Costa Rica // My Travel Experience


First off, let me just tell you that I’m so excited to share with you my time in Central America and also my first travel post!!  This was also my very first international trip and I loved it!!!  I now want to see the world and experience every culture!  It’s funny how traveling can do that, & also may be the start of an addiction.   It was quite the experience exploring a different culture from the America that I grew up in and was accustomed to.

I was planning on keeping this a short post, but as I was writing it, I realized there were so many things I wanted to share!  So, this may have gotten a tad out of hand, but I hope you enjoy reading.  Ok, so here we go.  I was not aware of this before, but there is a lot of planning and research to be done before you take a trip overseas.   I’ve traveled to many places in the states, but I learned a lot when planning and packing for this trip that I’m excited to share with you!  I have to say, knowing people {my sister & friends} who have taken multiple international trips was very helpful.  This trip I took with my sister and we booked through GAdventures.  You can check out the Costa Rican tours here.  I need to take a minute and highlight GAdventures because they are an amazing travel company to go through.  They plan out trip tours and itineraries that you choose from, and you are with a guided tour and others from around the world that have booked the same trip.  The tour guides are locals who know the area, and have a lot of information to share with you about the places and activities you’re going to and doing.  It’s great to have this as you feel safer on your trip and you don’t need to worry about speaking the local language well and figuring out transportation as they’ve already figured that out for you.  Plus, you meet people and become friends with them because they are experiencing the trip and activities with you.  Of course, you can choose different activities and packages, so you still have the freedom to make the trip ‘yours.’  Just book the trip and flight, and voila!!  So, back to Costa Rica, the nine-day excursion was booked through GAdventures and the adrenaline package was added because we are ‘adrenaline junkies!’ ……well, maybe NOT so much my sister, but she was still as excited to do these activities as I was. 


If there is ONE thing that you take away from this, let it be this:  PURA VIDA!!

     This is how all the locals greet one another.  So, if you’re planning on traveling to Central America, make sure you use this phrase!!  Plus, it is fun to say!  It means ‘pure life.’ It represents the way of life that all Costa Ricans live by.   They believe in living a simple, quality life full of happiness with people and loved ones over one filled with a quantity of material items.  Have less, but live more.  People matter.  Your family matters.  Value and respect them.  We can all apply this is our daily lives, as we sometimes get wrapped up in our American way of consumption, stress, too much stuff, and constrained time schedule.  America is very time based, where everything is on a tight schedule, including yourself.  Take a breather if you can  from your over-committed schedule, and enjoy the time you have with the people you cherish the most.  This is easier said than done for most of us!  Myself included.  It’s okay to take time for yourself!

With that being said, I will share with you some tidbits of information that you’ll want to keep in mind when traveling there.  


  • DO NOT flush any toilet paper!  The septic systems there do not have the capacity to handle toilet paper or paper goods of any sort.  They keep waste baskets next to the toilet so you can leave it there instead of flushing.  This was extremely hard to remember, as it is second nature for us Americans to just throw it in and flush it away.  I had to actively focus on throwing it in the basket instead.  If you forget and flush, the first time may not cause an issue, but if you do it a few times, the toilet will get backed up and you will have to fix it.  Funny story, when I returned home after the 9-day excursion, in the airport in the US, I was automatically looking for the basket to throw my toilet paper in, until a split second later I realized I was back home and it was okay to flush. It’s crazy how quickly we can form habits! 


        Generally, the food and water is safe to consume.  However, it is less safe in rural and less developed parts of the country.  Tap water is mostly safe to drink there, but not recommended as it has a high chlorine content. To avoid this, you are safe if you purchase bottled water.  Depending what you consume while you’re there, you may experience some nausea or upset stomach.  This is only because the food you’re eating is different from what you’re accustomed to in the states.  I packed the over the counter Dramamine/Imodium to have on hand just in case.


