close

Costa Rica

33 things we love about Costa Rica

no thumb

.

.

These thirty three things are just a start – there were so many positive aspects of our time in Costa Rica, we could easily list thirty three more! But we’re excited to hear your thoughts on this, too, so please feel free to add your favorite things about Costa Rica in the comments at the end!

1.    Samara Beach
We won’t go on about this one, as we as you to please not go to Samara Beach, but the combination of jaw-dropping sunsets spotting, padding along the beautiful stretches of soft, clean sand and numerous places to enjoy champagne while looking out on to the water makes Samara Beach of the best beaches we visited in Central America.

Costa Rica samara beach Sunset
2.    Comfortable public transportation

After spending a few months holding on for dear life on chicken buses throughout Central America, Costa Rica’s comfortable, clean and organized public transportation just felt good.

3.    Sloths
They might look creepy, but these sleepy creatures sure are cute!
friendly sloth in Monteverde Costa Rica4.    Gallo Pinto
This dish is not just rice and beans…the combination of black beans, rice, and magical spices make this Costa Rican (and Nicaraguan) easily our breakfast favorite.

5.    Casados
Meaning ‘married’, a Casado is a marriage of rice, beans, veggies (and meat) on one plate. This typical, healthy and filling Costa Rican meal is an economical choice and sold at any ‘soda’ or local restaurant in the country. Casados make finding healthy veggie-friendly food a breeze.
casado vegetariano6.    A truly gay-friendly country
The theme throughout this post is the relaxed, accepting and peaceful nature of the country, and this also extends to the acceptance of the gay community…relative to the rest of Central America, of course. Although people not looking for it may never notice, Manuel Antonio is known as a kind of a mecca for gay travelers, with hotels and package deals targeted directly at the gay community, and there are plenty of gay bars (for boys and girls) in San Jose.

7.    So many surfers
There’s nothing better than the relaxed vibe that the massive surfer population brings to the country, plus watching them sprint along the beach and ride the waves in some places is like a surfing championship every day of the week!
Surfer at Playa Cobles Costa Rica
8. The beaches of Manuel Antonio
Palm trees, coconuts, monkeys, and sparkling blue water…how can we not love Manuel Antonio. Just watch out for the mega-strong waves at high tide!

9. Licuados
With the variety of these refreshing, healthy fresh juice mixes in either water, milk or yogurt, we never had a sip of soda while in Costa Rica.

Licuados in Costa Rica
10.    Pura Vida

Different to the international laid-back surfer vibe, Pura Vida is an entirely Tico feeling. This expression, which means ‘Pure Life’ is used as a greeting, a farewell, an excuse and a reason, and incorporates Costa Rica’s positive feelings about living life healthily, slowly, and peacefully (this country has no army and focuses on eco-friendly policies).

11.    Guaro
Oh…how Guaro burns…this Costa Rican grain alcohol can’t possibly compare to Nicaragua’s award-winning Flor de Cana rum, but it’s available everywhere, it’s cheap, and after a couple of shots, who remembers anyway 🙂
Guaro shots & Imperial Beer12.    Cycling along the Caribbean coast
We absolutely loved this day out – we go on and on about it here.

13. The wildlife
From the Pacific to the Caribbean, no matter where you look you spot exotic wildlife in Costa Rica!
Monkey in Manuela Antonio14.    Panaderias
The Ticos love their bread and after a lack of yummy baked goods in Honduras and Nicaragua, we were happy to see a panaderia or pasteleria (bakeries) on almost every corner in Costa Rica.

15.    Punta Uva Beach
Okay, yes another beach – but Costa Rica has got the most gorgeous beaches! This beach just 4km from Puerto Viejo is simply breathtaking.
Punta Uva paradise
16.    Both coasts are beautiful

No matter what side of the country you are on, you’re set for a quick trip to the beach. Nearly all Central American countries have access to both the Pacific and the Caribbean, but that’s not necessarily something to boast about. Nicaragua’s eastern coast is made up primarily of the infamous Mosquito Coast, while Guatemala’s Pacific beaches are not really even worth the trip. Costa Rica, on the other hand, is blessed with miles and miles of beautiful beaches, from the Northwestern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula down to the Puerto Viejo in the southeastern Caribbean region.

17.    Drinking Tap water
Stick your glass under the faucet and let the water pour in! Drinking tap water here is as risk free as at home, and although it took us a few days to trust that drinking the water wouldn’t make us ill as in neighboring countries, it felt amazing to stop buying water everywhere we went.

18. The cloud forest of Monteverde
Monteverde is one of the highest places in all of Costa Rica, nestled between green mountains and like the name indicates, often covered by clouds. The rains cause Monteverde to be one of the greenest places we’ve seen on our travels.
monteverde cloud forest costa rica
19.    Sodas

Sitting somewhere between a food stand and a restaurant, sodas are like local Costa Rican diners. Located on every corner (next to the bakeries), they serve up typical dishes and a licuado for $3-$5, making it possible to travel Costa Rica on a shoestring.  Sodas are as great for your health as for your wallet, as the meal usually contains vegetables, rice, beans, meat (or extra veggies for us herbivores), plus the fruit in the licuado.

20. Flowers everywhere!
Costa Rica is certainly wild in terms of its population of various exotic animals, but the flowers in the country are equally as exotic and found everywhere. We don’t know the names of most the flowers we see, but they certainly put an extra bounce in our step.
Flowers in Cahuita Costa Rica
21.    Butterflies

Costa Rica is home to 1,251 species,  over 90% of all Central American butterflies.  The Blue Morpho maybe the most remarkable one, but at times we were walking on paths being both followed and led by groups of fluttering butterflies.

22.    The Caribbean village of Manzanillo
Manzanillo is a little village on the southern Caribbean coast and it still feels truly Caribbean and unspoilt by tourists.

Manzanillo caribbean house
23.    People watching at Parque Central in Heredia

Heredia is a typical Costa Rican city, unspoilt by tourists, and even though only 11 kilometers from the capital, worlds apart from San Jose! Unlike the capital which has unfortunately begun to feel a bit shady in certain areas, Heredia is safe and relaxed, with a good variety of restaurants, excellent shopping, interesting architecture and a Central Park which is great for watching the Ticos in their day-to-day lives.

24.    Hummingbirds
Costa Rica must have hundreds of thousands of hummingbirds – we saw these tiny little birds along both coasts, in the rain forest, the cloud forest and in the towns. We could watch them forever flying around with their record-breaking wing flapping!
Hummingbird monteverde
25.    The fantastic Costa Rican coffee

The coffee here is known to be one of the best coffees in the world, and drinking it in Monteverde, surrounded by coffee plants, fresh from the farm, made it taste even better.

26. Stella’s Bakery in Monteverde
Far away from the most populated area of Santa Elena, Stella’s bakery is set along the road to Monteverde and it is more than worth stopping by. Stella’s Dulce de leche strudel really is to die for, and there are so many other goodies (both savory and sweet) to choose from, you will probably end up taking something home for later or returning the next day.
stellas bakery Dulce de leche strudel
27.    Waterfalls

Waterfalls here are practically a dime a dozen, except they are some of the most amazing we have seen.  You pass them just driving down the road or hiking along the beaches and it never gets old!

28.    Cabinas el Pueblo Hostel in Monteverde
$10 per person for a clean room and breakfast included, plus a staff that provides priceless info about Monteverde, we can certainly recommend staying at the family-run, centrally-located Cabinas el Pueblo Hostel in Santa Elena, Monteverde, Costa Rica.

