This week we are happy to host guest blogger, Lizi on Location. Find her at LiziOnLocation.com
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Travel Costa Rica by Yourself without a Group
Have you ever taken a vacation alone? I mean travel by yourself to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language? I hadn’t either until I took my first solo vacation a few years ago and I haven’t looked back. If this interests you, but you are still a little nervous, Costa Rica is the destination for you!
If you haven’t been there before, chances are a family or friend has. It’s a great place for your first international trip. If you live in the United States like I do, it’s close, fairly inexpensive, and easy to get around. Plus the locals generally like and want tourists because they bring money into the local economy. This means they will put up with your broken Spanish and offer directions if you get lost. So where do you go? What do you do? How do you plan it?
I was asking myself these same questions a few weeks ago while I was planning my trip. Most of my friends have gone with a tour group, but that seemed unnecessarily expensive. Plus I didn’t want to be stuck with one group the entire time on a stiff schedule. I wanted a little more flexibility. I planned my first stop and then winged the rest.
First keep in mind when you book because their seasons may be opposite of yours. Summer in the U.S. is June-September, but that’s their rainy season. It’s not very cold, but very wet. The good news is sometimes fewer people venture there and the colors are outstanding; the bad news is that depending where you are, it may rain literally every day. I would suggest buying a poncho at the drug store for $2. I know so many people who spent $100 on a new weatherproof jacket, but I’m telling you, the cheap plastic was better!
Next: how are you going to get around? Budget travelers rejoice—their bus system is easy and cheap. You can also look at their shared shuttles for anywhere between $25-50. I rode Interbus, but there’s also the Gray Line. They even have some routes that pick you up straight from the airport. Plus it’s a great place to meet people.
You can always rent a car. It wasn’t in my budget, but I hitchhiked with a fellow traveler for a few stops. Keep in mind some of the roads are unpaved, bumpy, and slow, but you can make unplanned stops. WARNING: it may be unsafe, but I had a good experience and now have a new friend from it!
So how are you going to pay for everything? I did use the ATM to exchange money for the Costa Rican Colon, but honesty, almost everywhere I went accepted the US Dollar. It’s not a bad idea to have a little of their money, especially for the more rural/less touristy places, but you should be find if you don’t. Gone are the days when Costa Rica was “cheap.” You are not going to travel, eat, and stay for $20 a day, unless you work at it. I wouldn’t call it expensive, but if you eat out, chances are your meals will be more than $10 each, especially if you are in a touristy place.
So where should you go? Like I said I planned my first stop by booking transportation, a hostel, and a few adventure tours until I got the lay of the land. When you don’t know where you are going next, asking a fellow traveler about their experience gets the conversation rolling. Most likely the traveler just went some place cool and is dying to share his/her experience. This gives you someone to talk to and some ideas of where to go next.
I found the tours/excursions were between $30-45 US dollars. You can book through a concierge service like Anywhere Costa Rica or directly from the tour company and ask them to waive the service fee. I hiked the base of the Arenal Volcano, relaxed in the Baldi hot Springs, and rappelled down waterfalls. You can see all of this in my video below. I loved it all, but if you only have the chance to do one, rappel! The first step is scary, but once you are over the edge, you can control your speed, and swing down. It is such a rush and great for all ages. There were kids in front of me and a woman in her 60s behind me.
I escaped the sticky humidity and headed to Monteverde next (see video below). It was much cooler in the mountains. The town is charming. The main drag of Santa Elena is a triangle that takes eight minutes max to walk where there are plenty of eateries and places to stay. I wandered around and found the Ecological Sanctuary. It cost about $12 to enter. I enjoyed the beautiful green plants, breathtaking overlooks, and even saw some unusual animals. If you want a guided tour of nature, ask at your hotel/hostel about local night walks.
The next day I ziplined with Adventura. The company boasts having the longest zipline in Latin America and it was high! I also did their Tarzan Swing which is a freefall. I wore my GoPro and still get butterflies in my stomach when I watch the video. I can’t believe I did it, don’t know if I will ever do it again, but loved it!
Next I headed to Manuel Antonio, stopping at Playa Hermosa to wiggle my toes in the black sand from the lava deposits and eat fresh coconuts off the trees. The sunset in Manuel Antonio was indescribable. At one point there was pink and blue, at another point the sky was yellow and orange. There are plenty of restaurants/bars overlooking the ocean to enjoy it over a cocktail. I chose to visit the market across from the public beach and enjoy it at sea level.
The allure of Manuel Antonio is inside gates of the National Park. All the guidebooks said admission was $10, but they apparently raised it to $16 the day before we arrived. There are plenty of certified guides you can hire with great cameras outside the park. We ended up guiding ourselves and still saw some really neat creatures. There was a sloth hanging above the tourists, close enough to capture with a zoom lens. Deeper in the park on one of the trails I saw a monkey! I had been waiting all trip to find one and I finally did. It was just as cute as you imagine, but I hear they can be tricky and steal your food from you as well. The swimming cover inside the park was packed with people, but beautiful. It is surrounded by hiking trails with breathtaking overlooks. The trails aren’t difficult, but there are a handful of hills.
After about a week in Costa Rica I felt comfortable to get out of the tourist loop. A local has suggested heading south about an hour (maybe a little less) to Dominical, another awesome beach. It is a surfer’s paradise.
The next day I looked at the map and saw a big green space a little north of the Pacific and discovered the Chirripo National Park. After further research I found it takes two to three days to hike, but there is a point where you can see both the Pacific and Caribbean. I didn’t have that time, but enjoyed a day hike nearby in the Cloudbridge. Check out the video I shot from our hike.
When we arrived Dr. John Himes, manager of the Cloudbridge Nature Reserve, explained that the 700 acres are mostly reforested. Much of the land had been used for livestock, but is now going back to its natural state. Early in the trail you will find flowers, a meditation garden, and access to the waterfalls. This isn’t a “walk in the park,” it is a hike up a mountain. No need for special shoes or gear, but it is steep and rains often, which makes the path slick.
I LOVED my trip to Costa Rica and know you will too. Don’t miss out on what could be a great life experience just because you can’t find a travel companion. Try it out yourself! Costa Ricans have a saying that means “Pure Life” so I’ll leave you with that. Enjoy your trip and “Pura Vida!”
For more of my travel writing visit: www.LiziOnLocationcom and you can find me on twitter/facebook/Instagram/youtube: Lizi On Location.
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