This week's throw back is dedicated to one of our most favorite trips, Costa Rica! When planning for Costa Rica, you will see that you can can fly into San Jose or Liberia airports. Flying into San Jose brings you to the center of the country, which means a long way to the shores. We chose to fly into Liberia, and did not regret it! Liberia is a smaller airport, so it was a breeze to get through customs and immigration. This airport brings you to the absolutely gorgeous, Guanacaste region. You will pay a little more for this airport, but not enough to make it not worth it!
Guanacaste is the Northern Pacific region of Costa Rica. This area is unique because it has what is called a "tropical dry forest." From December to May, this area has a "drought". This makes the region more tolerable because there is low humidity, although you still get the heat!
The popular beach area on this cost is Tamarindo. Tamarindo is a beautiful tourist beach and an excellent place to surf! We were able to rent a surfboard and boogy board for just $10 USD for a half a day. The surf was decent, but due to this being a tourist spot, there were a LOT of people trying to surf for the first time. There is also no shade, so you will find yourself paying for a chair with an umbrella. Bring $20 USD for the day at least. For lunch, we ate at Surf Shack Burgers. This was a little spot for burgers and taco, and YUM! Excellent spot to grab some hearty food before hitting the waves again!
While Tamarindo is the popular tourist spot, I have to gush about where we stayed...Playa Conchal! Playa Conchal is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and the top beach in Costa Rica. You can see why... Playa Conchal is a hidden oasis. Its only direct access is through the Westin Resort, otherwise you have to walk the beach from the north or south in order to enter. You can try driving, but the road is pretty treacherous!
The Westin Resort offers impeccable luxury, plus all inclusive options and a host of fun activities available at your disposal like stand up paddle boards and kayaks. The waters at Playa Conchal are to die for. They are crystal clear and in January when we went, the water was warm and relaxing. On the north end of the beach, it's all shells and stones. As you work your way down the beach you get to areas that are all sand and have some trees for shade. This was our favorite part of this beach! Not to mention the locals who had tents up to sell food and pipa fria. They remembered us, we felt like family!
If the Westin is too pricey, the neighboring area is Brasalito. Brasalito offers a ton of smaller bed and breakfast style hotels and hostels. The waters on Brasalito beaches are not impressive. Playa Conchal is a protected spot with land barriers that keep its waters clear and clean. Anything north or south of this you will see more brown tones in the water. Note that there isn't much to do in Brasalito at night. There are a couple bars, but everything shuts down pretty early and there are not many lights on the streets either. For nightlife, take a cab back down to Tamarindo! You can grab one at the Brasalito town center, or take a bus. Keep in mind that they may not be clearly marked and you may read that hitchhiking is common here. It's true! A local took us down to Tamarindo, we paid him of course, but taxis were not readily available.
We are not huge nightlife people. Instead, we rested and made sure to take a trip to Tenorio National Park. While Arenal is the main draw for tourists who want to visit volcanic areas, I would say Tenorio is a DO NOT miss! The hike to Tenorio's Rio Celeste and waterfall is absolutely beautiful, but beware...IT'S MUDDY!
The mud is no joke! When you arrive at the entrance of Tenorio National Park, there will be a tent with locals renting out rain boots. It's easy to walk by and say, "they're just trying to make money." Our driver was adamant that we would want them, and he was not kidding! We paid around $7 USD per person for boots. Funny story: I have large feet...and the renter refused to accept it. They kept giving me size 7 boots, I finally had to take a men's pair and run! (after paying of course)
As you can see, the boots were our savior. Especially on a rainier day, these trails get extremely muddy. We ran into people who chose not to rent the boots and their shoes were completely destroyed. There is NO WAY to avoid all the mud and large puddles and if you tried, you would take way too long to get through this hike. Don't let any rain discourage you from this hike. It's covered with a canopy so we did not get wet at all and the mud was kind of a fun element of the trail! The hike is clearly signed and I would say a moderately difficult hike, but well worth it. Along the way you will have beautiful jungle scenery, wildlife, stunning views, and photos opps.
You eventually make it to an absolutely beautiful turquoise waterfall, and finally, the intersection of the two rivers, where aluminum, silicon, and oxgen come together with enough concentration to scatter the light, creating the turquoise color! You can see this amazing phenomenon in my picture and learn about the science behind it here!
I would suggest Tenorio over Arenal and other Costa Rican national parks any day. Tenorio is technically a volcano, but as you can see, the hike is more jungle and water based. If your interest is volcanos, Arenal might be a better suit for you! You can easily take a day trip from Brasalito and Liberia area to both!
1. Hire a private driver to Tenorio and skip the guide. This will help you save some pretty sizeable cash and guess what? Not only is the path very clearly indicated at Tenorio, our driver ended up hiking with us anyways! Additionally, when other tour guides found interesting wild life, we were able to jump in on the action without having to do the entire tour.
2. Stay on or near Playa Conchal! This is mostly what we did in Costa Rica. We set up a little spot in the shade in front of this glorious beach and just enjoyed ourselves. It's hidden, so it's not as popular as other beaches (but still popular! Get there early).
3. Do yourself the enormous favor of eating at Cafe Manglar. This was an amazing little Italian place about 10 minute's walk from the Westin. The owners were SO SWEET! The food was AMAZING! We went twice, and both times, we loved every bite and we given free little nibbles to keep us coming back.