Cabinas El Pueblo Monteverde Costa Rica
29.    The cheeky monkey families in Cahuita

The little village of Cahuita has a National Park which can be visited free of charge. Much emptier than Costa Rica’s more famous Manuel Antonio National Park, you can sit down anywhere and watch the monkey families with the baby monkeys swinging through the tree tops.

30. Miles of deserted beach near Montezuma
We might have been disappointed by Montezuma’s development but we were happy as clams about the endless stretches of sandy beaches along the coast. You can walk for miles and miles without meeting another soul.
Montezuma beach in the morning
31.    Taco Bell

Yes. We went to Taco Bell. Twice. And yes, the Americanization of the country is a shameless trainwreck, but after months and months of rice & beans, we couldn’t pass up a cheesy Gordita crunch!

32. The bronze statues in San Jose
Costa Rica’s capital didn’t do much for us, but we found some fantastic bronze statues by several well known artists (such as Botero) throughout the downtown.

Sculptures in san jose costa rica
33.    The friendly Ticos

Costa Ricans are super friendly and welcoming. Proud of their beautiful country, they are always happy to chat with travelers or tell you which places you should check out during your visit. These great people are affectionately known as ticos, for their endearing and unique use of the Spanish diminutive – from momento, instead of adding ‘ito’ – momentito, Costa Ricans add ‘ico’ – momentico.

read more

Costa Rica on a Shoestring

no thumb

.

.

Costa Rica is the gem in Central America’s tourism crown: lush, green jungles, wild animals, breathtaking beaches and a well-developed infrastructure make a trip to Costa Rica as easy as it can be adventurous, suitable for many different types of visitors. The level of development, however, has also raised prices on goods and services, hotel rates and transportation to a level that most budget travelers (falsely) believe to be out of their range. It is certainly easy to plow through some serious cash here, but with a bit of planning ahead, Costa Rica can be nearly as inexpensive as its neighbors.

Puerto Viejo palm tree beach Costa Rica
Many travelers we met along the way spoke with disdain about Costa Rica being over-priced and too expensive – those who were the most outspoken on the topic had opted to skip the country altogether. Since I had lived here for a year back in the day, there was no question that we would travel through. What we intended to be a two week trip was extended to three. In that time, our Costa Rica travel budget ended up to be less than both our Guatemala and Nicaragua budgets, coming in at just under $27 per person per day (based on two sharing accommodation). Read on for a few simple tips on how to travel through Costa Rica on a shoestring budget.

Take the bus

Taking private shuttles or taxis to get around can easily eat through your budget, but this can be easily avoided by taking the bus. The bus system in Costa Rica is organized, and the buses are safe, comfortable and nearly at a North American standard. The chicken buses (old American school buses) seen throughout the rest of Central America are few and far between here. The buses run between all the major towns and on schedule, and while a private shuttle can easily cost from $40 to $75, a local bus charges less than $10 for the same route.

Eat at a Soda

Found everywhere throughout Costa Rica, a ‘soda’ is a typical Costa Rican restaurant which serves up ‘comida tipica’ or a menu of typical Costa Rican fare, mainly in various forms of casados: a huge plate of rice, beans, red and white cabbage salad, pasta and meat, or extra vegetables for vegetarians. While a restaurant in a tourist spot often charges between $10 and $15 per person per meal, the price of a ‘casado’ varies between $2 and $7, depending on the casado you choose and the place you are at – sodas in a tourist destinations obviously charge much more than in cities like Heredia or Liberia.

A soda in Costa Rica

Drink Tap water

Unlike the rest of Central America, drinking the tap water in Costa Rica is perfectly safe. If you have been traveling throughout the region, you might think only a crazy person would fill up bottles with tap water, but the water in nearly every Costa Rican town is drinkable (ask at your hotel/hostel if you’re unsure). With bottled water costing between $1 and $3 a bottle, refilling your own bottles will save you a hefty sum of pocket change.

Buy beer in the shop, not the bar

At $2.50 – $3.50 a bottle in most bars, beer in Costa Rica can quickly eat through your daily budget. Of course in a country with so many relaxing beaches, sometimes a beer is a must. Plan ahead and grab yourself a few cold cans at a local shop for half the price and enjoy your beers on the beach just a few meters past the beach bar itself.

Costa Rica Imperial beer

Book a trip for the Off-season

Costa Rica is a popular tourist destination for North Americans and Europeans alike, and prices shoot up during Holidays, Christmas and between January and March. Planning a trip to Costa Rica during the low season, May to November, can save you as much as 50 per cent on hotels and flights. The low season is also partially the rainy season, but with the exception of a few rainy weeks, downpours usually only last a couple of hours in the morning and the sun shines for the rest of the day.

Opt for a hostel

The hostel scene has come a long way from the dingy twelve-bed dorm room, and not only are hostels cleaner, brighter and more affordable than ever, most also offer private double rooms for a fraction of what a hotel costs. We stayed in countless small hostels, run by people who care about their guests and take pride in offering a cozy, clean place to stay. Some hostels even offer a swimming pool, a bar, a lounge, books, board games, and free breakfast. You are also more likely to meet other travelers at the bar or in the common areas, whereas most hotels have a much more anonymous feeling to them. A private room in a hostel costs between $20 and $30 per couple, whereas a hotel room runs from $50 upwards.

Hostel Breakfast at Costa Linda Manuel Antonio

Budget Travel Tip: With such a well-developed tourism industry, National Park tours and adventure activities in Costa Rica are usually very much worth the money, so make sure to budget in $15 – $75 per tour during your time in the country. Putting these budget tips into practice should save you plenty of money to take at least a few top quality tours.

Feel free to add your money-saving tips for Costa Rica in the comments below!

read more

Tops and Flops of 400 days of travel

no thumb

..

.

We spent a wonderful day in Madrid last Sunday, where we celebrated a major milestone – we’ve been on the road for 400 days now! Over tapas and beer in the Spanish capital, we reflected on the last 100 days, which we spent in Costa Rica, Panama, Germany, Italy, Spain and cruising the Mediterranean. As usual, there are always highs and lows throughout our travels. The past 100 days were filled with the highest of highs, and luckily no dramatic lows – read on for our Tops and Flops:

Top travel moments


House-sitting in a B&B in Tuscany

Before we ever set off as permanent travelers, we looked into house-sitting, thanks to this article in the Guardian newspaper. The journalist spent time house-sitting in an old Italian farmhouse B&B. From the moment we read this article, we had dreamt of doing exactly that, and although we have loved all of our other house-sits, we jumped at the chance to housesit in a Tuscan B&B, high up in the mountains between the medieval town of Barga and the buzzing city of Lucca. For ten days in April we explored northern Tuscany, sampled as much pizza as possible, and enjoyed our time in the cozy Italian farmhouse!

Borgo a mozzano Italy

Cruising the Mediterranean

We like to identify as long-term, budget travelers – the kind of travelers who stay for long periods of time in each location, learning and adapting to each new way of life. Spending a week on a cruise ship visiting a new port city each day certainly does not fall into this travel style, but when Jess’ parents invited us to join them on their Mediterranean cruise, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to test out such a different way of traveling.

Cruise Ship

To our surprise, it turns out that we really enjoyed it! After months of fairly hard-core travel through Central America and Mexico, and new hotel rooms every other day, we really appreciated a week of easy travel, comfortable beds, hot showers, the fitness center and spa, plus all the (really tasty) food were all included. The biggest disadvantage of a cruise (in addition to the extortionate wi-fi rates on board) is that you only get a teaser of each port of call, but since we had already visited nearly all the ports before, we just enjoyed the vacation and showing Jess’ parents some of our favorite places in Spain and Italy.

