February 19 – 10 March 2018
Costa Rica is an exciting country with such a diverse landscape, amazing wildlife, stunning beaches, and vast jungle just waiting to be discovered! For me personally the smaller unknown towns like Peruto Jimenez and Drake Bay were just paradise for me as they offered a more unique experience rather than just another tourist beach town full of burgers and beer pong bars. Though don't get me wrong, I do love a burger and up for a beer pong challenge whenever you are ready!
If you want to go to Costa Rica or the Central America area please ensure that you go to your local doctor to make sure you have all the correct and up to date vaccinations before going to this region. Hepatitis B, C, malaria, yellow fever, etc vaccinations are all needed and you need to carry your vaccinations certificate with you in case questioned. Some of these vaccinations require multiple injections over a 2-3 month period so plan ahead!
Make sure you register with you national Government travel website before you travel to Costa Rica as Costa Rica can be dangerous. I had no issues in Costa Rica or anywhere in Central America though I was definitely conscious of what was happening around me. It is always a good idea to ensure that your Government knows where you are if something does go wrong, you’ll need the support. Read my Guatemala blog (coming soon).
Women, just be on your look out when out drinking or on your own. The locals could be a little grabby or staring at times.
Is Spanish needed?
I had travelled to Spain a few times before going to Costa Rica so I knew some basic Spanish however I was fine getting around. The more you know the better however Costa Rica has become a tourist destination so it was fine and the locals were really helpful with getting around. If you don’t know Spanish or just some basic Spanish like me get ready for a lot of hand and body language communication as English was not widely spoken outside of the tourist towns.
I flew into Liberia from London which is the second largest city after the capital San Jose. Make sure that when you arrive you have some local currency or USD cash on hand as you will need to pay for a visa on entry. I had pre-booked one night of accommodation before I arrived in Liberia however I knew I wanted to get out to the coast pretty quickly the next day.
The larger cities in Costa Rica are not that nice, use them very much as hubs to travel around Costa Rica. The bus times are not always the most convenient with marrying up arrivals and departures of other buses so you may need to spend the odd night in Liberia or San Jose to catch your bus.
I stayed at Hospedaje Dodero (Hostel Dodero) in Liberia , it was a nice hostel with good WiFi, comfortable beds, and good amenities. This is Costa Rica, don’t expect western style clean hostels, they are all a little dusty/dirty but they are fine. The main reason I stayed here was it was close (2 blocks) to the bus station and walking distance to supermarkets which made it perfect for arriving in a new country. The staff were really helpful before I arrived and when I was there with respect to getting buses which was great for someone who spoke very little Spanish and had no idea how to get around.
I caught the bus (only a few dollars) from Terminal De Buses (close to Hostel Dodero) out to Tamarindo which was around a 4 hour journey. The buses are pretty old school so make sure you have downloaded some podcasts or enough Spotify tunes for your bus trips! Though the landscape is beautiful to take in regardless!
Tamarindo is a fun touristy coastal city that is pretty westernised. Everything is in Spanish and English, the roads and buildings are all pretty modern and the restaurants are more western in style rather than local food though you can find some nice local dishes and street food. Tamarindo was a great place for me to start my trip as plenty of travellers from around the world come to Tamarindo, it is generally a safe place to travel, fun experiences, beautiful beaches, and plenty of activities to keep you busy. Whether you like surfing, scuba diving, fishing, hiking, swimming, relaxing on the beach, want a beach party, or just want a healthy retreat Tamarindo has plenty to do for a relaxing beach get away.
I stayed at La Botella de Leche, Tamarindo. It was awesome! A little further away from the beach, but still only a 5 min walk, so it was a little quieter than other hostels that are close to the main tourist strip. La Botella de Leche was really fun, a nice pool and good mix of partying but respectful at night. The owner offers yoga and pilates classes at the hostel which is great and a lot of tours pick you up from the hostel directly which makes life easier. The owners had a wealth knowledge and great local connections for activities in the area.
Tamarindo was a little more expensive than the rest of Costa Rica as it is more a tourist destination though still affordable/cheaper than western countries. It was easy enough to get money out at the ATMs though I met some friends who had some troubles so just make sure you have multiple cards just to make sure.
Tamarindo bars and nightlife:
Most of the bars and restaurants have happy hours or events each night which are great fun to get along to. There are plenty of nice resort style venues along the beach which offer good food and nice accommodation.