  • This is a third world country, so many locals do not make much or have many assets.  If you are able to tip extra to service providers or anyone you see fit, they are very appreciated.  It is common there for someone to work an entire day for only a few dollars.  You can make such an incredible impact on a whole family by giving even a little extra to them if you are able to.  I gathered a lot of insight on this from our guide and also from a friend who grew up there.  She told me that even if you hypothetically tip an extra 20-30 dollars, that can cover a month’s worth of basic living expenses for most families.  Hearing about this and seeing the families having close to nothing, but yet were so happy and grateful to be of service to you, really hit home for me.  It was then that I realized places out of the US are very different {this was my first culture shock for me}!  I tipped extra when I was there and I felt good knowing that I was helping them out greatly.  If you can, know that you are making a large impact on their lives!


  • I’m just going to give this the honorable mention that it deserves because you NEED to have this while you’re there!  It is a national dish that is served or offered and also on every menu you’ll see there.  Some menus even have approx. 30 different variations of rice & beans that you can choose from.  Trust me when I say that you will not regret  this choice at any establishment or place you dine at!  I ate it for every meal when I was there…..not kidding either!!  Each place also has their own special twist on the dish, so I just ordered it with each meal at every place we stopped at, and it was every time.  I even had others asking for part of mine because they didn’t order it, but decided that they should’ve after the orders came out.  Lucky for them, I’m nice. 🙂 So, the reason I’m raving about something that seems as simple as rice and beans, is that it is not just rice and beans.  It is a mixture of peppers, garlic, seasoning, and whatever else they put in it.  Each place makes it different because they are ancient family recipes that go way back, and only the grandmothers and mothers in the family know the recipe and make it each day.  That is why it is so special and also different at each place.  They each have a historical, authentic recipe that they won’t give to you.  I tried!  I was able to check out a Costa Rican cookbook that one of the people in our tour group bought, and I was able to screenshot the recipe.  I immediately made a huge batch of the stuff when I got home {a batch is approx. a gallon size // I was eating it for dayyyysss}, as I was having withdrawals from no longer having access to it!  Let’s just say that my sad attempt was nowhere near what those ladies had going on in Costa Rica.  It was still tasty though.  I would actually be inclined to go back there just for the authentic rice & beans!! 🙂 


  • While there, I was informed by the locals about technology and their viewpoint on the matter.  They mentioned Apple products, and how they’re so expensive to purchase and ship to Costa Rica that they don’t bother paying that much for them.  I never had a reason to think about this before, but it make sense.  I felt bag actually.  They mentioned how we were lucky because we can get them so much cheaper in the States.  It may be cheaper, but to me it’s still a lot when you put in perpective that we still pay almost $1,000 retail for a new IPhone X.  Most families do not have washers and dryers.  That is considered a luxury item.  For myself never having been out of the US, and seeing this firsthand, it saddened me.  For us, we expect that our place of residence has a washer and a dryer in it, or at least in the building, in unit, or comes with any housing purchase. To think that most families do not even have one, nor do their neighbors, or even miles away, still people don’t have one.  Most roads are not paved beyond the main city roads, either, and electricity to the outskirts is almost non-existent in the remote areas.  I just thought, wow, these people grew up this way, and they don’t really know any different, yet they are the happiest people because they have the people they are closest to and love in their life, and that’s all that matters.  It was amazing to see!  It definitely made me think about a lot of things differently when I arrived back home.  I (or us in America) should never have a reason to complain about anything.  We have all our basic needs met, and a bunch of luxury conveniences that we take for granted, such as washers and dryers.  To us, it’s expected and basic, but to other countries, you’re considered very well off if you have a unit in your residence.  It’s something we should all remind ourselves of.  This is a reason why I love giving back to those less fortunate.  I am making an impact on people and their lives and it feels great knowing that I’ve helped them and changed their situation for the better.  Seeing them so happy just makes me so happy inside!   


