I always find it quite funny when you ask someone for advice before you go travelling to a country they have previously been to. “Oh you HAVE to go here. And don’t bother with…. oh yes and definitely go…..” I found myself doing exactly that throughout the weeks of travelling. And everything I had asked of other people, we ignored.
Costa Rica is a remarkable place. Neither of us did any research on the country before arriving. We landed green and blind to what it was wanted to get from the place. AirBnB was our only port of call. We hired a car (at a crazy cost), hired an internet dongle (who would have thought it) and set off to La Fortuna north of San Jose. All we knew was there was a volcano there, it hadn’t stopped raining for weeks and we should really avoid driving at night. Of course we didn’t manage to achieve the latter. And for J, this would be the first time driving a car. On the wrong side of the road. In an automatic. Three months after passing his test.
Once you escape the hecticness of SJ, the roads turn into windy mazes of endless climbing through the mountains and cloud forests. A 50km journey takes three times the amount of time. You suddenly lose all vision of the car in front as the rain swoops in. You drive through towns you will never see again and whose names you forget almost as you are still driving through.
La Fortuna is filled with foreign travellers. All ready with their hiking boots, waterproofs, selfie sticks and enthusiasm to see new things. The problem was, the cloud was so thick, that you couldn’t actually see anything. (The Baldi Hot Springs are a great alternative – just make sure you go early in the morning). Our hostel – Selina – is nestled off the main road. They make their own Ambar beer and the ceviche is spot on. Each room comes with a vinyl player and a random assortment of vinyls, amusingly for us as one was called “Just Call Sluggy”. which is our shared nickname.
We stayed two nights and explored a little. But enough. Quickly discovering that accommodation is rather expensive, something I would perhaps warn future adventurists about, we moved down onto the coast to a resort. The beach was over 20km long. It was empty, laced with old palm trees now redundant to a new life on the sand. Crabs nibbled your toes as you walked into the sea. We lay in the sun for hours, often burning after 30 minutes. We drank Pilsen beer and both got food poisoning. We taught the new bartender how to make cocktails. We slept in two separate queen-sized beds in our room. We took their advice and drank the water as it was filtered. It wasn’t. We collected and counted mosquito bites.
Further down the coast is Playa Matapalo. A little surfer’s beach where the locals catch the waves daily at 3pm, just as the monkeys come out and take advantage of your absence. We stayed in a jungle house, where bedtime was 9pm and we cooked steak and drank wine from the local supermarket (31km away). It was peaceful. It was what we wanted.
We never entered Manuel Antonio park and instead followed our host’s advice of using a different company. We floated through the forests. I didn’t see a sloth. Our penultimate night was spent in Dominical, where we both wished we had discovered earlier. Alive, busy, friendly, packed with a local brewery and the absolute best sushi.
Our next door table were a couple who live ten minutes away from us back home. We drank too many margaritas until we drunkenly fell asleep in our rock hard hostel bed, before being woken up by leaking sewage at 4am. Even Alka seltzer couldn’t fix that one.
Avoid staying in San Jose. Avoid driving in San Jose. Just avoid it at all costs.
Don’t eat the banana crisps – you will only be disappointed.
Wear suncream at 8am.
Try the ceviche everywhere.
Coca-Cola comes in glass bottles.