Adventure Travel in Costa Rica
As my wife and I are avid outdoor enthusiast, we often look for vacations that offer both cultural experiences and outdoor activities. We usually don’t go a week without getting out for a hike, a long run, a day or two of skiing, you name it. So when we travel, we like to continue our lifestyle of adventure whether it is an event or two each day or throughout the entire vacation. Down time can be very relaxing, but we often find ourselves looking for the next adventure to plan.
This year, we booked a trip to Costa Rica to see how the countries activities and culture lived up what we have heard from friends and seen on TV. We went during the month of June where it is often the rainy season on east coast of the country, but the west coast is usually pretty dry. We chose Costa Rica for a few reasons; proximity to Denver, CO, tropical weather and climate, great access to beaches, and the various activities offered.
We landed in the city of Liberia and quickly headed over to the coast. The city of Liberia didn’t have a lot to offer tourist and it was like a normal city in the U.S., just a little more run down. The first town we went to was a small and off the beaten path town called Samara. We chose this location as we wanted to see a few different regions within Costa Rica. The culture here was less resort like and a little more representative of Costa Rica. The advantage of going to smaller towns such as Playa Samara was that many of the services and products you pay for are less expensive than the resort towns. For example, I ran into a local that was selling coconuts and Coconut juice. The price was $1 a piece while in other resort towns, you would pay between $3-$4.
While in Playa Samara, we stayed at the Hideaway Hotel which is a nice hotel with room sizes comparable to standard hotel room sizes in the U.S. The hotel offered daily breakfast that was included with the total room rate and provided 3-4 daily options: rice and beans, fruit, french toast, or eggs. It wasn’t super fancy, but each meal was packed with flavor. The portions are a little smaller than you see in the US, but this was true most places we ate. One of the unique things about the Hideaway Hotel was that they had Howler Monkeys in the woods outside of the hotel, about 75 yards away. They were hard to see from the hotel grounds, but you can hike just off the grounds up a hill and see all the monkeys. We saw about 8 different monkeys in the wild one morning.
The Hideaway hotel was about a mile to a mile and a half from the restaurant and bars, so we often walked the beach to get to where we needed to go. The restaurants in Playa Samara were so-so as far as food quality and taste went and the prices were comprible to prices in the U.S. It seemed like many of the restaurants wanted to cook American food, but they just couldn’t get it right. It would have been nice if they would have cooked more rice and been dishes and perfect those. For discounts on restaurants, I suggest checking with your hotel. It seems like there are a lot of referral bonuses offered among the workers in the industry. As for the night life, we didn’t really experience much of one. The bars were pretty quiet by about 9 pm or so, but this may be due to the fact that were visiting during the shoulder season.
The beaches in Playa Samara were fairly quiet and the water was calm. One unique thing about Playa Samara and its beaches is that there are stray dogs running all over the place. Being that we are dog people, it didn’t bother us. All the dogs were very friendly and they would often tag along with you while walking on the beach.
For activities, we started each day off with a run on the beach. From point to point on the main beach, you could usually get in about 6-8 miles. Since we were at the beach, far far away from land locked Colorado, we wanted to try our hand at stand up paddle boarding in the Bahia Carrilo Cove which is pretty calm in the morning. The cost was about $60 per person for an hour to an hour and a half session. My wife who had never been SUP’ing was able to get up on the board pretty easy and paddled along. It’s a good sport for most people because it’s easy to pick up. We also did a zip lining tour through the jungle which was a lot of fun. It’s not something that we would do a lot of, but it’s a fun activity while on vacation and try once.
For travel around Playa Samara and the remainder of Costa Rica, we rented a compact car and it was fine on all the roads we traveled. There were some roads with lots of pot holes, but aside from that, you don’t need to rent anything bigger unless it is something you want. Be forewarned, Most U.S. auto insurance’s will not cover you while in Costa Rica. We found, however, that if you reserve and pay with your credit card, many credit cards feature overseas auto coverage. Before shelling out for 3rd party coverage, give your credit card a call before leaving the states to make sure you are covered. From what he heard, the rental agencies can be sticklers when it comes to bumps, dents, etc. During our 10 day trip, we drove around plenty and spent about $65 USD on gas thanks to our fuel efficient compact.
Our next stop on our trip was Tamarindo which is located about 1 hour north of Playa Samara as the crow fly’s, but you have to go inland to stay on the paved roads and therefore took about 2 hours to drive. Tamarindo is a little more of a touristy destination which could be good or bad depending on what you are looking for. We wanted to get a mix of off the beaten path and more popular destinations to get a good perspective of the whole country. The main drag in town parallels the beach and is approximately 2 miles long or so. As you move away from the main city center, the beach gets a bit quieter. We ran the beach every morning, but you have to do a few more out and backs to get more than 3-4 miles in. The sand pack is easy for running up until the estuary.
