Last minute trip to Costa Rica? Why not! Student reading week is not actually meant for reading, right?
My good friend, Hailey and I decided it would be a great time for a well-needed adventure. Ever since we were young, we knew a girls trip was in our plans. With only a week of planning in the midst of my heavy midterm season, we decided we would fly into Liberia instead of Costa Rica's capital, San Jose. We were glad we did. Deciding whether to head towards the Pacific or Caribbean coast was a tough choice but we made a decision. We knew we wanted to enjoy the rain forest but, of course, needed some sandy beach days.
From the little research we did, we decided with the week we had, Lafortuna (a little rainforest town located under a once active volcano) would meet our adventurous needs, while Tamarindo would meet our relax, fun and beach needs. Additionally, the travel times were reasonable and we were able to experience the different climates Costa Rica had to offer in a short period of time.
Disposable Camera: Siesta Hotel, Liberia
LIBERIA: 1 night, 1/2 day.
Instead of paying for a full priced ticket to Liberia, we had the privilege of flying standby with West Jet, thanks to my cousin's generosity. However, paying less for a flight comes with its disadvantages: you are not guaranteed to get onto your flight if the seats are all booked. There is no way of knowing until you are at your gate and staff inform you whether you are on or off the flight. With this gamble in mind, we did not have our accommodations booked, nor any transportation set up in case we did not make our flight. Luckily, as soon as we got the 'okay' and received our boarding passes, we used the time between boarding and take-off to book our hotel in Liberia. Stress levels decreased.
We landed around 2:00PM with enough time to explore the small city center. We quickly checked in and went exploring. Liberia was full of fruit stands, a vibrant town center with quality shopping centers and many fast food joints you can find almost anywhere in Western countries, like McDonalds, KFC, etc. Luckily Hailey and I had the same idea- we are here to try local food and we went hunting for more local options.
Although we had an early night knowing we had a full day ahead of us, we made sure we tried Costa Rica's national beer, Imperial. With the welcome sound of animal noises I never get to hear, and the feeling of hot air on our skin, a cold beer was a great way to end an unforetold day.
LAFORTUNA: 2 nights, 3 days.
Booking last minute also means bookings that do not work out. We called every possible rental car company we could."Sorry, all out of cars","lo siento, no hay auto".
Luckily Hailey found us a decently-priced shuttle.
We left Liberia and 3 hours later -after a twisty, stomach-upsetting journey- we were in a new place and a new climate.
The transformation from the main land to the rainforest was a beautiful one.
Lush flora and fauna, hills, a mixture of trees. We even saw some wild life like a howling monkey and families of coatis. (I never knew these things existed, I can't decide if they look like mini anteaters, lemurs or raccoon cats)
We snagged an awesome hostel where we spent 2 nights glamping.
The hostel was lively, with people of all ages. Undergrads, families, and veteran backpackers. There was a nice pool, billiards, a canteen with delicious food. Although I never saw it at use, they even had a mechanical bull.
Day 1, we went to Lafortuna Waterfall. A 500 step decline to a 250 foot waterfall. After the hike down, the jump in was easy. The waterfall was so powerful it felt like you were swimming in an infinity pool. Everything in and around the falls were so alive you could feel it breathing. The 500 steps back up were a workout, but the Pina Colodas at the top were well worth it.
Disposable Camera: Lafortuna Waterfall and Los Lagos Hot Spring Resort
We spent the rest of the evening at Los Lagos hot spring, spa and resort, purchasing a day pass. All I can say is wet bar and natural hot springs. The water came from Arenal Volcano's underground heat source. R-E-L-A-X-I-N-G. Which was great, because our next day was quite the adventure.
We decided to pay for a day tour to get a lot of sight seeing into a short period of time.
First stop, Arenal Volcano; a resting volcano with much history of waking up out of the blue. Sadly, as rain forests do, they have their own weather systems, making the rain unpredictable. It would rain hard and then stop. Rain hard, and stop. As you could imagine, the trek was muddy, and fully inclined for 80% of the journey. When we reached the top, there was not much to see because of the fog. It was rewarding regardless to be able to see the lava rocks, and new life growth that had only formed in the last 30 years, since the last eruption.
A tease of the Arenal Volcano
When we returned to the bottom, we were greeted with temporary sun and some yummy local food. We had the opportunity to take a quick rope swing into the piercing, deep, green lagoon, and onto our next adventure Ecocentro Danaus (ED).
