All Roads Lead to: Costa Rica!
You’ve heard it said that all roads lead to Rome, but in Central America all roads lead to San José, the capital of Costa Rica. San José is located in the Central Valley, encompassed by majestic mountains. Because it sits nearly 4,000 feet above sea level, the climate remains at the temperate average of 73 degrees Fahrenheit (23 Centigrade) throughout the year’s seasons.
Although it is indeed a very urbanized capital, the open air markets, local restaurants, theaters, cathedrals and parks scattered about make the exploration of this diverse city an experience you will not soon forget. While exploring on foot, it is helpful to note that “Calles” in San José run from north-south and “Avenidas” run from east-west.
Many wonderful aspects of this pristine country delight tourists and locals alike. From beaches to mountains to tropical rainforest mixed with estuaries, this little country contains enough topographical diversity to satisfy even the most traveled.
COSTA RICAN FOOD
Many culinary adventures reside within the boundaries of San Jose. From low budget friendly diners (known as sodas) to high-end lobster dinner restaurants, the variety will leave you satiated on both a physical and cultural level.
Cafe Vishnu is one of the hidden gems of San Jose. This little soda is located on Avenida 1 between Calle 1 and Calle 3. Navigation tip: Addresses to any given location will tell you on what Avenida it is located between which two Avenidas. This gives you a one block parameter within which to find your destination. Full meals range from 3.50 to 10 dollars and the “plato del día” includes soup, salad, veggies, an entree, and dessert for about 4 dollars.
Restaurants in Costa Rica typically serve salads made with cabbage instead of lettuce. This is due to the fact that in this hot climate lettuce wilts quickly but shredded cabbage proves much more robust. The cabbage salad has a distinctive Costa Rican flavor, dressed with lime juice, salt, cilantro and a splash of vinegar.
When in San Jose, you’ll definitely want to taste their expertly made empanadas. I found a little vendor stand on Calle 5 which served piping hot empanadas for only 500 colones (about $1.) They spoke no English, but locals would line up around the block to enjoy an after work snack.
COSTA RICAN LODGING
Costa Rica offers lodging for all budgets. Personally I enjoy staying in hostels. They are not only affordable, but are also conducive to meeting people from a variety of cultures. Hostel Pangaea is a newer hostel with five locations across Costa Rica. The San Jose location offered a wide array of amenities including a pool, rooftop bar, free internet, airport shuttle and an onsite restaurant. Doubles are fifteen dollars per night, and the six-bed dorm style room is twelve dollars.
If you are seeking a bit more of a luxurious experience, the Gran Hotel Costa Rica is a lovely option. It has been identified as a historical landmark for being the first major hotel in the country. The Gran Hotel Costa Rica is located between the National Theater and the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum which makes the cultural experiences of San Jose only a few steps away. Rooms range from eighty five to one hundred eighty five dollars per night.
In La Fortuna, just a few hours from San Jose, Los Colinas offers a mid-range lodging option for those ready to experience the Arenal Volcano. Rooms open up to a patio with a breath-taking view of the magnificent volcano. For seventy dollars I enjoyed breakfast, a trip to the Baldi volcanic hot springs, and a delicious buffet dinner.
COSTA RICAN EXCURSIONS
Tortuguero is located on the northern Caribbean coast and although it is a distance to travel from San Jose, the ride itself was an incredible experience. As we traveled with Jungle Tom Safari’s, knowledgeable guides explained in both Spanish and English the mystery of the cloudy forest, history of Costa Rica, topographical wonders, and the banana growing process. I found this bi-lingual tour conducive to solidifying a native English speakers’ Spanish Vocabulary. We stopped at a banana plantation, enjoyed a delicious cultural lunch on the riverbanks, and then hiked through the jungle, observing over twenty species of animals including sloths, monkeys, snakes, and a variety of tropical birds. Several ways to travel to Tortuguero are available, but from firsthand experience I recommend going with a tour because the guides live and work in Costa Rica and express their genuine passion for sustaining their land.
When you reach your destination, tours are available to hike, boat, or watch sea turtles nesting during their season from October to April. Bars serving world renowned Costa Rican coffee and other refreshments overlook the river. Doable in a day trip from San Jose, yet enhanced by any additional time spent, Tortuguero is one excursion not to be missed.
When in Costa Rica, another must-do adventures is the Canopy tour. Most will cost you upwards of eighty dollars. I discovered a much less costly alternative with the same fantastic experience. Aventuras La Carpintera is located twenty minutes outside of the city. You’ll enjoy hiking up a mountain, then flying down its 19 platforms with incredible views of the city below.
The La Amistad National Park, found in the inland of Southern Costa Rica along the border of Panama, makes for an adventurous trek for the more experienced backpacker. The indigenous tribes, Boruca Indians and Bribri people, live deep in this jungle. This national reserve also contains Mount Chirripó which is Costa Rica’s highest peak.
COSTA RICAN BEACHES
The south Caribbean beach towns of Cahuita and Puerto Viejo have beautiful white beaches and crystal clear waters, making for the perfect tropical atmosphere. What make these spots different than the typical vacation beach are the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge and The Cahuita National Park. You will be surrounded by many species of wildlife rather than in a place negatively altered by tourism.
Other remote destinations are the secluded beach towns of Santa Teresa and Mal Pais. Cabo Blanco Reserve is a bit to the south but also worth the venture if your schedule allows.
COSTA RICAN VOLCANOS
Busing to the Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna can be quite the experience. It is extraordinarily inexpensive, takes about five hours, and you will also experience the less seen Costa Rica. As you pass through small towns with fruit stands, carts carrying handpicked flowers, and charming churches, you will see the beauty in a Costa Rican’s daily life as well as the monumental grandeur of your final destination.
Once you’ve arrived, tours around the base of the Arenal volcano are prevalent, including two volcanic hot spring options. The Baldi hot springs is less expensive, set in a manmade tropical garden. Tabacon springs have a more natural feeling for which you’ll pay more.
The other two major volcanoes in Costa Rica are Irazu and Poas. Irazu is the highest volcano in Costa Rica. On clear days it is said you can see both the Atlantic and the Pacific from Irazu’s zenith. Poas contains the world’s largest active crater and is in close proximity to San Jose.
From the world famous Coffee plantations, active volcano tours, jungle canopy zip lines, world class scuba diving, surfing and a culture that is open and friendly, Costa Rica is a richly diverse destination. No matter your reason for traveling to Costa Rica, when exploring this country you’ll live a bit of the “Pura Vida” that others only dream about.
Thanks to GLT member Twila for sharing her adventures in Costa Rica! To follow more of her stories at twila.in, on Instagram, and Twitter!