I knew I wanted to go to Costa Rica but I wasn’t EXACTLY sure why. (practice spanish, see wildlife, experience rainforest…but how exactly?) I floated towards this country’s direction by whispers but when it came time to make decisions about how to manage our time there I was clueless. I am not one to always trust guide books, and I am a girl who has visited 21 foreign countries so I have some experience. I gathered up my travel planning knowledge, consulted the guide, the map and my own common sense of myself in a foreign country, plugged my nose with my hand and jumped in to make a few decisions. Going to Costa Rica is not the same as going to Europe, or Africa or Asia. It is an entity of its own and there wasn’t a book for me to read to explain the difference… and I read more than a few. (It has the reputation as an ecotourism place to visit, and without having done that I wasn’t sure what to plan.) Arghhh…
So, I hope to enlighten anyone who finds it compelling to go but senses a clueless wonder about how to proceed.
Time is the first consideration. We were short on it because I relied on the generosity of a dear friend to love on my kids in my absence. I’d never ever be able to take advantage of that sort of generosity so I had to prioritize. This means I assumed if I loved Costa Rica we would return for more, which means I’d have to pick the most important items to experience first. We have never seen a volcano or experienced a rainforest, so that took priority over the pleasures of the beach. With this in mind we located ourselves in the central area of the country so we could experience all of these within a couple hours. This was good planning for us.
The unknown was that I assumed San Jose would be as fascinating as any other big capital city we have ever visited. I love a great city and find myself energized by the activity there. This is not necessarily the case in downtown San Jose. We didn’t hate it but often wished we were more out in the country returning from a fun day touring in a nice country resort with views other than grafiti and drably dressed workers, and even my first definite spotting of a bonafide street walker “pretty woman” syle clothing. What I didn’t know in my planning is that the tour busses come to the hotels to pick us up! I thought it would be like it was in Japan where I had to find my way to the spot where the buses departed which was anything but easy or pleasant. I hoped being in the city we would have easy access to the tours and waste less time. The opposite was true because the downtown traffic is so bad we sat in it…wasting time….which meant a nap for us…ultimately no bother.
If we had another four days tacked on to our five we would have moved ourselves to the beaches. There are so many from the Pacific side to the Caribbean side that we interviewed everyone we met to inform us where their favorite spot was to visit when they need a beach getaway. As it turns out I am glad we did it this way because getting stuck on a bad beach away from everything is not so great. Next time we go we will base ourselves on the Pacific shore in the area of Manuel Antonio. Hands down the locals say it’s the best because it has beautiful beaches in the rainforest! Fabulous. I hope we see it someday.
We also weren’t sure if we should rent a car or sign up for tours. We took it one day at a time and I am glad we did. We personally enjoyed signing up for a tour because they knew exactly where to take us, it included meals and education and opportunity to ask a lot of questions as well as meet other people in our tour from many interesting places. During the rainy season the tours are small- we never had more than 11 people on a bus and never waited in line for anything! It’s also nice to not have to navigate but be chauffeured. Driving out of the city would have been awful and stressful so with city location we made a good choice.
A typical tour includes for example:
- pick up at hotel door
- coffee plantation
- souvenir shopping
- volcano admission and education
- admission to waterfall park with aviary and butterfly house
- ride home
All of that for one hundred dollars a person. I don’t think you can spend twelve hours at disney for that. So, our feeling is that taking a few tours to the important spots in the country is valuable, fun and relaxing. But, we would also suggest planning enough days to lounge around at the beach. If you have unlimited time spend four days in each of the seven provinces. Glorious!
A recipe from our favorite dinner: Arroz con Pollo Rice with Chicken: this is not your mother’s chicken and rice with mushroom soup from a can!
- 4 cupfuls of rice
- 4 raw chicken breasts
- 1 medium onion
- 2 bell peppers
- 2 finely minced celery branches
- 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
- 1/2 kilogram of carrots
- garlic, pepper cumin, worcestershire sauce to taste
Preparation: Mince onion and bell pepper and put into a pot with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Add the breasts which were marinated for 4 hours with salt, cumin, garlic and pepper. Once the breasts are brown on both sides, add the tomato paste and enough water to cover them. Once cooked through take them from the heat, and let them cool a bit then shred them up into bite size pieces. As for the broth, keep the cooking liquid, strain it and add more water to complete the mount for cooking the rice together with the vegetables and the spices. When ready add the chicken and serve. So moist and delicious. I can’t wait to make this for my boys. (seriously I ate it three nights in a row!)