If you read my intro and my first post, you already know that this blog was born in Costa Rica, at least in concept. Since this is, to some extent, a travel blog, I figured we should probably talk about the country that gave me the final kick in the ass to start my blog. I am certain I will say this about another country in the future, like I have said about other countries in the past, but Costa Rica…Costa Rica was the best!
Pura vida, directly translated means pure life, or simple life. It isn’t just a tourism catch phrase; it is the lifestyle of Costa Rica. It’s a common greeting, but also a reminder to relax, to breathe, to let go of your stress and be grateful for what you have. It was a constant reminder for me to enjoy every moment of my solo adventure. While I couldn’t see everything I wanted to see, or do everything I wanted to do, pura vida was my reminder to enjoy what I had time for. It was a wonderful reminder to enjoy my alone time and embrace fully being me on this trip. The people were so, so friendly and welcoming, and not in that we want all of your tourist money kind of way. Even the tourists I met, which I typically avoid when I travel, were friendlier and more likeable.
I did a lot of research before I went on this trip, and I recommend anyone wishing to travel somewhere new do the same. I can give lots of recommendations and advice, but ultimately it comes down to finding what works for your travel style and your interests. I used multiple websites and blogs to gather information for this trip, but mytanfeet.com was my hands down favorite. From what to pack, where to go, things to do, what to be aware of, mytanfeet was the most current and comprehensive. I can’t possibly be half as informative, so I am not going to try. What I can do is give you the perspective of a female, solo traveler in Costa Rica, and the perspective of someone whose traveling style is, as the blog name indicates, a change of no plans. I will try to limit this post to some basic information, and talk about specific places and activities next time.
You don’t have to speak the language. Like I said in my previous post, I don’t really speak Spanish. I understand some, and I can use a few basic phrases. I am not sure why this became such a concern for me prior to this trip. I moved to Norway for a year during high school and had pretty much only mastered saying ja and nei before I arrived. I have been to Spain, France, Belgium, Greece, Switzerland, Puerto Rico and Mexico, and I don’t speak any of the languages. Costa Rica is filled with American expats and tourists from all over the world, and the majority of the Ticos I encountered all spoke English, so my concerns were ridiculous. And the Ticos were so kind about my fumbled attempts at Spanish, and honestly seemed appreciative that I was at least trying. I can find a bathroom on my own, and as long as I can tell them I have a coconut allergy (seriously a concern when you travel in tropical locations, and coconut makes your throat close), and ask for another drink, I decided I was doing okay. I did make it my personal goal, however, to learn enough Spanish to comfortably travel through Spanish speaking countries in the future.
The roads suck, drive anyway. After much deliberation, I decided to save myself a lot of lost hours sitting on a bus, pulled up my big girl panties, and rented a car. When they are paved, they are really well paved, but probably don’t have shoulders or guardrails. The drivers are bat shit crazy, and you might as well throw everything you learned about traffic laws out the damn window, because no one is following them anyway. Be prepared for dirt roads that make Northern Michigan’s roads look like smooth, newly paved racetracks. The potholes are sometimes big enough to swallow your little rental car. Miles into a dirt road, in the middle of nowhere and for no apparent reason, you might encounter a stretch of perfectly paved road, but don’t get over confident because it might end half a mile later. I don’t regret renting a car for a moment though. I got to see so much of the country that I wouldn’t have seen had I taken a bus everywhere. When I got to an area, I preferred to park the car and walk as much as possible, but the ability to go where I wanted, when I wanted, was right up my alley. The views while driving were incredible! It was worth every penny of the rental fee. Be aware that the rental car/insurance situation is complicated in Costa Rica. I recommend reading all of the information on mytanfeet.com about this, and going with their recommended company.
The showers aren’t always hot. This certainly isn’t the first place I have traveled where the temperature or pressure of the water are unreliable and often nonexistent. I have a lot of long, thick, wavy to curly hair that can quickly turn into a tangled, almost dreaded, mess. It requires lots of water, lots of shampoo, and lots of conditioner. Taking showers in places where warm water and good water pressure are lacking aren’t particularly fun, but I consider it part of the adventure. That being said, dry shampoo and spray detangler are highly recommended. I also recommend a package of baby wipes because when you just can’t mentally handle another cold shower, a good baby wipe whore’s bath is a life saver after a long day of hiking.
The drinking water is safe. No need to worry about buying cases of bottled water or filtering everything. I have a bacteria hating GI system that starts to panic and evacuate at the mere thought of going back to my Amish ex-mother-in-law’s house for dinner, and I was able to drink the tap water everywhere I went. Costa Rican’s are far more environmentally conscious than the average American, and they really appreciate you drinking the tap water, reusing your plastic bottles, and recycling everything. You are visiting their country, please respect it.
The food is delicious. Be open to new foods when you travel! This is one of my biggest pet peeves with tourists. Don’t go to a tropical place and order a cold-water fish like salmon. Don’t order chicken fingers like you would at home. For the love of all, you aren’t there to experience your own damn culture; you are there to experience the local culture. Avoid the tourist trap restaurants. Ask a local where they would go out to eat on their day off. In Costa Rica, be sure to eat at a soda. They are cheap, give you more food than you can possibly consume in one sitting, and are delicious. When it says typical, order it. Stop at a roadside stand and buy some of the local fruit. You will probably need the help of the locals, or need to search online to find out how to eat some of it, but it is worth it.
