Tico Trails: Travel stories from my trip to Costa Rica
Recently, I visited Costa Rica, a country about which we keep hearing raving reviews. Indeed, Costa Rica is great for travel – it’s small, it’s full of attractions, and it is laid back. I did a number of eco-tourism activities including volunteering for a sea-turtle conservation project, hiking, cycling, surfing, and simply relaxing on the beach doing nothing. Needless to say, nature photo opportunities in Costa Rica are unparalleled.
Two-week Costa Rica travel itinerary
You can get a solid flavour of Costa Rica from coast to coast in two weeks. The country is small, easy to travel, and filled with attractions of all kinda for all people. Eco Tourism in particular is very big in Costa Rica thanks to large swaths of land, almost a quarter of the country, protected conservation forests and natural parks lands. Besides that, the beaches are top notch, and there are lots of options for adventure travel, including hiking volcanoes. There is tremendous geographical variation in the country, from rain forests to dry tropical and temperate forests, to volcanoes, to Caribbean and Pacific beaches, to high mountains, and marshy lowlands. This is given rise to many micro-climates and tremendous amount of biodiversity.
A general two-week travel plan in Costa Rica probably starts in San Jose the capital city where spending two days is more than enough. San Jose is located in the middle of the country, making it a logistics hub to travel anywhere. It takes no longer than half a day to reach mostly wherever you want in the country. While it may be lack lustre in comparison with other Latin American towns, a walking tour of San Jose‘s markets, parks, and street murals is a fun to get acquainted with the country.
The two attractions of Arenal volcano and the the cloud forest of Monteverde are spectacular places to visit in the central highlands. There are a ton of activities in smaller towns around such as hiking, camping, bird watching, animal watching, caving, white water rafting, ziplining and so on. Monteverde is a heavily tourist area and most of the city’s economy is run on commissions, meaning if you ask someone for directions, they’ll take you there and expect a tip from the owner. Applies to hotels, restaurants, and tour agencies. It’s kind of weird system, but as tourists we don’t get impacted directly. What it means is that the price you are paying includes many commissions, so you might be able to negotiate it somewhat.
A nice part about Costa Rica’s well established tourism industry is that – there is a lot of competition, pretty much everyone offers the same products, prices are matched, and the best tip – if you go on say a whitewater rafting excursion, the company will drop your bags off to your next place of stay instead of returning back. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
West coast (Pacific side)
Tamarindo is probably the biggest spot in the surfing scene, but certainly there are numerous beaches south and north of it that are much similar. I had never surfed in my life so I was excited to learn it and where else should one learn surfing but at Tamarindo. They say the beach is blessed by the surf gods and one of the best places for newbies to learn. Indeed, it felt like the entire town was centered around surfing. Every other store is a rental places slash surf school and it’s not uncommon to notice men and women walking around with a surf board any time of the day. There is a second layer to tourists that stay in the plentiful resorts in and around Tamarindo and swimming in their pools next to the beach (I don’t get it).
Costa Rica’s second international airport in Liberia makes it easier to access this part of the country. Manuel Antonio and Jacó are other popular beach/surfing/party towns on the coast.
East coast (Atlantic side)
Cahuita, Puerto Limón, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and the Tortuguero park are the main places to see on the Atlantic side. Reggae music, rum, fish and a generally relaxed Caribbean vibe is what you’ll find here. There are many opportunities for bird watching, turtle watching, trekking, snorkelling, diving, cycling, etc. as well as arranging visits to indigenous villages deeper in the interior forests.
I visited all these places, biked, volunteered for a sea-turtle rescue project and sipped delicious coconut cocktails on the beach. Consider visiting the Caribbean side at the end of your trip, to lay back and kick off all the soreness from your high adrenaline activities.
Food in Costa Rica varies from place to place, but is generally in the same genre. This is no Mexico, so don’t expect to fall in love with the food, but you do get exposed to a large variety of tastes from coast to coast. Rice and beans (Gallo Pinto) is the staple in this region and there is no escape from it unless you cook your own food. Water is safe to drink anywhere which is such a relief!
Restaurants in big tourist towns like Tamarindo tend to be pricey because, you know, tourists, but walk in the smaller back lanes and you’ll run into smaller sodas (restaurants) serving cheap eats run by a house mama, preparing dish after dish of delicious food. Food on the Caribbean coast was definitely more tastier for me, with coconut sauce and a jerk seasoning dish and an assortment of fruit.
Enjoy your trip! Check out the travel blog articles below.
General travel tips and information
My list of best places to travel in Costa Rica
There’s more to Costa Rican food than rice and beans!
Pictures that will make you travel to Costa Rica right now
How to see Costa Rica in two weeks
How Costa Rica made it safe for travel
Responsible travel: Saving Sea Turtles
Relaxed vibes on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast
Monteverde cloud forest in two days
Where surfers converge: Tamarindo, Costa Rica’s surfing hotspot
Wandering the streets of San Jose