As discussed above Tamarindo offers so much for all types of travellers who are looking for a beach get away.
After 4 days in Tamarindo it was time to head south as I had booked a 3 day hike through the Corcovado National Park.
Getting down to Puerto Jimenez was easy however not a lot of people knew how to get there which made it difficult has I received conflicting advice. I had to bus to San Jose which was around 6 hours. The difficulty was different bus terminals go to different locations around Costa Rica and consistency of advice was not great. You want to go to Terminal MEPE which is also the terminal that goes to Puerto Viejo, we’ll discuss that later. There is only one bus a day to Puerto Jimenez which leaves early in the morning as it is a 12-14 hour bus ride, if you have time try book your ticket the day before to make sure you get a seat. I stayed at Salina’s hostel when I was in San Jose, it was really nice and easy. There are lots of Salina’s hostels throughout Central America, I enjoyed the Salina’s in San Jose. Nice café in the hostel and good bedroom/showers. It was about a 15 min walk to Terminal MEPE which was good as well. Can be a little bit of a dodgey walk through an industrial part of town so get a cab if you are nervous, I did it a few times and people just stared. If you do cab, they charge in Costa Rican currency not USD, so don't get caught out wasting money!
The bus ride down is long though there are regular stops and usually not many people on the bus so plenty of space. Again it is a older style bus so bring water, snacks, and plenty of entertainment but the journey through the Costa Rican countryside is amazing!
I was really lucky to meet a fellow traveller, Marvin (Marv) from Hamburg, Germany who was doing a coffee tour of Costa Rica before he started a new role at a coffee company in Hamburg. It worked out that we were on the same Osa Wild hike together! It was great to meet each other before the hike, we ended up staying at Cabinas The Corner in Puerto Jimenez. It is a simple hostel with good WiFi and showers. We met some great travellers who were also hiking the Corcovado from France and Canada which was great as we met up with them later in the trip.
Definitely make sure you have your insect repellent and sunscreen!
Puerto Jimenez is a beautiful lil country town, only a few thousand live in the area so it is quiet isolated. This is the real Costa Rica. Not many tourists, no resorts, just small hostels and local businesses. The Osa Peninsual is just beautiful. I went down to Puerto Jimenez to do a 3 day/night hike across the Corcovado National Park. I booked with OsaWild who were awesome! https://osawildtravel.com/
You need to book well in advance as there are limited numbers of people allowed in the Corcovado at once, which makes it so special and not over run by tourists. I paid my deposit in advance before I left London and paid the remaining amount when I arrived in Puerto Jimenez. There are various one day or 2 day hikes however I did the full 3 days 2 nights hike to get the full experience of the Corcovado! Make sure you get down to Puerto Jimenez at least a day before before your trip so you can relax, buy enough water, food, sunscreen, insect repellent, and gear for your hike. Puerto Jimenez has a large shop that caters for everything you need for your hike though make sure you check with your tour provider for a itinerary list of what you need to make sure.
Corcovado National Park:
For the 3 days 2 nights hike you need to have a good backpack for hiking which can hold at least 4 litres of water, your clothes, and snacks for your hike. My advice, one set of clothes, a small towel, clean socks/undies, good pair of hiking boots, and leave as much room for food and drinks. The least weight as possible! You are gonna get dirty, sweaty, and smelly, just like everyone else on your hike so don’t worry about trying look good.
The hike group is small, we had 5 people and our guide. Which is which want you want. You need a reasonable level of fitness to complete the 3 days 2 nights hike as you cover around 50-60km in two days. Though I highly recommend it, challenge yourself and do it. The natural beauty of the jungle couple with limited tourists allowed in the park provides the perfect experience to see amazing wildlife in their natural habitat and a great challenge that you will never forget. Be careful going in the wet season as it can just rain for 3 days straight which is not fun!
We were picked up around midday (don’t be that annoying traveller who is late!) and drove for about an hour into the park to our first stop for the night. Here we stayed in really nice lodges (everyone got there own private lodge) and after unpacking we met the family who ran the campsite.
Our guide took us on a jungle tour of the local jungle food/fruits which was delicious to try the local fruits and berries. We then had a nice little afternoon hike through the jungle before relaxing and getting to know each other back at the camp site, the sunset over the jungle was amazing. After a great local dinner we headed out for a 3-4hr night hike to see the wildlife that comes out at night, all the creepy crawlies, snakes, and bats. For some that may be scary though for me it was amazing! The jungle snakes and spiders where just amazing to see, such beautiful colours. We were really lucky to have an environmental scientist studying the local bird life who came out on the night hike, her ability to spot the night wildlife was just amazing!
