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.

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