By the time I married my best friend of ten years in November of 2010, I was pooped. Planning our wedding while working 90 hours a week didn’t leave me much time to research the best part of getting hitched: the Honeymoon. After nearly two months of reading travel reviews on TripAdvisor (a GODSEND of a tool for travel-planning!) I had finally organized the vacation of my dreams: Costa Rica, here we come!
With all of the amazing things you can do in Costa Rica, I had a bit of trouble narrowing the options down to a trip that was fun, but didn’t wipe us out with too much getting around. We settled on an itinerary that took in two of the best regions that CR has to offer: the lush tropical forests of Central Valley in the Cartago Province, and the sunny coastal beaches of the Nicoyan Peninsula. After a long day of travel we stayed at the Mansion de Parque Bolivar – a charming estate turned hotel in downtown San Jose. Alejandro, the hotel manager offered valuable information about the way things are done in Costa Rica. For example, that scary-looking man who’s standing by your car when you’re climbing back into it doesn’t want to beat you up, but he will damage your car if you don’t pay him for parking there. Stuff like that.
The next day a bus came to transport us through the busy streets of San Jose; a fascinating city filled with strip malls, motorbikes and middle-income dwellings next to colourful metal shacks – the city has all of the modern amenities that you would need, but doesn’t show off. “Function over form” is a good way to describe the modern architectural aesthetics of San Jose. Almost at our destination of the Pacuare River near Turrialba, we first had to travel down a mountain on dirt and gravel roads with the biggest pot holes I’ve ever seen! There were times when I looked out of the window to a sheer drop off a cliff just inches away! No guard rails on these roads and only one lane wide, so if a car happened to be coming in the opposite direction, you’re forced to move EVEN CLOSER to that cliff! Terrifying. And since many of the roads are like this in Costa Rica, we got to experience that heart-in-your-throat feeling over and over again!
I wish I had photos to share of our incredible white-water rafting adventure on the Pacuare River, but my camera wasn’t waterproof and so it spent the entire time in a stay-dry bag. The rapids were class 3 and 4 and the wildlife and scenery along the river was incredible! Iguanas, toucans, monkeys and huge dark canyons covered in moss and vines; we felt like we were in the movie Jurassic Park the entire time – minus the dinosaurs. If you’re a fan of white water rapids, whether rafting or kyacking, then the Pacuare River has some of the best the world has to offer. By the way, I need to mention that all of the following images were taken by my point and shoot camera – the Fujifilm X10 and all of them were shot in Automatic Mode – definitely a vacation from the norm for me! I didn’t want to worry about my expensive equipment, whether it got damaged or stolen – not to mention the weight of carrying around all that heavy gear. I didn’t need that kind of stress on my vacation. I wanted a camera that was light, easy to use and took great photos and the X10 definitely delivered. My new favourite travel camera.
Accessible only by river, the Pacuare Lodge http://
It was hard to believe I was eating in the middle of nowhere – the food at the Pacuare Lodge was some of the best I’ve ever eaten. The chefs took great pride in the way they prepare and present their Costa Rican meals, made with fresh, organic ingredients. My favourite being galla pinto, which is a very simple mixture of rice and beans. Somehow, even with the humidity, the rice was perfectly cooked and I requested it at almost every meal. Very filling and super yummy!
We adjusted pretty quickly to falling asleep early in the evening and waking up at 5am, when the howler monkeys would start to scream at each other! One day we woke up to rain and I was able to capture some very pretty photos of the clouds rolling through the forest. Even with the intermittent rain we had a good time: hiking, napping, chatting with other travelers and drinking Imperial beer at the main lodge.
In the photo on the left, you can see some brown sacks of grass hanging from the trees. They are the nests created by the Montezuma Oropendola which has a very distinct and noisy bird call.
Our second half of our honeymoon had us boarding a small plane to Tambor which is at the southern-most tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. Costa Rica looks just as amazing from the sky as it does on the ground.
After landing in Tambor, we took an hour-long taxi ride to the much hotter and drier village of Mal Pais. We stayed five days in one of the four villas at Casa Chameleon, a boutique hotel set up on a hill right next to one of Lady Gaga’s vacation homes. As the ONLY guests at the hotel for the entire five days (!) we were given the royal treatment, including two chefs who prepared the most AMAZING food for us while entertaining us with stories of Costa Rica and the best sites to see in the area. With our own infinity pool with views of the ocean, our comfy king-sized bed and massages in our suite on our last night, our Villa Sol was heaven! A big “thank you” to the staff: Jessica, Oscar, Rob and Alonso – you made our stay at Casa Chameleon so much more incredible!
The rock formations at each beach were completely unique from each other. The hermit crabs also had different looking shells depending on what beach we were visiting.
One of the nicest beaches to swim near Mal Pais is Playa Hermosa. We were told that Victoria Secret models have sun-tanned there, as well as many other Hollywood celebrities. Little wonder – it had perfect sand and lukewarm ocean water.
The next day, we drove to a wildlife sanctuary in Curu. The dirt roads in the dry season in Costa Rica can get really dusty, but I love how dreamy it makes everything look. We stopped sooo many times that day to take pictures, that by the time we reached Curu, they were closed!
Montezuma. A bit commercial; lots of surfers; we ate a really good burger there and met a fun couple from Switzerland.
You see these fences EVERYWHERE in Costa Rica. Farmers will plant long rows of small trees, then connect them with barbed wire, keeping people out, and their livestock in.
Playa Pochote. A very popular beach for the weekenders from San Jose. They would pitch their tents at the edge of the jungle and spend their days drinking beers and swimming in the warm waters of the ocean.
For four of the five days we spent in Mal Pais, we rented a 4×4 SUV. For the price, it was the best way to get around and see the incredible natural beauty of the area. A more fun way to travel is by motorbike, or an ATV – maybe next time…
At the advise of our chefs at Casa Chameleon, we visited the local fish market and watched the fishermen filet the daily catch. One of my favourite dishes prepared by Oscar was definitely the fish tacos: simple, fresh, light and healthy. Unfortunately, I had those on the last day, so only got to try them once.
One slip on these jagged rocks and you’d probably cut yourself in half! Not the best beach for sunbathing, perhaps, but still very picturesque.