10 Things You Will Love About Costa Rica
If you're into wildlife and adventure, Costa Rica is definitely the destination for you.
Last year, Nat Crook and her boyfriend and decided to venture a bit further than their usual week in Spain and booked onto the two-week shoestring tour around Costa Rica with Gap360.
Here are the top highlights of Nat's experience and the 10 things she absolutely loved about Costa Rica...
1. La Fortuna
La Fortuna is more central Costa Rica, so this isn't the place for a beachy holiday, although they are blessed with the breath-taking Arenal Volcano, meaning there are plenty of hot springs. These are so relaxing and fun, albeit slightly more expensive. There are stunning views all around the town, it’s only a short ride from some incredible places for example, the Catarata Waterfall (with a gorgeous pool around the base) and Peñas Blancas river (home to howler monkeys and crocs!).
This was actually the last town we visited, and there wasn’t too much to do here but it was a lovely place to relax. We stayed in a little beach hut with hammocks and just spent our days in the sea. The sunsets were absolutely spectacular, and at night you could see millions of stars. We stayed out for hours just watching the sky because it was so mesmerizing, and we knew we wouldn’t see a view like that again for a while!
3. Nicoya Beach
We only spent about an hour here, and you may be surprised to hear, at night. This was because it was prime time for all the turtles to congregate and lay their eggs. We probably only walked 100m on the beach, but we saw hundreds of turtles wondering about or in their trances digging holes and laying their 100s of eggs! It was a one in a lifetime experience and so unexpected; we only found out the turtles were there a couple of hours before!
4. Cahuita National Park
This was the first activity when we arrived in our first destination of Puerto Viejo, and it was an amazing start. We took a very bumpy boat ride out from the coast and got dropped off in the middle of the Caribbean sea. We did some snorkelling and honestly, saw thousands of fish, and so many cool corals and plants. If you do this, I 100% recommend getting a waterproof disposable camera because even without a flash, it got some really good pictures, and the look of the photo after is kind of retro! We then hopped back on the boat and got off at the end of the National Park meaning we did a 5 mile walk back through forests and beaches where we saw sloths, snakes, crabs and spiders!
5. Cacao Plantations
I went to two cacao plantations, one in Puerto Viejo and one in Monteverde and they were very different to each other! Puerto Viejo had a demonstration of making chocolate by native Costa Ricans, and we got to taste the plants, beans and finished product! In Monteverde, the plantation also grew bananas, sugar cane and coffee. We had a full guided tour and a traditional oxcart ride through some of the farm. We got to make our own sugar and take it home, try some homemade rum and learn about the life of a coffee bean!
This was probably the most exhilarating part of the trip, and I don’t think I will ever do a zipline as good as this. It was the longest zipline in Latin America with some cables stretching up to a mile long, and you could do these in a Superman pose (although I chickened out) and finish with a Tarzan swing! There were nine cables across valleys and through forests, and also a little rappelling, I would 100% recommend. The place we did it (100% Aventura) also took photos for us and gave them to our tour guide on a USB for a small fee.
I never expected to see so many sloths, but we were so lucky! We saw sloths in Cahuita National Park, Monteverde night walk and a cacao plantation in the wild! We even managed to see babies clinging to their mothers and adults climbing up trees, extremely slowly. We also went to a Jaguar Rescue centre in Puerto Viejo, which ironically didn’t have any jaguars, but did have tonnes of sloths. They were feeding the baby sloths when we were there, and they were absolutely adorable. If you would like to help wildlife you can apply to volunteer in Costa Rica.
I know it seems strange, but their money is so cool! It works in Costa Rican Colones, which equates to about 550 colones for one dollar. A family friend actually gifted me my first colones, and I was so shocked when I opened the envelope to 35,000 colones! Also the notes have pictures of native Costa Rican animals; my favourite being the sloths of course!
The fruit was absolutely delicious, although personally I only ate fruits I was familiar with for example, the pineapple. This was often a free addition to tours; that and a beer, and we were given an entire pineapple after our Peñas Blancas river tour, which was without a doubt the juiciest fruit I’ve ever tried! They were also big on coconut, which was so cheap, and would be cut fresh in front of you! We also tried the tip of plant that we came across in a forest, (our tour guide told us it was safe) and it tasted surprisingly of sour apple! The plant is known for catching rain water and so if you ever come across it in a forest and didn’t have a drink, you can just hold it upside down and squeeze and you’ve got yourself a drink and snack!
10. The Alcohol
This may not be for all of you, and it certainly wasn’t for a lot of our group, but on the last few nights of our trip we were introduced to some native spirits. I mentioned before that we tasted some homemade rum at a plantation, and we were also introduced to Guaro, a popular spirit in Costa Rica. We had several ‘Guaro Sours’, a cocktail with mint, lime, sugar and soda, and on a heavier drinking session, we were offered a few (too many) Chilli Guaros. These are like a spicy Bloody Mary shot and I can still to this day taste the drink in the back of my throat, but it was definitely an unmissable experience.
Costa Rica is beautiful and I highly recommend you book a visit to experience the country for yourself. Booking a tour of Costa Rica with Gap 360 turned out to be the best decision we made as we wouldn't have been to or seen even half of the things we did if we had done the trip independently. Tours are also great if you’re not the best at organisation!
By Nat Crook