  • Keep a photo ID with you at all times and keep extra copies of your passport with your luggage. Also keep your home address with the copy of your passport and also have the address of the hotel(s) you’ll be staying at.  Also, keep your valuables to a minimum when packing, and keep them hidden/packed away when not in your hotel room.  Be careful and never walk late night in small groups or alone.
  • Before you leave on your trip, make sure you have made an appointment with your local travel clinic approx. a month and a half before you leave.  This way you have enough time to ensure you have all the necessary health vaccines, etc., up to date for the place you’re traveling.  I believe for Costa Rica, the CDC recommends getting your Typhoid vaccine (among other vaccines), as there is a viable risk currently to getting Hepatitis A through contaminated food and water regardless of where you are eating or staying, and especially if you’ll be traveling in any remote areas.  I recommend taking the oral version as it lasts 5 years and can cover you if you travel anywhere else in that 5-year span.  * – I am not a doctor or health professional (you need to see a travel doctor or nurse).  This information is solely based on my personal experience and situation.  It will be different for all individual scenarios, so make an appointment to gather further instructions for your specific trip.
  • Also, make sure you’ve purchased a travel health insurance for yourself.  You never know what may happen when you’re overseas and you want to be prepared.  No one has time for an astronomic health bill.  I purchased mine through World Nomads if you need a recommendation.  
  • Also, make sure when traveling here that you take a 34% deet lotion with you to keep mosquitos and bugs off.  You are traveling to the rainforest, and there are plenty of bugs that you don’t know what they carry.  You want a lotion because it lasts longer, especially if you’ll be getting wet (which you will), and also because you are forbidden to use any aerosol spray version of bug spray.  They tell you this because it travels in the air and is hazardous to the rainforest and wildlife that they want to preserve.  They are very much about keeping things natural/organic with no chemicals. I believe at some hotels, you can spray it before you leave, but I would just get the lotion version and call it a day.  I attract mosquitos like a magnet, so of course I couldn’t forget to pack this.  I get swollen welts that itch for weeks, so this was on the top of my list of things to not forget to pack.  I purchased mine here.  Don’t forget to pack a travel pack of Kleenex (this comes in handy if you’re in a situation and need toilet paper or who knows what else).  Also, since you’ll be in the rain forest/cloud forest areas, depending upon the activities you decide to participate in, you’ll need to prepare yourself for getting wet. Pack a rain poncho and shoes that easily can get wet, like these I purchased on Amazon. If you wear tennis shoes, be prepared that they may get soaked and not dry for days.  I still had wet/damp shoes and clothes when I returned home, so keep this in mind.  Also, grabbing one of these towels is not a bad idea either, as nothing seems to dry much there, and these seem to dry very quickly.  I’ve also listed these items for you at the bottom of this post as well.

So begins the 9-day adventure.

We spent approximately a few days at each destination.


We stayed at this hotel in central San Jose:   Soluxe El Sesteo

Our first night was in the capital city of San Jose, where we arrived in from our flight.  There is an exit tax in Costa Rica, so be prepared to pay this tax in the airport  (I want to say it’s approx. $29 US dollars if I remember correctly).  GAdventures made it very easy for us, as there was a person waiting with a sign for us.  Of course, when you exit the airport, there is a massive crowd of people waiting, so it was hard to find our guide, but we did and all was well.  We had a very nice guide that works with GAdventures take us to our hotel to get settled in before our group meeting.  He was very nice and it was awesome to get his perspective on everything (he had never been to the US).  It was extremely eye-opening for me, as I’ve never been in a situation where I’m not in the US and also speaking to someone who’s never been there.  Also, side note, if you are walking, or in any type of vehicle, you have to watch out when on the sidewalk, street corners, or crossing the street.  There are no strict traffic rules there (they have them, but no one really cares about them), and was warned that you’ll get plowed over without hesitation if you’re in the way.  So be very cautious and travel in groups & avoid nighttime travel if you can.  We arrived at our destination after an approx. 25 minute drive.