San Gimignano view

Seeing the Panama Canal

Dani has always been fascinated by ports and giant freight ships, so the Panama Canal was a definite highlight of the last 100 days. It was fascinating to witness these massive ships being lowered through the locks of the Panama Canal on their way around the globe, seeing first hand this element of international business and how we acquire the goods like cars, TVs, spices, fruits we have come to expect to be available to us every day.

Gatun locks Panama

The Top of Germany

During our time in Germany, we literally went all the way to the Top, so we just had to include this in our Tops section! We took a gondola up to the very top of the country’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze, which is not only the highest mountain in Germany, but also forms part of the border between Germany and Austria. We spent some time watching snowboarders and skiers, eating a German dumpling meal and chugging down Bavarian Hefeweizen beer – which surprisingly tasted much better all the way up there!

Globetrottergirls on Top of Germany Zugspitze

Favorite places

 

Siena, Italy

This charming town in southern Tuscany combines postcard perfect medieval buildings and tradition with a modern urban feel thanks to the well-established university in town. This modest sized city has good shopping, great restaurants, cheap eats, and plenty of fun bars, but drive just five minutes outside of town, and you are back in the heart of the vineyards, cypresses and olive trees which make up the colorful Tuscan countryside.

Piazza di Campo Siena Italy

Casco Viejo, Panama City, Panama

Panama City can be easily divided into two very distinct areas to explore. The skyscrapers that make up the Panama City skyline rival almost any U.S. city, and the people who live in this area have adopted an identical lifestyle – pimped out SUV trucks, fast-food joints, wide multi-lane city streets and strip malls galore. Head on down to Casco Viejo, however, and the feeling couldn’t be more different. Fully-restored buildings and their still dilapidated neighbors line tiny winding cobble stone streets. The area can feel European, and at the same time, with the Latin rhythms, Panama Hats and laid-back vibe Casco Viejo feels like how you imagine Havana, Cuba might feel. This was easily one of the memorable places we experienced throughout our last 100 days.

Casco Viejo Panama

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

This Caribbean town in Costa Rica has something to match everyone’s tastes, and without even a sliver of stress. We rented bikes and explored the stretches of nearly empty beaches, had overpriced fruity cocktail drinks in a fancy beachside bar, ate street food, and danced to reggaton with blurry eyes until late… we couldn’t have had a better time here!

Music with that Jessie chick in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

San Gimignano, Italy

The medieval town of 13 towers is the quintessential Tuscan town. It is walkable in a few hours and loaded with restaurants and shops selling everything from cheesy tourist trinkets to gorgeous pottery. Make sure to climb to the top of the Torre Grossa, the tallest tower, for breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside and keep your eyes peeled for one of the many free wine-tastings available in town!

Plaza in San Gimignano Italy

Bavaria, Germany

We are unable to pick out just one place in Bavaria as our favorite. We just had a storybook time during our house sit in Germany. Neither of us has ever done much exploring in Bavaria before, and we enjoyed taking the time to get to know this very traditional and very green area of southern Germany. We took several day trips to Munich, Neuschwanstein Castle, the picturesque town of Fuessen, visited Innsbruck in Austria and even just strolling through the village we lived in, climbing the snow-covered mountain behind our house and seeing the monastery of Ettal was all really fun.

Bavarian village, Germany

Most disappointing places

Bocas del Toro, Panama

Bocas del Toro comprise several tiny islands off Panama’s Caribbean coast, not far from the border to Costa Rica. We thought we would find gorgeous beaches and a purely Caribbean feel. In reality, the beaches are a bus trip or water taxi ride away, and some of those beaches charge to get in and are packed with people. The scenery was gorgeous, but having come from some amazing beaches in Costa Rica and Nicaragua’s Corn Islands, we were hoping for a bit more from all the praise Bocas had been getting from fellow travelers.

Bocas del toro street Panama

Florence, Italy

When it comes to Tuscany, Florence tends to be named as the city to visit, but we missed the ‘Wow’ factor we felt in other spots we visited in Tuscany. We found Florence to be overpriced, overcrowded with bus loads of tourists, and not as pretty as Siena, Lucca or San Gimignano. For art lovers, Florence can be the ultimate destination, as the city is home to the Uffizi gallery and the Academia, which both house incredible paintings and sculptures, as well as being home to an ornate Cathedral and the Ponte Vecchio bridge. Most people love it, but the famous city didn’t inspire us as much as we thought.

Fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati, Florence, Italy

The Panama Canal train ride

Sure, train rides in Central America are rate, nearly non-existent, and one along the Panama Canal sounds fascinating. But we say don’t bother getting up at the crack of dawn for this disappointing train ride along the canal. We had read about this train ride months before we even got to Panama, and descriptions such as luxurious and unforgettable experience really drew us in for the ride from the Miraflores Lock 50km cross country to the Gatun lock. Tourists are herded into one very old car on the train which may have been luxurious 50 years ago, but today feels run down. Very little of the ride offers actual views of the canal, and despite the luscious jungle and blue lakes, the hour-long ride for $22 is a one-way trip which leaves you in the undesirable town of Colon forced to make your way to a bus station to hop on a bus back to where you started.

Panama Canal Train Waggon

Travel recommendations

House-sitting

We recommended house-sitting before, but having had two more great house-sits in the last 100 days, we can only recommend it again. We are signed up with two house-sitting websites which has brought us to two places we wouldn’t have visited otherwise: a tiny German village in the Alps near the Austrian border and a cute Italian mountain village north of Lucca, plus in the very near future, a housesit in Canada, which was not on our itinerary either. Not only did we get to know these regions, but we also took advantage of having a house again for a while: our own kitchen, showers and toilets and having a car – all things we didn’t have while traveling through Central America for the last seven months. We also appreciated the fact that showers were always hot, we did not have to share the bathroom and we didn’t pay a penny for accommodation during that time.

Our home for two weeks - an Italian farmhouse in Tuscany

Car shares in Germany

Car-sharing, or carpooling, in Germany is a well-developed market, and just as common as taking a bus or a taxi. There are several websites for car-sharing, which allow you to search for drivers headed in your direction and book a ride with them, for not more than your fair share of the gas. We moved throughout Germany entirely using car-sharing, and we even went to Italy and back using the same websites and paying only 35 Euros per person instead of 229 Euros which we each would have paid for the train around Easter. Speaking German is a plus not only for reading the site but also when spending time in the car speaking to the wide variety of drivers and other passengers. However, enough Germans speak English well-enough to get you from A to B and save you a ton of money while traveling around the country.

Stay at Belmonte Vacanze

Our time in Tuscany easily competes as the absolute top of our 400 days of travel. There is no question that our overwhelmingly positive experience is due, in large part, to our time at the family-run Belmonte Vacanze holiday apartments, set in the perfect location for the perfect Tuscany farm holiday. Although it feels like you are staying at a villa in the deepest Tuscan countryside, Belmonte Vacanze is actually just a 15-minute drive from San Gimignano, Volterra, ten minutes from our new favorite little town of Montaione, 30 minutes from Siena, and you can even make it to the Tuscan coast and Pisa in 1 hour, and Cinque Terre within 2 hours. There is an on-site horse-riding facility, a large swimming pool, and our one-bedroom apartment which came equipped with everything we needed, including sweeping views of the Tuscan countryside and the friendliest owners we’ve come across yet!

Belmonte Vacanze holiday apartments in Tuscany

Worst travel moments

Bank card fraud in Panama City

When Jess tried to use her debit card in Panama City, the ATM spit out her card, but no cash came out. After this happened four times at two different ATMs, we returned cashless to our hostel and checked the online bank statement: several hundred dollars had been withdrawn from Colombia, and as we were in Panama, not Colombia, we saw quickly some major fraud was in action. The bank (HSBC) was quick and efficient in returning the charges, but we were stuck without the only debit card that still worked after a series of debit card issues throughout the year. Luckily this happened one day before we flew to Germany, where we had a fixed address for long enough to get new cards sent over. Cash advances on our credit card ended up being very expensive though.