Its an early start as you want to get going before the heat and humidity kicks in. You are up, eaten breakfast, and hiking before sunrise. Day 2 is the longest day hiking with around 30kms to cover through the jungle. It is a long day and testing at times but a great challenge and great way to get to know your hiking team. I was lucky to have an awesome local guide who had lived in the area his whole life and 4 Germans (a couple, Marv, and a lovely lady who was a true world traveller) who were really fun.
We saw all the varieties of monkeys (howler monkeys, spider monkeys, white-headed capuchin monkeys), anteaters (with its baby), toucans, tiger herons, bull sharks, preccary, coati, crocodiles, vipers, tarantulas, yellow and black rat snakes, curaco, huge variety of birds, sloths, king snakes, hawks, and so many more.
Manuel Antonio – many tourists go here for the ease of seeing Costa Rican wildlife. From what I have heard it has almost become like a zoo and you do see a variety of wildlife. For me the Corcovado is still wild, not many tourists, protected park, and limited availability to go hiking in the park. If you want an adventure go to Osa Wild to explore the Corcovado for a life experience! If you are limited for time then Manuel Antonio is an easy place to see the local wild life.
In the evening we stayed at an awesome lodge with showers and mosquito nets! Oh and do you need them!! Hahaha
The dinner was filling, I think I had four full plates of food and was still hungry that night. You are just constantly sweating! There are a few other hiking groups staying here so it is fun to meet some more adventurers!
The bunk beds were fine and a great place to charge your electronics and get a a few hours sleep as once again day 3 starts before sunrise.
You are up early, legs are a lil tight but the howler monkeys are howling and the jungle is waking up to see who survived the night and all the birds and monkeys want to let you know!
We wondered down to the river mouth where we saw bull sharks and crocodiles hunting which was exciting. From there we began our 20-25km beach hike out of the Corcovado. There are some water crossings to be ready for this, you’ll be fine!
We had a pre-prepared breakfast on the river during sunrise which was beautiful. The third day is a little more relaxing as less distance to cover and you are walking south along the beach. It is amazing to see the might of the jungle meet some of the most untouched and stunning beaches. We did have a little swim at one point which was so refreshing. Some people do find this hike a little harder as you are walking on beach sand and exposed to the sun all day, there are some river crossings, and at times you have to run with all your gear to beat the waves crashing into the rocks while you are hiking across the beach.
For me, it was just stunning! I have seen amazing beaches all around the world but nothing like these beaches, they were just so pure and beautiful. That perfect tropical aqua water with monkeys, birds, sloths, and other wildlife playing in the trees right on the beach. As you are out in the open there is no place to hide from the harsh Costa Rican sun so cover up and wear 50+ sunscreen.
After another great day hiking we finished our 3 day 2 night hike at the mouth of a small river. Hot, dirty, sweaty, and just ear to ear smiles we finished with a cold beer before driving back into Puerto Jimenez. That night after a refreshing shower and nap we caught up for dinner and shared the freshest ceviche and more than a few cold beers to celebrate.
This is one of the best hidden gems I have been to in my life. It is a 3-4 hour bus ride from Puerto Jimenez to Drake Bay and you just have to do it! Again a tiny little town with more locals and a few tourists. It is simple accommodation on just an amazing beach. Great for relaxing after the Corcovado hike. Marv and I travelled together here and just loved it!
Marv and I stayed at Martina’s place. Another fun simple backpackers perfectly located for the beach and getting around. Though then again, for a one street town everything is close.
Restaurante mar y Bosque is one of the best bars I have been to. Marv and I would go each night to watch the sunset there and have the whole upstairs area to our self. For a $1 a beer in 30+ degrees it was heaven! The food is fresh to!
There is a great lil ice cream shop next door to Restaurante mar y Bosque called Heladeria Ice Cream which has amazing ice cream and smoothies. This is a great morning and afternoon meeting spot!
There are plenty of surfing classes and hikes to do around Drake Bay or it is just perfect to relax on the beach and take in its beauty. Marv and I were keen to get out to Cano Island which is a national park and protected area. Marv went snorkeling and had a great time while I took the opportunity to go a little deeper with the scuba gear on.
