After I became a US citizen in 2015, I decided that my first international trip I wanted to take was to Costa Rica. I came across a photo of a tree house hotel somewhere near the Arenal Volcano area, and I knew that I needed to stay there at least one night and just submerge myself in the lushness of the rainforest. (On a side note – I didn’t actually get to stay at one of these simply because after I booked my flights I learned that there is an age limit and our daughter was too young).
For this trip, I wanted to keep it a little more stress free, so I used Pacific Trade Winds to book my trip for me. They had great reviews, were able to get me a room at a book out hotel, and ended up getting everything at a better rate than if i were to do it myself. If you ever decide to go there, I definitely recommend this company. We never had a single complaint, they handled everything from top to bottom, they were very responsive, and when they said they would have someone there at a certain time, they were always there on time and with a smile. https://www.entercostarica.com/
For the flights, I used my usual – Spirit Airlines. I knew going into this that I would have a long layover with them – that’s just the nature of their business. But when the ticket price comes to $190 round trip per person from LAX to San Jose, Costa Rica…. a 6 hour layover really doesn’t seem that bad compared to paying full price.
And so we began our trip. We took the 1 hour trip to LAX via private car that my boss arranged for us (so nice of him), then the first leg of the flight from LAX to Fort Lauderdale, FL was around 5 hours. From there, we had a 6 hour layover, followed by another 3 hour flight to San Jose, Costa Rica. From there, we had a 6 hour drive from San Jose to the small coastal town of Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side, and finally arrived around 9 pm at night. Oh, and did I mention I went straight to the airport from work? Talk about running yourself ragged.
It was a loooong trip, and to make it worse, checking in took forever, the hotel had run out of ice, the electricity was off an on, the hotel restaurant was understaffed so we couldn’t get anyone to get us anything to eat, and on top of that…. we still had to put up our portable mosquito net. I’m sure all the first night drama wasn’t actually that bad, we were in the jungle after all so only a certain level of comfort can be expected, and on top of that we were exhausted.
By the way…. if you have a chance to go here…. do not go without a portable mosquito net. I bought ours off of Amazon from China. It took almost 5 weeks to arrive, but it was well worth it. There were bugs EVERYWHERE! I mean giant sci-fi type spiders, grasshoppers, creepy centipedes, unidentifiable
aliens bugs. Those nets came in handy. We bought two and still have them to this day. We’ve taken them everywhere since then.
Besides the initial first night troubles, the hotel was near the beach and in a beautiful remote area of Costa Rica, as is most of the country outside the capital. On the first morning, we woke up to the sound of howler monkeys hooting in the trees above our secluded bungalow. It wasn’t the most pleasant sound, but it was still cool to sleep among the wild animals.
What’s nice about Puerto Viejo is the fact that most people get around via bicycle or taxi, but bicycle is way more fun. We rented some bikes on the first day (less than $10 each for the day i think), and made our way just north of Puerto Viejo to see Playa Negra, the black sand beach.
Playa Negra definitely isn’t a tourist spot by any means, so we were the only ones there. It’s not the type of beach that has umbrellas, lounge chairs, or public restrooms. It’s more like a forgotten beauty that the locals pass by on their way north to Limon, but that’s what made it so much more special to us. It was mostly untouched by humans, even though it was right off the road, and was one of the reasons why we fell in love with Costa Rica. Its authenticity and beautiful countryside is well kept and most of the locals are very conscience about their environment. Pura Vida! as they say.
From there we made our way up through Puerto Viejo and stopped at a little smoothie shop in town and picked up some souvenirs. Puerto Viejo is such a cute little village – It’s really small surfing town, so the vibe is super chill and laid back. As small as it is, there are lots of little souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants, and sodas,which are their name for small restaurants that are usually out of someone’s home. We ate at quite a few and always tried the Casado, which is their typical meal with a little bit of everything.
Our next stop on our bicycling journey was to head to the Jaguar Rescue Center, where we had a private tour waiting for us. We could’ve easily chose to the the regular group tour, but by booking the private tour, one of the perks was getting to go in the monkey habitats to play with them.
The Jaguar Rescue Center is a rehab center for wild animals that have been abandoned, mistreated, orphaned, or confiscated. It’s such a wonderful thing they do there, so for us to pay a little more didn’t bother us, since were giving it to a great company and it would benefit the animals. http://www.jaguarrescue.foundation/
During our tour, we got to see a few types of sloths, anteaters, frogs, toucans, and of course monkeys!! Our favorite part was getting to go into their enclosure and chill with them for a little bit. The capuchin monkeys didn’t like children, so our daughter (then 7 years old) had to wait outside. She took pictures for us and caught some really cute images of my husband holding one of the monkeys like a baby.
Then we went to the other side of the enclosure where they had a separate cage for the babies! She was allowed to go into this one, since they were nicer than the adults. There was one baby in there that was wearing a diaper. It was the cutest thing!!!!….. until you realized he was wearing it because he had diarrhea. Still though, it was a great experience and I would totally go back in a heartbeat.
After the long bike trip and our tour we were pooped! So we went back to our hotel to get some rest for our snorkeling trip the next day. Only problem was, the next morning they called us and told us it was cancelled due to poor conditions. So rather than sit around, we rented the bikes again! Only this time we decided to go a little further south. We were advised to head south to the small town of Manzanillo, where there was supposed to be a beautiful beach.
So we packed out backpack cooler full of waters and beer, grabbed some extra colones, and made our way south. From what we were told, it was only a 15 minute ride, but we found a huge iguana on the side of the road, and made a pit stop. Then we saw a couple liquor stores, and made another pit stop. So the trip ended up taking us about an hour or so, and overall was more than 10 miles south! We were exhausted and definitely were not expecting that. Our daughter was a trooper though and pushed through to the end.
Once we arrived, we found a nice place to crash on the beach, cracked open a few beers, and rewarded ourselves from our long journey. It was such a beautiful, relaxing day. We built turtles out of sand, made coconut bras, rode through the waves, and just had the best day with each other. No cells phones, no worries in the world. We made some good memories that day.
After a while we got super hungry and there just happened to be a little soda across the street. It was more like someone’s from porch, and they were cooking out of their kitchen. It could hardly pass for a restaurant, but they were busy anyways and man! the food was de-lic-ious! We waited 45 minutes for our first plate, then the next two came out 10 minutes after each other, but after that long bike ride, and a long day in the hot sun it was soooo gooood. Since it was getting late and we still had a 10 mile return trip, we decided to get on the road and started our bicycle journey back to the hotel.
On the way back we hurried a little more quickly this time, since we were racing the daylight. And it’s not like there are street lamps to guide you once it gets dark. On one side you have beach and ocean all the way there, and the other side meets the jungle right up to the road. I was terrified that once it got dark the jaguars would starting jumping out like deer! But of course that didn’t happen, and we made it home just in time to enjoy a nice dinner at a local restaurant and watch some locals play Calypso music.
We also took a late night dip in the pool, where my daughter got stung by a bullet ant. Apparently it’s the most painful sting you can get from an insect that doesn’t kill you. My poor baby! But the bartender put some ice on it and she felt fine within minutes.
The next morning we were up early and had a van waiting to take us on our 6 hour trip north to Volcano Arenal! That’ll be on my next post, since this one was already long enough but you can see our video of our whole trip below!