of mine). Starved and exhausted, we ate and rested early for the next day: Mount Aspiring National Park!

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