Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hola from Costa Rica!

I have been running around exploring Costa Rica while Wendy has been holding up the hug fort back in Toronto.  So what did I discover and love about this lush country?  How about the coffee, the macadamia nuts, the rainforest, the kind-hearted people and most importantly, the chocolate covered fruit and coffee beans.  I didn’t know what to expect when I was invited to attend a friend’s destination wedding in Costa Rica.  Could I drink the water?  Eat the food?  Will it be safe?

Enjoying the sunset at Playa Grande
The overwhelming answer is YES!  My expectations and fears were blown away.  Yes it’s still important to be cautious when traveling, but we felt fine renting a car and driving all over on our own.  It's a place where you can venture off your resort and really experience the local food and culture.  The places we visited were full of rustic charm and not overbuilt for tourists that it becomes tacky.  I highly recommend Costa Rica for a visit and I would return again in a heartbeat.

Caipirinha o'clock (left), The Honeymoon Suite at Tabacon Resort (right)
Here are a few of my tips if you are planning a trip to Costa Rica:

1) Wear bug spray.  The mosquitoes come out at around 6pm and I got bit, but only at dusk.  Most of the restaurants are open-air, so make sure you give yourself a good spray down.  Sunscreen here is a no-brainer, you’ll cook – so wear lots.

2) Rent an SUV with four-wheel drive.  Where we were travelling near Liberia, Playa Grande, Tamarindo and Arenal Volcano, most of the roads were paved.  They were all in very good condition, with only 15% of the roads, which were unpaved with hard gravel and rock.  You’ll also encounter some steep hills to climb and we felt safer in a bigger car with more engine power.

Swimming in the volcanic thermal hot springs at Tabacon
3) Enjoy the food & smoothies.  The water is safe to drink, but bottled is easily available and fairly inexpensive.  Fresh fruit shakes made with milk or ice are a big deal down there and they are delish.  The food is very inexpensive and a must-try.  We are talking one-dollar beers, two-dollar tacos and 10 dollars for a gigantic steak dinner with fresh chimichurri sauce.  Most places accept US dollars or the local Colones currency.  Just make sure you pick places that are reputable or recommended by your hotel or guidebook.  By law, a 10% gratuity is automatically added to your bill.  Most prices on the menu include gratuity and 13% tax.

Taking a hike through the rainforest
4) Fly Direct.  You can fly direct to Liberia on a chartered flight in five easy hours.  Search www.iTravel2000.com for flights on Sunwing, Canjet and Thomas Cook airlines.  Most of these flight fly down people who have purchased all-inclusive packages, but the flight-only option is available.  We were able to score a Monday-to-Monday deal for $500 or so (with taxes) on Sunwing.  You can also search direct with some of these airlines or have a travel agent book for you.  These flights do not show up on Expedia or Kayak all the time.
Hanging bridges tour anyone?
I will be sharing more from my trip this week and next, with lots of suggestions, tips and things to do! In the meantime, here is the highlight reel:
A clear view of Arenal Volcano from our room at Tabacon
Howling monkeys that sound like dinosaurs
The Gold Coast - Playa Conchal
The Villa we rented in Playa Conchal with an infinity pool!

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