Costa Rica: Pura Vida or Overrated?

If you don’t know many people who are well traveled, chances are you still know at least a handful who have been to Costa Rica. According to The Tico Times 2.4 million people visited the country in 2013, which is considered a record high, even though it is no longer listed on any of the most popular travel destination lists you might find online. Additionally, despite the numbers, Huff Post Travel named Costa Rica as one of the 10 terribly overrated travel destinations in April 2013.

Jane of the Jungle.

Jane of the Jungle.

Over-crowded and overrated? Ugh! For these reasons, among others, we were skeptical about how our shoestring travel style would play out in Costa Rica. Since it was necessary to travel through on our way down to South America, we had to find out. Well folks, without giving away our conclusion, let’s just say that Costa Rica brought out the Tarzan and Jane in us.

At the outset, Costa Rica distinguished itself from it’s neighboring countries to the north in a pretty abrupt way. For example on our first day we got off the bus in a town named Liberia, which is most well known for being a transportation hub, and were greeted by Papa John’s Pizza, Burger King and U.S.-esque strip malls. We went straight to Coco Beach for our first night and found what could have been a Southern California tourist trap complete with street food vendors, restaurants on the beach, shops with all things souvenir, teenagers riding long boards and BMX bikes, beach volleyball. The list goes on.

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Coco Beach.

Sunset on our first night in Coco Beach.

Sunset on our first night in Costa Rica.

The very next day we moved to Tamarindo which, again, could easily be mistaken as a Southern California beach town. This time due to the abundance of expats and real estate agencies more than anything else. Among travelers the area is known as Tama”gringo” and while we did cross paths with a lot more expats during our stay, it wasn’t overwhelming as I had been expecting. The only time I was frustrated with the amount of people was in the surf where beginners of all ages are basically trampling each other. On a positive note, I caught the best wave of my surf career during an unbelievable pink sunset session. WIN!

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Jordan on Tamarindo beach.

Tamarindo sunset.

Tamarindo sunset.

Though we found ourselves amongst more luxuries than we’d been accustomed to in the previous months (like being able to drink the tap water), Costa Rica showed us her more rustic side the further south we traveled. We spent a few days in Santa Teresa where jungle meets beach on the seemingly endless Pacific coastline. A couple of highlights in Santa Teresa include randomly catching up with a friend we made in El Salvador and hitting up a full moon beach party – nothing like in Koh Phangan, Thailand – I’m too old for that nonsense. 😛

We went from Santa Teresa to Manuel Antonio which required a boat ride across the Gulf of Nicoya and marked the beginning of our incredible wildlife sightings. On the boat trip alone we saw dolphins and sea turtles and during our time in Manuel Antonio and a visit to the national park we came face to face with critters galore!

Racoon

Raccoon

Toucan

Toucan

White-headed capuchin monkey

White-headed capuchin monkey

Woodpecker

Woodpecker

Central American squirrel monkey

Central American squirrel monkey

Iguana

Iguana

A couple of animals on the boat from Montezuma to Jaco. Not pictured: the dolphins and sea turtles we saw.

A couple of animals on the boat from Montezuma to Jaco. Not pictured: the dolphins and sea turtles we saw.

In addition to the wildlife, Manuel Antonio is also home to some of the most beautiful beaches we found in Central America (second to Guasacate, of course). Proof:

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Speaking of Guasacate, we reconnected with Ash and Tyson in Uvita at the Cascada Verde Hostel where they were volunteering. We planned to spend just one night but plans changed, as they often do, and we stuck around for a few jungle adventures and then made arrangements to travel with these kooks to Pavones, Costa Rica – home of the longest left wave in Central America – and then through Panama and into Colombia together.

Photos from our adventures, the wildlife and beautiful flora and fauna in Uvita…

Bamboo Forest.

Bamboo Forest.

Two hour jungle trek in the pouring rain.

Two hour jungle trek in the pouring rain.

The most common spider we saw in Costa Rica, not sure of the name.

The most common spider we saw in Costa Rica, not sure of the name.

A sloth hamming it up for the camera. :)

A sloth hamming it up for the camera. 🙂

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Cascada Verde Hostel immersed in the jungle.

Cascada Verde Hostel immersed in the jungle.

A few from our quick stay in Pavones…

Bus ride from Uvita to Pavones - we got caught snoozing.

Bus ride from Uvita to Pavones – we got caught snoozing.

Traveling in style via retired school bus.

Traveling in style via retired school bus.

Look closely to see Jordan and Tyson.

Look closely to see Jordan and Tyson.

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Hermit crab outside of its shell.

Hermit crab outside of its shell.

Pavones was the final stop before we crossed into Panama and I have to admit that I was charmed with Costa Rica from Santa Teresa all the way south to the border. We found the Pura Vida (pure life) mantra rings true and the country is budget friendly for shoestringers and vacationers, alike. Sorry Huff Post, but I think you got it wrong.

Amigos – stay tuned for more posts on Panama, our boat trip through the San Blas islands into Colombia and more. We’ve got some catching up to do. Let us know if there is anything we’re leaving out of our posts that you’d like to know more about! Buena onda chicos~

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2 responses to “Costa Rica: Pura Vida or Overrated?

  1. Pingback: Untamed Road Trips: 6 Must Stop Destinations on the Queensland Coast | UNTAMED ROOTS TRAVEL·

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