6 days at home and still struggling with the cold and foggy weather. Ok, but also happy to live without nasty mosquitos or the always moist clothes. So let’s take a general, my point of view, look about my last destination (no worries, more detailed posts are coming up later!)…
Did I like Costa Rica?
I wanted nature and I wanted less comfort zone and influencer shit than in Bali. And I got it! The nature is incredible, animals and vegetation alike and you definitely feel small in those rainforests and beaches. The beaches!!!! There are influencers and there are immigrants from countries like the US, but still there is not so much “generalism” wherever you look. It feels like the guys there adapt more to the country and not the other way round. So yes, I was absolutely happy!
How long should you plan in?
I had 20 days, including the two travel days. From my point of view 2 weeks, as many people had that I met, are too short. Ok, holidays are always too short, but if you want to really see also some of the not so common spots, you need to travel longer distances too. And then you probably have to cut on beach days – which you definitely shouldn’t! Be aware that the distances on the roads are long and you must calculate about 1 hr for 60 km – in an own car. Double the time when taking a bus and you know why I say: the longer the better.
As you might have realized already, I prefer off season times. I was at the end of the rain season, which was okay (still of course, I had more rain than people going in January or February), and on the carribean coast it will always rain anyways. But concerning people, I had way less tourists. Just compare 4500-5000 people at Manuel Antonio National Park in high season to 1300 when I was there. I think that says it all.
I enjoyed the quiet time a lot, even though it means that many restaurants or activities where shut down.
Transportation and Travel?
I didn’t decide for a car, simply because I don’t like road trips in such countries alone. It is boring and you never know what happens when your care breaks down in the middle of nowhere. But a car, and by car I mean a SUV, is definitely the best choice for traveling around. There are no trains, but a pretty good bus system – even though it is confusing and the San José station situation where there is four bus terminals serving only certain destinations each is a pain. If I had a car, I might have squeezed in the one or another stop. On the other hand, I met pretty nice people on the buses. When you stay in hostels, you will probably also meet other guys with cars, and you can share a ride.
Costa Rica is prepared for backpackers and also for solo travelers. As long as you are relaxed and flexible, you will never have an issue traveling around.
What to see and do?
Definitely the nature and animals. If you love architecture and cities you will be badly disappointed. Go surfing, go hiking, go cycling. Ziplining in the tree canopies is also a huge thing. There is a lot of surf and dive spots, you can go horse riding and snorkeling. Be aware, whatever you do, you will be sweating like hell, as humidity with 70-85% is definitely something we have to get used to. To be honest, people who go to Costa Rica just to stay at the beach are ignorants for me. So think about what you want and decide.
Is Costa Rica expensive?
It is definitely not a budget backpacker country, however, you can definitely travel on small money too. Most of the hostels are nicely equipped with kitchens and the dorms are clean – so there is no need for expensive hotels. Buses are rather cheap too. If you stick to local sodas and restaurants, you can feed yourself with awesome local meals around 6 Euros. Seafood and meat dishes (except the famous casados) start at about 10 Euros. Beer is cheap, there is always a cocktail happy hour around. Wine lovers and Schnaps drinkers: sorry guys, there is not much to catch ;-)
Traveling with kids?
Well, if your little one can handle 12 hours in a row in a plane, then yes. But only if you have a car. You will have to adapt your plans a bit for sure, but there is so many animals, beaches, interesting stuff for kids to see, that it is definitely a kid country as well.
Is Costa Rica safe?
As everywhere, this strongly depends on your attitude. I wouldn’t bring my newest Iphone and Gopro and put it into my beach bag while I am swimming. No bragging with money, storing passport and credit card in my room – the usual things. In touristic areas and San José there are reportedly lots of pickpockets. Follow the rules of your hotel owners and hostel staff and nothing will happen.
San José is a different story. There are robberies, murders (as they told me) and definitely corners, where you definitely should not be as a Gringo (it felt like the corner of my second hostel was one of them). Be super careful downtown to keep all your belongings in the main shopping streets. But as San José is definitely a place to skip, this shouldn’t be a big problem. I was happy when I was back in my hostel in the middle of my trip (even if it was a crappy one that day) and fled out of the city straight on the next day.
As solo traveling woman I always felt safe and never had any issues. I met so many other travelers that I hardly felt lonely in those almost three weeks. I would even go so far to say that it might be a good idea to start your solo backpacker career.
To those that not only want to explore the local food but also other “substances” – weed is everywhere and I don’t think you have to be super careful about this. Just use your brain. Every other funny thing – personally I wouldn’t try it. But guys – I am not a pro in this and would never try out drugs from guys I don’t know anyways. Rather safe than sorry ;-)
And the environment?
I will write a dedicated blogpost on this, but Costa Rica realized that their biggest capital is the nature. And this led to a big number of National Parks (also beaches), a huge anti-plastics-movement and they also start to grow food more naturally again. Still, there is a lot of things to work on, but it is wonderful to see that there is really beaches without trash and you can swim in the ocean without catching plastic bags around your legs.
Do I need Spanish to survive?
I was very happy to finally travel to a country where I could read AND understand the language. You can survive on English as well, but Spanish helps a lot. Some people there cannot speak one single word in English, including taxi drivers, hotel staff or waiters. On the other hand, some of them almost speak accent free US English. Still, they will feel happier when you at least try to speak Spanish with them – even if the Spanish there sounds like a drunk with nuts in his mouth.
Food and being vegan?
As most latin american countries a big part of the meals is rice and beans. If you like this and veggies, also vegans will have a good time. I liked it a lot and also the combination with chicken or fish. On the carribean side of the country there is a big influence from countries like Jamaika. I loved the seafood dishes and carribean sauce so much! I would say the country is not really vegan friendly (like Asia or maybe the Middle East), and the meals are not as creative as somewhere else, but I liked it.
Was there something I didn’t like?
To be honest – the rude US tourists. As mentioned, there were not many, and of course I also met cool guys too, but a lot was rude, ignorant and just tried to get drunk and high as fast as possible. They were disrespectful. They were selfish. They tried to invade my personal space. So no. Stay at home, even if the flights might be cheap.
Besides this, the fact that my whole stuff was a little moist for most of the days (including the things INSIDE my bags) was really a pain in the ass. Not only that you never really feel dry, you will face the issue of fungus and smells sooner or later. There is also no real solution to that, especially when it is still wet season. The only thing you can do is find a spot with pure sun at least for a few hrs per day and try do dry your stuff there.
Costa Rica was definitely a wonderful trip and completely different from all my other travels. I met great people along the road and learned a lot about animals and nature. I could slow down my heart beat and soaked up the Pura Vida lifestyle. If you want a completely planned trip with daily schedule – maybe you choose another destination. If you want to let go and relax and even love rainy days – go for it!