Top travel mishaps

Opening a bank account with a sh** bank

When we arrived in Germany we finally received our new Nationwide Bank debit cards which had been forwarded to us, after 5 months without being able to use our joint account. After the debit card fraud on our other account, we were more than happy to hold our new cards – the smiles on our faces disappeared quickly though when we read the bold print in the accompanying letter: This card can not be used for cash withdrawals abroad. I’m sorry, can you repeat that?!

We had opened our account with Nationwide in England just before we left on our trip because they were offering free international withdrawals – and now they changed their policy so that the cards can not even be used abroad. If you are from England and about to set off on a RTW trip – do not sign up with Nationwide. Nationwide sucks.

Bad planning: Arriving in Panama just in time for Carnival

When we crossed over from Costa Rica into Panama, we had just found out that all of Panama was celebrating Carnival, which is one of the biggest parties in the world. With the entire country on holiday, we crossed the border into the country on a day when no local buses running and hostels were completely booked. We ended up overpaying for a taxi to the ferry to Bocas del Toro, where we ended up spending a night together in the bottom bunk in a grungy hostel right next to the three-story mega-speakers of the main carnival stage in Bocas. Oops!

Bocas del toro carnival devil Panama

Top food moments

Italian Pizza at Il Ciampo, Montaione in Italy

During our stay in Italy it took us a while to find decent pizza. In fact, we didn’t even like the first few pizzas we ordered. However, the longer we stayed, the better the pizza was that we found! The best pizza that will stay with us forever in our memories of Tuscany was a mascarpone & tomato pizza and a rucola & parmesan pizza at Pizzeria Il Ciampo in the small town of Montaione near San Gimignano.

Pizza at Il Ciampi in Montaione Italy

Pretzels in Bavaria, Germany

Jess loves German soft pretzels, called Brez’n in Bavaria. Pretzels are equal to bread and are used for making any kind of sandwich or come with cheese baked on top. Jess had at least one pretzel every day throughout the seven weeks we spent in Germany off and on in the last few months – she can’t get enough!

Pretzels in Bavaria

Tapas at Restaurante Carmela in Seville, Spain

We always seem to find a great restaurant in Seville, and Restaurante Carmela is no exception. We filled the entire table with vegetarian tapas and were thankful for the long walk back to our hotel to help digest it all.

Delicious Tapas at Carmela in Seville Spain

Gelato in Monterosso al Mare, Cinque Terre in Italy

We each had delicious gelato from a beach-side stand in Monterosso al Mare, but really, you can go to almost any gelateria in Italy and find delicious gelato – chocolate, strawberry, tutti-frutti and even some more exotic flavors such as zabaione and pistachio. Sure some places are better than others, but we did a lot of work as amateur gelato testers and have yet to find gelato that didn’t taste good!

Gelato in Italy

More:

Our Tops and Flops of 300 days of travel: Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica
Our Tops and Flops of 200 days of travel: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador
Our Tops and Flops of 100 days of travel: Las Vegas, California, Arizona, Mexico

read more

Costa Rica’s National Parks: Manuel Antonio vs. Cahuita

no thumb

.

.

Primarily known for its eco-friendly tourism, Costa Rica aims to preserve as many different regions as possible and has over 26 national parks. From mountainous cloud forests to volcanoes, coastline, wetlands and rainforests, the country is bursting with these parks. So when choosing the best, in Costa Rica it isn’t too much to ask for a trifecta – lush, green jungle, wild animals and sandy beaches to lay the afternoon away. Costa Rica has two such national parks: both Manuel Antonio on the Pacific coast and and Cahuita on the Caribbean coast.
Manuel Antonio beach in National Park

While both can boast jungle, wildlife and beach, these are two very different experiences. Despite a $10 entrance fee, Manuel Antonio is one of Costa Rica’s most popular destinations. Cahuita, on the other hand, costs (next to) nothing to get in, and remains a more off-the-beaten path National Park in comparison. Most travelers don’t have time to hop from coast to coast during a trip to Costa Rica, so read on for a closer look at both to find which might be the right fit for you.

Cahuita national park

Manuel Antonio National Park

At 4,014 acres (16.24 km2), Manuel Antonio National Park is Costa Rica’s smallest, but certainly most famous national parks in the country. This family-friendly park is located 30 kilometers south of Quepos on the Pacific.

The animals are the main draw at this park and there are plenty of them: four kinds of monkeys, both the three-fingered and the two-fingered sloth, raccoons, pacas, coatis, hundreds of exotic birds, snakes, spiders, iguanas and crabs.
Monkey in Manuel Antonio

With wildlife sightings at Manuel Antonio essentially guaranteed, tourists come in flocks to spot them. Young, old, agile and those moving very slowly all crowd the main paths early in the day, but sneak off to some of the more secluded hiking trails and  you’ll have the forest to yourself. Head back to the beautiful blue beaches, however, and there is no way to escape the crowds, who line the sand, soaking up the sun like a trip to the beaches of Florida or Spain rather than in a protected wildlife reserve.

Manuel Antonio Beach

There are of these smaller paths in the park, including one leading high up to the top of a cliff with expansive views out over the ocean and some of the park’s picture perfect beaches. Plan in a few hours to explore the jungle and spot animals as you go. The monkeys, are alarmingly accustomed to the presence of tourists, here, and have no qualms about coming right up to tourists to get their hands on some chips or cookies. Regardless of the number of people around, families of raccoons are known to walk right up to bags and coolers to snatch food, another good reason to head away from the madness and catch the animals in their natural behavior.

Advantages:

  • Animal spottings 100% guaranteed
  • Pristine beaches
  • Manuel Antonio Flower at the beach

How to get there: From San Jose’s Coca Cola bus terminal (Calle 16 between avenidas 1 and 3) there are three daily buses. The ride takes 3.5 hours. $5.50

Park Admission: $10

Tip No 1: Rent a guide. While we saw plenty of wildlife, guides who work in the park park know the best spots to see wildlife and carry high-tech binoculars to spot monkeys and sloths hiding high up in the trees.
racoon in Manuel Antonio

Tip No 2: Visit early in the morning. If you stay directly in Manuel Antonio, you can get up early and be at the park entrance right at 7am to arrive before the tour buses arrive around 9 or 10.

Cahuita National Park

Cahuita is a sleepy beach town on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, just half an hour from popular Puerto Viejo. The small village has several budget hotels but is practically undeveloped in comparison to Manuel Antonio. The national park at the end of town, which runs parallel to the beach, is not only known the wealth of wildlife on land, but also for its reef which is perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving. Cahuita National Park is also perfect to pop into for a day out on the nearly empty beaches, surfing and sunning. Entry is technically free, but donations are welcome.
Cahuita beach

Enjoy the sounds of the jungle during a walk along the two-mile tourist-free path on the beach. The animals here live in a much more undisturbed environment, which makes them much more shy and harder to spot, so keep an eye or two out for the rich variety of wildlife: howler monkeys, Capuchin monkeys, sloths, toucans, pacas, coatis, raccoons, snakes, various kinds of colorful crabs and hundreds of different kinds of fish and coral for divers. Hire a guide for optimal animal spotting.

Coloured crab in Cahuita Costa Rica

Because the National Park and the town are less developed than Manuel Antonio, exploring is less organized. The start of the park is an easy walk on a wide sandy path, but you will shortly come to a river crossing, which either requires a silly 20 second boat ride across the river, or wading through chest-high water to get to the other side. Get across that, and you will feel like you have the place to yourself.

