Costa Rica is an untamed masterpiece. It's a jungle. It's mountains. It's extreme sports. It's... adventure.
When not shooting weddings or portraits in Charleston and the southeast, I often find myself traveling!
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It's a travel friendly country without being touristy. Sure, there are businesses that target tourists but it's easy to get around those less authentic attractions to find some genuine Costa Rican adventure. Most people speak at least some English. Flying into San Jose is also relatively cheap. We bought our tickets, round trip, for less than $300 (May 2017 east coast USA). Cost of travel, adventure, food, drinks, and board were all relatively inexpensive as well. We went out to a local restaurant, ordered two dinners and a couple of drinks, and were pleasantly surprised to see a bill that translated to $8. Again, avoid places geared towards tourists. They tend to be wildly overpriced.
I spent the majority of my time in two towns around the west coast of Costa Rica. Before I get into our experiences in the towns, let's just talk about the roads and our car. We rented a Suzuki Jimney for our journey. The Jimney is a small 4x4 manual transmission SUV that really only seats two people comfortably. It was an absolute joy to drive and it added its own personality to our journey. We looked forward to our drives, windows down in the smallest SUV you can imagine, each time we embarked on the adventure that is navigating the roads of this beautiful country. The roads themselves are rough, but completely drivable. I opted for 4x4, but I wouldn't say it was absolutely necessary.
As soon as we touched down, we grabbed our Jimney and headed to the Lake Arenal area, specifically to the town of La Fortuna. We stayed in a small hostel near the fringe, close enough to walk into the city center. La Fortuna is surely one of the most diverse adventures hubs in the world. It's lure is everywhere: ATVs, hiking, kayaking, tubing, waterfalls, natural hot springs, high ropes, caves, canyoning, rappeling.... and more. We could easily have spent a couple of weeks here and just taken the opportunity to embark on a different extreme adventure each day.
While the extreme sports are a fine embarkment, the real crown jewel of La Fortuna is the Arenal Volcano. This is a must do. We hiked around the volcano and upon completion, enjoyed a beverage on an elevated patio only a hundred yards or so from the base of the Volcano. One of the joys of our trip! Something I have noticed is that in many developing countries, there is more freedom to be an idiot have fun when it comes to adventuring. Despite being only a few hundred feet from an active Volcano (which happens to be due to erupt sometime soon), there was little to no security. We explored the base of the mountain and ventured through black as tar volcanic rock for several hours in bewilderment of the power and scope of this volcano’s last eruption. We stood on top of mounds and mounds of now solid volcanic rock.
Afterwards, we popped down into town for a bite at a local restaurant. Soda Viquez provides a plethora of excellent traditional local foods. Their cuisine depends heavily on local fresh fruits and veggies. A typical meal will often have rice, beans, and fried plantains accompanying your choice of meat. A typical breakfast includes lots of fresh local fruits like pineapple, avocado, etc.
For our journey to the next town, we got an early start and began the drive around Lake Arenal, the lake that sits at the foot of the Arenal Volcano. This is an absolutely gorgeous drive! Remember when I said that driving around Costa Rica in our Jimney was half the fun? This was one of the drives I was referring to! This drive had an additional gem as well. Near the finish of our drive, we happened by a small brewery and hotel on the other side of the lake. While I wouldn't say the brewing of beer is a strong suite of Costa Rica, this was a pleasant malty surprise that I would happily recommend.
After the quick stop, we headed to a small mountain house not far from Monteverde, the famed cloud forest of Costa Rica. From a physical beauty standpoint, this is one of the most jaw dropping places I've ever visited. The mountains were soft and simply flowed from one to another. They're made of jungles, not hardwood forests, and covered in sparse patches of clouds. I've never seen anything quite like it. We spent a lot of time just relaxing and taking in this view (the large opening photo above!).
Our hosts defined our time in Monteverde. This Spanish only speaking couple was easily one of my favorite hosts of all time. They owned several homes on the property and took it upon themselves to show us around their place, which was covered in fruit bearing plants. They also showed us around town and prepared several meals for us. They directed us to one of our favorite restaurants, not far from their home. I believe so emphatically in staying with locals whenever possible because of experiences like this. It changed our entire trip for the better!
On our way back to San Jose, we drove down the coast near the ocean town of Punta Arenas. It was the perfect final farewell to the beautiful country. Despite it’s status as a well-known vacation spot, Costa Rica still has the feel of an untamed and unexplored jungle. Most of our driving was on small roads through farmlands that were void of any other travelers. The people were friendly and welcoming, and rightfully proud of their beautiful country.
Have questions about traveling to Costa Rica? Have questions about traveling in general? Have a product you want taken to the ends of the world to be photographed? Feel free to email me anytime: firstname.lastname@example.org - Also, feel free to follow me @stephenatohi where you can find more of my work on weddings around Charleston and of course more travel.