Cano Island is about an hour boat ride off the coast and is a great way to see the bay and surrounding coastal jungle. Once you get to Cano Island you get the chance to go for a walk get some fresh water and fruit before your dive. It is such a beautiful little island. The dive master was very relaxed so if you are diving just make sure have a good buddy and confident to look after yourself while under water.
Like in Tamarindo the first two dives were a little mercy so viability wasn’t 100% though there was a huge variety of sea life and huge schools of fish circling the reef which was just phenomenal to see the schools swirling around you. We had two Canadian girls diving in our group who were begging the dive master to dive at El Bajo Diablo dive site that was a little further out and attracted larger sea life…with a recent tiger shark attack only a few weeks earlier a few of us were nervous though we were all keen to explore.
I was told that diving on the Pacific Ocean coast of Costa Rica the water is always a little mercy due to the volcanic sediments in the ocean and rougher ocean current compared to the calm Caribbean coast.
We arrived at the El Bajo Diablo dive site, suited up, did our buddy check, and rolled backwards into the water. None of us was to expect or believe what was about to happen that morning at the El Bajo Diabldo dive site. It was a moment of shitting myself to a moment of just pure surreal excitement! A shadow came over the top of me while we were diving…I was like shit, it’s a tiger shark…the dive master is a lose unit what do I do…as we all glanced up we all felt one of the greatest feelings you will ever have. A whale shark!! OMG, the dive master cancelled the dive and advised us to follow the whale shark for the rest of the dive. It was just amazing diving along side a whale shark that was just curious about us as we were about it. I think it loved our bubbles at it kept circling back over the top of our bubbles hitting its belly in a burst of excitement. Circling us and you could see in its eyes that it was watching us all. It was truly an amazing 40 minutes exploring the reef with a whale shark that just kept coming back to see what we were up to. How lucky we were!!
After the dives we headed back to Drake Bay for a fresh lunch of seafood and fruits. None of us could wipe the smiles and excitement from our faces! Scuba diving is really special like that, every time you dive a site the experience is always different and unique, and it with your dive buddies that you can only share that experience with. It is a shame that we are all spread out across the world (Canadians, Finland, and Germany) though that day we just couldn’t stop talking about that dive at El Bajo Diablo. We all exchanged GoPro videos and pictures via WhatsApp and headed to the beach to watch the sunset and a few beers. It was a great day sharing a moment that was so special. Back to Restaurante mar y Bosque for a few cold beers with our new friends was just a perfect end to our time in Drake Bay.
Unfortunately it was time for Marv and I to part ways, I was heading to Puerto Viejo to meet up with the Canadians and French friends we met in Puerto Jimenez and Marv was off to a coffee plantation. It was a great week of travelling together and I hope to have a beer with the great man again!
Getting there from Drake Bay isn’t the easiest as you need to go back to San Jose for a night then another bus down to Puerto Viejo. Luckily the buses leave from Terminal MEPE so I stayed at Salina’s again which was good to be somewhere I knew. It was nice to have a little wonder around San Jose in the evening to the street markets and just get a feel for the city before heading off again the next day.
The bus trip again is 8-10 hours and you get in late at night so make sure you have accommodation for the first night booked in Puerto Viejo. I stayed at Rocking J’s. It is a huge party hostel on the beach that is a little further out from the center of town. If I had my time again I would stay at a different hostel like La Ruka Hostel. Though Rocking J’s was fun, being a party hostel it attracts some different people but I felt safe and they were all there to have fun, not to be malicious or anything. The weekend was the owner’s birthday so there was a massive birthday party planned and people from Mexico, USA, and all around Costa Rica were flying in for the the party. It was an awesome celebration.
Puerto Viejo again offers so many activities for any type of beach escape. It is easy to find a party if you want though there are also plenty of other fun beach experiences in and around Puerto Viejo:
If you want to see turtles or see baby turtles released Tortuguero is where you need to go. With Tortuguero National Park and Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge Park on the Tortuguero doorstep you are in a perfect place for turtles. Just make sure you check which time of year you are travelling here to make sure it is during the turtle season.
The Green Sea and Hawksbill turtle's nesting season runs from July to October with the peak in August, and the Leatherback turtles nest from February to April. It is possible to see individual turtles at any time of the year.
My time in Costa Rica had come to an end but the journey was still only just beginning as I hopped on a bus from San Jose to Managua, Nicaragua which was just took everything I had experienced in Costa Rica to another level!