Cahuita national park jungle

Advantages:

  • No crowds
  • Great for diving & snorkeling
  • Ideal for surfing
  • Free (donations appreciated).

How to get there: From San Jose’s Gran Terminal del Caribe (Calle Central, 1 block north of Avenida 11) there are five buses daily. The ride takes about 4 hours; US$6.50.

Tip: Don’t pay for the boat to cross the river. If you walk on the beach where the river hits the ocean, the river is narrow and shallow enough to be crossed on foot. Just make sure to carry your camera & valuables high up.

National Park Admission: Free

Cahuita beach

Our verdict

There is no clear winner here as both parks are definitely worth a visit. Manuel Antonio has much prettier beaches and more visible wildlife, whereas Cahuita offers more tranquility and allows you to take your time without other tourists. Manuel Antonio feels like a resort and is as much about a day at the beach as about a national park, while Cahuita is heavy on the park, with a beach on the side.
Cahuita sign don't feed the monkeys

read more

Cycling along Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast

no thumb

;

;

“EEEeee! This is just like Eat Pray Love!” Jaime squealed as we pedaled away from the bike rental shop on our shiny new bikes to explore the Caribbean beaches of the Costa Rican coast. Cheesy as it sounds, I think we all found the experience to be liberating, exhilarating yet completely relaxing.

Jessie & Jaime cycling along Costa Rica's Caribbean coast

We had just met Jaime, the Breakaway Backpacker, in person for the first time the day before in Puerto Viejo, and even though he had not ridden a bicycle for quite a while, he was up for a bike ride along Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast.

Puerto Viejo beach Costa Rica

Puerto Viejo itself is a fun town and has everything in terms of hotels, bars and restaurants, but the beaches in town pale in comparison to the spots further down the coast. Bikes are available throughout town for US$5 per day, complete with locks and a big basket to hold your beach gear, so we set off by bike along the well-paved coastal road in search of a spot to swim and soak up the sun.

Bicycle rental Puerto Viejo Costa Rica

The road hugs the coast the whole 14km from Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo, weaving along from just on the coast to a bit more inland where a glimpse of the beach is only possible through the thick jungle. Although there are patches where potholes are plentiful, the vast majority of the road is absolutely perfect for bike riding, traffic (both bike and car) is minimal, making it possible for us to spend the way out of town chatting away. Other times we rode along in peace and quiet, each enjoying our own little moments of solitude with the sun shining down.

Costa Rica Manzanillo Vendor woman at the beach

Just about a mile outside of town we reached Playa Cocles, and if we had stayed there all day we would have been more than satisfied. The waves here are strong, and we watched surfers and sipped fresh coconut water before heading to Punta Uva, a thirty minute ride further along the coast. From the minute we parked our bikes under the palm trees near the National Park sign, it was clear this beach was our absolute favorite. Beaches rarely get better than this. Set in a bay, the beach in protected by a tropical tree covered cliff which keeps the waves out and the water perfectly flat, nearly motionless. Looking back at the lush jungle while floating freely in the water was invigorating. Despite it being Saturday afternoon and cloud-free skies, we shared the entire beach with no more than 20 people.

Punta Uva beach Costa Rica

We could have stayed here all day, but instead convinced ourselves to take advantage of our fabulous bikes and move on to Manzanillo. Whereas the first part of the road from Puerto Viejo to Punta Uva is lined with spacious hotel properties, a few resorts, high end restaurants, surf shops, and a smattering of cheapie mom and pop restaurants, the second half of the ride is almost entirely through the jungle.

Jungle along the coast in Costa Rica

Along the way, we dismounted just off the road to goggle at hundreds of hand-size Golden Orb spiders hanging in webs that must have taken generations to build. On the way back, in exactly the same place, Jaime squealed a second time, but this time to warn me about the 5 foot long black snake slithering its way across the road.

Golden Orb spider web Costa Rica

Manzanillo has the most Caribbean feeling of all the beaches. This cheerful, colorful little town is populated mainly by English-speaking Afro-Caribbeans living in smaller houses, some on stilts, plus a handful of bars, restaurants and hotels.

Cycling along the Caribbean Coast in Costa Rica

The beach is as long and wide as the town is small – the sprawling sand stretches for miles, but we only had time here for a quick bite in the local soda (simple Costa Rican restaurant), before jumping back on the bike and power-pedalling those 14 hilly kilometres along the road through the jungle, past the spiders, around the snake, back toward Puerto Viejo before sunset.

Manzanillo beach Costa Rica

The road was ours, only passing the occasional car or bike, until we hit Playa Cocles again. Here, we joined a heavy flow of bicycle traffic all heading back to Puerto Viejo, at time five bicycles wide, as groups of tourists on Caribbean holidays joined surfers riding one-handed, clutching their boards under one arm after a day out on the waves. We returned the bikes 8 hours and 28km later, sunburnt, saddle sore and smiled the whole way back to the hostel. A truly life-affirming day indeed.

Manzanillo Soda Dani & Jess & Bikes

read more

Hotel Tip Of Week: Cabinas Atlantic Surf in Cahuita, Costa Rica

hotel tip of the week

Editor’s Note: It looks like this hotel may have closed (if anyone can confirm this, I’d appreciate any information!), but luckily a number of hotels and guesthouses has opened since I first visited Cahuita. I am sharing the best rated hotels in Cahuita in 2018:

Shoestring Budget:

Budget Hotels in Cahuita:

Private Villas / Houses in Cahuita:

  • New Caribe Point (Villa with pool for 4 people from US$100 per night) – 9.5/10
  • Casa Marcellino (Cabin with two bedrooms from US$85 for two people / $105 for four people) – 9.7/10

Airbnb in Cahuita

There are also quite a few private houses, bungalows and private rooms on Airbnb. The cheapest private room I’ve found was US$26, entire houses/ bungalows start at around US$50. Check out Airbnb homes in Cahuita here.

If you’re not signed up with Airbnb yet, use my referral code and get up to $40 towards your first trip!

Cabinas Atlantic Surf Review

Cabinas Atlantic Surf may be a modest and moderately-priced hotel, but the managers are five-star all the way. Sometimes we rave about a hotel’s amenities, other times it’s all about the beds, showers or the view. At Cabinas Atlantic Surf, we ended up staying an extra night at the hotel thanks to Wendy and Javier, the super-friendly couple in charge of this hostel in Cahuita, Costa Rica.

Cabinas Atlantic Surf Cahuita

The cabinas themselves are sturdy wooden rooms with large screened-in windows. Each room has one large double bed and one small single bed – both comfortable and clean – and an en-suite bathroom with shower (some hot, for $$ extra).  The house is surrounded by a luscious green garden and resident cat, with a path leading to a newly-built kitchen built by Wendy and Javier at the back of the hotel (see Stand Out Features below).

Cabinas Atlantic surf room Cahuita

Not to be confused with the actual owners, Jenn and Shannon, this Tico/American couple to manage the hotel. Javier, from California, splits his days between keeping the hostel in top condition, chatting with guests, and playing the guitar with a couple of other hotel owners on the block, while his girlfriend Wendy, from Heredia, Costa Rica, tells stories and makes you laugh while she sweeps away. The four of us talked about everything from road trips and music to ideas for new companies and renewable energy. For two digital nomads to stay two nights in a hotel with no wi-fi means we must have been plenty charmed by this pair.