I loved that GAdventures set up a tour meeting at the hotel.  Our guide (or CEO as they call it) was there (Pamela – she’s awesome if you ever get a chance to have her as your guide).  Everyone from our group arrived, we introduced ourselves, and Pamela gave us a brief overview of what to expect, and also went over certain things to be respectful of while in Costa Rica (such as the toilet paper situation). There was even someone from Milwaukee, WI and Chicago, Il in our group tour!  That was pretty cool.  We also had people in our tour from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and London.  There were more people from more places as well.  


Sarapiqui – Mi Cafecito Coffe Cooperative Tour



-They use banana trees as a natural form of irrigation.

-You can purchase their coffee direct from the plantation on their site. (site link on tour name)

-First Sugarcane and ‘real’ Moonshine experience

-Worldwide shipments to larger coffee brands who slap their label on the product when it really comes from Costa Rica. (A local at a hotel we stayed at shared with us a story of the large coffee brands that contracted coffee farmers at a certain price per pound of coffee for approx 10-15 years, cost of living rises, but farmers are still under contract, so farmers become poor and large coffee brands become rich.


Festival of Lights – Festival de la Luz

-Week before Christmas (like Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, but a Costa Rican version.



Eats:  Aqui Es!



We stayed at this hotel in La Fortuna: La Orquideas Lodge




*This was hands down THE BEST pineapple I’ve ever eaten!!

I learned that it is a root that grows like a carrot would with the green sticking out of the ground! The locals said it’s called a PINA, not a pineapple (that was a term given to it to market it in the United States).




-Illegal to ascend

-If you know the locals or have connections, you might possible be able to take a helicopter ride to the top, but this is incredibly dangerous and not recommended.  We almost got the chance, since our guide knows people, but the weather did not permit.


Arenal Hot Springs – Los Lagos 


Canyoneering – Arenal Lost Canyon Desafio Adventure

-Trek into the rainforest and rappel waterfalls near Arenal Volcano


Chocolate Tour





We stayed at this hotel in Monteverde:  Hotel Los Cipreses   



Monteverde: We were missing half the clan here, but we braved the wind to see the sunset!


Transportation across Laguna de Arenal – Ferry

– Bus to ferry from La Fortuna (approx. half hour).  One hour ferry ride across the lake.  An additional two hour bus ride to town on the winding roads up the valley/mountain.

Bus – Monteverde mountains to Cloud Forest


Monteverde Cloud Forest –




Hanging Bridges through Arenal Volcano National Park



Canopy Zipline Tour – Desafio Adventure Company









ATV Tour

Whitewater Rafting – Sarapiqui


Eats: Tree House in Puntarenas




We stayed at this hotel in Quepos:  Hotel Mimos


MANUEL ANTONIO // Pacific Coast Beach & National Park



Catamaran Tour – 

– Ocean King – cruised along the central pacific coast of Quepos and Manuel Antonio National Park / Snorkeling





Horseback Riding along Manuel Antonio Beach in Quepos

Eats: Restaurant in Hotel Mono Azul (blue monkey) – Met the owners, and they are from Minnesota!  Super nice and friendly people with great recommendations if you need any!  They were fun to chat with!  This place has great food (Authentic and American breakfast options) and is across the street from the hotel.

Bus Fare – Make sure you have coins for the bus to ride to the beach/National Park entrance area. The bus station is a 5 minute walk from the hotel and runs every 20 minutes.  The bus drops you off right by the beach and National Park area.  The hotel sits on the main road between Quepos and the National Park/Manuel Antonio.  I only had bills and didn’t pre-plan to also keep coins on hand, so I had to borrow from others.  You can only use these on the bus, so it’s smart to have some on hand (one way to town is less than one dollar). Also, women wear cover-ups over your swimsuit on public transportation.  It is offensive to the locals if you don’t, and you could potentially not be let on the bus.



Palm Tree Plantations – Manuel Antonio National Park


Crocodile Bridge over Rio Tarcoles – Free to stop and walk across the bridge to peer at the dozens of crocs that lie along the river bank directly below the bridge.  One reported death from a drunk man who walked down there a few years back.

 Let me know if you have any questions or need help planning your trip!




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