We recently celebrated our third wedding anniversary! Three years ago we spent our honeymoon exploring the beaches and forests of Costa Rica. As we reminisced about our tropical adventure over our morning coffee, we thought it would be fun to share our experience with all of you. We'll cover the highlights of our trip and give our recommendations for everything from amenities and food to activities and travel tips. If you haven't been to Costa Rica yet, hopefully this will inspire you to add it to your travel wish-list, because it definitely deserves a spot.
Our travels started at 11:00pm the night of our wedding when we drove straight to the airport from our venue. Yeah, we're a little crazy. In hindsight, a restful 24-hour break before departure might have been wise, but we were way too excited to start our trip and didn't want to waste any time getting there. Our flights were booked with miles earned from funneling our wedding expenses through travel credit cards (something we plan to cover more in future posts). This gave us access to an incredibly comfortable club lounge at the airport complete with private full-bathrooms and a continental breakfast - gratefully welcomed amenities that allowed us to rest and refuel before hopping on the plane. We almost passed up on this opportunity because we didn't know this was all included in the lounge. If you are booking with miles or a travel-based credit card, ask the company how to gain access to their club lounge if they have one. Simply being a card holder sometimes grants you annual one-time passes even if you aren't traveling with that airline on your trip.
Once we arrived at the San Jose airport, we found an ATM to take out cash in Colones (the currency in Costa Rica). There may be better ways of getting currency prior to traveling internationally to avoid transaction fees, but using an ATM was extremely easy and at this point we didn't mind paying a few extra USD for the convenience.
For traveling around Costa Rica, we rented an SUV. Definitely make arrangements for this prior to your trip, don't leave it to figure out once you get there because your selection of vehicles may be limited. We opted for a mid-line SUV (not luxury!) for a couple reasons. First, it's cheaper...enough said. Second, traveling with a high-end car screams tourist and places a target on you for any sticky fingers looking for ignorant travelers. Besides, who wants to stick out like a sore thumb when you are traveling - the goal is to immerse yourself in another culture, right? We also knew we would be traveling on rougher roads and didn't want to risk damage to a newer vehicle with higher repair costs. One tip for renting a car anywhere you go is to record a video of the vehicle before you drive it off the lot. We rented from TriColor Car Rental, which was a good company that provided a very thorough overview of the car when we picked it up. Recording the walk-through gave us not only documentation of the condition of the car in case there would be any dispute when we returned it (which we thankfully didn't need), but also a reference to the features of the car in case we needed to know where something was (like a spare tire and GPS, which we eventually did need!)
Places to Stay
We spent the first night in San Jose at the Park Inn by Radisson. This is a really nice hotel in the heart of downtown San Jose that provides transportation directly from the airport. Our room was gorgeous, the food was amazing, and the staff was super friendly and accommodating. Check it out if you plan to spend some time in the city.
We would have had an amazing time in San Jose, but we tend to prefer to search for treasures off the beaten path and our sights were set on the ocean, so the next day we headed for the coast. We heard the Atlantic coast has more of a touristy vibe, so we scoped out a place on the Pacific coast, which brought us to Dominical - a tiny surf town nestled between the mountains and the beach. And did we mention gorgeous?!
We found this private villa on VRBO that is located in a gated community on the mountain side. With a private plunge pool, an outdoor walkout shower, and a hammock to enjoy the unbelievable views, how we were ever able to leave this place, we have no idea. The pictures don't do it justice, but words really can't describe how beautiful this place is.
Things to Do
The owners of the villa connected us with a local concierge service that made booking activities extremely easy. By far our favorite excursion was zip-lining with MidWorld Costa Rica. There are many different zip-lining groups throughout the country and most offer similar packages: shuttle service from a common location (ours picked us up from the concierge site in Dominical), 10-15 lines, lunch, and the option of additional activities like extra zip-lines or an ATV tour for an up-charge. Our zip-line tour was a blast (and also probably one of the best meals we had our entire trip!) This is a must while in Costa Rica.
**All zip-lining photos credit: MidWorld Costa Rica**
We were feeling extra adventurous on this trip and once we learned that Coast Rica has some of the best snorkeling sites in the world, we decided to try it out. Maybe not the best decision because at this point in our trip we were getting tired, had never snorkeled before, and ended up with some pretty bad sunburn. The other options offered by the concierge was a coffee plantation tour, private chef for the night, or a couples massage at our villa - all of which were probably more of what we needed for a little relaxation. However, it was well worth seeing all the ocean life, including humpback whales, turtles, sharks, and a ton of quite friendly fish around Caño Island. Unfortunately we weren't prepared with underwater camera equipment, but we were able to catch a few shots of the whales and turtles as well as the beach we visited that was covered in these tiny crabs.
On one of our last days, we took a day trip to check out the beach and do some shopping in Manuel Antonio. This is a more touristy area on the west coast, but we had fun walking the main street while we sipped smoothies and window-shopped. Our trip was during the rainy season, which for the most part meant it rained a couple hours in the afternoon every day. While visiting Manuel Antonio though, we got a better taste of the rains and had to duck into a shop or restaurant almost every hour to escape the torrential afternoon downpours. We didn't mind, but if you want to avoid getting soaked, the rainy season runs from May through mid-November. On the other hand, if you are willing to work around a couple hours of guaranteed heavy rain every day, you can find lower rates and fewer crowds if you travel during this time.
Now, for one of the best parts of traveling, the food! We simply can't talk about food without first mentioning the absolute best place to eat in Dominical - the Bar Jolly Roger. This BBQ wing joint is up on the mountainside and is owned by an American expat who knows how to make really, really good wings. It wasn't far from our villa, making it our go-to spot almost every night on our way back to our villa. This is also where we were first introduced to Sol beer, which can be described as pure sunshine in a bottle. We took a few pictures here, but not until we were a few beers and plates in, so we'll spare you from seeing our drunk wing faces. :) You'll just have to trust us that this is worth the trip up the mountain.
The supermarket in Dominical had a large selection and the kitchen at our villa had everything we needed, so most days we made breakfast and enjoyed our morning coffee by the pool - not a bad way to start each day.
Dominical may be a small town, but it's restaurants were amazing. As soon as we arrived we stopped at Tortilla Flats. Great fish in an outdoor restaurant right on the beach, but be prepared for a visit from an adorable begging dog or two.
We were pleasantly surprised to find great sushi at Domincal Sushi. Another open-air restaurant like so many in Costa Rica that was also home to several geckos.
For a little bit fancier fare, we had dinner at Por Que No? (although this was right after our snorkeling excursion and we couldn't enjoy it as much as we would have liked).
While in Manuel Antonio, we had delicious coffee at Cafe Milagro, had dinner in a refurbished cargo plane at El Avión, and enjoyed some drinks and ceviche at La Luna, the restaurant of the Gaia Hotel and Reserve.
We absolutely fell in love with Costa Rica and hope to return someday to enjoy it again. Until then, Pura Vida!
** This is not an affiliated post - just recommendations based on our personal experiences. However, if anyone wanted to send us to Costa Rica to review some more places, we probably wouldn't complain. ;) **