Cabinas Atlantic Surf terrace with hammock

Stand Out Feature: A clean & spacious kitchen

Wendy built the kitchen, so it is brand new, spotless and comes fully equipped with an electric kettle, traditional Costa Rican coffee maker, toaster oven, toaster, a stove and a fridge. Wendy even keeps spices, oil and other basic ingredients available for guests to use. There is a small table with chairs, but the kitchen could use an additional dining table would have been nice as it was awkward to eat at the table.

Cabinas Atlantic Surf kitchen

Stand Out Feature: Stay for free!

Cabinas Atlantic Surf offers free accommodation in return for help at the hostel, a fabulous deal for long-term travellers looking for an extended stay in Cahuita, Costa Rica.

Room for improvement: Wi-fi

Cabinas Atlantic Surf does not have wi-fi. You can try to get online from the neighbor’s connection, but it is not reliable. We know not all hotel guests require wi-fi, but having had internet access in far more remote locations, it should be possible in one of Costa Rica’s most popular tourist destinations. Who knows, we may have stayed even longer, too!

Overall

Cabinas Atlantic Surf offers basic, clean and spacious rooms at a good price. All rooms have a private bathroom as well as a little balcony with hammocks which makes for a great space to relax with one of the huge cups of fresh Costa Rican coffee. The kitchen is an inviting space to prepare meals and is the perfect place for travelers to mingle. The proximity of the hostel to the (free) National Park makes it a breeze to spot sloths or monkeys any time of day.

Cabinas Atlantic Surf garden Cahuita

Price: Double rooms with private bath and hot water US$25, single rooms with private bath US$20, rooms with private bath without hot water US$10 per person
Gay
Friendly: yes
Amenities:
Kitchen, balconies, 5 minutes walk to the National Park
Website: http://cabinasatlanticsurf.com/

read more

When creepy is cute: Visiting a sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica

no thumb

.

 

.

You may go about your day never once thinking about a three-toed sloth, or a two-toed sloth, for that matter. The minute you arrive in Monteverde, Costa Rica, however, talk of sloths is everywhere, and while it is possible to take tours which involve spotting these slow moving creatures, the truth is this is not necessary. Sloths are present here, so much so, in fact, that right in front of our hostel in Monteverde, which was next to the appropriately named ‘Sloth’ hotel, all us guests poured out onto the street to see a sloth doing a bit of a very slow tight rope act along the electricity wires leading across and along the street.

The next day, after deciding to walk back the seven kilometers from the Monteverde Cloud Forest to the village of Santa Elena, a brand-new building marked ‘Sloth Sanctuary’ caught our eye. After our first sloth encounter we were fascinated by these funny-looking creatures and decided to pop in for a visit.
friendly sloth in Monteverde Costa Rica

The Monteverde Sloth Sanctuary is the actually the second such sanctuary in Costa Rica, the first having been founded in the Caribbean town of Cahuita by animal-lover and American Judy Aroyos, who, many years ago, adopted one baby sloth whose mother had been killed. Taking in more and more injured sloths, Aroyos and her husband founded Aviarios del Caribe, to cope with sloths who had been bit by cars, bit by dogs or hurt by climbing electric cables. The more the country’s infrastructure developed, the more the sloth’s natural environment has been endangered. Not surprisingingly, these animals have been slow to adapt to the change.
Three fingered sloth in Monteverde Costa Rica

Both Avarios del Caribe and the Monteverde Sloth Sanctuary are run by Aroyos, treat injured sloths and returning them back to the wild once they’ve recovered, although some have been raised here since birth and can never adapt to living in the jungle. While Avarios is home to more 100 sloths, we spent about an hour goggling over a dozen three and toe-fingered sloths (first learning that the correct term is three-fingered not three-toed sloth).
two fingered sloth in Monteverde Costa Rica

The creatures are unlike any other we’ve seen, and while they can actually appear quite human like at times, the sloth biologically resembles marsupials more than humans. While sloths seem to be quite large as these eternal loungers lie up in the limbs of trees, they are actually light as a feather relatively at only 12lbs or 6kg for a grown male.
friendly sloth in Monteverde Costa Rica

We fell in love with these little creatures and are certain that if everyone had the chance, they would, too! Both Costa Rican sloth sanctuaries are privately managed rescue and research centers and rely entirely on donations. Volunteers are always welcome as well, to take care of the baby sloths, feeding them, cleaning the cages, providing medical treatment and spreading the world about the importance of these creepy but cute Costa Rican creatures. Have a look for yourself by watching this clip on the as the owners of the sanctuary discuss the animals and the importance of helping to save the sloth population.
Three fingered sloth arm Monteverde Costa Rica

More volunteer info here.

read more

Revisiting a Ghost…Ending my twelve-year love affair with Montezuma, Costa Rica

no thumb

.

.

Montezuma is easily one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful beaches, but our love affair effectively ended after spending three days there in February 2011. This can not be attributed to the ten-month build-up or overly-high expectations, and while I’d like to blame the rose-colored glasses of youth, it’s not that either. Montezuma has changed…and we don’t want the same things out of life anymore.
Montezuma bay & beach

It all started in 1999, during my Junior year in college, when I studied abroad for a year in Heredia, an hour outside of San Jose, Costa Rica – a decision that would forever change the course of my life. During that inspirational year, a close-knit group of twenty or so friends traveled throughout the country together every weekend, and we particularly fell in love with Montezuma, near the tip of the Nicoya peninsula on the Pacific coast. Back then, two perpendicular streets and the corner they formed made up the sleepy beach town, which was lovingly nicknamed ‘Montefuma’ by the free-spirited Argentine hippies, Afro-Caribbeans selling jewelry and old drunken British/American tattooed sailor types who had all settled here. For a group made up of fairly privileged middle class American college kids, losing ourselves in conversations with people living such alternative lifestyles made us feel out of our element and very much alive.
Montezuma beach & sculptures

A gem itself, the tiny town is really the entry way for a string of stunning, deserted beaches, each one completely different to the next: one might be a small cove filled with colorful pebbles and water crashing violently against giant black rocks, and around the next curve, a stretch of long, wide beach with shallow water and gentle waves provide perfect surfing.

Everyone who ended up here was instantly drawn in to the collective desire to say Damn the Man and live freely on this beach, laying out by day and drinking beer at Chicos, the only bar in town, by night. With the exception of eating at a few cheap sodas (small typical Costa Rican restaurants), we otherwise bought the essentials – bread, beans, bananas and beer – at the only corner store in town. We didn’t need anything else and kept on coming back for more.

Even two years later, when I was then living in Guatemala, a smaller, more international group of friends and I set off on the three-day Tica Bus pilgrimage from Antigua, Guatemala to Montezuma, Costa Rica and enjoyed the same carefree time as I always had before.

deserted beach in Montezuma Costa Rica

Twelve years after my first visit, as Dani and I made our way down through Mexico and Central America, I had gone on and on about my favorite beach in Costa Rica. I felt nervous, almost protective, over my little town, hoping Dani would love it, that she would ‘get it’ the way that we had ‘gotten it’ back then.

However, after a long drive from Samara Beach, as we made the final turn into town, I didn’t even have to get out of the shuttle to know Montezuma had changed forever. The Damn the Man motto was gone – the Man has arrived here, and he is thriving.

Rental cars pack the once empty streets, competing for space with the humming 4wds, now the popular way to race up and down the long stretches of still relatively deserted beach. While the very central Hotel Montezuma and some of the smaller cheap hostels were still in tact, there is a whole slew of newer mid-range accommodation and overpriced restaurants charging $12-$15 per meal. The hippies have grown up, gotten jobs and had families. Montezuma, Costa Rica is now filled with organic food restaurants and luxury yoga resorts. The center of town is now filled by a sprawling, well-constructed playground for children.