The coffee is out of this world. So I started drinking coffee when I was about to turn 40 because I felt I had to do adult things at 40, and let’s face it, adulting sucks. Coffee drinking is adult, right? Okay, so truth be told, I drank flavored creamer with a splash of flavored coffee. I jokingly say that I like my coffee the opposite of my men; I like my coffee white, weak and sweet. Over the last few years I have tried to drink less creamer and more coffee. I was convinced that I wouldn’t be drinking any coffee in Costa Rica because they probably wouldn’t have my favorite Italian sweet cream everywhere. But I followed my own advice and tried the local coffee. Many places make each cup fresh, using a pour over system, and holy coffeegasm is it amazing! I’ve now changed my coffee preference (when made with freshly ground beans and with a pour over) to liking my coffee exactly like my man: dark, smooth and strong. Bring an extra bag or save a few pounds in your luggage to bring home coffee beans.
See both coasts. The country isn’t that wide, so make a point of seeing both coasts. I had my feet in the Pacific in the morning, and the Caribbean the same evening. Depending on what your interests are, you may prefer one side over the other. I’ll talk more in a future post about specific places, and while I liked most everywhere I went, I was a bigger fan of the Caribbean side. There was a chill, island, Jamaican kind of vibe that I absolutely fell in love with.
Safety first. This paragraph is for my mother, to let her know that I really do consider safety whilst making questionable decisions. Seriously though, safety is a huge consideration when traveling as a solo female. First, I never once felt unsafe in Costa Rica. I mean, the driving was crazy, but I never thought my safety was at risk anywhere I went. That being said, there are certain precautions I take when I’m out and about (piss off, I know those who know me just read that as oot and aboot) alone. As shocking as this may be, I drink very little when I am out or traveling alone. I like to be in control and 100% aware of my surroundings, so a drink or two with dinner is about my limits. If I want to drink more, I do it back at my AirBnb. I save directions to and from places before I leave, just in case I can’t get a signal or wifi, or can’t remember my way back. I send my family texts regularly letting them know where I am, where I am going, and my estimated times. Yes, I know they are really far away, but at least someone knows my last location. On that note, I have my location turned on in my phone, with access granted to just a couple of key people. Oh, and I am sort of armed with a weapon. I have found a wine corkscrew to be a great security device that I have never had to use. If you check a bag, you are golden. If you carry one on, throw it in, and worst case scenario, it gets confiscated. You can easily find them at most markets for a few dollars when you arrive to your destination, and then just leave it behind at your last AirBnb for the next guests. It isn’t necessarily going to save your life, but it fits in your pocket, and will gouge an eye and give you a chance to run. And let’s face it, there is always an emergency bottle of wine that needs opened…or is that just in my world?
Avoid resorts and big hotels. Once again, are you really there to hang with tourists? You shouldn’t be. Immerse yourself in the local culture! Get an AirBnb in a local neighborhood. Ask your host where to go and what to do. I have met so many cool people, received so many great recommendations, and saved so much money using AirBnb. I prefer to use super hosts, and I read reviews. Beware of places where every review is a perfect review. I mean, think about it, people are assholes and find anything to bitch about. Every place cannot be perfect every time. Eventually someone is going to complain about an ant on the counter or a hair in the shower. If absolutely no one criticized anything in 256 reviews, it’s probably bullshit (personal experience from a single freaky experience in Houston, but that is for another post). The AirBnbs in Costa Rica were very inexpensive, and the cleanest places I have ever stayed. Keep in mind that the location is tropical, and homes are built differently than places here in the US. So if you see a giant bug, this isn’t the end of the world, it is just life in that climate. Get rid of the bug and enjoy your stay!
Go hiking. I can’t stay this enough, because the hiking in fantastic. I hiked in every location I went to, and not one of them was a bad hike. Some were more spectacular than others, but all of them were great. I’ll go into more location detail in a later post. I wore my Keen sport sandals with the closed toes for pretty much all of my hikes and they were the best things ever. I went during rainy season, so many of my hikes were wet and muddy. My Keens dry so much faster than hiking or running shoes, and I easily washed the mud out of them after my hikes. They aren’t high fashion, but they work great.
Bring tech fabric everything. Seriously, rainy season is rainy. And when it wasn’t raining, it was hot and humid. I only brought a couple of outfits that were not tech fabric, and I should have just left them home. Tech fabrics are easy to wash out in a sink, and they dry faster both on and off you. The moisture wicking is important when you are sweating off the body weight of your first born while hiking in the heat. And there are great layering options in tech fabrics. If you really want to be pretty when you go out once or twice, go ahead, bring a dress. But just so you know, dresses come in tech fabrics too! Personally, I hiked enough almost every day that I was too tired to be fancy when I went out for dinner, and most of the local places I went to eat were very casual.
Rainy season is great too. Yep, I got rained on a lot while I was hiking. The wet roads slowed the driving down a bit. But it was also sunny a good part of every day. The rain forest and the cloud forest had an almost mystical feel that made the hiking even better. There were a few things I did not get to experience because of the weather, but overall, I thought visiting during rainy season was beautiful. And it was cheaper! Next time I will probably go during a more dry time of year just to see the difference, but I have no regrets about being rained on in Costa Rica.
In one of my next few posts, I will give you a list of the places I went, and what I thought of them. My plan is to post every Monday, which is a little ironic considering this entire blog is based on a change of no plans, but that’s my goal. The blogger community says that is the best way to do it, so I will try. Then again I never really have been very good at following good advice. You can also follow my blog to be notified of new entries when I post them.