Costa Rica rocks! My husband and I had the good fortune to go there for 12 days this past December with his family, and we relaxed ‘til we could relax no more. For all my efforts at trying different methods to de-stress the past several months, nothing came close to working like going on this vacation did. Here is a recap on what to do if you have ever thought of going to visit this beautiful country where the “Pura Vida” life rules:
1. Rent a fabulous house on the beach in a tiny village, nestled in among the jungle!
We rented our house here. I highly recommend using VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) if you are ever traveling and want a house. I have used it several times in and out of the USA and have had great success with it. Do think about how open to the elements you want your home in Costa Rica to be, and if you want a/c and TV or not (not all homes/hotels rooms have this).
2.Take Surfing Lessons!
Just make sure to find a great beach for beginners. Our house we rented sat on one of the famous surf breaks called Playa Negra. We entertained ourselves for hours watching all the surf bums who braved waves that often got up to 15 feet tall. Trust me, no matter where you stay in Costa Rica, there will be somewhere nearby that offers surf lessons. You can also check out all the surf companies on Trip Advisor here, but a lot of places that do it don't have a website.
3. Go to Witch’s Rock Surf Camp in Tamarindo to see the where surfing legend Robert August still lives, teaches, and creates custom wood surfboards.
Costa Rica is famous for its surfing, thanks in large part to the cult classic surf film, Endless Summer, which follows Robert August and Mike Hynson in 1966 as they discover new places to surf. Believe it or not, surfing was still a relatively new sport back then to all but the native Hawaiians.
4. Go to a Volcano!
Go to one of the many volcanoes in Costa Rica that are national parks; you should stay 2 nights at a resort in one, and that is where the real rainforest is, too. We choose to go to Rincon de la Vieja, because it was closest to our house on the beach. Really, the volcono and rainforest visit can be made appropriate for any age group or fitness level.
5. Do the Volcanic natural sauna and then mud thing!
There are all sorts of healing and medicinal properties in the natural hot springs here and the volcanic mud (supposedly?!). We were instructed to first sit in the dry sauna (built over the hot springs) for about 10 minutes, then cover ourselves in mud, and after it dried, get in the springs and wash it off!
6. Stay at a cute resort in the rainforest for 2 nights, like the Blue River Resort.
After driving up a teeth-rattling, winding dirt road for what seems like ages, you almost think this resort that suddenly appears is a mirage. Despite its remote location, it had a great restaurant, spa, gym, botanical gardens, butterfly gardens, 4 mineral “green” hot spring pools, a water slide, and more. The resort offered all sorts of tours to enjoy the rainforest and volcano including horse back riding, zip lining, hiking to waterfalls, rafting, tubing, bird watching, and local bull fighting.
7. Go hiking in the rainforest.
I have been in some jungle-like areas before in Central America, but the rainforests in Costa Rica are what I had really been picturing since we first studied them in 4th grade. It was unbelievably lush, green, wild, and humid. My favorite part was that the rivers in this area are an uncanny shade of milky blue because of the minerals in them, almost like at a putt-putt golf course.
8. Go Zip-lining.
This was one of the highlights of the trip! I have gone zip-lining in a few other countries, and this one was by far the best. The view of doing it so high up in the canopy of a rainforest was incomparable. We went on 8 long zip-lines that went through trees and over waterfalls. The extra thrill was that it was up to you to stop yourself with a handbrake. We even saw a real viper snake on one of the tree!!!!
9. Go fishing.
Costa Rica is famous for its fishing, particularly deep-sea. This is a photo of my husband and his father after catching a Mahi-Mahi, which made a very nice dinner the next night.
10. Go horseback riding on the beach.
There are tons of places that offered guided horseback riding tours no matter where you stay in Costa Rica. This is my sweet mother-in-law, Debbie, with her horse after the ride.
11. Lounge by the pool and beach.
Does this one need an explanation? Just make sure if you’re on vacation, even in a place with so many great activities to keep you busy, you give yourself some down time to relax, nap, chill, or finally read one of the books from your book club.
12. Try paddling boarding yoga.
This was unexpectedly one of my favorite things we did in Costa Rica. I had no idea I would love it so much. We used Pargos Adventures, and it was so relaxing, and such a good workout. The focus required to do yoga poses while balancing on a board and in the middle of a river made the experience really meditative. This is now my peaceful place I think of when doing breathing exercises now that I’m back at my normal yoga studio.
13. Disconect & turn off the electronics.
Another unexpected highlight of the trip was that our rented house didn't have a tv, and we chose not to pay for cell phones to be switched to international. If we weren't forced to go without it, we could never turn these 2 things off and keep them off. It made a HUGE difference in feeling present in the moment and making us bond together as a family and actually converse with each other! I didn't realize how dependent I was to these electronics until I had to go without them. During the first 4 days, it felt like I had a nervous itch I couldn't scratch, but then peace descended. Staying in such a remote, small village also made a difference in feeling like we were truly away from all the cares and stresses waiting for us back home. We were able to return from the vacation feeling fresh and rested and ready to tackle work and emails and all that noise. However, I do reccomend taking a cell phone with you to use in the event of an emergency. Our rental car broke down on our way to the airport, and we did have to use one of our cell phones.
- pack sunscreen, aloe vera, and mosquito spray.
- pack stomach meds for those prone to sensitive tummies when traveling in foreign countries.
- if you rent a car, get the insurance and the gps system.
- make time to see both the volcanoes and the beach.
- be prepared that grocery stores and gas stations can be sparse; if renting a house try to find out the nearest GOOD grocery store from a trusted local.
- be prepared that the time estimated to get places you will learn from your gps, google, and a local will all vary greatly, and who knows how long it will actually take you to get there, especially with unexpected issues like construction, cows crossing, or getting lost. For sure, everything took almost twice as long as Google Maps and the locals said it would.
- consider flying into the smaller, friendly, and brand new airport in Liberia instead of San Jose. Its cleaner and faster and may be a closer location to your destination than the San Jose airport.
- everything is super casual. Our first night there I made my in-laws erupt into laughter when I announced that my Kate Spade sandals I packed seemed a too dressy for here.
- research possible places to stay and tour companies on Trip Advisor
Good luck planning your trip! Thank you to my husband's family for letting me photograph them the whole trip to use as photos on this post :)
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