Costa Rica- a beautiful country hailed by many as a fantastic tourist destination. Unfortunately for us, we didn't get that perfect experience one may expect so if that's what you came here for you might want to find a different article. If you're still interested, here is our incredibly honest opinion of Costa Rica, the good and the bad.
**Scroll down to the bottom to see the full video!
1. Disappointing Cuisine
Sadly we don't have any pictures of food, and that's mostly because there was nothing worth taking a picture of. Costa Rican food is, put simply, like bland Mexican cuisine. We had an AMAZING meal our first night in San Jose out of a tiny little food stand, only to find it was actually a traditional Mexican dish.
2. Gorgeous beaches
The Costa Rican coast is absolutely beautiful. The combination of mountains and the ocean makes for a landscape only matched by a few locations around the world. It was easy to find touristy areas, but we also quickly found spots that were a little more private.
3. A Range of Accommodations
This can be a good thing or a bad depending on your preference for where you sleep. For Matt and I, when we go backpacking we are looking for cheap hostels or even places to camp. In Costa Rica we found both, but this was one country where we felt we had to spend money in order to stay safe in some places. Of course we didn't go everywhere, but we found that we were typically spending $20 per night to have a dirty room with no AC and a shared bathroom, but we could have spent about $85 or more per night on a nicer space. (SKIP TO THE LAST PART OF THE POST TO FIND THE ONE EXCEPTION, POSSIBLY THE BEST PART OF COSTA RICA FOR BACKPACKERS)
4. Montezuma- the safest beach in Costa Rica?
Being in Costa Rica for 17 days meant that we had a tight budget the entire time. The one place we felt incredibly safe and surrounded by both local culture and tourism was in Montezuma. A small surf town, this place is home to backpackers, pot smoking beach bums, a turtle hatchery, and a number of hidden treasures. While we were there we were able to camp on the beach, meet some great people from around the world, hike waterfalls, walk the beaches, and even experience some local interaction with an amazing family living on the beach next to our campsite.
5. La Fortuna and Arenal
This is a popular tourist destination for a reason. Its easy to get to by bus from San Jose, there are plenty of English- speakers, and there are a number of awesome shops and tours in La Fortuna. We highly suggest spending a night here. Hike Arenal and have drinks in the hot springs, then spend a morning walking around the town and its unique shops.
6. Great Transportation- If you speak fluent Spanish
If you're interested in saving money, you're probably going to be interested in local transportation. Depending on where you want to go this is not a problem, but it could be. San Jose is without a doubt the main hub and you can get to practically anywhere from here. Unfortunately this means that you might spend a lot of time back tracking to San Jose in order to get to one destination after another. If you end up at a bus stop rather than a bus station, be prepared. We found ourselves in this position a few times and were forced to hop on a bus and cross our fingers since nothing was posted. Stick to the main bus routes or find a different method (like flying) and you may have an easier time.
7. Rio Celeste
It absolutely amazed us both that this place wasn't crawling with tourists. There are two entrances into the park so maybe we got lucky, but the one we chose was basically empty and free to enter. It was a moderate hike and it led us to the most beautiful site was saw in the whole country.
This wasn't an easy tour to find- we ended up in Guatuso where we stayed in a hotel and then got a taxi to the park where Rio Celeste was. On the way back we hitchhiked with another tour group and managed to find our way to a bus heading to a bigger town where we could take another bus to San Jose. It took crazy maneuvering to get there, but definitely worth it.
AND THE MOST FUN PART OF COSTA RICA? (At least for a backpacker)
Rockin J's- This place was a backpacker's heaven! While the rest of Puerto Viejo may not be the safest or the most beautiful part of the country, this was the most fun location we visited by far. The entire place is covered in mosaics and art, and they even let you add to it (of course we did)!
Other than the amazing art everywhere, it was great for young visitors. You could set up your own tent, rent a tent, rent a private room, stay in a dorm, or even rent a hammock! (We did that, but be prepared- there is a high probability of a drunk person accidentally winding up in your tent at the end of a wild night).
The bar has westernized food which we weren't huge fans of, but they served drinks and had live entertainment and dancing. At one point we were with a group that represented six different countries!
If you couldn't tell already, Costa Rica was not our favorite place. That being said, we still wound up with some amazing memories full of incredible destinations and wonderful people.