ED is a private nature reserve located just outside of the city. Regardless of the rain, there was much we saw. 2 out of the 6 types of toucans, red eyed tree frogs, a three toed sloth, large butterflies, a baby viper snake and what we believe to be a spider monkey and its baby, to name a few.
Red Eyed Tree Frog
Quick fact about toucans. Did you know, toucans are not as innocent as they seem. Our tour guide described them as the prey birds of the rain forest, attacking other bird nests and birds themselves and eating them! Seeing more later on in our journey, I imagined them with little leather jackets on as they flew in their bad bird biker cliques.
By the end of the day, every single item of clothing was soaked. We were cold and tired, but luckily our last stop was a natural hot spring. Imagine our tour bus full of people of all ages and nationalities, stripping down to our baiting suits and booking it to the warm flowing river, in the dark! R-E-L-I-E-F with a side of a local liqueur cocktail.
That evening, one of our tour guides recommended a resto-bar off grid from the regular tourist hustle and bustle. We had some great people we made friends with on our tour that agreed to join for dinner. Our crew consisted of a Canadian couple, a nurse and flight attendant from the US, a backpacker on his 9th month of travel from Belgium, and a newly graduated gen z from England. Little did the eight of us know we were attending karaoke night. A quick bite, turned into a night of singing and a few Mojitos. Hailey even tried karaoke for the first time. To add, I learned that Wonderwall by Oasis, is a universal campfire song.
TAMARINDO: 4 nights, 4 days.
Leaving Lafortuna, the 4 hour drive was a quick one. Early shuttle and a nap later, we were to our hostel called Selina. A surf village out of a story book. Beach hair, sandy toes and tourist temptations everywhere. At first, it seemed as if it would be hard for us to pick what to do. After a few hours of exploring to inner city and taking time to walk the hot sandy beach, I think we mutually realized that a little would go a long way in Tamarindo.
Our first night, out hostel offered free salsa classes, awesome. Although, you will not find me on another salsa floor anytime soon, I enjoyed the experience. We ended up making friends with two Canadian girls who we spent our evening with. Rumor had it, a local club had ladies night so of course we explored. Free cover, free drinks, why not? We ended up meeting more Canadian girls and a few Facebook exchanges later, we realized we all had too many mutual friends. Turns out they happened to be from where we grew up! Although the adrenaline of free stuff was nice, Hailey and I called it an early night because we had food on the brain. Local street meat was our first choice, and we stumbled back to our hostel with full bellies and danced out legs.
We settled on surf classes at sunset for our second day to give ourselves a morning of relaxation and recovery. Our surf instructors were seasoned, and knew their stuff. Although I had surfed many times before, I still learned a lot from them, and was able to work on my technique quite a bit. Besides the beautiful sunset we ended our surf session in, they had a photographer/videographer who captured our shreds. After our 'in-water' classes were over, they had a video screening in our hostel common area to go over our rounds. I learned so much more from being able to see my own formation. They even had a dead board set up for us to make live corrections out of water, so when we would return to our boards in the water, we had a better idea of what we were doing right and what we were doing wrong. We had an additional two hours with our boards, which we used the morning before we left Tamarindo. My surf bug has definitely revived from this experience. What beach next?
The majority of our time was spent on the beach, pool side, or exploring all the local shops and restaurants with the girls we made friends with. We even got a morning yoga session on the beach because our hostel offered classes. Four days went by too quickly, but we would not have spent it any other way. Next thing you know, it is our last night.
Between the four of us Nova Scotians, we had the idea of getting a tattoo. The bartender happened to hear of our interest and of course says "I know a guy who tattoos for cheap". Our eyes lit up, and next thing you know, we are making our way to another hostel. We decided that day we would all get little seashells as memoir tattoos of our Costa Rica trip. An hour and tattoo later, we left questioning where we were and what we just did, with full smiles and laughter on our faces. I guess that is how a memory is created.
Disposable Camera: Nova Scotian Crew
For booking our trip last minute, we did well. The second we met one local, the possibilities were endless and our ideas of what to do and how to get there were made beyond easy. I have gone places in the past in which locals are nice for a price, but here there were those who were genuinely helping to ensure we had the best time possible. The people were amazing, and so were the sights to be seen. Never have I seen so much wildlife, color and scenery in one place in such a short time. When I travel, I always want to go to new places and have always vowed that I would not go somewhere twice until my travel bucket list is full. Costa Rica has changed that for me, I would go back in a heartbeat.
Amazing hospitality, amazing food, amazing culture, amazing people.