While in Tamarindo, we stayed at the Tamarindo Diria which is one of the most popular hotels in the town and sits on the beach. If you’re looking for a hotel that is a little nicer, this is a great option. The grounds of the hotel were kept up very nicely and since it sits right on the beach, you could go for a swim, surf, or boogie board and then go back to the hotel property to lay in your beach chair (the majority of the rooms are on the beach side, but a small portion are across the street, so look at the type/location of your room when booking). The hotel had a nice pool near shady palm trees to help cool off. There were also plenty of staff including security on the grounds, so it helped keep out the locals trying to sell you little trinkets which there were plenty of. Each morning was kicked off with a breakfast buffet, which is included within your room rate. The buffet had a wide range of offerings, from hot items to a fully stocked cereal and fruit selection.
As far as things to do in Tamarindo, besides learning to surf and frolicking in the waves, what the town is known for, there is plenty of shopping to do in the town. One of the things I noticed is that a lot of the shops try to act like the products they are selling are local, so you have to be careful if you want something truly unique to the region. What you buy in Tamarindo is also marked up a little vs. what you would buy in a smaller town since it is more of a tourist town, but not too substantially higher.
For food, there are plenty of restaurants in Tamarindo that have decent food. There is also a large supermarket a couple miles outside of town where you can buy food to make your own meal. A lot of the food in the grocery store is more expensive than you would see in the U.S., but it gives you the option to make what you want to make as long as you have the right food preparation tools. It’s also a good place to buy alcohol in case you want to save a little money vs. going to the hotel bars. Another way to save on alcohol is by taking advantage of happy hours which most restaurants and bars have.
If you have a car, like we did, you can drive to a few other beaches south or north of Tamarindo. We enjoyed Playa Negra a lot, as it was pretty quiet and with excellent vistas without hotels lined about along the beach. Just north of Playa Negra, there is Hacienda Pinilla, a golf club/resort which is also home to the JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort and Spa. We paid a quick visit here, they allow visitors in with a day use pass, and found the pool to be the best we had seen in Costa Rica which was making up for the small and rocky oceanfront. If you are looking for a beautiful resort, then the Marriott property might be for you, just know that you are about 20 minutes from town and will be limited with regards to food options and may miss out on Costa Rica culture. I will admit though, it was nice to get a good greasy cheeseburger poolside!
The last location where we visited was near the once dormant Ricon de la Vieja volcano,which is located inland, just northeast of Liberia. Ricon de la Vieja was dormant with no eruptions for quite sometime, up until September of last year. This area has a tropical dry forest and remains green during the rainy season, however flowers bright colors and turns brown come the dry season. The terrain is more rugged and near mountainous, no beaches here:)
We stayed at the Borinquen Mountain Resort and Spa which is a resort located far off the beaten path. To get there, it is about a 45-60 minute drive from any major highway, depending how confident you feel on a single lane road that is in some rough shape. One of the nice things while traveling to the resort is that you get to see some of the local country side which is very scenic. Part of this road is dirt, but I never felt like I needed a 4 wheel drive vehicle to get to the property.
The Borinquen is comprised of villas and bungalows, and all rooms are separated from each other like in a housing subdivision, which was really nice. We had our own little villa that looked out over the grounds with a really nice covered balcony This balcony ended up coming in very handy a few times during our stay, it started to pour cats and dogs around 2-3pm each day. Compared to our rain in Colorado, when it rains it really RAINS in Costa Rica. The inside of the villa we stayed in was absolutely amazing and was super luxurious, despite selecting the cheapest option, and was at least 450 square feet or more.
For relaxation, the property has hot thermal soaking pools with varying temperatures. Some of the pools are hot tub like, while others were more natural. There is also mud on the grounds that is good for your skin. You plaster the mud on you, let it dry, and then wash it off. This is good for the skin and a unique experience you won’t get in 99% of hotels you stay at. The best part, it’s all free. The Borinquen also offers other activities such as horseback riding which we tried out. The ride was very entertaining and allowed you to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time including a visit to two water falls. Breakfast is included with your nightly rate, however dinner and lunch are not. Since you are about 45-60 minutes from the closest town, eating on site is a requirement unless you venture out to do other activities or site seeing.
There are plenty of trails to hike on in Ricon de la Vieja if that is your thing. We ended up hiking and trail running at the National Park, which doesn’t really compare to national parks in the U.S. as far as facilities go, but it’s not bad. There is a trail that leads to the crater of the volcano, however this has remained closed since the recent eruption. Prior to its’ closure, it was touted as one of the best hikes in Costa Rica. We were kind of bummed that we missed out but were still able to go on a nice trail run that ended at a waterfall. The waterfall was good for a few pics and a refreshing swim. If you choose to head to the National Park, there is a local road tax which is not stated many places, but you have to pay it. In my memory, it was about $2.
When deciding on traveling to Costa Rica, I highly suggest you sit down and think about what type of trip you want to experience. I have listed out 3 different experiences which I hope you will be able to get a feel for what you can experience. For me and my wife, we ended up having a great time as we looked to get a little bit of adventure, experience of Costa Rican culture, and relaxation.
If you have any questions or comments regarding our travel to Costa Rica, please leave a comment and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
For more information, please visit Costa Rica Tourism
If you want to see what products were tested in Costa Rica, click here