Montezuma street Costa Rica

Not only a family-friendly destination, Montezuma also now caters to higher-end visitors with packaged boat and jungle tours, plus expensive speed boats connect the town to Jaco and Manuel Antonio across the bay – otherwise only reachable by a long six-hour bus-ferry-bus slog  (for a total of $10).

The little corner shop still has cheap cans of Gallo beer and boxed wine, but the brand new supermarket up the road has German chocolate, French cheese, and nearly every American product someone could miss from home. Visitors to Montezuma now range from young European families to retirees from the Deep South and the Far East.

Montezuma packages the memory of itself as a free-spirited, relaxed beach town and sells it to those who fell in love with it  all those years ago.

With those stunning beaches and prime location, Montezuma was bound to become a star and claim its position slap bang on the main tourist path. As far as we could tell the development has done a world of good. There is strong economic and social infrastructure in place with no evidence of increased pollution or damage to the land: the town is kept clean. In fact, no one but us seemed disappointed about the change.

Horses on the beach in Montezuma Costa Rica

I say ‘us’ because Dani wanted no part of the tourist trinkets, overpriced dinners and pre-packaged tours, either. In spite of the all the beauty, that magical vibe has long since been lost. This is another reason why we beg you not to go to Samara Beach, for fear of the same thing happening to our little treasure on the Pacific Coast.

Have you ever returned somewhere you used to love, only to find it a completely different place? Feel free to commiserate with us over the loss of your favorite hidden spots. Plus, please let us know any places we definitely shouldn’t visit, that have completely sold out to tourism anywhere in the world!

read more

Hotel Tip of The Week: Backpackers Paradise Costa Linda | Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

no thumb
..
.
.
Welcome to our weekly series Hotel Tip of The Week. Being on the road every day of the year means we stay at countless hotels along the way. For all the dingy, disappointing budget digs, there are as many budget accommodation gems. We post one hotel tip of the week, every week, of places we feel confident recommending after having tried and tested them ourselves.
.
Sitting on the bus from Quepos to our hostel near Manuel Antonio National Park, we knew that, at $10 per night per person, the Backpackers Paradise Costa Linda would not actually be paradise. And on arrival, it was clear we were right. But even though we can provide a list of imperfections with the place, we still highly recommend this budget hotel in Manuel Antonio, an obligatory stop on any Costa Rica vacation.
Costa Linda Backpackers Paradise Manuel Antonio Costa Rica
.
The best thing about Backpackers Paradise Costa Linda is that the rate, $10 per person per night, applies regardless of what type of room you stay in – whether its in a bed in a 4-6 person dorm or in a private single or double room. Rooms are spread out over two floors, and while the dorms are a bit dark and grungy (but still far better than the 12 to 14 bed dorms we have seen!), the single and double privates are basic but nice, with comfortable beds, strong fans and peace and quiet despite the location of the rooms at the back of the popular restaurant. Call ahead to secure one of the private rooms, to make the most of that $10 price.
Double Room Costa Linda Backpackers Paradise
Bathrooms, also shared with restaurant guests, are cleaner and brighter than might be expected. Despite heavy use by guests and diners, the bathrooms in this Manuel Antonio hotel always had plenty of toilet paper and were never overly dirty. The showers are clean, and come with large rain showerheads and good water pressure. As far as shared bathrooms go, we have seen much, much worse.
Costa Linda Backpackers Paradise Bathroom Girls
The front of the building is the restaurant/bar and is hopping morning, noon and night on the weekends. The menu is basic, cheap and good for international tourists of all ages, made up mainly of pasta and rice dishes, and the breakfast (see below) was certainly a stand-out feature of a stay at this hostel. During the week, the restaurant is closed after breakfast and before dinner. When not hanging at the beach in Manuel Antonio, hotel guests are welcome to hang here all day, drinking the bottomless cups of free coffee and tea on offering, and using up as much of the free wi-fi connection as they would like. The hotel also offers a laundry service (expect to wait at least one day longer than you’re told to get the clothes back) and the most comprehensive collection of German books we have seen in any book exchange anywhere.
Costa Linda Backpackers Paradise Restaurant
While we’ve mentioned the location of the hotel as a Stand Out Feature below, we want to mention that both the pristine beaches inside the park and the main town beach are absolutely beautiful. Plan in two or three days of utter laziness around your Manuel Antonio National Park visit, and make sure to soak up some Costa Rican sun here.

Stand Out Feature: Location

Backpackers Paradise Costa Linda is the only budget accommodation option located directly in the small town of Manuel Antonio itself, and is just 100m from the entrance to the National Park and a two-minute walk from the beach. The rest of the budget spots are located a half an hour away in the main town of Quepos, requiring a 30min bus ride not only to get to the National Park (the main reason for your visit), but also to the beach and back every day (there is no beach worth visiting in Quepos).
Manuel Antonio beach view
Stand Out Feature: The Price
This great location is available for $10 per person per night, easily half the next best hotel price Manuel Antonio town. The majority of hotels throughout Costa Rica are comparable to U.S. prices, making Backpackers Paradise Costa Linda an absolute steal. In fact, we hope the owners don’t read this and realize just what a bargain they are offering!
Backpackers Paradise Costa Linda Price List

Stand Out Feature: Breakfast

For 1800 Colones, or $3.50, the breakfast served up at the restaurant is large enough to fill you up until dinner. The first plate is spilling over with slices of fruit, and is followed by a second plate of scrambled eggs, bread and a heaping mound of our beloved Gallo Pinto.
Costa Linda Backpackers Paradise Breakfast

Room for improvement: Disorganization and apathy

Last week we recommended Hotel Hansi on Bocas del Toro, Panama and stated that it was no surprise that the German-run hotel was so organized and spotless. This hotel is also German -owned and couldn’t be less organized if they tried. As you will find from the reviews on TripAdvisor for Backpackers Paradise Costa Linda, the hotel is filled with imperfections. Our negative experience centered entirely around customer service staff who were constantly stressed: the ladies in the kitchen were also responsible for the laundry, the waiters were also responsible for check-in and check-out. This led to everyone always waiting for something.
.
The staff at this Manuel Antonio hotel seem to rely on the honesty of their guests, as our food bill was often wrong. This was sometimes in their favor – which we contested – and other times in our favor. While we were honest about really owing more, how many other guests wouldn’t take a free night’s stay or free bottles of water? When the wi-fi went out one day, the entire staff and the owner all just shrugged their shoulders and made no attempt to help – even when specifically showed the problem with the router and how to fix it.

Overall

The lack of customer service and professionalism means that guests at Backpackers Paradise Costa Linda do actually get what they pay for – what more can you expect for $10 a night?! However, the location and the price literally can’t be beat, which is why we recommend budget travellers to take the bad with good, and book this hotel in advance for their Manuel Antonio visit.
Costa Linda Backpackers Paradise
.
Location: Turn left into the road up the hill at the main bus stop in town and walk for 100 meters. You will see Costa Linda Backpackers Paradise on the left side.
Price: $10 per person in a single, double or dorm.
LGBT Friendly: No idea, they would never notice.
Amenities: Bottomless coffee and tea, free wi-fi, book exchange, laundry service

.

