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The Ultimate Costa Rica Vacation Guide: Know Before You Go

Updated: Jun 2, 2019

Self-care is the best care and unplugging from being on the constant go recharges your mind and body. There seems to be a mentality of go, go, go but eventually you’ll burn yourself out. Hence why I’m a big proponent of taking a mental break.


Pura Vida

I recently visited Costa Rica for my birthday, and it was the experience of a lifetime. Pura Vida is the main phrase spoken by everyone in the country. It means simple life or pure life. It's also used to say hello and goodbye. Pura Vida isn't just a saying, it's a lifestyle. The locals are laid back and care free which is why Costa Rica is the ideal place for you to recharge.


I found out at the airport where I was headed and as you can see, I was shocked! We spent 6 days in Costa Rica, visited 2 cities, and stayed at 2 properties. Here’s a recap of the trip including activities, restaurants, and recommendations.


Safiyyah in airport shocked about birthday trip

Arrival

Located in Central America, Costa Rica is a short flight from Atlanta, 3 hours and 45 minutes, and is known for its beaches, volcanoes, wildlife, and the rainforest. We flew into San Jose (SJO) airport and arrived Thursday morning. Yes, it’s warm and the weather reminded me of Atlanta summers. The airport is a decent size and efficient. Once you deplane, you’ll retrieve your bags, go through customs, and then off to ground transportation.


Ground Transportation

There are several options to get around the country.

1. Rental car

2. Cab

3. Local bus

4. Interbus


Depending on your hotel location and budget will determine the ground transportation. The cab fare directly to our hotel was $150 for two. It was expensive because our hotel was located three hours away near the beach. We didn’t choose a rental car because we were unfamiliar with the country and it wasn’t worth the risk.


We opted to do a mixture of ground transportation. We took a 20-minute cab ride from the airport to the local bus for approximately $25. At the bus station we purchased two bus tickets to our first stop for $16. We did save money on ground transportation, but the travel time is the longest. However, what I liked about the local bus is it stopped at 2 farmers’ markets on the way.


 Local Costa Rica bus to get around the country
Local bus

First Stop | Manuel Antonio

Our first stop was Issimo Suites Boutique Hotel and Spa located in Manuel Antonio. We were welcomed by Vanessa and her wonderful personality. This hotel is for adults only and from the time we stepped on the property it was truly an experience. Issimo has mastered attention to detail. Upon arrival we received a cocktail made with local juices and fresh towels to clean our hands.


Issimo Suites Hotel and Spa

Let’s talk about the hotel and its amenities! This boutique hotel has 12 rooms and it’s close to the beach. We stayed in a junior suite with views of the jungle and ocean. The room amenities include: a mini refrigerator, hot tub, and coffee maker. The hotel has an intimate pool that overlooks the jungle and two eating areas.



View from Issimo Suites Hotel and Spa junior suite
Issimo Suites Hotel and Spa

The breakfast is complimentary and differs daily. If there’s something you don’t eat, for me it’s pork, the chef will prepare something else for you. Breakfast includes yogurt with granola, fresh fruit, and the entree. It may sound like a lot, but the portions are smaller than the states. Dinner is offered here daily too, and they offer different pastas, seafood dishes and vegetarian entrees.




Things To Do in Manuel Antonio

Waterfall Full Day Tour with Paddle 9

If you are really adventurous, enjoy being outdoors, and aren’t afraid of heights, you’ll love the waterfall tour with Paddle 9. The team of 5 were fun, engaging, and knowledgeable of the Costa Rican culture. They picked us up at our hotel at 8AM sharp and the adventure started. The tour included 3 waterfalls, hiking, lunch and 45 minutes at the beach. We had a blast and I even did the 20ft natural waterfall slide.


Playa Biesanz

You’ve spent a few hours getting to Manuel Antonio, you have to go to the beach. Issimo is only an 8-minute walk to the beach and the property will golf cart you to the entry. You can walk to the beach, but the walk back will have you gasping for air. Due to the location, the steep hills and heat, I’d suggest you utilize the golf cart. You will want to bring your flip flips and walk in your water shoes.


Emilios Café

If you’re looking for nearby lunch options and want to leave the property, I recommend Emilio’s. The hotel will shuttle you there and pick you up.


Second Stop | La Fortuna

Our second stop was Volcano Lodge, Hotel & Thermal Experience in La Fortuna. Located five hours from Issimo Hotel, we traveled by Interbus to this property. This is a large family-friendly resort and sits at the base of Arenal Volcano. We relaxed in a junior suite that included a private plunge-pool hot springs which is the biggest attraction. There are hot springs throughout the resort and it’s amazing how these pools are heated by the Arenal Volcano through an irrigation system.


Volcano Lodge, Hotel & Thermal Experience Junior Suite view

Things To Do in La Fortuna

ATV La Pradera Private Farm Tour

If you are seeking a true thrill, you’ll enjoy the ATV’s. This isn’t your typical ATV ride on flat land. The description says enjoy ATV riding on a farm but it’s more like the jungle lol. You’ll be going through deep trenches, hilly area, dense trees, and large mud puddles. However, the views are beyond worth it. I recommend you wear long pants and hiking boots.



Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park

If you aren’t scared of heights and enjoy nature, this guided tour is for you. I didn’t know what to expect but it surpassed my expectations. Our tour guide was Octavio and his knowledge and appreciation of the wildlife was truly commendable. You’ll cross 15 bridges and 6 of them are hanging with breath-taking views of the rainforest. Close toed shoes are required, and I recommend you wear dri-fit clothing. I am wearing J. Dow Fitness pants and sports bra.


Costa Rica Hanging Bridge at Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park

Marisqueria Snapper’s House

This seafood restaurant is located in the heart of La Fortuna. It’s approximately 10-minutes from the hotel and is definitely worth the trip. Everything is fresh and reasonably priced. Plus, they have live music some nights. I recommend the calamari, whole red snapper, and seafood pasta.


Know Before You Go

· You don’t need local currency because many of the establishments take US dollar. I would advise you to take bills no larger than $20.

· You don’t have to pre-purchase your ground transportation in each city except for the rental car.

· If you plan on staying in two different sides of the country, I recommend you arrange ground transportation ahead of time. Why? The distances are about 2-4 hours apart.


Packing List

· Dri-Fit Clothing (Long pants, shorts, tanks, t-shirts)

· Swimsuits

· Lounge wear clothing

· Rain Jacket | Poncho

· Water Bottle

· Umbrella

· Hat

· Sunscreen

· Insect Repellent

· Portable Medical Kit

· Easy Spanish Phrase Book

· Marchway Floating Waterproof Dry Bag 40L

· RAX Hiking Shoes

· Water Shoes

· JBL Charge 3 Portable Bluetooth Speaker


Take-Away

There are multiple reasons people travel. Whatever yours is, make sure you go and unplug. The purpose of this trip was for mental health and exploring a different way of life. Experiencing different cultures leads to a change in perspective. Costa Rica reminded me of how beautiful life is and the importance of being open to lifestyles and traditions.

On the next blog Marko and I will be talking about daily self-care habits so make sure you subscribe.


Pura Vida,

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