This isn’t really a personal blog so I don’t usually do vacation recaps, but I had such an amazing time in Costa Rica two weeks ago that I thought I would share some of the highlights. If you’re looking for a new vacation (or honeymoon!) destination that isn’t too far away, I highly recommend visiting Costa Rica.
My husband and I went there with zero expectations. I chose this year’s destination for the following reasons:
- We had enough miles saved up so that we could fly there for free. (Surprisingly, from Chicago, it’s only 20,000 miles on American Airlines… which is fewer miles than it takes to fly to San Francisco!)
- A few of my friends had gone there on their honeymoons and loved it.
- Tom Brady and Gisele frequently vacation there and if it’s good enough for Tom it is good enough for me.
Our reasons for going to Costa Rica weren’t necessarily the strongest, but let me tell you: this little country delighted us from beginning to end and I cannot more highly recommend visiting there! On our last night, my husband and I were discussing some of our previous vacations and how this one stacked up and we both agreed it was our favorite tropical destination. On the list of places I have visited, I would rank it third behind Italy and New Zealand.
Here are some of the highlights from our trip:
When planning our trip I consulted with friends that had honeymooned in Costa Rica and followed their direction pretty closely. My friend Caitlin recommended El Silencio Lodge & Spa, which is located in Alajuela, in the northern Cloud Forest and close to the Arenal Volcano (which we sadly didn’t get a chance to visit but that others highly recommend). My husband and I are usually budget travelers, so El Silencio was definitely a splurge for us but it was well worth the expense. Staying here was like being at adult summer camp. There were tons of activities, there was a spa, and there was gourmet dining. All of the guests stay in individual huts, and above you see the view from our balcony, where my husband and I spent a lot of time reading and/or enjoying the view in our matching rocking chairs.
The one thing I wasn’t prepared for is that there are several climates in Costa Rica! El Silencio is located in the mountainous rain forest, about a mile above sea level. Year-round, the temperatures hover around 50-70 degrees. I hadn’t realized this and was thankful I thought to pack a sweatshirt!
I wouldn’t say that my husband and I are foodies, but we have a history of going on food tours whenever we visit new countries. This was no different in Costa Rica, where we actually did two food-related tours! We went on the Rainforest Chocolate Tour, which afforded us the opportunity to see how chocolate is made from beginning to end. We even got to suck on pulp that surrounds cocoa beans in the pod, and have fresh cacao, the original drink of the gods.
Our second tour, later in the trip, was to Villa Vanilla, a spice plantation. We learned about farming vanilla, cacao, all spice, and a range of other spices.
We enjoy going on food tours because we feel like it really allows us to get a sense for the culture and the people. Food is what brings us all together!
And speaking of food… the food in Costa Rica is AMAZING. I could eat Costa Rican food for the rest of my days and be a very happy person. Everything was so fresh and so delicious! Upon arriving at El Silencio we were handed drinks made of fresh pineapple and spearmint, and it’s one of the most refreshing things I’ve ever tasted. I cannot say enough about the food. No matter what part of the country we visited, the food was a highlight!
After a few days at El Silencio, we moved further southwest to Cuna del Angel Hotel. I found Cuna del Angel on Groupon, where I purchased a three-night stay for $230. I was a little worried afterwards that I’d made a bad decision, but Cuna del Angel ended up being perfect. The room was spacious, and the infinity pool was amazing. What really set Cuna del Angel apart, however, was the people working there. They were so gracious and sweet and committed to ensuring that we were having a wonderful vacation. They were quick to offer suggestions when needed, or just ask how our day was going. My husband and I were obviously tourists and know that Costa Rica thrives on a robust tourist economy, but I felt like the staff at Cuna del Angel just had that special touch.
I should note that every single person we encountered from Costa Rica was quick to offer a smile and ask “Hola! Cómo está?” (Of course, as I mentioned earlier I had no idea how to respond due to a severe lack of Spanish skills, but I was impressed to learn that my husband can actually carry on conversations in Spanish!) I could see why so many Americans retire to Costa Rica. We just felt so welcome.
While we were in southern Costa Rica we went to some of the beachs, including Uvita Beach, seen above. I was so surprised to find that the ocean water felt like bath water… and that we had the beach pretty much to ourselves. I also learned that unlike any other beach I’ve ever visited, occasionally a strong wave will come onto shore and travel hundreds of feet farther than the last wave. My husband went out into the water (he’s in the middle of the photo above) and I stayed behind with our stuff, and laid back to enjoy a few minutes in the sun. Just as was I thinking about how we were in paradise, a big wave crashed onto shore, soaking me and dragging some of our belongings out toward the ocean. Lesson learned!
We also spotted this sloth sleeping just five feet above our heads!
And it was our first time seeing wild monkeys!
Visiting Manuel Antonio was amazing and a definitely highlight of our trip. If you find yourself in Costa Rica I would say it is a must-do! One thing we highly recommend is hiring a guide if you do end up visiting the park. We hadn’t intended on hiring one and just kind of fell into it, but without a guide we likely wouldn’t have seen any of the wildlife because we wouldn’t have known where to look.
Finally, while we felt like we saw quite a bit of the country, we loved that we also had plenty of time to relax. We spent a lot of time in the pools at our hotels and it was amazing.
Our final hotel was the Gaia Hotel and Reserve, where I have had multiple friends stay at on their honeymoons. The pool was beautiful, except for one thing… the water depth was 5’2″, which just so happens to be my height. It was tough holding myself up on the side of the pool, which is why I don’t look 100% thrilled in the photo above! (Thank goodness for those childhood swim lessons!)
This was a relaxing vacation for us, but if you crave adventure, Costa Rica is a great place to visit! Some of the outdoorsy things you can do in this small country include: taking surf lessons in Tamarindo, whitewater rafting, flying through the air on a superman zipline course, hiking to Arenal volcano, and much more!
If you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica – and I highly recommend that you all visit, if possible – here are some tips that I hope will help make your visit to the country a little easier.
- Getting a car rental isn’t the crazy process that I kept reading about online. We used Avanti Car Rental. They were waiting for us at the airport, drove us to their facility, and we were quickly on our way.
- DO heed the advice of travelers online and get the SUV with four-wheel drive. There were multiple occasions when we found ourselves driving straight uphill.
- Though we did encounter a few dirt roads, the roads were not nearly as bad as I kept reading about online. Still, we felt more secure with the SUV.
- GET A GPS. I don’t think we could have gotten around without a GPS, especially since Costa Rica doesn’t use street numbers. They have special GPS units where you just enter the name of the location.
- Make sure you get some Costa Rican colóns. We had read that we wouldn’t need any local currency, but were quite happy that we got some at the airport! Most places will take U.S. dollars or credit cards, but some do not. Also, when we drove from the north to the south we were on a toll road and needed to pay in colóns!
- We went during the Costa Rican rainy season (green season), and it was just fine for us. It was clear every single day that we were there and only rained at night. It gets dark at 6 p.m. in Costa Rica, so we weren’t doing anything after that point anyhow. (Tourists are generally advised to stay off the roads after sunset because of the lack of lighting and the curvy, mountainous roads can be quite treacherous.)
- Do thorough research about hotels. I spent a ton of time reading review after review on TripAdvisor! I loved our hotels, but we saw plenty while we were out and about that would not have made me very happy.
We really LOVED Costa Rica and I envy any of you that may be planning a trip there. I hope you love it as much as we did. I know we will be back someday!
If you’ve been to Costa Rica, did you love it as much as I did?
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