Pura Vida, Costa Rica’s very successful marketing slogan for years, makes many people dream of visiting the small, Central American country. Honestly, as a traveler, I think Costa Rica and New Zealand have the most successful marketing campaigns I have ever seen! But is Costa Rica the right destination for you?
I think it all depends on what you are looking for in your vacation. If you are after nature it might be a good fit. Being from Australia, we are beach snobs. Australia has some of the best white sand beaches in the world (and most of them are uncrowded). So we were very pleasantly surprised with the quality of the black sand beach at Playa Hermosa! Stunning!
Getting Around Costa Rica
For years, we have dreamed of going to Costa Rica, and come very close several times. Over the years as I have researched it, cautions about the quality of road infrastructure were common. I read they had upgraded several of their major roads recently. Playa Hermosa, near the larger town of Jaco, was relatively near and where we were staying recommended a car, so we decided to rent one and drive.
The cost of the rental car was quite reasonable and bus and taxi service were quite limited so it was a rental car or a lot of wasted time trying to get from place to place. Like many places, the price quoted on the original rental is often not what you are charged when you arrive to pick up your car. If you want to rent a car, please read our post about avoiding “surprise” fees at the rental counter to save yourself some money and hassle.
Well, the traffic, driving standards and road infrastructure make traveling slow! I came to the conclusion, an internal flight from San Jose might be a better option.
Arrival in San Jose Airport
At the time of our arrival, the airport was incredibly busy. We waited over 45 minutes in the line to clear immigration and it would have been longer but they let many of us go through the line for local Costa Ricans. If not, it would have been closer to an hour and 15 minutes. Getting luggage and the car were also slow. And the traffic around the airport was at a standstill, which seems to be the norm.
Not a good welcome, and another reason just transferring to an internal flight might be quicker!
Departure from the San Jose airport was no quicker nor easier. Allow plenty of time! I am sure many people miss flights due to traffic outside.
The airport seems relatively new, but already over capacity!
Our Accommodation in Playa Hermosa
As I have said many times, I think where you stay is an important part of your trip. Finding the perfect accommodation takes a bit of effort.
We were very happy with our choice in Playa Hermosa. Using AirBnB, we stayed in a self-contained villa on someone’s property in the rainforest.
We had access to our own private pool, and a lovely outdoor area for dining and sitting. The bedroom, bathroom and kitchen were in an air-conditioned, stand-alone building. Hot water, good linen and towels, all the comforts of home.
And wildlife! From sitting by the pool you could see toucans, macaws, lots of other birds, monkeys, and a host of other, local wildlife. Fantastic! And it was hot, so a dip in the pool was very refreshing.
Having a kitchen meant we could have breakfast and a simple lunch or dinner at home. Having a local as a host meant good recommendations for places to eat, grocery stores, and things to do.
The beach, Playa Hermosa, was close by and it is a beautiful beach. Our accommodation was a highlight and I recommend it if you are heading to Playa Hermosa. You can find Frank and Tammy’s perfect tropical escape on AirBnB. And if you are new to AirBnB, use this link when you sign up, and receive a credit off your first stay.
Impressions of Costa Rica
Compared to its Central American neighbors, Costa Rica is expensive! There are a lot of expats, many Americans, and English is common. In fact, I am not sure we actually spoke Spanish anywhere.
There are a lot of American chain restaurants and hotels, but these are much more expensive than in the United States. And it seems to have crowded out the local cuisine.
There are a lot of tours and activities available. If you like tours and activities you can find something to do. They are expensive and much more so than in neighboring Central American countries. The lack of transportation options means if you don’t have a car, a tour might be a good option. However, it is not an inexpensive one.
If you’re after ancient cultures, there are none in Costa Rica. Guatemala is a better choice of destination to learn about the Mayans or Mexico for the Aztecs.