Sunday, September 16, 2012

In case you're curious: An informative post on Costa Rica

And I swear this will be the last post on Costa Rica..for a bit.

People ask us all sorts of questions relating to Costa Rica and what it's like to travel there. So many people have it on their bucket list, and it should be, so I figured I'd help you all out and give you some insight into what it's all about, aside from the gorgeous sunsets.

If you've been there, you can pretty much stop reading this now, unless you've only been to some fancy resort and think that's all there is to this amazing culture. In that case, or in case you are curious about the lifestyle, then keep reading.

This trip, I decided to make it a mission to take some pictures of the culture and not just the beauty. Sure, there is raw, natural beauty within their culture, but it is an Under Developed county (I don't care for the term "Third World Country". I think that term is a bit outdated) and there is a lot of poverty, especially in the rural areas where we visit most. It wasn't my objective to capture poverty, per se, but just the lifestyle, in general.

We have been privileged to travel all throughout the country, with the exception of the eastern coast. We have been to Arenal to Tamarindo, to Mal Pais, to Punterenas, to Manuel Antonio, to Uvita, to Osa and San Jose. We have seen it all, mountain towns to bigger cities and tourist traps. What's most amazing to me about Costa Rica, everywhere, is their people. They are humble, they are gracious, and they are thankful for tourists. Tourism is a $2.2 billion dollar a year industry. It is the most visited country of Latin America, which says so much about this place. Yes, there is an upper class there, especially in their capital of San Jose and some of the surrounding suburbs. You can find plenty of million dollar mansions and shopping malls bigger than we have here in Florida in San Jose. We have even encountered snotty, snobby attitudes to accompany some of these upper-class Ticos (as the locals are called), but for the most part, they are wonderful, hospitable people.

 A view into their world, all taken from small towns on the Pacific coast...
A typical Tico house is very, very small. one or two rooms, maximum, fitting an entire family.
 {A family home off of a dirt road near Parrita. This would most likely be considered middle class.}
{Apartment-style living near Playa Hermosa}
As I've mentioned a bunch of times, they are laid back people, never in much of a rush. They are proud people, always taking extremely good care of what is theirs, whether it's a shack, a bike, or a business. They love their country, which is why we love going there in September. Their Independence day is September 15th so their flags are flying everywhere the whole entire month.
{A school near Parrita, decorated for Independence Day. They still use pay phones throughout the country.}

 {A bus stop at the foot of a mountain.}
{A graveyard near Parrita.}
 {The front yard of a small house near Playa Hermosa. Chickens included.}
{Off of the main highway near Playa Hermosa.}
{Palm fields. They use palm oil for everything. This is a typical road made of rocks and dirt.}

They love, love, love babies and children. Ticas are meant to be mamas. All of them. And Ticos are great daddies, from what I've seen.
{A Tico on Playa Hermosa with his baby girl, about 10 months old, showing her the waves. She had beautiful curly hair, like Lily, and the sweetest face. These two live in a 10x10 shack just off of the beach.}
They love their soccer. There are soccer fields everywhere.
 {A school yard near Parrita.}
{A soccer field near Playa Hermosa with a school in the distance.}

So, if you're still curious and want to travel there someday, here are some of the questions we get most often:

Q: Is it expensive to travel there?
A: It depends on how you like to travel. We usually spend an average of $100/night on lodging but you can certainly find hostels and cabinas for $30-$50/night or you can find luxury hotels over $300-$400/night.  We prefer the boutique style hotels that are small and still have a Costa Rican feel, as opposed to big Americanized resorts, but have all of the amenities such as A/C, TV, etc. (That's how I like to travel. Dustin would stay in a tent.)

Food can be expensive if you don't know where to eat. If you're in a tourist area, an average dinner costs about the same as the States, around $50 per couple. We love the Sodas, which are small, locally owned restaurants with typical Costa Rica food for around $2-4 a plate. The food is delicious.
Car rentals are about $500/week in low season but public transportation is super inexpensive. Flights from Florida are usually around $250-$300 per person.

Q: Is it safe?
A: It's just like anywhere else. It's safe and it's dangerous. Most crimes in Costa Rica are non-violent. They want your American stuff, specifically electronics because there is a huge black market for those items there. They will take your stuff if you're not smart. You don't go walking on the beach at night or leaving your iPhone on your rental car seat. Be smart and you won't have an issue. In eight years, we have never had an incident.
The murder rate is lower than Washington DC, Baltimore, Newark, Detroit, and many other U.S. cities.

Q: Where is a good first location to travel?
A: Take a whole week and split it between Arenal and Manuel Antonio. These are very popular tourist areas. They are easy to travel to, with paved roads, and there is so much to do in both locations.
Arenal boasts a beautiful active volcano and you should zip line and hike here, go to the hot springs at night. Manuel Antonio is on the coast and you should white water raft, paddle board, and hike the National Park.
You will want to come back after your first trip and visit Mal Pais, Samara, Osa, Uvita...and the rest of the country. There is so much to see.

Q: Where do you usually stay or where have you gone back to?
A: We usually stay in Playa Hermosa, outside of Jaco, at the Hermosa Beach Bungalows. This location is awesome because it's only 1.5 hours from the airport, it's one of the best surf breaks in the country, and it's close to Jaco for shopping and restaurants (we do not recommend staying in Jaco). There is plenty to do in this area for first timers, too.

Other hotels we recommend:
Hotel Silencio Del Campo in Arenal
Hotel Cantarana in Playa Grande
Hotel Cristal Ballena in Uvita
Hotel Pura Vida in San Jose Alejuala
Bosque Del Cabo Resort in Osa (this is an eco-friendly, all-inclusive UNIQUE resort. It is considered luxury camping and is not for Marriott type travelers!)
Hotel La Mansion Inn in Manuel Antonio
Buena Vista Villas in Manuel Antonio (very pricey but perfect for a honeymoon or splurge)
Villas Nicolas in Manuel Anotnio

Q: Do I have to know how to speak Spanish?
A: You should. But I don't and we get along ok. I try to speak and learn the language when I'm there and the locals appreciate that.

Q: Can we drink the water?
A: No. I wouldn't in most locations. Try to stick with bottled water. We've never had a problem but nothing ruins a vacation faster than having the shits for days.

Q: Is driving safe?
A: Nope. But it's fun.

Q: Where wouldn't you travel back to?
A: Probably Tamarindo/Playa Grande because it's too Americanized. It's beautiful there but we like the southern and mid-Pacific better than northern. And we did not LOVE Mal Pais as much as we wanted to. It's beautiful, too, there but it's difficult to get to and we didn't love where we stayed.

We're going back in November, actually 7 weeks from today, on a 4 night trip to Blue Osa, an eco-friendly resort in a remote area. I'll keep you all posted on my thoughts of that place.

That's it. That's my sales pitch for CR. I should figure out a way to get paid for this advice, right??

If you have any other questions, leave me a comment!

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