It is the 3rd of September 2018. I am in Ireland on a photography assignment and it is my birthday! After a long few days of work, I am treating myself and relax in the swimming pool and the sauna in my hotel in Connemara. Then I receive an email… with flight offers to South and Middle America! Spontaneously I book a flight. To Costa Rica!
Five months later I stare out of the aeroplane window, over the Atlantic Ocean, and I can see the big waves underneath me. I’m on my way to Costa Rica! I crossed the pond so often when I was a flight attendant, but not often alone. Our globe is amazing, and I am amazed by its vastness and how immense the sea is. I dose off and daydream a lot during the flight. It feels timeless and I realise how grateful and happy I am. Even happier when I arrive in San Jose and I am rejoined with my very dear friend Molla! We stay one night in San Jose before we get our rental car and start exploring the country of Costa Rica!
Our first stop is Manuel Antonio on the west coast of Costa Rica and we met the first sloths and monkies. We explore the national park and enjoy the beach and a swim.
We found paradise
After receiving a tip from a local, we decided to drive to Sierpe. We found a lodge in the middle of nowhere! It took us an hour to get there. When we arrived at a river we realised we had to cross so we drove the car onto a “ferry” and we got lost many times! A local farmer showed us the way in the end but the location was heaven on earth. No tourists, just jungle! My tiny bit of Spanish came in handy here as only one staff member could speak English. But I have never felt so welcomed during a stay.
So many animals
We received fresh fish from the ocean and I embarked on a night walk in the jungle straight afterwards. That is when I met the neighbour, Coco the crocodile! I saw racoons, fireflies, snakes, frogs and tarantulas. I have never felt so close to nature and so alive! So we decide to stay a little longer as we found such a peaceful place. We picked fresh fruits and I ate cacao fruit for the first time in my life, accompanied by a glass of sugarcane juice with lemon. We literally ate off the land. There was no internet connection and I felt like this is what I needed so badly. We only heard the sounds of the jungle.
The next day we had a long drive ahead of us and drove past Quepos and Jaco to Puntarenas. From there we took the ferry during sunset.
From this point onwards we were surrounded by tourists! We visited Montezuma, Playa Malpais, Playa Santa Teresa and Playa Hermosa. And although beautiful, this is not really “our thing”. So we continue driving towards Sámara and stayed around Playa Buenavista. The roads were extremely bad here and it became apparent why we rented a 4X4. In a normal car, it would be impossible to drive these roads. The next days we keep going north until we go to Nicaragua.
I have been to many border crossings but never outside Europe. It took us about one hour to cross the border from Costa Rica and to arrive in Nicaragua and it was an intense experience. So many people, so many trucks and overall very loud.
We went to Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya to indulge the smell of rotten eggs. But what a view!
We then walked the streets of Masaya and Grenada and absorbed all the colours and senses. For me, Nicaragua felt genuine. We didn’t have much time in this country unfortunately but I could have stayed a lot longer. Even though the travel advice isn’t so positive, I didn’t feel unsafe at all here and I would highly recommend visiting Nicaragua!
Central Costa Rica
From Nicaragua, we ventured to north / central Costa Rica and our first destination was La Fortuna. We went to visit the hanging bridges in La Fortuna and Montezuma. This area seemed again very touristic. I felt there were not as many animals as I had seen in less touristy places, yet here you had to pay top dollar price entrance fees! Although I liked the parks and it is beautiful, if you come here to see nature at its best, I’d recommend going elsewhere… The parks are full of people, there are very long queues to cross the bridges and I saw NO animals. Yes, some birds and other creatures that don’t mind loud people…
Another expensive thing you can do here is to visit the Tabacon Hotsprings! We decided, however, to jump in the unpaid part and just jump in the river. Just be aware of broken glass as this is a super romantic place where glass bottles do get left behind. But the water is so nice and warm and the surroundings are beautiful!
From here we slowly made our way across towards the Caribbean Sea on the east coast of Costa Rica. We stopped in a small town where we stayed for a couple of nights. It was so peaceful and a great location to go horseriding and canoeing. In the morning the sounds of animals would wake us. Turn on the volume of the video to hear what it sounded like!
We decided to stay a few more days in the area of Cahuita and explore the area from there. We found a gorgeous hotel with a swimming pool and the beach was empty every day! Again, I felt reconnected with nature. The sloths and monkeys were naturally here and the sounds of the jungle were amazing!
Tips and tricks
The overall verdict of Costa Rica was good. I’d go back in a heartbeat! But some areas are very condensed with tourists. This makes the country also not the cheapest destination. If you like to see the wilderness I would highly recommend to hire a 4×4 and go off the beaten path. My favourite place was by far the Sierpe area. Also, Cahuita and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca were more relaxing and fun. We booked most accommodations on Booking.com and Airbnb. If you would like to use a discount code please click the links. You can use the Airbnb link for both homes and experiences. This seemed to be the cheapest option in most cases. We also avoided taking expensive tours but we booked trips locally. This to support the local communities but also to get a more realistic feel for the country. By doing this we were often the only guests so it became a very personal experience. Have you been to Costa Rica? And where did you go?
Disclaimer: To be fully transparent, please note that this blog post contains affiliate links and some purchases made through such links might result in a small commission for me (at no extra cost for you). Not all links are affiliate links as I just want to share knowledge and tips with my readers and this blog is not aimed to make a ton of money! However, every little helps of course to fund future travels.