Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Reflections on my Journey - Travels in Costa Rica (Part 9)

All in all, I had a wonderful time in Costa Rica. I experienced a lot, and I learned a lot, too. If you are considering a vacation in Costa Rica, here are some things to think about:

- The main industry of Costa Rica is tourism. Therefore, many towns have the “feel” of a tourist location. On my other two trips to foreign countries, I visited European cities and towns. They certainly have their fair share of visitors, but it “feels” like a city where people live and work and have fun. That is a major difference I noticed. If I had stayed with a local, things might have been very different. So, just know that a trip to Costa Rica will not necessarily include a cultural immersion, at least in the spots I stayed. (And if you can provide any information to the contrary, I would love to hear it.)

- Costa Rica has two very distinct wet and dry seasons that differ slightly depending on which areas you visit. I found a good reference chart: http://www.govisitcostarica.com/travelInfo/climate.asp. The upside to traveling during the wet season is less crowds and lower prices. The downside is obviously the rain.

- Consider flying into Liberia. It might be more expensive, but it will also save you lots of travel time if you’re planning to spend most of your time in that region.

- The beaches are nice in Costa Rica, but they are certainly not the nicest in the world. For example, I thought Hawaii’s beach to be prettier. Although, I have never found so many nice shells like the ones I found on Costa Rica’s beaches. Also, I was only on the Pacific side, so I don’t know if the Carribean beaches are any better. You can swim and surf (by the way, Nick thought surfing Playa Guiones was better than Playa Grande), but there isn’t really any good snorkeling or diving. If you’re looking for snorkeling or diving, I hear Belize is a much better choice. (I’ve also heard that they don’t have the nicest beaches, either.)

- Costa Rica’s “crown jewel” is its jungle - specifically, the Oso region in the southern part of the country. Corcovado National Park is in this area. I didn’t go here, and I’m sad about that. I feel like I missed out (sort of like sitting through an okay dinner and then leaving just before they serve an amazing dessert). The reason we didn’t go here is because of time constraints. We just couldn’t fit in the cloudforest, a national park, beaches AND the jungle. My honest recommendation: Skip the beaches and go straight to the jungle. Costa Rica is not known for its beaches; its known for its wildlife.

- The bus system is very tricky, to say the least. Hotel staff was very helpful with times, connections, and stop locations. I also got into the habit of asking what a bus stop looked like, since there was never a sign to identify it by name. At the bus stations, there are usually a couple men hawking taxi rides, and they are good to ask for help because their English seems pretty good. Of course, if you speak Spanish, the whole experience will probably be a lot easier. We’d like to take an early bus because we never knew when the next (or last) connection would be. It’s also nice to arrive in a new location while there’s still daylight, giving you time to find your hotel and explore a little.

- Flip flops are NOT good travel shoes. As comfortable as they can be, they just don’t stand up to lots of walking or carrying extra weight. I think a sturdier and more supportive sandal would be a much better choice. The pair of Keens I own are a little too sturdy, so I am currently looking into getting Chacos for my next trip. (Anyone have any experience with this brand?)

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