We went to Costa Rica this past July for our annual anniversary trip. We flew into the international airport in San Jose and then rented a car to drive to the Pacific coast to the Quepos/Manuel Antonio area.
We originally planned for our trip to be an adventurous one, with a lot of physical activities and excursions, however, as you know I became pregnant last year, so our trip ended up being more of a relaxing getaway than anything else. It ended up being a babymoon!
We stayed in a beautiful gated community at a rented villa in the middle of the rain forest (found through HomeAway). This was a great option for us since we had a small kitchen with a fridge so we didn’t have to eat out for every meal.
Costa Rica was absolutely beautiful… and not only were accommodations really cheap, but flights were also. It was the price of a domestic flight, if not less. As always I recommend searching for flight deals on Kayak. However, I was surprised to learn that food was not as cheap, and pretty much was standard American pricing at restaurants. I found out that many of their ingredients are imported so even with the exchange rate, you will see pricing be higher than you may expect for restaurants. Another thing I was surprised about was that food was not that great in CR in general. They are known for seafood, so that is always good (but still pricey), but most other dishes seemed to me to be lacking something… I think things are just plainer than I am used to (I like lots of seasoning and spices). Not bad, just more plain than other Latin American country cuisines that I am used to. However, we did find out where the good food was! If you go, look out for places called “sodas.” These are the more hole-in-the-wall type places, and are where the locals go, and where you can find really cheap and really good local dishes. If you go to Quepos, you MUST try Soda Sanchez, which was delicious!! The best food we had on our trip, and delicious fresh juices. Costa Rica also has delicious coffee. In Quepos, a visit to Cafe Milagro is a must.
Some of the great things we loved about Costa Rica from our experience are the beautiful beaches (some of the most beautiful I have ever seen in my life, and we travel a lot), the amazing array of wildlife (so many exotic animals like monkeys, sloths, and iguanas all over the place), the great outdoor recreations (zip-lining, horseback riding, surfing, hiking in the rain forests), the people (so calm and laid back… they live the “pura vida” lifestyle), and of course the ability to just relax and unwind in a beautiful place.
As mentioned above, we had originally planned to do a lot more outdoor activity while there, but being pregnant, all I ended up being able to do (besides lounging by the beach and pool 🙂 was hiking and exploring the rain forests at Manual Antonio National Park (which were breathtaking! A beautiful rainforest right on the edge of a pristine coastline – a MUST SEE in the area). However, originally we had researched doing a lot more, and found the following cool activities at great prices in the Manuel Antonio area:
Arenal volcano: Ok, so this one is not in the Manuel Antonio area, but it is something that a lot of people recommended to me before our trip. Here is a good hotel we found nearby too when we were originally researching it: Erupciones Inn.
Surfing: This company has some great surfing excursions that include transfer from your hotel and a meal.
Ziplining: Great rate and also includes transfer and a meal. Some people think this is a must-do when visiting CR.
Horseback riding: This one looked awesome, hiking up to a waterfall!
Sunset cruise: Romantic and a great price. This was recommended to me by someone.
Snorkeling: Includes transfer and meal.
Driving/car rental: If you do go to Manuel Antonio and rent a car (the drive is very scenic), we recommend a 4-wheel drive vehicle, as the road gets steep at times and there are some interesting one-way railroad bridges close to Quepos. Also, keep an eye on the signs really closely when driving… things are not as explicit as our roads here in the states. On the drive to MA/Quepos, there is even a cool bridge where there are tons of crocodiles underneath. Very cool. Another note about driving in CR: Google it so you can get an idea of the roads, signs, how people drive, and roadside safety. It is good to be prepared, as it is not what you may be used to, however, being LA drivers, we were at least used to driving aggressively and defensively simultaneously (which is important in CR).
Spanish: not necessary to speak Spanish to visit CR, but we found it helpful to know basic things (numbers, food/restaurant terminology) when we went to the soda type restaurants (remember these are the yummy, local, good priced joints), as sometimes they did not speak English. This made for an even more authentic experience at the sodas.
TripAdvisor.com: In addition to Kayak, I also always recommend TripAdvisor for real people’s hotel and activity reviews. I always cross-check this info with the best priced places found on Kayak and have found that by doing this, you don’t need a travel agent to book and find the best deals in foreign countries when you travel.