read more

Please don’t go to Samara Beach…

samara beach sunset1

Costa Rica may be a well established destination on the tourist trail, but the Nicoya Peninsula is still very much the country’s own Wild Wild West. Lucky for us, what started off as a transportation nightmare led us to discover our favorite beach on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.Palm tree at Samara Beach Costa RicaWe had no plans to visit Samara Beach. Sure, it was suggested in the guidebooks like countless other Costa Rican beaches. However, despite naysayers’ warnings that efforts to traverse the entire peninsula by bus would prove futile, our plan was to get from Playa del Coco in the north down to the popular, once-isolated beach town of Montezuma on the very southern tip of the Nicoya. We pushed along all the way to the sleepy, scorchingly hot inland city of Nicoya, the peninsula’s namesake, before realizing, weary and dusty from an already long afternoon of bus travel, that there was indeed no way to get down to Montezuma without paying a private taxi $120 to make the remaining five-hour, tire-busting trip.samara beach surferAfter chatting to several very helpful taxi drivers and a group of American language students on their way back to Samara after a trekking adventure, we spontaneously decided to join our fellow ‘gringos’. The next bus to Samara Beach left just thirty minutes later and arrived within an hour.Samara beach Costa ricaAs soon as we arrived, we were enchanted by the beauty of the beach from the start. We basked in the late afternoon sun, admiring the tropical palm trees which line the miles of wide, white sand beach. The town itself is really only a collection of hotels and restaurants along one road perpendicular to the coast and a smattering of hotels and beach lounges on the beach.Samara beach boatDespite the well-developed tourism here, this beautiful beach location is noticeably absent of all-inclusive resorts, and the tourists here are different than the older retirees of Playa del Coco or aging hippies at Montezuma, populated instead by younger couples and smart travelers looking to escape all of that.samara beach cloudy sunsetThe area is certainly almost exclusively populated by tourists, ex-pats and locals working in tourism, but Samara Beach does not feel contrived the way that many Costa Rican destinations have now begun to feel. There are no chain hotels, no fast food restaurants, and no multi-story buildings. When you look back at the land from the water, the buildings peek out from amongst lush jungle and striking cliffs. The best thing about Samara is that the endless amount of sandy beaches always feels  fairly empty, no matter how full the hotels actually are.samara beach from waterThe ocean here is shallow, and the waves are present enough to learn to surf but unforgiving enough to enjoy a day splashing around in them, not the case in many locations up and down the Pacific coast from Mexico through Nicaragua (exception: San Juan del Sur). After a day in the waves, there are sunset beach lounges with mellow music, creative cocktails and international cuisine. The magical sunsets during our stay turned the sky various shades of purple and pink, causing a wall of bikini-clad amateur paparazzi to form, trying to capture the stunning scenery.Sunset at Samara BeachEven though there are quite a lot of international (mostly American) tourists, Samara Beach still manages to feel like an off-the-beaten-path location – which, of course, the town is not. Visitors here can surf, kayak, take a boat ride, book a sport-fishing trip, go diving, head inland to the jungle nearby for canopy tours, or rent a bicycle or hop on a horse and ride up and down the miles of deserted coastline. Samara even advertises itself as a key spot for destination weddings. The hotels remain reasonably priced, although budget accommodation in Samara Beach, as in Costa Rica in general, is harder to come by. We stayed at Casa Valeria, which Frommers calls the best budget option on the beach. The hotel has 9 stand alone beach bungalows for $50 and a pair of cheaper rooms for $30. There is a new hostel in town, Hostel Matilori, which cost around $16 per person per night in a dorm or $45 in a private room – the advantage to the bungalows and other hotels is that the hostel has two shared kitchens.Casa Valeria Hammocks & bungalow Samara BeachSamara Beach is the Costa Rican vacation we really wanted,  fulfilling perfectly the image still being sold in the travel brochures. The level of tourism here makes for the perfect peaceful escape – all of the organization you need and none of the banana-boat and disco clubs you don’t. The problem with Samara Beach is that it is at its tipping point, and while the balance is now is perfect, more tourists arriving each year might convert the place into another overly Americanized beach like Montezuma, Playa del Coco or Jaco Beach (lined with Quiznos and Pizza Huts).Samara beach & oceanThis is why we beg you…please don’t go to Samara Beach. But if you do go, which you really should, please don’t tell anyone else about this perfect Costa Rican beach location.

Practical information:

How to get to Samara

The closest airport is Liberia (about 2 hours by car from Samara), but you can also fly into San Jose and get to Samara by car (4 hours) or bus (about 5 hours). A taxi from Liberia airport is between US$50 and US$60. Important: Negotiate the fare before you get in the cab!samara beach horseback riders

By bus: You can take a bus from San Jose or Liberia to Nicoya, and then change onto a bus to Samara. The bus company that runs from Nicoya to Samara is called Empresa Rojas. It takes about 90 minutes to get from Nicoya to Samara.

Alfaro express buses go directly from San José daily at noon from Avenida 5 between calles 14 and 16. The trip takes 5 hours; check here for current timetables and fares (2017 fare: ₡4,395/ US$7.95).

By car: You can rent a car right at the airport in San Jose and Liberia, the roads are simple country roads but okay to drive on. If you don’t want to drive all the way to Samara from San Jose but would like to have a car to explore more of the Nicoya Peninsula – you can also rent a car in Samara.samara beach with palm trees
Where to stay in Samara

Check out the top rated hotels in Samara (2017 edition):

  • Las Mariposas – hostel right on the beach, private single rooms from $30, doubles from $35, dorm bed $12 – review score 9.9
  • Sunset Chillout Bed & Breakfast – triple room from $50 (incl breakfast) – review score 9.7
  • Oasis – 2-bedroom house right on the beach from $35, triples from $42.50 – review score 9.5
  • Casa Amarilla – guesthouse with swimming pool in the town center. Double rooms start at $62 – review score 9.2
  • Finca Minoy – guesthouse with swimming pool (note: a bit out of town), doubles from $79 – review score 9.8
  • Villas Tangerine – Bed & Breakfast right on the beach, doubles start at $62 incl breakfast. Review score 9.3
  • Las Perlitas – Hotel with pool in the center of Samara, doubles from $89 incl breakfast. Review score 9.8
  • Samara Palm Lodge – hotel with pool, 6 min walk to the beach. Doubles from $61. Review score 9.9
  • la isla que no hay – Two bedroom house in the center of Samara from $161 per night (sleeps 4 people), swimming pool. Review score 9.6
  • The Hideaway Hotel – on the far southern end of the beach, between Samara and Playa Carillo. Swimming pool and on-site restaurant. Double rooms start at $150 – review score 9.1

samara beach costa rica

Hostel: If you are looking for a hostel, Hostel Matilori has great reviews. They offer both dorm rooms and private rooms. There is free wifi, two shared kitchens, barbecue facilities, hammocks and a games room (perfect place to hide during the rainy hours in monsoon season!).

samara hotels
Where to eat in Samara

There are several inexpensive sodas, local restaurants in Samara. These simple restaurants serve up Costa Rica’s main dish: casado. A casado usually includes your choice of beef, chicken, pork or fish, rice and beans, salad, a vegetable side dish, and fried plantains. Vegetarians can ask for fresh cheese or eggs instead of meat. A casado is between US$4 and US$6.samara beach casado
Other places worth checking out:

  • Samara Organics MercadoCafe (Natural Center, in front of Gusto Beach Restaurant, Sámara, 50205, Costa Rica)
  • Ahora Si! (Samara’s first vegetarian restaurant)
  • Lo Que Hay (Mexican restaurant right on the beach)
  • Luv Burgers (Vegetarian Burgers)
  • Restaurant Giada (Italian restaurant right in the center of town, look for Hotel Giada on Main Street)
  • Roots Bakery & Cafe (Fantastic bakery /coffee shop / breakfast place in town. Near Hotel Giada)
  • Restaurant Tabanuco (family-run restaurant with fresh seafood served right on the beach)
  • El Lagarto (Best place in Samara for steaks, barbecue and seafood)

samara beach lo que hay filled avocados

read more
1 2 3 4
Page 3 of 4